Spiritual But Not Religious?
If you’ve been around Evangelicals at all you know that they speak often about persecution in the West, and maybe not enough about persecution of Christians around the world. Sometimes church folks can be almost embarrassing in the way they complain about difficulties in the workplace or at school as if they are on par with the persecution faced by Middle Eastern Christian believers for example, who have lost homes, limbs and even loved ones.
But there is a growing sense of ‘soft’ persecution, of the type that is not physically hostile, but it is ideologically so. It is the institutional removal of Evangelicals from participation in the public square. It is a sort of a Western, secular-branded policy similar to the one in Muslim countries called, dhimmitude. Minorities such as Christians must pay extra tax, and be excluded from various aspects of civil society. Now it seems that Christians may be treated that way in the liberal West.
Now take the state of the Evangelical church right now in Canada. Many have described the practice of the ‘circulation of the sheep’. That is the idea of people who claim to follow Jesus yet are disconnected from a local church, circulating from one church to the next. Their spirituality is a private thing, and they see little need for committing to other Christians in any lasting and meaningful way.
So there is this phenomenon of the “Lone Ranger Christians”. It’s a Christianese term for professing Jesus followers who don’t get along with the church. Any church. Now I don’t like the term Lone Ranger Christian because it’s bad press for the Lone Ranger who was a great guy. But the problem with the Lone Ranger Christian is that they have already given the game away before a hint of soft persecution has touched them. Their faith is only a notion, not a confession. They follow Jesus only in convenience, not conscience. And the summons of Jesus to ‘take up the cross and follow me’ is viewed as a conditional suggestion not a command.
For years now, well-attended Evangelical churches have catered to the Lone Ranger Christian by softening the commands of Jesus, and amplifying the creature comforts of attendees. When asked, a person will say that one of the mega-churches is ‘their church’, but they are on the margins of its fluid communal life, slipping in and out like one more latte stop.
Thankfully, there has been a renewal happening in Canadian churches that sees historic Christianity as offering something more. The Christian gospel has stability in a world of flux as well as a sense of the supernatural in a society of cold-pressed materialism. What is noteworthy about this renewal is that many young people are proving to be the surprising examples of maturity for some in the older crowd. It is a strange juxtaposition to see a Millennial modelling ‘churchmanship’ for a Boomer.
Although it is unwelcome, there is no need to fear persecution. Even the soft stuff, though difficult, will have a purpose. As Christians are institutionally shamed and economically or politically marginalized, one thing is certain, nobody will be a Lone Ranger Christian anymore. There will only be the solid, identifiable church confessors, and the former Evangelicals who capitulate faster than you can say, “Hi Yo Silver, Away!”