One of the lamentable tendencies of recent decades has been the tendency of those who claim to be believers in God to actively attack social institutions as well as actively disparage the involvement of Christians in providing a witness of godly behavior in the realm of politics and culture. It would appear, in the absence of any confidence in persuading people of the rightness of one’s cause, that there have been two strategies of seeking to ensure the freedom of believers. The first strategy has been an alliance of some Christians with libertines to oppose the power of an increasingly hostile national government whose laws are increasingly unrighteous. The second strategy has been for Christians to withdraw from conflict with that increasingly active central government and an insistence on private piety and an active avoidance of civic involvement because of the increasing corruption and evil in that realm due to the entrenched power of the ungodly.
Obviously, neither of these choices are ideal, but life in a fallen world does not allow us ideal choices. Both of these choices can represent a starting point toward the ideal choice, which would be a virtuous and godly society that is full of self-disciplined and godly individuals and whose laws and ways correspond with the ways of God in all aspects of life. Neither of them represent our goal or aim, however. Let us examine how each of these minimax solutions can represent a starting point for improvement. Public victories and public virtue must begin with private victories and private virtue. As we start with private virtue, we begin to judge our own actions by the standards of God’s law. As we study God’s law, we can begin to see how God’s law applies to more and more areas of life starting small and growing out from there, from the family to the congregation and community, and then to larger society. After all, the great commandments are to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. If we are successful at private piety, it will lead to a change in our behavior and concern and love toward others. And this will prevent our piety from becoming mere pietism, but will lead us to have an active role through our example and behavior and influence in bettering our institutions and eventually society as a whole.
Similarly, the libertarian option represents a starting point to opposition to oppressive government by making a temporary alliance between immoral libertines and those whose moral worldview is diametrically opposed to our corrupt and increasingly oppressive secularist society. Increased oppression, and an increased and awakened social conscience on the part of believers to oppose that oppression, can lead to greater influence by providing a positive and limited model of government under godly authorities opposed to the present corrupt systems. This represents a potentially revolutionary threat to government, but can gain the moral high ground through the peaceful and principled behavior of those who are opposed to corruption and who can have an active and just model for government to present that shows the limits but the legitimacy of godly government as well as the existence of other institutions (like family, congregations, businesses, cooperatives, communities, and fraternities) that are able to help protect and serve others outside of government, rather than letting people starve or be exploited because they lack power and wealth. Eventually, a godly example can build a coalition of principled people who are capable of stepping into leadership positions and replacing the ungodly, turning a temporary “libertarian” alliance into a governing coalition of free and virtuous leaders under godly self-government, with rebuilt and restored social institutions capable of pulling their weight and a vigilant populace devoted keeping government within its proper limits while showing love and concern for others, especially the most vulnerable.
There are plausible and reasonable roads from the current ghetto of Christian culture’s rearguard hostility to an aggressive and ungodly society to a position of influence and leadership. Those roads require a development of outgoing concern for others as well as the presence of a large and long-term vision for increased virtue and increased influence. We have not reached our position of general social corruption and wickedness overnight. Our society’s decline has been the result of generations of entrenched wickedness that churches all too often winked at, thinking themselves virtuous when they were not and neglecting the biblical standard of behavior. After all, churches and the believers within them cannot set an example of godly behavior and practice if they do not in fact live godly lives themselves.
Perhaps the loss of influence of “traditional” Christianity was a good thing. Perhaps we needed to be reminded of the importance of private virtue in public influence. Perhaps we needed to be reminded of how evil the rule of the ungodly is so that we can practice and long for godly influence and servant leaders. Perhaps we needed to remember that robust social institutions are required to avoid oppressive central government. Perhaps we needed to remember that our sins and faults are not only punished by God at some unspecified point in the future but that we can suffer here and now for our sins as well as the sins of our fathers. Perhaps we needed to remember that we need to be concerned about the well being of others because no one is safe so long as anyone is oppressed. So long as we learn the lessons from our lives, and repent of our sins and faults, and develop the right behaviors, no defeat is permanent, no time in the wilderness or in obscurity lasting. Let us therefore learn the right lessons and repent, and change our behavior accordingly, so that our wasted light may no loner be wasted, and that we may be fit examples of the life we claim to live.