“The church has grown so accustomed to cultural privilege - a privilege it should never have had in the first place - that its erosion feels like persecution, when it's not.
As a result, instead of meaningful engagement with society, we draw battle lines in confected culture 'wars' featuring praying football coaches, dissenting county clerks, and recalcitrant wedding cake bakers.” –Michael Frost
There is a huge difference between the cultural religious institutions that exist in every society and have been around since the fall of man, and the followers of Jesus. What the Bible sometimes calls “followers of the way.”
On the one side you have culturally accepted norm-makers, powerful people in society who get to influence and sometimes even choose the rules the society must follow. This side could include such groups as Islamic leaders, Mayan priests, the Pope and Bishops in Catholicism, or in a certain sense, evangelical pastors in America. The Bible had such a group as well. They were called the Pharisees.
The Pharisee movement began with good intentions. It was a reaction against the moral corruption in Jewish society. It had a desire to get people back on track with God. It ended up being just another legalistic, religious, enemy of Christ.
When I think of these legalistic, religious groups I think of “Young Frankenstein.” There is a joke in that movie where Igor tells Dr. Frankenstein, “walk this way.” He then proceeds to limp down some stairs and hand his cane back up to Frankenstein so he can limp down them as well. Religious leaders always start out with the intention of showing people a path to follow, but end up forcing people to imitate the manner of walking and forget all about where they are leading.
Biblical Christianity is all about God calling people back into relationship with Him. It is all about the path. It is all about the destination. It is all about Jesus.
The concern with American Christianity today—the concern I see reflected in Frost’s quote above—is that Christians have been so focused on their “cultural position” that they have forgotten the essence of who they are. They have made Christianity not about Jesus, but more about themselves. They have enjoyed so much privilege that they have forgotten Jesus said our lot would be suffering. We don’t belong in this world. We are outsiders.
Take prayer. It has never been “taken out of school.” As long as there are people in schools who have a relationship with Jesus there will be prayer. What we have lost, perhaps, is the position where we can impose a formal prayer on all people. And, depending on who was in control of that formality, I would generally say that is no great loss. And when we choose to make prayer a sign of defiance it ceases to be a conversation with God. It ceases to be about God and instead is all about us.