The holidays have ended and it is time once again to leave behind the festivities and fellowship so unique to this wonderful time of year. I confess that for me this is difficult. I love the Christmas season and everything about it—the weather, the carols, the gatherings with family and friends; it is simply my favorite time of year. There is something wonderfully nostalgic about Christmas (at least for me) that produces a potent mixture of good feelings. Christmas offers a time of intimacy and fellowship with family and neighbor that restores my soul in so many ways but sadly it is a time that passes quickly and so I find myself once again in the pull of everyday life with all of its pressures and challenges.
However, as much as I may want to remain within this psychological and spiritual refuge I cannot nor can any of us. We simply cannot remain in seclusion from the world if we love Christ for it is into this fallen world—with its warring forces—that the church is sent.
More than two millennia ago, the prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites that the prophets and priests were falsely proclaiming that "all is well" saying, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14)
We, very much like the Israelites have also been lulled into believing that all is well within the church. On the surface, Christianity in America appears to be intact, we still see churches in our communities; if we are Christian we are involved in our local churches and the growth of mega-churches might serve as an encouraging indicator. However, this is the view from within the Christian subculture. A quick survey of the prevailing culture reveals near disregard for the Christian faith and outright dismissal of its claims of truth about everything from sexual morality to the incarnation. As Paul Weyrich, a major architect of the religious right conceded while speaking on the failure of politics said, "We are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions." The church in America has clearly lost the culture.
It is this reality that we must now return to because the "wound" apparent in the American Church is indeed serious and our natures are such that we tend to minimize the spiritual complacency present in our own lives and among God's people. We say to ourselves (and each other), "peace, peace" as if all is well because the reality makes us too uncomfortable. The present truth demands more of us than we are often prepared to give. If we're honest, we mostly hope for lives uninterrupted by trial and tribulation. We rarely seek to throw ourselves unreservedly into the cause of Christ. We assume that such selfless devotion will erase all comfort in our lives and we demand comfort!
I confess, this is a temptation for me as well because the daily reality of this ministry is at times overwhelming. But, I am reminded that our Savior bore the ultimate burden and because He did we have been set free from the sin that "so easily entangles us." We no longer live in subjection to the fallen world but instead are called to live in submission to the loving King who has overcome the world. We are His and He is ours and through Him we are more than conquerors sent to press His truth into every aspect of life and culture as He brings forth His kingdom! This is the task to which we must return as we begin a new year.
Jeremiah's challenge to the Israelites then is appropriate to our day. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
The degree of biblical ignorance, theological confusion, and spiritual apathy plaguing the American church is appalling and the result is nothing less than the corruption of the Christian faith followed by the lack of real redemptive influence. The witness of Christ come into the world is impoverished and the world is encouraged in its rejection of the risen Christ. In the wake of such weakness within the church, anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise and in some cases outright hostility is evident. Writing in the Telegraph, British columnist, Jeff Randall—who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer"—writes, "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values."
Randall continues, "A 'tyrannical minority' of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."
Examples abound: In recent best sellers, Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation) heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist of Oxford University unleashed a vitriolic assault upon religion in his book, The God Delusion in which he calls for the intolerance of all religion. A cover story in Wired magazine entitled The New Atheism chronicles what it calls "the crusade against religion." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society, albeit it dubious and facile, claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional."
Interestingly Harris, Dawkins and the growing number of militant atheists who argue that religion is a principal source of evil in the world seem to overlook the more obvious examples where atheistic ideologies rather than religion led to the worst atrocities in all of human history—communism and Nazism being two notable examples.
Increasingly, secular fundamentalists demand that public schools and government venues be purged of their Christian heritage—be it a cross on the Los Angeles County seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. This ground has not been taken by secular forces but rather surrendered by a weak and apathetic Church. Thus we stand at the crossroads and we too must ask for the "ancient paths" and by God's grace recover historic orthodox Christianity and what it means to be a follower of Christ. We must cast off this culturalized civil religion that passes for Christianity and recover a true knowledge of Christ as Redeemer and King whose kingdom has come and then live in bold and faithful obedience.
So let us resolve to return from this time of holiday celebration and fellowship with a renewed vigor that seeks the glory of Christ made manifest in and through His church.