Summary: Should the church dissolve since our president has declared that we are not a Christian nation? The numbers of people claiming to be Christians has dropped dramatically. The question is, is the cross still relevant in this post-Christian world?
President Barak Obama visited Turkey this week. In a press conference he stated “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” Newsweek reporter Jon Meacham wrote the cover story for his magazine entitled “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” The 2009 American Religious Identification Survey finds the number of people who claim to be a Christian has dropped 11% in a generation. 15% of the U.S. population now claim no religious affiliation. That’s up from only 8% in 1990. Noted apologist Josh McDowell even wrote a book called The Last Christian Generation.
Many people today believe we live in a post-Christian world. If that’s true, then why gather on a day we call Easter, or Resurrection Sunday—to celebrate?
Is the cross of Christ still relevant?
If not, why not? And is the problem the cross, or something else?
If so, then how do we reconcile the attitudes and beliefs of people today who are walking away from their idea of Christianity by the droves?
If the cross is still relevant, then how can we communicate it in a way that makes sense?
Now you’ll notice that I didn’t say “is the church still relevant” or even “is Christianity still relevant” because it is my belief that what many people are actually reacting to is not the core of our faith, but either what the institution has become, or people’s misconceptions about what Jesus Christ was all about.
I think there are two things operating here:
1. People get the church and Jesus mixed up.
Jesus has become synonymous with the church (when in reality the church today is much like the Pharisee Party in Jesus’ time).
2. People get the church and the state mixed up.
Our nation was modeled after the views of people who served God, or were at least very familiar with the Bible, but we are not nor have we ever been a “Christian” nation – that is, a nation directly governed by the Lord Jesus like Israel was to be governed by Yahweh.
Now hear me – I am not advocating for the division of church and state and never the twain shall meet (that doctrine was to protect the church from the state, not the other way around). I am a firm believer that a nation governed by godly principals is a better nation.
But what has happened is that these two mistaken concepts have led to people become inoculated against the real truth of the cross. So we have a nation of people who think they are apprentices of Jesus because either they join a church or are citizens of a particular country—neither of which is true.
Let’s take these two concepts one at a time.
1. The church isn’t Jesus
Even in many of the surveys that are done about Christianity, the focus is on a denomination, rather than on a belief structure. How many Baptists are there compared to Catholics and the like. Over time this has led to the belief that you join Christ by becoming part of an organization. The organization has rules for joining and rules for behavior. Even though there are plenty of apprentices of Jesus in denominations, over time the rules of behavior begin to cloud the belief structure, or at least confuse the two. This leads to legalism—the feeling of being superior for being better at following the rules than others, especially newbies.
Joining a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than signing admission papers at a hospital cures you of your disease. In a hospital you’ve got to entrust yourselves to the medical intervention of doctors to get better. In life you’ve got to entrust yourself to the healing power of the Messiah in order to get any benefit. I can still die in my hospital bed if I refuse treatment.
Jesus isn’t an organization, He is a person. We should belong to Him, love Him, serve Him, be taken over by Him—not by some label we wear like Presbyterian, or Calvary Chapelin. The church, then, is all of us collectively as we serve Jesus.
2. The church is not the state
We are not a theocracy. A theocracy is a country where God is the leader, giving direction for how the country is to operate through prophets and leaders. Israel is the only such nation that has ever existed—and look what they did with that. Instead of having Yahweh as their leader, they wanted a king “like all the nations.” That led them away from God on a steady path. The purpose of having a theocracy was not to have heaven on earth but to point to the fact that 1) we can’t serve God on our own strength and 2) God was sending Someone who could do that for all of us. The point of the nation was to prepare the way for that Someone.