You ever notice how fast things are changing these days? I believe we have front row seats to one of the most significant cultural shifts our world has ever seen. One of my jobs as a pastor is to think about such things, and how they might affect the Church. To some extent, it’s necessary for all of us to think about it.
Since the 1300s, there have been certain historical events and developments that have brought us where we are today. Last month, we left off with the sixteenth century and the birth of the Reformation of the Church. Things would never be the same.
In the Seventeenth century, the divisions of Europe and the monarchies and the Roman Empire led to the Wars of Religion. Although the last official Holy Roman Emperor was Francis II (1768-1845), the 1600s saw the Empire begin to fall apart in ways that were not reparable. It was in this century that we start to see the modern nation-states become popular, and with it, less unity of religious belief throughout Europe. On top of this, the Scientific Revolution hit its stride, and the still popular idea of the universe as an ordered machine took over. Instead of mankind being intimately and divinely connected to the natural world as part of God’s creation, people commonly began to think of themselves as separate, distinct, and “above” creation. It’s not hard to see the effect of this. If man is “above” creation, God is not needed.
The Eighteenth century developed this “godless” way of thinking into a way of living. Once God was removed from science, now we needed a way of removing God from the conscience and society. “Reason” would be God’s replacement. Religion was considered a burden from the Dark Ages and dismissed to live on only in private life. It’s hard to imagine a world where religion is not confined to our private lives!
The Nineteenth century enjoyed the success of the Industrial Revolution, the beginning of the end of the agrarian way of life, and the mass movement from the farm to the factory. Before, people related to each other based on social castes like “noble,” “monk,” or “commoner.” But now, people related to each other based on money. Romanticism heightened the sense of the value of passion and individualism. And atheistic and Marxist-influenced social reform spread throughout the cultural elites. Friedrich Nietzsche triumphantly proclaimed that “God is dead.” These “death of God” reforms would come to a boiling point in the next century.
Finally, the Twentieth century, pushed by the hope that rethinking society without God would make for a better society, two world wars severely damaged faith in the gods of reason and progress. After a brief revival in the 1950s, the God of Christianity was another casualty of this century. Nietzsche’s controversial statement has never seemed more accurate. With the growth of technology and consumerism, people began to pay more and more attention to themselves and to fulfilling their individual desires. The Sexual Revolution celebrated personal desire as the center of the new social order. Our culture demanded that the churches accommodate unbelievers, unchurched, and dechurched people. The Church, by and large, traded the rich heritage handed down for many centuries for a flat, shallow version which stands for nothing and says even less.
“The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection. The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution. Indeed, it is unlikely that the West will see this lifeline for a very long time. It is not looking for it and may no longer have the capability of seeing it. We have been loosed, but we do not know how to bind.” So writes Rod Dreher in his popular book, The Benedict Option.
What’s next for Americans in the current century? When it comes to Christian morals and ethics, we are on a dangerous path. We can expect a widespread decline in our Churches. We may well learn what it means to no longer be a favored religion. We may well learn to do without all kinds of nice protections like religious freedom and special tax treatment. God’s Word and His Church will continue to be marginalized, attacked in new ways, and Christians made to feel backward and out of touch.
And you know what? That’s ok. The Enlightenment promised to bring light to the world, but we already have the Light, Jesus Christ. He is still here. Still shining. He is the light which no darkness can overcome. We will continue to work together to carry this light forward into another time, another age. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is needed today like never before. And we will be here, proclaiming Him, studying Him, hearing Him, confessing Him above and beyond the false and godless word of our world.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!