Many of my Christian friends are concerned with what they perceive to be the increasing secularization of popular culture in the United States today. Like many other sincere Christians, they express concern that Christianity will one day become a hated and persecuted sect in America and that this will be the result of our government coming under the control of secular and atheistic politicians.
Awhile back, one of my friends hinted to me that he used to believe in the end of time scenario described in Revelation 13 as understood by historicist theologians, but that the way things were looking now it was the secularists who were going to be the enemies of God’s end-time people, not the religious folks.
Will Popular “Christianity” Ever Become Extinct in America?
While I too am concerned that irreligion and sin are becoming more rampant and increasingly acceptable in our world, and realize that some of this is a sign of the last days (see 2 Tim. 3:1-4), I still believe what the Bible teaches: that a form of false Christianity will take over American and world politics before the second coming of Jesus.
Instead of only atheistic secularists persecuting religious people at the end of time, the Bible paints a starkly different picture of the end-time protagonists. It predicts that there will be an increase in popular religiosity at the end of time, with people having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:4) – ostensibly Christian people persecuting those who do not go along with their ideas of a popular unbiblical form of Christianity. Revelation even predicts that the final conflict will center around true versus false forms of worship, not true worship versus no worship.
Is the societal swing toward secularism a problem? Yes and no. Jesus prophesied that iniquity would abound in the last days (Matt. 24:12) and as Christians we ought to be lifting our voices in prayer and working for the salvation of souls as we see people in slavery to sin. Additionally, we ought to be active in our society preaching the truth in love and advocating for the rights of all to worship God freely (or to refrain from worshipping).
But sometimes secularists are more fair-minded toward minority religious groups than are politically powerful religious people. Additionally, other effects of the secular trend can be positive, such as the discontinuance of empty government-sponsored religious tokenism that makes us feel spiritually secure while not really connecting us with the Divine.
God does not desire hypocritical, forced or mere ritualistic worship and will only take our worship or allegiance if freely given. Additionally, secular people are more open to religion when they do not feel that it is being pushed down their throats by a religious government.
The current trends toward secularism aside, the Bible indicates that somehow our society will become more ostensibly religious as we near the end of time. A form of godliness will be en vogue. We could speculate on how this renaissance of pseudo-religiosity will take place – perhaps as a backlash against the swing towards the secularism that we see in society today, or for some other reasons. Nevertheless, it will take place.
Interestingly, when this popular revival of medieval Christianity occurs, certain popular sins, accepted by much of mainstream pop Christianity today, such as the breaking of the forgotten fourth commandment, will be accepted and promoted by the end-time system of false religion.
Popular Christianity’s Rise to Political Power in America
Awhile back, I received an email forward where the writer was concerned that the “Constitution is being shredded” and that the “next step will be restrictions on our religious liberty.” He may have been referring to the current administration’s “war on Christians” through enactments such as the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which, rightly or wrongly, had many Christians up in arms rather recently.
However, the quotations he provided in the email predicted just the opposite of what he was trying to prove. Instead of talking about a secular takeover of America that would result in the destruction of the Constitution, the quotation noted that “Protestantism” (i.e., apostate American Christianity) would take the lead with “repudiating” the principles of the Constitution and trampling on the “rights of conscience.”
This, in fact, is what we see predicted in numerous places in the Bible and echoed in other books like The Great Controversy. Note the following sampling of facts and quotations:
- Jesus warned that there would be “pseudo-christs” that would deceive people. (Matt. 24:24). For a counterfeit to be successful it must closely resemble the real thing. In other words, the end-time deceivers would be cloaked in Christian garb.
- The antichrist power that Paul prophesied was called the “son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3). The only other instance in Scripture where we see the son of perdition mentioned is in reference to Judas, the traitorous disciple who was a part of the inner circle of Jesus, indicating that the end-time antichrist power would be a “Christian” power arising from within the Christian church.
- The message of the third angel of Revelation 14 specifically warns against worshipping the beast-nation that represents antichrist. Obviously this is a unique religious state in that it requires people to worship it, unlike a secular state which is either neutral toward worship or prohibits it altogether. Furthermore, the beast-nations of Revelation 13 and 14 clearly seek to counterfeit the Lamb by mimicking many of His characteristics and eclipsing Him.
- One well-known 19th century religious writer deduced from the Bible’s apocalyptic literature that religious people would be in control at the end of time: “In order for the United States to form an image of the beast, the religious power must so control the civil government that the authority of the state will also be employed by the church to accomplish her own ends.” The Great Controversy, p. 443
A True Christian Response to Secularism in America
Before we jump on a popular bandwagon proclaiming that the evil secularists will be the main protagonists during the end of times, we need to stop and think. We need to think about what we know from the Bible and pray for God to give us discernment so that we can avoid being distracted by deceptive end-time theories. Our mission is to be about our Father’s business of introducing people to Jesus in these last days.
Remember also that it was both the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees who united with the government of Rome to persecute and crucify Christ. The book of Revelation indicates that ultimately church and state will again one day unite here in America and persecute the minority people of God (see Rev. 13:11-18). This is why many minority Christian groups have historically been champions of church-state separation, since both history and prophecy warn of the problems that occur when the church gains power over the state.
How should Christians respond to the increasing secularization of American society today? The answer is found in the last paragraph of this powerful passage below from the classic book, The Desire of Ages:
“…Today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and market places. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority. Since Christ is not now here in person, they themselves will undertake to act in His stead, to execute the laws of His kingdom. The establishment of such a kingdom is what the Jews desired in the days of Christ. They would have received Jesus, had He been willing to establish a temporal dominion, to enforce what they regarded as the laws of God, and to make them the expositors of His will and the agents of His authority. But He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36. He would not accept the earthly throne.
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,–extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.
Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12, 13. Here is the only power that can work the uplifting of mankind. And the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the word of God.” The Desire of Ages, pp. 509-510.
Ultimately, it’s the power of God’s love that changes the world – one heart at a time. This love is what the world today needs to experience more than anything else. Does love sometimes get politically involved by voting and legislating? Yes. But primarily Christians are called to live God’s love, pray for everyone, and to teach His Bible truth. “Christ in you” is the solution to the problems we see in our world today. And before Jesus returns, true Christians from all churches will join together in “one fold” (John 10:16) to live this love and proclaim God’s everlasting good news to a world desperately in need.
Stephen N. Allred, M.Div., J.D., is pastor of the Yuba City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Yuba City, California.