The men and women who founded this nation were, for the most part, a church-going people who were influenced by a Biblical worldview; no one can intelligently argue against that point. Indeed, there was a time in this nation’s history when Biblical principles held sway over public opinion. There was a time when churches maintained influence over the national social, moral, political, and intellectual landscape. There was a time when average Americans knew the basics of the Bible; when most everyone attended church on the Lord’s Day, and when pastors were respected and trusted members of the community. Those days are no more. We are now living in post-Christian times, and the church no longer exercises a prevailing influence on the mind and heart of American culture. The men and women of this nation, for the most part, are not a church-going people who are influenced by the Word of God; no one can intelligently argue against this point.
But be careful, lest you begin to wax nostalgic for the past. While it is true that a solid and serious grasp of the past will enable you to be wise in the present and in the future, you should be wary of the “in the good ole days” mentality. This wrong-headed thinking leads to closed-minded inactivity marked by pastors who harangue their congregations with sentimental preaching about “the good ole days” instead of faithful proclamation of God’s Word in the present day. It is further marked by Christians who cease to evangelize the lost, but develop anger, even hatred, at this “sinful age” and lament that “in the good ole days” people were not this “way.”
The truth is that people have always been this “way”, at least since the fall, when Eve was deceived and Adam disobeyed. Even in “righteous America”, the nation that declared the self-evident truth that all men are created equal…well, all white men that is. It is true that, in some ways, America was a Christian nation, but in many other ways it has always been a non-Christian nation. This is because the human heart is deceitfully wicked; there are none who are righteous, no, not even one! The modern family is as dysfunctional as was the original family, where a rebellious and jealous older brother murdered his virtuous younger brother, and then lied to God about it. Wistfully looking to the past while lamenting the present will render you irrelevant in the future. Beware of the “good ole days” “sindrome”.
But how are we to minister in a culture that views the church as extraneous? Philip Ryken states in his book City on a Hill that these post-Christian days have two prevalent characteristics: relativism and narcissism. Relativism is the rejection of absolutes, particularly the rejection of absolute truth. My favorite Star Wars character provided a great definiton of relativism when he told a confused Luke Skywalker, “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” Relativism states that truth is not objective but subjective; it all depends on your point of view, your cultural background, etc. This is the basis of postmodern thinking.
Obviously, this type of philosophy flies in the face of Christ’s statement from John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” That type of exclusive statement is intolerable to the relativistic, postmodern mind.
Narcissism is a radical individualism and infatuation with self. To be honest we must admit that American culture has always been tinged by a touch of narcissism. Americans, this one included, tend to think that our nation is superior in every way to every nation, but modern society is permeated with a radical, unbridled love of self. Unfortunately, this type of thinking provides justification for people to do whatever seems to be in their best self-interest. A man says, “I want to be happy, and marriage no longer makes me happy”; so he leaves his wife and kid(s) in order to be happy. How can he justify such behavior? It’s all because he wants to be happy, and he is positive that God wants him to be happy. Today most people will do whatever will make them “happy,” even if their happiness comes at the expense of others.
How does the church influence this culture? How are we to minister? 21st century churches need to pattern themselves after the 1st century churches. This is not traditionalism, irrelevancy, or living in the “good ole days”; it is following the timeless guidelines and precepts which were given by the Head of the church to His churches. Acts 2:42-47 says:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
To a relativistic world which is skeptical of everything, the church must faithfully proclaim the truth of God’s eternal Word. To a narcissistic culture, alienated by sin and driven by love of self; the church issues an invitation to worship, fellowship, and serve others. What the world needs is exactly what God wants the church to be and to do; churches that stand out as distinctly Christian.