Four ways the church could die in America.
History can be a frightening mistress. In seminary we had a class called Global Christian History. As we peered through the pages of time we could see why Christianity collapsed in certain areas of the world. It’s eerie. The historical church died because…
1. Warfare among different variations of Christianity.
Africa experienced devastating divisions that greatly diluted the movement and caused lateral warfare instead of a unified front within Christianity. Sound familiar? Our best and brightest are really busy fighting each other instead of creating a unified movement to engage culture. I would love to name drop here, but I will refrain!
2. Refusal to go indigenous.
As cities grew more difficult for Christians to live in they would embrace variations of monastic (monastery) living. Instead of trying to engage the rapidly changing culture, they ran from it by creating their own types of communities totally separate from the “dirty” world. They created their own schools and instead of training up the next generation on how to engage the world they ended up focusing primarily on separation. As a whole, they didn’t save cities—they abandoned them. Eventually they became irrelevant and died off. I fully believe in Christian education. However, we must remember the purpose is to prepare them to run into society not from it.
3. Christianity is associated with a civil/social party vehemently pursuing power.
It’s really easy to shift our passion from the hearts of individuals to just social control. I get it! It’s easier to measure external actions. A nation can look more Christian when we make Biblical laws civil laws. This doesn’t mean the heart of the individual is being won at all, though. In fact history teaches a nation can increase Christian civil obedience all while the hearts of the people are growing ever more cold towards political Christianity. Don’t forget our primary target is the hearts of the people, not just civil control! The early days of the church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia teach this well. I am not saying we need to avoid politics! I am just saying don’t forget the heart is MOST important.
4. Centralized religious institutions and the removal of Christ from the center of Christianity.
Sound far-fetched? Think again! You may do this and not realize it.
We are always trying to make men into God and God into a man. The historical church is notorious for trying to reconstruct Christianity with a new teacher or fresh perspective. It is imperative that the church keeps Jesus at the center. When Jesus is minimized and a new teacher is elevated, trouble is right around the corner! In addition, when the inevitable ethical failure happens it confuses thousands of churches and possibly millions of people. John Wesley is a hero to me. The other day I caught myself justifying his actions that were less then holy. I stopped myself. Wesley wasn’t perfect and that’s okay. I can enjoy Wesley’s work, but I refuse to deify him. Jesus stays at the center!
So let me ask you. Do you think Western Christians struggle with these? What do you think is the answer?