Rev. Philip Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
“America seems to be crumbling from within” reads the jacket cover of a recent book by Timothy S. Goeglein and Craig Osten. The title of the book is “American Restoration—How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation.” The authors delve into the culture wars but from a different than usual perspective. Goeglein is a fellow member of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, holding his membership at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia, the congregation where two of our adult children and their families are members. Tim is also a fellow Hoosier, hailing from Ft. Wayne. He has served high-level government positions with former Senator Dan Coats and as special assistant to President George W. Bush. Craig Osten is a former political reporter and did graduate work at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
Most proposed solutions to healing our nation are political in nature and these authors have eschewed that as a solution. They have focused on what Christians can and must do in these days of divided government. “The key is for Christians to engage with the culture, not free from it, to be the salt and light that will renew it from within” states the jacket cover. In other words, the only solution is a spiritual solution. The authors have done a brilliant job of analyzing our predicament. Most of the information is very familiar but they have used it in a refreshing way.
In the Prologue they quote T. S. Eliot:
“The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” [Thoughts After Lambeth. 1931]
Eliot wrote in the days of creeping totalitarianism in Europe before it became full blown. It came to pass in a horrifying world-wide conflict. It seemed that Christianity might not survive, but the Church did, just as our Lord has promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16.18]
The horizon for Christ’s Church doesn’t seem bright, humanly speaking, but into such situations the Church has been before. Persecution has always followed the preaching of the Gospel. Satan and his legions fight against it with murderous might. He was a murderer from the beginning [John 8.44] and we see his rage daily on the 24 news cycle.
What should Christians do? Although not identifying it, Goeglein’s and Osten’s answer is really something out of Luther. It is the doctrine of Christian vocation. There will never be a true Christian culture. There is Christian influence and even foundations, but a truly Christian culture has not existed in this world and never will. Rather, what makes a positive difference is how we live our lives in this sin-infected world. Personal note: I detest the unqualified phrase, “I want to make a difference in this world.” There are plenty of people who have made a difference but it has been an evil difference. Just survey those in the 20th century who made a difference. It is a record of warfare, brutality, murder, and offenses that stun the senses. A difference to be sure, but a negative one!
Christians are to make a positive difference by living according to the Gospel. Luther called it vocation, one’s “place in life.” See first Confession in the Enchiridion of the Small Catechism under the section “Which are These?” Then see the Table of Duties: “Certain passages of Scripture for various holy orders and positions, admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities.” That doesn’t mean that one must engage heroic, newsworthy deeds. It means that one lives one’s Christian vocation as husband and wife, parents and children, citizen, employer and employee, etc. In whatever vocation you have you are to serve as Christ served.
In Luther’s day vocation meant clerical vocations, being priests or other clergy, living the monastic life removed from society. Luther made it a point that the humblest Christian who washes floors or changes diapers is doing God’s work.
Goeglein and Osten have said it very well, using today’s language. I would posit that the most important vocation in our society is that of the roles in the family. Without question, the basic unit of society has been under attack by many. Deconstruction of family life has been the goal of those who want to replace it with the government. I’ve read article after article about the catastrophes brought about by the destruction of the family. Crime and institutionalized poverty are two of the results. Every time there is a mass shooting one can almost certainly assume that the perpetrator has a destructive family background. We can cite the statistics by the yard. The breakdown of the family has resulted in societal chaos.
Goeglein and Osten make use of Edmund Burke’s idea of “the little platoon.” That’s really what Luther calls our “place in life.” Wherever God has placed us is where we are to serve to his glory and the good of our neighbor. I found “Restoring the Concept of the Gentleman” as a particularly insightful chapter of the book. Citing Burke, they stated:
“Edmund Burke, the great British parliamentarian and philosopher, once said the greatest cultural achievement of Western civilization were the advancement of Christianity and the concept of the gentleman.” [American Restoration, p. 65].
The gentleman is not some guy who is well-dressed but one who “see[s] the inherent worthy and dignity —imago Dei—in every person, man or woman. The imago Dei is the image of God. Such a person sees the dignity God has created in others. This is a distinctly Christian insight. The tragedy these days is that few young men see it. The authors cite the well-known C. S. Lewis diagnosis, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.” [Ibid. p. 70].
If there is to be a restoration of our culture it will have to come from Christians who live out the doctrine of vocation. It means that we must be godly husbands, wives, children, employers, employees, public servants, etc. It is doing the right thing when nobody is watching, of going the extra mile without thought of reward, of serving because Christ has served us. The chances are nobody will reward us for it nor even notice it. Society may well mock us for being naive. Jesus said that we “are unworthy servants who have only done our duty.” [Luke 17.10] We don’t look for awards but for God’s approval.
Indeed, that is the call for us in these gray and latter days as we await the reappearing of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I particularly liked the quote our authors citied from G. K. Chesterton:
“At least five times . . the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it is the dog that died.” [Ibid.xii]
The Church of Christ will survive amidst persecution of the worst sort. Christ has promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” So we live out our Christian vocations and trust that God will indeed prevail. Our call is to be faithful Christians.