Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The World Has Changed...

We are at a pivotal moment in the history of the Church.  It is a moment that has not happened in the last 1700 years.  Let me explain... 
Constantine the Great
In 325 AD, something remarkable happened.  Constantine legalized Christianity.  Actually, this first "Christian emperor" went further and established Christianity as Rome’s official religion and intermingled church and state.  In one move, the followers of Jesus went from being a marginalized, counter-cultural group whose identity was determined by Jesus to a collection of citizen/saints.  Their new identity was defined by the state and religion.  But something else happened as well.  The Church became married to the culture.  Who would disciple children?  Who would teach care for the poor?  Who would instill a worldview that was shaped by Jesus?  These questions became increasingly cloudy as the Church and the culture both shared in the responsibility.  To be a citizen was to be a Christian (at least nominally).  The Church had lost its distinctive tie to the teachings and methods of Jesus.

This is the reality that most of us grew up in.  The highway of culture led straight through the Church.  Church and culture overlapped in such a way that one was inexorably tied to the other.  And the Church grew lazy.  We grew comfortable.  We competed with the congregation down the street to see who could offer better services to attract the most people.  Plan a good program and people would come (until the other congregation offered a better one, at least).  The key in this day and age was to offer good programs that people could invite their friends and co-workers to.  The best congregation was the one with the busiest and most attractive calendar of events.

This is no longer the case.  We no longer live in a "product economy".  It is no longer enough to offer good programs.  People don't come to them.  The Church is no longer seen as reliable partner in defining culture.  We can complain about this (which some do).  We can try to go back in time (which some would like us to do).  We can even try to hold on to our influence in culture (which many pursue passionately).  However...none of these are realistic options.  The marriage of Church and culture has already ended.  The divorce has been finalized.  It is over.  Church and culture have been torn apart.

And it is scary.  We don't know how to operate any more as Church.  Thus, we try to demand that prayer is kept in our schools.  If we do that, we subconsciously reason, then the divorce can be stopped.  If we keep plaques of the 10 Commandments in our courtrooms, them maybe we can save the marriage.  But we can't.  We are, for the first time in 1700 years, in a culture that is antagonistic to who we are as followers of Jesus.  Our "product" is no longer important to people.  "Christianity" is not viewed positively anymore.

But there is still hope.  While "Christianity" is no longer seen as offering value...Jesus still does offer value.  Jesus still matters.  Jesus still offers hope, meaning, purpose, passion, forgiveness, and life. 

Jesus still matters...and His Church can adapt.  We can adjust.  We can continue to faithfully proclaim God's timeless truth.  The message doesn't change, but the context has.

In my next post, I will discuss 6 shifts that the Church of Jesus must begin to wrestle through in order for the message of Jesus to continue being heard...

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