2012 C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest
1st prize winner
The Christian church is dying in the West. This painful fact is the cause of a great deal of avoidance by the Christian community… Surely God will not let his church come to death? And yet the history of the church in North Africa teaches us that we cannot assume divine intervention to maintain the status of the ecclesiastical institution. It is not only possible for Christianity in the West to falter, it is apparent that the sickness is well advanced.
Christendom is dead. That lumbering behemoth of a pseudo-Christian culture has finally keeled over and paved the way for a more authentic faith and a Christ-centered church. Admittedly, that sentence was a little harsh; but it is certainly true that the continued decline of western Christendom has brought about a tremendous opportunity for Christians to rethink how we can best live out the mission of God. The advent of Christendom transformed the church in dramatic ways. Under the rule of Constantine, the ragtag group of Jesus followers known as Christians went from being a marginalized, subversive, countercultural, movement to being approved cogs in the machine of empire and religion. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “The coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the church.”
The “Christianesque” culture resulting from both the explicit and implicit collaboration of institutional Christianity with the state existed in one form or another throughout Western Europe until it began to erode with the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment. From that point on the philosophically and theologically tenuous connections between nations and religious institutions became increasingly apparent as Christianity moved from being the center of Western culture toward a tacit civil religion. Within this social milieu the church established itself as the dominant purveyor of religious services and rites of passage. Those seeking religious engagement knew just where to find it.
Another cultural shift, which occurred during the second half of the twentieth century, proved to be a great challenge for the established church. During this time the civil religion of Western nations began to rapidly transform from a Judeo-Christian image into a more broad and benign deism. This loss of relevance has left the church reeling; desperately seeking to regain its footing and reach the world that seems to be drifting away from it. In the US, this societal shift has led to numerous models of the church which have each been presented as the perfect panacea for connecting people with Jesus. While the development of culturally/sociologically engaged methods of being the church is a positive inclination, these models have generally been based on the same faulty foundation of an Attractional church, which has merely been repacked over and over again with new images and slogans. The foundation of the Attractional church, in its great plethora of forms, has proven itself to be not only theologically untenable but socioculturally impractical for a Postmodern society and therefore must be wholly abandoned in favor of a Missional perspective; producing contextually relevant and biblically inspired ministry models, which in the US should include bivocational ministry and radical church decentralization.
Dear US church,
I am writing on behalf of all of the Christians in this nation who are sick of the culture wars. We don’t want any part of them. Stop taking a stand on issues like the Chick-fil-A debacle and start taking a stand for washing the feet of the people who disagree with you. A recent study shows that nearly 60% of the massive amount of young adults who have left the church did so because the church focuses more on trying to make some judgmental theocratic social order than they do on feeding the poor and loving enemies. You are alienating millions by egregiously baptizing political parties, ideologies, and cultural standards while demonizing your opposition regardless of their commitment to Jesus.
I understand why you are acting this way. You feel threatened. You are concerned that the culture of the US is moving rapidly into post-Christendom. Your social influence is floundering. You are scared. While I would argue that this transition is replete with opportunity for the church, you are acting like the world is collapsing. It isn’t. You are taking an entirely defensive posture, lashing out at every cultural shift that moves your way. It isn’t helping. Stop trying to convert a culture and start focusing on bearing crosses. If there are protests at Chick-fil-A restaurants today, don’t prop up your social ideals by buying a chicken sandwich. Instead, demonstrate your faith by bringing the protesters some water. After all, if you count them your enemies then you should be showing them tangible love.
In his book, Reborn on the Fourth of July, Logan Mehl-Laituri describes his experience as a soldier in the US Army while being transformed both by war and God’s spirit. Part of that transformation was feeling convicted by God that his actions were not consistent with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. This conviction led Logan through a journey to Christian pacifism and a more honest recognition of what war was doing to American soldiers.
For decades now, the United States has proudly claimed the mantle of “the world’s only superpower” based on military might and the scope of military interventions throughout the world. As a result, whole generations are growing up with the understanding that war is the norm, that perpetual conflict is a way of life. But is it the way of Christ? Logan Mehl-Laituri grew up in a community that celebrated military service. His faith reinforced his love of country and his sense that that love was best expressed by fighting its battles. Then he went to war, and then he was born again. In Reborn on the Fourth of July you’ll learn through Logan’s story the real cost of war to military personnel, the real challenges to Christians that are raised by military service on and even off the battlefield, and the real questions that each of us must wrestle with as we hold in tension our love of country with God’s love for the world.
There are many pacifists who write about the inherent conflict of being a Christian and a soldier, but not many who write about it from the personal experience of military service.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.