Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Third Compromise"

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”

  • Exodus 8:1 (New International Version)
A few weeks ago, I went over to Haag Pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my wife. As I walked toward the entrance, I found myself caught up in the sights and sounds of children playing and laughing in the adjacent playground of Emporia Christian School. If I could have, I’d have lingered a while longer. It just felt so good, for an all too fleeting moment, to be transported away from the insanity of modern life.
When I got inside the pharmacy, I was re-transported back into the realities of adult life in America. That’s the world where about 40 million of us are taking prescribed anti-depressants and psychotropics. It’s a world dominated by Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Xanax, Ativan, Ritalin, or some newly concocted chill pill. There are millions more of us taking Demerol, Oxycodone, and Percocet for our pain. Too often, the reward for using these painkillers is addiction. I’ve heard that using them for only five days can turrn a corporate executive, an undertaker, a truck driver, or a college professor into a mumbing, toothless junkie. And, wonder of wonders, it’s all approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now, mind you, I don’t fault  Amber and her crew. They’ve absolutely delightful people. They’re not the ones responsible for society’s ills. They’re only doing what the doctor ordered and the doctor is only trying to fix problems that he or she didn’t create.  But, I digress. I need to move on.
I was greeted by a smiling face as soon as I got to the counter. “How are you, Phil? It’s good to see you.  How can I help you?” “I’m good. I’m here for Nancy’s regulars,” I responded.
With my mind still trying to wrap itself around the joy those kids were experiencing in the playground next door, I paid for the prescriptions and made a bit of small talk before I left. “The kids next door are absolutely wonderful. They’re infectious, don’t you think?” The clerk smiled and nodded in agreement. I closed the conversation on a somber note. “The sad thing is, some of these happy kids are going to grow up and become United States Senators some day. I can’t figure it out. How does something like that happen? How does it all go off the rails?”
Realizing it wouldn’t be fair for me to expect an answer to the question, I made my way to the exit.
The questions have been nagging at me ever since. How? How? How? One day these kids are happy and content. Then, gradually, they get pumped full of Ritalin, Prozac, or painkillers and their heads are turned inside-out. The process repeats itself over time and they’re ruined. The only thing they’re good for in the end is the United States Senate.
I’ve been giving this thought since that brief encounter, racking my brain for solutions to the problem. I’ve concluded the only thing that makes much sense to me is for those of us who are Christian to never send our kids to  public school at all. Let them learn about life on their own. They seem to do a far better job of learning how life is supposed to work without a lot of adult interference and instruction.
“Why, Phil,” you say. “That’s a bit too radical; it’s insane. Our children need to get an education. After all, how are they ever going to succeed in this world without an education?
That argument might have worked well on me a few years ago, but not these days. If  what the world considers success and God considers success could be put side by side into writing, one thing would become abundantly clear. God’s ideas about success are radically different than the “world’s.”
It’s been that way for millennia.
When I was in graduate school, I became acquainted with the work of Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian minister who emigrated from Scotland in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s had become Chaplain of the United States Senate. He died when he was in his forties. While his life was short, his legacy was rich and full. Whatever he was given in life, he used for the glory of God and the good of mankind. That was especially evident in the way he used worldly wealth. He died nearly penniless, with just a few dollars in his accounts to pass on to posterity.  Some people thought that this was a terrible thing for him to do to his family, but his wife, Catherine, thought otherwise. She once observed that she was quite proud of the example he'd set in life. She let the critics know that he had used every resource he had been given in life to the best possible end.
I think of a man like Peter Marshall and ask myself what he might have to say about our children and the educational system we plunge them into these days. I believe I know the answer. In fact, I’m sure I know.
Some time during the 1940’s, Peter Marshall preached a sermon that is now best known as “The Third Compromise.”
What, you might ask, was or is “The Third Compromise?” It was Marshall’s commentary on the contest of wills between God and Pharaoh recorded in the book of Exodus. “The Third Compromise” can be found in chapter 10 of that book.
Prior to chapter 10, Moses outlines God’s requirements for his people, under the broad umbrella of the now famous words, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” In response, Pharaoh offers a series of compromises -  (1) the people may go, but they must worship in the land of Egypt, (2) the people may go, but they cannot go too far, (3) the men can go, but the children must stay in Egypt, and (4) All can go, but their possessions cannot go with them.
In the end, every compromise is rejected. The first is rejected when Moses tells Pharaoh that the children of Israel are to leave Egypt and go three days into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh responds by telling Moses the people can go, but not too far, which was another way of saying, “Don’t get too carried away with your religion business." It was a very twenty-first century response, but it was also rejected.
This brings me to “The Third Compromise.” Pharaoh’s offer and Moses’ and God’s response are outlined in the 10th chapter of Exodus, which follows
“Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he  said. “But tell me who will be going.” Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, witth our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.” Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (Exodus 10:8-10, New International Version)

It is this “Third Compromise” that far too many Christians have been willing to embrace and they have done it to the detriment of the faith they profess in.
In his sermon on the subject, Reverend Marshall puts the peril of the compromise succinctly:
“This was perhaps the most subtle and the most successful of all the compromises, because even the most godly parents today desire worldly prosperity and position for their children. They want their children to stay in Egypt, they want their children to find success and approval in Egypt. One of the greatest problems facing the church today is the fact that so many children and young people are still in Egypt with the approval and the consent of their parents.”
While some Christians opt for Christian schools or homeschooling, most send their children to public schools, which are supposedly neutral on the subject of religious faith, to learn the skills they’ll need in life to become “successful.”
In this regard, Reverend Marshall’s words from the 1940’s are prescient and powerful:  “If you give to your children an account of the world from which God is left out, you will teach them to understand the world without reference to God.”
I see 21st America and see the results of the “Third Compromise.” I see it in the ever increasing cohort of young people who want nothing to do with Christianity and even when they do, their belief systems are based on what the “world” believes it  should be, not God’s. The current moniker for this cohort is “Nones.” How’s that for a belief system? It might just as well be Bette Midler’s famous “Whatever!”
Does this mean that the parents who have made this compromise don’t care about their children? No, of course not. As Reverend Marshall also observed, these parents give their children the best medical and dental care. They make sure their children's posture is perfect and their grasp of social graces are outstanding. They pay fortunes for college tuition. But while “their bodies and their minds are carefully nurtured and trained while their souls are starved and neglected.”
I think of young children today and conclude, sadly, that this is how our children become United States Senators or anything else we deem to be important in life. Far too many of them enter the fray without much of an internal rudder to guide them other than ambition and self-interest. They are thrown into a world where that ethic prevails. It’s every man for himself. It’s do whatever ambition and self-interest tell you to do, even if it means destroying your fellow travelers.
Peter Marshall hasn’t been the only one who has seen the peril before the Christian world. About a year ago, I read Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option - A Strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation.” Dreher has observed what Peter Marshall observed more than a half a century before him. He has seen that “Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize.” In other words, they have fallen prey to Pharaoh’s “Third Compromise.”
Dreher sees all to well that “American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.”
But how can we come to our senses? Dreher’s prescription is simple, right to the point:
“If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.”  
As it was in the time of Moses, I believe it’s time for Christians who truly want to live the Christian life to go into the wilderness, as it were, to worship God without the influence of the “world" to corrupt us. I don’t have a clear idea of what that life looks like. Like most people, I’ve been too caught up in the affairs of this world to see the objective clearly. But, I am convinced that it is time for us to tell the Pharaohs of our time, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.”
Peter Marshall closed that famous sermon with a critical question. It was critical back in the 1940’s. It’s even more critical today.
I’ll close with that question and leave it with you, the reader:
“What is the good of your son's phi-beta-kappa key, or your girl's successful career in music or art or journalism, if they don't know God, if they are not saved, if they have not entered into a saving relationship with God through Christ, if they are spiritually illiterate or spiritually dead? That’s the question you will have to answer if your children are left in Egypt.”

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