We are on the road in Holland, Michigan. This is church country.
Holland is a pretty and very upmarket tourist community with heated sidewalks to ward off the winter snow, and open gas fireplaces on the street to counter the chill wind. You can buy Christian-themed merchandise in almost every shop. Plaques and mugs are only the beginning. We even saw a plaque with a quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism. The window of the ladies’ wear store was festooned with verses between the dresses. “Fearfully and wonderfully made” was one of them. The toy shop had childrens’ devotionals. And the conversation was similar. In the art store, both conversations we overheard were on local church topics. We did not visit the craft brewery to see whether there were Bible verses on the beer mugs, but being Reformed country, it is possible there were.
I agree with Abraham Kuyper’s famous comment that Christ lays claim to every square inch of ground on this earth, though I am not sure he was referring to Bible verses on every coffee mug.
There is something comforting about being surrounded by evidences of Christian faith. It’s certainly a lot preferable to living in North Korea, where the whole country is plastered with quotations from the local dictator and his murderous family.
But the thing that bothers me is how do we make sure real Christianity is surviving in a culture where it is so easy to be a Christian? Christianity is at its best when it is counter-cultural. It has always been that way. Jesus was not at home either in the Sanhedrin or in Pilate’s hall. When Christianity is at ease in the culture, it is usually the culture that begins to take over.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is that when there are so many outward signs of Christian faith, we lower our guard in the areas where that faith really matters. We become complacent. We lose our edge. When divorce rates, addictions and other dysfunctions in church communities aren’t much different from the world around us, that’s the sign our Christianity has gone superficial and is about to disappear.
And maybe that’s what happened to another church we should all know about. They thought they were rich and prosperous in every possible way, but Jesus warned them he was about to spit them out of his mouth. Why? Because they had become neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.
Peter put it this way. On earth we are sojourners — resident aliens. Our citizenship is in heaven. It’s great to have Bible verses on our mugs, but do we still have the willingness to carry the cross, no matter what the cost?
In the days of Woodstock a half century ago, disillusionment with church was just as great as with every other social institution. And then along came the Jesus movement. It operated outside the walls of church and was just as counter-cultural as Woodstock, but in a right way. And millions who would never have darkened the door of a church building were swept into the kingdom. You are always affected by the spiritual atmosphere you were born again into, and that has left in me a lasting and lifelong desire to follow the one who closed down the religious establishment and died outside the city gates.
Living in a free nation where it is easy in one sense to be a Christian means living in a nation where it is free to be anything else, and free even to mingle your Christianity with what goes on around you. And that will prove as ruinous to your faith as persecution. And maybe more so, because you won’t see it coming.
But I admit, it’s still nice to have childrens’ devotionals on sale in the local toy store.
And there is a church here which I think is getting it right on church and culture.... the point church.com.
There's always hope.
Photo from BazookaJoe at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons