Eight Essential Things Needed to Transform a Nation

The following are notes from a message I gave several years ago at a Pinnacle Forum conference held in Nashville, Tennessee.

Most of you are in a position to change the world and you want to know how. Genesis 1:26-28 is the most important passage in scripture because it is the original covenant given to humankind that shows us why God created us and our mission on the earth. Consequently, a person can only grasp fragmented ontological aspects of the church, the cross, the resurrection and the great commission if we don’t use this passage as our primary starting point to interpret the rest of scripture. The following are things I believe we need to do now to fulfill this mandate:

1. We need to reach the top 3% of the population who influence culture.

It is a mistake to believe that the culture will shift because of a church revival or a societal awakening. Often, we as believers think the key to societal transformation is to convert masses of people. But the truth is that everyone is led by the decisions of the approximately 3-5% of people who make up the cultural elite in a society. Thus, the only way to affect cultural change is to convert the elite gatekeepers who formulate culture in every sphere of society.

This is why many 20th century renewal and/or revival movements only resulted in church growth but didn’t stop the moral decline in our culture. For example, Azusa Street, Latter Rain, the Charismatic Movement, the Toronto Blessing and Pensacola renewals did not transform the surrounding communities or culture.

As we examine the scriptures we see that God has used people who were already in high places of authority and/or culture before a nation was transformed.

For example, Moses was already a prince in Egypt before he was called to confront Egypt and deliver the people of God out of slavery; Daniel was serving as a top political advisor to the King of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) and later as a prime minister in Persia which positioned him to speak truth to power and transform culture;  Nehemiah was the cup-bearer of the King of Persia which enabled him to receive the favor necessary to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; Samuel was the first in a line of great Jewish prophets who also served as the political judge of the nation; David his protégé may have been a great psalmist but he also became a king. Finally, all the great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ahijah, Amos, etc.) did not just prophesy to small crowds of people in the temple or synagogue; they had access to political and cultural elites, even to the highest political office of the land. (We need to cultivate kingdom prophets who speak truth to power outside the four walls of the church.)

Even church history reiterates this. For example, it took the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to legalize Christianity, placing it in a position to transform the whole empire. St. Augustine was first the professor of rhetoric for the imperial court, the most visible academic position in the Latin world, before converting and becoming the Bishop of Hippo, which positioned him to become the greatest theologian and thinker of his age. In AD 800 it was Christian Emperor Charlemagne who laid the groundwork for the first cathedral universities, which were the forerunners for all modern universities. Both primary leaders of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin, received educations that included vast knowledge of the classics, not only the Bible. (Calvin at one point actually considered becoming a lawyer.) The two leaders of the First Great Awakening (which saved England from the destruction that France suffered later in their revolution, and was also the impetus for the American Revolution), John Wesley and George Whitefield, not only knew the Scriptures but also graduated from Oxford. Thus they were already positioned to have the respect of the top decision makers of society.  Furthermore, Whitefield’s American counterpart Jonathan Edwards was a graduate of Princeton and later became the president of Princeton. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire was affected by the Clapham Sect, which included William Wilberforce, who was a parliamentarian and a close friend of William Pitt the Prime Minister of England and many other cultural and political leaders. The Second Great Awakening in the United States was led by Charles Finney, a capable lawyer whose preaching was able to relate to many lawyers, judges and top decision makers in culture. He affected the course of our nation, which led to the abolition of slavery, the implementation of child labor laws, women’s suffrage and many other things.

We must understand the delicate balance between infiltrating and engaging the cultural elites and highbrows of society without losing our souls and becoming elites in heart and purpose. The “Be Attitudes” of Matthew 5-7 teach us the attitude, character and spiritual power we need to have in order to qualify to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. Cultural influence without spiritual power will result in another Christian scandal or much activity without godly purpose and godly fruit. I have found that God surrounds power with problems, relational conflict and many challenges because He only wants broken people to wield the most influence as representatives in His kingdom.

2. We need to re-frame the laws of the land after the law of God as found in the Ten Commandments.

Because this nation has abandoned the Judeo-Christian worldview we have moved away from basing our society on biblical law and have embraced an egalitarian view of human rights.

Egalitarianism is a philosophy based on secular humanism in which government legally enforces societal equality and separates it from virtue, resulting in disconnecting individual and societal responsibility from biblical ethics and the law of God. In the past, the laws of America were based on God’s word as expounded in the 613 civil laws found in the Pentateuch. Thus inalienable rights were given to us by our Creator as stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The Book of James says there is only one lawgiver and judge (James 4:12).

Nowadays our laws are based on previous judicial decisions, public opinion polls and politics. This is the slippery slope called legal positivism. Thus our nation’s legal system is anchored in the air, resulting in no boundaries and equal rights for everyone based on human opinion. This has resulted in changing the laws in several states to allow same-sex marriage as well as the legalization of abortion since 1973.

To complicate matters worse, we can no longer even call biblical marriage “traditional marriage” because we open up ourselves to being vulnerable to the mercy of past examples of sinful humanity that have historically attempted human autonomy. The argument from human tradition is not enough in contemporary times because we have been living  in a  world with past  traditions like polygamy and free tribal sex that are contrary to the biblical ideal (although the contemporary practice of same-sex marriage has never been attempted before in known history).

Thus we need a generational plan of nurturing Christian intellectuals who will rise to the top in academia, media, law, political science, sociology and policy. We need more top-tier judges and professors with a biblical worldview, not just more pastors and preachers!

3. The church needs to learn how to avoid extremes, such as the Christian Right, Christian Left, and the pietists, and,  instead, embrace the kingdom alternative.

The Christian Right thinks the answer is only political. This approach clothes the gospel of Christ with a particular political party and pits us against people in the world who we are trying to save. This results in us trying to exert power and control people merely through legal means and changing laws. Although I believe the laws of a state should be based on the Ten Commandments, and that the law is a schoolmaster that brings conviction of sin (and is an emblem of what a particular society values), in and of itself the law is a very weak line of defense because of the vicissitudes of democratic elections. (For example, how much good did the presidency of George W. Bush do to advance the cause of Christ in our nation?)

This approach also smacks of Constantinianism. Although Christianity became the favorite religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, this resulted in weakening the church from within because unconverted pagans joined the Christian community without abandoning their lifestyles and core beliefs.

Regarding the Christian Left: They only accommodate the gospel to the prevailing culture, which results in losing the biblical distinctions of salt and light. For example, a church that recognizes same-sex marriage and values the environment more than the Ten Commandments has already lost its soul and reason for existing as a Christian community.

The pietists or Anabaptists take the approach that the church should only build alternative sub-cultures that don’t engage or affirm the prevailing culture.

The kingdom alternative is to take the approach of the Celtic Church in the 6th to 8th centuries. They incorporated the Anabaptist strategy of building an alternative community that was a model for the pagan communities they lived among. However they also recognized God’s favor upon His created order (God blessed His creation and called it good) which many theologians refer to as common grace. Thus their communities of faith embraced the non-believing communities, loved them, and won them to Christ by demonstrating the gospel in everyday life. The church is called to build what James Davison Hunter, in his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, describes as communities of faith that both affirm the good in their surrounding societal structures (e.g., hospitals, art, police, transportation, commerce, music, science, education, etc.), while also demonstrating the antithesis against that which is sinful and corrupt, not necessarily only in word but how we live our lives as Christ-followers. Davidson also calls this approach having a “faithful presence” and bases it on what God prophesied to the Jewish exiles in Babylon and Persia in Jeremiah 29:4-7. In that passage God told the exiles to build houses, build families, settle down and live normal lives, seek the welfare of the city they lived in, and pray to the Lord for those around them, because as the city was blessed they would be blessed.

If we don’t model the unity and shalom of the city of God in our congregations then the marketplace leaders we send out to the world will be dysfunctional and ineffective because they will merely replicate the sins of the church within their vocations.

4. We need wealth-producers to support kingdom initiatives that will spread His covenant on the Earth (Deuteronomy 8:18).

When Christians have great vision without financial provision their vision becomes merely a fantasy! All through scripture we see how God uses people of wealth to support His kingdom agenda. For example, Jesus had benefactors who supported Him (Luke 8:1). Paul had many believers who were marketplace leaders. Also, as we read the book of Acts and the epistles, we see that Paul had about 23 people who traveled with him at one time or another. Some scholars say that at least half of them were benefactors who supported him, like Priscilla and Aquila who were tent makers (Acts 18:1-3).

As we examine current needs, I believe that wealth producers should not only put a lot of their money into building bigger buildings for churches and ministries. We desperately need to create scholarships for children with a biblical worldview to attend top-tier universities so we can once again influence the cultural mountains of education, science, philosophy, economics and family policy.

5. We need unity in the church (John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10).

Jesus speaks to the church (Revelation 2:9) not just to individuals. “Church” in these passages in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 refer to numerous congregations that met in houses that were all referred to as the Church of Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, etc. Thus, there was one church per city even though they met in numerous locations. There are some things God cannot and will not speak to mere individuals, even if they fast and pray, because there are some things He will only speak to the churches!

Furthermore, we see that Jesus delivered a message to the ecclesial gatekeeper of each city (Revelation chapters 2 and 3).

I have a question that brings much theological, social and communal pressure to all evangelicals and independent Protestants: If Jesus was to send a letter to the church today, to which would He give it? Nowadays, the evangelical church is very fragmented. How would a letter Jesus gave to a gatekeeper in our city ever be received or even respected? In our present state of fragmentation whom would Jesus even give a letter to?

Until we both answer this question in each of our communities and until we have the functional love, trust, respect and unity necessary to receive a universal letter meant for our city or community then we will never be able to hear some of the greatest messages, prophetic words and even instructions from the Lord to advance His will in our generation!

6. We need kingdom partnerships.

I found out a long time ago that merely having pastoral unity in a city is not enough to completely transform it! For one, most pastors don’t have the money or the expertise to even understand all the key components involved regarding societal structures and concomitant technical details!

Pastors need more than pastoral unity and corporate prayer; they need to engage business professionals, police departments, economists, elected officials, and educational leaders in their cities in order to even know what the issues are, so they may adequately bring transformation to a community or nation!

Also, scripture teaches us that transformation and the restoration of a nation have taken place in the past by partnerships between leaders in the religious, political and business mountains.

For example, most, if not all, of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles were business professionals; the church of Antioch in Acts 13 had a religious leader, a real estate mogul, a politician and ethnic diversity; when the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt and the temple restored it took a partnership of Ezra, Nehemiah and the unsaved King of Persia; when the Jewish revival took place in Persia (as shown in the biblical book of Esther) that spared the Jews from extermination, it was a beauty queen and a shrewd marketplace leader (Mordecai) that God used to save His people from holocaust, not a member of the clergy; also, Babylon during the days of King Nebuchadnezzar was transformed through the work of Daniel who was both a prophet and a statesman in a pagan culture.

7. We need a continual flow of both revival and reformation.

The first three parts of Genesis 1:27-28 have to do with revival and connect to Mark 16:15-17 which has to do with evangelizing, saving and delivering individuals so that we can give God a family and expand His kingdom.

The last three parts of Genesis 1:28 have to do with reformation and cultural influence and connect to Matthew 28:19 which teaches us to disciple the nations. Thus, revival brings people into the kingdom but reformation places these same people in strategic places of influence. The Body of Christ should understand that its primary goal in winning souls should not be to prepare individual people for heaven but to equip them to do the work of the ministry. This has to do with filling up the whole earth with the covenant of God.

(Read Ephesians 4:10-12, which shows that Jesus rose from the dead to replenish or fill the earth which then gives the fivefold ministry a map for the nature of the work of the ministry they equip the saints to do: to fill the earth. This also goes along with the theme and purpose of the kingdom as shown in Ephesians 1:9-11 along with numerous other passages that all point back to being fruitful, multiplying, replenishing the earth and subduing it, which are found in Genesis 1:28.)

Also, many leaders have used Genesis 1:28 as a passage to inspire the church to take back the nation or to take a city for God. But, it is not dominion over people the passage is referring to, but rather dominion over the created order that this passage teaches. We are called to lead by serving. Thus, it would be more beneficial to our kingdom goals if we stopped saying we are going to “take our cities” and instead we should say that we are going to serve our cities. The church that meets the needs of their community will be asked to lead anyway because true leaders are not manipulators but problem solvers who even non-believers can look up to!

In summary, true influence comes by serving, meeting needs, problem solving, and winning the war in the battle for truth. Both revival and reformation must work together continually over multiple generations for one or the other to be effective!

If we don’t fast, pray and have continual revival then we will not have enough people getting saved to fill the churches and no one to equip. If we have megachurches without reformation then we are not equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, which is to fill up the earth and replenish it with covenant leaders. The result will be that we just sing louder in our churches while 3,000 babies are being aborted daily and our culture slouches towards the way of Sodom and Gomorrah!

8. Only transformed leaders can transform culture.

Marxism tried and failed to bring a Utopian society by forced redistribution and large central governments with the Hegelian economic paradigm of dialectical materialism. But in the kingdom, change always begins within each individual believer (John 3:3-6). Internal integrity precedes external integration.

Our greatest call in life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). It is not just having cultural power but Christ-likeness as exhibited in the “Be Attitudes” of Matthew 5 that matter most.

Only in our human pride could we think that we can change the world without prayer, fasting, and internal transformation. Since our nation began, there has never been a major societal awakening in our country without united corporate prayer as found in the Concerts of Prayer initiated by Jonathan Edwards (during the First Great Awakening in the 18th century) and the numerous corporate prayer initiatives led by Evangelist Charles Finney (during the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century).

Jeremiah 9:23-24 instructs the church not to boast in our fleshly wisdom, strength, or money but to value knowing God above all!