Does being a Christian today mean something different than it did a twenty years ago? Fifty years ago?
It definitely feels different.
Of course, I wasn’t around fifty years ago so I can’t speak with absolute certainty, but it seems as though society valued Christianity then. Not that things were perfect fifty years ago. Let’s not forget how the dark shadow of racism and bigotry lorded over the political and social landscape in that era. Much of that bigotry stemmed from misshapen, so-called “Christian,” worldviews. To be sure, I’m not waxing poetic about the good ol’ days here. Every generation’s had their share of problems. But it seems that with each passing day, Christianity falls further down the social ladder of importance and social influence.
This was not so in generations past. That Christianity influenced bigoted politics and the social moral compass of yester-generation only proves my point. More, such bigotry was overthrown in large part due to the Christian influence manifested in the Civil Rights trailblazer Dr. Martin Luther King. In King’s I Have a Dream speech, his Christian worldview, and the way it informed his cause, shines. The work of Dr. King and many other Christians went a long way toward correcting flawed biblical interpretations.
Would Dr. King be as successful today? Would his style of speaking and leadership ring as true in today’s America? I’m not so sure. Dr. King’s success was only partly due to his talents and inspiring leadership. He was also a man for his generation — a generation who held high the ideals of Christianity, for better or worse. And for those who didn’t hold Christianity to so high a degree, they at least respected the authority of the Bible, the Church, and what Christianity had to say, even if they had no intention of living under that authority.
In that age, prodigal sons came home. Today, I’m afraid many of our prodigals are gone for good.
Jesus spoke about how important it is for seeds to fall into good soil (Matthew 13) in order to yield fruit. When I look around at the American landscape, I wonder how good the soil is for Christian, gospel seeds and what I come up with is not very promising. So then, what do we do about it? How can we cultivate the ground around us so that when we drop the seeds of the gospel it germinates and grows? Is that even our responsibility?
However way we’ve arrived here, the fact must be stated that Christian influence on society is on the decline. The church no longer has benefit of the doubt. The Bible must defend for itself and is no longer assumed as “the authority.” Christians are known for negativity — as “no” factories and exclusives who are either weak-minded or manipulative and selfishly ambitious. Society has forgotten why the church exists and they no longer trust her to make headway for beneficial social change.
In a sense, the church used to be the older, wiser big brother you went to when you needed help: who gets on your nerves when he corrects you, but in the end you know he’s right. Now, the church is perceived as the bully on the block who bosses people around and takes his ball home when he’s losing or when people don’t want to play by his rules. The soil is not good for anything Christians have to say, let alone the gospel.
We can respond one of two ways to this new reality. We can gripe and complain about how people don’t want to blindly follow the Bible or give credence to what the church says. Or, we can adjust to the new reality and come up with a new strategy. I vote the latter.
The challenge of the Christian church for this generation is to regain the trust of society. We cannot be what they say we are. We, as the Christian church, must embrace our roles as catalysts for social change and justice. We must lead with our actions by partnering with our communities and fellow churches toward change. Jesus said, “Let your lights so shine before men, that they might see your work, and glorify the Father.” The passivity of prayer lists and preached sermons have only gotten us so far. Let’s lead the charge of Love.
So has Christianity changed? No. Has what it means to be a Christian changed? Not in the least bit. We’ve always been called to love others in order to love them more. We just need to be about doing that.
Do you agree that the church is losing influence? What are some specific ways we can help regain trust?
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