We Must Go Back to the Covenant
- But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. (Matthew 15:12)
Is there any connection with the events of the last several years and the decline in Christianity? If so, what explains the decline of the American Church? Low attendance after the COVID lockdowns? Fewer new church plants? Fewer baptisms and fewer conversions? How about the loss of The Church’s cultural influence?
Of these reasons—and there are others to be sure—we will focus on the last question: the erosion of our cultural influence.
But first, let’s consider some necessary background to understand what influence the Church once enjoyed, beginning with an important and influential earthly king.
King James, known officially as King James I of England and King James V of Scotland, is well famous for the Bible that bears his name—and appropriately so out of respect for his patronage. It was the work of some 54 scholars James had personally approved in 1604 for translating a new Bible. Seven years went into the work by the time it was first published in 1611. Incorporating rigorous attention to authenticity in rendering the original texts into English, it was also the first Bible to use the vulgar forms of proper names so that the work would be widely appreciated. It was a good choice to make as this Bible has been the most widely used and quoted in modern history.
But King James is credited for something else that we might appreciate as well: The Virginia Company. It began as a joint-stock company chartered by James in 1606 to establish a colony in North America. Such a venture would allow the Crown to reap the benefits of colonization—natural resources, new markets for English goods, leverage against the Spanish—all without bearing the costs. In 1607, a few weeks before settling in what became Jamestown, 105 settlers, many of them devout Christians, along with 45 seaman, dropped anchor and came ashore at Cape Henry. There they raised the large wooden cross that they brought with them from London before shoving off from the River Thames. Once on land, they made a covenant before God led by Rev. Robert Hunt, who declared, “…From these very shores the Gospel shall go forth to not only this New World but the entire world.”
It was an inauspicious start perhaps, that helped in founding the greatest nation on earth.
From King James, to the Virginia Company, to the Virginia General Assembly—the oldest current law-making body in America, and onto today—God’s blessing was firmly on this venture for a divine purpose the whole time. Which brings us to…
The American Church
What defines, if anything, the American Church? It would be these churches have the commonality of being churches in America, and not a whole lot more. Any institution, because it resides in America, enjoys enormous cachet. The American church is a synecdoche if you will in identifying Christian congregations—the local churches, as they exist in America. By definition, the American church is any church that assembles regularly for the worship, prayer and celebration, teaching, and for equipping the saints as a body of believers in Jesus Christ.
At the present, the number of extant churches in America numbers around 380,000. But it should be painfully noted that, given all the evidence now in, the number of Christians, or people who identify as Christians, is dwindling in America, and is expected to represent not much more than 35% of the population by 2070.
To consider what significance that number, compare this to the number of people who identified as Christians in 1970: 90%. Say what you will about statistics, that seems like quite a drop among people who are to be advancing the Kingdom of Christ in just 100 years.
It should also be pointed out that among secularists and their media outlets, such statistics are getting a lot of attention and analysis. For them, the outcome may well be welcome news. Yes, I know I’m coming across as sarcastic, but If I were a secularist, such statistics would seem vindicating. But let’s be honest. These numbers are already eclipsed by similar reports all over the world, particularly in Western Europe.
According to Wikipedia, “In 2014, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams stated that the UK had become a ‘Post-Christian country.’ That same year, only 4.3% of the population participated in a Church of England, Christmas service. Nevertheless, around 60% of all respondents still identified as Christians in the 2011 Census.”
Regardless, these figures fail to account for the reality of the situation; which is to say that whatever statistics, polls, surveys, and computer modeling we study, they can’t take into account what the main thing: The Body of Christ, and the advancing of His Kingdom. God, you see, has a way of surprising all of us who rely on inevitability.
True Christians—and this is term I don’t give lightly—need not take great concern about the future, because the future, as well we should know by now, is firmly in God’s hands. And this brings us to the place of where we are in the great historical plain. To be blunt, we are living in the last days.
Yes, that is a polarizing statement, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Here is what local pastor, Bible student, and blogger, Jeffrey Curtis Poor (pictured) has this to say about it: “The phrase, ‘In the last days’ only appears in the Bible [six] times. That might be surprising considering how much it’s talked about. But maybe more surprising is that this phrase is not found in [the book of] Revelation.”
Upon examination of these six passages, we will find no mention of thousand-year reign in the far future, only that, as Poor reminds us, “The Bible defines the last days as the time between the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ.”
Poor’s interpretation can only mean one thing about the last days: we’re in them.
This is an important, though controversial point to be sure, that if we are living in the last days, Christ will return soon—at any time. So, what are we to be accomplishing with our church activities? It ought be a question that pierces our hearts if we hold to the notion that Jesus commissioned us to be disciples, and makers of disciples, up until the day that He returns. I will confess—save for just the last few years, I did not give this question the attention it so desperately deserves.
People whom we could call our ancestors risked their lives and their fortunes so that they might make a covenant before God, at the foot of His cross, to dedicate this new land to the furtherance of the Gospel. It started out rough—the move to Jamestown ended tragically for many of the new settlers. It was a painful struggle. But, the rewards of God’s blessings have, until now, been manifestly evident…
You see, covenants should be a big deal for us, because they’re a really big deal for God. Where and when did we lose the plot?
- Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)