by: Rev. Ed Schneider
The challenges facing the Christian church are not difficult to discern with clarity because they are plainly obvious if anyone wishes to be honest about them. Memberships are falling away from traditional mainline denominational settings all across the American landscape in alarming amounts. Leadership scandals among both laity and ordained clergy are well publicized and far too frequent. The average protestant member in America 50 years ago was in their early forties. Now that number is well into the 50th decade of life. With the exception of a few remarkably successful pockets of evangelistic gold, young males between the ages of 18-30 are all but absent from the vast majority of local church settings.
Most of these challenges have been inflicted upon “the church” through;
- a lack of spiritual fervor,
- declining organizational ethics,
- lowering of the standards of personal accountability, and
- theological honesty.
Now that I have stated these unfortunate facts, let me say it is far more frightening and dangerous what has been intentionally inflicted upon the Christian movement from outside of its own ranks.
Beloved, make no mistake, much of the non-believing world is not-so-subtly at war with our entire way of thinking, being, and public demeanor. The aggressive animosity and hateful antagonism is unparalleled in modern history. This profoundly negative atmosphere is permeating throughout most of the American cultural perspective. People and organizations who, from their personal perspectives and experiences, have been hurt, hindered, or harassed by a representative of the Christian movement are no longer hiding their public disdain against the varied institutional and individual expressions of our faith.
This aggressive antagonism and open animosity is both tangible and gaining credibility within the unbelieving and apathetic general public. We need to do something dramatic to slow its effects down so that MAYBE we can provide some faint hope of stopping its insidious crawl across the social fabric of this nation and world.
Under the thumb of this kind of social and spiritual pressure many self-identified Christians will inevitably turn away from this hyper-negative environment and their proclaimed “spiritual” commitments, while also betraying those who remain faithful to Christ’s life and mission. This reaction, although saddening, is quite predictable. This staggering affect to the validity of the Christian revolution is perfectly reasonable to assume because of a falling away of the standards that made Christianity the preeminent religious movement the world has ever experienced.
What standards am I referring to? The minimum requirements of honest and healthy Christian expression involve a rather short list of beliefs and their accompanying actions. With them urgently, passionately, and responsibly employed we have hope of stemming the tide of this vivid animosity we have been experiencing. They are;
- The foundational belief that the Creator of all that is known and unknown is real, visible, and active.
- All humanity can receive a primary, abundant, and intimate knowledge of the love and calling of God because of the life giving mission of Jesus.
- A personal authenticity throughout the professed members of the Christian faith concerning the conversion of body, mind, and spirit toward the ways of God through the life, mission, messages, and examples of Jesus Christ as described within the pages of the Bible.
- Under the authority of a powerful and gracious God and the name of Jesus to boldly witness and share in the Christian ministry of love and sacrifice for others in need before ourselves.
- An honest humility prompting a spiritual intimacy and connection to God through an active prayer life.
- An open and enthusiastic worship life that is bolstered by an equally open and enthusiastic devotional and study life based upon the deeper and broader meanings and messages of the Bible.
- Finally, courageous preaching and teaching which prompts, promotes, enlightens, challenges, and even forces the existing worldview to be seen and experienced through the positive and life transforming biblical witness.
As a rule we “modern-day Christians” have not been required to “forsake all” as an acknowledgment of our devotion to our faith in a risen Lord and Savior and it is costing the church and its mission greatly. In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus told His multitude of followers that they could not be His disciples unless or until they were willing to value their relationship with Him above all other relationships they may have. While our brothers and sisters in many other countries have daily faced persecution, imprisonment, and even death, we have lounged in the lap of luxury. Jesus laid great stress on counting the cost…the practical reality…of being one of His disciples.
The Apostle Paul considered all levels of persecution to be one of the expected costs of being a Christian. In the 3rd chapter of the New Testament letter of 2 Timothy, it reads in part, “…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. If you are being persecuted in some real way because of your faith you are probably headed in the right spiritual direction. However, if few have ever challenged you concerning your faith much less even noticed it, it is a sure thing that there is little Christian faith present to take notice of.
Beloved, the perils of spiritual darkness are plainly obvious and the success or failure of the Christian revolution is being held in the balance. People and organizations, either knowingly or unwittingly, have been complicit in the hateful animosity toward our faith, families, community, churches, government, and friends. Without a doubt, all have fallen victim to its clutches to some degree.
The one sure way to successfully confront our shared circumstance is to be RE-trained by the master teacher, Jesus. Our training will start in earnest when we can say along with the Apostle Paul that we desire above all else to: “know Him and the power of His resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10). If we can begin to both practically and spiritually know the living Christ not merely being limited to the way He is described by His biographers then our growth and victory is secured.
Once we have experienced the “power” of His resurrection then all else in the world falls in line with that new and intimate understanding. The superficial will no longer do. It is only when we become willing to put personal considerations aside and with all our hearts seek to know Him that we can be trained successfully to confront the intensifying spiritual assault coming from the world around us.