The Son of God once stood atop an unfathomably immense mountain, and looked down upon all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
With Him on that high place was the devil. To Christ, he said, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
But Christ rejected the devil’s offer, exclaiming, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"
And the devil vanished.
The Crumbling Church
2016 has been one of the worst years for the Evangelical Church in many, many years.
The Christian story has always been about movement, about abandoning broken, manmade religious systems and embracing lifestyles that better reflect the true nature of God.
In 2016, the church moved again.
For the past decade, the fate of the American Evangelical church has looked grim. We’ve all seen the statistics. In 2007, 36.6 million American adults were religiously unaffiliated. In 2014, that number rose to 55.8 million.
The numbers don’t lie. The Christian Evangelical Church, in particular, is crumbling.
Distrust of the organized religion of the Evangelical Church is at an all-time high. Let’s look at a few of the reasons, according to a Pew Research Center study.
“Too many Christians doing un-Christian things.”
“I see organized religious groups as more divisive than uniting.”
“Because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business…it’s all about money.”
“I’m doing a lot more learning, studying, and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else.”
These quotes tell a story—a story that looks remarkably like the above tale of Satan’s temptation of Christ.
In 2016, that story was reenacted when presidential candidate Donald Trump took Evangelicals to the top of the metaphorical mountain, and promised them America and all its glory, if they but fall down and endorse him as their candidate.
And fall down they did. Many of the Evangelical leaders who, in the view of the public, represent their brand of Christianity, endorsed Trump, giving him their votes and helping to propel him to overwhelming, unexpected success.
But when Evangelicals united with Trump, they united with Trump’s brand—a name tainted by many of the same accusations that the church has been condemned for, such as the mistreatment of women and minorities, financial immorality, and arrogance.
This was the proverbial straw.
In the eyes of the world, the same church that preached against immorality, that postured and lectured about holiness and piety, united with an immoral man who promised them power.
In doing so, they lost the moral credibility that once attracted so many churchgoers, initiating a fall from which they cannot recover.
Despite all this, 2016 has been one of the best years for Christianity in many, many years.
The less savory elements of the Evangelical Church have been exposed for all to see, placed beneath the magnifying glass that only a large event—like a presidential election—can provide.
In Matthew 23, Jesus confronts the Pharisees on issues of hypocrisy and legalism, saying of them that, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”
It isn’t Christianity that’s breaking. This isn’t even truly about Evangelical Christianity.
This has been the year that has seen organized religion struck down—just as it was struck down by the divine hand of Jesus Christ in Matthew 23.
And out of the ashes of manmade tradition will rise the Christianity that Christ established over 2,000 years ago—a Christianity that looks far different than the church we see today, that is focused not only on God’s justice, but His love.
While statistics may show a decline in church participation, what they do not show is that young Americans, while moving away from organized religion, are moving toward, as author Brian Mclaren calls it, “organizing religion”. They’re moving toward a Christianity that engages in activism, that heals the world, that isn’t defined by lists of manmade tenets and presuppositions, but rather by lives defined by Godliness, and by intelligent, nuanced interpretation of scripture.
In essence, Christianity is becoming more Christian.
A Future Marked by Authenticity
2016 has been the year that Evangelicals learned to move again, loosening joints stiffened through centuries of disuse. The ensuing years will, quite likely, be marked by a movement toward authenticity in the Evangelical Church, and a cutting away of manmade fluff.
It will also be marked by the quest for authentic knowledge as new Christians delve into the Bible in search of the real answers, taking into account the difficulties of Biblical interpretation, and the invalidity of cherry-picking scripture to suit political or personal goals like never before.
In doing so, the church will remind the world of the true potential of Christianity, reaching out in love to people of all races and genders without compromising what it holds as truth, acting as God’s ambassadors on earth.
The Evangelical Christian Church, made nimble by its brokenness, will be right there on the forefront of this change.