Progress is something we all hope for. We yearn to make headway against the ills of the world, against the forces of evil, and against all that inhibits happiness and fulfillment. We want to be able to look ahead and see where we are going and to look back and make sure we are not still where we began. In this, the GPS devices we use to find our way are so helpful. They show where we are, where we came from, and how far it is toward our destination. More than this, they show that we are moving ahead.
Would that such a GPS might be able to track our progress as people, the growth of humanity against the inhumanity that is all too human. Would that we could chart and check our progress in the faith and of the faith in pursuit of its God-appointed destiny. But this is not quite so easy as one might think. Instead we find that progress is not some arrow angling upward but a series of zigs and zags, ups and downs, forwards and backwards.
For the Christian, progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, In reality, either the world seems to change us or instead we are always changing the vision to better fit the world around us. Holiness is not exactly rampant among us -- even among Christians! Righteousness continues to be rare. The shape of our Christian lives is not onward and upward but often hard to chart at all. Too often we find ourselves not simply stagnant but regressing toward the very evils we abhor. So great is the lure of the comfortable ruts of our sinful ways that we find ourselves following them more than fighting to chart a new course.
While this is certainly true of us as individuals, it is even true of churches themselves. For example, progressive Christianity is not at all progressive in the sense of becoming more like the people God would have us to be but more like the people around us. From social mores to morality to the sense of what it means to be just, progressive Christianity and its churches have more fully embraced the leading and guiding wisdom of the world than the vision of God in Scripture. Even more so, the very words and vision of God have become offensive to such progressives and the very enemy of their purpose. How odd it is for us to presume to know better than God! And this is from those who claim to be His own and not from the presumption of a world which desires nothing of God or His wisdom.
You can see this in the cause of life -- we have made progress in some respects but at the same time it would seem that growing protections for the unborn are making way, our culture is embracing the idea that people have the right and even the duty to decide for themselves and for those who cannot decide for themselves when life is no longer worth living and the humane thing to do is to put them out of their misery. But you can also apply it to the very central institutions of marriage and family -- more fragile and frail now than ever before. And when we find ourselves confronted with a president whose personal morality is less than we hope but whose causes parallel the protection of life and the prevention of the persecution of orthodox Christianity. Or when we think a decent man but find that his positions violate the most basic truths of Scripture.
Chesterton is not the first but he said it most succinctly: “Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.” In light of this, Scripture warns us against trusting in princes or earthly kingdoms. What ills trouble us have their remedy in Christ. Apart from Christ, we become idol worshipers of whatever government or leader we believe can improve our present moment. Progress we can see is our goal but it is also our Achilles' heel. We live not by sight but by faith. We do the good God has given us to do but do not chart our progress, leaving that to the Lord to see, evaluate, and reward. When we come to Him, we come not as a sinful people progressing upward but always as sinners whose only confidence is a merciful God who forgives our sins.