Sunday, September 29, 2013
About the Church: dying or dying in Christ?
Adventures in Post Christendom,” His new posting about his changing focus, not unlike many of his old blog postings, is rather provocative, but it sent my thoughts a lot of directions and I wanted to explore. Vest opines among other thoughts that, “All versions of American Christendom—Protestant, Catholic, mainline, evangelical—are rapidly declining if not effectively finished already.” But he states that neither Christians nor the Church are going away. As proof Vest refers to those authors, such as Phyllis Tickle, Doug Pagitt and
Dianna Butler Bass, who have lately provided versions of a new Christianity.
My focus though, rather than looking at the new landscape that Vest is anchored in, is viewing the old landscape and although it is perhaps diminishing, by God's good grace and promises will not go away. And here I am not referring to Christianity as a dominant power in culture but Christianity true to its biblical roots. (Which may or may not influence culture.)
What I am referring to is that part of orthodox Christianity that abides in the United States but is tied to the body of Christ in all parts of the world. I am of the mind that one cannot really pick out a particular church in a particular part of the world and forecast its future, or plan its ways, without ensconcing it within the whole body of orthodox Christianity, including that part which makes up the church triumphant. An example of this connection would be those Episcopal churches that came under the leadership of Southern Cone and Asian Bishops in an attempt to secure their own orthodoxy as believers. Without that connection orthodox believers within the Episcopal Church would have floundered.
So what does orthodox Christianity, in the United States, look like when one considers global orthodox Christianity?
(1) At the moment the worldwide church is suffering greatly because of deadly persecution. In this connection the orthodox in the US can react with compassion and with a great outcry. The orthodox will either travel that road with their brothers and sisters or they will become weak like the unsalty salt that Jesus speaks of in the beatitudes. The same is true of the horrific poverty around the world. While the orthodox may not agree with the progressive denominations' views about how to solve the issue of poverty they are nonetheless committed to compassionate service on behalf of the poor.
(2)The global orthodox Church is an evangelistic Church, the orthodox in the US must also more fervently proclaim the saving work of Jesus Christ. Many of the martyrs in Muslim countries are either new coverts or those who are proclaiming that Jesus is the savior. And here is where a vast difference is occurring between the orthodox and the progressive. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as one example, one notices more of a bent toward accommodating pluralism rather then the proclamation of the gospel in the midst of diverse religions. Religion and spirituality have become the good rather than Jesus.
(3)The Global Church takes righteousness seriously, so must the orthodox in the United States. The biblical Christian understands that she is covered by the righteousness of Christ alone and yet because of such love shown to her, because she has died to self and lives in Christ she strives to walk in righteousness:
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(Romans 6:8-11)
So the orthodox in the United States in relation to the world wide communion of orthodox Christians may be diminished to a smaller number, but in faithfulness they will undoubtedly be stronger because of a Christian orthodoxy growing stronger in the Southern Cone and Asia. In fellowship with the suffering of the saints within global Christianity our hearts will surely be softened and our compassion grow. And truly an example has been set before us of how to be in the world but not of it, and how to face a culture of intolerance. Better still is the example of the proclamation of Jesus in the face of dire circumstances.
There is a certain kind of death that is and will be occurring within those churches that are not embracing emergent or progressive thinking—but that is hopefully a death that puts away the cultural ugliness of our time and instead embraces Christ, word and the nourishment of life both spiritual and physical.