Jennifer Powell McNutt, assistant professor of theology and history of Christianity at Wheaton College, stated, “It would be hard to find a century when the church and clergy have not faced challenges in ministry and concerns about decline” (Christianity Today, 2011)[i]. In other words, as Christians we should not think it “strange” when the Church is tried in the fire and when it goes through periods of decline (see 1 Peter 4:12). The Church is called to be faithful and stand in the midst of the flames like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego stood against the King of Babylon during their day. They refused to bow and worship any god except Jehovah (Daniel 3).
Some would love to return to ancient times when the Church was persecuted, forced to hide in caves, thrown to the lions, or boiled in hot oil. When Rome was in power during the first century Christians experienced periods of great persecution. Christianity was considered an illegal and superstitious religion. “If you suffer as a Christian,” the apostle Peter had said, “do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Indeed, in the first centuries of the church, Christians often suffered not for any particular accusations but because they bore the name. When pagan sacrifices were demanded of them, martyrs responded (like Polycarp) with a simple statement: “I am a Christian”[ii] (Trafton, 2008). The Roman government attempted to silence the Church, its message, and its messengers; however, in the Book of Acts we read and learn how the church grew and spread through great persecution. Not only did the Church grow in numbers but it grew in influence and power over many centuries.
Times may have changed but the hostile attitude towards the Church has not. Today’s government, secular media, and popular culture have aligned themselves as unwitting partners to devise new strategies and methods to silence the Church and its message. Regardless to what may seem like an impossible task the Church must proclaim the “good news.” The apostle Paul said, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
What then are the concerns and issues of the U.S. Catholic Bishops and what should be the concerns of the Christian Church in general? At the forefront is religious liberty. Feeling under siege, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops planned to meet in Baltimore, Maryland during the month of November (2011) to discuss a wide range of issues surrounding public policy, religious and social issues they believe are a threat to the Church and its teachings. The assault comes “. . . from a broader culture moving toward accepting gay marriage; a White House they often condemn as hostile to Catholic teaching; and state legislatures that church leaders say are chipping away at religious liberty,” the article states.
Popular culture, secular media, academia, and sadly—even some liberal theologians—have taken center stage in moving public opinion against the Church. The Church is often viewed as irrelevant, outdated, and at times hateful towards anyone who may disagree with them. The Church needs to change with modern times, they argue. Jesus however made it clear to ALL that the Church is built upon himself—NOT the world. He said, “. . . on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, NKJV).