And so, we have made the case the nation has seemingly lost what we called a “sacrificial ethos.“ We have noted that this ethos must exist culturally for government to reflect it and that Christianity is the best force to shape culture that way. We have examined how the church has abandoned its role as a shaper of culture, and we summarized it in one sentence:
Practically, the church abandoned leadership for marketing. Theologically, the church abandoned the shaping of people for simply gaining their identification.
And so now the question before us is how can we return the church to the role it once had? I will not pretend to have answers here. The specific answers will be different in virtually every situation. I will here present some ideas. I sure others will have other ideas that may be just as good or better. But the conversation needs to get serious.
IDEA – Return Churches to Authoritative Forms Of Governance
In the lest post in this series we looked at the fact that Christianity in America had moved from denominations to conventions or independent congregations. Such fracturing continues. Cultural influence depends, in part, on mass. The bigger, the more influential. But the issue runs a little deeper than that. Fracturing and fracturing again is in fact a symptom of the lack of a sacrificial ethos. Rather than make the sacrifice to stick around and try and make the larger church work, people just keep splintering off and going their own way. One could argue; therefore, that this is no idea at all, but simply a circular discussion. I disagree. There is no substitute for simple discipline.
In other words, just affiliate a just stay. “Practice makes perfect,” as they say. Even churches well organized on authoritative models are struggling here – as evidenced in portion of this discussion between Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput and Hugh Hewitt. But the answers lies not in abandoning the model, but in restoring leadership. Larger organizations can teach their leaders how to lead. An individualistic pastor cannot.
Which leads me to one other point that needs to be made in this section. Messaging matters. In the current media environment you need people who are experts and messaging – a larger organization can provide that. With all these small spaces filled by numerous, similar messages the result is not a message at all but a din. Part of what has eroded our cultural message so deeply is that out opposition reaches into the din and pulls out the worst messages to react to rather than the best. Eliminate the din and they cannot do that.
IDEA – The Slippery Slope Is Real
As I read stories about the fact that single women are overwhelmingly turning liberal and churches are battling over the leadership role of women, I could not help but think about where all this came from. Of course, there is a chicken-and-egg question, but the dam broke on the woman’s role in society when churches began to liberalize their views on divorce. It all sort of rolled downhill from there until we have the issues we have today about same sex marriage and abortion and so on.
Some of our answers may lie in turning back the clock on some key issues. Certainly the leading lights of Christianity in the public square right now – Catholicism and Mormonism are more conservative on marriage and family issues than Evangelicals. Where you stand when you try to make an argument matters. Limited marriage to between a man and a woman is a difficult place to stand when marriage has already been cheapened by divorce, co-habitation and single motherhood.
The problem with turning more conservative may appear uncompassionate, but is it? That all depends on how it is done.
I am quite certain there are many more ideas here, and I may return to them from time-to-time. I hope you will discuss these and more. But this is the point where I step off my political podium and step into the pulpit.
Recall that in the last post we said, “Theologically, the church abandoned the shaping of people for simply gaining their identification.” At root, this is a personal leadership problem. If we are going to ask sacrifice of people, if we are going to lead them “backwards” on family and marital issues, then we have to be models of same. And more, we have to learn how to communicate the love of Christ while at the same time pronouncing certain behaviors as unacceptable.
I do not pretend to know how that is done, what I do know is that Jesus did it. If we read of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 we see Jesus confronting the woman with her lack of stable family life and yet she is attracted enough to Jesus to stick around and continue the discussion. There was something about Jesus that made her feel connected even when being confronted. What this tells me is that we have to endeavor to be more Christ-like.
The place to start with a restoration of the church’s cultural influence; therefore, is with ourselves. We must take our personal faith far more seriously so that our public faith can use that as a base to stand upon. We must reject the idea that a life meritoriously lived is somehow disingenuous. Our response should not be to “sin a little” so that we can relate to others. Our response must be to go even deeper in our pursuit of Christlikeness. Not only must we moderate our behavior, but we must learn the inner presence of Christ so that in our moderation we do not appear haughty or uptight, but loving.
And so I believe we start where all Christians start – with confession – “I believe, help me with my unbelief.”