In the mid-1960s, while serving as a young pastor in Denver, Colorado, I witnessed what I shall call a spiritual tsunami. This tsunami must have been about a thousand feet (304 m) in height. It was like a dam that had long restrained evil broke and a mighty torrent of lawlessness swept over the country and over the church. Suddenly pastors were replaced as moral authorities in the community and new gurus began to arise everywhere in their stead. I particularly remember Dr. Timothy Leary, who had earned his doctorate at Berkeley and who later lectured at Harvard. Leary founded the League of Spiritual Discovery (LSD) and challenged the youth of America and of the world to “Turn on, tune in and drop out!” By turning on he meant taking an “acid trip” with the new drug, LSD. Without realizing it millions of young people were plunged deeply into sorcery, because hallucinogenic drugs and sorcery have been age-old companions.
People everywhere immediately began to praise these guru types, as the Bible declared they would. In Proverbs 28:4 it is said: “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked.” Almost overnight the Christian world was turned upside down. Age-old values were stood on their heads. Ancient biblical foundations of our society were washed away or else severely damaged.
We immediately began to pay a high price for this new lawlessness. Soon, over forty million babies were destroyed in the evil tide of abortion. In time, another forty million people were washed away in the flood tide of HIV and AIDS, mostly due to the new morality and illicit sex. Many Christian homes, parents and children were also severely damaged. Since that time we have paid a very high price in areas almost too numerous to mention. For instance, the ancient biblical foundations of business morality were virtually wiped away and we began to enter into a new and frightening “anything-goes”
I have wondered many times since the 60s if all this was the beginning of the “falling away” mentioned in scripture. We read about it in 2 Thessalonians. 2:3: “That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” Jesus speaks of a similar thing in Matthew 24:12-13 “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Do we understand what Jesus is saying? He is saying that the love of most Christians will grow cold due to the end-day tide of lawlessness. He is not talking about “a few” Christians, or “some” Christians, but “most” Christians.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SIN?
Because of the tidal wave of lawlessness there began to be a new attitude expressed toward sin. In 1966, an Episcopal priest, Joseph Fletcher, wrote an extremely popular book entitled Situation Ethics. In the book, Fletcher assured us that we no longer needed to concern ourselves with laws to be obeyed. From now on the only law was the law of love, and love justified both the means and the end. It is of note that Joseph Fletcher eventually became an atheist. In 1967, Thomas Harris wrote his classic, I’m OK – You’re OK. It was probably not so much the content of his pop psychology book, but the title itself that so appealed to an emerging lawless society. Of course with that line of thinking we could easily say Enron is OK, Hitler is OK, and maybe even Satan is OK.
In just a few years this type thinking was expressed everywhere. By 1973 the Christian Psychologist Karl Menninger lamented this fact in his own book entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin?” Suddenly ugly old sins got a face lift, put on new clothes and proudly came to church. Fornication and Adultery, sins that would have gotten a person stoned to death in ancient Israel, appeared in the church as “meaningful relationships.” Homosexuality, a sin that got the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah burned to ashes by a very angry God, came to church as “alternate life styles.” Even ugly old greed got all “dolled up” and came to church as the “prosperity gospel.”
So a biblical understanding of sin began to disappear from our society, from the church and even from our consciences. Today for many people, the solution to what used to be called sin is now sought in self-help programs, positive thinking, therapy, meditation or counseling. Lately our churches seem to be loaded with counselees and counseling appointments. Some of our friends say that many of those seeking counseling today only want to know how to be happy though sinning.
According to the Bible, Harris’ title “I’m OK, You’re OK,” should be rephrased to read “I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner.” In Romans 3:23 the Bible assures us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In Romans 6:23 the Bible says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin is like some sort of terrible virus that clings to us all. Many years ago a group of us were able to witness a doctor perform minor surgery. As we gathered around, we saw that the doctor had arranged the sterile cloth with his sterile instruments on the table. Suddenly one of the instruments dropped to the floor and one of our group, without thinking, reached down picked it up and laid it back on the sterile cloth. I will never forget the reaction of the doctor. He put his hands above his head and screamed out, “Aaaaaaaaah!” Often since that time I have thought how his reaction must be akin to the reaction of a holy God as he looks upon our sin.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO REPENTANCE
So, we see that in our society and even in the church we have learned to coddle sin or else deny its existence. We deny a lot of other things too. If there is no sin, then what do we need with repentance? It too has become a casualty of the tsunami wave of evil.
Yet, when we look at the Bible we see a lot about repentance. On one occasion all Israel stood in the cold winter rain and repented over their sin (Ezra 10). Our gospel was introduced with a call to repentance by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2). Jesus came into the Galilee announcing his ministry with a call to repentance (Matt. 4:17). In his penitential prayer of Psalm 51:1-2, King David utters his heart-cry of repentance: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Not only in biblical times but in modern times we have heard such cries. They came at the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in America’s Great Awakening. They came in the frontier revivals of the 1800s. People cried, wept, and moaned over their sins and they found a sure salvation. But where are the tears today? We sort of accept the fact that we might be sinners. We sort of repent. My old pastor used to say “A lot of our repentance needs to be repented of.” We sort of vote for Jesus (by secret ballot of course). My how things have changed! In the Bible we hear the clarion call of repentance and salvation in the words of Peter: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
Repentance is a total change in one’s life. Perhaps repentance is best pictured in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24. This impetuous young man demanded his inheritance from his father and then promptly went to waste it in a foreign land. At last when all was spent he found himself feeding swine and even craving the husks that the swine were eating. As he came to his senses he realized that his father’s servants were better off than he. At that point he made a decision to return to his father and to confess his sins. He said: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men’” (Luke 15:18-19). That young lad reflected a true biblical repentance. Of course, when the father saw the returning son at a great distance he ran, fell on his neck and kissed him. He then put a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet and killed the fatted calf that they might celebrate his homecoming.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO A LOT OF OTHER THINGS?
When we reflect a little we can see that the church is missing a lot of other things that used to belong to Christianity. Whatever happened to the preaching that this world is passing away (1 Jn. 2:17)? Or, what happened to the preaching that the world and its sinners will be destroyed by fire? We read about this in 2 Peter 3:7: “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of
Whatever happened to the preaching that there is an eternal hell? In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says: “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We might also ask, whatever happened to the preaching of a holy and sanctified life? In 1 Peter 1:16 we read: “It is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
So we see that many things have been washed away from Christianity in the last few generations. Still, there is one more very important thing that needs mentioning.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CROSS AND THE BLOOD?
For much of its history, the religion of Judaism was a very bloody religion. Continual sacrifices were required at the Temple in Jerusalem and the blood constantly flowed down into the Kidron Valley. But in time Judaism became an altar-less, bloodless religion, as it is today. What is even more alarming is that we are coming closer and closer to an altar-less, cross-less, and bloodless Christianity. A recent quote from a feminist theologian, Delores Williams, illustrates this trend. She says: “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.”*
Today we seem to be losing the cross in the Christian life. Jesus in Matthew 16:24-25 speaks about this cross saying: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Someone has said that the blood deals with what we have done, but the cross deals with what we are. God wants to change forever what we are. His desire is that we be like him, and to do that we must carry the cross of Christ. As darkness and lawlessness surround the church today we soon may learn a lot more about this cross.
In the 1930s the darkness closed in on Germany and much of Europe. The church was unprepared for this onslaught and many churches found themselves cooperating with Hitler and surrendering the Jews on their rolls. But during this same time there was a small valiant confessing church that stood its ground. One of those brave pastors was Dietrick Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer dared help the Jews while standing against Hitler and his program. For doing so he was finally imprisoned at Buchenwald and in time was sentenced to death. Bonhoeffer was led to the gallows and gave his life as a Christian martyr just shortly before the war ended in 1945. He left us with these challenging words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”** Actually if we have nothing worth dying for we probably have nothing worth living for.
Lastly, are we losing the cross and its blood in the atonement itself? We don’t preach or sing much about the cross or the blood anymore. I suppose if there is no longer any sin there is not much use for the cross and the blood.
But the Bible assures us that we continue to have a great problem of access with a holy God. The Bible also tells us that this problem of access is solved only by the cross and blood of Jesus. In Hebrews 10:12 we read: “But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Only Jesus by his death has solved our huge sin problem, and he has solved it forever.
Some have tried by various means to achieve a clear conscience and have failed. But now these are invited to try the blood of Jesus. Today that blood is available and it will never lose its power. In 1 John 1:7-9 the apostle says: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Publication , 2005
*Carl Olson & Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004, p 92
** Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, The Macmillan Co., 1963, p 99