WHAT CAUSES THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO GROW?
REV. PHILIP MEYER, PASTOR EMERITUS
14 May 2021
A recent article [May 2021] in an academic journal, Sociology of Religion, analyzed 166 nations over a ten year period and reported “that the most important determinant of Christian vitality is the extent to which governments give official support to Christianity through their laws and policies.” However, in what seems contradictory, it also maintains, “As governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly.”
The study concludes that Christianity grows faster in nations with religious pluralism and “in countries that actively discriminate against the Christian faith.” The ten fastest growing Christian populations are in Africa. The African continent is also the place were persecution and martyrdom of Christians is the greatest.
Most Christians are disturbed about the decline of Christianity nationwide. Less than 50% of our nation are Christian. The secularization of the United States cannot be doubted. That fact is obvious to most of us. Yet, having the Church and State in a marriage of convenience is not desirable. This article’s author, Cameron Hilditch, further states, “The small group of reactionary academics warming their hands around the fires of Catholic integrals, for instance, argue that the failure to marry the power of the church with the power of the state is, in fact, the main cause of the decline.”
That’s an unwarranted conclusion. As I survey the places in the world where governments have supported state churches, such as Germany and other European nations, there is decline. These ten nations listed have moderate to high official support for Christianity. In most of these nations Christianity is nearly the same as one’s national identity, as in the Orthodox communions of Russia, Serbia, and Romania.
When the church and state are joined in any way, Christianity always loses. People fall away from the Church. Christian sanctuaries are pretty much emptying Europe as anyone who has traveled to these European nations can tell you. The state comes to dominate what is taught and proclaimed in the churches. I remember when we led a tour to German, Austria, and Switzerland in 1990 that we attended a service in Worms [pronounced Vormss], and the pastor preached a sermon about government taxation and social programs. Not a word about Christ crucified and risen again! I was glad that I was the only one in our tour group who understood German! Even though the sanctuary had Luther’s Small Catechism in stone [!] on the walls, virtually nothing of the Gospel was spoken. I understand why Germans don’t attend Divine Service when no Gospel is proclaimed.
You’ve heard me cite Hermann Sasse numerous times on the fact that the “lie is the death of man” and of high cultures. It bears repeating often as it infects our nation as well. When the pure Word of God is not proclaimed but is manipulated by the state, there Satan is at work. False doctrine kills souls faster than bullets or bombs.
The ancient Christians had a saying which should be in the forefront of our thinking: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” It can be observed in every era that when Christians are persecuted for their faith and die for it, the Church grows! If we wish to see the Church grow we need to stand up squarely against those who would silence Her. We should not back down for fear of being “canceled,” as our culture loves to do. We must be bold and courageous and proclaim Christ to our fellow citizens, both privately and publicly. Without question we will earn the world’s scorn and hatred, but that is exactly what our Lord said would happen to faithful Christians.
Hilditch concluded by quoting Dostoevsky, whom he called “the greatest of all Christian writers,” a conclusion I would certainly debate, but it’s worth repeating. He lamented “the kind Christian who ‘has fallen for Satan’s third temptation,’ embracing the idea ‘that Christ cannot reign without an earthly kingdom.’ All earthly states are, ultimately, destined to sink beneath the sands of time. Churches that anchor themselves to these states for salvation and survival are sure to sink along with them.”
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand / Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land; / Bells sill are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest, / But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.
Grant, then, O God, Your will be done, / That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come / Where Christ His message is bringing:
“I know My own; My own know Me. / You, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you. Amen. [LSB 645, st. 1,6]