Saturday, January 14, 2023

Under siege. . .

The church is by all accounts under siege.  The churches that have remained steadfast against the onslaught of modernity are declining.  The churches that have adopted the cardinal virtues and condemned the seventy deadly sins of the moment are in even worse shape.  Orthodoxy is divided, Rome is held together by duct tape and wire, Lutheranism is mostly woke with a few asleep, Canterbury is still putting on the show without many believing in it, the United Methodists are divorcing, and the Presbyterians are, like Heinz, 57 varieties.  I could go on but frankly it is too depressing.

The siege is not new.  It has been coming on for a while.  Unlike the siege of the past when Christian lands and cultures were abruptly overtaken by Islam, the church today has been slowly and deliberately giving ground less to one ideology than to a feeling, whim, desire, and penchant for things new, individual, and personal.  For a while the church thought this might be a spiritual opportunity and began to cater to the direction of the world around them.  Then one day it became clear.  There was no compromising.  You either got on the bandwagon or they would leave you behind.  The Christianity that would be acceptable to the culture, truth, and whims of the moment would be a Christianity largely unrecognizable to Scripture.  

Christian civilization slowly limped to its end over the last two centuries -- replaced by the religion of modernity.  While it lasted, Christianity built into the civilization a kind of support system or parallel universe that was thought to be compatible or at least neutral toward Christian belief.  For some sixteen centuries it seemed to work.  Some suggest that it was the Reformation that signaled the beginning of the end.  I am sure that in the aftermath of the Reformation, the disintegration of Christianity into virtual nation states and its competition for footholds in the New World did little to help the cause.  Neither was this the pivotal movement in the turn from dominance to oppressed minority.

Look at Europe and the Middle East where Christianity once reigned supreme, it is painfully clear that Christians today are effectively living in partibus infidelium—they live in formerly Christian lands where infidels are moving toward a future in which there is no place for orthodox Christianity. Now the arguments are being fought over what the response of authentic and orthodox Christianity shall be.  Shall we find a refuge to hide from the world and wait out God or shall we engage the secular culture of modernity and go down fighting or shall we become a subversive group hidden in the world but battling the cause of Christ nonetheless.

I remind folks that the death of Christianity has been greatly exaggerated many times.  It was thought that the cross ended Christianity but it turned out to be its beginning.  The persecution time was thought to stifle the growth of a faith alien to the cultured world but by the time of Constantine Christianity was thriving -- the Emperor did not so much create the Christian world as hop on the bandwagon before it left him behind.  The fall of Rome was thought to end Christianity since the church of that day had borrowed in its form and rule from the empire in which it lived.  The reuniting of the empire was thought to be the end of the faith but the hand that put the crown on the head made sure that the head knew who was the power.  The division of Europe and the New World into the constituencies of the monarchs was thought to be the end but it was not.  Democracy was viewed with suspicion when it replaced thrones with ballot boxes and yet Christianity survived.  What was then and will continue to be our undoing is when we cast our lot in with the wind of the day and follow its direction for our future instead of Gods.  We can plead for forgiveness but we also ought to pray for the voices who will call us to repentance, back to the Word of God, and to stand out and stand firm on that Word that endures forever.

It is certainly true that many Christians are, indeed, living in partibus infidelium.  We face a government increasingly hostile to the sound of the orthodox voice of the faith.  We work in businesses that have adopted political and cultural stances that violate our Christian beliefs and sensibilities.  We send our children to be taught things in conflict with God's Word by people intent upon using educational systems to indoctrinate our children into the new ideology of sex, gender, justice, ecology, and virtue.  We use media that has become an agency of this new political, moral, and social order and who have routinely threatened our access to their platforms.  Our children are increasingly strangers to the values, faith, and worldview of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  Worse, they have learned to instinctively distrust the past in favor of their feelings.  

I am not convinced that our current decline is the sign of the end.  It is impossible for the Christian to believe that God is not working behind and through and in spite of the things we have done to reorder His world away from Him and His creative and redemptive Word.  Christianity surely has weathered the storms and survived and we have stores of resilience that we have not mined or used for our endurance.  They are not the blessings and resources we have invented or control but the things for  God to withhold and dispense according to His merciful will.  Where we remain at the call of His voice and gathered around His supper, we have enough to endure and that is the test of our success -- not to control but to survive.  He who endures to the end shall be saved.  Let the Church work to apply the means of grace to that those who endure are equipped with all that they need in all that God has given to do just that.  If we do this, we will receive the crown of victory.  

If you need something to encourage you, let this be that something.  The gates of hell shall not prevail, the temptor shall be denied, death shall be killed, sin shall no more corrupt, and the old identity put to death in baptism shall not trouble us any more -- that is the only future that matters.  And this is OUR future.  We live not for the days when Christianity will reclaim the courts of power, the halls of justice, and the force of law.  No, we live for the days when now Christ comes to us with forgiveness, life, and salvation in the means of grace as all we need to sustain us until we receive the fullness of that which is to come.  Hidden in the means of grace is the promise of that new and everlasting tomorrow.  The siege was never our real enemy -- complacency, compliance, and complaint were and remain the enemies of our faith that would steal our joy and fill us with despair.  Banish them all by building your life upon what God has done and the future He has prepared for you, standing up and standing out as Christ's own, and passing on to your children this holy faith and fear as the most important legacy you have to give.  Do that and you have done all that can be done.  Everything else is not important.

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