Does the increasing secularism in the Western world over the last half-century spell doom for followers of Jesus Christ and our mission to make disciples of all nations? There is, of course, no end to the books, blogs, and other media that answer in the affirmative.
However, I would answer in the negative. I do not believe that our present postmodern world is poised to defeat Christianity. Far from it.
First of all, followers of Jesus and the institutional Church have always had opposition, though it has taken vastly different forms over the centuries and within different cultures. It is true that the Enlightenment was a significant turning point in the Church’s role as an institution in the West (that is a whole separate discussion), but there are more Christians alive today, in 2013, than there are in heaven.
Secondly, Scripture affirms that the Church is not going anywhere.
The prophet Isaiah records the LORD saying, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (55:10-11)
Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, promised to build His Church, and promised that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). If the powers of hell cannot bring down the Church, then the worldly forces of secularism cannot even make a dent – as evidenced by the population statistic I stated above.
One final Scripture: Hebrews 12:18-29 speaks of God’s “unshakeable kingdom.” Take a few minutes to read in full this sweeping declaration of the awesome reality.
Thus, the whole of Scripture, from the prophets to the early Christians to the words of Jesus to Peter, affirms that the Church is not going anywhere.
And there is further evidence.
Several years ago, John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge (the editor-in-chief and management editor, respectively, of The Economist) wrote a book, God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World (Penguin Press, 2009). Their central thesis, as implied by the title, is that Christianity is in fact growing around the world at the popular level, even as the institutional state becomes more secular.
More recently, Mark Galli and Andy Crouch of Christianity Today wrote a piece for the March 2013 issue of the magazine, “The Future of Today’s Christianity.” (Well worth reading in full – this was the piece that refined my thinking on this issue.) Near the end, they state:
The church that Christ promised to build survived the license of Corinth, the legalism of Galatia, and the lukewarmness of Laodicea. It will survive, and more than survive, in our time, because it is built not by human hands but by Christ himself. He constantly renews and reforms his people. He breathes new life and new forms into being in response to institutional decay. And every day he calls sinners from every nation to himself, transforming them into sons and daughters in a new family.
And then they say, “We cannot imagine a more exciting time to be Christians than today,” a sentiment I find much more agreeable than dire warnings. Christianity is not going anywhere – God has promised so.