Let me state up front the point of this blog. (If that’s all you want to know, you can then go back to watching videos of kittens.)
The eary church thrived in a culture of secularism and unbelief, and we can too.
Secularism is alive and well in America today. Pew Research surveyed those who claim no religious affiliation (a mixture of atheistis, agnostics, and a mess of people who aren’t anything in particular) and learned the following
- 60% question a lot of what religion teaches.
- 49% don’t like the social and/or political stance of churches.
- 37% don’t believe in God.
- 36% see religion as irrelevant.
- 34% don’t like religious leaders. [Source: Pew Research]
We can read those statistics and bemoan the loss of Christianity’s influence in society, but those statistics may reflect more a change in people’s truthfulness than a change in their beliefs. We’ve had a long streak in American history when Christianity was culturally acceptable. Those of us old enough to remember when The Flinstones was prime-time TV remember when a new church could grow simply because the community around it was growing … teachers rarely gave homework on Wednesdays because Wednesday night was a church night … no one thought of practicing or playing league sports on Sunday … churches played a key role in the overall community life.
A lot of people went to church because it was how they were raised; y’know, it’s just what you do. Going to church was the acceptable thing to do—and often the expected thing to do. They were good and religious but nothing more than cultural Christians. A real and dynamic relationship with Jesus was absent.
A secular viewpoint is nothing new to America. It’s always been there, but over the years it has gradually become tolerated, then accepted, and finally embraced. And with that, many who, a generation earlier would’ve been parked in a pew on Sunday, dropped the cutural label of “Christian” and gradually stopped going to church.
Of course, the church in the 50s and 60s were full of committed Christ-followers, but they were also surrounded by those who liked Jesus becuase it was cool to like Jesus—even if a real relationship with Him was absent. So here we are in 2019 with a decline in church attendance—but that doesn’t necesarily translate to a decline in the body of Christ. Maybe we’re just seeing the absence of a lot of cultural Christians. What remains are the committed followers of Christ.
Let’s not see this as a threat; let’s see it for the opportunity it is.
Read through any of the letters of Paul, Peter, or John. Read the Book of Acts. In all these books, we see a young church surrounded by multiculturalism, a strong secular mindset, and even opposition. But the church thrived in just such a s climate—and so can we.
Gone are the days when people might show up at church because you advertised on the church marquee or did a mass mailing. The call of the gospel has always been for us to go to them, and that is certainly true today.
Christianity should not be something cultural; it is to be relational. To the 36% of unaffiliated people who see religion as irrelevant, when we build relationships with them, they see into our lives and see that our walk with Christ is highly relevant. We give them an opportunity to see why we believe in God. We have opportunities all around us to model the love and grace of God.
We can whine about the darkness of the culture, or we can let the light of Christ shine through us. As we exemplify the love and grace of God, that light has an amazing effect on those around us.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
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