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The Truth About the Marginalized Church
Is the Church collapsing in a major earthquake of secularization? Will we make it?
I saw a recent article from Pew research that proclaimed:
“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of U.S. adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.’” Pew further states that “if recent trends in religious switching continue, Christians could make up less than half of the U.S. population within a few decades."
Oh no! The Church collapsing in a major earthquake of secularization!
The Church, the people who are devoted to being apprentices of Jesus, are not in danger. Nor is the will of God. Everything else may shake, but Jesus brought to bear a kingdom that cannot be shaken. When one finds their life in that kingdom and lives their life in it, they are always safe.
Yet, Pew does point to a reality most of us feel. I know as a minister I observe a difference in our culture today compared to when I began in 1978. Ministers used to be at the top of polls that asked, “Which is the most respected profession?” Now we are middle of the pack in some studies and have fallen off the list entirely in others.
Being pushed usually results in pushback. As the Church has been shoved to the margins of society, the intuitive reaction of many Christians has been to buck-up and push back—to take our country back for God!
In stark contrast, Jesus’ manner of being, his indescribable authority, strength, and power, married to gentle meekness, was rooted in profound security that eliminated fear and funded a servant heart. Recalling the scene in which Jesus washed feet, note the basis from which that action came:
"Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So [with that secure, experiential knowledge animating his leadership], he began to wash the feet of the disciples…"
(John 13. 3-6, MSG, emphasis and addition, mine)
Jesus knew he had all power. He also knew he was misunderstood by most people. Many people wanted to do away with him. He was not just marginalized, he was hunted. Nevertheless, he always lived into the reality that the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Even if the Church should be pushed to the far margins of American society, we will be fine.
As Randall Balmer has written: “Religious fervor and conviction function best on the margins of society and not in the councils of power and influence. [It functions best] when it remains true to the faith and refuses to allow political interest to shape—or commandeer—its doctrines. When the faith hankers after political power or cultural respectability, it loses its prophetic edge.”
We can and will make it. Marginalized is the sweet spot for the Church.
Balmer continues, “Jesus is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together…and we are participants in this most urgent work…[a work] in which the energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe…Paul describes this as God’s plan worked out in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything broken on planet earth.”
At the center of all this, Christ rules the Church. The Church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the Church. The Church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence (Ephesians 1:22,23).
Relax. The Church is fine—and always will be.
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