Apostate cultures, or cultures in the process of falling away, need to be treated differently from pagan cultures. A baptized backslider needs to be called back to what his baptism means — how can we who died to sin still live in it? In an analogous way, in our efforts to speak the gospel to our culture, we cannot neglect the centuries when Christ was in fact confessed by our people.
This is the difference between an anabaptist approach to culture and a Reformed approach. Many anabaptists limit themselves to individuals only, and try to avoid speaking to a culture as such. But when anabaptists do attempt to speak to a culture, they start with the assumption that every generation is at ground zero,
The Reformed approach can appeal to the “old paths.” I would argue that the Reformed approach must appeal to the old paths.
This is why anabaptistic rebukes of contemporary idolatries (rebukes that are often richly deserved) come off as unpatriotic. Since no appeal is made to past faithfulness at all, the rebuke seems like it is coming from a secret (or not so secret) alliance with that current generation’s natural enemies. Thus it is that an anabaptistic critique of militarism, say, is being offered in the name of Jesus, but appears to be for the sake of “the terrorists.”
But militarism should be roundly condemned straight up because it conflicts with the Scripture. When Psalm 20 says that “some men trust in chariots,” nobody thinks that this was David secretly rooting for the Edomites (Ps. 20:7). It was David wanting Israel to fight their enemies in the right way.
Let me go up the stairs two or three at a time here. In our contemporary American setting, there is no way to critique our current militarism faithfully without celebrating Bunker Hill. “Give ‘em Watts, boys,” is calling us back to the old paths. The pacifistic idolater can’t do this. The miltaristic idolater will do it, but will also, in a very facile way, lump every subsequent American military venture under the same heading. The argument appears to be if we were good once, then we must be good always. That followeth no way.
Jesus Christ is the Lord of America, and He cares how we fight, and who we fight. We answer to Him. This means an account must be made, which means in turn that an account must be marshalled. There have been previous faithful accountings, and there have been unfaithful attempts to reject the duty of giving an account at all. Those who would call America to account must avoid placing this call on an anabaptist footing. And the reason for writing this is that I believe it is extraordinarily difficult to do successfully.