|Old Bristol Congregational Meetinghouse, Bristol Center, NY
Interestingly, the Bible told us right at the very beginning that this was how it was going to end. In II Tim. 3:1-5 the apostle Paul gives us a vivid description of what conditions will be like "in the last days." He tells us that "perilous times will come" (NKJV), and then goes on to describe what life will be like at that time. The indictment begins with the basic characteristic of selfishness. People in the last days will be remarkably self-oriented. People who are self-centered, in turn, typically have inflated opinions of themselves and a corresponding contempt for others. They are boasters and at the same time disdainful of others. This, in turn, results in a serious of anti-social actions: they slander others, and young people in particular are disobedient to their parents.
There then follows in verses 2 and 3 a list of eight adjectives, seven of which, in the Greek, begin with the "privative alpha," denoting the absence of some quality. It is a stunning picture of a morally bankrupt society utterly lacking in basic human qualities. The people of this society are devoid of gratitude, a sense of the sacred, natural affection, respect for others, self-control, or appreciation of the good. It is a society that has largely abandoned standards and ideals of any sort.
Paul goes on in verse 4 to describe the members of this society as treacherous and reckless. They will evidently stop at nothing to get what they want. And the Paul sums it all up by saying that they are "haughty" and are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." They were both egotistical and materialistic, as self-centered individuals invariably are.
Does all of this sound familiar? It should, for it could very well be a description of our society, a liberal democratic and capitalistic society in an advanced state of decline, a society sunk in the mire of consumerism, irresponsible, self-indulgent, and narcissistic.
One might suspect that in a society in which people are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" that there would be a general contempt for religion. But this is not necessarily so. In fact, Paul goes on to make a remarkable observation: in the last days they will in fact have "a form of godliness" (v. 5). But then he goes on to add an important qualification: "but denying its power." "Godliness" (Gk: eusebeia; Lat. pietas) might better be translated "piety" or "devotion." It is the reverence and devotion that we owe to our superiors, and especially toward God Himself. The "form" (morphosis) is the outline or semblance of a thing. In other words, it is entirely possible to maintain the outward forms of religion – its structures and rituals – in a thoroughly materialistic society. What is noticeably lacking, however, is the "power" (dunamis), the ability actually to achieve some result. The forms and structures of organized religion are present, but they do not have much of an effect on behavior.
Such is the church in our own time. On a typical Sunday morning multitudes of professing Christians will gather in church buildings all across America and will sit through church services that are marked by hymns, Scripture, and a sermon. All of the outward trappings of religion are present. But in most churches, on a typical Wednesday evening, the traditional prayer meeting night, there is hardly anyone gathered to pray. Here, then, is the supreme irony of the situation. Everywhere we see Christians who profess to believe in God, but few are bothered even to talk to Him.
Why not? The answer, we think, is probably this: in a materially prosperous society two things typically happen. The first is that people's attention is so focused on the here and now that they simply are not interested in anything else. And secondly, many people in a prosperous society do not feel any need for God – they always have what they think they want, or they think they have the means of getting it. If life is good down here, why ask for more? We go to church to feel respectable – to acquire a sense of self-worth, but that is as far as it goes. We are definitely not interested in anything that will require effort or self-sacrifice.
What most American Christians today do not realize is how far removed their concept of Christianity is from anything found in the New Testament. Real revival will come only when we wake up to the difference. May God hasten the day before it is too late!
See also: What Is the Church Supposed to Be Like?