Before the Lord established a place for His name in Jerusalem, the worship of God was conducted by the Israelites in various high places. After the destruction of Shiloh, the center of worship was moved (apparently) to Gibeon, with some measure of tolerance extended to the people for sacrificing in other high places because there was no Temple built (1 Kings 3:2). The same kind of licence is granted to Solomon in the next verse (1 Kings 3:3).
But the high places were supposed to become obsolete sometime. In subsequent years, one of the basic criticisms leveled against the kings by the prophets concerned these high places. This kind of criticism is most noticeable when placed alongside praise for a particular king. Asa was a good king, except for that business with the high places (1 Kings 15:14). Jehoshaphat was another good king, except that he did not shut down the high places (1 Kings 22:43). Jehoash did okay, at least during the lifetime of Jehoida, except for those dern high places (2 Kings 12:3). At some point, the prophets maintained stoutly, the king was supposed to fire up the bulldozers.
So then, how should American Christians deal with our politicians who have had trouble with our high places? It seems that our arch-sectarians either condemn the high places root and branch, along with anyone who has not actively proposed blowing all of them up right now, or our arch-go-alongers worship at them themselves. They either condemn Asa top to bottom, which Scripture does not do, or they slavishly tag along behind Manasseh, which Scripture forbids. They imitate Manasseh, that is, in everything but his repentance.
Religious inertia is a powerful thing, and when it is ungodly it must be fought. But it must be fought with wisdom, and not with simplistic ecclesiastical talking points. We must be principled, which is not the same thing as being superstitious or hyper-scrupulous. I am thinking of some the reactions I have seen to Rick Perry — about whom I am still making up my mind. I am not here talking about Perry, but rather talking about how we should try to think about someone like him.
Someone once said to the new bishop of Lincolnshire, concerning the contingent of clergymen he was inheriting, that they could be divided into three categories: those who had gone out of their minds, those who were about to go out of their minds, and those who had no minds to go out of. Conservative American Christians, those who understand the Scriptures and the essential Puritan DNA that has given a peculiar shape to the American apostasy, need to work to preserve more options than that. We must gird up the loins of our mind, as Peter tells us.
We must come to understand that the American high places have a history, some noble and some ignoble. We have to understand how America has fallen, and how we are tangled up in secularized and very strong forms of postmillennialism, covenantalism, conversionism, and Calvinism. Every form of reformational work that wants to erase the whole blackboard and start over is doomed to futility. The world doesn’t work that way. And every form of reformational work that wants to go back 30 years, instead of 300 years, is doomed to their own variant of futility. Just in passing, if I might, the most balanced approach to all of this (that I know of) is the work of American Vision. Why don’t you send them twenty bucks?
The sins we have committed have been strikingly American. Repentance means dealing with the sins, not with the godly forms that were twisted by the sin. And what that means is that we need an American reformation.