The reformation of Christ’s church includes more than gospel thunder. It requires cultivating a healthy church life of avid prayer, devoted worship, deep community, mutual service, and Christian education, all centered in Scripture. Knox thundered as he did because he prayed as he did. Mary Queen of Scots said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of England. For the church’s worship and community, he gave her The Scots Confession. He also insisted in The First Book of Discipline that churches provide schools for Scotland’s youth. “Every church must have one schoolmaster, able to teach grammar and the Latin tongue.”
You may have noticed that evangelicals are divided today over “tone,” the way we address the world around us and how we address our moral, social, and political issues. Should we lead with disarming winsomeness or combative confrontation? The Trump divide is only a tributary of this “conversation” that is sometimes more like a verbal brawl over how we are to present ourselves to the public.
Until very recently, Europe and the Americas were self-consciously Christian societies. Everyone, or so it seemed, had some church affiliation and was either baptized or was expected eventually to be. President Franklin Roosevelt, in his D-Day radio broadcast prayer, described the war against the “unholy forces” of Nazi Germany as “a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization.” It’s how we understood ourselves.
But this is no longer so. Through television, film, and advertising, Americans are represented as godless and getting by. Currently, 60 percent of Americans identify as “Christian,” a figure that includes evangelical and mainline Protestants, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics. Twenty percent say they have no religious affiliation at all, and this figure is rising. So, there is much need not only for evangelizing the lost but also for calling the wayward home and the ill-taught to spiritual reformation.