The West is dying. The poet Archibald Leach once said, “An era dies when its symbols, although seen, no longer mean.” Do we believe what our fathers in the faith believed? Many will say yes. And of course, in one sense, they are right. The creeds, confessions, theologies, hymns, and liturgies, are repeated and taught. But faith is more than mental ascent. True faith requires courage. “Courage” comes from the root word which means “heart.” In other words, the life of faith must have its roots both in our hearts and minds together.
Many contend for a return to a stronger confession. According to them it is a reaffirmation of key doctrines that are lacking in our day. This is, no doubt true. We have become historically myopic, theologically obtuse, and biblically illiterate. But we have become blindsided by a foe, who in plain sight inspires no opposition or even consternation. Our society has become profoundly, tragically, and even fatally superficial. We have become a mass of consumers that skim malls, surf channels, and scan Twitter feeds. We have “news” blasted in any political or ideological flavor we prefer, 24/7. And it is in this chaotic and media saturated world of personal unrelenting choice, that our hearts and minds have been filled with pablam. We have become the consumers of the banal.
But the problem is not merely out there in the world. Christians themselves have essentially become consumers of religious products and services. We have privatized the Christian life. We walk it alone, choosing what to see, who to hear and what to believe. We hire pastors who become service providers in this increasingly media oriented faith milieu. Even in the modest venues of small local churches, there is little fidelity to a pastoral authority (a concept all but obliterated in a consumer culture, in which we no longer adhere to a covenant of fellowship). Our lives have almost nothing to do with what is said on Sunday. And even when we enter a church we hear superficial sermons in the increasingly prevalent culture of self-help, self-realization, and therapeutic deism (for more on this, see Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity). We worship the flag, which we place on our own platforms beside the cross and sing its hymn on the fourth of July, as “good Christians are meant to do” (something any Christian in the world, outside of the USA, finds incomprehensible). We mortgage our future and risk our fiduciary sanity in order to build a house a bit larger that has more walk-in space, and a deck. In short. We are lost.
We have no heart when it comes to faith. It does not inform our priorities, our work, our leisure, our consumption, or even our sexuality. In fact, it has almost nothing at all to do with they way we live. So we simply do church on Sunday, where we sit in a semi-comatose trance in order to hear another self-help message. On Monday, we will go about being as non-Christian as those who think that Evangelicals are just a bunch of bigots who don’t love homosexuals. It is no wonder that the kids are leaving the church in droves. Any statistician will tell you that the church is rushing towards bankruptcy. But our true loss is one of the heart. There is no doubt that there are great things happening in the Church. There are true believers and great pastors out there. However, there is even greater danger on the horizon.
It is never internal flaccidity that destroys the church. Its growing weakness only makes the Church ripe for conquest. More and more, we will have to take heart to be Christians in the face of real opposition that is getting more and more militant. What we need therefore is courage. It is time to weep and pray. It is time to realize that in our perceived wealth, our true poverty has been obfuscated. We are dying. By taking the Christian life and reducing it to a decision or profession of faith, we have lost the precious message of the pilgrimage. We no longer make disciples, instead we’ve become entertainers. Perhaps we need to become less multimedia and more personal. We must become less oriented to the celebrity and more relational in the community of the strong and weak alike. We must return to prayer, and to the renewing of our minds.
Can this happen? Yes it can. Will it happen? Short of a miracle, no. As has happened in the past, the religious status-quo will likely continue to sink into decay. The light will become increasingly dim. But Christ is faithful. I believe that he will revive, reform and revitalize his Church in his own good time. And we will once again find men of courage. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “We have reached a crossroads. If we turn to the right, our sons and the sons of our sons will follow. But, if we turn to the left, unborn generations will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to his Word.”
May God have mercy on us all.
Walter McAlister appears on the Aug 24th edition of the White Horse Inn (Reformation Brazil, Part 2). He has been a minister for 33 years and is the leader of a small fellowship of Reformed Pentecostal churches in Brazil, called The New Life Christian Church Covenant. Founding president of the seminary Instituto Bispo Roberto McAlister de Estudos Cristãos, and of the Anno Domini Publishing company, he is author of the 2011 Brazilian Christian Publisher’s book-of-the-year, The End of an Era (O Fim de Uma Era). Married to Marta, he resides in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.