Key Scripture Bible, Hebrews 2:1 : We must pay more careful attention therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
Let me suggest to you some applications of this picture of "The Drift." First, it runs through the entire Old Testament, from Moses to the prophets. The Israelites drifted from the revelation given to them. They took up the ways of the nations around them, which they had been warned against. These included prostitution as a religious item, including male prostitution -- this was because of a focus on sexuality, fertility & abundance, on human enjoyment, on the human being at the center of all things. It went so far that they were able to tell the prophet Jeremiah, "we were better off when we worshipped the Queen of Heaven". (If you haven't read the exposition of what Adam and Eve did, click for that analysis and come "back" here... [ie "back" arrow])
This is a fundamental drift that runs through the Old Testament, and it forced God to turn them out into Exile. Their Exile was one of the bitterest experiences known to humanity.
When we look at this "Drift," it raises a basic question of whether there has been a similar drift away from the revelation given to us in Christ. Let me suggest some "Drifts" that are very clear:
There has been a philosophical drift in our intellectual theories. This has been very sharp since the scientific revolution. The Frenchman LaPlace explained the motions of the stars and the orbits of planets to Napoleon. He showed him his charts and equations, and when he was done, Napoleon asked him where God fit into his equations. LaPlace replied, "Your majesty, I had no need of that hypothesis."
Now, we must be clear: LaPlace's explanations are at a shallower level -- compare them to Genesis 1 ! But our society has become accustomed to living at that shallower level –– things just ARE and we describe HOW they act and consider that understanding. We need our roots back into those older, deeper levels. The things that are, ARE because of the purposes of God. The lights in the sky mark the seasons and days and years -- there is an actual why to their being there (Genesis 1:14 "signs"), not just a "how" they move. And it is so with our lives, and we need to understand that.
Another "Drift" : There has been a DRIFT in the operations of our society. The First amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not ban religion from schools. At that time, religion was routinely taught, clergy were paid from tax funds, many states had "established" churches. The First Amendment, at the time it was passed, meant that no national church could be set up to threaten the established churches in the various states. Now, it has been steadily pushed into another place by one of these soft persistent winds. Now it means that a school board cannot suggest the Ten Commandments for the attention of students. (click here to see letter to U.S. Supreme Court about this).
We had a great furor over this in late 1999 in southern California. A school board proposed to post the Ten Commandments. The issue was not that students would be required to pledge to obey them. It was not even that students might be forced to read them. The issue was simply making them officially available to be readily seen -- and that was too much. In the place that our Consitution has "drifted" into, that was "unconstitutional," and the school board was forced to drop the idea.
Now let me contrast that with the world I grew up in. In prior decades, the schools operated in an implicit framework of authority, each level answering to higher authority -- ultimately to God. This helped form Christian character. Now, "everything is negotiable", there is a fundamental paradigm shift, often labelled post-modernism.
Now, let's do a little putting-together of these drifts. Let's consider the place of Scripture in our society, in the "light" of our "scientific" consciousness. Remember, I'm not knocking good science -- I'm saying there are dangerous distortions of it going around.
Let's look back at one of the gentle winds in this drift. Remember LaPlace and his "explanation" of the stars and planets? Now consider that in light of what the book of Revelation says: (I'll be reading from chapter 6, verses 12 and 13)
The sun turned black ... the stars in the sky fell ...
If you accept an allegorical application: this has in a sense occurred through the shift in view I described: the mistakenly-"scientific" view that has blinded people to the larger meaning of these heavenly objects. They were once testimony to the wisdom of God, the power of God, the goodness of God. Now they just ARE, and their testimony has fallen out of sight, their spiritual light has been darkened.
I wonder also if we may see this in the description of the "two witnesses" in Rev. 11:3-12. Throughout human history, the two great witnesses to God have been the natural world and the revealed Word of God. Now, the natural world does not tell people of order and power and goodness -- it speaks only of "survival of the fittest," which gets misunderstood as survival of the fastest -- fastest on the draw. The revealed Word has been hounded out of the public square by the misinterpretation of the First Amendment. (But, if you're interested in this interpretation of Rev. 11, remember that the two witnesses came to life again, verse 11.)
Now I will mention another "Drift": there has been a theological drift. Theology has been persistently reshaped according to what human beings want. Wrath has disappeared, God is portrayed as much more easy-going. In 1877, the famous American preacher Henry Ward Beecher stopped preaching the doctrine of Hell. He said he didn't want any child to suffer the way he did when these ideas tormented his young mind. Fifteen years later, the American Board of Foreign Missions stopped enforcing the requirement that missionaries must believe in Hell. Well, you may be in favor of a "kinder gentler" God, and I have more to say on this subject -- BUT it has gone so far now, that Klebold and Harris, the Columbine killers, were able to say in their farewell videos to their parents, "just know that we're going to a better place." Is that how you go to a better place when you die, by engaging in premeditated mass murder and killing yourself in the process? This is NOT traditional Christian understanding! So far have we drifted.
The theological drift has meant also that we have lost the awareness of the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.
There has been a drift in public conduct. Some of you may remember when one of the most popular movies of all time came out -- "Gone With The Wind." In it, Rhett Butler said, :Frankly, my darling, I don't give a damn." That was shocking at the time. Compare that, with our public speech today! Here's what one newspaper said about public speech now: "Here's a test: Try watching TV at what used to be the old family hour without running into material that, by the standards of even a few years ago, would be widely regarded as not for kids. Go ahead: Keep the remote at the ready, try your best to avoid it. If the sitcoms and material don't get you, the teasers and trailers will. Or try renting videotapes without unpleasant surprises. Same thing." (This is from an editorial 11/29/99 in the Riverside Press-Enterprise in southern California)
There has been a steady drift in our public understandings about human sexuality. The sharpest edge of it has been in homosexual issues, but it is broader than that. Sexual conduct that used to be considered blatantly immoral is now routinely modelled on television. Note that there's a reversal of the logic used to think about these issues. Traditional thought began with reflection on God's purposes in making human beings. This led to the ideal of the committed faithful relationship. And traditional thought took note of Malachi 2:15, that God "desires Godly offspring."
Now, society's approach has shifted from pondering God's purposes, to examining restraints on our gratifications. If I have this desire, why not?
I will take a side journey here. I do believe that there are parts of the Church, where intense energy is applied against homosexual activity, partly because the people who make this opposition, do not themselves have to wrestle with such impulses -- and so there may sometimes be a lack of compassion and consideration in some quarters.
But if anyone feels that "heterosexism" is a real issue, they have still to acknowledge that the Scriptures tell us not to make Christian freedom into "license." These Scriptures include Jude 4 and 10 [ Jude verse 4 is the quote about "license"; verse 10 is a good one to ponder about this issue as we hear it advocated in America today]. Another Scripture on this is 1 Peter 2:16 "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil." If we take concern about these issues of sexual understandings, we will need to fortify ourselves with some meditation on 1 Pet. 4:4, "They think it strange you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you."
I've been told that if I am going to say that much, I should be clear about MY sexual status. After I was divorced in 1986, I pondered the Scripture regarding divorced people not remarrying -- that can be applied too broadly, but I felt in my case, it did apply, and I have been celibate steadfastly since. I am not and have never been homosexual.
By the way, there's an interesting confluence of these "drifts" I'm describing -- in California, it is now illegal to display the Scripture in public schools, but it is perfectly legal for a homosexual teacher to display homosexual convictions. And parents who have a conviction against homosexuality are NOT allowed to have their children transferred from a classroom where the teacher insists on doing that -- such a transfer is considered occupational discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, discrimination against the teacher, and the State forbids it. What was once illegal is now protected, even to the degree of this disparity --the Scripture cannot be shown, and homosexual displays cannot be shunned.
I have painted some extensive and dramatic "drifts" in our civilization. The example of the Santa Maria shows the importance of dealing with these "drifts." By the way, the people who had to be left behind, because of Santa Maria's shipwreck, all perished as they attempted to over-winter in the New World.
But I am not promoting fear, I am promoting concern -- and with it, HOPE. There is still hope that this will be all right, that we will dwell in God's favor as we fight the forces of evil with spiritual weapons. There is the hope that at the moment, America is like Voltaire's description of British beer: "on the top, froth; at the bottom, dregs; in the middle, excellent." The "First Amendment Drift" may indeed help us to deepen in voluntary religion, to have more true "heart to God." Remember always that key Scripture from the Christmas narratives:
"You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." [Mt. 1:21].
P.P.S. If you came into this exposition from the "key verse for our times" short topic, click here for the parable from Christopher Columbus's tortured history underlying the phrase "The Drift"
There is a broad key to our times in Scripture: the phrase, "the deceitfulness of sin" (you will find that in Hebrews 3:13). We see this deceitfulness not just in the popularization of fornication. We see it in the drugs -- people put "meth" and "ecstasy" into their bodies because it feels good at the moment, with little regard for God's purposes in designing their minds and bodies. We see it in the obession with financial wealth that swept America in the 1990's.
If I am preaching hope, how do we set about addressing THE DRIFT in our lives?
First, we need to think and talk about where we should be. An Eastern Orthodox Christian wrote a book called At the Corner of East and Now. In it, he said this: "In this small, ordinary looking church, something will happen at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning that is of cosmic significance. The unending worship of heaven will descend and fill this building, and fill the worshippers gathered here. If this is true, it is the most important thing that will happen in this entire city all week..." [readers' note: the quote is not exact wording, but from memory]
This is the first, vital response of the Church to "The Drift" : to fully use our opportunity to dwell in the eternal worship of heaven. You may find it interesting to read the passages in Revelation in which we see written out, some of excerpts of the worship that goes on unendingly in heaven. These start with Rev. 4:8. They include Rev. 4:11; 5:9,10,12-14; 11:15,17-18; 15:3-4; 19:1, 4-7. Our hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy" comes from one of them.
When there is a problem, a key question is, "How bad is it?" Ponder a diagnostic: Ezek. 16: 49-50: Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. [v 50] They were haughty and did detestable things before Me.
How do we see these matters, concerning our society today? Fewer people are in poverty now, as a percentage, than in earlier decades -- but there is a shadow: thirty years ago, a minimum wage earner could support a family of three above poverty level. Not any more ...
A Hispanic woman in Los Angeles was asked by a journalist: "Why do your people seem to have a lock on the house-cleaning jobs here?" She replied, "Because the Black ladies won't work for less than minimum wage." Our respect for "the market" serves in some areas as an excuse to exploit the poor. This is true regarding the poorer nations also: "Since 1971, the number of countries categorized as extremely poor has risen from 25 to 48. Only one country has risen off that list in these 30 years." [readers' note: this is per UN categories; quote is 2/14/00 Riverside CA Press-Enterprise]
(By the way, click here to see discussion of a "Marshall Plan for Africa")
Now, let us ponder and pray over these matters, for regarding the poor, we need to remember the hope that shines to us in the Lord's word to Jeremiah. Speaking of King Josiah, the LORD said, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know Me?" declares the Lord. (Jer 22:16)
Concern for the poor is one key area that Ezekiel 16 highlights about "the sin of Sodom;" another is what Ezek. 16:50 called "abominations." In some areas, we educate young people to have no compunctions against whatever types of sexual desires they feel. Because of our mistaken philosophy, it seems inevitable that there will be more "experimentation." When Harold Brodkey was dying of AIDS, he appealed for prayer -- this was in a national magazine, the New Yorker, so I am not spreading confidential matters here. Well, I answered his call for prayer, then I wrote and told him so (to Harold Brodkey, c/o Editor, New Yorker magazine). I got a nice thank-you letter back, and I was nodding my head pleasantly over it until I reached the bottom, where it said, "his words, my handwriting." Brodkey was too wasted by AIDS to hold a pen, so his wife wrote it for him. Brodkey acknowledged in his article that the disease reached him from what he called his "experimental period" concerning his sexuality.
Facing The Drift
I am raising a basic question here: is there not a persistent tendency for human beings to stray after their own thoughts, in a cumulative fashion? If there is, how do we go about facing "The Drift" ? If indeed as one professor told me, "the Church is God's project in the world," we have to start by strengthening the Church. I mentioned a few moments ago the importance of worship as our fundamental refuge and basic tool of growth and strengthening. We have to work at clarifying our thinking. We have to be carefully oriented to that hope from the Christmas narratives: "call his Name Jesus, for he will save." To have this blessing, we must take this most seriously. Let Jeremiah 6:14 speak to you: "They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious."
One of the tools for growth I would recommend you consider is an evangelistic and discipling program called the Alpha Course. This is a ten-week video program, which is used for discussion meetings with a meal and fellowship. It has grown over the last 20 years so much that 107 countries are using it now, with about half a million people taking this course this year. (Information: www.alphana.org ). There are many kinds of materials around, and as people have a variety of gifts, they may want the Church to supply a variety of programs to equip them for these matters. The call to the Church is both for depth -- in the true and unending "worship of heaven" -- and for growth, as Isaiah 54:4 calls to us:
Enlarge the place of your tent ... stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back lengthen your cords... strengthen your stakes.
I must wrap up with another aside: For the Tired and Lonely, a summons to strength can be very burdensome. For the Tired and Lonely, I am not saying "Be strong!" Rather, to you, I bring Psalm 68:35: The God of Israel gives power and strength to His people." [in speaking, I repeat that citation afterward, Ps. 68:35, in case people want to make note of it once they've heard it. Repeating it may help some remember it who don't actually write it down. When people are tired, we need to make things easy for them.]
For you, I suggest: find a decently dark place. Look at the stars where the sky is dark enough to REALLY see them. They are there by the eternal power of God. That same eternal power goes with you. God has given you things you can rely on, as surely as we rely upon the steady courses of the stars.
So, I have mapped out for you "Drifts" in our society's philosophy, in the operations of our institutions, in the general discussions of theology among our peoples. I personally feel that the diagnostic given in Ezekiel chapter 16 shows reason for real concern. There are tools for the Church to lay hold of. As you reach to fulfill your mission among all this need, I hold out hope:
Our ship is not watched over by a cabin boy. Our ship is watched over by the God who alone is truly wise.
Your author is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and is available for preaching or teaching engagements (email link on homepage)
If you are interested in the conclusion to this sermon, or agree with the problem statement, please email me your interest. I would ask that your email indicate whether you consider yourself a Christian. I would also like to know to what degree and in what ways, you agree with the problem analysis given above for "The Drift," and with these steps toward solution. Thank you!