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A Little Ocean Ambiance
Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
"And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art
thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled
Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the
commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore
send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of
Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred,
which eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of
Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah
came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two
opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.
And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people,
I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are
four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and
let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay
it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock,
and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of
your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that
answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said,
It is well spoken." (1 Kings 18:17-24)
Elijah the prophet called upon the northern kingdom of Israel to choose
between the LORD (Jehovah, the true God) and Baal (the leading pagan
". . . if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him."
The nation was at a crossroads when the events of I Kings 18 took place.
Which God would they follow, the God of their fathers or the popular god
of the times? The challenge of the prophet was a challenge of prayer, and
the God Who answered the prayer was the Winner that day.
"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said,
The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God." (verse 39)
Our country, the United States of America, is at a similar crossroads
today. We are in the process of deciding whether or not to change gods.
At a different time, the southern kingdom of Judah also struggled with
changing gods, and the prophet Jeremiah was raised up to call them back.
"Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people
have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O
ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith
the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me
the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken
cisterns, that can hold no water." (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
So said God's man to God's people forty years before his nation
collapsed, and so says God to America now!
During and just after the recent election campaign, many were saying that
there are really "two Americas." Our nation is divided philosophically,
and the division has been shown in the results of recent presidential
elections. There are "blue states" and there are "red states," but the
division is more complicated than which party wins which states. The
division is cultural and philosophical more than it is political. We are
morally two Americas, and religiously divided, too. The division is real
and profound, and yet it is understood by very few. What is dividing the
people of our country is the question of which God we will follow. A
survey of Israelite and American history will demonstrate this fact.
The chapters that come before I Kings 18 reveal to us how Israel got to
this crossroads. In chapters 11 and 12, we read about King Solomon's
apostasy and also the disobedience of his son, King Rehoboam. "For it
came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart
after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as
was the heart of David his father" (1 Kings 11:4). The nation's decline
began with public defiance of God's Law. They acknowledged that it was
the Law of God, but they did not obey it. The Lord judged His people at
this time by splitting the country into two kingdoms: Israel in the
north, and Judah in the south.
In chapters 12 and 13, we see the king of Israel in the north diverting
his nation into what we would correctly call "modernism." For various
reasons, King Jeroboam wanted to revise the religion of Israel so that
his subjects would no longer go to the southern Kingdom to worship the
Lord. To revise religion because of changing times and circumstances is
"modernism." We see in I Kings 12 three aspects of modernism:
1. Conformity. Religion was revised to conform in some way to the beliefs
and practices of other religions.
". . . the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold . . . and he
set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan." (verses 28 and 29)
Modernized Jehovah-worship incorporated some paganism with the idea that
all religions point somehow to God.
2. Convenience. The king suggested that Jerusalem was too far to travel for
"It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel,
which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (verse 28)
The new worship sites in Bethel and Dan were more conveniently located.
They were both within the borders of the northern kingdom, one on the
north part of it and the other in the south part of it. Modernism is more
convenient for modern people than the old orthodoxy. It isn't as hard as
the old-time religion.
3. Condescension. Standards were lowered in the revised religion of Israel.
"And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of
the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." (verse 31)
Modernistic religion always lowers standards.
Modernism claims to be the old religion updated.
"And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day
of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon
the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had
made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had
made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the
fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised
of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and
he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense." (verses 32-33)
But "modernized" religion never lasts. Repeatedly the Bible calls
Jeroboam's altered version of worship "his sin wherewith he made Israel
to sin" (I Kings 14:16, 15:26, 15:30, 15:34, 16:19, 16:26), and it
records the story of its decline.
The last king to adhere to Jeroboam's modernism was Omri. After him it
gave way to outright paganism.
"And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all
that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light
thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he
took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and
went and served Baal, and worshipped him." (1 Kings 16:30-31)
Modernism cannot last long because it is unreasonable. If the faith of
the fathers was revealed by God, why must it be revised or updated? If it
is in need of alteration, it must not have been divinely revealed.
Jeroboam worshiped Jehovah with golden calves, although Jehovah (it was
written) forbids idol-worship. Illogical religion like this has real
trouble surviving from generation to generation. Modernism in Israel
continued from Jeroboam through two years of Nadab's reign, twenty-four
years of Baasha, and about 14 more years to Ahab. Then it gave way to
Baal-worship, outright paganism.
The spiritual decline of the northern kingdom went through three stages:
disobedience (I Kings 11-12), modernism (I Kings 12-16), and paganism (I
Kings 16-18). When Ahab introduced pagan Baal-worship to the kingdom, the
Lord called Elijah to challenge him!
America got to her crossroads by the same route as Israel! Her
disobedience-modernism-paganism transformation happened twice. The
generations that followed the original Puritan settlers were increasingly
disobedient to the Faith that brought their forefathers across the ocean.
Even a casual study of New England's early days provides anyone
interested with many examples of religious compromise, moral decline, and
spiritual laxity. Those who led the "Great Awakening" of the eighteenth
century sought successfully to turn many back to the religious devotion
and fervency of those earlier days, but not all New Englanders were
awakened. Numbers of the leading preachers in the Congregational
denomination (the movement founded by the Puritans) opposed the revival
and then set out to re-define Christianity. The "modernism" of
eighteenth-century America was Unitarianism. Many of its tenets were the
same as those later held by the "liberals" of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. It denied the infallibility of the Bible, the deity
of Christ, the possibility of the miraculous, and the reality of Hell,
and it put the emphasis on this life rather than the next. But
Unitarianism rapidly lost its power and largely gave way to
"Transcendentalism" in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Transcendentalism (found in much of the literature of that era, as well
as in the pulpits of New England) was a form of pagan spirituality that
rejected Christianity altogether. Thus the transition from Jehovah to
Baal in New England went from 1640 to 1840 through the phases of
disobedience, modernism, and paganism.
The same thing happened on a bigger scale from 1840 to the present day
all across the religious establishment in our country. As the Second
Great Awakening (1800 - 1840) waned, the churches became more and more
disobedient to Christ, and Americans who believed in the Christian faith
became less and less committed to it. Although the Prayer Revival of the
late 1850s and the great evangelistic campaigns of the post-Civil War era
brought the old-time religion to millions of hearts, a movement from
disobedience to modernism was evident in the religious educational
networks. A deemphasis on Bible doctrine and the salvation of the soul
accompanied a new emphasis on the salvation of society. By the arrival of
the twentieth century, theological liberalism with its denial of Biblical
infallibility and its "social gospel" had seized control of the higher
levels of authority in most evangelical denominations. The big Protestant
church organizations became great promoters of socialism and modernism.
However, the modernism of the mainline denominations did not rule
American religion for very long. By the 1960s, modernistic churches were
losing members and conservative churches were growing. Modernism is not
reasonable, and cannot hold minds for long. If the Bible is not the
infallible Word of God as it claims to be, why bother with it at all? The
modernist attempt at respecting the Bible while not believing it,
following Christ without worshiping Him, and saving society without
addressing sin failed and left churches cold and empty. The philosophical
movement that rose up in the 1970s to replace modernistic religion was a
combination of ancient pagan doctrines called "the New Age." The New Age
Movement has beliefs similar to several of those held by the
Transcendentalists one hundred and fifty years ago. The mainline liberal
churches at the beginning of the twenty-first century continue to preach
revised morals and left-wing politics to shrinking congregations, while
New Age ideas are growing in their influence everywhere. American
religion has again moved from disobedience to modernism to paganism. And
now the country is divided over whether to fight for the old faith or to
embrace entirely the new faith. We are at the crossroads, and we need
Actually, the division between pro-Christian thinkers and anti-Christian
thinkers has existed in our country throughout its history. In Plymouth,
Massachusetts, there is a strange sight on the north side of the town
square. Two old churches stand there very near each other. One is made of
stone, and the other of white-painted wood. The sign in front of the
stone church identifies it as the "First Church in Plymouth (Unitarian)."
A tablet in front of the other (called the Church of the Pilgrimage)
tells a story:
"This tablet is inscribed in grateful memory of the Pilgrims and their
successors who, at the time of the Unitarian controversy in 1801, adhered
to the belief of the Fathers and on the basis of the original Creed and
Covenant perpetuated at great sacrifice in the Church of the Pilgrimage
the evangelical faith and fellowship of the church of Scrooby, Leyden,
and the Mayflower organized in England in 1606."
As the century turned to the nineteenth, the church that had been
organized by the Pilgrims (who were English Separatists) voted to call as
their new pastor a Unitarian who denied the cardinal doctrines of the
Christian faith. At the time the Unitarian modernism was taking over many
churches in Massachusetts, and the Plymouth church had to decide about
it. A bare majority of the members voted to install the Unitarian, and
soon a large minority withdrew to form a new church. It was technically a
new church, but it held to the old faith. Someone said that the First
Church kept the furniture but the split church kept the faith! Although
the Church of the Pilgrimage has since fallen to twentieth-century
modernism, the truth illustrated by the two churches with the two signs
is till powerfully significant! Separated by a few feet, the two churches
picture the split in American religion. On one side is America #1:
Christian America. On the other side is America #2: Disobedient
Christianity developing modernism turning into paganism. These are the
two Americas that are doing battle today.
America #1 believes in the Creator-God, Maker of heaven and earth.
America #2 believes in a Creation-God, the spiritual Force behind the
material world, not separate from but intrinsically part of nature. The
Creation-God is the deity of evolution and the Creator-God is the God of
America#1 believes in a God to be served. America #2 believes in a God
Who serves. Of course, the true God gives loving and merciful attention
to the needs of man, but fundamentally He is to served, glorified, and
worshiped by man. However, many believe in a Power that can be harnessed
and used by man for his purposes. This Power they like to call "God."
America #1 believes that man needs to be redeemed. America #2 believes
that man can redeem himself. No one can deny that something is wrong
among humankind, but there is strong disagreement over what it is.
Christians know that the problem is man's innate sinfulness resulting
from the original sin of Adam. The solution is in God's plan of
redemption through His Son's sacrifice for man's sin, and His victory
over sin and death. Anti-Christians see the problem elsewhere: in
childhood experiences, in capitalistic economics, and in the Christian
religion! Man can redeem himself by ridding himself of such things. The
two ideas of redemption are absolutely incompatible.
America #1 follows absolute laws based on God's nature. America #2
follows relative standards based on man's perceived needs. The fuss over
displaying the Ten Commandments in the courtroom was not just a
disagreement over the meaning of the First Amendment. The fight was
really over the Ten commandments themselves! The cultural war is about
how moral judgments are to be made. Controversies rage over marriage,
human life, the meaning of truth, the rearing of children, the moral
character of words, and the definition of decency primarily because the
two Americas cannot agree on whether we must live by absolutes that come
from God or by pragmatic arrangements we make for ourselves!
Observers who think that the great divide in our country is basically
political do not know what they are talking about! The division is
religious. The great question is, "Whom will we follow, Jehovah the God
of our fathers, or Baal the deity of paganism?" And we need Elijah to
help our country see the issues. Christians must seek to do what he did
to turn a nation back to the true God:
1. Confront the prophets of Baal.
"Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and
the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the
groves four hundred . . ." (1 Kings 18:19)
"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between
two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow
him." (1 Kings 18:21)
As Elijah did, we should tackle false doctrine directly and courageously.
We must do it in the name of the Lord, and not just in the name of
conservatism or family values. We must do it directly in both private and
group conversations. We must speak up, believing that God will bless the
Baal had become the most popular pagan deity of the Middle East in
Elijah's day. Originally worshiped as a plurality of gods (Baalim, as in
Judges 2:11 has the plural ending), Baal became singular as this cult
evolved (Judges 2:13). The name Baal meant "lord" or "master" and
referred at first to a spirit-being that supposedly ruled over a certain
realm. If you could please or placate the "Baal" of this land area or
that kind of thing, you could get favors from him in the realm of his
control. Baal myths eventually merged with other pagan stories and Baal
became one god. But still behind his religion were the concepts of the
spiritual Force behind nature and the existence of spirit beings that can
achieve godhood. These false doctrines the Bible says originated with
Satan (See Genesis 3:4-5) and form the basic religious rival of true
religion. The New Age Baalism of our day must be fought at its root.
Confronting surface issues only will not gain ground for Christianity in
the culture war, at least not for long. We must present the controversy
to the people as a "God versus Baal" battle.
2. Repair the altar of the Lord!
". . . he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down." (1 Kings
Right now the American church needs a thorough and courageous renewal. We
need to get back to Bible standards and Bible ways. Even evangelical
churches are in a state of disrepair, and serious action must be taken
now! The approach of evangelism-by-compromise was wrong from the
beginning and has led the churches to the low point of seeking success by
capitulation to the declining culture! The teaching of our Lord that His
disciples be salt and light on the earth (Matthew 5:13-16) has been
twisted to mean that Christians must be more engaged in the affairs of
the world, when the metaphor He used clearly meant that we must live
lives in stark contrast to the dark and decaying world around us. Let us
get to work restoring our churches to the old-time Biblical standards,
doctrines, and methods.
3. Call on the name of the Lord!
". . . I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by
fire, let him be God . . ." (1 Kings 18:24)
In his prayer on Mount Carmel that day, Elijah asked for four things:
a. That the people would know that Jehovah is God.
b. That the people would identify Elijah as God's servant.
c. That God would vindicate Himself, His servant, and His Word.
d. That God would turn the people back to Him.
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening
sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of
Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God
in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these
things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know
that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back
again." (1 Kings 18:36-37)
Now is the time for bold praying among God's people in America, although
prayer alone will not suffice without the confrontation of evil and the
repair of God's altar. Christian Americans must view the emergence of
"two Americas" as a God-given opportunity to promote another great
revival. Let us be Elijah at this crossroads in American history.
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church|
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data
Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)
- Articles published in the;
- Sword of the Lord
- Baptist Preacher,
- Christian View of the News,
- Pulpit Helps,
- Maranatha Watchman
- Church Bus News,
- and other national periodicals.
His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
To Glorify Our Lord
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