Christianity worldwide, especially in Muslim nations has been exploding with converts in the millions. However, the opposite is happening in America. Just as Europe is suffering from an ongoing and seemingly irreversibly apostasy from its Christian roots, American Evangelicalism is suffering a quiet, mass apostasy that threatens the very existence of American Christianity itself:
My friend Rod Dreher is as sane and stable as anyone I know, and he’s saying, in essence, that the sky is falling. I reference his new article in The American Conservative, called “The Coming Christian Collapse.”
He begins by saying that the two-thirds of millennials who were raised religiously unaffiliated still have no denominational identity today. Unlike previous generations, they’re not joining churches as they get older and raise kids.
Second, Rod says, “Millennials, even those who identify as Christians, are shockingly illiterate, both in terms of what the Bible says and more generally regarding what Christianity teaches.”
This growing biblical illiteracy has led to a moral decline of our young people into consumerism, drug abuse, sexual liberation, and civic and political disengagement.
Third, Rod says that the working class has largely abandoned the church, and that if the middle class follows suit, as appears likely, the church will be in a world of hurt. He quotes the late Michael Spencer, who warned of a coming evangelical collapse: “We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught.” (source)
The essay by Rod Dreher that Eric Metaxas is referring to is well worth the read. In summary, American Christianity is rapidly disappearing, having lost its social strength and becoming a target of scorn and rejection by the greater society. In his view, Christians need to adopt a “Benedict option.” Named in honor of St. Benedict of Nursia, the patron saint of Europe and exorcists, Christians need to form small communities in which to transmit and pass down their faith as the greater society around them dissolves just as Christians of the world of antiquity did:
Millennials, even those who identify as Christian, are shockingly illiterate, both in terms of what the Bible says and more generally regarding what Christianity teaches. I trust you don’t need me to repeat again Christian Smith’s findings showing that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism — a bland, undemanding, non-specific religion parasitic on Christianity — has taken over US religious institutions and has displaced authentic Christianity, especially among the young.
In my own informal conversations with college professors — both progressive and conservative, and both at Christian and secular institutions of higher learning — this finding has been abundantly confirmed. The ignorance is so widespread and profound that most of their students don’t even know what they don’t know. Which leads us to:
If we lose the middle and upper classes, we lose the church. For various reasons, churchgoing in America is primarily something that educated middle and upper class Americans do. Charles Murray, among others, has highlighted research showing that the working class has largely abandoned church. If Christianity is to survive in the US, it cannot afford to lose middle class Americans. Of course Christianity must especially be for the poor and working classes, but at this point in its history in the US, the poor and working classes have already left, and the middle classes are hemorrhaging.College is (at least for now) a common middle class experience. If we lose these kids in (or by) college, they’re gone. According to my anecdotal information, supplemented by the research from Smith et al., this has already happened. (source)
Both of these articles are well worth the full read, as they discuss major issues that are often times ignored. They are well reasoned and thought provoking.
But I’ll give a simpler and more daunting reason why “American Christianity” is collapsing. That reason is because “American Christianity” is a social religion. It is a product of and subject to the spirit of the times in which it lives, existing an independent organism with a false conception of its very self. It could never survive long-term because it was inherently heretical and doomed from its inception, and what we are witnessing is its natural and really, inevitable death.
While American Christianity is originally based in European Protestant movements such as Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, the Fundamentals series of books synthesized these views and form the basis of modern American Evangelicalism. It is not possible to understand American Christianity without these books (which can be purchased here)
American Christianity, or as some call it, “American Evangelicalism,” is a hybrid of mixed and varying Protestant ideas imported from the nations and peoples of Western and Northern Europe who sided with preachers and political leaders against the Catholic Church beginning in the 16th century with the Protestant Revolution as filtered through the Fundamentalist declarations of the early 20th century in combination with secular ideas about American nationalism and her place in the world with contemporary American culture. It is unique in that it is a product of a revolution that is ongoing, changing with each generation but always connecting itself back to the “early church” and then the Protestant revolution that bore it while skipping over the 13 centuries from Constantine to Luther.
Characterized by an anti-authority mindset on one hand and an insular view on the other, it gives rise to countless sects that all claim to be the true “church” that represents most accurately the teachings and will of Christ. They will teach from the same Bible and claim that the same Holy Spirit is constantly speaking to them, elucidating and clarifying the truths that have not changed for two millennia, and they will all call each other Christians and part of the same “church”, which they identify as the “body of Christ” that is constituted of anybody who associates himself with the name of “Christian.” Yet these same “Christians” fight and constantly split over small points of doctrine or discipline, forming new congregations and claiming authority over each other from the same Bible with absolute ruthlessness. The result will be that when all of these “churches” are looked at from an all-encompassing perspective, they share absolutely no unity whatsoever with regard to anything, including basic dogmas that go so far as down to the very divinity of Christ, having the veneer of being called “Christians” yet with no unity and fighting constantly like a bunch of chickens at a cock fight except when it comes to criticism of the Catholic Church, in which there is a common understanding that is usually anti-Catholic.
A cockfight, or the bickering that happens between American Evangelical sects today. But all joking aside, the fighting is real because while none will recognize the authority of the Pope there is absolutely no union of doctrine since each man is given the self-appointed authority to act as his own pope. The result is an ineffective, weak, flaccid Christianity defined by platitudes that attempt to make the problem of doctrine and heresy without addressing it while fighting over these same issues in a way that is a fruitless and destructive as a cock fight.
The weak point of American evangelicalism is this lack of unity in any sense, for while these same people will universally agree they are not Catholic or support “the Pope,” each man is able to crown himself his own self-appointed pope by his own authority. This is a major issue that cannot be avoided. However, the way that they will attempt to compensate for this is to, as mentioned above, say that we are all just “mere Christians” (referring to the title of C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity,) and say that differences really do not matter in the greater understanding of what it means to be a Christians because we all are “believers in Christ.”
The effects of this compensation are compounded by two factors. First, is by teaching in their “seminaries” about “Christian history” that is almost always filtered through secondary and tertiary sources, learning about events from people who have written about said events and not consulting the primary sources from which the record of said events derived. Second, is by appealing to the cultural and social feelings of the times, usually through popular music and cultural idioms, to generate positive emotions that people then attach to their particular church or pastor, leading to the phenomenon of “pastors” who have cult-like followings and mega-churches which collapse soon after that pastor dies or in embroiled in a scandal, after which said people move on to a new “church.”
The full lyrics to the song Our God is an Awesome God. While well meaning, the song is shallow, vapid, and an insult in comparison to the great music produced by Christians for centuries. Even the man who wrote the song, Rich Mullins, said it is “poorly crafted” and called it “one of the worst songs I ever wrote,” but its explosive popularity among Evangelicals shows something into the nature of their faith. While there are many well-intentioned people, the foundation these people are given for their faith is inherently faulty, based on an emotional appeal and lacking in any sort of tradition.
The combination of these three issues- a lack of unity, a lack of historicity, and an appeal to the senses- form a religious outlook that is as attractive to the senses, delicious on initial taste, and unfulfilling and deadly to one’s spiritual health as a plate deep-fried oreos is to your physical health. American “Christianity” is shallow and allows a man to believe as he wants. With a focus on emotions and a “personal encounter with Christ,” the person’s feelings are lifted and given guide over his intellect when it should be the other way around. With a lack of historicity, the traditions of the past are not transmitted, but created in the image of the times they represent. Thus the “early church” so often spoken about by “Christians” mirrors in certain congregations the “old tyme religion” of late 19th century American revivalism, the “holiness” sects of the early 20th century, the conservatism of the 1950s, the rock-concert style “church services” of the 1980s, or the sharp-dressed prosperity gospel preachers of the current times. It is the manufacture of history in the image of contemporary American culture, imposing the view of the present on a culture, place, and in a time completely alien to the people they claim to share a connection with.
While there are many American Evangelicals who oppose Freemasonry, it is not a surprise that Freemasonry has a rich following in very “Christian” areas of America, such as the Bible Belt. This is because the religion is synonymous with social and national ideas and, while not openly seeing themselves as a “national church,” their doctrinal positions are shaped with the spirit of the age and the culture and are subject to constant change. Thus while the “American ideals” of “liberty” are inherently Masonic and really very anti-Christian, the Evangelical will repeat them because, as he understands through the lens of his congregation, he is simply supporting his country as a Christian. It is less an act of intentional malice on the part of the common man but rather a reflection of the deception he has been taught.
By creating eine Kirche des Zeitgeistes with each generation, its understanding of the world is filtered through the American political and social climate. This explains why there is such a strong involvement, especially in modern times, in politics with American evangelicals, because their understanding of religion is tied to a sense of American nationalism. It does not matter that the ideas of America- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness- are indeed derived from the highly anti-Christian and evil Freemasonry movement, reflecting the French Revolution’s principles of fraternite, liberte, egalite– fraternity, liberty, egalitarianism.
However, this is particularly interesting when contrasted with the traditional Christian understanding of the role of religion in government. For Catholics and the Orthodox, the “three estates” of society- the government, the church, and the people- were a reflection for them of the role of God in a cosmological sense, where the government and in particular, the King, ruled benevolently over his subjects who obeyed him, and in turn the subjects respected and protected the king, with the Church being the moral standard and buffer that bound and protected each from excesses from either side. Likewise, it is also why apostolic Christians always tended to favor monarchs and the monarchies.
These varying and contradictory, warring ideas have always been present in American Christianity and because of the lack of any ability to articulate and define a clear authority about what to teach, which is something that it cannot do because each person claims to have equal authority to define the same teachings, then there can be no clear definition as to what is right and wrong and who can correctly interpret what Jesus taught. This is also the reason why the Catholic Church has always been at the best tolerated, and very often despised throughout American history.
Now it is only fair that at the same time in mentioning the evangelical Protestant sects, one also address the dire situation of the Catholic Church in the United States. Having been highly influenced post Vatican II by a desire to become like the world instead of standing in resistance to it (which was a major criticism of the encyclicals Gaudium et Spes and the infamous Rerum Novarum). This desire to become “Americanized” is a huge problem and has caused much of the scandal, heresy, and problems in the Church in America in the past and today. Just like the Evangelicals, the Catholic Church is also suffering its own free-fall collapse in the main Novus Ordo ranks.
St. Nicholas punching out Arius the heretic. At this time in the fourth century AD, 90% of the bishops and about 75% of the laity were Arians in the Catholic Church. This is a good model for our current times because like then, the Catholic Church is infected today with heretics and apostasy. However, what differentiates the Church from the evangelical congregations is that the Church is established by Christ, and just like with Arianism, she will eventually purge the heretics and apostasy from her ranks by the grace of God and will re-emerge stronger than ever. The evangelicals, unfortunately, because they were not founded by Christ, lack both the grace and the authority to do this purge, and they will either be folded back into the one truth Faith or they will simply apostatize and return to a pre-Christian state.
But the current situation of the Church today does not reflect on its teachings, because as the Church has always taught, dogma cannot change because it comes from God even if the majority of people deny it, such as with the Arian crisis of the 4th century. If one looks beyond the outlandish criticism and phony conspiracy theories promoted by anti-Catholic writers throughout the centuries and the well-meaning but genuinely misguided attempts of ignorant evangelicals who think they have to “save Catholics because they are not Christians”, one finds that in the minds of the intelligent people- those who know and understand something of sacred scripture and tradition- the resistance is not because they do not believe or understand, but it is because they are arrogant and do not want to submit to proper authority. In the words of one evangelical Christian I was conversing with about this issue, who could not dispute the lack of authority and genuinely knew something of Church history and tradition, he said that he would rather be an evangelical than submit because “the Protestants were always rebels and I’ve always been a rebel too.”
I have only two words to say about this: James White
But regardless of the Evangelical resistance to the Catholic Church, their lack of historicity, apostolicity, and authority and the fruit they bear of a shallow, emotional, sociocultural “Christianity” cannot be hidden, just ignored. Eventually, enough people- especially the children of said people who during their formative years are most likely to rebel against what their parents taught them- will take note of this emptiness. While some will follow as their parents, some leave the Church for the Catholics or the Orthodox in pursuit of something more substantial and real. Most leave the Evangelicals all together and do not come back, associating Christianity with their experiences from growing up.
Since their conception of Christianity is immutably tied to their understanding of the society, while certainly it can evolve, it will become something not at all like what it was before, forever changed and re-shaped by the times in which they live. In most cases, such extreme changes cannot be tolerated and the system collapses under the stress, which is what one sees happening right now. If that were not enough, the issue of grace and authority will destroy it, because whereas the Catholic Church possesses the grace and authority from Christ given to St. Peter, it does not matter what evils befall or infect it because God’s hand is on her as per sacred scripture and tradition. This is why the Church has been able to endure revolutions, wars, the rise and fall of entire civilizations, and at times the most horrible leadership examples ever given in human history yet somehow miraculously does not collapse- because she is God’s Church that like the ark of Noah in ages past will bring those who gather into and stay with her to salvation while the rest of the world around her perishes.
Now I do feel compassion for the Evangelicals, for they are lost and confused and for good reason. Some of them regret what has happened with the current state of American Christianity, and long for the days of “old time religion.” Yet that old time religion, the fullness of truth, is actually not that far away from them, for if they are willing to take a hard and honest look at themselves and the state of their doctrines, they will find the very thing they were taught to oppose is what they have been seeking for.
Now this is real old time religion, and yet it is as new as ever.