Monday, August 29, 2005

The Post-Constantianism of the American Church

Much discussion is ongoing in the field of theology regarding the post-Constantianial setting quickly taking shape in the United States. In other words, Christianity is quickly becoming marginalized in America (ie. prayer bans in schools, removal of Ten Commandments, just to name the obvious). We are in the process of moving from a culture that was predominantly Christian to one which is very pluralistic and, some would say, secular.

Good or bad, it doesn't really matter what we think about the change; the reality is that the change is happening. The faith makeup of Americans is quickly changing to the point where some Christian African nations are beginning to see America as the great mission field of the future. I don't have to look far to see this happening:

* Mary Beth is in a Jewish wedding for a good friend she met at the pre-school.

* My sister-in-law is dating a Buddhist Vietnamese guy she met at school (nice guy from what I hear . . . maybe she'll let us meet him someday :-)

* Our church is in one of the whitest places you can imagine (Delaware county, OH runs about 80% white) and yet in the two years since we moved here, we have had a request for an Indian prayer group to use our building, a Hindu group wanted to use it for a meeting they were having, and one day an Indian man visiting his family came by the building and asked me if he could come and pray in our church building (maybe he was Christian, but I doubt it).

* When I substitute taught in Nashville, TN, I remember one day there was an informational sheet in each teacher's mailbox about the Rhamadan holiday explaining that many of the students would be fasting throughout the holiday.

As this shift becomes more prominent in society, our churches will have major choices to make. I think one of the problems many churches face currently is that much of their leadership is made up by people from "the old days" of a Constantinian worldview. They operate from the underlying belief that most Americans are already Christians. The result is, their time can be focused on "old" arguments and discussions regarding how church is done. Basically, it allows them the freedom to be tied up with "church business" while altogether disregarding the harvest of lost souls God so hungers for.

Do they also hunger for those souls? Of course. My intent is not to question their integrity nor their faith. I do believe, however, that their lack of an understanding of the current change happening to our society is leaving many churches totally irrelevant and isolated from unchurched neighbors.

In short, I think many of our church leaders in America still see the world through Constantinian glasses. This is the cry of many in the religious right. I think their concerns are valid; however, I greatly question their approach to rememdy. Their approach is that if Congress is going to make legislation to take down 10 Commandment displays, we fight through the political stystem. In essence, what they are fighting for is the maintainence of the Constantinian status quo (a status quo that I believe is gone).

Why are we so concerned that Christianity becomes less accepted . . . or God-forbid illegal? What is our fear? I've heard people express concerns anywhere from their children will be indoctrinated by lesbian feministic ideology from their 4th grade classroom to Bibles will be made illegal by the government.

Was it St. Augustine who so long ago stated: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church"? What the American church needs is for some of its members to die because of their faith. It pains me to say that, but it is hard to see an alternative that can wake Christians from their apathetic stuper (and I am by far not expempt from this stuper).

We play church. We get together and potluck and put together our shnazzy worship services in our expensive church buildings and we play church. We must fight the institutionalization of our faith. God never intended institution faith. Jesus came and proclaimed a personal relationship. He wants us to know him.

And so the need for discipleship arises. We have many Christians in our pews, but how many disciples? How many of us (especially ministers) are addicted to the programs of a church, but not to the message of the Christ? How many of us take Christ to work with us and where him as our identity instead of a church member name tag?

Since the emporer Constantine became a Christian, the world has never been the same. The world, however, is changing, and the emporer may be a Christian (George Bush is blantantly so), but the masses no longer care. That is what we are up against. Maybe if we put that at the forefront of our discussions, meetings, and ministries, we'd aactually see folks that don't know the Lord in our church buildings instead of Mr. and Mrs. John Doe visiting from a church across town.

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