Rev. M. J. Nicolaus
In a recent Bible Class on “Love and the Family” someone mentioned that although the study guide had been produced in 1971, the discussion questions seemed to be very contemporary. So was the discussion.
The conversation, a very lively one, brought about three questions. What has our world come to; what in the world does American society today reflect; simply put, where are we? How did we get here? And, where in the world are we going?
Ignoring chronological order, we will begin with the present. WHERE ARE WE?
Our contemporary American society may well be described with phrases such as, the aggressive assertion of individual rights/expression, the broad sweep of denial of individual responsibility (group and corporate as well), and a consummate and ingrained selfishness. Do you remember phrases such as, “After me you come first,” or “Take care of number one?” These are phrases that in the 70s and 80s were tossed about flippantly, but have now become the undergirding reality of American society. They have become, functionally, a mindset, a way of life.
Aggressive Assertion of Individual Rights/Expression.
One can easily observe this in the clothing our ‘stars’ and young people wear. Cleavage, which used to be covered out of a sense of modesty, is now boldly displayed. Clothing for our High School age girls is designed for the sole purpose of displaying, yes, emphasizing their primary sex organs. Our High School age boys go about with pants and shorts so low on the hips and behind, that plumbers crack is no longer shocking. Hairdos, complete with more rainbow colors than the rainbow, spikes, Mohawks, corn rows, etc.. are becoming the norm rather than the exception. High School graduations, which used to be events typified with solemnity, have become occasions for outlandish costumes and behavior on behalf of both graduates and attendees. Much more can be said, but in the interest of time and space, focus finally comes to abortion as a ‘right.’ It is MY right, the reasoning goes, to pursue MY happiness at the expense of this defenseless, unborn individual, the baby.
Broad Sweep of Denial of Individual Responsibility
This began, of course, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where each in turn tried desperately to shift the blame elsewhere; ‘It’s not my fault, it’s that woman you created, It’s not my fault, it’s that snake you created..’ (Note that in each shifting of the blame, it is in fact God who is blamed.) In the last three decades we have seen this become endemic in our society. I’m not responsible for my drinking and the consequences of it, it’s a disease. Society should set up insurance and treatment programs to help me. So goes the reasoning with alcohol, drugs, and any other form of miscreant behavior.
Along with this, our societal institutions and community mindsets have simply been massaged in accepting, even supporting, bad behavior. Note here the many High Schools which have set aside space or built special facilities so that the children of unwed mothers can have free, yes, FREE, babysitting. This not only encourages, but pays for such behavior. And are the parents of these ‘products of conception’ (abortionist terminology for babies yet in the womb) made to feel any shame for what they have done? NO, in capital letters. To the contrary, it is my observation that they are ooohed and aaahed in their families, communities, and schools. When the mother of the born child brings said child to the High School gym, everyone wants to hold it, cuddle it, tell the mother how beautiful it is (and indeed it is), and how much they love them. They have become local heroes! No guilt. No shame. No problem.
All this reminds me of the late Flip Wilson’s routine featuring Geraldine, who was known frequently to say, “The devil made me do it.” There was in that routine at least some tacit acknowledgment that there was a source or cause of something that ‘may’ not have been wholly acceptable.
Other pandemic indicators, to list only a few, might include the broad acceptance of gambling as just another form of entertainment (and the church’s silence on the subject), our government officials who did not pay their taxes and sweep it away by saying they just forgot, and our constant and consistent acceptance of election fraud.
A Consummate and Ingrained Selfishness.
Young people of late have been frequently called “The Me Generation.” If one looks carefully, one can note that this is not the sole property/characteristic of the young. Our children have been brought up to be the most self-centered, egotistical, prideful, conceited segment of the population we have ever seen.
Note that they were brought up to be that way, in most cases unintentionally, but the result is unmistakable.
There has been a massive shift from the early to mid twentieth century when children ‘were to be seen but not heard,’ and ‘should not speak until spoken to.’
This can be attributed in large part to the system of childrearing championed and advocated by Dr. Spock beginning in the 1940s. The key concept was permissiveness. Children should be raised without rules, boundaries, discipline. Such influences might damage their desire to explore… and their developing self-image.
The first overt, nationally observable consequence of this type of irresponsible childrearing took place in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democrat National Convention, when the second generation of children (that’s what they were, that’s how they acted) rioted to the mantra of ‘heck no, we won’t go,’ and ‘make love, not war.’ Unwashed, unkempt, and unruly, they defied all authority, all rule, and limitation of their own personal desire.
The natural, inbred indicator of this expression of selfishness is easily observable in any small infant playing with another small infant. It sounds like this, “Meeee, Miiine, Meeeee, Miiiiine!!” When one child hits another child over the head with the object of the argument (the toy) we should get the point. Selfishness is natural and inherent, and needs to be controlled, checked, disciplined, or it will get out of hand.
Today we see this evidenced in the parking lots of our High Schools. Each child, it seems, has to have their own car, and not just any car, but a hot one (frequently better and more expensive than Mom’s and Dad’s). They will not buy it, pay the insurance, or pay for the gas. That would require a job, which would mean they couldn’t be on the varsity team, etc. Of course, the parents willingly comply with this, because they want their children to like them, and be popular, which in many cases is a reaction to the painful reality that the parent wasn’t (popular).
Another change from days of old? Yes! It used to be that parents wanted to be the best parents they could, set standards, guidelines, give guidance. Today parents want to be their son’s or daughter’s best friend. Teachers want to be liked, want to be the students’ friend, not to be disciplinarians, instructors, etc.
Children/students of all ages respond to rules, guidelines, and discipline from any source by throwing a fit, wild and outlandish behavior of all kinds including the use of drugs and illicit sex.
How Did We Get This Way?
For the first many centuries since Christ, the European, Judeo-Christian world was locked and lost in illiteracy. The source of authority was widely assumed to be God. The source of what God had to say was the church, that is to say, the priest. The priest, it was assumed, knew what God’s Word said, could interpret it, and apply it to one’s life. The church, the priest, spoke for God and God’s Word was absolute.
Then came the Renaissance in Italy and the Enlightenment in Europe. Just examine the title of the second, and its implications. The lights went on. Education grew to previously unknown levels, illiteracy was rapidly replaced, and the Age of Reason blossomed. The new authority, beyond which there was no question, was human reason, the human mind, logic. Aristotle and Socrates would have swooned. Academics did swoon.
It was not long at all until the great educational institutions of Europe replaced the authority of God’s Word with the authority of man’s mind. Darwinian evolution, but a theory, became in time, fact.
There was, so the thinking goes, nothing that the mind of man cannot solve. The mind of man can even take us to the moon. So it did. The mind of man can solve anything, and thus we have marvelously profitable crusades (big dollars) to solve MS (Jerry’s Kids Labor Day Telethon), cancer research (Relay for Life), and so forth.
As all this developed through a couple centuries, a parallel development took place in major schools of theology (primarily Tubigen, Erfurt, and Holle). Human reasoning demanded that whatever God’s Word said had to make sense. If my mind cannot figure it out, it can’t be true. For the first time since Adam and Eve (did God really say? Does that make sense to you?) satan had reared his ugly head right out in the open. It’s called the Higher Critical Method of Biblical Interpretation. Explain it, explain it away, or reject it. It must make sense to me, to my mind, to my thinking. The new god was reason.
This festered in Europe during the nineteenth century and began to make headway in North America during the twentieth century. ‘Scholars’ who wanted to be recognized as ‘scholars’, and wanted the most prestigious seats of theology at the big name universities (Yale, Harvard, and the like) went to the big three in Europe to get their doctorates. They brought these new theologies back home with them. They, in turn, went back to their schools of theology and seminaries proudly manifesting their great, newly acquired, knowledge of what was the newest and greatest in the wonderful world of theology.
The progression was simple. These ‘elite’ professors trained a generation of pastors who in turn influenced a generation of parishioners. The end result is what we observe in the Lutheran churches in North America today. No longer do the denominations, Pastor, and congregations, cling to the absolute truth and authority of God’s Word, the Bible in all its truth and purity, inerrant and infallible, rather they appeal to and reference social and scientific norms as the standard for theology and faith. Doctrine is determined by what we have learned from science, technology, and contextual studies.
The end result of depending on human intellectual prowess is evident in the acceptance of women in the ministry, despite what God’s Word says, the acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, despite what God’s Word says, and unionism and universalism, despite what God’s Word says.
Interestingly, should one, such as I have in this brief tome, criticize or examine the precepts of current theological thinking, one is declared to be old-fashioned, out of sync, uninformed, even goofy, maybe cancelled. These are condescending responses to a legitimate perspective, but there they are. We live with them.
And live with them we will, remembering that the promise of our God and Savior is, “..be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” Rev. 2:10b. Hang in there fellow believer.
Rev. M. J. Nicolaus, Ph. D. is vacancy Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana.