I don’t think anybody is too worked up nowadays about prayer in public schools. People were worked up for a while, weren’t they? But what happened is that people pulled out of the public school system and there was a growth of alternatives. Was it all bad? Of course in a way this is shortsighted of me. I’m not looking far enough back. On the other hand, I think we Christians have operated on the idea that this world is properly ours and amenable to our purposes. In many ways it is: we have to live here for a while. But the remotest West has long been moved clean out of middle earth where all dwelling places however fair are doomed.
Now we have the redefinition of marriage. It has come to a whole lot of the rest of the world and now seems upon us hard. The question is, what difference does it make? Will it increase the number of persons practicing sexual perversions because it is socially accepted now? I think it might, but I don’t think it will that much. I think pornography is more to blame there, and if you don’t think pornography is already socially acceptable, where have you been living? I do think this redefinition of marriage is another thoughtless step toward barbarity, but is it not the kind of step that comes on a downhill course at what is practically a run? It is hard to prevent, given all that went before. And we can argue all we want that it is really about redefining marriage–because it is–and we can even get our notions about marriage straight and clear, but is the whole thing really about reasoned arguments and civilized consideration?
I don’t think it is, not in the wider context at least. I don’t know if this redefinition of marriage can or can’t be stopped, but I doubt very much at this point that reasoned consideration is what will take place at large. And I am not all that interested in the outcome of all this moment, whatever it may be. I do think it is good for us who are forced seriously to consider it so that we get our ideas straight. Some of us will value marriage for what it truly is a whole lot more because of this present step in a prolonged debauch of the idea. (We have reached the point at which they can attack the very word, and it is instructive to think why that is.) This clarity and the considerations we are forced to make may be too late to address the wider situation; so was Edwards’ Religious Affections.
No doubt it is bad for language–there’s where the lie takes place and where terms are debauched and perverted, and that is a great loss. We know the word ‘gay’ has taken a turn for the worse, but it was a silly word to begin with and lent itself to it. We also have received into our vocabulary the amorphous word ‘homophobia’, a duplicitous weasel word. But that does not mean these words cannot be used, cannot be seized upon and refined with irony, and maybe irony can be forged and wrought and cast. They will never be the same, but they need not remain what they are. I don’t know about the word ‘marriage’ though, and that is an important word.
The problem is our grip on truth. But doesn’t our grip on truth grow even in such moments of diminished grasp? Doesn’t marriage now have to retreat? Marriage in Western Civilization has come out of the church, and as a result we are seeing what we see. Our civilization has come out of the church and leaving those foundations, those columns and buttresses, what has it got to hold up windows with, or roofs? Marriage has to retreat back into the church, doesn’t it? So I wonder if the evil we are facing is entirely bad.
Do you know what I heard this Sunday? A strong call to God’s people to come out of the world, that harlot Babylon, long after I had given up on hearing anything stronger than assurance in the OPC. Not wild or imaginative, but a sober, strong warning to come out from the world’s degenerate pleasures. The world is looking more drunk and promiscuous, and for so many of us who are not persuaded by reasons, whom arguments can no longer move, the inevitability of the choice and the inevitability of seriousness just for the sake of survival is going to be a very good thing. We live so much as if the course and policies of this world are the most important thing. We act as if the worst thing that could happen is that the church be persecuted. But the worst thing that can happen to God’s people is not persecution, it is apostasy, and we have more than enough of that. Perhaps I am ridiculous to think so, but the degeneration of our civilization and this new barbarity in a way is welcome because it allows us to draw clear lines.
Of course the question is, will we? Or perhaps it is, can we? We have retreated and now begin to suspect ourselves under siege. I guess I’m glad that we seem to be coming to a point where we can no longer retreat. The lines have to show up as we throw up defenses. Something has to make us serious, and obviously reasons and arguments have not. Perhaps grim days are ahead for us, even uncomfortable days. But perhaps also a better Christian life, however diminished.
I don’t know if you’ve glanced through St. Andrew of Crete’s great canon. There is a lot of repentance in there. It was Christianity in another age, when they seriously worried about being seduced to such an extent that some ruined their health with their fastings and vigils. I was glad to sing the hymn Andrew had a part in recently: the pastor calling us out of Babylon picked it.
Christian, dost thou hear them, how they speak thee fair?
“Always fast and vigil? Always watch and prayer?”
Christian, answer boldly: “While I breathe I pray!”
Peace shall follow battle, night shall end in day.
In our church, he is the young and what he is doing somehow seems in contrast with the old–it is new and fresh-feeling, as if we had somehow stopped retreating. I hope it is a symbol. I know some people no longer hope and they think it will only just get worse. But I’m an amilennialist and no premilennialist, so I no longer suffocate that way.* And let it get worse if it must, but let some stand and fight. We must if there is to be any church, and so we know some will, however few.
Out of the fall of Rome came The City of God–an articulation of a vision of a City no longer in this world, the clarity of which and greatness might not be altogether obvious to some, even if the historical consciousness it shapes helps clarify our dim apprehension of the situation we face. Things have been better, but I think things have also been worse. After Rome fell, there gradually came a Christian culture, not before. What will come a thousand years from now of the fall of Christendom? If these are not times to live for, maybe those are. What we have lost did not come without effort.
*Postmilennialism: it is getting better. Premilennialism: it is getting worse. Amilennialism: it is getting on.