Thursday, February 27, 2014

Have Christians Lost the Culture War?

Todd Starns in a Fox News Opinion piece asks this very question.

He begins:

The culture war may be lost and religious liberty might not be that far behind, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Seventy percent of senior pastors at Protestant churches say religious liberty is on the decline in the United States, and 59 percent of Christians believe they are losing the culture war. Eleven percent considers that war already lost.

 Some within some Christian denominations see this as a major, MAJOR problem.

It's actually long in coming.  The only question I have is: what took it so long?

The real "problem" in my estimation is not that Christians are losing the "Culture War."  There's a multitude of problems that Christians within the U.S. have just not dealt with very well.

#1. Complacency.  For a long, long time, Christianity held a privileged position as the religion of choice within the U.S.  With that privilege came certain "perks" among them that many were born into the church and expected to continue to attend church.  No more.  As secularism has continued almost unabated, this expectation fell by the wayside.  Fewer made the commitment to worship.  For the first few generations, this wasn't much of a problem because there were still sufficient numbers in pews.  Yet, as older generations died out, the younger folks didn't replace them.  The church suddenly could not rest upon the fact that they held a position of privilege.  You couldn't just build a church and expect people to show up.  Now, churches truly have to engage people and work at evangelism.  Simply running into someone on the street and trying to convince them to come to worship won't work.  Literal transformation of worldviews is now necessary.  Complacent churches aren't able or oftentimes willing to put in this kind of work.

#2. The rise of the "Spiritual but not Religious."  Most folks in the U.S. still self-identify as Christians, but a vast majority are almost non-practicing Christians.  Many are "spiritual but not religious."  Many are believers in the sense of ascribing to the belief that Jesus is a cool guy, maybe even the Son of God, but that belief rarely leads to visible transformation in a person's life.  Such folks often say, "I don't need to worship in church to worship God.  I can do very well under a tree in the middle of the woods."  Unfortunately, the church rarely has any response to convince a person to worship--which leads to transformation.  The church rarely has a good apologetic (outside of "churchy" language) to combat this rampant individualism of faith.

#3. The rise of religious pluralism.  Pluralism in and of itself isn't a bad thing.  A variety of views and understandings is a welcome thing as it prevents any one particular group from exercising evil.  Mutual respect is key, but the church hasn't handled such a thing well.  It has tended to vacillate between relativism (embracing various other religions as simply other paths to God) and religious snobbery (people of other faiths are completely wrong and not worth respect).  Neither of these are particularly palatable or particularly biblical.  It is extremely difficult to be comfortable enough in one's own Christian skin and still respect others.

#4.  (This one could get me in trouble.)  The Politicalization of the Faith.  Yes, I am speaking about the "Religious Right" and the "Christian Left."  These two political movements, in my estimation are deadly.  They each basically assert, "You cannot be a true Christian if you don't vote either Democrat or Republican."  They each assert their particular political party as more "Christian" than the other.  I personally believe this is not a good thing.  I personally believe such affiliations draw lines in the sand and lead to polarization--a polarization within the pews.  Both groups seek to exercise power to influence voters and government.  In their own ways, each group tries to establish God's Kingdom on earth through the passing of legislation.  Last I checked, the church sought to transform society through POWERLESSNESS, not through power.  Very bad things have happened in history when the church sought to use power in governmental rule.  The church needs critical distance from each political party to be able to call sin for what it is: no matter who is committing it.  When affiliating with a party, the church has lost its prophetic voice and alienated 1/2 of the people it is called to reach.

I could list more, but in my estimation, these things--these changes in society--have made folks in the church anxious.  Rather than deal with the change in society, many have battened down the hatches and sought to preserve their "turf."  They declared war oftentimes using the legislative process to accomplish their goals.  Last I looked, Jesus wasn't about that kind of stuff.  The only war He declared was against evil.  When it came to society and people, Jesus sought reconciliation, forgiveness, and love--even of His enemies.  He never attempted to change the laws of the Roman empire, but sought to change the hearts and minds of those whom He came into contact with through compassion.  With one caveat--He was quite vociferous toward those of the religious establishment who should have known better.

The church in America would do well to drop this pretense of culture war and follow the example of its founder.

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