Why is it that institutions and organizations of all kinds regularly drift from the right to the left, from orthodoxy to heterodoxy, from faithfulness to unfaithfulness, from discipline to permissiveness?
The pattern is unmistakable. You see it in schools, in churches, in the media, in families, in politics, and therefore quite naturally in societies at large.
To say it is a pattern is not to deny that it ever happens the other way around. In my own lifetime, I've watched colleges and even whole denominations take stock of their liberal drift and then head back to their roots. But that happens so rarely that when it occurs it's what a journalist calls a "man-bites-dog" story.
So for the last few weeks I've been asking folks around me: Why do they think the flow is so typically in just one direction?
Some point to the Second Law of Thermodynamics-the idea that everything in the created order tends to dissipate rather than to coalesce. One pop scientist illustrates the Second Law by pointing to a hot frying pan that cools down when it is taken off the kitchen stove. Its thermal energy flows out to the cooler room air. But the opposite never, ever happens; apart from a focused, conscious effort, the pan will never get hot. Energy simply doesn't gather on its own.
And just as that's true in the world of physics and chemistry, some thoughtful folks told me, it's also true in the moral world. The fall of humankind, through the rebellion and disobedience first of Adam and Eve, and then of all their descendants, sets us on a trajectory that makes it predictable where our intellectual, psychological, and spiritual inclinations will take us. Disobedience and unfaithfulness have become the natural direction.
Against those broad, somewhat philosophic reflections, here were some of the specific observations of my friends:
• Liberalism offers quick fixes. The rewards of conservatism tend to be slower in coming.
• Institutions become the very thing they were founded to oppose.
• In our family, each of us has gotten more and more conservative as we have pursued the disciplines of the faith-Bible study, prayer, fasting.
• The movement is often the result of technological advancement and scientific discovery. Christians have a hard time connecting creed and empirical reality.
• We long to be comfortable, to have the fight over, to "belong." A good dose of hardship is a great remedy.
• We should not dwell on this. It is like dwelling on death. Let the dead bury their dead. The clear mandate to all believers is to recreate, to initiate, to innovate. We must have new wineskins in which to put new wine.
• The only habit to arrest such a drift is to submit ourselves to the preaching of the Word.
• Institutions liberalize because people forget the struggle. They take their heritage for granted, thinking it is their due rather than the product of a deadly struggle.
• We lose the joy of our salvation, and then those who follow do not see examples of Christ, but of mere men trying to save themselves.
• We become insensitive to the full extent of the Fall, so we accept guidance from the world and end up inviting aspects of the Fall into our institutions.
• Our surroundings become commonplace. We become numb to sin. We get overwhelmed and hopeless about changing or fixing those problems.
• The drift is an accommodation to the surrounding culture. But the drift is often exacerbated by a legalistic church.
• We get comfortable with the routine of life, with our churches, and with our Bible studies. The definition of finishing well becomes less stringent, and it is easier not to get dirty fighting the sin issues of the day.
• If the younger generation is instilled with the mindset that conservative ideals are simply true, and not hackneyed conventions, the movement will pass on to a new generation.
• A seminary professor always talked about the people of God in cycles: Repentance, obedience, blessing, growth (including some who are not truly God's people), warning, pruning ... repentance, etc.
• Our problems start with a combination of the sins of covetousness, pride, lust, and sloth.
There's a little food for thought! But it's only half the responses of my friends. Next week: A few more, and a little effort on my own at drawing some conclusions.