After almost four decades of exhausting ourselves chasing relevance, it may be high time to look back. Back past the Jesus Movement; past three Great Awakenings; past the Reformation; past the Late, High, and Early Middle Ages; past the Imperial Church; the Apologists; the Early Church Fathers; the Apostolic Period; past the Martyrs; back to the first accounts of the early church in the New Testament. This is a faith with a rich history and heritage. Unfortunately this is not something emphasized in much preaching today.
Since the Jesus Movement of the 1970s to the present day, the goal of the Christian church in America has been to be relevant to the culture around it. From Francis Schaeffer’s The God who is There in 1968, to Bill Hybels’ The God You’re Looking For, thirty years later, popular Christianity went from spurring us on intellectually to stroking our felt needs — giving me the religious experience that relates to me now. Even the hymns of only one to two hundred years ago have all but disappeared from the Christian’s worshiping repertoire, giving us the experience of a rock ’n’ roll faith that just arrived on the scene in our lifetime.
In one of our most memorable BlogTalkRadio shows to date, we discussed these and many other related issues with Duane Arnold and Michael Glen Bell, creators and producers of The Project/Martyrs Prayers, an album of First Century martyrs prayers set to contemporary music performed by the likes of Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Jennifer Knapp, Glenn Kaiser, Kemper Crabb and Margaret Becker, among others.
There is a great identity crisis in the church today, caused largely by chasing relevance for the last 40 years, much as a dog chases its tail. It may be that the best the church can do in these times is to look back to its roots. Remember the early church fathers, the martyrs, the missionaries, the carriers of the gospel over time and trends to a vital and personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — the same one believed and followed down through history. To be sure, the new is important for a vital experience of a faith that is fresh and alive and connects to the world around us, but the old is also important for the depth of belief and the knowledge that the gospel has survived literally unchanged for 2,000 years, passed down by men and women who were more than willing to die for it.
Take, as an example, Saint Apollonia, who was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising against the Christians. The story goes that they dragged her through the streets and with repeated blows broke most of her teeth. Then, when they reached the center of the city, they built a bonfire to burn her alive if she refused to blaspheme Christ or utter prayers to heathen gods. Given, at her own request, a little freedom to “think it over,” she sprang quickly into the fire on her own accord rather than give them the satisfaction of exacting the punishment themselves.
Doesn’t it do you good to know that Apollonia, in doing so, handed down her faith to us in this way, and though we may never be called upon to be a martyr for our faith, we know that, in similar circumstances, we would do the same?
Click on the Project logo at top of article to go to the Martyrs Prayers website.
Click on the picture of Duane and Michael to hear our interview On Demand.