How many churches will look like this? How many realize the role they have played in this outcome?
Salvation through Jesus Christ is a timeless message. It never fails, and will never be antiquated. For almost two thousand years this message was disseminated to the world through the Church. Through the hard times, the lean times, the fat times, and times of great success… the Church has seen them all. Up until now it has weathered all the storms and come out intact, but the tides are turning, and we have yet to battle the storm that is irrelevance. The Church, under visionary leadership throughout its history, has been able to keep itself relevant by addressing the trials of the day and the needs of people. During the darkness of Middle Ages, it commissioned art, encouraged literature, and patronized music. It created a culture that still speaks to the core of humanity. During a time of extreme violence and plague, it developed a theology that personified sin and evil in the figure of the devil, giving people something conceptual to “defeat” in the struggle to survive. The Protestant work ethic helped an infantile United States grow and flourish by feeding the notion of economic capitalism. Manifest Destiny expanded the borders of the United States from coast to coast, driving exploration and providing opportunity for success. These are but a few examples.
Not that these examples were not without negative consequences, and they were, but they demonstrate the capability of the Church to innovate and look ahead rather than just become a reactionary entity. Now the Church Universal, with ripple effects through every Christian denomination, is threatened with being irrelevant, and going softly into the dark night. How can this possibly be the future of the institutional vessel of the Light of the World: Christ himself? If it will be actualized, then it will be because we have allowed ourselves to become irreverent. Yes, irreverent, turning our backs on Christ, his Gospel, and our duty as disciples. There is nothing that shows a greater lack of respect for our Lord than squandering our spiritual gifts, ignoring the plight of the lost lambs, denying our fundamental duty to make disciples, and allowing the Church to serve us rather than serve others. Yet this has been the critique against the Church for the past several decades, and the response has been to maintain the status quo. It is no wonder that my generation has left with no desire much less an intention of returning. Now my younger sister’s generation never went, and sees nothing but a monolith of hypocrisy. We are in trouble.
I cannot claim to have THE answer, but I know that an answer lies in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not sequester himself in the Temple, the House of God for all Israel. He traveled around, met people where they were, and interacted with them in the context of their daily lives. That is why Jesus attended the wedding at Cana, met a woman on her daily trip to the well, and found himself invited to dinner parties. He was in the midst of the people and engaging them in the things they did every single day. He did not wait for them to come to worship, yet this is precisely the modus operandi the Church had adopted. We are losing ground to Secularism, because Secularism is with the people Monday through Saturday, and now even Sunday. Secularism does not hold them to a higher account, to loving their neighbors and praying for their enemies. It certainly doesn’t require them to repent of their sins or call them to reconciliation. These things are spiritual work, and they are not without personal cost. Secularism is easy and without the high price, and so it will win out every time, if the Church does not make itself speak as clearly. Christ continues to speak into the heart of every person. Christ is the only one who can offer us a means to not merely survive, but thrive in the sufferings of this world. The question is whether Christ is being muted or silenced through the mouthpiece that is the Church by our refusal to translate Christ into the linguistics and cultural vernacular of this day? To hold the Gospel of truth, grace, and eternal love hostage to the internal wants of the Church is to refuse to heed the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations. For this God will surely hold us all accountable.