Why We Need The Ancient Paths
Writer Rod Dreher, along with many Christian thinkers and writers, have made a strong case that we are heading into a new Dark Age, one that will be very challenging for Christians in America, in the West. You can see the changes all around us and for many Christians, there is a sense of 'overload,' trying to not only process what is happening at light speed in our culture, but where this leads and how we are to respond.
Dreher sites several factors that are leading us into this new Dark Age: Our culture has lost shared general beliefs and values that bound us together as a society, those same beliefs and values that also gave us a sense of purpose and mission. In addition, he cites the political and cultural turmoil and fragmentation, the seismic shifts in morality and institutions. Everything from gender to marriage is being redefined and the idea of there being an absolute truth is seen as absolutely untrue. Feelings and personal truths and personal narratives have replaced facts and Truth. Dialogue is being replaced with personal attacks. Freedom of speech is being threatened. It is no longer virtuous to discuss ideas, rather it is 'virtuous' to try to stop any idea that makes someone feel uncomfortable.
The culture is changing at warp speed.
Dreher also examines the threat of the internal collapse of Christian theology and morality. The threat from within is even more dangerous. Theology is now 'personal and subjective' doctrine and orthodoxy are seen as stifling, and the church in America seems all too willing to compromise almost anything to be 'relevant' and 'liked' by those who do not know Jesus.
If it draws a crowd and makes people 'feel good,' it is a success. This is where evangelicalism has slowly been drifting toward the past 30 years. The timing could not be worse. Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, in his research, has come to the conclusion that 'Christianity (in America) as it has been historically understood, has been hollowed out from within.
What does this mean for us as a church? It means many things, but I would ask that we as a church consider the words of Jeremiah 6:16 in which the Lord called His people to Himself in a time of darkness. Sadly, they would not listen. The Lord said:
"Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
Gimmicks and techniques simply will not stand in these days. One can still grow a church, as John Piper told a group of German pastors, in America, quite easily. By 'grow' he meant 'gather a large crowd,' and by 'church' he meant 'institution,' becuase there is still a 'market' (though it is rapidly shrinking) for spiritual entertainment, for a self-help therapeutic gospel of moralism and prosperity, but that distortion of Christianity cannot and will not stand when the full weight of the secular Dark Ages sinks in.
What will stand? The ancient ways and paths. The good way. What might that look like? Here are a few things to consider and pray about and think through as Christians in 2018:
1) The Word must be preached and taught unapologetically. Christianity has always been countercultural. We are not at liberty to alter or change the gospel to make it more 'palatable.' In altering the gospel we preach something entirely different, something that does not give life, but rather keeps people in bondage and in the darkness.
I am blessed that the desire of our congregation is the undiluted Word of God. We will not and must not compromise here. We speak the truth in love-unapologetically.
2) We must be self-feeding Christians. Time alone with God each day in the Word and in prayer is essential. We must be a people who grow in knowing our God-knowing who He is and knowing Him personally.
I am blessed to see discipleship groups multiplying across our church!
3) We must pray and return to the ancient way of walking by faith. Prayer is not magical thinking and faith does not mean one turns his or her brain off. As a church we must continue to stay on our knees and pray, seeking the Lord and asking Him to do what only He can do. We must admit our dependence on Him. We must also trust Him. When days get dark, faith is tested. We will either walk by faith and follow our King, and in that, experience peace and power we would never have otherwise, or we will walk by sight and be powerless.
I am thankful that we continue to grow as a praying people-prayer groups multiplying, another season of prayer. We are learning 'in all things, pray.' God is teaching us and doing things we would never see otherwise.
4) We must be communities and communities on mission, making disciples. It is a blessing to see our discipleship groups multiplying and our church focused on being on mission and not relying on gimmicks. It is a blessing to see relationships growing and people exhorting one another to run well.
5) All things for the glory of God. With God's glory as our consuming vision, we live with eternity in mind. It's not about us. It's not about our brand, our name, our 'reputation,' it's all about Jesus. That is the ancient way. That is what we must keep before us.
Times may well get darker and darker as we move forward. The positive from this for the church in America: being marginalized or persecuted for righteousness' sake (not because we are cultural Christians or acting unrighteously), will refine us. Sooner or later the gimmicks will be revealed for what they are, and when those things collapse, the gospel will be seen for what it truly is: Good News and the only way we can be reconciled to God. We will once more see Jesus as our Only Hope.
Times are changing. God has not. May we stay focused on Him and stay on those ancient paths.
Grace and Peace,