Following the deluge of Noah’s day, God promised He would not destroy the earth again by flood
He also warned, however, that the devil would do his level best to inundate, sink, and destroy the Church in every age.
Columbanus saw this in the churches of Gaul, upon his arrival there toward the end of the sixth century. Church leaders had embraced the mores of corrupt kings and had so compromised the life of faith and the work of ministry that, to Columbanus, it seemed the ship of the Church was ready to sink. In a collegial letter to Pope Boniface he wrote, “Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits.”
In Revelation 12 the devil is depicted as vomiting a flood of water after the Church. He would overwhelm her, dilute her message, dissipate her energies, frustrate her efforts, and, if possible, drown her entirely. Historically, it has been through the local culture of any place and time that the flood waters of the world have lapped over the decks of the coracle of Christ.
In his masterful, seven-volume series on the history of the Christian movement, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, the late Kenneth Scott Latourette devoted a concluding chapter in each volume to considering “The Effect of the Environment on Christianity.” His observation concerning the first five centuries of the Church reflects the situation in virtually every age: “For better or for worse the Christianity of subsequent ages has borne the marks of the world and the cultures in which it was cradled.”
In every age and generation influences from the surrounding culture have threatened to slow the progress of the Gospel by diluting and distorting the message and experience of the faith, thereby robbing Christianity of its transforming and prophetic power. Our age is no different – except for one thing.
While pop culture has existed in every age, never before has it been so powerfully allied with an industry devoted to entertainment and money-making, with so many outlets and media to accomplish its merely mundane mission. And never before have the messages – conscious and sub-conscious – of popular culture been so immersed in the theme of sexual indulgence as they are in our day.
Thus when, from time to time, we complain on these pages of the surfeit of pop culture in worship, Christian life and culture, and the organization and management of our churches, it’s not just because we’re stodgy and traditional. We are concerned about the relative lack of spiritual discrimination on the part of church leaders, who do not hesitate to open all the port holes and water-tight doors of the Church to the fleeting forms, crass commercialism, and entirely entertainment-driven media and methods of contemporary pop culture.
The devil has always sought to use the culture of the world to overwhelm the Church. In time, the earth – history, tastes in fashion, revivals – opens up its mouth and swallows the threat, leaving the Church, for a season, on solid ground, her oars and sails intact (Rev. 12.16).
My prayer for the present, as I look out on the decks of our common vessel, awash with the flotsam and jetsam of pagan culture, is that the earth might soon become thirsty once again.
Related texts: Matthew 5.13-16; Romans 12.1, 2; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5; Revelation 12
A conversation starter: “Do you ever wonder whether or not there ever was anything to Christianity prior to our own generation?”