One of the advantages of older age is being a ring-side spectator to change–over a lifetime.
You saw things when you were young. You encountered change in your middle years. And in the latter portion of your life, you have a much bigger perspective on how cultures and nations go through powerful changes over time.
During my lifespan, both the United States and, indeed, our entire Western culture, has morphed from one worldview and its norms to another that is threatening its very existence.
To put it simply, we’ve retreated from being God-centered (or respecting) societies to self-centered ones.
Will this cult of self eventually take down Western Civilization?
There are voluminous examples I could use to demonstrate the movement from God-centeredness to self-centeredness in the West:
- The removal of prayer and biblical truth in education, replaced with secularism and self-help.
- The focus on feelings and emotions over critical thinking and wisdom.
- The attack on Christian holidays (like Christmas) and the growth of pagan ones (like Halloween).
- The pursuit of pleasure through materialism as opposed to godliness via service.
- The growth of laziness and apathy in contrast to past generations’ focus on hard work and study.
Recently I’ve been thinking about two other “institutions” of Western culture that are being swamped by our narcissistic, self-seeking cultural tide.
Marriage Ceremonies and Funeral Services.
First of all, many Westerners are taking marriage outside of churches into parks, beaches, and other private settings. I understand the beauty of nature and the desire to consummate the wedding ceremony in a lovely place. But many that are doing it are leaving God back at the church.
And many marriage ceremonies today are conducted by “friends” not ministers–cheapening the meaning of marriage as a God-made institution that should be formalized in God’s name. Instead, marriage is just a man-made contract where anything goes–and vows (which should be made before a Holy God), mean little or nothing.
I’ve talked to many young people–including those with a Christian heritage–who now share a pagan concept of weddings. They say, “It’s all about us. We will go where we want, say what we want, and make the focus on us and our love.”
That’s not how my wife and I thought in 1976. We were committed to Christ and wanted to honor and glorify Him in all situations (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we planned our wedding, every decision was made based not on self-desire but how we could be pleasing to the Lord and give Him praise.
We held the ceremony in a church. We asked a minister to perform it. We asked him to preach the Good News to those in attendance. We used the reception to talk about our calling in ministry, had people pray over us, sang worship songs, and deflected all the wonder of our new union back to the One who had chosen us for each other and should receive all the credit.
It wasn’t any different from Russell Wilson pointing to heaven after a touchdown pass. “Do all to the glory of God.” We didn’t even think about what would puff up ourselves or “make us happy” as Cam Newton does in his Superman dance after he scores a touchdown.
That’s the cult of self. Wilson’s deference to God is the humble, God-glorifying display.
Many weddings today reflect the cult of self. No wonder the institution of marriage is dying.
I’ve officiated at numerous funerals or memorial services during the past four decades. In my early years, they were all held in churches or funeral halls. At the service, there was often a solemnity and dignity over the reality of death. Ministers not only eulogized the deceased, but also spoke to the living about making sure they were right with God and ready to face their own mortality.
I was once invited to officiate the wedding of a non-believing family at our local cemetery. The one-follower- of-Christ in the family asked me purposefully to preach the Good News to his relatives and glorify God in the service. I was glad to do so, and many were touched by my words.
After I finished the address and they were lowering the body into the ground, I wandered over to the grave sites of some family members. A young woman who’d attended the grave side service approached me there and said: “I really appreciated your words. How can I give my life to Christ to have hope of eternal life?”
Over the graves of my ancestors I led this young woman to Jesus.
God had been glorified through the event.
Recently I’ve attended some memorials that seem to have a different motive. They’re themed with what the deceased “liked”–sports teams, hobbies, interests etc. with little or no mention of God and eternity. At these events, friends and families so praise the dead person that they are hardly recognizable.
It’s all about them. The cult of self strikes again.
I don’t think it’s wrong for funeral services (mostly solemn) to move toward memorials (predominantly celebratory.) There’s a good and healthy balance. But when God, heaven and hell, and our mortality and accountability are left out, then the event simply becomes a self-centered party that loses the whole meaning of being ready to face your Maker.
Let’s now take this to a higher level.
Europe’s Christian civilization is dying even faster than America’s and is also being replaced by the squishy cult of self. Listen to Joe Cunningham’s prophetic perspective:
“Way back in the day, and we’re talking centuries, Europe was a hotbed for the expansion of Christian ideas and philosophies. They were the foundations of European culture, government, and way of life. It influenced kings and empires, dictated the ways of life of millions for centuries.”
“The greatest empire the world had ever known, the British Empire, was built upon that foundation which stemmed back to the earliest days of Christendom. France, Spain, even Germany built legacies on top of the essential pillars of the faith.”
“Did they lose their way at times? Absolutely. But those foundations were there. They were fighting for something greater than people – they were fighting for identity, for country, for God, and for king. But, beginning late in the 20th century, those ideas were being tossed aside in favor of humanism [self]. The result of this transition has led to social program after social program that has left a lot of Europe broke and on the verge of collapse. “
“Via the Wall Street Journal: ‘Europe is dying because it has become morally incompetent. It isn’t that Europe stands for nothing. It’s that it stands for shallow things, shallowly. Europeans believe in human rights, tolerance, openness, peace, progress, the environment, pleasure. These beliefs are all very nice, but they are also secondary.'”
“What Europeans no longer believe in are the things from which their beliefs spring: Judaism and Christianity; liberalism and the Enlightenment; martial pride and capability; capitalism and wealth. Still less do they believe in fighting or sacrificing or paying or even arguing for these things. Having ignored and undermined their own foundations, they wonder why their house is coming apart.”
“Ultimately, what makes Europe’s downfall so imminent is that it does not seem to recognize, as the Left here in America doesn’t, that it’s their own policies within this modern era that are killing them.”
“The focus has been placed on the individual in such a shallow way while ignoring the individual in a deeper, meaningful way. They focus on how we feel, what we do, and how we can be fair to one another. Meanwhile, they ignore the very basis of humanity. The need for something greater than ourselves to believe in. The need to be part of something greater.”
“Big government types love to tell us that we can belong to the government, but the government is shallow. It, too, focuses on the shallow person, not the greater person underneath. It cares little for religious liberty because religion can offend you. It says ‘belong to us, but don’t claim a national identity. You’re not American, you see. You’re not British. You’re not French. You’re not Spanish or German. Your identity comes from your race, sexual orientation, gender, or whatever else we can think of. But we never belong to a nation.'”
“That has to change. In Europe and in the U.S. It has to change because society cannot build deep and lasting foundations on things that are so shallow.”
There’s nothing more shallow than self. It’s limited to you–sinful you. On the other hand, there’s nothing bigger than God–the glorious and holy Creator and Savior of all that there is.
The Western world needs a Christ-centered revival that will once again re-shape all that we do.
If we don’t experience it, the cult of self will kill us.