In a recent post I mentioned how the naivete of modernism was shattered when the dream of a logic-driven, rationalistic utopia was dashed to pieces when that same logic and reason and produced something as deadly effective as the atomic bomb. It turned out logic and reason did not always take us “higher” (that came in the 60s!).
What was so certain with modernity, an upward climb on the back of reason to a better society, came burning down in flames in the middle part of the 20th century. The 40s brought WWII and the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. The 60s brought Vietnam and the Civil rights movement. But there was something new going on that had the power and potential to shift the entire culture and that was the media. Television media was a catalyst that fanned these flames because prior to this time in history the images of war were left to the battlefield. Past wars brought about patriotism and support of all that was right with America. Now, these images were brought into living rooms across America which left people questioning many things about America: American particularism, values and beneath all of that and even more important than that, authority as a whole. With so much violence and bloodshed out there people were quick to deconstruct absolutes and positions of authority (including the church).
All three of these events and movements brought about a questioning of authority and authorities that we had done before but not in this form. For instance authorities had been questioned before. The Revolutionary War is the prime example of questioning authorities but everyone expected a new system of authority to take the place of the King. Now it wasn’t authorities that were being questioned it was authority as a whole. We were not even just questioning WHO was in authority but whether or not authority should be a thing at all.
Christianity had institutionalized itself and incorporated itself so thoroughly into the authority structures of the day that when cracks began to show in the “system” the church was too enmeshed to be immune from the fallout. A politicized and institutionalized Christianity has been in steady decline and Christianity as a whole has suffered from an identity crisis ever since.
The unfortunate bi-product of this cultural shift away from corporate authority to individual authority (they are in charge and I must follow to I am in charge and will do what I want) was a discard of absolute truth and the ability to truly know. Absolute truth and certainty is not something we get, however, from modernism. It is something we get from God, that modernism happened to value. Absolutes were one more casualty on the way to a society that values freedom over absolutes but in the process our society became a slave to the new system that sprung up in place of the old and all the consequences that come with self as the sole arbiter of truth and authority with no obligation or responsibility to the community.
When authority was unquestioned and unquestionable, the church got a pass and operated as an integral part of Western society and culture. You used to see politicians playing the Christian voting block or pandering to the Christian Right, which really had more to do with getting votes than actually being ideologically in line with anyone in particular. I don’t see that anymore. People aren’t concerned what Christians think when things are said publicly anymore or what repercussions will come from turning off the Christian voting block. Christianity lost political and cultural hegemony partly because we were really good at playing the game only to have the rules changed on us and we were left playing Monopoly while everyone else had switched to solitaire.
In the later part of the 20th and now the 21s century the church was in the cross-hairs along with everyone else who hinted of authority or absolutes. The pass we were used to getting had passed. This was not something we were used to. It left us dazed and confused. We were not used to a diminished role in society but that is what we were handed. If you ever want first century Christianity then you better get used to a world that looks down on Christians because that is what they experienced. First century Christianity did not operate out of a place of prominence and influence. It operated on the margins and underwent persecution. It just so happens that Christianity thrives from that position in the world and so we shouldn’t fear it.
From a worldly point of view that left Christianity in a vulnerable position. We had lost our voice, it seemed. From a spiritual point of view it actually positioned us to be more effective if we were paying attention because for the first time in a long time we had to pay attention. We had to learn to adapt. We couldn’t take things for granted but had to focus back on what was most important. That meant coming to grips with the fact that much of what we had considered important for a few hundred years were not the games the church should have been playing all along. The emperor had no clothes. We had to get back to Jesus.
The church now has an opportunity it hasn’t had in a long time. It is the opportunity to operate out of our own weakness. It is an opportunity to operate from the margins. It is an opportunity to put Jesus first again and submit to His lordship and stop feeling the need to play by the world’s rules…embedding and enmeshing our views and values into things like the political system. It is an opportunity to stop measuring the way the world measures and start making disciples. It is a time to reach out to the disaffected and disenfranchised and show them the love they have been searching for that is found in Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity to put first things first and to truly trust in the Lord because for the first time in a long time, if we are going to make it…really make it…we are going to have to trust God more and ourselves and our society less.
We are poised for explosive kingdom growth.
Let us not be fooled by the next sham tailor who promises us a nice new suit to replace the old one that wasn’t there to begin with.