Question: Some people believe that American society is more wicked and corrupt than it has ever been. Should we be looking for hopeful signs in the culture, or just in the church?
Answer: Not having lived in past eras, I prefer to be cautious in my judgment of earlier generations. However, it is my impression that people of the past were just as sinful as they are today. I suppose some of the judgments of the present are traceable to the sins of our forefathers as well as to ourselves (Acts 7:51-53).
There does seem to be fewer restraints these days. The church has less influence on the culture, and this is due in part to the rise of unbelief and compromise with the world (Acts 2:24).
Are there signs of hope? We should remember what God has done in the past. In the days of the First Great Awakening society had become thoroughly rotten. At other points the Lord brought lesser revivals, but ones that still brought blessing to the land. These movements began in the churches or through church members, not in segments of society bent on reforming the culture. Such works of God should give us hope today. God has not changed (Ps. 85:6).
Awakening usually begins in the church (2 Chron. 7:14, Rev. 2:12-17). Peter says that judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), and it stands to reason that blessing will begin there as well. If the church catches fire, the world will be drawn to its light (Acts 13:44). So I would look for hope first in the church.
The Reformers spoke of “the three uses of the Law of God”: (1) to keep society in check, (2) to drive sinners to Christ, and (3) to guide Christians in holy living.
When an awakened church preaches the whole counsel of God, that first use of the Law will come into play, and society and its culture will accept restraint. When the true Gospel is proclaimed, the second use will make people afraid of judgment and appreciative of the Cross, by which many will radically change (2 Cor. 5:17). Converts to Christ will live in holiness and so transform society (Col. 3:8-10).
But beware of “moral” societies that adopt some parts of Christian living but do not consist mainly of regenerate, believing men and women. They may prosper for a time, but without personal faith in Christ alone and lacking the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, society is doomed (Matt. 13:3-9). Therefore, look for vibrant churches through whom God is converting the lost.
Adapted from our denomination’s Q&A page