The decades-long political polarity between the Left and the Right has fomented a lack of trust so severe that what was once unthinkable (the Capitol breach on January 6th) is now a reality. The United States began to morally decline in the late 19th century when the Protestant Evangelical church started to abandon culture. Instead of engaging the earth, the Church began focusing on escaping it. They could not cope with the complexities present in society. These complexities included: the industrial revolution and its concomitant urban life, the horrific aftermath of the civil war, the challenge to biblical fidelity with the rise of higher criticism, mass immigration from non-protestant nations, and ideologies like Marxism and Darwinism (see more about this in my book, Understanding the Wineskin Of the Kingdom).
Before the civil war, much of the Church’s preaching focused on manifesting the Kingdom of God on earth, similar to the messages of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15, Acts 28:31). By “Kingdom of God,” I am referring to the government of God that emanates from the throne of God. The Church is not the kingdom, but the primary agent of the kingdom. Scripture says that His Kingdom rules over all (Psalm 22:28, Psalm 24, Psalm 103:19, Daniel 4:17).
This was the impetus for much of the societal reform that transpired during the Second Great Awakening, resulting in the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, child labor law reform, and more. (Evangelist Charles Finney continually preached about the Kingdom of God on earth, which inspired abolitionists like Theodore Weld, feminist evangelical leaders like Phoebe Palmer, and others involved in the women’s suffrage movement.)
The horrors of the civil war, which saw approximately 750 thousand men killed in battle, was especially significant as it related to the shift away from propagating the present-day implications of the Kingdom. Consequently, the Church lost faith in its ability to transform the world. Unfortunately, it started focusing on the hyper-premillennial dispensational view propagated by J.N. Darby. This was made popular by the preaching of men like evangelist D.L. Moody and the Scofield Bible.
Thus, around the 1880s, Bible prophecy conferences started appearing everywhere. The Church became more and more insular, focusing more on the rapture than societal change. Hence, one generation later, in the 1920s, the Church lost societal influence in higher learning institutions. Educators like John Dewey re-framed a societal, educational view. This resulted in losing all of the culture one generation later during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The evangelical abandonment of culture, which was primarily a response dictated by environmental challenges rather than theological exegesis, made the fundamentalist evangelical Church irrelevant to culture. (See more about this in my book, Understanding the Wineskin Of the Kingdom.)
How The Church Can Regain Cultural Influence
Since it took three generations to lose the culture, it will take at least one generation to turn it back to the Judeo/Christian worldview. Without the Church serving as the ground and pillar of society’s truth, cultural ethics will rapidly decline to the default position of human depravity (I Timothy 3:15). (My book, Walk in Generational Blessing, unpacks the generational call of families and churches to influence society.)
The Limited Reaction of the Conservative Evangelical Church
Unfortunately, the evangelical Church’s primary focus has continued to be the proclamation of the gospel without the proclamation of the implications of the Kingdom. Many great leaders are praying for revival, but, as we have seen, revival is not enough to save a nation if it doesn’t shift the worldview of the culture towards a biblical ethos.
For example, England was saved during the First Great awakening (through the preaching of Wesley and Whitfield) because their society already had a biblical foundation in their laws and culture. The Second Great Awakening affected all of American society for the same reason. However, none of the revivals in the 20th century moved the needle towards Christian influence in culture because the Gospel proclamation was disconnected from the Kingdom, thus failing to penetrate the larger culture (See my book, The Divided Gospel).
Revival may bring people into the Church, but true reformation only comes when Christ-followers are sent into their communities to serve and love their neighbor.
After prayer was removed from public schools in the early 1960s and abortion was legalized in the 1970s, conservative evangelicals started getting engaged again en-masse in politics and policy. The Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the “Moral Majority” in 1979 and numerous national leaders initiated the “Washington For Jesus” Rally in 1980. Some believed that this was the reason Ronald Reagan won the presidency.
However, the Church made the mistake of thinking that political engagement alone can shift the culture. A top-down approach of merely shifting and advocating for morality in law is not enough to change the heart and sentiments of a nation.
While the conservative Church was focusing on mere politics, the LGBTQ community had a comprehensive plan outlined in the book, “After the Ball,” published in 1989 by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen. This small segment of the population has demonstrated how a minority of people can shift culture in just a few decades through the hard work of infiltrating Hollywood (to influence pop culture), getting engaged politically, spending money on lobbying, altering the meaning of keywords, and influencing school boards and education at every level.
The early Church became a sign to the powers in the first century that demonstrated the Lordship of Jesus over all because, unlike every other empire, they were the only entity able to bring cohesion to a diverse group of people (Ephesians 3:10).
The time of depending upon a president or politics as the primary means to bring peace and harmony to nations is over. May the true Church once again proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God and labor for His Kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally-known author, consultant, and theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence culture. He is the founding pastor of Resurrection Church, and leads several organizations, including The U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and Christ Covenant Coalition