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Five Major Challenges Facing the Church

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"Faith is not just a beautiful adornment added to our lives; it encompasses our entire lives. Truth is not a set of ideas or theories, but personal realities for which one can live and die." This article presents a detailed analysis of the challenges facing the church in todays society. It was originally posted on the Sina blog of Xing Pinghuang, and later re-posted on the Gospel Times website.

Throughout the nearly two thousand years since its establishment, the church has faced a vast array of countless challenges. But in the wake of such trials, the churchs proclamation of the gospel is shown to be all the more reliable and true. Humanity has recently entered the post-modern era, and the church thus faces new challenges. It is necessary for workers within the church to give thought and attention to these challenges as well as how they should be dealt with. In his sermon, a preacher summarized five challenges facing the church today. I believe that his assessment demonstrates great foresight and taps into the pulse of this age / captures the tenor of the time. I would like to share some of my understanding and analysis.

The first challenge: declaring truth to be relative.

One of the earmarks of the post-modern age is the sabotage of absolute truth and the deconstruction of all things, the belief that nothing is absolute save relativity itself / save the fact that all things are relative. It is not difficult to see the logical contradiction inherent in such deconstructionism. Humanity needs absolute truth. Because of this need, they declare truth to be relative and overturn its sovereignty in order to establish their own. They find the claims of Christianity unacceptable including statements such as salvation is found in no one else and Jesus' own words that "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." They conclude that Christianity is an expression of self-proclaimed bigotry and dismiss the religion entirely. This is, to no surprise, a product of post-modernism.

What post-modernists can and do accept, however, is the belief that all religions are one, that all roads lead to Rome, that every religion contains and represents truth. In laymen's terms, they do not talk about who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, or who's right and who's wrong. They believe that there is no better or best. After all, everything is good and right to begin with. So long as one exercises sincerity in one's belief, everyone will reach the other side be it eternal life, heaven, the Celestial City, or Nirvana for they're all one and the same. The dilution and blurring of absolute truth has created a major challenge for the church's proclamation of truth.

The second challenge: the personalization of morals.

Error in the area of truth will always show up in the area of morality. In the post-modern era, many reject a universal system of values with the claim that there is no standard view of morality that is, you have your morals, and I have mine. Every individual needs only to rely on his or her own conscience. You have your conscience, and I have mine. You have your moral standards, and I have mine. You have your moral baseline, and I have mine. Do not impose upon me your moral requirements, and I will not impose mine upon you. This, they believe, is mutual respect and personal freedom.

But does not the very word conscience (Chinese: Heaven Goodness) indicate that it is sourced not in the individual but is rather a kind of knowledge (science) associated with Heaven and sourced in God? God created every nation of mankind to cover all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26), and he has called every nation and people on the earth to walk according to the conscience he gave them. Thus there are convictions regarding values and morals which are universally shared. The personalization of morals overlooks one's innate knowledge of morality, serving only to bring self-respect and self-love but failing to consider others. It encourages individuals to seek whatever their hearts should fancy. As the Scripture says, "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

The third challenge: the privatization of belief.

There is privacy in belief. In China, the constitution guarantees the right of every individual to have freedom of religion. You can believe whatever you want, whenever you want, and no one can interfere. Belief deals with the arena of subjective thought and is by nature free and unfettered. But the so-called privatization of belief says that your belief must stay put in your heart; it must not show up in the home, workplace, neighborhood, or internet, etc. It says that you must not use your beliefs to express your mind, much less use your religious standards to cast moral judgment on social phenomena. Contradicting religious freedom and inhibiting the free expression thereof, this kind of privatization is, in actuality, a violation of the constitution.

The fourth challenge: the consumption of religion.

One of the patent characteristics of post-modernity is a consumer culture. Everything is consumed and consumable, whether it is sacred or secular. (Of course, the first thing post-modernism does is to do away with the sacred by undercutting it and bringing it down to earth.) I consume, therefore I am. The value of all things, people included, is validated only when consumed. The Christian religion is no exception. Church attendees seek to use all that the church offers in order to satisfy their own wants and needs. Everything is liable to be taken advantage of, whether its the preacher, the choir, the deacons, or even God himself. It is akin to being a church consumer: if the church doesnt satisfy ones appetite or meet ones goal, the consumer utters complaint, casts blame, and finds a new place to go shopping. Such a person has no intention to serve and no sense of commitment. This is one of the formidable challenges facing the church.

The fifth challenge: the secularization of life.

The Bible speaks to this post-modern age full of material and personal desire: "Men will be lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God" (2 Tim 3:4). One must not underestimate the influence of the secular zeitgeist on the church. Many in the church feel that the Bible's teaching is impractical and inapplicable, and that the way of the Lord and the way of the world are poles apart. They feel not that the Lord's way is simply hard, but impossible! Without the heart to serve and the resolve to follow in the way of the cross, how can one escape being secularized? Many go so far as to cut corners in church matters and do business according to secular principles. They don't talk about consecrating (setting apart) things to God, much less entrusting themselves to God in faith. Too many Christians come to church merely to assuage their consciences for things said and done outside of church. They listen to the Biblical message preached from the pulpit, but lack both the heart and power to apply the truth to their lives. Their faith has no substance; it exists only in their heads, not their hearts. In society, churchgoers live according to its secular ways and set the sacred on the backburner. They are thus assimilated into society. Where is the witness of light and salt to be seen?

What is belief? It's not fodder for leisurely small talk. It's not about pretty dressing and flowery adornment. And it's certainly not a good-looking vase to be shown off. Faith, rather, requires one's life to seek and embrace and witness. What is truth? It is not a set of ideas or theories just to chat or think about. Truth, rather, is a personal reality for which one can live and die. What is the church? It is not a lamp under a basket, but a light on a stand, a city on a hilltop (Matt 5:14-15). It is not society that leads the church; it is the church that teaches society (Matt 28:20). At various times and amid various challenges, the church must adhere to the truth originally received from her Lord. She must preach it without compromise and uphold it with firm resolve. Responding to challenges and solidifying the faith, the church will move forward through the wind and waves, and the truth will be purified as through a refiners fire.

Image credit: Church, by Peiyu Liu, via Flickr

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