Why the Golden Age of American Christianity is Over (and why this is a good thing)

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The title probably got you.  I’ve secretly trapped you into my blog to show you a gauntlet of cat pictures.

JUST KIDDING

I was mowing my grass and I was thinking and praying (b/c there’s not much else to do behind a lawnmower) and this question hit me: Was there a “golden-age” of American Christianity?  Immediately I begin to think over of the Cane Ridge Revival in the 1800’s and the Azuza Street Revival of the early 1900’s.  Then my mind wondered to the 1940’s with the Billy Graham Crusades that filled stadiums across the country.

I could go on and on, further back with milestones of Christianity throughout world history, not just America.

But I won’t.

my faith tribe, the Churches of Christ, along with other movements across America seemed to hit a high point from the 1930’s-60’s.  But then it seems something happened from the 70’s until now.  It’s as if the church has been in a decline nation-wide since that time.

Don’t believe me?  Read any national publication, any group keeping track of this sort of thing, go to your Christian book store and look at the content:  How to get people back to church. What’s the problem?  Why?  How?  Who is to blame?  Who is our target “demographic” this week that will somehow fill our pews again like the glory days?

So I’m forced to ask: “Did the Golden-Age of Christianity in the United States end?”

Yes.  It did.  But not really. And this is a good thing!

I’m going to suggest that there never was a “Golden-Age” of Christianity…in America…or anywhere else for that matter. Now this isn’t some pessimistic rant, or negative  diatribe; merely one man’s observation…but here’s my thought.

I believe that most churches have lived in to types of “Golden-Age” delusion:

 The Good Old Days Congregations

I served at one of these for several years.  Anytime the church was talked about in the congregation it was always in the past tense.  The “remember when” times.  This is a death-trap.  Sure, nostalgia is all great; touchy-feely; sunshine and rainbows and all that rot…but God didn’t create us as people to live in the past, but rather, the present.

A couple common phrases to tell if you’re in a “Good Old Days” Church?

1)  The congregation is always referring to itself in the past tense. You can almost guarantee that the same leaders are still leading that were part of the “glory days.” Change is a horrifying concept…a bad word…because remember, we were so successful in 1950.

2) “I just don’t understand why people aren’t interested…we’re doing the same things we did when we were growing.”  EXACTLY.  Good Old Days churches refuse to acknowledge that culture has moved on, and instead of maximizing impact with the tools at hand, insists on old methodologies, ideologies, and traditions that scream at the unchurched “HEY! COME VISIT OUR MUSEUM,” instead of “Come visit our church.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum comes this group:

The Future Church

Now, before I go here, let’s get this straight:  I am not against appealing to culture, certain demographics, or using whatever means are necessary to reach people with Jesus.

That being said, here’s a couple of ways to tell if you’re in a “future” church:

1) This kind of congregation is always referring to itself in the future tense. They bounce from program to program, from this book to that, from this fad to that (I have been guilty of this too, by the way so I’m talking to me), never really finding their niche. “We’re really excited about what God’s going to do here!”  Cool! Me too! However, maybe we should slow down and say, “Wow!  Look at what God is doing now, right here, today!”

2)  Another way this type of congregation manifests is the phrase, “We don’t have an agenda here at…(fill in ambiguously adverb-filled name here).” They never seem to have a clear direction, mission, or vision…even though their mission statement is everywhere (even over the urinals with blinking lights as I saw recently) and they are ever-bouncing to almost “compete” with each other to see who can outdo, out raise, out give, out serve, and out-live one another…

What do unchurched folks hear from designer diet churches?  “Hey, come join us…we don’t know what we’re doing…but maybe you know!”  They are often confusing, ecumenically based, and biblical shallow services (I recently heard Katy Perry’s Firework used as a worship song, again, I’m not against using culture to reach people, but it struck me as odd, personally)full of flashing lights, high-quality media, and probably Sponge Bob Square pants thrown in somewhere.

So what’s my point?

My point is that the church Golden-Age wasn’t back in the good old days, and it isn’t waiting in the future either.

It’s RIGHT NOW!

It’s always been now!

Check it out:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31, NIV)

Notice three keys here:  Paul brings up the past: “From one man He made all nations”, mentions the future, “For He has set a day when He will judge the world…” but focuses on the present!  “Now is the time God commands people to repent.”

In closing, the Golden-Age of Christianity is now.

Here’s the best part:  we are now “commanded” to do something – to get up off our rears and get to the world with the knowledge, learned lessons, and failures of the past; armed with the knowledge and urgency of the coming day when God will shut the door of opportunity; and we are to take this to the present by sharing the love, words, teachings, and get people to Jesus.

So go…live in this golden-age…but know this:  you are not a spectator – you are a participant. You have a critical role to play.  So go, be Jesus to America.  Don’t let the past hold you back; don’t let the future, (which you’re not guaranteed or even know how it plays out, by the way) lead you on a crazy, undefined path that prevents you from seeing what God is doing right in front of your very eyes!

Go with the Gospel, be Jesus, teach Jesus, see Jesus working now…and I promise you, you’ll see the golden-age emerge.

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