NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–America is in a serious state, Richard Land said during Freewill Baptist Bible College’s annual Bible conference. And the Southern Baptist ethicist stressed the nation’s problems stem from internal injuries and are not the work of an enemy beyond the country’s shores.
“America is like the prodigal son. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at the Nashville, Tenn., college’s March 11-14 conference. “We have taken the inheritance of our unborn children and gone to a far city and have wasted that inheritance on riotous living. Now we are reduced to feeding among the swine for the husks of life.
“If America perishes, she will die from self-inflicted wounds,” Land continued, repeating the call the prophet Jeremiah uttered to the people of his day: “We need to remember what it was like when it was right between ourselves and God — in our relationship with him, with our spouse, with our family, in our churches and in our nation.”
The state of America in the 21st century can be traced directly to the failure of the three divinely ordained human institutions — the family, the church and the government — to function as God intended, Land said.
“Everything is just fine when those three spheres are operating the way God intended them to and when they are maintaining their proper sphere of influence,” Land said. “The problem comes when one of those spheres comes over and leans on another one or overlaps another.”
Yet God is not unfamiliar with such behavior by his children, Land said, noting that Jeremiah watched helplessly as the nation Judah crumbled inward despite God’s pleadings for his people to turn from their ruinous ways.
The prophet uses a metaphor that would have been extremely familiar to the people who first heard him, Land said. In that day the only way to protect yourself was to build a wall around your town, he said, and a watchman would always be stationed at the wall to provide “constant surveillance of the horizon.”
At the first sign of anything untoward or amiss, these watchmen would sound a warning blast using their ram horns, Land said. Given the dangers within the wall today, the warning needs to be issued again, he said.
“We face a far greater peril from our own immorality and our own degradation and our degeneracy than we ever faced from the Japanese navy or the German air force or the Soviet missile command,” Land said, noting that America, like the people being addressed by Jeremiah, have “given themselves over to covetousness.”
“We have been trying to feed our spiritual needs with material food,” Land said. The result is that America is suffering from “spiritual and emotional malnutrition. … We have made idols of our material well-being and it has come back to haunt us.”
Likewise, Land said, Western civilization no longer blushes. “It used to be when people did shameful things they were at least embarrassed,” he said. “Now they hire an agent and go on the modern electronic equivalent of the old-time freak show called daytime talk television. They parade their degradation and degeneracy for the titillation of the audience.”
Land added, “It says more about us than it does about them, because if we didn’t watch, they wouldn’t be on.”
Land echoed Jeremiah’s call to his people to return to the God who loved them, asking those at the conference to reflect on what it was like when they first met their spouse. “We must remember what it was like when it was right and realize it’s not that way anymore. We must return to where we lost it and repent,” he said.
“What happened in America happened in the last half century because there was a failure of faith and failure of nerve in the pulpit,” Land said, pointing out that “great spiritual and political leadership is a sign of God’s blessing upon his people and its absence is a sign of God’s judgment.”
Christians dare not consider themselves immune to the wiles of the world, Land noted, saying that King David’s lust for Bathsheba “is living proof that yesterday’s spiritual victory is no inoculation against today’s spiritual defeat if we wander away from God and fail to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities before him.”
Land said there are three divinely ordained institutions in human society: the home or family, the church and the civil magistrate (the government). “Each of us has obligations in each of those three institutions,” he explained. The failure of these institutions to relate and operate properly has contributed to the sordid state of the nation today, he said.
The home is the foundational building block institution for all of human society, Land said, looking to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
“Man is the only being that [God] created in his image; there is a firewall between human beings and the rest of creation. We are not just the most sophisticated and highly evolved beings on the evolutionary scale,” Land said.
Land explained that God created Eve to be “the same but different” as Adam and inseparably united with Adam by the way she was created — from his side. “The mode of creation was a guarantee for the absolute unity of the two in becoming one flesh.”
Yet that picture of the divinely bestowed gift of marriage is corrupted when a marriage fails, Land said.
Divorce is so painful, in part because it is “the separation of that which has been cleaved together,” Land said. “You are leaving part of yourself with the other person.”
God created the sexual relationship for a purpose, and that purpose is to make of two people one flesh. Yet just as the Corinthians perverted God’s design in their sexual promiscuity and deviancy, so has society in our day, Land said. “We live in Corinth,” he said, explaining, “Corinth was the sexual cesspool of the Roman Empire.”
Land said Satan is attacking the church through sex. “He is attempting to turn our nation into a pagan nation sexually, and so far I would have to say he is winning,” he said, adding, “Of course it is easy to win when God’s people don’t put up much of a fight.”
When the divorce rate among churchgoers is relatively the same as the culture at large, Land asked: “How then can we bear witness to the culture?”
He said the church needs to buttress and undergird existing marriages, imploring God to build “a fence of protection around marriages,” to do a better job of preparing young people for marriage, and to seek a more proper understanding of the biblical relationship and responsibilities of wives and husbands. The people of God need to climb atop the wall and sound the horn of warning.
He continued, “We have obligations and responsibilities as children to honor our fathers and mothers. Then as marriage partners we have responsibilities and privileges to one another and as parents responsibilities and obligations for which God holds us accountable as mothers and fathers.
“This is a word that we must teach our young people. HBO isn’t going to do it; ABC isn’t going to do it; CBS and NBC aren’t going to do it; the public schools aren’t going to do it,” Land said. “The Bible says the parents are to rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We need to equip and encourage our parents to talk with their children why God created them male and female. It is our responsibility; it is our obligation. There has never been a time when it has been more needed.”
The New Testament knows nothing of people who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but who are off alone doing their own thing, Land said. “God calls us to be in regular and consistent fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ in a local assembly of believers.
“God gives everyone at least one spiritual gift. You don’t get to pick and choose which gift you want,” Land said. “We have our spiritual gifts not to enjoy by ourselves but to minister to our brothers and sisters. These are ministry gifts in which we edify each other.”
A New Testament church if it is performing in its proper sphere will have its members growing in Christ, Land said, noting the apostle Paul’s description of the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 3.
Yet many Christians are suffering from “spiritual arrested development,” Land said. Carnal Christians are those who not growing in wisdom and grace. They are evidence of the church’s failure to edify the members. “God blesses a church that is helping people to identify and develop and use their ministry gifts. He blesses a church whose actions do not nullify the witness of the proclaimed Word.”
Studies show that people join churches because they “made me feel welcome,” not primarily for the preaching or the music,” Land said, explaining that God desires the church to be friendly and hospitable. “We should welcome sinners,” Land said, adding, “The church is the only organization I know of that you have to admit you did something wrong to get in to it.”
God blesses the church where the members love one another and where a “compassionate heart” abounds, Land said, referencing chapter 13 of the Book of Hebrews. God expects the church to practice, preach and proclaim sound doctrine, he continued. “We serve a changeless Christ who will meet all the needs of an ever-changing world,” Land said.
Christ said Christians are to be the salt of the earth. So as salt is a preservative against decay as well as a purifying agent, the church is to bring God’s truths to bear on the culture, Land said. It has to touch that which it will purify and preserve, he explained. “If we are going to be obedient to the command to be salt, there is no room for withdrawing from the world and saying we aren’t going to get involved,” he said. “Jesus has commanded us to be a moral disinfectant in the world.
“We are to be light of the world,” Land said, added, “Light penetrates the darkness and dispels the doom. We must be out there in society as salt and light. That is part of the obligation in the sphere of influence of the church.”
Being salt means you try to stop the killing of unborn babies and the spread of this subterranean river of electronic toxic waste called pornography, Land said, while calling the harvesting of cells from human embryos for medical research the moral equivalent of biotech cannibalism.
Laws can change behavior and actions but they can only do so much, Land said. “The salt of the law can change actions but it is only the light of the gospel that can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change habits but it is only the light of the gospel that can change beliefs. Only the light of the gospel can change hearts.”
Yet that won’t happen until God’s people get right with God and God’s people begin to be the salt and light God called us to be 24 hours a day seven days a week, seeking to bring every institution in society under the sway of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Land said.
“We are to look to the New Testament for how we should relate to the government,” Land said, drawing attention to chapter 13 in the Book of Romans.
“The government is an agency ordained of God to curtail evil in the world and to protect that which is right and to punish that which is evil,” Land said. “Our responsibility is to support the government through tribute and taxation, rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. It is our godly duty to obey the law even when no one is looking and if we disagree with the law to try to change the law in a peaceful manner.”
Yet there is nothing in the Bible about the government promoting religion or expounding religion, Land continued. “The last thing we should ever want is for the government to sponsor and promote religion. It’s like being hugged by a python; it squeezes all the life out of you and you fall over dead.”
When the government sponsors religion, Land said, the government thinks they own it. “They think they can tell you how to do it and they never get it right,” Land said, warning that the White House’s faith-based initiatives, while well-intended, go over that line.
“When the government starts saying let’s partner together and let us give you some money to help you provide social services, watch out!” Land said, emphasizing instead the wisdom of tax reform that encourages charitable giving by American taxpayers.
And Christians, like all Americans, have a right to be involved in the public policy process despite the rhetoric of those who are trying to “marginalize and trivialize” the Christian voice in the public square, Land said.
“One of the reasons America is in such a sorry state is that we have allowed the world to tell us we don’t have the right to be involved in public policy,” he said. “That’s plain wrong. Christians have just as much right as any other citizen to be involved, and we have a command from the Lord as well, for we are the salt of the earth and the light of world. You have a right and command from on high to bring your moral perspective to bear on public policy.”