As Christianity spread and became the religion of the majority of the Western World as communities would be established a church would be erected. Most were located centrally with a bell that would ring to call people to services. The church was the center of life in most communities and was seen as a vital place to connect. I recall one of my Seminary professors, Rev. Dr. Walter Sundberg, saying, “The West was wild until they brought the women in and the women brought the Church.” With the Christian Church came order and a sense of civilization. These ideas were the foundational for the United States Constitution and our national identity. Unfortunately, we are seeing much of that being cast aside.
The statement that we were founded as a Christian Nation is being challenged. Now we may want to nuance that and state that we were founded as a Nation of Christians because the fact remains that when the United States of America was founded the majority of citizens were Christian. One might argue, however, that to argue that to state that we are a Christian Nation is not true because we are not a Theocratic State, that would be true. However, I would posit that we are a Christian Nation, not that we are ruled by a religious piety, but by the grounding principles of the Christian faith that establish a sense of order and respect. This does not mean that any faith body has a ruling power over the people and we do not demand that our citizenry be baptized Christian and must attend services in order to be a citizen of our great nation. No, this is not what that means. The ideals of being a Christian Nation are simply centered in that we are to respect the guiding tenets of the Christian faith which are utilized to define what is decent and civilized behavior, which one might argue have a sense of universality to them as being often grounded in much of the faiths that exist in the world, namely it is not permissible to steal, murder, sleep with another’s spouse, or take property that is not your own. It would be desired that all would refrain from gossip, slandering others, or lying, unfortunately that is problematic within culture as a whole. Integrity, unfortunately, is sorely lacking in society today.
Sadly, we continue to see a decline in our world as we see the Church moving more and more to the periphery of modern society. In less than thirty years, we have seen our school districts shift from setting apart Wednesday and Sunday for religious events for the students by not having regular events scheduled to where are children are often made to choose whether to be involved with the Church or extra-curricular activities at school. These days were never mandated that a student had to go and be involved with Christian education, but the door was left open for them and it was a respectful relationship. At one time it was seen as a positive partnership of sorts as a school could call on local clergy to help offer comfort if a tragic event occurred. We still see this relationship happen to some extent in many communities but the fracture in these relationships is becoming more evident. Much of this I lay the blame as much at the feet of the Church as I do at our school districts and parents. We allowed this to happen, now the question is, “What can we do about it?”
In this I can only speak from the position as a church leader. As a pastor, my passion is to find ways to reconnect our congregations with our communities. All of our parishioners are connected in some way to the community, albeit of varying degrees of authority or position. I would argue that in smaller communities we have a greater percentage of leaders sitting in our pews. It is good for us to remember this in teaching also because our faith is not a faith only to be lived out in our pews but the in the vocations that our parishioners practice in the world. The Christian faith is meant to guide all actions of a Christian. Sadly, there often seems to be a wall of separation of many that sit in our pews and how they interact in the world much akin to the “wall of separation between church and state” that many love to highlight when arguing for the removal of the religious from the public square. The reality of this idea is centered in a misunderstanding of the establishment clause and tying it to a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, incidentally Thomas Jefferson, though he was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence, was neither a writer nor signer of the Constitution of the United States. This idea, that gained precedence in the twentieth century, had never been applied prior to Supreme Court Case of Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 which transformed the American Landscape, the only other time it was attempted to be applied was in 1879 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to allow for their religious practice of polygamy at the time but it was soundly rejected and the United States ban of polygamy was upheld. Ultimately, the purpose of Jefferson’s letter was not to prevent the faith from influencing the governance of our nation but to prevent the government from being able to dictate the worship of the religious bodies and the persons of the United States, i.e. the government cannot dictate what we are to believe or not to believe. Insofar as the ideas being shared can help the general welfare of all in the community the government may not intercede, i.e. prayer and public proclamation are not to be hindered unless they are calling for harm against another. So, if a people of any faith desire to assemble in public spaces to pray and openly share faith it is acceptable, but if a group uses the public space to attack another group or call for violence the line is then crossed and it is not protected. Now, as the Church, we are to help in protecting that reality and, it can be argued, that the majority of faithful, bible-believing Christians would agree that our faith should not call for acts of violence or harm to come to others with whom we disagree. I will, however, note that the term “violence” in our modern discourse has been redefined in such a way that its use can be bent in such a way that there are those that define “violence” as any language which is contrary to defined set of parameters established by said group which is far from objective. For sake of argument I will go to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition definition which states,
vi•o•lence \ˈverb intransitivē-lən(t)s, ˈvī-ə-\ nounMerriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
1 a: exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse (as in warfare effecting illegal entry into a house)
b: an instance of violent treatment or procedure
2: injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation: OUTRAGE
3 a: intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force 〈the violence of the storm〉
b: vehement feeling or expression: FERVOR also: an instance of such action or feeling
c: a clashing or jarring quality: DISCORDANCE
4: undue alteration (as of wording or sense in editing a text)
The second definition on this is often what is utilized, however, the proof of this needed to be defined by the purpose of a statement and the burden of proof at one time fell on the one who felt offense (which was at one time a high bar to prove, i.e. was the intention of the statement meant to cause another to feel less than). Now to not step into the weeds and head further down a rabbit hole, I wish to lead us down the path of determining how we, as the Christian Church, can seek to reclaim our place into center of our communities and cities.
As a pastor, this begins by raising up leaders within our faith communities that will seek to be a source of light in our cities, towns, and communities. Actively, teaching our leaders to be open about their faith, but also seeking to be a positive influence in how things are done. This is different from the social activism that we see so prevalent in our current situation which often has little to do with Christ or the Cross but more about modern social justice that is centered in a social gospel that has more in line with Marxist ideals than those of Christ and the Bible. Social justice is not the same as the biblical ideals of justice that we find within the Scripture. We, also, need to be wary of Nationalism that can be masked as upholding Christian ideals. The balance is a difficulty one. Christianity is not an American idea, though American ideals on which are nation was founded are centered in Christian thought, there is a difference. Our calling, as Christians, is to influence the leaders of every place we find ourselves to lead with Christ and his principles. The faith we hold is not nationalistic in any way shape or form. Ultimately, our faith is meant to transcend borders. Yet, our faith is a faith that is also meant to shape how we desire to be governed. With that being said, our faith is meant to influence our leadership not the other way around. It is a careful balance to keep as to insure not to be corrupted by power, which has happened in the past with things like the Spanish Inquisition and the like. The reality of the goal of the Church to regain central importance is not about power and control, but to be a positive influence in the lives of all more akin to how the Early Church rose in the world. At the time of the Council of Nicaea the great fight between Athanasius and his followers and Arius and his followers which is known as the Arian Controversy was settled. Arius did not believe that Jesus was God because he felt that was contrary to monotheism and he struggled with the Trinitarian formula. This led to the formation of the Nicaean Creed which declared that the Father and Son were of the same substance. Arius was declared a heretic, but this declaration did not put him at risk for his life just his teachings were rejected. That was the way of the Early Church and how disputes of doctrine were resolved. The act of taking the life of Heretics was a later practice as Christendom became more established and the idea of power was developed. That is the power that we should be careful of obtaining as it may be a great corrupting force like what we found at the time of the Reformation.
The goal of being the center of our Town, Cities, and Communities is to be a positive influence in the lives of everyone, but never hiding the faith we hold. Not demanding that all believe, but still not affirming faiths that are not Christian. We are meant to affirm Christ and Christ Alone without hesitation. To declare that outside of Christ there is no salvation is not a judgment but a reality that drives us to share the faith with others and no Christian desires the damnation of anyone. As faithful followers of Christ, our desire is not to hasten the demise of anyone that is outside of the Christian faith but to proclaim it until they breathe their last. Our hope is not and should not be for the death of anyone. As followers of Christ, our prayer and our hope is for all who we meet to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to trust in the Word of God and be given faith and to enter the waters of Baptism that they may enter into our Lord’s eternal glory. With the Church in the center of society we seek to be a voice that leads to the light and love of Jesus Christ and away from all things that lead to darkness and death. Through the majority of Christian history the advent of the Christian faith into non-Christian areas has been a blessing for families and wives in particular because their status was elevated and the abuses that they had known before were lessened.
As we reclaim the center of our towns, cities, and communities, we are given an opportunity to support and develop strong families. Help create a clean, safe environment for our children and uplift positive values. Strong families are a central tenet of the Christian faith. Whatever we can do to help promote that within our communities and the more we can do that will allow for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the better. We are called to pray for our leaders and also seek to raise up faithful leaders. As we are faithful to this calling the better our influence will be and the Church will once again be the center of life in our communities.