The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Can America Be Saved?

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Is it possible to change a society? Has there ever been a time in history when progress could be measured against the spiritual and cultural decay of a previous era? When the church suffers a setback after a period of progress, is this a sign of the end, or does the possibility exist that God will graciously redeem and restore His people? What has the church’s position been toward social reform? Has social reform hindered the work of the gospel or has the lack of evangelical social reform been an obstacle to gospel proclamation?

The church has always struggled to find answers to these questions. Unfortunately, the church has often been out of balance: Either putting all of its efforts into social reform while neglecting personal reform through gospel proclamation (the social gospel movement) or retreating into an unscriptural pietism where personal salvation is seen as the evangelical’s only duty to the neglect of the world (pietism). Is this the reason why “American Protestant orthodoxy has produced no unified social ethics or program of evangelical social action”?[1]

In addition, there has been an unhealthy preoccupation with the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming. Because it is always “imminent,” and since reform efforts take time, there is no motivation to reform society. The question always is: Do we have time? But every generation has asked this question. And for two thousand years the answer has been yes. There is time because we are not privy to God’s timetable. The church has a history of predicting the end, telling Christians that there is no time left on God’s prophetic clock. Today is no different. With such a shortened view of the future, reform efforts are, at best, secondary concerns. Charles Hodge wrote the following in 1873, demonstrating that little has changed in more than 125 years of prophetic speculation:

It can hardly be questioned that a portion of our brethren, both in this country and in Great Britain, pay undo attention to the prophetic parts of Scripture. On this account they have been designated the “Prophetical School.” While there are many exceptions, it is yet a characteristic of this class of writers, that they seem more concerned in future hopes than in present duty. They have no faith in the conversion of the world under the present “dispensation of the Spirit.” They often speak in disparaging terms of the work of the Spirit, saying that the gospel has never converted a single town or village, and that it is therefore vain to expect that it will convert the world. The world according to their theory, is to be converted through the terrors and judgments attending the second advent of Christ: not otherwise, and not before.[2]

Reform efforts are never easy. They depend on much prayer, gospel proclamation, and ministry. The results are often very discouraging. One way out of the duty of reform is to deny its validity and project a state of future earthly blessing that’s just around the corner.

The Bible strikes a balance between personal salvation and outward reforms. This was certainly true in the Old Testament. The New Testament’s emphasis is no different. Of course, the context of the New Testament is somewhat different from the Old. Under the Roman occupation there was little opportunity for a broad application of reform. Certainly within the church community reform efforts were operating. But it didn’t take long for the church to extend its witness “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

As we study Church history, we recognize that there was a balanced relationship between regeneration and reformation. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the gospel of the kingdom began to reform the world. While there was speculation regarding Jesus’ imminent return among the early church fathers, this emphasis changed as Rome’s place in world history began to decline.

Endnotes:

[1] Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971), 23.
[2] Charles Hodge, “Introduction,” in James B. Ramsey, Revelation: An Exposition of the First Eleven Chapters, originally published under the title The Spiritual Kingdom (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1873] 1977), i.

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