I’m up this week in beautiful Huntsville, learning and growing with other leaders in The Fellowship from across Ontario. This morning, Heritage professor, Dr. Stan Fowler led a discussion of the current challenges to biblical faith and morality in our society today. We looked at the Scriptural foundations of various Christian convictions and considered ways that they are being attacked in new legal rulings and cultural movements. There was much discussion as people shared stories of the problems they are facing in their local communities. It was Dr. Fowler’s final words that were, for me, the most important however. “Don’t forget,” he said, “spiritual and moral change isn’t always downward.” I'll try and explain why I found this helpful.
It’s easy to look at developments in the news, and whether it’s the latest terrorist incident, legal ruling or school board decision, conclude that our society is falling apart. While there is cause for concern, there is much reason to hope also. Slavery is an example of social evil that eventually got better, not worse. In our generation, we’ve been privileged to witness the end of apartheid in South Africa. And whenever revival has come to a region, there have been sudden and dramatic changes in social values. Slavery and apartheid were both ended by people who had the hope to believe that change was possible and had the courage to play their part in pursuing it. Revivals too have been preceded by movements of faith and courage among God’s people.
Consider this quote from Bill Hybels in his book Simplify:
“History is filled with men and women who said no to destructive fear and changed the world. But imagine if they had given in to the paralyzing effects of fear on their lives. Imagine the apostle Paul, fearing resistance or rejection, choosing to stay home rather than embarking on the missionary journeys that took the message of Christ throughout the known world. Imagine Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. giving speeches filled with gentle hints about the evils of segregation, because he feared pushing too hard. Instead, King championed the civil rights movement against racial segregation in the United States. Imagine Rosa Parks, during that same era in American history submitting to the bus driver's command to give up her seat to a white person. Imagine Nelson Mandela looking the other way when he witnessed and experienced apartheid in South Africa, because he didn't want to make a fuss. Instead, he spent twenty-seven years imprisoned and brought apartheid onto the world's radar, helping end the centuries-old regime of oppression. Imagine Malala Yousafzai passively quitting school, because she was too frightened by the death threats she received from Taliban extremists, who abhor education for girls. Instead, she became even more vocal about the educational rights of children and women, survived a 2012 assassination attempt, and was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2013 and 2014. Imagine yourself, fully aware of the mission and vision God has placed in your heart to advance his kingdom in this world, yet held hostage to phobias, irrational worries, and destructive fears of failure, harm, or rejection. If you don't fulfill the mission God assigned to you, who will?”
When you find yourself discouraged by the moral and spiritual surroundings in which you find yourself, remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I often forget that gates speak of defensive not offensive strength. The picture is of a walled city that protected itself against an invading army by large powerful gates. The promise is that the power of hell will not be able to hold back the church. And the implication is that the church is to be a powerful offensive force, storming the gates of hell. It was probably intentional that Jesus uttered these words in the pagan district of Caesarea Philippi. It was the ‘sin city’ of the region where the fertility god, Pan, was worshipped with obscene sexual rites. If Jesus’ promise was true in that immoral setting, there’s hope for Canada yet!
At the end of the Q & A time, one of the pastors asked a telling question, “It’s hard enough trying to maintain the values and convictions of my own congregation, how much should I be concerned about the state of the world?” Dr. Fowler conceded the priority of the church and the different positions and abilities that God has entrusted to each person, but finally said, “It’s ultimately a question of how much we love our neighbour.” May we each love our neighbour enough to play our part in resisting moral and spiritual decline in our nation and storming the gates of hell for God’s glory.
In awe of Him,