What is the most pressing enemy of the American church?
Obviously, the answer is Satan. He is the consistent enemy of all that is good and godly, but the question is: What tactic is he using currently to attack the church?
Many evangelicals believe our primary opponent will be an overpowering government that essentially outlaws Christianity and ushers in a forced secular age. To borrow from literature, we can call this the “1984 enemy.”
In his classic 1984, George Orwell imagines a future in which the omnipresent Big Brother government seeks to eliminate all independent thinking. This is achieved through surveillance, deception and ultimately threats of violence.
When many evangelicals imagine the future, this is the image that comes to mind. A dystopian future ruled by an aggressive secular government using power to force Christians to recant their faith.
It is the reason you see so many place such emphasis on winning political elections. In their minds, the only way to stave off this collapse is to elect the right leaders who will have the power to prevent this.
Think how political inclined Christian leaders have framed the last few elections, including the current one. If this person is not elected, our entire nation is in peril. We may not be able to recover from this president.
There is an allure in identifying this as the primary enemy of the American church. It requires little thought or reflection of ourselves. All we really have to do is get out the vote.
Our enemy is completely external and, therefore, the solution will be to fight against those outside the church even harder. But what if that’s not the real enemy? What if our enemy is more like another dystopian novel?
I would argue the American church is much more in danger of succumbing to an enemy from within. Let’s call it the “Brave New World enemy.”
In contrast to Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World envisioned a future where the government didn’t have to force people into submission because they would willingly embrace the state given enough pleasure and entertainment.
Huxley’s world finds individuals overwhelmed with amusement with no desire to look beyond their own personal, temporary pleasure. All the government needs to do is offer them plenty of drugs and use cultural powers to influence the “right” behaviors.
Sex is completely divorced from both marriage and parenthood. Pregnancy and natural birth are vulgar topics. Embryos are raised in labs and then the children are taught from birth how to think.
People have all the material goods they need, so they are encouraged to spend time with others in activities that require little to no thought.
In comparing the two fictional futures in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.
Culturally, I think it is obvious we are closer to Huxley’s dystopia than Orwell’s. Unfortunately, I think the same could be said for our churches.
Our most dangerous and present enemy is not an external Orwellian government seeking to outlaw dissidents; it’s a pervasive desire within our congregations for amusement more than sanctification.
That seems evident in reading about veteran religion reporter Kenneth Briggs search for the Bible in America. What struck him the most was where the all-time best selling book has disappeared from—churches.
When asked about the emergence of a “Bible-less Christianity,” see how closely Briggs’ words echo Brave New World.
[T]he Reformation gave at least a segment of Christians access to the Bible in a way that hadn’t happened before. Most of our history has been a rather Bible-less Christianity that was dictated or defined mostly by the hierarchical church, not by people who read the Bible. … We gained the freedom to approach it, and then in the current age, we have ceded that exploration to media, to entertainment forms, to prepackaged interpretations that are delivered in video, audio and pulpit forms so that there’s a substitute Bible that isn’t the Bible, per se, at the same time that people aren’t reading.
While we spend all our energy fighting cultural and political enemies we fear will lead us into a 1984 world, Brave New World has already taken hold of many churches and Christians.
But if we are going to address that enemy, it will require more than Get Out The Vote rallies and pledging support to certain candidates. It will mean we must do the real work of discipling individuals and teaching them to grow in a biblical community.
That requires time and effort beyond showing up to a polling place every four years. It means we pour our lives into those around us and allow others to walk alongside us challenging our misconceptions.
Addressing the internal enemy means that we move beyond surface level amusement and entertainment and become serious about and devoted to the things of God, as individuals, as families, as small groups and as churches.
Having said all this, it does not mean a 1984 enemy will never appear to confront American evangelicals. Unless we defeat the Brave New World enemy in our midst, however, we would never be able to address one outside the church walls.
What both 1984 and Brave New World share is a sense of hopelessness about the future. Both novels end with the utter defeat of the protagonist and the triumph of the dystopian culture. But that is not the case for the church.
We know the church which has Jesus as its foundation will be victorious. Neither government forces nor cultural amusement can conquer what Christ has said the gates of hell have no power over.
But the local church that only ever sees an external enemy, never evaluating itself internally is at risk. The one that fails to realize its true enemy and succumbs to Brave New World temptations is one that trades Jesus for entertainment and has no such promise of victory.
Do not be so obsessed with combating a potential 1984 enemy that you allow a Brave New World enemy to wreak havoc unaware. By God’s grace, your story doesn’t have to end that way.