Where America and Western Civilization Are Headed (Part 1)

Politics and religion cannot be separated said Pastor Rafael Cruz on May 22 at a Washington briefing convened by the Family Research Council.

Old Testament Judah and Israel prove it, noted the father of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. When Hebrew nations had righteous rulers, "the whole country followed the Lord." But when wicked kings were in power, "the whole country went to idolatry," said Pastor Cruz.

America and the West are not a continuation of biblical Israel as God's covenant people – that role belongs to the New Testament church along with Christ-following Jews, who together comprise the "spiritual Israel," the "Israel of God." (Galatians 6:16) However, as Pastor Cruz implies, there are examples in the experiences of Judah and Israel and the civilization they nurtured that apply to the West (and all nations) today.

In fact, an analysis of the stages of civilization revealed in Old Testament Israel (we include Judah, the southern kingdom, here as well) reveal where contemporary Western Civilization – including America – is headed if it continues on its present trajectory.

In a previous column I wrote about the rise of anti-Christianity in the West, I outlined a sequence of persecution of the authentic church: caricaturization to marginalization to vilification to villainization to criminalization to elimination. But that sequence is part of a larger context I term the "civilizational cycle."

This is especially instructive for Western Civilization because its roots were in a broad consensus around Judeo-Christian principles. This does not mean Western Civilization was ever purely "Christian" in the sense that the vast majority of its people had a clear understanding of and deep commitment to Christ and His Kingdom. However the broad founding consensus saw the biblical worldview as the life-giving stream for most Western nations, and the reference point for sustaining civilization.

Even Richard Dawkins, the high priest of militant atheism, seems to understand this. He has called himself a "cultural Anglican," and, more recently, a "secular Christian." 

In his day, Winston Churchill saw the Nazis as a threat to "Christian civilization." Later, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered an era when there was greater comprehension of the broad consensus around Judeo-Christian values. "I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots," she said in a 1988 speech to the Church of Scotland General Assembly.

Current British Prime Minister David Cameron wants an even larger role for religion in the UK, and desires his nation to be regarded as a Christian country. "People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality," he said in remarks last Easter.

"If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under," said American President Ronald Reagan.

Even former KGB officer and now Russian chief of state Vladimir Putin understands the "interrelated" connection of religion and government of which Pastor Cruz spoke. "First and foremost we should be governed by common sense" based primarily on "moral principles," Putin said in a 2007 Time interview. However, "it is not possible to have morality separated from religious values," he said.

Churchill, Thatcher, Cameron, Reagan, and Putin could all look at the moral wreckage littering their national landscapes and see graphically the consequences of separating religiously based values from governance and society. Whether personally committed Christians or not, they all have understood the importance of the broad consensus around Judeo-Christian principles (even Putin had a major turn to Orthodoxy through personal encounters with tragedy).

Now, as Pastor Cruz and many others warn, it is that broad consensus that is collapsing. The shift to anti-Christianity in the West is happening within that larger river. Individual Western nations are the "ships of state" sailing on that big river, and when they turn against the historic tide, rough-sailing and danger are ahead.

Pastor Cruz has reminded us that we have much to learn in this regard from Old Testament Israel. Not only can we gain from a study of the kings of Judah and Israel, but also from the preceding era – that of the Judges.

There we find the larger cycle of which the periods of the kings is merely a part. The Bible shows this cycle:

1. A nation is founded on values and principles revealed sovereignly by God.
2. There is a period of forgetfulness, when individuals within a society take for granted their prosperity and freedoms, and forget the source in God and His revealed absolute truths.
3. There is a season of rebellion as the memory of God as the source of national blessings fades.
4. Next comes the age of the Refiner's fire, when the consequences of rebellion from God's ways fall on the civilization, its nations, their inhabitants and institutions.
5. Now a desire for remembrance and recovery begins to grow among insightful people within the society.
6. A critical mass of leaders and the populace repents, and seeks to turn themselves, their institutions and nation back to God and His revealed truth.
7. Revival winds begin to blow across the national landscape.
8. There is a restoration of God's Kingdom principles among many within the culture.
9. The land has "rest" until a new generation rises that forgets God.

In part 2 of this series, we look at these stages in detail. In part 3, we examine the critical question: Where are America and Western Civilization in this cycle and where are they headed on the current trajectory?

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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