Friday, October 18, 2013
Outlook for a Revived American Christianity
I'd like to lay out a few key features of what I believe a revived United States Christianity would look like. The United States has quickly become a post-Christian nation. Church attendance is down from 75% in the 1940s to today just under 15% and some think 15% is an optimistic projection. Why has the general public in the United States decided to move away from church attendance and Christianity as a whole? There are many theories and ideas, but I think we'd have to take a hard look at the current diminishing range of churches across the country.
Is Christianity no longer relevant to modern life? Have sermons become lectures? A common charge against what's left of the modern American church is hypocrisy in the congregation and in the staff. In an age of post-modern thinking people don't know what to believe, so genuine faith and authenticity are more important than ever. We can say all we want about the media, public education, colleges, science, and atheism, but really those are the effects, and the cause is our lack of a solution. The solution as I see it is a revival of the churches of our great country. In my view, we ought to stop complaining and get to work on revival.
If there is to be a revived and re-established church in the United States, and I hope and pray there will be, this is what I believe it may look like:
Relevance (without sacrificing Biblical truth) - Ok I'm sorry, but we've got the instruction book on existence in front of us, the Bible, rich with stories, timeless wisdom, sacrifice, eternal love, salvation, and all manner of truth, but that's difficult to make relevant? There is no "making it relevant" it IS relevant! I can't think of anything more relevant. The principles and facts of the Bible are easily defensible for modern living. If there is to be a revival, practical application of scripture will be an integral part of it. Dr. Ben Guiterrez in his book "Ministry Is..." indicates that encouragement is sorely lacking in church leaders today. Too many pastors assume they ought to scold and yell when they give sermons, as if disciplining a 6 year old boy. Instead what ought to be offered are clear practical steps to growing as a Christian, and encouragement along the way. Rebuking has it's place, but it's not the whole message. Relevance means practicality, and translating Biblical stories to their application in modern daily life. That isn't too difficult in my view.
Genuine Teachers - It's with a heavy heart that I write this aspect. We're Christians after all. My goodness, we are in serious trouble when our ministers are molesting children, misusing money, and consistently being caught in all manner of outrageous sin. The Vatican has been caught up in all manner of controversy and corruption regarding laundering money, improper teaching, and maneuvering abusive priests between congregations. Fair enough, that kind of religious ritualism has been fading away for quite sometime. However it seems like equally troublesome mega-churches have risen to replace that kind of establishment ripe with their own unique manner of watered down teaching, controversy, misuse of money, and explicit repeated sin and arrogance displayed in their leaders. Please please please, let us be humble, encouraging, and practical in our teachings. People can see authentic faith and genuine expression of faith from a mile away, and that is what people are looking for today. There are all manner of scams, half truths, hidden lies, abusive families, crooked politicians, and perverse media advertising coming at us everyday. People want and desperately need entirely genuine and enthusiastic leaders, slow to anger, and abounding in forgiveness, compassion, and brotherly love. The revival will need great leaders, and I continue to pray for such leaders to be risen up in the cities of this great country.
Emphasis on Inner Growth - Here is a huge part of it. We cannot keep demanding congregations adhere to Christian principles when they have not been transformed internally. This kind of transformation begins with accepting Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. But God won't do for us what we can do for ourselves. There is no light switch to flip. There are though, wonderful teachings and books for Christians on overcoming past hurts, learning to love, forgiveness, and recovery from addictions. I have personally greatly benefited from books from the Minirith Meier clinic on growth and recovery.
Of course we don't see good behavior in Christians, they have not undergone thorough inner transformation! Jesus Christ within directs us and enables us to grow inwardly. He guides us to books we need to read, things we need to hear, people we need to meet, and studies we ought to attend. In the revival I imagine a great emphasis will be placed on inner growth and transformation. This doesn't mean that the church will become a self help seminar, but isn't there some happy medium of promoting good works as well as Christ driven growth? The 12 steps of recovery and support groups ought to be integral to this. If drug addicts and alcoholics of the worst kind like myself can work these steps and undergo fundamental transformation in action and thought, then how much more could it help everyday Christians in practicing what they preach? We can't act in a Christian manner until we think in a Christian manner is my thought on that.
In Kirk Cameron's documentary Monumental a monument left by Pilgrims, some of the first settlers of the United States was analyzed as a method for a return to Christianity. One of the integral facets of the monument was a statue representing inner growth and transformation facilitated by Jesus Christ.
Evangelical attitude - the few growing churches in the United States have adopted this attitude and are thus obeying Christ's great commission to "Go." The old Catholic and Lutheran churches in my area don't seem to go as much as they ought to. It's kind of a little click, where everyone knows each other, rumors fly, and a lot of judgement is tossed around. That is not the way, period. Stepping into the public eye is difficult for a church congregation for many reasons. It's stressful to face down the current culture as an open Christian professing faith, because Christianity is thought of today as dogmatic, hypocritical and passe. I have personally experienced the kind of shunning that takes place because of open faith, but it is required of us. Nine of ten will avoid us and judge us for our faith, but that one may just see something they want, and come to be saved. In the revival I imagine churches will be more like launching pads into the community than castles to hide within. Integrating into the community is very important for evangelism. There should outposts of sorts all over the city to meet needs and serve lovingly.
Movies and series in pop culture are excellent as well. The Bible mini series on the history channel was wonderful. The movie The Gospel of John played a huge part in my coming to Christ. I may not personally have enjoyed The Passion directed by Mel Gibson, but it had people talking about Christ, and that's a big deal. Personally, wearing Christian shirts, bumper stickers, yard signs, and anything else we can do to make Christianity visible, the more the better. Also and very simply, we need to share our faith personally day to day with people we know. Rejection will be common, and it will hurt, it definitely will, once again it is required of us.
Utilizing technology, style, and art - The monolithic decaying towers and cathedrals of dead Christianity in our country will most likely become relics. I'm sure many still endure quality teaching and strong evangelism, but let's be real: They are not easy structures to mosy into, and I cringe often when I see the derelict structures around town, an ever-present reminder of how ceremony and pompous ritual has decimated the church of America. I imagine the revival churches will look more like community centers or public schools in design, unimposing and as easy to walk into as a gas station. This has materialized in my area in the form of storefront style outreaches where acoustic cafes and mini teachings make for an easy place for understanding and truth to be received by curious seekers. I imagine the interiors of such churches will be modern in appearance, and modest in decoration. Guitars, drum sets, the latest instruments ought to be utilized. Projectors, computers, technology of various kinds.. I don't see a thing wrong with utilizing technology to display Christian truth and Christian principles.
Internet Evangelism - Like it or not the internet has become extremely prominent in American culture, and as the body of Christ we need to be adjusting our evangelism as a result. In the revival I imagine a grassroots framework similar to political grassroots movements like the Tea party or the Liberty Movement that have made use of the internet to gather and inform the public. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter became grounds for constant political activism by groups like these, and a similar framework in sharing Christianity I believe must and must be an integral part of a revival. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs of all kinds, internet petitions, memes, and much more are intriguing ways to share the truth found in the Bible. I've seen with great pleasure this kind of internet evangelism begin to take off. It allows for average everyday Christians to share their faith with hundreds and even thousands.
Christian Apologetics - Speakers like Ravi Zacharias and John Lennox truly inspire me, when they "go" to college campuses and institutions sharing the very real and coherent intellectual arguments for Christianity. In the age of information apologetics is crucial. Atheism needs to be answered. Post-modernism needs to be answered. Young Christians must be taught how to defend their faith intellectually as they go into secular colleges. Intellectualizing faith makes for a stronger and more defensible faith in public forums. It is most necessary to a revival.
There are many other areas and good ideas that ought to be built into a framework for a revived Christianity in the United States, but I firmly believe these are key aspects of such a revival. How can we see this happen? Isn't it time? I go along day by day often heartbroken by the lost people I encounter. They are not receiving the message. It is not in front of them, they are not seeing it and what they are seeing is judgment and hypocrisy.
We must, must, must do something about the situation. My call to you, if you too wish to see a revived church is this: Get to work on just that. We have to start it. We have to be the change. We have to pioneer it. And then our children, and their children will have a firm foundation to build on, in safety from a culture rapidly proceeding into utter depravity and all form of immorality, as well as general confusion, economic turmoil, drug abuse, prostitution, and outright chaos.
Let us halt the march to collapse, and revive American Christianity.
Believe it can be done.
It starts with you.
Go in peace :)