The American society of today is not built for the believer. In fact, the basic tenets of Christianity seem directly at odds with the wave of popular culture. As for popular culture itself, there seems to be a sense of apprehension and disillusionment towards Christianity. However, anyone who has been fairly educated on early United States’ History will know that it was not always like this. The Puritans, who were among the first Colonial settlers, were devoutly religious and formed their society around piety. Suddenly, we are in an era where the Christian is seen as the contrarian. How did we get to this point?
Jesus Christ undoubtedly lived a perfect life; however, the body of Christ does not. Throughout history, where Jesus and His Word stay the same, man’s perception of the Word is subject to change. Knowing this, we must admit there will always be divides, there will always be religious dark ages, and there will always be more great awakenings. The church, due to fallible human leadership, will always be in some sort of flux. One of the most important fluctuations in church history that contributed to this dark age was the combination of church and state.
The Marriage Between Church and State
For the majority of Christian history, there has been a marriage between the church and state. This marriage is linked to many major travesties throughout history, such as the crusades. Now, when the church is mixed with national business and the nation does something immoral, then the church takes on a part of that blame. This issue is just as apparent when it comes to the European imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the early 20th century, the world was woken up by the rise of different conflicts on the European continent. And by the end of the first and second world wars, Europe was left in shambles. Millions of soldiers and civilians had been killed, cities were completely destroyed, and entire political systems had fallen apart.
If a person’s faith is synonymous with their national identity, then disillusionment towards the state means the same for his/her perception of God. Today, most who are apprehensive about the church are marred by its immoral actions in the past. However, gathering from this sentiment, it is clear that contemporary religious disillusionment, popular as a result of the second world war, is not a response to the horror of God, but rather to the horror of humanity.
As a reaction to the “immoral church” and horror of the second world war, western culture started to drift towards more secular and postmodern ideals.
Postmodernism is defined as a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, relativism, and a suspicion of reason. Postmodernism is mainly centered around issues such as denial of objective morality, complete subscription to the words of scientists, the belief that society is always getting better as history progresses, and that humans can acquire knowledge to construct theories that explain aspects of the natural world.
This set of philosophical viewpoints have gained a grip on western society and are interwoven in our culture. It seems as if today we are witnessing a great departure from Christian morality in our everyday lives. As believers in the postmodern world, how do we respond to this?
Operating as a Christian in a Secular Culture
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15-16
1 Peter was written during a time of unrest in the first century church. The Romans were secular pagans who worshipped sex, alcohol, and other forms of debauchery. They harassed, persecuted, and condemned the church for their doctrine going against the current of their popular culture. This is clearly a parallel to the contemporary relationship between the church and the society it inhabits. And what does Peter say to do about this?
He doesn’t say we should condemn the secularists for their unbelief. He doesn’t say we should wage an intellectual war on them. Instead, he says we should be there for them. Even when we are persecuted and harassed, we should act as gatekeepers for Christ and be prepared to give an answer whenever asked about our faith. And, on top of that, we should do it from a place of gentleness and respect.
If you are lost in your sin, and you see someone condemning others who think differently than them, then that person pushes you further away from the church. That’s one of the reasons we have this problem in the modern age. However, if you see someone with an eternal purpose acting kind and talking about their heavenly inheritance, then you are naturally drawn towards them, and therefore drawn to Christ.
This is what Peter is getting at and this is how the Christian should conduct themselves when facing a secular culture who slanders Christ’s name.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
With a church being led by fallible humanity, we will always find trouble in this world. We will always experience rebellion from God, we will always find ourselves in instances of persecution, but we will always take heart. We take heart because we know that we are living for something beyond the chaotic world we inhabit. Where the church and humanity are inconsistent, Christ remains totally consistent. Knowing and embracing this truth, we should remain patient with those who wish to persecute us; for we have overcome the world.