Sunday, September 29, 2013

About the Church: dying or dying in Christ?

Presbyterian teaching elder John Vest has renamed his blog. It is now, “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.


Martha Leatherman said...

We had a long and emotional Session meeting last night where we discussed abortion. One of our session members from Camaroon described the plight of African women living in a culture that does not disapprove of abortion who are systematically raped as an act of war by Muslim men. If they are pregnant, they are outcasts with no hope, or sometimes stoned to death. If they have abortions, they are allowed to re-enter their community. The pro-life community needs to come together with the church everywhere to address these kinds of things, but if we celebrate death and look for the easy answer in abortion, we are precluded from even recognizing where we can be light.

Viola Larson said...

Yes, the pro-life community does need to address this horrific problem but not compromise on life. I would like to know more about all of the Christian groups in that area. How do they respond to the issue. But I most admit I have no information.

Greg Scandlen said...

Here's a thought I haven't fully developed yet. I've seen a lot of progressive Christians dismiss the orthodoxy of Africans and Asians as primitive, even tribal. They disdain these cultures every bit as much as the old colonialists did. Where once Africans were too primitive for self-governing, now they are too primitive for Christian witness. Exact same racism in a different package.

Now many Christians in the West are actually looking to Africa and Asia for spiritual leadership. Wow! This is a profound breakthrough in the relationships of God's children.

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

Greg, I have thought about that for a long time. I believe a new study of 19th century mission connected to the rise of the liberal Church might be interesting. I think we might find all kinds of interesting divisions and connections.

The Right Side of the Trinity said...

Death is the necessary prelude to resurrection in Christ. There is also a new orthodox church rising in the US, on the fringes of almost every denomination.
Orthodox Christians of these generations are planting a tree under whose shade they will never sit. But in time, it will blossom. I'm tired of talking about what's dying. I'm giving the rest of my life to what's rising. Christ will not abandon a world He has already reclaimed by rising from the dead.
Let's do the duty that lies nearest to us and see what the Lord will bring next.

Viola Larson said...

Good words Clay. Yet, some times it is important to speak truth to power if God asks that of us.

Craig said...


I believe I've heard the term Eurocentrism to describe the kind of thing you describe.

Craig Norton
Twin Cities, MN