July 4, 2018: Today marks 242 years Independence for our country, and yes, this nation is still Independent and Free though the times may seem grim. The United States is the greatest nation on the earth if for no other reason than that the people have Freedom of Speech which no other nation has: not Canada, not the UK, not France. In other countries you can be jailed for speaking words of dissent or “hate” that offends a person or group, but in the US we have free dialogue, able to speak out against any politician, broadcaster, or newspaper without a fear of incarceration.
Yet, the United States is also experiencing morally-grim times. Things do not seem to have ever been as morally divided as things are today. Good is frequently regarded as evil and evil regarded as good as the era of “social justice” brings to the fore a cause for everyone. Many Christian organizations, and even churches, which have been typically regarded as evangelical, have begun pushing for Christians to also take up different “issues” in society.
Christians in this country were once encouraged to do good in their neighborhoods, to have a servant-heart toward people they encountered, and to do what they could to help the poor. Yet, this is no longer enough as “social justice warriors” declare. Christians today are consistently admonished to take up the fight against even the negative “attitudes” themselves, whether they pertain to race, sex, age, religion, nationality, education, or mental/physical ability. The New York Times is even saying that the conservatives have “weaponized” the First Amendment (Read article here). How a right of the people can be “weaponized” is unclear, but what they mean by the statement is that the First Amendment has been too broadly construed and needs to be curbed to include only certain people and organization, people like the college professors the article quotes who sit in their ivory towers thinking the nation ought to implement their ideas for society. Yet, the First Amendment keeps shutting them down because logic does not favor their arguments. Years ago, an attempt was made to shut down conservative talk radio because the left was not able to compete, today attempts are being made to shut down conservative YouTubers because the left is still not able to compete. We see this every time a new platform for free speech comes out. Fighting against negative “attitudes” instead of sin itself in society through the silencing of speech has consequently transformed the American culture into a Pharisaic culture. No one can be offended, and everyone must simply blend into the crowd, not saying anything that could be construed as an offence by anyone. In many ways, First Century Israel was a lot like present-day America.
Nearly two centuries had passed since the “back to the Bible” movement that formed the Pharisees and launched the Maccabean Revolt which threw off the yoke of Syrian tyranny. Yet, when the Lord came in the flesh, the Pharisees had become the enemy they had so greatly fought against at their founding, having added their own social rules, the oral traditions, to the Scriptures. Today, such traditions are known as “the Talmud.”
To claim that negative “attitudes” themselves should be fought against is to create a culture of constant anxiety not unlike the First Century Pharisees who “lade men with burdens grievous to be borne,” yet themselves would “touch not the burdens with one of [their] fingers” (Luke 11:46). The Bible’s instructions for Christians are clear, to never be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16) which reveals “the wrath of God… against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (V. 18). The wrath of God is an essential part of the Gospel, and it is no coincidence that the apostle mentions “ungodliness” before “unrighteousness.” To be godly is prerequisite to being righteous. Our nation is in such moral decay as it is in precisely because the culture, including many Christians, are trying to put righteousness first. Righteousness will only exalt a nation, as Proverbs 14:34 says, if the people fear God. We cannot fix society through getting involved in social justice. Instead, we must live in godliness, looking to the Lord in prayer and speaking of Him often in daily life, and further, when opportunity arises, preaching the gospel without holding back God’s wrath against sin.
Last Sunday, my church showed the movie Sheffey, produced by Unusual Films with Bob Jones University in 1977. This movie is about the life of the 19th-century circuit-riding preacher Robert Sheffey, who, as a rowdy young man, went with his friends to a revival meeting with the intent of heckling the poor preacher, but ended up being saved and gloriously changed into a man of the great God.
The movie portrays “Brother Sheffey” first, as a man of prayer so close to God that he felt he could speak to his Lord about anything. Second, Robert Sheffey was a man of tireless service, riding throughout the Appalachia territory spreading the gospel, helping those in need, and organizing almost single-handedly revival meetings every year at the Wabash Camp near Staffordsville, Giles County, Virginia. Third, he was a man of great compassion who loved his wife Elizabeth “Eliza” (Stafford) very much. Although her parents did not initially favor their marriage, believing in Brother Sheffey’s work but fearing it would be too much of a strain on their daughter, the marriage succeeded, and her parents came around. Eliza understood her husband and never complained about his frequent absences. It is said that sometimes he would ride up to their home and without dismounting, call his wife out and they would talk like two children infatuated with each other before he eventually said, “Eliza, I have to hurry; I have to be at my next appointment.”
Yet, Sheffey was also a man of conviction and foresight. At the end of his life, 1820-1902, he grieved at the direction he saw the nation going, that Christians would one day only be allowed to have their religion where the world said they could have it, and it was the Christians who were allowing this to happen. The fellowship of God’s people around His Word is a vital part of any revival meeting because it leads to godly living. The godliness of the saints is an important reason why revival meetings are still important for churches, especially in this social justice age of apparent righteousness when everyone “has a cause.”
Sheffey is a wonderful movie about an unusual servant of God on the American frontier and is featured below. Although it starts out slow, the viewer soon will catch its pace and thoroughly enjoy it. Also, a free “Devotional Guide” to the film is available: Click Here to Download the Devotional Guide.