Civilizations throughout history go through phases of growth, stability, maturity, decline and collapse. The British, Spanish, Roman, Persian and Babylonian empires all followed an eerily similar pattern, averaging a lifespan of roughly 250 years. Sir John Glubb researched and outlined those stages in his book, “The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival”, published in 1976, America’s bicentennial. Our nation’s age (245 years) and evolution appear to place us toward the end of that typical process…
- The Age of Pioneers – Explorers settle new lands and displace existing people groups
- The Age of Conquests – Military forms to establish dominance and expand territories
- The Age of Commerce – With security established, people are free to pursue livelihood
- The Age of Affluence – Offense converts to defense to protect increasing wealth and privilege
- The Age of Intellect – Advancement hinges on education, producing academics who question the founders’ values and religious beliefs
- The Age of Decadence – Wealth and “wisdom” erode morality, citizens look to celebrities for role models, and immigration helps fuel a welfare state
- The Age of Decline & Collapse – Years of decadence, division and dependence breed decay, undermining families, economies and defenses against external forces
The faith initially required to achieve the freedoms enjoyed in a democracy dissipates when sinful human nature encounters the pitfalls of progress and prosperity. In other words, reliance on God during times of uncertainty evolves into self-sufficiency in times of abundance. In 1798, John Adams warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Is America in the Penultimate Stage?
Mercy, obedience, conscience and compassion are hallmarks of Christianity and guideposts for effective democracy. It is not coincidence that America’s well-documented arrival into “post-Christian” status occurred back when we appeared to be entering the Age of Decadence. Does that confluence portend the end?
How long will the U.S.A. endure when it is clearly no longer “one nation under God” or “indivisible”? Or to quote Mark Twain, are rumors of America’s death greatly exaggerated? We won’t know if its demise is imminent, at the precipice of the Age of Decline & Collapse, unless we confirm we have entered the Age of Decadence. Consider the evidence based on the Lord’s dire warnings of destruction in Isaiah 5…
- Our Perspectives – “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” (v. 20) Our society labels abortion “health care”, celebrates perversion, and considers self-centeredness a virtue. Human nature is seen as inherently good, so individuals are free to determine what is right and wrong for themselves with limited standards (religion) or restraints (police).
- Our Priorities – “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.” (v. 21) Education is seen as the ticket to progress and prosperity, so it is pursued (even by Christian parents) with full knowledge that universities will teach their children atheism as fact. Yet they are in such demand that college tuition is the only investment in America that has never experienced a “bubble” – and celebrities risk prison to acquire admission for their kids.
- Our Purpose – “Woe to those who drag their sins behind them.” (v. 18) The scales have tipped where votes cast for money and immorality – financial gain and godless depravity – long ago outnumbered those for selfless ideals or biblical principles. Freedom of Christian speech and practice has been subjugated to freedom to violate God’s law without regulation or remorse.
- Our Position – “Woe to you who add house to house.” (v. 8) To defend a standard of living that would require four earths to sustain (if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average U.S. citizen), we have risked our nation’s financial viability and standing in the global economy. The world already questions our values, leadership, ethics and unity – and now through media outlets gets a front row seat to watch America grow more indebted and divided.
- Our Population – “Woe those who say, ‘Let God hurry; let him hasten his work so we may see it.’” (v. 19) The number of Americans identifying as Christian is declining, while the percent professing no faith or another religion continues to rise. Our houses may be getting bigger but our families are getting smaller. The extraordinary difference in birth rates between Muslim and Christian families, immigration policies and the influence of universities and media will continue to make it more unusual (and challenging) to ascribe to Christian values.
- Our Persecution – “Woe to those who…deny justice to the innocent.” (v. 23) Mocking Jesus and Christians on TV and movies is evolving into censure and career “cancellation” for not condoning what contradicts God’s Word. Ministries that until now focused on mobilizing U.S. resources to aid persecuted Christians in other countries are turning their attention to persecution on our own shores.
- Our Pollution – “Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people.” (v. 25) Many debate whether America was founded as a “Christian” nation. Our roots were certainly heavily influenced by Christianity, but the past few decades have seen culture change churches more than churches have changed culture. Secular pressures and ideas have infiltrated the “4 walls”, diluting adherence of believers to core biblical truths.
Evidence appears to point to a connection between America’s departure from Christian ideals and our step across the threshold of the Age of Decadence. No doubt we entered the Age of Commerce, Affluence and Intellect many years ago; however, the analysis above shows signs we (at some point) moved beyond those into the penultimate stage. If history is a guide, Glubb predicts the Age of Decadence will precipitate our next and final phase – the Age of Decline & Collapse. It is not hard to envision a day in the not-too-distant future when our financial systems implode from greed and debt, an oppressive government suppresses religious expression, and modern conveniences and distractions wear down Christian defenses against socially acceptable mores.
If So, What Should the Church Do?
Evangelist Charles Finney, credited for much of America’s “Second Great Awakening”, said in 1873, “If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”
The four-year “reprieve” Christians celebrated under a church-friendly President did little to stem cultural momentum away from the Lord. Regardless of who bears responsibility for where we are now, only the Church has the (Spirit-powered) ability to help America avert impending disaster. If we are rapidly approaching America’s sunset, the question is “what does Jesus want His Church to do about it?”
- Our Reformation – Return to a definition of “church” as people and not a place, where members are Kingdom “employees” equipped to pursue the real “customer”, those who do not yet know the Lord.
- Our Repentance – Seek God first by turning from therapeutic religion catering to the worries and cares of attenders to outright surrender and accountability through intensive discipleship.
- Our Resolve – When being a Christian is a crime, will you be thrown in jail? If we truly believed there is a hell, we would risk comfort today, and one day persecution, to share the hard truths about sin and repentance with family and friends.
- Our Revival – Personal transformation through prayer, worship, repentance and an eternal perspective is the path to church revival. People will not cry out unless they are radically altered within, which churches are intended to facilitate.
- Our Recourse – Jesus confronted unjust leadership but was not political, rending “what is Caesar’s unto Caesar”. He fought evil with good by healing and feeding, waging a ground war of love and service rather than an arms-length air war of dropping verbal bombs.
- Our Relationships – Genuine compassion is high-touch (#ReimagineCompassion), yet most churches practice transactional handouts through occasional events that “check the box”, don’t actually alleviate poverty, and position the “rich” as superior to the “poor”.
- Our Restoration – Our redemption will not be institution of a theocracy where Christian leaders occupy the tops of the 7 Mountains, but reestablishment of Jesus as Lord of our land – collectively raising Christ up by falling down in worship, love and evangelism.
If America is actually in the Age of Decadence, perhaps the Lord will choose to spare us if we repent and return to Him. Can we expect the downward trajectory of our nation’s faith and morality over the past few decades suddenly to reverse course toward Jesus if churches go back to business as usual after the pandemic? The Age of Decline & Collapse awaits unless we internalize the lessons learned from COVID-19 – how being unable to meet in a building exposed the perils of not entrusting individuals with responsibility for the Great Commission and making “church” too much about a pastor and a place.
It’s Your Turn…
Where do you think America is today in terms of Glubb’s 7 stages? Based on your answer, what should the Church’s response be to steer our country away from the next phase?