Modernity is both an enemy as well as an ally of the Church. I would say that it is first the enemy, though, since Christianity is an ancient faith ruled by an ancient way of life (succession of authority – Scriptures/Church), where as modernity is the very progression of society apart from spirituality.
How is modernity the enemy of the Church? Well, this is a great question and deserves at least an entire 200 page book, but in a nutshell modernity throughout history has not ceased to knock and even ram on the doors of the Church’s ceremony, her liturgy. This is how the Church is captured, first by its liturgy, hence the popular Latin phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”). The way we worship dictates the way we think on theological terms. If the worship changes, so will the overall culture of the Church. The Jews have been aware of breaching of modernity into the Covenant since the very establishment of Israel.
The liturgy has a doctrinal foundation that simply cannot be broken, although it can certainly be exemplified and exalted. If modernity can help exemplify and exalt the foundation of liturgy then it has done well for the Church. This it has done over the centuries within the Orthodox Church. Some of course would argue that modernity has done well for other faiths as well, but I would have to firmly disagree with that. The Orthodox Church has taken the theology and worship of the early fathers and has magnified it through modernity by giving to it rather than taking from it like many other modern traditions have done and continue to do: disregard the ancient for the modern. I intend to argue this subject in a very robust manner in the future.
One other way that modernity has breached the Church is through community development. This is an extreme problem in America. Our communities are not developed around the Church like they have traditionally been done in Europe and Asia, but they are developed around other institutions such as freeways, secular schools for children and shopping malls. It’s a global economy now, and since the government, transportation industry and retail industry continue to grow, the “communal” aspect of the Church continues to shrink.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the Church was the very hub of the community. The houses were built around the churches. If you were sick you went to the Church to be prayed for and maybe even cared for (you have seen the few Catholic and Presbyterian hospitals left I’m sure). If you needed help financially you went to the Church to be helped. If you wanted to be educated you went to the Church or one of their schools. Nearly everything revolved around the Church (within countries that had that opportunity).
Modern industry has, in the last 75 years or so, far surpassed the abilities of the Church. A Church cannot possibly maintain its call to do what Christ has first called us to do without global industry taking that call from us and capitalizing on it, turning it into big business and secular “non-profit” businesses. In some sense, the ministry of the Church has been stolen from us. One could argue that the Church could not possibly have kept up with globalization since globalization seems to be the very philosophy of the non-believer. They are willing to pour money into it at a much faster rate than we can possibly even think of. It has dominated us, no doubt!
One of my favorite quotes is from T.S. Eliot:
The Universal Church is today, it seems to me, more definitely set against the World than at any time since Pagan Rome. I do not mean that our times are particularly corrupt; all times are corrupt. In spite of certain local appearances, Christianity is not and cannot be within measurable time, ‘official’. The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.
— T. S. Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)
As Eliot implies in the quote above, today’s culture is striving toward more of what Rome was after: an agnostic type of state religion that retains a relativistic sense of morality for the sake of material gain. It will fail, as he says, but we who are already advancing the kingdom of God within the areas of culture that we are able will be there (or our kin will be) to receive this blessed window of opportunity. There is really no more that we can do! Or is there?
There are indeed modern ways of conquering at least part of this problem. The other day a friend and I were talking about this and decided to begin implementing a non-profit ministry that will mobilize organizations, churches, and individuals to begin to conquer the social needs of their communities. Stay tuned for this! We have partnered with a fantastic software builder that is going to help us get this done.
Agnostics, Atheists, and Secularists (those who want to abandon and hand over the call of the Church) can only do what we do in part. They can give care to people physically, but they cannot heal them spiritually. And unfortunately, much of the Church today does not understand that the way to a man’s heart is his belly! In other words, these ministries that I have been referring to that have been stolen from us are direct avenues into the heart of the people. It’s evangelism as Christ commanded us. Mercy ministries such as caring for the sick, the poor, the broken, etc., place us in a relational context with the individual. Relational evangelism is what we are called to do, not tent revivals and crusades with microphones. Broken people want relationships, not rallies.
One of my favorite saints is St. John Chrysostom. His writings are so entirely convicting in regards to how the Church is to relate to society, that one can hardly wonder how we continue to call ourselves the Church. He has one quote that I will cease to publish here due to its provocative tone that mentions how we could have great revival through the means of mercy ministry and communal effort. Can it be done? Can we all unite under the call of mercy ministry and triumph over corporate America and the government cult? We can, I think, but it will take some very loud voices. Perhaps at least one of those voices will read this article and be inspired to begin a call for us all to repent and take upon us the ministry that we once ran with.