Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Adaptable and Versatile Church of the Ages

Today, In high school, kids learn materialistic naturalism.

In college, post-modernism and relativism.

Traditionally the church has been a place of worship and Bible reading.

In the last fourty years children asked why God, and they were told to shut up and believe because we say so.  Most rebelled from that.

That's not working. Thankfully the reason for God is incredibly compelling, why?  Because God is real.

The answer: The Church must show why God, or fade away and die.

Secularization is the process by which religious institutions have lost their social significance.  Generalizations have overtaken the entire culture of the West in regard to the church.  Words like "church" "christian"  "priest" and "evangelical" are synonymous with curse words carrying so much ugly flavor it's hard to get past the stereotypes.  There are some legitimate reasons for this, but in many more cases the truth has been lost and false generalizations keep the gates locked to the path to Jesus Christ.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs.  Christianity can be redeemed because the truth is on our side, not theirs.  When the generalizations about Christianity are examined with the facts, guess what?  We don't lose, we win every time.

It's often stated that religion has lead to so many wars and chaos, this is an extremely popular view of religion, you could ask random people on the street and many would know and hold that view.  Yet it's not even true!  According to the Encyclopedia of Wars religion has been the cause of only 7% of the wars on Earth in the history of mankind.  And if you remove Islam from that total it drops to 3%.  And many Christians believe that lie.  I had someone confront me about the hundreds of thousands of witches burned by Christians in Salem.  After checking the history records I responded that the number killed was 18, and there is nothing in the Bible about burning witches.

One that I've often heard is that religious people are intolerant and hypocrites.   Is that true?  If so, of whom?  Small churches in rural areas?  A specific denomination?  High profile mega-churches?  Or maybe just the televangelists?  The catholics?  All of the above?  Where do these ideas come from and is there anyway to prove them?

Christianity is struggling in Europe and the United States.  It's not struggling in the southern part of the western world (central america, south america), and it's growing tremendously in parts of the East like China and India.  But Christianity struggles in Europe and the United States, 1st world regions that have embraced modernism and post-modernism.  The world shifted in 1945 and again in 2001.  The new state of rapid globalization and the decline of regional specific culture has changed the mood and setting greatly.  The result has been the slow decline of Christianity in the USA and it's rapid decline in Europe.

Many great Christians have addressed this issue.  On the cutting edge of this issue are men like Tim Keller, Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, William Lane Craig, as well as many others.  The church has always been in a process of reinventing itself over it's history.  I firmly believe that must continue.  And churches must always be versatile in presentation, music, and application yet firm on the root principles and central message of the Christian faith.

How can a church as the body of Christ set out today, to be relevant today, but not just today, relevant tomorrow and into the foreseeable future as well?  

Adoption of a platform of reinvention and adaptability.  The church has always adapted, and often adapted in incredible ways.  The church began as a growing movement that exploded out of Judaism in the middle east.  It was recorded in the book of Acts when Christianity was just a small movement of a few thousand believers.  There was an issue that could make or break the church discussed at the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15: Will the church require all believers in Jesus Christ to submit to circumcision and the entire Old Testament laws of the prophets?  Thankfully the right decision was made, and new believers were not required to be circumsized or forced into strict obedience to the OT laws, but instead were encouraged to abstain from certain clearly immoral practices.  The message was and is, of grace.  With that decision, with that adaptation to the new circumstances, Christianity exploded.  Imagine if they had decided to force believers to follow Jewish traditions?  Christianity to this day would probably be nothing more than offshoot sect of Judaism with maybe a few million adherents at most.

The church expanded into Greece and eventually throughout the Roman empire.  But from the first days they were persecuted and slaughtered by Roman Emperors like Nero.  So they adapted, and used secret symbols like the fish and often met in secret.  Once again, they adapted.  But they always kept the central doctrines strong, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life and there is no other.

Eventually Christianity was legalized, and made the official state religion of the Roman empire.  There were great divides between the Christians and the stoic philosophers, so naturally apologists like Justin Martyr rose up to point out the intellectual coherence of Christianity and Christianity's superiority over the old gods of Greece which were so often explained as immoral monsters.  The Church adapted.

Then wham, the Roman empire fell to barbarian invaders.  I'm sure the Christians of that time were terrified, how do we deal with this situation?  This has never happened in the history of the church!  But they did great things.  They converted the barbarian tribes!  They gained respect, and the church held together the region as wars raged and new leaders moved in to conquer.

In the following centuries Catholicism developed, and the papacy grew, and eventually became exceedingly corrupt.  Once again, the Holy remnant adapted.  The result was two great reformations, Luther and the Lutherans, and then the Protestants, with major adjustments in theology, and major changes in the structuring of the church government to better avoid corruption and top down power struggles.

Again and again the church has shifted and adapted.  Some refuse to update and change, many in fact, and those churches grow more and more disconnected, their congregations age, and eventually the doors are closed.  

Often I feel like Christianity has been hijacked by obstinate fools in the United States.  I wish probing, intelligent, thoughtful college students, young men and women knew of a church that wasn't so foolish, dogmatic, condescending, and self righteous.  Of course those are generalizations, but I have experienced those attitudes in my own area.  

However, there is a rich history of the church that is never talked about, the church in the wilderness.  The kind who are like John the Baptist and his followers, or the forming church in Acts, or the persecuted church in China today.  They're at work, hard work, and it's dangerous and beautiful things are happening.  The loyal, compassionate church that seeks no fame and seeks only to help the lost and defeated.  And of course the spotlight is never on them.  Only the failings of the churches are put in the spotlight in the media today.  There are so many incredible possibilities for ministries to the poor and lost, yet so much is seen of false teaching and mega-churches hogging money for massive stadiums.  But the true message is there!  I had to do a lot of digging, but it was there.

How can the church return to the true Christian message?  How can the church adapt to current circumstances?  There are many problems, but just as many answers.

Key Problem #1: Arrogant church leaders, self righteous attitude, theatrics in the church, stage-set attitude, churches spending on bigger buildings and better accommodations instead of serving the lost, all-about-the-money, prosperity gospel, spending, money issues.

Solution: Humility, humility, and more humility in the pulpit.  A reimagining of the roll of the Pastor from powerful leader, public figure, television personality, theatrical host/entertainer to the Biblical understanding of a Pastor: a humble shepherd, and a servant.  A return to the servant mentality of the pastor with a lowercase p.  Lowly servant, slave of all.  A refocusing of money and spending by church government from self serving to community serving.

Key Problem #2: Lost relevance. Lost relevance means the church is a failing institution no longer seen as relevant to life by the general public.

Solution: Apologetics, mercy showing, and moving the church back to the cutting edge of social changes and service to the lost. Historically the church of Jesus Christ has been on the very cutting edge institutionally.  The church founded the first hospitals, the first universities, the first orphanages, and the church has always been the first responders in regard to diseases, food shortages, and helping out in natural disasters.  Unfortunately that is no longer the case.  The church failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, though there are efforts now being made.

Of course the first step is to show the reason for God.  Because everyone is a skeptic today.  Kids are force fed evolution and materialist philosophies in public education while watching Miley Cyrus twerking in music videos against the crotch of a guy in a black devil outfit and yet we're just so confused, what's going wrong with the kids these days?

The first step is apologetics.  Once again, it's about educating everyday members of the congregation and getting them on a mission for Jesus Christ.  Because the facts are on our side.  

Scientists have really taken on the roll priests used to have in the early 20th century.  Anything a scientist or group of scientists say is true.  Science says so.  False.  We need to show kids the apologetics, this is what your science teacher didn't tell you.  Because even in and especially in science, scientists are very biased, and they go to great lengths to try and sneak around the idea of God, to the point of just leaving the first cause blank like with the big bang, or by quietly ignoring the lack of transitional forms in evolution.  In fact most of the great scientists throughout history were not atheists, but deists, pantheists, and many were devout Christians.  And I remember public school, I was taught evolution is 100% fact and that's all.  What do you call a teaching that is taught as undisputed fact despite contradictory everyday evidence?  You call that dogma.  Evolution = dogma. 

Get the kids on a mission, they have hungers and desires for leadership, to be heroes, warriors, guess what?  That's exactly what we're doing as Christians.  We are the righteous heroes, servants of the Lord of the Universe, set with the task of bringing souls from death to life through the powerful free gift of Jesus Christ.  That is exactly the heroic mission kids long for!

The church has adapted for over two thousand years, and it will continue to adapt.  The churches and groups that refuse to adapt, will close their doors in due time.  

Time is a favored instrument of God.  For those who continue, adapt, fight for relevance and step out into their communities?  They will grow, and prosper and make disciples and lives will be transformed.  That is a guarantee.