In the end times the apostasy of the age will creep into God’s church, sometimes in the form of blatant unbelief, but also in a coldness toward the things of God and a love for the things of the world.  While the world takes its downward spiral toward the coming judgment of God, the church seems to follow, not lock-step with the world, yet not too many steps behind.  Hegel’s dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis seems to work for human beings, whether as leaders of a corrupt generation, or imitators from afar.

The Parable

Your own generation has its thesis, that orthodoxy of belief and morals which have shaped the world in which you live (let’s say 1 on a scale of 10).  There is always a protest or rebellion, an antithesis (a 3 on a scale of 10) promoting those things that have always been disdained and usually rejected.  But once the younger generation has been exposed to the rebellion, the original thesis becomes old and out of date.  At that point a synthesis is formed (a 2 on a scale of 10), not taking that generation all the way to the extreme of the antithesis, but settling rather on a convenient in-between place—the synthesis.  Once the older generation gets over its “fussing and complaining” about compromise everyone can settle into the new way of thinking.

As the younger generation gets older their wonderful synthesis (the 2), which they once found to be so exciting, new, and different, has, out of shear time, become their own thesis.  Because the world is what it is, a new form of protest obediently comes along, another antithesis (this time a 4 on a scale of 10) to rebel against their thesis (the 2).  Now the parents know not to be alarmed at this challenge.  They have seen it in their own youth and realize that it never catches on.  They watch, amusingly, as their children rebel, complain, push back at the older thesis (the 2) and then settle into their own new found synthesis (now the 3).  The parents are even proud of their children for sowing their wild oats and then coming up with their own way of doing things.  Grandparents remain skeptical.

Now this third generation begins to get older also.  They didn’t really think it would happen to them but it has.  They have enjoyed living in their synthesis (the 3) which they made but now they must realize that their wonderful synthesis has unfortunately, like their fathers before them, become the thesis of their generation (the 3).  They are even a little shocked to discover that there are some who would protest against their present thesis (3).  After all, their thesis (a 3) is the same as the original antithesis (the old 3).  But now a new antithesis (now a 5) has come along and all the kids are screaming and clamoring over it.  But wait, the thesis (3) remembers how this happened before.  It’s a sort of metamorphosis that evidently must continue generation after generation, almost in a religious way.  This is change, progress, a necessary molding of generations into peaceful cooperation.  So the parents again watch with pride and certain nostalgia as their children play with the new antithesis (5) and then, almost predictably, settle into their new synthesis (this time a 4).

But, you guessed it, even this fourth generation watches themselves get older.  They have been a 4 for a long time.  They don’t even remember anyone who was a 2, much less a 1.  What was unimaginable to the 1st generation, so far from the first antithesis, is now normal.  And, you guessed it again, a new antithesis (now a 6) dutifully pops up and the new generation of parents watch with anticipation as their children imitate the once unimaginable and eventually create their new synthesis (now a 5) . . . And the dialectic repeats itself over and over again.  Its only motto:  Change!  Oh, did I forget to define “dialectic” by the dictionary?  I’m sorry: “The Hegelian process of change in which an entity passes over into and is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite” (Webster’s 7th).

The Observation

It is the day after Super Tuesday.  Conservatives did not do so well in the most important primary day of the election season.  Within the “conservative” Republican party there seems to be three groups of people.  There are the Reagan conservatives who are trying desperately to make their case for the core values of their movement. Some even argue for a static constitution in the midst of changing ideas.  At the same time John McCain is proposing a new kind of conservatism that is drawing lots of protests from the Reagan conservatives.  It appears more like an anti-conservative position.  Mike Huckabee is trying to find some middle ground between the two.  He is hoping that the party is ready for an agreeable middle.   But it seems that the party is ready to go all the way with the new “conservative” look of McCain.

Liberal commentators and other Democrats can’t understand the problem that conservative Republicans have with McCain.  Good grief, they think, John McCain IS conservative (and compared to them this is true).  But the Democratic party is taking liberalism far beyond what is acceptable even to McCain (we hope!).  Today the Reagan conservatives were trying desperately, on radio, TV and the Internet, to make their case.  It has been hard for them to explain to the liberal media why they are so alarmed by John McCain and dissatisfied with Mike Huckabee’s middle of the road position.  They come across as mean-spirited, whiners, selfish people who aren’t willing to give and take for the betterment of the country.  For some reason, they just can’t seem to give up on (or at least reinterpret) their old Reagan conservative values.

Of course, these conservatives were, not too long ago, the innovators and revolutionaries.  But their antithesis, even synthesis has become an old worn-out thesis that young people can’t bring themselves to adopt.  Obama will win the day.  Why?  Because he has good ideas?  No, he has no ideas that I have heard.  But he will win the day because he is the antithesis to all that has gone before.  He only has to cry “change” and younger voters will obediently follow.  “Unity,” “Freshness,” “Vitality,” whatever, but thoughtful ideas are not really necessary to win elections.

The Application

I said at the beginning that the churches follow the culture just a few steps behind.  It may be that they follow very closely but just travel on parallel tracks.   They go through the same dialectic generation after generation but talk in religious, not political, terms.  What was once considered religious liberalism now is accepted as orthodoxy.  Older Christians, who have seen the compromises of the past, are alarmed by the cry for change in churches, in life-styles, and in other doctrinal convictions.  As long as it is change, no one seems to care what the change is to or from.

I’ve said before that it is much easier to be the liberal in the crowd than the conservative.  The liberal always appears to be the thinker, the innovator, the one with vision.  The conservative just gets on everyone’s nerves.  He is always trying to draw in the reins, to caution not just to change for change’s sake, because he knows you’ll have to do it again soon.  And the conservative is usually older, and necessarily so.  He has to have been around long enough to have seen these things happen before.  If you’re the liberal in the crowd, you can just laugh at your conservative brother because you think he is silly or nit-picky.  But if you are the conservative, you know you have been put in a compromising position and that is no laughing matter.

Someone pointed out that McCain is very conservative compared to either of the democratic candidates and therefore conservatives should not complain.  But that is no consolation to the political conservative.  He knows his core values are being slowly but surely eroded, that his thesis is quickly becoming a synthesis.  Similarly, conservative Christians are often reminded that Rick Warren and others are conservative also when compared to atheists, agnostics and blatant liberals.  In the whole world of viewpoints anyone who calls himself an evangelical seems conservative.  But that is no consolation to a truly conservative Christian.  He sees his core convictions and the details of his doctrine being slowly given away and he knows that somehow he must stop that from happening.

What is most difficult for the conservative political observer is to hear platitudes and “positive” language when, in fact, nothing of substance is being said.  You see crowds of young people cheering for Obama because he speaks like a cheerleader or an activist and yet few policies are being delineated or positions taken, just promises made for something new.  When money from the rich is promised to the crowd or when they are assured our troops will no longer be fighting, hands are raised, tears begin to flow, and dancing begins.

It becomes very difficult in the church to ask the youth and spiritually immature to take a lower seat, to not assume to lead the fathers in worship, to accept the fact that worldliness cannot be overcome by talent.  Sometimes it is difficult for parents to admit that the worldly ways of their children disqualifies them from  leading in worship even if it would keep Johnny in church a little longer.

Unlike politics, the church cannot say one thing and do another.  Its message is intrinsically linked to its actions.  A politician can ask you to vote a certain way because it will make life easier or cause you to be happy in some way you haven’t been before.  But Christianity must present its message as truth whether it will profit you in this life or not, whether it will make you happy or not.  It will never win a popularity contest or attract the ungodly.  It is not enough fun for that.  Attendance averages have never been the point of God’s House.  Few people can worship just as truly and richly as many people, maybe better.  But politics and showmanship must have attendance and votes, and those can usually be bought.

And So . . . .

There is one large and dynamic difference between the world and the church.  That is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The church does not dictate to or bargain with Him, He leads the church.  He absolutely will not lead contrary to His Word or to the Father’s will.  He is as a dove which desires the dry and quiet places.  His job is to restrain sin in the world, not promote it or flirt with it.  He seeks and desires humility and backwardness and resists the proud and haughty spirit.

Because of the Spirit the church can repent.  It does not have to always create the synthesis or continue sliding into the antithesis.  It can confess its sin and return to the thesis.  The Godhead is the same today as He was yesterday or the first day He created the world.  His values have not changed nor any aspect of His character or person.  If He deals differently with people in different dispensations, He still cannot change who He is, what He thinks, or what is truth.  Sinners must come back to Him.  He will convict, persuade, and draw but He will not give and take.

We may ask whether our thesis is the right one.  There is only one way to find out—by whether or not it is Biblical!  When it is pointed out to us that “then it becomes a matter of interpretation,” we should answer, “Yes, of course, it does!  It is our responsibility to read, translate, interpret, and rightly apply the Word to every situation in every generation.  But giving up is no option.”  The Spirit will always act in accordance with the Word which He wrote.  He is eternally the same and so is His Word.  When we meditate on it and become convicted that worldliness is not pleasing to Him, and become convinced of the truth we should proclaim, then let us turn from our sins and practice that which is pleasing to God.

The world is not our standard.  It will continually find new measures for its truth.  This postmodern generation may be the one which ushers in the Anti-Christ himself; one which believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thes 2:12); one which is deceived because they received not the love of the truth (vs 10).  The church of Jesus Christ has the Spirit in its heart and the Word of God in its hand: let us be a standard for truth in our own generation!