NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The interview was wrapping up when a reporter with the International Mission Board asked a prominent leader in the rapidly expanding Chinese house church movement how American Christians could pray for house churches in China. “Stop praying for persecution in China to end,” he responded, “for it is through persecution that the church has grown.”
“What astounding faith!” I thought when I heard the story. However, my admiration of his faith was quickly tempered by what he said next.
“We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution,” he said, “so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.”
Once I recovered from the shock of such a profound statement, I thought about the irony: We in America keep praying for God to bless us –- and Christians in other nations are praying God will allow us to experience persecution so that we’ll act like the blessing we were made to be. I shudder at the thought that we are on the road to persecution, brought on because of our own arrogance.
I recently wrote a column titled, “Are you Chasing Donkeys?” In it, I said that the book of Isaiah is replete with examples of God humbling the haughty. Arrogance followed by judgment is a recurring theme; survey the Old Testament and confirm it for yourself. However, before dismissing those examples as ancient history, flip to Revelation and read Christ’s seven letters to the churches. More specifically, read what Jesus says to the church of Sardis: “I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die….” (Revelation 3:1-2, HCSB).
I also referenced two prophetic voices –- David Watson and John Burke –- who, speaking 25 years apart, made indicting statements about the state of the church. Burke wrote, “Unless Christians leading the church in America change, and unless the church begins living out the magnetic attractive force Jesus had on the world, the Christian Church in America will be completely marginalized within decades.” His concern is rapidly becoming reality.
A cover story in the Aug. 11 edition of USA Today confirms his concern. The article’s title is “Religion Takes a Back Seat in Western Europe” and details the 25 percent drop in church attendance in Western Europe in the past 20 years. The reasons identified for the drop are “Europe’s turbulent history, an increasing separation between the church and government and the continent’s unprecedented affluence.”
The USA Today article reports the social changes implemented in Spain since its new Socialist prime minister took office last year. Divorce is quicker, embryonic stem cell research is allowed, “gay marriage” is legal and religious education is becoming elective in schools. The undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice in charge of religious and social affairs says that “Spanish society has become much more open, more tolerant, more secular.”
Sound familiar? We in America are being bowled over by the ball of secularism. The church doesn’t have enough muscle to support the pillars of our culture built on the foundation of the Bible.
Many will say, “Well, that’s Europe and it’s got nothing to do with us.” That’s arrogance and it’s got everything to do with us! What makes us think history is going to give us an exemption? Why should we be any different than history’s other self-destructed “superpowers” that arrogantly turned their backs on God and relied on their affluence?
This article should be a splash of cold water in the face of North America’s sleeping Christianity. This isn’t a clarion call to political activism by the “religious right,” as we are called. It is important for us to be involved in the political process, but politics directed by man is temporal and corruptible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and incorruptible. A changed America will come not from ballots in a box or amendments to the Constitution, but from changed hearts that guide godly lives. Research shows that the majority of “unchurched” people are not antagonistic toward the church, but have simply never been invited by a Christian to attend church. We’ve mobilized the church to flex our political muscle in our culture, but when is the church going to flex its missional muscle and become Jesus to a self-destructing culture? Put another way, when are you going to become Jesus to your next-door neighbor?
Christians, we have to make a choice: Continue on our present trajectory of self-absorbed arrogance confined to our self-contained little worlds and reap the inevitable consequences; or humble ourselves, ask for revival and “strengthen what remains” so that we can be the blessing we were made to be.
They are watching. Our brothers and sisters around the world are praying … and waiting.
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.