Even though the church, that body consisting of genuinely born-again people, only comprise a small minority in most societies, it possesses vastly disproportionate power. This truth is conveyed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount where he refers to the church as salt and light.
Just as salt functions as a preservative for meat, so the Lord has designed the church to function as a preservative in society. An old frontier recipe indicated that it requires 7 pounds of salt to preserve 100 pounds of meat. This ratio suggests that the church can function as a preservative even if it only comprises 7% of the population. I doubt that Jesus had any specific ratio in mind and I’m sure that He can accomplish His purposes with any percentage. Nonetheless, this teaching seems to make the point that a church that only comprises a small segment of society can still wield significant preserving influence.
Our ministry as light seems to entail propagating truth to our society. It has been calculated that the human eye can see light from a single candle as far away as 30 miles. Likewise the church can illuminate society with the truth of Scripture even though it comprises a limited presence.
The church possesses disproportionate power to preserve and illuminate because more is at work than mere human influence. Rather God unleashes His power through the salt and light ministries of His church. This phenomenon is expressed in the words of Jonathan to his armor bearer in 1Sam. 14:6, “For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few,” and by the truth Elisha spoke to his servant in 2Kings 6:16, “(F)or those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
I previously cited David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions, which catalogs the influence of the church within the Roman Empire, even though initially it comprised only a small proportion of the population.
If the church enjoys such power, the church in America should comprise a powerhouse. Think of the advantages that it enjoys. The percentage of evangelicals in our population is probably higher than in any other major nation. In addition, we have a strong heritage of Christianity on which to draw. We have a highly developed infrastructure that includes established churches and denominations. The American church possesses training institutions at all educational levels, Christian radio and television, significant web presence, trillions of dollars in real estate, parachurch organizations with a wide range of specialties ranging from camping to campus ministries, we have the best educated leadership in the world, and we have publishing houses, book stores, and a full range of Bibles, books, and study materials. Even more, most of its people are affluent by world standards, we have full freedom to operate, evangelize, and otherwise propagate our message, and we are even tax exempt. Therefore, there can be little doubt that we have more opportunity to fulfill our role as salt and light than the church possessed in any nation in all of history.
As we have noted in previous posts, up until the 1960s, the church did exercise significant influence in shaping American culture and national life. We had our problems, the racial issue perhaps being the most pronounced. But in a general sense we enjoyed a high ethical standard, embracing virtues such as discipline, responsibility, character, and fidelity. Families were strong and our society was rather well ordered. This resulted in an economy that was strong and stable.
The decline in the influence of the church and the resulting cultural decay across the past six decades is astounding. Since the beginning of the Obama administration our descent has been especially precipitous. When we consider the vulgarity of the entertainment industry, the growing power and presence of homosexuality, the acceptance of cohabitation, the decline in our educational systems, our irresponsible economic practices, corruption in government, and many other trends in our society, it is evident that Christian influence has drastically waned and is trending toward more of the same. I again direct our attention to the charts in David Barton’s America: to Pray or not to Pray for statistical representations of the decline of Christian virtues in America beginning with the sixties.
What is the reason for this drastic decline of the church’s influence over our culture and national life? Certainly the Lord’s power is more than equal to any secular force. Why then is the church unable to counter the sixties cultural trends that are dominating American society today?
Pursuit of the answer to that question constitutes a major objective of this blog. Hope that’s real resides in the restoration of the power of the church, which begins with discovering the reason for the church’s ineffectiveness as salt and light. Many factors have contributed to the decline of church influence. Some of them reach deep into our culture. Therefore, it will require a number of posts to expose all the roots of this problem. Tomorrow’s post is slated to begin that process.