It is argued that in the West we now live in a post-Christian age (e.g. see here, here, and here) I accept that as true if you consider post-Christian as the loss of Christian centrality in a once Christian culture (Western Civilization has been considered fundamentally Christian), even though other cultures still see the West as Christian (e.g. Islam). One way of looking at it is the Church historically provided a protective wallmorally, ethically, sociologically, as well as religiouslyaround the West. That wall has now been broken down so that in most places in our culture barely a stone sits upon another stone.
That doesn’t mean all of the protective walls have disappeared. Especially since the Reformation, individual religious distinctives, whether denominations (Anglican. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God) or larger movements (Anabaptist, Pentecostal) have constructed their own walls around themselves, a sort of redoubt within the larger culture. Initially these were setup to protect those inside from the predations of other Christian groups. Those divisions did not seem critical when the whole of Western Civilization was surrounded by the larger Christian wall. However, as Christianity and religious belief itself was attacked by the growing forces of secular humanism, those Balkanizations prevented a unified defense and often even individual defensive efforts were undercut by sectarian squabbling.
Now, as the former wall is almost non-existent, only the smaller redoubts remain. Christian Western Civilization has become Secular Humanist Western Civilization populated with what are almost feudal Christian kingdoms, distrustful of anyone outside their walls, and especially distrustful of the other kingdoms. With this in mind I have two concerns that I want to throw open for dialog.
1. Is it possible to have rapprochement between these kingdoms (ecumenism) without losing even these protective walls to secular breeching? And, even if compacts are formed, how can the two sets of walls be extended to encompass everyone involved?
2. Is it even possible to restore the Christian wall around Western culture or is that a lost cause? Can all we do is enlarge the walls around our current redoubts and hope to protect as many people as possible for as long as possible?
This way of looking at our Church and our culture all started in response to the sermon I heard on Sunday from my friend Martin Eppard on Nehemiah and his success at rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem. Nehemiah has always been one of my favorite OT characters and I have studied and taught the book that bears his name many times. One of the principal lessons from Nehemiah is the importance of defensive walls and during those studies we have always looked at families and the role of parents in building protective walls around their marriage, their children, and their family as a whole.
From that example we can easily understand the need for walls around the Church and its people. We can also see how we got into our current situation. The question, as I noted, is what can we do, if anything, about our destroyed walls?
If you look at some of the largest movements in the contemporary Church, such as the non-church Church, by which I mean those meeting in houses and eschewing the common trapping of buildings and other outward signs of congregations, their walls seem particularly small and at times almost individual. However, if you believe the reports, they make up the majority of current Christians worldwide. Does that mean the walls as we have traditionally understood them are not essential?
Do you see where I am headed? For over fifteen centuries, since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire early in the fourth century, Christianity defined and hedged in Western Civilization; it was a protective wall to its core understanding of itself. That is no longer true. It will probably never be true again, barring one of the greatest miracles in the history of miracles.
With that in mind, to use a phrase from Francis Schaffer, how then should we live? What is the lesson of Nehemiah for us today? What should we learn from the Balkinization begun first by the split between the Eastern and Western Church, which facilitated the rise of Islam, and the further divisions brought on by the Reformation, which facilitated the rise of secular humanism? What walls can we build or rebuild? Where can we build them? Should we even expend any energy at all trying to repair old walls or build new walls? Not easy questions to answer.