Finally, someone has dared to say it in public.

The words were boldly launched on FaceBook in response to an article comparing the perceived demise of the church to the collapse of the Eastman Kodak Comapny.

The Kodak article suggested that, if the church is going to thrive in the future, it must embrace the need for radical change. In response Bruce Bryant-Scott offered a truly “radical” comment:

Bruce Bryant-Scott I guess radical for me means “rooted.” Any solution has to be rooted in the preaching and life of Christ (understood as both an objective and subjective genitive, for you grammar nerds). The problem I have with “radical orthodoxy” is that it isn’t all that radical or rooted in Christ – it’s a post-imperialistic attempt using post-modern language to reclaim Christendom. Fresh Expressions is a little more radical, but it does not call into question the socio-economic culture it finds itself in, but seems to leave people where they are. Finally, is it OK for the church to be a faithful remnant, challenging its culture, and calling all of God’s people to humility and sacrifice? Or is the point of the “Kodak moment” that, since we’ve evidently lost market share, we need to go to any lengths to get it back? If we see “Kodak” as “Christendom,” might it not be a good thing that we’ve moved on? {End rant}

I remember some years ago being part of a clergy discussion in which “remnant theology” was dismissed as “a cop-out”. I am not so sure.

The Kodak article is absolutely right, the world has changed around us in ways that are almost unfathomable. In the face of the kind of changes taking place in our culture, it is tempting to try to erect barricades to preserve whatever little vestiges of the glorious past we might be able to salvage from the ruins.

But, perhaps a smaller church is not the greatest tragedy to befall Christian faith.

For the first 300 years of its existence, Christianity held an abysmally small market share in the spiritual market place. Then the Roman emperor took on at least the trappings of Christian faith. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be identified as a follower of Jesus. The church experienced explosive growth.

Today the emperor generally no longer even pretends to be Christian. We may only now be starting to discover what it means for the emperor to have abandoned Christian faith.

The real changes that are part of the cultural reality in which church must operate today make it unlikely church will be generally or even marginally popular. The dominant characteristics of our current culture are in such dramatic contradiction to the Gospel, that the message of Jesus is by necessity going to be relegated to the margins of society.

Is it possible that a post-Christendom culture may offer the Christian church the opportunity to more closely embody the message of Jesus?

Vasily Grossman in his stinging indictment of the Christian church in his 1960 novel, Life And Fate writes,

Kindness is powerful only while it is powerless. If Man tries to give it power, it dims, fades away, loses itself, vanishes. 393

The same is true for the Gospel of Jesus. The church has never been able to survive authentically when it is welcome in the mainstream of any society. Christianity and earthly power and glamour cannot coexist.

Who needs faith when our churches are financially secure, pews are full, Christian ministry is a glamorous respected profession, and attending church is a strategy for social advancement?

The church is called to embody the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the way of risky, unattractive, powerless faithfulness. The Gospel will never be generally embraced in a culture that worships at the altar of conspicuous consumption, aggressive self-serving power, and the elaborate trappings of prestige. This is not a fact to lament.

Like Paul we should rejoice in our weakness.

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

The only achievement to which the church rightly aspires is staying faithful, following Jesus to the cross, and choosing the hard way of dying to the superficial trappings of “success” that are so valued by the world.