In recent years, Christians have been pining for a return to first century Christianity. For example, articles and sermons like the following have been seen with increasing regularity:
It’s a somewhat romantic notion, that we get away from all of the centuries of tradition and added-on elements of the church and return to the simplicity and purity of the early church. But doing such a thing is easier said than done, as it is no easy feat to get rid of traditions and added-on elements that we have come to appreciate and enjoy. And this includes the power that the church amassed in the public arena, especially in the United States.
However, with today’s SCOTUS ruling and the subsequent celebrations by all corners of American culture (thanks for the rainbow header I didn’t request, WordPress), things have reached a turning point. We’ve been seeing it coming for years, but today’s ruling which recognizes homosexual marriage across the land has determined that – at least in the United States – Biblical Christianity is now officially counter-cultural.
The recent findings by the Pew Research Center seem to support this idea, that Christianity’s influence is waning in the United States. These findings have been disputed, but I think we can all agree that Christians don’t influence culture in America the way we used to. Given, Christians still have quite a bit of power and influence – we can still impact an election, we still buy a lot of products, we still make up a healthy percentage of the population, but it’s obviously a waning influence.
Just like in the first century.
It seems that we Christians are getting our wish, and we may be heading towards a more authentic twenty-first century expression of first century Christianity than we were banking on. We’re losing our influence, and they never had influence. Our hold on political power is slipping, and they never had power. We used to help guide culture, and now our attempts to impact culture are laughable. The culture of the first century didn’t care a whit about Christians, except as macabre entertainment in the colosseum.
The bad news is that the first century church suffered quite a bit of persecution for standing up for their faith, and this may or may not be where we are headed. However, if it is, we need to remember that Christians are guaranteed persecution in Scripture, and we’ve managed to avoid it for a long, long time – while much of the rest of the world has experienced it for a long, long time. It could be that our time has come.
The good news is, even twenty centuries later, we still look back at the first century church as what we want to emulate, persecution and all. They had their problems (as evidenced in the letters of Paul), but they learned and grew. More good news is that the God that they worshipped in the early church is the same God we worship today. He hasn’t changed. So no matter where we find ourselves in America in five years, it won’t change Him, and we can take great reassurance from the truth of that idea.
It could be that losing our influence and becoming counter to the culture will force us to ask ourselves what we truly believe and if we’re willing to stand for it. It could be that losing our hold on political power will give us a humility we haven’t had in ages. It could be that becoming outcasts will make us interact with the culture in a way many of us have avoided as we’ve built our cloistered walls and hid in our bubbled communities and universities. It could be that becoming helpless in the world’s eyes will push us to treasure God’s Word and study it with more intention and urgency in the same way the early church would have done. It could be that not getting what we want from government or society will compel us to revive our prayer life, and to truly seek Him. It could be that we will become more creative, more innovative, more ground-breaking in our art and our ministries to reach a potentially hostile, potentially disinterested majority.
In short, it could be that losing influence and becoming authentically counter to the culture – truly being forced to become like the first century church – would be the best thing that happened to American Christianity in the history of American Christianity.