One of the problems plaguing the Western Church is her propensity for neglecting to teach Christians that their primary role as followers of a Missionary-God is missionary to the culture in which he has placed them. Because of this neglect, she has failed to train her people to follow Christ’s command to “Go. . . and make disciples.”
Any global missionary will tell you that in order to effectively reach a new culture, you have to immerse yourself in that culture. You have to become friends with the people you encounter. You have to learn their language. You have to eat their food, wear their fashion, and adopt their pace of life. If you don’t do this, you won’t be an effective missionary.
The same applies to us here in America. Unfortunately, we live in the aftermath of Christendom, and there are still a great number of Christians who fail to recognize their responsibility to follow Jesus in his mission of restoration and reconciliation in the world.
Here’s a little history for you. In AD 306, Constantine I became the Emperor of Rome. He’s noted for being the first Roman emperor to have converted to Christianity. Until this point, there was widespread intolerance of Christianity throughout the empire (most notably under the reign of Nero, who earned the title “First Persecutor of the Christians” by the writers Tertullian, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus). Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, offering tolerance to Christians and religious freedom to all Roman citizens.
Despite the religious freedom that he offered, Constantine saw it as his duty to establish religious orthodoxy. He disliked the disputes that came about, so he gave the Church the authority to dictate proper religious practices.
Gone were the days of Paul, Peter, Timothy, and Apollos. The Gospel of Jesus no longer spread virally underneath a pluralistic society of philosophers and liberal thinkers. Christianity became the religion of the state, a tool in the hands of the government used to maintain religious order throughout the Roman Empire.
This is the model from which we have adopted our American church. The church closely mirrors the governmental system from which it was birthed. In Europe, the government was largely centralized around an emperor. Thus the Church centralized around a bishop or pope. In America, the government was dispersed among voting representatives, and so we have a church tradition that rests in congregationalism.
Now we have a culture that is largely governed by our consumeristic impulses. Do you see what this has done to the Church? We’re now adopting cool names, hip media presentation, convenient service structures, and sleek marketing and advertising.
To the outsider it looks like churches are competing to grab my attention. There’s an underlying assumption that we’re still in Christendom, and since we’re in Christendom, I have to attend a church. Which one will I choose? LifeChurch? They’ve got a great band. Buckhead Church? They’ve got a great band too, but they also have Andy Stanley, and he’s written a lot of books, which means they’re famous. Newspring Church? Their band is great, but they also play songs by Coldplay and Led Zeppelin, so that means they’re really cool. Liquid Church? They’ve also got a great band, and they were just on CNN for giving away $90K, so I guess that means they’re famous and generous.
Or will I just decide the whole church thing is not for me? I wouldn’t be alone. Only 40% of the American population ever sets foot in a church.
Guess what? We’re not in Christendom anymore, and nothing says it better than the 60% of Americans who never have—and probably never will—enter a church in their lifetimes.