I don’t know about you but my recent thoughts have been on the American Church. It’s not just because of my recent readings of David T. Olson’s book The American Church in Crisis, although it has helped to bring some clarity and even added to my understanding of the issues facing it. Nor is it my current reading of David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’s book unChristian. What has really drawn my attention to the issues with the Church in America is much of what has occurred in the last decade and even more recently since the last presidential election.
You’ll note that it was just a few weeks ago that President Donald Trump gave the American Church and other faiths a bit of relief when easing the restrictions that are contained in the Johnson Amendment. It is as the days of Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah and Ezra. God opened the door to the people of Israel to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city. This freedom that Israel was presented with became a joy for many who had only known their exile.
For years, the American Church has been accused of becoming too soft and it has opened the door to apathy for many and created great challenges in the wake of a weakening national moral fiber. Many outside of the Church have argued that the Church is hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, too focused on converting others, are judgmental and sheltered. This is according to research done by Kinnaman and Lyons.
However, a presidential acceptance of the Church and Christianity is in some ways the release and relief that the Church needs to give it the boost and a swift kick in the rear to redress the perceptions of the rest of the nation, put in the necessary systems and structures to meet those challenges it has with its own image and build the bridges necessary to heal a nation.
One challenge that the Church must face is in its own need to be unified in love. For too long the message of love has been overshadowed by its futile attempts to be political by legislating morality rather than living righteously before the world. If Christ has done nothing else, he has modeled a life where he showed the people he wanted to reach how life should be lived, without condemning them or criticizing them. Yes, he did bring correction, but that correction was directed towards the very ones who knew the Mosaic Law and were not living it but lording it over the people in word only.
If the Church has appeared out of touch with reality or unresponsive to a changing culture, it must begin to seek new methods and ways of communicating the timeless truths through present day means. Having the ability to hear God is not just something that can be used to edify and give impartation within the body of Christ, but it is also a means by which to receive new vision, systems and structures necessary to meet the needs of the nation.
If a community is in distress by racial tensions, there ought be an answer for that which the Church can effectively utilize to address it. If there is high levels of abortion or too many children in the state juvenile system, the Church must begin to look for solutions to address this.
Too much of the Church’s responsibility was given up during the days of FDR and the creation of many of the social systems it created and the Church seemed to have absolved itself of its responsibility to tend to the widows and orphans. One critique of this can a couple weeks ago at a symposium where pastors and leaders were gathered to speak to those very issues. One pastor acknowledged the difficulty of asking members to be charitable when their members were already being too greatly taxed by the government. How can the Church meet the needs of the very ones who are looked to for giving are too burdened by the state?
In looking back at the response by the President to make changes in the Johnson Amendment, it is a first step for the Church to speak openly and honestly to its own issues of addressing the issues it faces of being servants to a community. Another step is coming in the form of tax reform. This support that the president if presenting should be good news for the American Church as it positions the Church to strengthen its structures to be able to bear the load of being more of what it has been called to be, ministers and servants of all.
QUESTION: What hope are you believing for in relationship to a changing American Church?