Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir John Glubb provided a prophetic history lesson to America in 1976, tracing the common pattern all empires follow from rise to fall. Writing at our bicentennial, Glubb gave America ample time to avoid repetition of the final stages – the Age of Affluence, the Age of Intellect and the Age of Decadence – before the typical 250 year “expiration date” of the world’s superpowers.
Yet despite the benefits of hindsight and Christian heritage, our nation has reenacted the latter phases precisely. Commerce led to wealth that it maintained and expanded through education. “Enlightenment” called into question America’s foundational Christian values, eroding moral standards and respect for authority and institutions. Imposition of new “higher” standards under the guise of a genuine concern for defending the rights of the “oppressed” by regulating “oppressors” creates a welfare state that chips away at the very freedoms acquired and celebrated during the prior stages. Years of decadence, division and dependence then eventually breed decay, undermining families, economies and defenses against external forces.
“A democracy…can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.” (Alexander Fraser Tytler)
Is there any hope? Has the die been cast? Are the pieces already in place and dynamics that led to the demise of other great nations too powerful for America to overcome? Or does 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 give us one last chance to “humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways”. If so, perhaps the Lord “will hear from heaven,…forgive their sin and…heal their land.”
What Christians Shouldn’t Do…
Jesus established His Church for “such a time as this”. Church is not a place, a building, a pastor or a weekly event. You and I are the personification of “church” – the hands and feet of Christ. Churches are charged with making disciples, those best equipped to avert the certain disaster awaiting a society that once collectively bowed before the Father but now mocks His Son.
John Adams famously said, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Yet in recent decades the institution and individuals commissioned by God to combat the worldly influences of the Ages of Affluence, Intellect and Decadence have seemingly changed culture less than they have been changed by it. America will undoubtedly move into the final phase of our history, the Age of Decline & Collapse, if Christians continue to capitulate to culture by…
1. Giving In…
- to the World – People invest their hearts, trust and energy in whoever they can count on for support in difficult times. When the pandemic first struck, millions turned to Jesus in a panic but soon rejoined those celebrating the triumph of the human spirit as science delivered vaccines and the Fed printed stimulus dollars.
- to Pressure – Seeds scattered on the rocky ground have no roots and wither when persecution comes. Being a Christian in the U.S. today puts careers and reputations at risk for not wholeheartedly applauding unbiblical lifestyles and activities.
- to Division – Christians divide over public policy and politics, yet Scripture provides a reference point and clarion call for unity that will draw us together if we seek righteousness over being “right”.
2. Giving Up…
- on the Church – We know the end of the story, which may not include America but certainly includes the Church. The pandemic exposed the flaws of a building-centric model rooted in attracting and retaining churchgoers rather than equipping and deploying disciples. Nevertheless, the Church prevails in the end so while we call for reform, we should not forsake meeting together.
- on Non-Believers – Even if the story does not end well for our nation, there are too many lives at stake to submit our resignations and await the inevitable. Rather than succumb to PC to avoid retribution, we must engage the culture war through a “ground war” of compassion to earn the right to conduct an “air war” of evangelism.
- on our Youth – Studies characterize Gen Z as post-Christian, self-absorbed, screen-fixated and disillusioned. Yet they are America’s hope and future, and despite appearances crave community, mentors and purpose more than you would expect.
3. Turning Inward…
- to Protect Our Turf – Rather than boldly and lovingly reaching out to non-believers and the next generation, Christians are known for defending their staunch positions from the comfortable confines of social media or a church building.
- to Check the Box – Often when Christians do extend a helping hand, society doubts their sincerity because it is done “at a distance” through occasional, transactional outreach events that do not change lives or alleviate poverty. Relational, ongoing compassion holds their hands, equipping families to plot a course to a better future.
- to Affirm Ourselves – Despite helping in ways that actually hurt over the holiday season, churches celebrate their kindness while the poor remain hungry and hurting in January and February. Yet most pastors have already moved on to other culture-appropriate, congregation-affirming topics that do not challenge Christ-followers to year-round compassion, evangelism and discipleship.
4. Turning Back…
- to “Normal” – We miss our church friends and activities, wishing we could get back to the “old normal” of an inward-focused Church that was rapidly declining in growth, impact, influence and perception in America before the pandemic. A “new normal” is needed to respond to the failure of a building-centric model to prepare members to lead neighbors to Jesus when they couldn’t simply invite them to a Sunday service.
- to “Better” Days – Injustice and hypocrisy existed even within the Christian community throughout America’s Age of Conquests, Commerce, Affluence and Intellect. It’s time for a new reality where segregation and legalism are not part of our story (because they were never part of His-story).
- to “Old” Methods – That “new normal” and “new reality” should take into account that what “worked” to engage non-believers and youth 30 years ago may not be as effective in today’s culture. The mission and message never changes but a post-Christian, media-driven society demands “new methods” to share eternal truths.
“If you can’t beat them, join them” and “to each his own” are not found anywhere in Scripture. It’s not God-honoring or productive to sit quietly by, retreat into our shells, or bemoan how evil our culture has become. Darkness does what darkness always does. Darkness is the absence of light, so Christians are commanded to shine the light of Christ until He pierces the darkness.
What Christians Should Do…
There is hope. America may be in the Age of Decadence but does not have to descend into the Age of Decline & Collapse. The Bible lays out a roadmap for Christ-followers to lead nations to a different destination – God’s forgiveness and healing – through humility, prayer, worship and repentance. Our culture is already showing signs that its self-centered, fragile psyche is starting to crumble. Now is the time for you and me to point society to its Savior by…
1. Loving Well…
- God – doing a better job of showing we trust God and not government for salvation
- Each Other – modeling unity and generosity to a world divided and dependent
- Others – presenting an alternative to anger by loving those who revile Christians
2. Living Well…
- at Home – becoming the “pastor” of your family and neighborhood
- at Work – carrying Sunday into Monday even when your company and colleagues don’t deem your faith PC
- In Your City – leading Prayer/Care/Share ministry both inside and outside your church
3. Giving Well…
- Generously – renouncing greed, the primary driver behind each of Glubb’s 7 stages
- Compassionately – investing wisely and joyfully in the poor, not under compulsion
- Efficiently – dispelling the myth that only those who support welfare programs care about the poor, demonstrating how private sector ministries are far more effective
4. Teaching Well…
- Boldly – not taking the easy way out by letting your “godly” living do all your talking for you
- Truthfully – painting a holistic picture of God, not trying to make Him more palatable for today’s culture
- Effectively – realizing there is no way to avoid the topics of sin, forgiveness and repentance in leading someone to Jesus
Rerouting from the Age of Decadence to an Age of Revival hinges on Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit, getting more of the Church into the world and less of the world into the Church.
It’s Your Turn…
Why has a nation with Christian roots essentially followed the same destructive pattern as pagan empires throughout history? Please share your thoughts on what believers and churches could have done to divert society from the pitfalls of conquest, commerce, affluence, intellect and decadence – and what they should do now to avoid decline and collapse.