The Church’s Role In A Secularizing Society

The glutton for punishment that I am, I regularly read Dr. Al Mohler’s blog.  On average, I disagree with him about as much as I agree.  In one breath he says something that is simply right-on.  And in the next, in my opinion, he goes off into right field where I just have a hard time seeing things his way.  Today’s post is one of those right field moments.

I am in full agreement with him when he states, “the secularization of society is one thing, but the secularization of the church is another.”  I think that secularization is a very real problem, and an especially dangerous road for a Christian community to travel.  For a church to become “more and more distant from its Christian roots” automatically puts a “Christian” church at odds with the very Christianity that it claims to represent.  Removing Christian ideas and Christian beliefs and Christian symbols from the public life of the Christian church turns the church into nothing more than a “public utility.”  Reformation carries with it similar dangers.  For a congregation to cut itself from the root of Christian tradition will ultimately lead to the death of said congregation.  Without a firm rooting in a denominational or general Christian historical tradition, pragmatism becomes the “tradition” and what works becomes synonymous with what the Spirit is leading.

Of course, this shows the deep connections within the ebb and flow of human existence.  Pragmatism ultimately leads to secularization in one form or another.  I would argue, unlike Dr. Mohler, that secularization can be a good thing in some cases.  Without a firm footing within the secular culture in which the Church is called to walk, we will inevitably become, as the old addage goes, too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.  We must, as a Christian subculture, understand the world outside of the church in such a way that we are not standing in the way in an ultimately unchristian manner.  What we must seek to do is stand in the way of the outside world in a Christ-centered and faith based manner.  But how do we do this?

According to the Archbishop of York,

At a time when a creeping social Darwinism is on the rise, where life is measured in terms of its “quality” or “usefulness” the Church remains the last bastion of defence for those who would find themselves close to jettison by society. The doors of the Church are never shut in that they embrace an understanding of humanity and the individual where all life is God given and God breathed. There is no measure or qualification of “usefulness” but only the very act of being alive. In this sense the Church re-asserts those principles at the very heart of equality and human rights: the infinite worth of every human being.

In a way, it begins with our Christian understanding of the sanctity of life.  While it is agreed by general scientific and religious consensus that life begins inside the womb, it is also a Christian belief that life does not end once a child leaves the womb.  We Christians believe that all life is sacred.  Sadly, our actions all too often do not reflect this held belief.  In an time of constant and immenent world war, terrorism, and disease, it becomes increasingly imperative that we embrace a consistent ethic of human life.  Given our sheer numbers, Christians can truly stand as “the last bastion of defence for those who would find themselves close to jettison by society.”  It is Christian belief that God formed each and every human being together in the womb and that before they were born, He knew them.  Life is given dignity by God and is, in fact, given by God’s own divine intervention in human development.  In a society that is increasingly secular, the church must be decidedly pro-life in every way.  We must stand as a force against anything that destroy’s the dignity of human life.  War, terrorism, disease, and, yes, even some forms and cases of abortion do exactly that.  As a church, we must interrupt the flow of society and re-assert “those principles at the very heart of equality and human rights: the infinite worth of every human being.”

Secondly, the church must become a place “not only for the most vulnerable but also for their most vocal defenders; a tent pitched in the middle of the public square where all are invited because all are worthy. It is a place where divine action and human activity overlap in the person of Jesus Christ, with His altar at the centre of the tent pitched among us.”  While the church must be the sanctuary for those society feels are of little use, we must not forget the foundation on which we are built: Jesus Christ.  I love the Archbishop’s phrase that the church is the place where “divine action and human activity overlap.”  Lives should be truly and intimately changed through the work and words of the Church.  But, changing lives in this manner will require a small bit of secularization.  We must learn how to defend the dignity of life without hurting the very lives we are trying to defend.  This is a thin line to walk, and it is a major source of tension most of the time, but we must learn to live with that tension and work within that tension under the common goal of re-infusing life with the dignity that Satan so deceptively stole away long ago.

Lastly, the church must ultimately stand for the words and ways of Jesus.  While little is said in the Archbishop’s article on this topic, I think this is the one force that can keep the church in line with traditional and historic Christianity without compromising its impact on a rapidly secularizing world.  Our human culture seems to demand spirituality in one form or another.  Why not give them a spirituality that actually brings God to them?  Unlike many other world spiritualities and religions, Christianity proclaims the story of a god who comes to humankind to change them.  The god that Jesus embodied does not require a bloody sacrifice or some cleansing ritual before we can approach.  Instead, in Jesus, the Creator infused Himself into a man and showed us what He is like.  Christian spirituality seeks to help humankind better understand this union of God and man.

In the authority that God maintained in His human form, He established His church in a way of life that is directly counter to the way in which the world wants to live.  The world wants to pick and choose which lives are worthy of defense and which aren’t.  Jesus showed us something different, something better.  For Jesus, the lepor was just as worthy of His touch as the soldier about to arrest him who was just as worthy as the thief and insurrectionist hanging beside Him on the cross.  For Jesus, all lives were equally sacred.  And for us it should be the same.  In a rapidly secularizing soceity, where life is increasingly viewed as a commodity, we must let “divine action and human activity overlap;”  we must be “the last bastion of defence for those who would find themselves close to jettison by society;”  we must stand with a firm footing within our culture without losing ourselves in its ebb and flow.  It will not be easy, but we were never promised that it would be.

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