The Other Hand
A look at any survey that has to do with the religious climate in America will tell you that Americans are going to church less, identify with “organized religion” less and consider themselves to be skeptical of religious authorities more. The younger generation is going to church less than the middle generation, who have made it their business to go to church less than the older generation. Sociologists and those who pretend to be sociologists all agree that American has moved from being a Christian culture to being a non-imaginative Post-Christian culture. Christians respond to this news with a general sense of despair and speculation. But may I suggest that the un-churching of America could be a blessing in disguise?
When I think of church I think of my church. In this church Christ is preached as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the one who loves us enough to die for us. In this church, people generally get along well with each other. We don’t talk about money. We try to show people the love of God through acts of service. We aren’t perfect, but we have the gospel. I could go on. So when I think of “church” on a national scale, I think of a bunch of my churches scattered across the fifty states. And so when I think of the church being in decline, I believe this is a bad thing. I think that fewer people are experiencing the gospel of Christ of the free forgiveness of sins, eternal life and fellowship with God.
A funny thing happened this morning, however, that completely changed how I look at the de-churching of America. Yesterday, Alissa and I welcomed our second child, Sarah Ann. It was a wonderful day of reveling in God’s grace and blessings. I spent the night at the hospital with Alissa and Sarah. This meant I was going to have to skip church on the next day, Sunday. Alissa had the good sense to make-up for our lost time at church by having us watch church on TV. And it was shortly after we made that decision that I came to realize that not all churches are like my church. And it was shortly after that when it dawned on me: it is no tragedy that fewer people are spending their Sunday mornings in temples of works-righteousness, feel-good parlors, and politically correct spirituality zones. I didn’t hear the gospel one time. What I did hear was someone tell me that God is going to make me happy so long as I trust that he will make me happy, that no one can be saved unless they don’t only make Jesus the Lord of their life, but make every decision with this fact in mind, and that we can go to the Father by means of an assortment of Jesus’ disciples.
If this is what millions and millions of Americans are rejecting on Sunday morning, I say: good for them! These messages of fortune, piety and superstition have as much in common with the gospel of Jesus as watching TV actually has to do with going to church. If these are the congregations that are seeing their members disappearing, and moving from “Christian” to “undecided” in those surveys, then this is good news. It means that they are no longer receiving falsehoods that fail to deliver the truth and promise of the gospel. And while they might be immune to the claims and proclamation of another “church,” they might just be receptive to the words of family and friends who have good news of great joy for all people, who do not have a divinely-inspired to-do list, a mood-altering philosophy, or a deity wrapped in magical fantast, but who have the love of God in Christ Jesus, a blood-soaked cross, an empty tomb, and his promise to return.