Friday, October 02, 2009

Our Post-Christian Culture

After years of work in India and service in countless ministry and missionary efforts around the world, Lesslie Newbigin "retired" by settling into a small, struggling church in very rough part of Birmingham, England. He found this last assignment to be his most difficult. He writes: "I have been forced to recognize that the most difficult missionary frontier in the contemporary world is the one of which the Churches have been -- on the whole -- so little conscious, the frontier that divides the world of biblical faith from the world whose values and beliefs are ceaselessly fed into every home on the television screen."
What is most interesting to me is not that Newbigin finds the England of the 1980's to be hard spiritual soil, but that he sees the problem facing contemporary society as an old problem: "Like others I had been accustomed... to speak of England as a secular society. I have now come to realize that I was the easy victim of an illusion from which my reading of the Gospels should have saved me. No room remains empty for long. If God is driven out, the gods come trooping in. England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of a paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church." (Newbigin, An Unfinished Agenda, 249).

I would say that Newbigin's assessment of England in the 1980's is an appropriate fit for America in the early 21st century: we also have become a pagan nation. I am more and more convinced of this not because of what I see on TV and outside of the Church, but because of what I see and experience in the churches of America and with those who profess to be Christians in America. Much of what is called "christianity" is really paganism with a christian mask.

At best, this is immaturity; at worst, it is apostasy. It will only be tragic if, like a child who never develops, the situation remains the same.

The task that lies ahead is for us as Christians, the task mentioned above by Newbigin, needs to be taken seriously and is being tackled by many faithful people today. Every Christian leader must face it and every Christian must embrace it. Those of us who are sitting in the "pews" must be willing to be educated in this faith and have our world view reformed to it. Those of us who are in the "pulpits" of America must be willing to reform our teaching after this great faith. Repentance is required on all accounts: we must live this faith that has been handed down to us, and we must seek to avoid the syncretistic tendency that our forefathers often fell into. We must, above all, ask for grace from the Triune God, that we might glorify Him in our own day.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you to so guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, p.100)

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