Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Departure from Christianity

In the United States in the 1960s, it seemed our culture suddenly threw off all respect for Christianity. But was this upheaval as abrupt a turnaround as it seemed?

The adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine was a foxhole conversion. The Roman Empire was fast disintegrating in its decadence and needed something to give it stability. For the western half of the empire it proved too late, as it continued to crumble to its eventual fall. But in the chaos that followed, it was the Christian church that was the glue that held society together and worked to preserve literacy and civilization.

But the church paid a high price in terms of its own corruption through conformity to the world and departure from Biblical teachings. Also, as its representatives became rich and powerful in the secular realm, this prestige had a destructive influence. While there were those who attempted to reform the church and recall it to its original purpose, it continued to deteriorate.

Once European civilization was reestablished, it began to depart from the belief it had embraced in its time of desperation. It searched for a replacement in Greek philosophy, ultimately ending up in modern science. It was furthered in this by the evident decay of the organizational church, which had departed far from its moorings. Despite attempts such as the Protestant Reformation to recall Europe to traditional Christianity, it continued in its downward spiral.

Many of those who wished to seriously follow God left the Old World and its lukewarm state churches for what was to become the United States. But while there were those who came here for religious liberty, there were many others who came simply to make a profit. Both strands were part of our history from the beginning and have continued to fight each other ever since. But in spite of many attempts from the Great Awakening to Billy Graham to call us to follow God, the general trend has been the erosion of Christianity until what was left in many cases was a shell, an outward profession of Christianity with no depth of belief. Then in the 1960s many gave up the pretense and threw off the shell.

I do not want to say the results were inevitable. But I do think that it was the natural course for things to follow without a decisive return to God. Western Civilization embraced God at a point of desperation and deserted Him when the calamity was over. The clear implication of this is that we cannot simply go back. Rather, we need to let go of the past and accept we are Christians in a pagan society and rebuild from there. I do not want to limit the power of God, but I am convinced we need to be prepared for the long haul of impacting a hostile culture for Christ. Trying to go back, though, will only lead to frustration.

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