i believe that there is a coming crisis to the church in america. it is not a crisis of identity, or theology, or even a crisis of relevance. i believe that this crisis is something more subtle, more understated, and more entrenched than most would admit.
as i look around the christian landscape that i see before me i am struck with the realization that we are rapidly becoming a church that allows our ends to justify the means by which we operate.
let me be clear about this, i am not saying that the church in america is not doing good things. it is. nor am i saying that the leaders of the church in america are embroiled in a machiavellian scheme where all manner of sin is tolerated because it produces a “Godly” result (but let us be honest, that happens more than we care to admit).
while it is true that niccolò machiavelli extolled the virtue of certain injustices as long as they benefited the greater good and in order to maintain stable governance in his political tome, “the prince,” what is left often undiscussed is the why he felt this is true. academic scholars have long held that the primary value that machiavelli contributed to modern political thought was a break from idealism (rooted in platonic and aristotelian thought) and a move towards realism.
realism in this sense being philosophical ideas based on how the “real world” actually works.
think of it this way, it is not that machiavelli was malicious and advocated murder as a good thing in and of itself, but rather he took what he though was an honest look at life and came to the conclusion that in “the real world” sometimes you have to do a bad thing to get the best result.
how many of you at work, school, or especially in church ministry have heard something along the lines of, “that is a great idea but the way it actually works here is…,” or, “we could have done that better but did you see the results?”
too many of us i suppose.
that is at the root of the coming crisis. it is not that we willingly have a church culture that has accepted that the ends justify the means (although i do not think we are not far off from that). but rather we have come against a breaking point where we are willing to compromise the ideal for the real because the real is easier to deal with.
we, as a church, are focused on how things actually work, and have resigned ourselves to deal with it. from local politics governing where we can put a church, to first amendment issues and everywhere in between. we live during a time when “reality” is available for us all day every day (read my friend james’s thoughts on being addicted to information for more). and have abandoned the ideal of what it means to be a church and what it means to be a christian.
Christ did not die for us to accept the world for how it seems to be. he died for us so that he could obliterate the idea of death, show us the power of resurrection, and then ascend so that we may have a chance to live beyond the real and according to God’s ideal.
when we resign ourselves and our churches to how things actually are, we are giving up our right to the supernatural presence of God in all that we do. we are giving in to the enemy who wants to tear us down. and we are driving, full speed, down the road to justifying all manner of bad behavior, sin, and wrong doing, as long as the end result looks something like what we think God wants.
we are each of us becoming machiavellian every time we make that compromise. and if we do not fix it, the crisis will come and the church will be no different than any other social institution that grows irrelevant with each passing day.
all the while missing the point.
we are called to live our lives passionately pursuing the ideal of what it means to be continually sanctified in Christ.
the words of Christ recorded in John 13 speak to this:
“but now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” – john 17:13-21 (nasb)
we are a people that are called to be part of the real world: to live, to function, and to interact, but to live our lives as if we are not.
instead i look around and realize that far to often we, as the church, are satisfied being of the world, because that is how things really work.