In my youth, I recall seeing a banner stretched across the back of the sanctuary of an old country church, directly over the exit, which warned (usually in big, bold, red letters!) that:
“You are now entering the Mission Field!!”
For the vast majority of Appalachian Protestant fundamentalists and charismatics, when you mentioned the mission field, it brought up visions of half-naked (pronounced “neck-ed”) head-hunting savages in mud huts in some tropical jungle of deepest, darkest Africa. This clever little reminder re-defined the term for us, so that we saw our immediate world much as must’ve Peter and Paul viewed their’s. The very idea served me and other Christians I knew a guilty nudge, urging us to evangelize our neighbors, co- workers, unsuspecting strangers, and our entire hometowns for Christ. My family had a ministry that took us all over Appalachia, preaching and singing, and I can testify that this was not an isolated sight. This thought-provoking sign was a fixture of many of the churches we ministered in, irrespective of denomination. Nor was it a mere fad of the times, for I’ve seen signs, posters, and banners emblazoned with this message time and again over the years.
Yet what was revolutionary to a bunch of mountain-bred hicks has always been true of our country, whether we’ve acknowledged it or not. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that God had stretched that red-lettered banner across our shores to greet Christopher Columbus. Ever since he stumbled upon the Western Hemisphere, USAmerica has remained a vast, ever-expanding mission field. Initially, it was not the “Christian nation” it has been lauded as in contemporary times. Instead, it was a virgin land of vast potential whose indigenous peoples had never yet named the name of Christ!
In addition to early attempts at evengelism amongst the Native Americans and the European colonists, several great revival movements greatly contributed to the cause of home missions in USAmerica.
An article in the online version of The Columbia Encyclopedia comments:
“The Great Awakening… resulted in an outburst of missionary activity among Native Americans by such men as David Brainerd, Eleazar Wheelock, and Samuel Kirkland; in the first movement of importance against slavery; and in various other humanitarian undertakings. It led to the founding of a number of academies and colleges, notably Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth (“Great Awakening”).”
It should also be noted that the Second Great Awakening birthed the abolitionist cause. Unfortunately, white men had both forced the indigenous tribes off of the land which the emerging Christian nation felt it deserved by Providence, and subjugated the blacks for profit.
Despite the periodic emphasis on home missions, the USAmerican Church has largely ignored its own shores in favor of reaching the rest of the world. In the meantime, she gained her reputation as a “melting pot” of the world’s peoples as immigrants poured into her borders, seeking a better life. The increasingly multicultural nature of this country has brought together a multiplicity of races, cultures, ideologies, and religions — all of which continues to encroach upon a decreasingly Christian nation. Our voice is no longer one of influence. While we have retreated from an increasingly sinful world, ever widening the gap between the sacred and the secular, our voices have become a minority and our message has become confused.
Morality is no longer en vogue. Francis Schaeffer wrote that “our culture has been squandered and lost, and largely thrown away. Indeed to call it a moral breakdown puts it mildly. Morality itself has been turned on its head with every form of moral perversion being praised and glorified in the media and the world of entertainment (Schaeffer 20).”
The retreat from traditional Judeo-Christian values is evident wherever we look. We see it…
…in the number of profitable legal abortion centers.
…in the sheer amount of smut sold in bookstores and in increasingly brazen and more bizarre forms on the Worldwide Web.
…in realistically violent video games that teach our kids how to kill and desensitize them to real violence.
…in the excesses of the American music culture, which increasingly promotes and demonstrates a message and lifestyle at complete odds with the Judeo- Christian ethic.
…in the unchallenged rise to power of the feminist and gay rights lobbies.
…in the propagation of liberal mores and of content that more resembles (as George Carlin would put it) brain droppings than material with any degree of thought or intent behind it.
…in the indoctrination of our youth in these liberal views and atheistic doctrines through our public school systems.
…in how we grow ever more accepting and desensitized to the garbage and perversion they feed us.
I could go on and on. Again, the evidence is everywhere.
The battlecry of the liberal agenda is “Tolerance!” and under this by-word we must not only co-exist alongside smut, perversion, and shamelessness — we are expected to embrace it and applaud it! In today’s relativistic society, tolerance is the new gospel and the espousal of absolutes and expression of firm convictions are the only sins. An essay in Time magazine noted: “Behind most of these events [of the past 60 years] lay the assumption, almost a moral imperative,… that limits were intrinsically evil (Schaeffer 21).”
“Tolerance” is not this nation’s problem. “To decry the lack of tolerance,” notes William Bennett, “in late-twentieth-century America is (as C. S. Lewis once put it) akin to reaching for a fire hose during a flood. A rigid and inflexible embrace of moral truths is not the virus that has invaded America’s body politic, nor are we suffering from an oversupply of consistent moral judgements. To the contrary, we live in an era when it has become unfashionable to make judgements on a whole range of very consequential behaviors and attitudes… But judgement is not biggotry; and tolerance may just be another term for indifference (Bennett 122).”
In the midst of this quagmire, Christianity is nearly voiceless. “Ours is a post- Christian world,” Schaeffer laments, “in which Christianity, not only in the number of Christians but in cultural emphasis and cultural result, is no longer the consensus or ethos of our society (Schaeffer 29).”
Christian television once promised to be a powerful tool for Christian influence and evangelization, but the shameful scandals and antics of its personalities and their brazen, unrestrained greed and materialism have painted for the world a twisted caricature of authentic Christianity. The world may be turned off by the Elmer Gantrys of the elctronic church, but many Christians are mistaking the excesses they see on television as desirable and normative, and accept without question heretical doctrines, ideas, and mores presented to them. As a result, our doctrine is being muddied.
A thread of Christian influence prevails. According to the Barna Research Institute’s website, 85% of Americans self-identified as Christians in 2002; but only 35% of US adults could classify as “born again,” and only 5% as evangelicals (“Beliefs: General Religious”). In 1997, 95% of USAmerican claim to believe in God; and, as of 2001, 72% even still believe in God when described as the “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules today (“Beliefs: General Religious”).” In 1993, 86% firmly believe that all people will be judged by God (“Beliefs: Salvation”). Amazingly, a 1994 survey revealed that 74% even believe that “forgiveness of sins is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ (“Beliefs: Salvation”).” 75% of non-Christians, according to a 2001 survey, say their religious faith is very important in their lives (“Born Again Christians”).
Then comes the bad news. A survey in 2000 revealed that one out of every three adults has not attended a Christian church service, not including a holiday service or special service such as a wedding or funeral, within the last 6 months; 67% of these individuals call themselves Christians, 35% claiming that they have made a personal commitment to jesus Christ that is still important in their life today (“Unchurched People”). 64% of these unchurched individuals believe Satan is only a symbol of evil, rather than a real living being, and that you can earn you way into heaven (“Unchurched People”). A 2001 study revealed that 52% of non-Christians believe that “while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people (“Born Again Christians”). In 1994 survey it was found that only 4% of adults could define the “Great Commission,” quote John 3:16, and define “the gospel” (“Evangelism”).
The task of regaining lost ground seems overwhelming. If we are to reclaim this nation, passive Christianity must be thrown aside. We must be reformers, innovators, and motivators! If USAmerica is to be won for Christ, Christians must begin walking their talk — and they must know what they’re talking about! Paul Little warns that “Many Christians are ineffective ambassadors because they’re not sure of the content of their message and are unable to communicate it clearly to others (Little 86).” We must return to biblical Christianity — and we must relearn what that is! We must once again become involved in society, rather than consigning it to damnation by our silence and non- participation. We must show them Christ through our lives and present again the unambiguous good news of salvation and knowledge of God.
I admit that there are times that I feel like Jim Elliot, who pointed out that we have the Bible, and the law and the prophets, while there are others who haven’t ever heard of Christ. Yet so long as there remain folk here in America who don’t yet comprehend the Christian message, how can we abandon the post-Christian nation.
After all, don’t we Christians who live here bear some measure of responsibility for the fact that this nation is Still the Mission Field?
“Beliefs: General Religious.” Barna Research Institute website. 1997. 2002.
“Beliefs: Salvation.” Barna Research Institute website. 1993. 1994.
Bennett, William J. The Death of Outrage. New York: The Free Press, 1998.
“Born Again Christians.” Barna Research Institute website. 2001.
“Evangelism.” Barna Research Institute website. 1994.
“Great Awakening.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, 2002.
Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith. Revised Ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Schaeffer, Francis A. The Great Evangelical Disaster. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1984.
“Unchurched People.” Barna Research Institute website. 2000.