Orphans in the Global Village
Does the church have a future in our generation?… I believe the church is in real danger. It is in for a rough day. We are facing present pressures and a present and future manipulation which will be so overwhelming in the days to come that they will make the battles of the last forty years look like child’s play.1
Francis A. Schaeffer
In the heyday of the 20th-century fundamentalist-modernist controversies, the greatest battles were fought in the fields of theology, the inerrancy of Scripture, evolution, the social gospel, and matters related to the radical liberal departure from traditional orthodoxy.
The conflict today, one might say, has moved to the street. We now grapple with what these battles have wrought. Dr. Francis Schaeffer wisely foresaw the “rough day” that was inevitable in a culture severed from the moorings of biblical absolutes, stabilizing moral and ethical values, and the restraints of Judeo-Christian order.
In an interesting way, the catalyst that exposes the basic issues marking the impassable gulf between serious Christian believers and liberal neopagans is evangelism. The freedom to propagate one’s faith openly among people with contrary beliefs and convictions was, in the past, a cherished principle of democracy—a given. This right has been a basic fact of life for some two hundred years of the American experience. For evangelicals, however, it is no longer something we can take for granted. Christian evangelism has received its eviction notice.
When the Southern Baptists announced plans to launch a campaign to share the gospel with Hindus and Muslims, they were condemned by the president of the United States. Speaking for then-President Bill Clinton, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart placed Baptists in the category of groups that “perpetuate ancient religious hatred.”2 The press secretary also leveled the charge that the great challenge of the 21st century would be to eliminate “intolerance . . . and religious hatred.”
It is no overstatement to say that the Clinton administration’s statements against the Southern Baptist view of the Great Commission represent one of the most outrageous White House attacks against evangelicals in our time.3
Camping with the Athenians
For reasons we shall explore, the prevailing mood in modern society is that every religion, cult, sect, or form of tribal ritualism is of equal value and should be accepted on its own terms. To presume, therefore, that Christianity is not simply another way but the only way to obtain eternal life and a right relationship with God is totally out of sync with contemporary, humanistic enlightenment. Consequently, to propagate the New Testament gospel and make Christ known is an unspeakable affront, totally unacceptable in this new land of many gods.
In many respects, we are revisiting the spiritual conditions experienced in the first century by the early emissaries of the Christian faith. In Athens the apostle Paul and his companions found themselves in an environment where the philosophical heavy hitters “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
Those pagan denizens of Mars’ Hill in ancient Athens engaged in the same quest as modern philosophers. They searched for truth, which they never managed to find. To hear a new point that would titillate their intellect; a strange and novel concept; or a dark, new, mystery religion was the be-all and end-all of their daily lives.
Mars’ Hill was a place of altars erected for the veneration of many gods. And these polished pagans deemed themselves religious in the extreme. To cover all their bases, they even erected an altar of particular interest to the apostle of Christ:
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
That message revolutionized the Western world and became the basis of the democracy that liberated whole nations from the strangulation, deprivation, and barbarism that centuries of jaded paganism had imposed.
Now, it seems, we are experiencing a return to Mars’ Hill. Unfortunately, the journey is not an ascent for the better but a descent into a neopagan culture eager to stifle the very message that set us free.
When the term new world order metastasized into the mainstream of American vocabulary in the 1990s, few people actually understood the ramifications. The “Global Village” era we were entering was under construction, and we were constantly reminded to retool our thinking to adjust to the radical new reality. The nation was indeed on the cusp of a “new reality,” one that would require acute changes in our worldviews and lifestyles. The old nationalistic mindset was being ejected. It was a piece of debris seen as an obstacle to progress.
The Global Economy
The prevailing money-means-everything philosophy was not difficult for pampered, secularized, Western neopagans to accept. After all, following the Cultural Revolution, weren’t personal wealth and security what life was all about? And the new prosperity fit the pattern perfectly. But there would be casualties, as was dramatically illustrated when the stock market plummeted in July.
Newscasters, print journalists, and economic analysts were panic-stricken. Some commentators went so far as to compare the plunge to the crash of ’29. Others referred repeatedly to the anger in the streets of America over the corporate malfeasance of the Enrons and WorldComs and their book-cooking accounting cohorts. A traumatizing concern was how these events would affect the roles of leaders of the Free World.
How much of this chaos was real and how much was partisan political rhetoric is debatable; but one thing was painfully evident. A generation bred on self-centered ambition, situation ethics, no absolutes, and greed sanctioned by a culture without moral and spiritual moorings was coming home to roost.
Do Americans still possess the capacity for outrage? Yes, at least when it comes to money.
A secular television commentator recently said a day is coming when wars will not be waged based on military considerations but on economic ones. We may not agree completely, but we venture the opinion that future military confrontations will more likely be driven by economic expediency than humanitarian sensibilities. Bottom line: the name of the game in the global village is money.
The New Ecumenicity
The new scheme of things in the international community mandates a leveling process. The “have” nations must drop to “have less,” while “have not” nations move up in status to “have more.” In other words, inclusivism is the standard, with diverse components operating in harmony. It is actually a kind of global neosocialism, the unifying factor being economic. When we move into the arena of religion, however, the centralizing consideration is unity.
However, the kind of unity espoused in this new environment is not built on the familiar ecumenical model of the last century. In those days, upscale Protestant religionists came together in the spirit of interdenominational cooperation based on liberal interpretations of theology. Everything deemed “divisive” or “offensive” was set aside in favor of attacking the social-action agenda. Obviously, the key “offensive” elements heaved in the trash bin were, in the main, the historic doctrines and practices of the Christian faith.
A primary component of this mindset and a radical departure from biblical orthodoxy is belief in man’s inherent goodness—the idea that each human being possesses a divine spark. A demeaning sinful nature that degrades man’s nobility is nowhere to be found.
To the liberal way of thinking, all that is necessary to fan the “divine spark” into a radiantly glowing flame is the proper environment and a strong dose of do-goodism. While that flight of theological fantasy has long since been laid bare by the dreadful spiral of degeneracy we are experiencing, these wishful thinkers have not been dissuaded. Sadly, the goodness-of-man fiction permeates the thinking of all too many in the theological, psychological, political, and journalistic realms.
The ideology that framed such thinking and provided the basis for this old-line ecumenicity ravished mainline churches, drove congregants from the pews, and has proven a colossal failure. It is, for all practical purposes, passé. The new ecumenicity is an entirely different product. While retaining the concept of unity at the expense of orthodoxy, the new fabrication is not confined to Protestant denominations and related organizations. It is global in outlook, inclusive to the core in nature, and espouses international unity with one notable exception: It is devoid of evangelicals who refuse to march in lockstep with the newly enlightened.
In the new ecumenism, all religions, cults, and isms are credible, acceptable, and equal in merit, as are the gods and practices associated with them.
In a real sense, the leveling process of secular global unity is reproduced in the world of religion. The reason for this is simple: Both systems operate from philosophies gutted of spiritual absolutes, significant moral values, and respect for Judeo-Christian beliefs and principles. Therefore, those who don’t agree are disenfranchised, ridiculed, and stigmatized as impediments to progress. You qualify for such a stigma if you cling to the inerrancy of God’s Word and believe that Jesus’ commission to evangelize is still an inescapable mandate— an obligation.
Come the Enforcers
As this code for “progress” becomes widely accepted, enforcement will become a primary issue. After all, if the world is being transformed into a truly unified global society—a global village, if you will—then significant disagreement cannot be countenanced. If the majority believes “everyone is divine,” those who attempt to convince people otherwise are troublemakers, disrupting the dignity of the gods and violating the rules of the game. Now the question becomes what to do with them.
The cold truth is that conscientious evangelicals today perform on an extremely precarious playing field; and like children walking against the light on a busy street at rush hour, many are completely oblivious to the danger.
As the lepers of ancient times were systematically segregated, so will we be. Yes, the days are coming when we will be the orphans in the global village.
- Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the 20th Century, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1994, p. 5.
- Janet and Craig Parshall, The Light in the City, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 2000, p. xvii.