Living in a World Turning Upside Down
These that have turned the world upside down are come here also (Acts 17:6).
Those words were uttered during a riot in the ancient city of Thessalonica 2,000 years ago. The objects of the scorn and turmoil were Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah who had come with the message of the gospel. The riot that broke out testified that, indeed, their fame had preceded them.
Shortly before this incident, the apostle Paul had received a message that would change the course of history. He had intended to take the news of the Messiah into Asia. But a nocturnal vision dramatically changed his plans.
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: there stood a man of Macedonia, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us (Acts 16:9).
He responded immediately:
And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them (Acts 16:10).
By turning westward into Europe, Paul and his followers truly would “turn the world upside down,” changing the face of the Western world and breaking paganism’s death grip on humanity for millennia to come. Judeo-Christian norms revolutionized the continent and reached into the New World far beyond Europe. Christian spiritual and moral standards, social and ethical conduct, legal systems, and a new order and civility molded the future. Ultimately, Europe and the Americas attained a level of freedom, power, and affluence never before seen on the face of the planet.
Then something happened. Subtly at first, yet with ever-gathering ferocity and commitment, came a barbarian-like hoard dedicated to secular revolution and determined, in its own way, to “turn the world upside down.”
Mother Earth and Her Children
Throughout history, human beings consistently have demonstrated a complete inability to cope successfully with material abundance. Every great empire that achieved a significant measure of affluence, in the end, crumbled under the weight of it. In the West, the very message and consequent moral and social order that brought about the progress we enjoy are being condemned as corrupting, bigotry inducing, and incompatible with the “big hug” obsession of a faceless, global community peopled by the sallow children of Mother Earth. However, it is true that there is nothing new under the sun; ancient Israel is a case in point.
The prophets of old often lamented Israel’s recurring repudiation of righteousness and justice. Many times they warned in vain of the inevitable, violent collisions that would ensue if the Israelites continued down the path of self-deception, excessive pursuit of physical comfort, and creature worship. Today evangelical Christians in the Western world are hurtling in a similar direction. A smashup of major proportions is waiting at the next intersection because the majority of Christians, I fear, are asleep at the wheel.
The World of the Prophets
A telling entry in the Old Testament appears in the book of Habakkuk. During Israel’s periodic excursions into national and spiritual decline, Habakkuk wrote,
Why dost thou [God] show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me; and there are those who raise up strife and contention. Therefore, the law is slacked, and justice doth never go forth; for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore, justice goeth forth perverted (1:3–4).
The tenderhearted prophet squinted out on a world that was turning upside down. What people formerly had believed to be true they now regarded as false. Righteousness had transmuted into predatory ungodliness. Good was called evil, and what men had considered justice they now considered injustice. God and His ways had passed from vogue as certainly as they had passed from the minds of upscale Hebrews. The nation soon would learn that turning the world upside down brought extremely undesirable consequences.
The New Orthodoxy
In his insightful book The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana (Encounter Books), Peter Hitchens chronicles what he describes as the stunning decline of his native Britain. He traces the impact of a generational revolution that is turning the norms and traditions of England upside down.
In the relatively short time since larger-than-life figures, such as Churchill, have disappeared from the scene, England has descended into a tabloid era of rock-star worship, empty churches, and trouble-making football hooligans roving Europe to the detriment of their countrymen.
Hitchens speaks to a new social orthodoxy akin to what the prophets of old railed against. He speaks of the “strange new orthodoxy on homosexuality” and inveighs against the “new morality” that came with the advent of television:
We have become a people dependent on television for a stimulation of social contact in our leisure hours. Yet few seem to realize the power of a medium which stole into our lives while we were not paying attention. Early television was nothing like the modern force which has now displaced all other forms of culture and entertainment. Its effect on the imagination has been the motor of the new morality and the new conformism.1
New Orthodoxy— American Style
In reading statements by people like Peter Hitchens, it is impossible not to compare the British situation with the American experience. In fact, much of what afflicts Britain was, unfortunately, imported from the United States.
During the recent confirmation hearings of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, we saw how entrenched the new orthodoxy actually has become. Despite liberal protestations to the contrary, the core issue in the controversy over the former senator’s appointment was the fact that he is a committed, evangelical Christian. Liberal subscribers to the nation’s new orthodoxy were outraged that a man with conservative Christian views would be offered the nation’s chief law enforcement post.
Ironically, this country has so turned itself upside down that only those individuals who hold to the fundamental doctrines and beliefs on which this republic was founded are deemed unfit to hold influential positions in our government. A Jewish columnist was recently quoted as saying the only religious group the American media can feel free to attack with impunity is evangelical Christians. Criticizing almost anyone else brings undesirable repercussions. Thus no other religious group is held up to an equal measure of ridicule.
Two areas of inexcusable heresy dominated the Ashcroft debate. One was the issue of homosexuality, now regarded as sacrosanct in the new global society. The other, of course, was abortion. The new liberal orthodoxy tolerates no opposing opinions when it comes to a woman’s right to “choose.”
Of this we can be sure: Just as liberal proponents of abortion insist that all cabinet appointees be free of any taint of pro-life prejudice toward the unborn, so, too, will they oppose any Supreme Court nominee who fails to pass their pro-abortion litmus test.
All of this to say that we are living in a world turning upside down. Wrong is right; godliness is ungodliness; perversion is a sanctioned lifestyle; and being a decent, God-fearing Christian is quickly becoming an intolerable offense.
Witness the New Western Lifestyle
This descent into neopaganism is in evidence on every hand. Our sports arenas and entertainment centers have become the new society’s houses of worship. The demand for raw exhibitions of violence has risen to a fever pitch. Responsible public officials are held up to the most degrading forms of disrespect, caricature, and lurid ridicule in the media. “Alternate lifestyles” are depicted as liberating alternatives to inhibiting, traditional family values. Success in the marketplace has become the new Athenian altar before which millions commit their lives and energies. The demand for religious institutions to be more attuned to entertaining, problem solving, and soothing bruised egos has stripped thousands of churches of a dedication to doctrine and discipleship.
The most vulnerable victims of the neopagan obsession are, of course, the children. After exhausting weekends spent watching mock or real exhibitions of violence at “sporting events,” many would much rather sleep in than attend Sunday school or church. In fact, many of these events take place in direct conflict with worship services and weeknight church activities.
Viewing the situation now developing at breakneck speed in our society, you can well understand Paul’s lament over people who, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). As a result, their darkened hearts affected their offspring, who ultimately suffered the consequences. What was true of them will be no less true of us.
Of course, we’ve seen it all before. Babylon, Greece, Rome, and a myriad of lesser nations have all passed this way. We are returning to the last days of the dying empires of Rome and Greece, where violence was the stock in trade. Affluence, that great deceiver, has gripped us, too, by the throat. The question now is, How long can we survive as a viable society?
Is There an Answer?
Yes, my friend, there is an answer. God illuminates it for us repeatedly in His Word. In these last days, we cannot expect the self-indulgent to respond positively. They never have. These people are oblivious to eternal realities. But, thankfully, there is a remnant.
Peter appeals to it and to us as he addresses the problems of the last days:
Wherefore, I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the present truth (2 Pet. 1:12).
The answer for contemporary Christianity is the same as it was for ancient Israel: Return to the basics that saved, inspired, and moved you in the early days of your Christian experience. In other words, repent—and return to your first love. It is a simple yet profound admonition. Is the new orthodoxy apt to be reversed? Not likely. But true believers can make a difference in the lives of multitudes of individuals. Not long ago I received a letter from a Jewish woman who happened to hear our radio broadcast. She said, in essence, “I had given up on ever hearing the truth about what is going on in Israel and the Middle East. I was thrilled to hear someone who is telling the truth. Keep it up!” Many thousands of people feel the same way.
Just as those early saints brought a message that the people at Thessalonica said was “turning the world upside down,” so, too, should we. The antidote for the new, satanically driven orthodoxy is the age-old message of the gospel. We must never forget that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
In the words of an old and valued friend, now in heaven, “Nothing is easy. Keep on keeping on.”