Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Loss of Home Field Advantage

No, this post isn't about who enjoys an advantage or suffers a disadvantage going into the World Series this year because of their regular season record in baseball.  Rather, I want to reflect on a quote I recently read that has to do with the Christian faith losing its "home field advantage" here in the U.S. as the number of nonbelievers rises and legislation increasingly strives to achieve impartiality in the treatment of the divergent religious groups that make up the modern mix of our culture.

The quote comes from John Stackhouse who has said, "Multiculturalism and extensive religious plurality can offer an opportunity for Christians to shed the baggage of cultural dominance that has often impeded or distorted the spread of the gospel. It may be, indeed, that the decline of Christian hegemony can offer the Church the occasion to adopt a new and more effective stance of humble service toward societies it no longer controls."  [John Stackhouse, Jr., Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 36.]

I consistently hear well-intentioned church members bemoaning our nation's drift away from its founding Christian principles.  I think that premise is considerably flawed to begin with, as many of the founding fathers were deists at best or atheists at worst.  Baptists like Isaac Backus and John Leland were at the forefront of the movement to ensure the separation of church and state via the passage of the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, because they had a long history of experiencing persecution at the hands of a state-sponsored church. 

But even granting for the moment for the sake of argument that the U.S. was founded upon Christian principles, is it such a terrible thing for the church to forfeit its home-court advantage as a dominant force in shaping culture?  Stackhouse's quote argues powerfully that the loss of cultural domination brings with it manifold opportunities to engage society not from a position of power and authority, but from one of humble service.  That sounds much more consistent with what Jesus taught His disciples about greatness consisting not in lording it over others via the exercise of power and authority, but by being the servant of all.

Perhaps the loss of a home field advantage will even bring measures of persecution for the church in the future.  I'm not speaking of what many falsely label as persecution today, which is little more than the outworking of the leveling of the playing field for all religious groups and the loss of dominance for Christianity as other groups' rights are equally ensured by law.  But if and when true persecution comes, even that shouldn't be a source of fear for the church.  Christian history attests to the fact that the faith has always advanced best in the crucible of testing and persecution.  Maybe the loss of home field advantage is really God's orchestrating of events to purify the church and prepare it for greater service and ministry.