Four years ago, Newsweek magazine proclaimed ‘The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” Their words, written on the cover in the shape of a cross, ring true today.
The landscape of the society is changing all around us. Whether we like it or not it is happening. The systems that have long kept the church at the center of American life are changing, resulting in an exclusion of the church from more and more spheres of public life. Christian America may, in fact, fall.
But take heart. The church is not dying.
John’s revelation gives us hope and resolve. At the end of all things, John saw the bridegroom being united to the bride. The church will live on. Maybe not in her current form. Maybe things will change. Maybe we will be marginalized in cultures where we once held prominence. Maybe the church will shrink to a fraction of her old self. But regardless of what changes take place, the church will not die.
As with any loss, we should grieve. However, we must also acknowledge our part in what is happening. The church was not absent from culture as culture shifted. No, we were very present when culture shifted. We were just ineffective. Our ineffectiveness at making disciples of Jesus directly contributed to the church’s waning influence in the world around. As a church, we became preoccupied with power and majority and forgot about being an agent of reconciliation. We forgot that we did not need to be powerful in order to be influential. We replaced gospel freedom with moral legalism. We conflated church member with moral citizen.
We have made mistakes.
Let’s not make more by fear mongering and speaking in hyperbole. The church is hurting, but it is not dying. The church will not die.
It’s time to take responsibility for our mistakes. It is time to repent of our infatuation with power, take off our tunics, and in the fashion of Christ himself, become a servant and wash the feet of society. Let us once again commit ourselves to the task of making disciples of Jesus as we embrace the ministry of reconciliation we have been given. Together, let’s work for unity so that we may display to the world the manifold wisdom of God.
Do not be naive. This will take lots of work. In many ways, we do not know how to do this work. We have only known how to be in a world where the church was at the center of all life. Now, we must learn a new way. We must learn to serve from the fringes. No longer is our service to the marginalized, but it is with the marginalized as the marginalized.
In the words of Paul,
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
God is faithful. Jesus is King.
Go in peace.