There never has been an easy time to be a Christian. The hardest times to be a Christian, I think, are when things are good, cultural tides do not have to be opposed and finances are abundant. In such times, Christians are apt to forget the many times Jesus promised the contrary: persecutions, lean times, being led by the hands where we would rather not go.
In the good times, we live easily in Babylon.
I do not mean to equate all goodness with complacency or all seasons of abundance with suspicion, but these seasons produce something in the mind not easily erased: the nagging sense that when things are not good, there is someone to blame or—worse—somewhere else we should be, culturally or geographically.
We cannot be anywhere other than where we are, however, for where we are is where God is. Therefore, we endure the season of cultural disfavor when it comes, not as a tide to turn, but as God’s own time to be received. To wish for older times, the Scriptures tell us, is cut off to us. Every day must contend with its own worries.
A tempting past, a fearful present
It goes without saying that Baptist churches in Texas are struck with the particular kind of challenge of having had good days and now living in leaner ones. Finances grow tighter, and congregants are fewer. Baptisms are rarer, anxieties higher, temperatures hotter.
With every passing year, as budgets get more strained, the temptation of the past asserts itself. This is a temptation that never can be reached, for the past is the past, and those days are not ours.
Nationally, every denomination is struggling. Every confession is holding its hands together, sometimes in prayer, but mostly with white knuckles to hold fragile groups together.
Fearful or faithful & thankful
As Baptists, we have a choice to make: to be afraid or to be faithful. We can receive this present age also as the good gift of God with new opportunities to reassess and to open our hands to this time and these places. Or we can try to reclaim a past that was good but is past.
What is behind us we can be thankful for, as well as what is before us. The alternative is to be chained to the tyranny of replicating in the present what was only God’s to give in the first place.
Cultural tides have shifted and may not shift back for generations, if at all. It remains to be seen what will become of the monuments to God’s faithfulness we have built across Texas in the forms of empty churches, cavernous sanctuaries for too-small congregations, or abandoned institutions. These things have happened and likely will happen more often.
Our fear of the future is not helped by mourning the past, for God is here in this time, in this place.
I tell my students that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a literary character locked within the pages of Scripture but is the same God who invites us to journey across deserts and into a promise awaiting like a distant cloud.
Egypt lies behind; God lies ahead.
Myles Werntz is assistant professor of Christian ethics and practical theology and the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene. Email him at Myles.Werntz@hsutx.edu. Views expressed are those solely of the author.