In the course of writing and editing for 88 months/issues of Church Executive, and as I write my last editor’s letter, there are a couple of themes that remain heavy on my heart for the church, both issues summed up in related books, one of them released 13 years ago, and the other just published.
In 2000, Arnold L. Cook wrote in Historical Drift: Must My Church Die? that “throughout history, vision dims, core values shift and passion fades in organizations.” Cook is of the opinion that all Christian organizations should be scrapped every 100 years and started over, except, he says, for the women’s missionary prayer circle.
Historical drift is “the tendency of churches to move away from their original moorings over time.” He places the blame not on the organizations but on their leaders: “Whether a Christian organization thrives or dies depends on the caliber of its leaders.”
Cook’s concern is deeper and wider than we can discuss here, and he discusses in four chapters spiritual revival, in what he calls “historical drift reversed.” He wrote me, “At the root of ‘historical drift’ in denominations and Christian movements is the subtle and not so subtle compromises of Biblical authority, theology and church doctrines and discipline.”
While my focus over the years has been on larger and megachurches, I’ve witnessed the decline of denominations and churches of all sizes in the country, and for most I see no way out of it – other than revival.
In the larger arena, my heart breaks for the persecuted church, described in wrenching detail, country by country, in the 2012 book, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, written by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea, all engaged with the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute.
The authors say that “an underreported fact” is that “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today.” They explain: “What we mean by the word persecution in this book is that these are Christians in the countries of focus who are tortured, raped, imprisoned, or killed for their faith. Their churches may also be attacked or destroyed. Their entire communities may be crushed by a variety of deliberately targeted measures that may or may not entail violence.”
In excruciating detail, through 400 pages about 42 countries, the terrors of living the Christian life in an unforgiving environment are shared, and I am sure the worse of their travails are left out.
But aside from what the Hudson Institute, Open Doors, and the Voice of the Martyrs are doing, who we might call parachurch groups, how are congregations helping to illuminate the concerns and comfort fellow Christians so terribly afflicted? When they and their families face death for their faith, do they cry out, “I repent of my Christian faith.” No, they cry out to their God and seek his grace and mercy. Would we do the same if similarly challenged in our faith?
The authors write: “In the face of our changing and increasingly dangerous world, we are called to help bear the burden of those who are carrying the cross in ways we can hardly imagine.”
Drift from historical and biblical foundations, persecution of the church worldwide — these are tasks that pull us to discipleship here and now.
Here’s praying for revival of hearts and thanking God for seven solid years of growing with you.