As we renew ourselves in faith, we can become the solution to the church’s struggles in our post-Christian culture. Change begins with each of us. With faith and the truth of God’s inspired Word, we can face any challenge that comes against God’s people. And once the Church is firmly formed in the truth, she can minister to those enslaved by the current narrative of chaos and uncertainty through Jesus Christ and his gospel. We first focus on forming ourselves in the faith, doing what we know to do: evangelism to save the lost; worship of the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; fellowship among believers; making mature disciples who obey all that Jesus commanded; and serving others both inside and outside of the congregation.
As we focus on these things, however, issues that face our families, our communities, and our cultures arise. How are we formed in the face of daunting issues that seem relatively new to us in a post-Christian culture? How do we call those in the world who are mired in anti-Christian cultural narratives to faith and hope?
The cultural issues we face—gender identity, sexuality, the nature of truth, and pluralism—are not, in fact, new at all. The Greco-Roman culture in which Christians found themselves during the first few centuries of the Church grappled with similar issues in similar ways. At times, it was impossible for Christians to coexist peacefully with those around them. Yet, they had to secure their own faith in the face of uncertainty and to form themselves in discipleship as they continued to call their neighbors to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
How did they do that?
Here’s what the first church did in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
Filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, they obeyed Jesus’ instructions to the church: They worshiped together (in the temple courts); they grew as disciples (devoted themselves to…); they enjoyed fellowship with each other (broke bread in their homes); they served one another (giving to anyone who had a need); and they were on mission to save the lost (added to their number daily). They did these fundamental things in Jerusalem during the early days following Pentecost.
Then, after Stephen’s martyrdom, the church scattered. What did they do when they scattered? In Acts 8:4 it says, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (NIV) They may have adapted how and where they did evangelism, but they didn’t stop doing it. The same could be true for the other basic ways the church formed itself in faith. The scattered church found other places and spaces to fellowship, worship, teach, grow as disciples, and serve inside and outside the church.
This way of discipleship continued into the conversion of the entire empire to Christianity, and though the specifics on how they formed themselves may have shifted, the spirit of their discipleship remained the same. While the surrounding culture may have slowly become Christian, forces of dissent continued, paganism still flourished for centuries after Constantine’s conversion, and the Church still had to deal with a crumbling society as Rome fell in the West. The Church didn’t change what it did; it changed how it did it as it moved from being in secret to being out in the open.
During the fall of Rome, St. Benedict didn’t change what Christians did. He wisely adapted how they maintained worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism in and out of monasteries given the changing culture. The monks preserved what the Church had always done in an adapted way during a major time of change. Certainly, the same could be said during the Protestant Reformation, or with Wesley’s method of discipling, or during other major times of change.
Now, Christians must assess their situation in the current culture. The situation isn’t quite what would have been expected fifty years ago in Judeo-Christian America, but it shouldn’t be totally unfamiliar to members of a faith that has struggled for two thousand years with the very same forces. To that end, the American Anglican Council is partnering with local congregations to tackle these same issues through the Formed conference. Two conferences have been held already, and a third will be taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, at Christ Church Anglican, February 2-3, 2024.
The conference is open to any believer interested in engaging the culture positively and winsomely in an Anglican and gospel-centered way. Christians have a better story to tell that can change the world’s narrative. Right now, the West tells a story of chaos and uncertainty, casting a haze of confusion over topics ranging from sex to liberty to race and more. The Formed conference will foster discussions on these critical matters, teach new perspectives on age-old problems, and equip Christians to tell the true and the better story of the gospel in the context we now face. It is a way we join with the Christians of our past who struggled to teach, pray, and fellowship in the midst of uncertainty, but who, in the end, succeeded in changing their world for Christ.
Click the link below to find out more about Formed and how you can get involved!