Christian activism is not about to disappear. The forces that generated its appearance – the forces of moral disintegration – have not abated; indeed, those very forces are being powerfully buttressed – day after day, year after year. There seems no end to America’s moral collapse. Those forces nourish Christian activism – and it, in turn, nourishes a postmillennial mind-set – which, in its turn, serves only to further heighten Christian activism – a chain reaction, which feeds upon itself! Spiraling cyclones of energy harnessing still more energy!
The activism-postmillennialism-activism spiral can be divided the entire cycle into seven phases…
Each phase feeds into an ensuing phase – a more intense phase – more frantic, more extreme. And at each phase, the nature of the church undergoes a profound change – its perceptions change; its expectations, behavior, hopes, flavor, style, message, ministry, mission – it all changes!
Roe v. Wade was most certainly the spark that lit the fuse – that pressed Evangelicals into the activism-postmillennialism-activism cycle. However, a whole litany of grievances had been accumulating for many years – stretching back to at least the mid-1960s. But during that era, the evangelical response did not reflect a genuine political consciousness. Instead, prior to Roe vs. Wade, Evangelicals were more apt to withdraw into themselves. They began to abandon the public school system – establishing their own church schools – occasionally opting for the more radical alternative of home schooling. In addition, the scope of the church was expanded – and, quite often, the authority of the church was enhanced. Gradually, the church began to incorporate more and more functions – simple social tasks once discharged almost exclusively within a secular institutional framework. The Evangelical Church – between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s - began to evolve into a total community.
The wolf is at the door
Those changes went largely unnoticed by outsiders. Then Roe vs. Wade occurred – and evangelical political activism was unleashed. The bottom line was simple: Evangelicals had concluded that the encroachments were becoming too salient, too overwhelming. Simple “in-house” adjustments were no longer possible. The wolf was at the door. An Evangelical political consciousness had crystallized!
Here, the political activism – though quite real – was rather primitive – limited to letter writing, school board meetings, and single issue protests. Much of the protest was funneled through the judiciary – the traditional birthplace and proving ground of all political activism.
During this era, the evangelical protest movement was not motivated by eschatological perceptions. It arose from out of shame and disgust – and a good measure of fear as well. It was at this time that the Moral Majority was formed and the Religious Roundtable organized. Both were based upon an appeal to conscience! Neither bore the marks of an altered Christian mind-set. Indeed, the Moral Majority and the Religious Roundtable were founded and overseen by committed Premillennialists.
The Regan Era
The high-water mark of “Second Stage” evangelical activism consisted of the two Regan campaigns – both in 1980 and in 1984.
Reagan actively courted the Evangelical vote – and promised that he would commit his Presidency to the Evangelicals’ moral agenda. The Evangelicals bought it – and much of Reagan’s victorious coalition was composed of Evangelicals – many of whom were cross-overs from the Democratic Party.
Reagan Era a Disappointment
But the Reagan Presidency proved to be a terrible disappointment for most Evangelicals: Reagan’s rhetoric was rich; but his fruit was meager. The disappointment prompted many Evangelicals to think seriously of running one of their own the next time around – someone from their own ranks: not just a sympathizer, but a proven devotee.
Finally, postmillennialism began to surface. And slowly, the embryonic evangelical protest movement began to acquire a distinct eschatological justification – no longer just an appeal to Christian conscience. It began to clothe itself in “Kingdom garb.” Soon, publishing houses in Texas were flooding conferences and seminars with books, pamphlets, and flyers – all of which outlined the precepts of the new Christian weltanschauung.
Calvinist Generals and Arminian Foot soldiers
The intellectual respectability was provided by a small coterie of Presbyterian theologians, while the foot soldiers were furnished by the charismatics – mostly from the Latter Rain wing of the Pentecostal Movement. A more bizarre alliance could hardly be imagined! A slick band of Calvinist generals had rounded up a horde of Arminian enlistees. And the generals – after years of grousing around in empty barracks – could at last go to war.
Breaking out of Latter Rain Pentecostalism
Postmillennialism has not yet truly broken out from its strongholds within Latter Rain Pentecostalism, but the pressure is mounting, and I suspect that it’s just a matter of time. The most serious breaches have been scored within Old Line Pentecostalism – the Assemblies of God and Foursquare – both of which have always been strongly committed to premillennialism – to the point that both denominations boast “statements of faith” that actually incorporate a premillennial clause. Other inroads have been thrust boldly forward into territory marked out by the Charismatic Renewal of the 1950s and early 1960s – including maverick churches within many main-line denominations.
The Pat Robertson campaign falls under the rubric of “Stage 4” activism. It reflected both the heightened political activism of “Stage 3” and the more moderate political activism of “Stage 2.” But postmillennial believers unquestionably, provided the hard-core support that underlay the campaign.
The Robertson Campaign served notice that evangelical political activism can’t be cavalierly dismissed; that it should not be misjudged. Nevertheless, the force of the campaign was not sufficient to overthrow the entrenched bureaucracy governing the Republican Party. Instead, that bureaucracy mounted a fierce counterattack – a counterattack that, in the long run, may well serve to catapult the struggle into an altogether new dimension. It’s now “fish or cut bait.”
The Robertson Campaign plainly highlighted one glaring difficulty – a dilemma that has since generated real consternation among the hyper-activists: Evangelical Christians, as a whole, are not yet xenophobic – to the point that they will only rally around one of their own. Indeed, most of the 1988 “exit polls” indicated that more Evangelicals voted for Bush than for Robertson.
“Stage 4” activism is not sufficiently intense to either blunt the party bureaucracy’s counterattack or undergird a victorious assault against the forces of moral decay. The evangelical protest movement is not yet adequately hardened and iron-willed. And that can only remedied by dipping ever more deeply into a postmillennial eschatology. The struggle, then, crosses over into “Stage 5” activism.
The cost of the struggle is driven upwards; hence, the value of the promised dividends must likewise increase:
And surely the sacrifice is well worth the effort; the postmillennialists assure us that victory is guaranteed! Not in the future, not after Christ returns, not just in the heavens, but now, before Christ returns, and here on the earth. The unrighteous will not triumph! And the prize of victory is, of course, the riches and glory of the unbelievers – their homes, their cars, their businesses – all of it belongs to the faithful! Proclaim your right to it! Possess it! Display your title deed! Flaunt it! Victory will bring Jesus back from the heavens. It’s a rhetoric that – for many – is much more rewarding, much more galvanizing than the Premillennialists simple appeal to conscience:
Verbum Sat Sapienti Est
“Verbum sat sapienti est” - “A word to the wise is sufficient” - an old Latin phrase that was drummed into my head by a highly regarded instructor of classical languages - over forty five years ago… The scenario I’ve outlined here will most assuredly occur at some level - hopefully not to the extent of ever reaching “Stage 7.” But it could - and the Bible certainly provides a basis for speculation which leads to that conclusion. My purpose here, however, has not been to stimulate mere speculation; not at all! Instead, I wish only to awaken Christians to the actuality of what is al-ready transpiring. “Stages 4” is already upon us - and only those who are ei-ther completely “out of touch” or who have purposefully “shut it out” can fail to acknowledge it.
The next several years will witness not less evangelical activism, but more - much more. And unless we Christians settle our hearts now, we may well find ourselves propelled less by Scriptural mandates than by our own anxieties and an ever growing “herd mentality.”
The soul of the church is at stake - make no mistake about it!
Politics is an old acquaintance of mine - not any longer a friend; still, I’m quite familiar with politics - intimately. I devoted over nine years studying its dynamics - both on an undergraduate and a graduate level - at a major univer-sity - not just a simple run-of-the-mill variety, but a highly prestigious institution.
And, then, not at all satisfied with a simple academic familiarity, I used my degrees to earn an appointment to the staff of an important California legislative committee: politics - not within the executive bureaucracy - buffered, relatively sane and sanitized; but at the legislative level - real politics - crass, raw, volatile, largely unstructured, vulnerable, exposed to a bewildering maze of cross-cur-rents.
Long working days - well into the evening and often into the early morning hours - in hearings, in preparation for hearings, in executive session, helping to negotiate disputes, drafting legislation, costing out that legislation, analyzing its impact, listening to lobbyists, counseling legislators, lunches, dinners, parties - Endless! Exhausting! Frantic!
Don’t fall victim to naiveté! Politics is the art of compromise! It’s not designed to establish the Kingdom; it’s merely an ordained contrivance which “maintains the social order” until the King returns. Only the King can establish the Kingdom! Politics must not be assigned that impossible task. “Kingdom building” has always perverted the state - tyranny and repression are its in-evitable conse-quences. And, tragically, the terror spawned by “kingdom build-ing” almost al-ways turns upon the pitiful souls who first initiated it - whether a Zwingli or a Robespierre.
But the new Evangelical activists - most especially the postmillennial ac-tivists- are not encouraging a mind-set amenable to compromise. And that could well breed tragic consequences - ranging from bitter disappointment to a frightening polarization which rips apart the very fabric of American society - and transforms the Gospel message into the hammer of an angry oppression.
Xenophobia is an enervating affliction of the soul - a debilitating vexation which corrodes the spirit and troubles the mind. It’s a neurosis that debases its vic-tims and transforms them into disori-ented toddlers - robbing them of their personal courage and integrity. And Late Twenti-eth Century postmillennialism is xenophobic - it preys upon the immature - often turning Christians into paranoid neurotics - pitiful wretches who strike out in knee-jerk rage at all that’s threatening - all that’s disturbing and perplexing – hardly a testimony that reflects 2 Tim-othy 1:7.
Christian activists often assert that postmillennialism is not “some new kid on the block” - that American evangelicalism was decidedly postmillennial until the turn of the last century. Yes, but resurgent postmillennialism bears little resem-blance to the postmillennialism of Nineteenth Century America. Nineteenth Century postmil-lennialism, “Manifest Destiny,” was inordinately euphoric - bountifully optimistic - al-most arro-gant; but - with all its faults - it was not built upon fear and anxiety.
Not so resurgent postmillennialism. It is indeed the prod-uct of dread! It is not at all euphoric. And the meager optimism it does convey is not a chest-thumping exhilaration; it’s more akin to a frightened urchin whistling in the dark.
Terror stalks mankind! Wars and rumors of war! Hunger, famine, eco-nomic in-stability, the Soviet menace, the bomb - crisis! crisis! crisis! It’s end-less! Every evening, the major television networks delineate the latest woes; and the next morning our daily newspapers proclaim still more sorrows - the stock-market, the Middle East, Central America, Ireland, drugs, licentiousness, blatant sadism, murder, poverty, homelessness, starvation - but we become inured - numb to it all. Eventually, we just tune it out. It’s not possible to live constantly with fear. And so we hunker down - check our sav-ings accounts, look for the bar-gains, take care of our own families, reinforce our own small church commu-nities - and hope for the best. We with-draw! We nar-row the scope of our vision and look forward only to the next step - the very next one. We play with our toys and distract ourselves with amusing frivolities: vacations, video games, stereos, room additions, spas, new cars, jogging, crabgrass in the lawn...ad nau-seam.
But hunkering down solves nothing. It amounts to little more than an irra-tional es-capism. The Word of God plainly declares the hour! It’s not hidden away in ob-scure and difficult passages. It’s described vividly! And yet we’re sur-prised! Why? 2 Timothy 3:1-5 outlines - in unambiguous terms - a terrify-ing moral col-lapse - a collapse that’s a defining characteristic of the Last Days; but we’re astonished now that it is actually underway. Why? Saddened, of course! Sorrow-stricken, most assuredly! But astonished? Why? We’re plainly warned that doctrinal errors will abound in the End Times - 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and numerous other passages - all admonish us to be on-guard. But we’re not bending over backwards to press ourselves into the teaching of solid truth - not wild fantasies, but the basics, the fundamentals? We allow obvious error to go unchecked. Why? Human slaugh-ter, civil strife, dis-ease - all are prophesied - by Jesus Himself. Yet we ignore it - we seek to ac-tually turn it all around. Why? And, lastly, the re-establishment of Israel - an obvious miracle - Blatant! Visible! Staggering! An unmistakable sign of the End! Yet we fail to truly embrace it. We force it into a remote mental closet and then ever so tightly shut and bolt the door. We refuse to ponder its grave implications. Why?
If we are at the End - if indeed, the turmoil that now engulfs us is nothing less than the birth-pangs of the “Second Coming,” then - far from recoiling in horror, striking out at the unsaved, or vainly trying to turn back the inevitable - let’s turn into the wind - turn directly into the very teeth of the gale; and let’s do it with joy in our hearts and laughter in our mouths - feel its sting and revel in its bite - let’s help to launch the greatest revival in the history of Christendom.
Let’s change our thinking! Now is not the time to throw the church’s vast resources into a political void - her people, her money, her energy, her precious time - all miserably squandered. The terror that bears down upon the earth - let’s trap the devil with his own device - and turn that terror into our reluctant ally - it is indeed our greatest opportunity: hearts never before softened will now crack under the strain - and open at last to the gospel message.
Let’s go out with a bang Not exhausting ourselves! - brooms in hand trying to sweep back the in-coming tide - beaten, filled with fear and panic! Let’s not be counted among those who are led whimpering away - having compromised our souls on the altar of political expediency. Instead, let’s re-joice as they come to take us away - having preached forgiveness unto the very end - knowing that we have fought the good fight, that we have finished our course; and that we have kept the faith. Just beyond lies the Eternal City - our real home - and there it is that we shall finally rule and reign.