John MacArthur recently preached a sermon entitled “We Will Not Bow.” It is in reference to the fear and despair affecting Christians in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions on homosexuals and marriage. Really, it is about social decline in general over the past decades. From the title, you might expect a call to stand bravely and perhaps even to fight. Instead, the worldview of premillennial defeat and pessimism in history takes over. More importantly, a type of schizophrenia about the application of Christian ethics in history besets important parts of the analysis. If we are consistent with our ethics, however, we would learn from this situation primarily that we have no one to blame but ourselves, and we will make changes accordingly.
The old Christian America for which our forefathers braved raging seas and tyrants, and resisted unto blood, MacArthur tells us, is now dead and gone. Worse, it was only ever an anomaly to begin with. As he puts it, America has experienced “a very rare reprieve from this normal kind of conflict that most of the world has always known.” By “normal” he means a world in which Christianity is a persecuted minority.
Practical atheism, rejection of the truth, moral relativism has always prevailed in Satan’s kingdom. But here in America we’ve been protected from that in its full fierceness. No more. And by the way, religious liberty isn’t promised to Christians, is it? Freedom isn’t promised to Christians. Persecution is. Persecution is. I think we’re going to feel it.
The reason MacArthur sees such persecution as the norm for all of history is a consequent belief of the premillennial worldview: since the millennial reign of Christ lies totally in the future, Christ is therefore not reigning in any significant way in this world now. Instead, the world is left to Satan right now:
The Bible says Satan holds the whole world in his hands. . . . Satan rules the world.
MacArthur concludes with the familiar “pilgrim” theme that has beset even many Reformed folk as of late: “We’re just passing through, aren’t we? We’re just passing through.”
I don’t highlight these things in order to distract from what good MacArthur does say. I totally agree that the society of the enemy and the society of God’s people are completely antithetical to each other in their doctrines, beliefs, ethics, intents, and purposes. He’s totally right about that. And he’s totally right to exalt God’s original purposes for the family, and totally right that the unbelievers’ push for homosexual marriages is ultimately about the destruction of the family, the destruction of God’s order, and the destruction of God and His anointed (could that be done). He is absolutely right about these things. And because of these things are true, unbelievers will attempt to persecute us whenever given the opportunity.
Is it . . . Satan?
It is here that a couple corrections must be made. First, Satan does not hold this world in his hands, and he does not rule the world. I won’t spend much time here, other than to point out that Christ Himself said that He has all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18–20), and that we are to execute the Great Commission in light of that fact. Whatever power Satan ever truly had was lost when Christ triumphed over him at the cross. It was for this reason that Christ said the “ruler of this world” was to be “cast out” “now” (John 12:31)—that is, “now” at His present time in the first century, at His first coming. That judgment and casting out was an accomplished fact back then, and Christ regained total dominion over the world. This is why He said what He said in Matthew 28:18.
With regard to the strife and war which Satan is said to wage with God, it must be understood with this qualification, that Satan cannot possibly do anything against the will and consent of God. . . . Satan is under the power of God, and is so ruled by his authority, that he must yield obedience to it. . . . [A]s God holds him bound and fettered by the curb of his power, he executes those things only for which permission has been given him, and thus, however unwilling, obeys his Creator, being forced, whenever he is required, to do Him service. . . . God thus turning the unclean spirits hither and thither at his pleasure, employs them in exercising believers by warring against them, assailing them with wiles, urging them with solicitations, pressing close upon them, disturbing, alarming, and occasionally wounding, but never conquering or oppressing them. (Institutes 1.14.17–18.)
And I rightly concluded:
Satan and his minions are so fully under God’s thumb that even the slightest pretense to power and dominion on their part is a joke. They will go where God wills and nowhere else. They will do what God wills and nothing more or less. They cannot pull off the kind of “control” that so many Christians fear, and so we ought to stop speaking of them as if they do.
For this reason, and I will say this only in passing, I do not believe that premillennial dispensationalists can truly bear the labels of Calvinist or Reformed. Aside from other issues of baptism or ecclesiology which could be debated, the assumption of Satan’s current sovereignty in this world alone conflicts with the basic presupposition of Christ’s current sovereignty with underlies Calvinism or Reformed theology. Thus, this position is not Reformed.
Secondly, and perhaps even more troubling as I said, is the ethical confusion that often results when Christians do not have a positive view of Christian social ethics and a clear understanding of the mandate for us to construct our society according to God’s Law in light of the great antithesis between God’s people and the waning kingdom of darkness. What so often has occurred is that Christians blur the antithesis and hand over their God-given liberties, sovereignties, and even their children to compromised nonsense.
This problem of intellectual schizophrenia is clear in MacArthur’s sermon. As we said, MacArthur is right to uphold the doctrine of the family. What he says here is commendable:
Families provide a small, sovereign unit that acts as a small barrier against the corruption that seeks to dominate.
And he’s right about the goal of the unbelievers:
Shatter the family, destroy the family and the small sovereign barrier is disintegrated. And by the way, the goal in all of this—you need to be reading to see this—the goal in all of this is not homosexual, same-sex marriage. The goal is the total elimination of all marriage, which then means you don’t possess any privacy.
And he’s totally right about the consequences of this arrangement for the children:
You don’t have that small, sovereign unit, and your children are not yours. They’re public children and they belong to the education system; and they belong to the country; and they belong to the village—but not to you.
It was this passage that bothered me so much, and for this reason: MacArthur is a proponent of public schools. While his brief article on the subject contains good caveats and nuggets of wisdom, and gives preference to Christian schooling, his final position leaves open public schools as an option for the Christian.
But any Christian who understands the origin, nature, purpose, economics, doctrine of “in loco parentis,” and practices of public schooling knows that the answer to the public school question is not only “no,” but “now way, no how.” MacArthur implicitly acknowledges this when he uses the phrase “public children.” He sees the ascendancy of homosexual marriage rightly as the ascendancy of the State intruding into the family. Homosexual marriage is nothing less than the pagan State exercising dominion. This, too, is what public schooling has always been, and is now. There is a direct, even if not well-perceived, logical connection between public education and homosexual marriage. It is only a matter of the degree to which the pagan State has expressed its dominion at the expense of the family. Give it an inch, and in a few decades it owns a thousand miles.
But MacArthur does not see the logic. So, on the one hand you have a man lamenting the fact that the march of unbelieving society leads directly to a society in which your children “belong to the education system” and “not to you”; but on the other hand says it’s acceptable for Christians to hand over their children to an unbelieving education system, run by unbelievers with unbelieving textbooks, thirty hours a week for thirteen years during their formative years.
This is an intellectual and spiritual disconnect we should all see, and upon which we should all act. Yet MacArthur holds both of these views simultaneously. He compromises on education, teaches his congregation that it is acceptable to compromise in this way, and then stands up to say, “We will not bow”?
Too late, bro. You already did.
You did in eschatology, you did in civil government, you did in social ethics.
What we really ought to take away from the antitheses between Christian ethics and pagan culture which MacArthur rightly lists is the basic understanding that there is no neutrality in any area of life. We also ought to learn (after seeing it played out only about a thousand times before our eyes) that the unbelieving world almost always acts consistently with this principle, and that Christians rarely do. This is to say that leftists are more faithful to their faith than are Christians.
MacArthur rightly concludes his sermon on several resounding notes of coming judgment. But here his eschatology takes over again. Instead of expecting what has happened so often in human history—God’s judgment on nations in history—he sees the many judgment passages of Scripture mainly with a view toward only final judgment. Thus, the Christian’s duty today is only to be warning these apostates that they will spend eternity in hell if they persist, and has nothing to do with planning for our children’s or nation’s future in terms of God’s law and sanctions in history, now. In other words, MacArthur’s view by default gives over the entire realm of history to the creep of unbelieving forces, because it redirects the Christians’ focus to other-worldly matters only.
What we need instead are people—leaders—who preach both. We need leaders who of course preach the Gospel in all its implications, but who also preach the rest of the Great Commission, that all nations are to bow before Christ now, and to obey His commandments. We should not rest in our duty to shape law, government, and social ethics to conform to His word, let alone retreat from that duty. We ought to be warning neighbor and nation alike not only about personal judgment at the end time, but national judgment now for national sins.
Christian, whatever good may be sifted from among the sands of sermons like this one from MacArthur, we simply must not capitulate in our stand to see the dominion of Christ spread to every area of life. We must confidently say with MacArthur, “We will not bow,” but we must also go where he does not, and say also, “We will not stop until the whole world bows before Christ.”