Today, I’m looking for comments. I’d like your perspective.
First, let’s take a panoramic shot of the past two thousand years of Christianity. (Don’t expect a lot of detail here. I’m just lightly scanning the horizon of what has transpired in Christianity.)
Jesus went back to heaven. And the disciples prayed for ten days. Then the Holy Spirit came, and they baptized 3000 people in one day. Whammy. Not a bad start for a group of about 120 meeting together. The early church met at different places. They would run into each other at the Temple, they used synagogues, but mainly they would meet up in homes. Acts 2:42-47 says it like this,
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is how the church spread. They sent out different people into different regions of the earth. Paul and Barnabas were a few. And the church continued to grow. As the church grew, it was persecuted. In 272 A.D., a man named Constantine came along who became a Christian, and he just happened to be the emperor of the Roman Empire. And he made it so that everybody had to be Christian. But forcing faith on people has an interesting effect. Everyone may wear the name, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s heart is in it. When Christianity was legalized, there were a lot of people then in the Roman Empire who were now Christians. Plus, Rome liked to make things big and beautiful as most empires do. Over time, they built a lot of cathedrals. So people started going to church.
Before this, there wasn’t really a whole lot of going. Just gathering. Because you were only Christian if you really wanted to be. But over time, church attendance became a really big deal. For quite a while, the church that everybody was a part of was the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther came along though, a monk born in the late 1400s, and he read Paul’s letter to the Romans. When he did, Luther began to learn about grace and freedom in Christ. At this time, the way people thought they got forgiveness from their sin was through buying indulgences from the church. Luther, read Romans and saw that Jesus is quite a bit different from that.
So the Reformation began. And in the Reformation were many changes. Over time, a lot of different denominations came about. Yes, this is the beginning of the Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodist, Lutheran, and the one I’ve had the pleasure to grow up in, the Church of Christ, which is actually an offshoot of the Presbyterian Church when the leaders wouldn’t let Alexandre Campbell take communion because of his absence from church, he got frustrated and he and his dad went to start a new church, the Church of Christ. (It was a longer process than that, but the communion deal was the inciting incident.)
What has happened over the past few hundred years in the Church is interesting, because it has looked a lot of different ways in a lot of different places. For instance, a few hundred years ago, the most influential place in culture was the courtroom. So what happened? Christians predominantly viewed God as a judge, they needed a building to convey it, and it fit their perspective. So the auditoriums started looking like courtrooms. Ever wonder where the pulpit came from? That’s where we got it. Nothing wrong with a good pulpit I might add. Apparently, some Christian preachers over time have used the pulpit to exercise their “right” (that isn’t their right) to be the judge and to say things that they shouldn’t have to people. But that was how church buildings got the pews and the pulpits.
Well, culture shifted again over time. The post-modern, technological era. The measure of success became size, big screens, and the type of worship that people could be a part of. Why is this the medium that is being valued and utilized now? We value big shows, great concerts, and excellence in media in culture today. As a whole, society has traded moral excellence for technological excellence. (Remember when Ricky and Lucy couldn’t be in the same bed together even though they were married? Yeah, me neither. Except in the reruns I saw growing up. Now, anybody sleeps with anybody on TV shows.)
So, this is where we are today. In the midst of cultural change. Every four hundred fifty years or so, there is a massive shift of mind globally. People all over the globe begin to rethink things and question the way things are. In that period, there are incredible shifts that happen within cultures. What happens in culture affects the church, because quite often, the church is shaped more by culture than the church shapes the culture. So, after a little bit of history and culture talk, here is what I want to ask today.
What do you think is the future of Church in America? Twenty-somethings are leaving the local church by the droves. The answers vary as to why twenty-somethings are leaving, but they are. And they’re not the only ones. The church in America in general is in decline. Some people say that they like the institutional church. Some people say they don’t like the institutional church. Some people say they don’t like Christ because Christians hypocrites. Some people say they love Christ because of the Christians they met. Here is what George Barna in the book Revolution says about the future of the church.
Do you agree or disagree with Barna? Are you a part of a local church, or an alternative faith-based community like a simple church? Do you experience and express your faith primarily through a family context? Or do you see yourself drawn to be engaged through the media, arts, and culture? Or maybe all four. What do you think the future of Church in America is? What do you want to see it become?
Once again, I would love it if you left me a comment on this post, because I am interested in your vantage point. I especially want you to comment if you are in college, your twenties or thirties.