There is a term that I do not like, but needs to be given some serious consideration by the Christian community. The term is “Post-Christian Age.” What does it mean? What happened to bring it about? How does the Church minister in the Post-Christian Age?
Charles Gallup, in his book, “The Next American Spirituality”, defines it this way: “In the Post-Christian age, the Christian faith is no longer a strong influence in society.” Christians have always been in the minority; however their voices were heard and respected. They made a difference and influenced the culture. Society knew the Christians were around. Think back to the ’30s and ’40s. The voice of the Church was heard then. I remember in the ’50s I was invited to speak at the public high school on several occasions. The teachers wanted the students to hear how the Christian Church felt on a particular subject. Not so today. Unless I live in a unique community, it has been years since such invitations were extended to clergy. Other pastors tell me they receive no invitations to speak at public schools. I believe many teachers would like the Christian point of view expressed, but are fearful of having legal complications.
In the past, I would often receive an invitation to sit on a panel discussing some of the moral problems plaguing our youth. These invitations are no longer forthcoming either. The psychologist has replaced the pastor. It is possible that the psychologist is better prepared to serve on these panels; however, I rather believe those in charge feel it is too dangerous to get a strong point of view from the Christians. The anti-Christian voices may respond, and it isn’t worth the trouble of being threatened with law suits.
Forty-five years ago, seven Lutheran churches in our area built a home for the aged. It was our goal to provide a place where our fathers and mothers could receive good physical and spiritual care in the last years of their lives. We wanted the administrator of the home to be a strong, committed Christian. Since people of the Lutheran Church built the home, it would be nice if he or she were a member of the denomination.
Recently a new administrator was hired for this position. We were told by the administrator that, since some of the residents at the home receive Title XXI money from the government, we could not require the administrator be a committed Christian. When I rebelled against that opinion, one courageous attorney suggested we live dangerously and, if sued, find out what the court would really say. The leadership of the home felt it would not be worth the effort, or the possible cost of a law suit to pursue our rights, and so the entire issue was dropped.
These same leaders assured us that the person hired is a person of strong conviction. I have no reason to question their word. However, it is a bit irritating that, in this enlightened age, people cannot be straightforward with their Christian convictions with no fear of being dragged into a court.
This is life in the Post-Christian Age. What happened to bring it about? Let me suggest four reasons why we find ourselves in this Age.
First, we have generational differences. Much study has been done on attitudes in different age groups. If you were born between the years of 1901-1945, you are called a builder. If you were born between the years of 1946-1964, you are called a boomer. If you were born between 1965- 1981, you are a buster. If you were born between 1982 and 2003, you are called a blaster. Studies reveal that people in these particular generations think differently and the values can be quite different.
Let’s try to illustrate this by introducing Sherry. She is a beautiful woman, 25 years of age (buster). Sherry is well thought of in the community, and serves on many committees. One day a woman asks Sherry where she goes to church. Sherry tells her that she and her family do not attend any church. Her children have never gone to Sunday school. The woman follows up the question by asking, “Didn’t your folks go to church?” “Sure,” she replies. “My father was confirmed in the Lutheran Church. He is 52 years old (boomer). When I was small, my parents chose not to attend church, and religion was not talked about in our home. Sunday was a day of relaxing however you desired. The exception would be when my grandparents, who are 75 (builders), came to visit us, we would attend worship services so as not to hurt their feelings.”
You see here the generational differences. Sherry’s father, a confirmed Lutheran, had been taught the faith. He had been introduced to Jesus Christ. Her dad decided he did not want Christ to be a part of his life and rejected him. However, you cannot say Sherry rejected Christ, because she never had received Him. In fact, she had never even been introduced to Him. People like Sherry are dropping through the cracks. When millions of people follow this pattern, it is not long before the voice of the Church is weakened, and we have moved into the Post-Christian Era.
Second, we entered the Post-Christian Age because the Church was not concerned about Sherry and all those like her. The neighbor next door never invited Sherry to attend Sunday school, which would be interfering with the neighbor’s family life. The congregation had other plans that dealt with the social needs of society. Sherry knew where the church was. She would be most welcome, but it was up to her to find out about Christianity, if that is what she wanted.
History teaches us that when the Church is not concerned about the lost, its influence in society will soon be lost. Such was the case in Laodicea. Jesus describes them as being lukewarm Ð neither hot nor cold. They were not willing to let their voices be heard, because of the persecution that might come their way. The people knew the church was in their city, and many of them claimed to be Christians. However, their religion was a threat to the general lifestyle of the people. A sad commentary is that today there is no Christian church of consequence in Laodicea. Could this happen in the United States? Yes, it could. Christ’s Church will be on this earth when He returns, but that does not mean it will be a part of western civilization.
Third, we live in a pluralistic society: the religious rights of all citizens must be protected.
This is good. We do not want it to be different. Years ago, when the majority of the immigrants came to America from Christian countries, it was not a problem. However, that is no longer true. As one of my friends says, “The boats are not coming from Denmark anymore. They are coming from India, where the predominant religion is not Christianity.” Thank God the Lady in the Harbor is still saying, “Give me your poor . . .” and in this pluralistic society we learn to love and honor each other.
Fourth, the court’s rulings on issues that are contrary to Christian teachings have given our citizens the right to live a lifestyle in conflict with the teachings of God’s Word. The matter of abortion illustrates this point. It is not enough to say, “Thou shall not kill.” If that is what the mother chooses to do with her unborn fetus, it is permissible. Once children learned about Christianity in school as teachers opened the school day by reading from the Bible and having prayer with the class. This is no longer possible in public education. If a teacher sought to do this today, her job could be at stake. We live in the post-Christian age.
We can never soften the biblical message to make it more appealing to our culture. Sin must still be called sin. We cannot adjust this Word to make it fit in our society’s culture. Dishonesty, no heart for the poor, self-centeredness, and a host of other behavior traits of this kind are declared sin by our Lord and His Church. We cannot change the message.
Christ must always be presented as the Son of God and Savior of the world, the only way of salvation. He is not just one of the many religious teachers Ð He is the Lord, who has suffered, died, and was raised again to pay the price for our sins. Only through Him can a person enter into a personal relationship with God. This is a message the post-Christian age must hear from Christ’s body, the Church.
We might have to change how we bring this Gospel message to people. The traditional worship service, with its glorious music and majestic organ, will have to share with other forms of worship that best minister to others. It is a fact that in the congregation where I worship, the contemporary worship is fast becoming the largest service on a Sunday morning. Is this bad? Not if the Gospel is being proclaimed at that service. Many of us question if the congregation is not losing something when the great hymns of the Church, which have weathered the storms of time, become unfamiliar to this generation. Only time will tell. Hopefully, it will not be an either/or but a both/and in your congregation. The contemporary service will be offered to those who prefer such a worship setting, and the traditional worship service will be available to those who can best worship in that way.
In this Post-Christian age, we can no longer assume the congregation is familiar with the teachings of the Bible. Many who have not been to Sunday school do not know the Bible stories.
The preacher cannot assume that the congregation knows biblical characters like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Many worshiping congregations are not acquainted with theological terms like redemption, sanctification, and atonement.
My parents were completely ignorant when it came to computer language, yet they knew these theological terms. In the Post-Christian age, most ten-year-old children are well-schooled in technological vocabulary; however they do not know whether Abraham or Paul lived first, and don’t have the foggiest idea about the meaning of salvation.
So we live in the Post-Christian age. Does that mean we should quit telling others about Jesus? No, of course not. The exciting note in this age is that many people long for the faith of their parents and grandparents. They want a faith that gives them a clear understanding of right and wrong. They want the security of the Gospel assuring them that, when these few years spent on earth are over, a heavenly home awaits them. Many of them remember grandma talking about going to her heavenly home.
They are now asking the question, “Did she have something that I don’t have?” This is where the Church can minister with the Word and say, “You bet she did. Let me introduce you to the Savior, Jesus Christ, who was the center of grandma’s life.”
It might be the Post-Christian age, but the fields are still white unto harvest.