"The new anti-clericals did not perceive that those who used the [Gospel's] language to serve slavery [and its successor Jim Crow] or 'private initiative' or 'the American way of life' were [and still are] in fact perverting the Gospel and betraying the great tradition of revivalism in America. They did not themselves (italics mine) understand that the word of true evangelism is not this bad word that everything must stay exactly as it is [or, worse, regress to some mythical 'golden age] but the wonderful and emancipating word that all things are being made new." Including us--but we must choose to be so remade!
The above passage, without my bracketed interjections and italics, is from the excellently seminal book From State Church to Pluralism by Franklin Littell. What Littell describes here is a cardinal reason why many educated, cultured and intellectually curious people became, and are still becoming, disenchanted with the church. And as the number of such people grow (and, whatever we think of the 'vitiation of taste' and other such elitist chatter, their numbers are growing, especially amongst young adults and especially where intellectual curiosity and honesty is concerned) the churches' influence will continue to decline.
In this case, unless we wise up and proclaim as we may not have proclaimed it since maybe the Great Awakening, or the Reformation, or maybe even since Theodosius made Christianity compulsory for Roman citizens in 390, that Christianity is NEITHER the bad word that everything must stay exactly as it is or as we pretend to remember it from Leave It To Beaver days NOR the worse word that we must re-attach religion with state and regress to some mythical golden age BUT the wonderful Word that God makes all things new!! And that in and through a relationship with God through His Word--and, best of all, His Word made flesh--we can choose to be made new. Yes, we need to choose almost every day to be so remade; this requires persistence. But I hope it helps to know that, you ask God for that persistence day by day, you'll have it! And the making new will usually take the rest of our earthly lives and into the next life. But, again, probably the most important thing is to persist. Stay engaged with God. Rage at Him when you need to. He can take it and, if David raged, moaned and kvetched at God, so can you. Who else won't you annoy with all that? And God welcomes all honest questions; just don't necessarily expect immediate answers. Be alert for them, though: they can and do pop up when you least expect 'em.
Ingest and always remember this: a robust, living, vibrant faith welcomes questions and challenges, can credibly answer criticisms and smile at satire. It is a weak and brittle 'faith' on the verge of collapse anyhow that fears and/or seeks to suppress questions, challenges, criticism and satire! If you encounter a gathering which looks alive but where questions--or certain questions--are 'not asked', then it's phony and the 'life' of the congregation is but froth on the beer!
One thing which most serious believers try to do (I know I do) is to harmonize our earthly requirements with being called to the Gospel. To do this, here's what I hope are some handy and helpful guidelines:
1) Know the difference between needs and wants: we all need to eat, drink and breathe. We all need a place to sleep and call home. We need connections with one another and with nature. We all need some kind of work that leaves us with some sense of doing something real. Even the handful of us rich enough to not need the money need some kind of work. And nearly all humans want such work, too--ESPECIALLY the poor among us! We need some means of getting around, either private or shared. But I challenge anyone to convince me they NEED a Humvee, a private jet or a beachfront mansion. There is enough for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed!
2) Do whatever we can to help more of us meet needs and to keep greeds within some kind of tolerable bounds. Maybe that would be to be as sure as possible that no one's need is endangered by another's greed.
3) God welcomes questions and has given us all free will; we're the ones that seek to deny or destroy the free will of others. Hence, isn't it upon us to work in ways that open more possibilities to more of us? This means, as FDR said, 'schools must be the last thing on which we economize'. And it means the schools not be test and/or indoctrination plantations, but places which actually encourage critical thought. And this is also why strict separation of religion and state is indispensable to the state's benevolence and to the flourishing of real religion. Real religion is alive today where the government is neutral towards it--including and especially here! Roger Williams was right: "Forced religion stinks in God's nostrils."
4) God makes room for a lot of different things to 'play' together; so should we. This means multiple uses of areas--but excluding what's likely to annhilate all other uses and/or destroy the life therein. Balance is the key here. Keep the ecosystems vital, but not unchanged.
5) Most importantly, put relationships first: the relationship which we each have with God, healthy relationships with one another and with other creatures. By 'healthy' I mean helping each other grow. NO stomping allowed--neither physical nor verbal! And don't be taken down any deceptively easy path: be as sharp as serpents and guiltless as doves. Be shrewd and keep your hands clean. Telling the unpleasant truth is NOT getting your hands dirty, although some will try to convince you otherwise.
But let's start with God, and God's Word (including made flesh) making all things new, and doing it not from the top down but from the bottom up!! There's a world of difference between seeking to infuse society with God's Spirit from the bottom up and seeking to take over the government and enforce top-down conformity of worship and behavior. Nothing is more destructive to real religion and civil society than the latter; nothing vitalizes both like the former. That Spirit can never be forced; it flees from force.
The God we worship is the One Who makes all things new; let us follow in the Way as God gives us strength! Amen and amen!