The modern Church: We must be better than this

This is the last of a five-part series on how the Church can regain its relevance. Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

In Part 4 we saw that the Church has in large part come to accept mediocrity rather than strive for the greatness to which we have been called.

That has to change if we are to ever again be able to enact change in our world.

So, how do we make that change? To find the answer, we look back more than 1,000 years.

The incredible persecution of the Christian church by the Roman Empire finally ended with the death of Emperor Galerius and eventual re-consolidation of power under Constantine in the early 4th century. Constantine’s willingness to afford Christians the right to worship freely led to the development of the Nicene Creed, the first major document to present an organized set of doctrines for the Christian faith from among those included in the Apostles’ Gospels and letters.

Christians of the time must surely have been amazed at the progression of their faith in so short a period of time. From the late 3rd to the late 4th centuries, Christianity had gone from being an outlawed sect whose members frequently met with the most gruesome of persecutions to becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 under Emperor Theodosius.

But this early experiment in having the state inject itself into religion did not end well, and in fact is one of the reasons the American Founding Fathers were so concerned about not repeating the effort. Once in a position of tremendous influence, Christians during and after Theodosius’ reign did what believers have unfortunately done best for centuries – fight over their differences.

Within a relatively short time, the societal pendulum swung from the ornate grandeur of Rome to a largely dark age ruled by a loose confederation of tribal leaders. It was a time when survival and the quest for power took precedence over education and the pursuit of excellence.

In many ways, it was a time very much like our own.

Illiteracy among the clergy – specifically, regarding the Latin Vulgate Bible of the 4th century – eventually became so severe that it was seen by the Frankish King Charlemagne as a potential impediment to the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Charlemagne managed to reunite most of Europe during his rule, and once that task was completed he set about establishing a system of formal education first within the palace school and then extending to the remainder of his kingdom. To this end, he assembled the greatest minds of the time, and issued what is today referred to as his Charter of Modern Thought for the governance of monastic schools throughout his realm.

The educational reforms enacted by Charlemagne and overseen primarily by Alcuin of York resulted in the first post-Roman renaissance period, often called the Carolingian Renaissance. Significant gains were seen in many fields including the arts, architecture, and literacy. Though the period was short-lived, it laid the foundation for the later Renaissance periods and for much of our current Western culture.

The significance of the Carolingian Renaissance – as it pertains to our discourse – is that it was led by Christians. The renewed emphasis that Charlemagne placed on education mostly in schools which were operated by the local churches changed the society of that day.

That’s exactly what we need.

For too long, knowledge has been seen by many as the enemy of the Church.

For too long, Christians have been content with mediocrity.

For too long, Christians have focused too much on our differences to be able to counter popular culture with a united front.

For too long, we have been content with making Sunday morning overtures to our God – and expected Him to be content with that as well.

To quote the Apostle James, “These things ought not so to be.”

God wants to have an intimate, personal relationship with us. He wants to be present in every aspect of our lives.

He wants to use us to reach the world. It’s not that he has to do so. He doesn’t. He can reach the world all by Himself.

But He wants to use us.

We were designed for the purpose of bringing glory and honor to God. One of the ways we accomplish that purpose is to allow ourselves to be useful tools in His hands – to be the absolute best that we can be for Him.

This doesn’t mean that we all have to have PhD after our names. We are all called to different work, but we are also called to be the best we can be within that work. The more sound we become in both faith and knowledge, the more useful we will be in our given areas.

Ours is a society that sees no value in faith, in knowledge, in effort. There is no remaining outward impetus for human beings – in the West, at least – to worship, to learn, to give our best. We all get a pat on the back, a free or reduced price education, a participation trophy, and a retirement plan, so the outward rewards have become meaningless.

But we never should have needed an outward impetus in the first place.

For centuries, men and women worshipped God because of what He had done for them inwardly. They learned simply for the sake of learning. And they gave their all because they realized that regardless of outcome, the highest external effort yields the greatest internal reward.

Today we have been programmed to seek our rewards outwardly. Our goals in worship, in learning, and in effort are to earn those outward rewards. It’s why we see Christians divorcing, Christian children behaving and performing poorly in school, and Christian athletes who think only the playoff games are important.

We must be better than this.

We must become so sincere in our worship, so desirous of knowledge, and so willing to expend effort that the world has no choice but to acknowledge our expertise. This is the only way forward.

This is the only way we reach a world that cries out for something and someone who is different – by being different from the world – being more sincere, more learned, and more driven than they are.

The alternative is to continue our slide into meaninglessness and simply wait for the end, whether by Rapture or by death.

What a pitiful existence. We can be more. We can be better.

For the glory of God, we must.

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