The Church landscapes continues to change at a rapid clip. The wheel, signs, and cycles of church decline in our fluid, unsettled, interim and temporary world are real. Decline disrupts the common mission and faith upon which the Church functions. Sin, unbelief, and denial of the Truth among others deepens church decline. The Good News is that, with repentance and prayer, there is hope among missional metrics of Christian faith. Decline disrupts a culture with conflicting ideologies that corrupt minds. Bernard Lonergan’s description of the pervasiveness of societal decline reveals the deeper level of compromise that discredit and distort the Christian truth and growth. Decline is distorting, divisive, and destructive, hence, a church in decline digs its own grave with relentless consistency. Church decline, especially in the adherence to denominational church attendance is first spiritual before becoming physical.
John Wesley in his sermon, “The More Excellent Way,” writes with a grieving heart about decline in spiritual manifestations. He writes, “We seldom hear of them (the extraordinary gifts) after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches and power and honour upon the Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian Clergy. From this time they the extraordinary gifts) almost totally ceased; very few instances of this kind were found. The cause of this was not (as has been vulgarly supposed) ‘because there was no more occasion for them,’ because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistakes; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause was, ‘the love of many,’ almost of all Christians, so called, was ‘waxed cold.’ The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly ‘find faith upon earth.’ This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.” A dead orthodoxy can put people off as much as a lifeless heresy where the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost are no longer found. A major decline in the church today is the decline of Spirit baptisms, a hallmark of the Evangelical faith and experience that gave birth to the 18th awakening in Europe. Wesley, just as S. C. Lewis explained in his book, God in the Dock,”…only revealed the situation which had long existed.”
Church decline is a tragic trend especially in developed countries with modern, social and secular educational facilities when in the post-World War II era have shifted towards post-Christian, secular, globalised, multicultural and multi-faith societies. The church’s key and important missional metrics, especially church attendance, number of conversions, discipleship, number of baptisms, number of marriages, number of churches and memberships, and giving are not good ( Matt 28:19-20). I am a Methodist Christian and we are deeply in decline and divisions. Indeed, the Methodist decline of 1820 that was quickly corrected, overtime ‘becomes habit more difficult to break … has continued unabated since the dawn of the 20th century. Today the denomination is on life support.’
Human history is in a transitional age. The transition from the medieval to the modern world was foreshadowed by economic expansion, political centralisation, and secularisation. Using the words of Wesley, the church was weakened by internal conflicts as well as by quarrels between church and state, ‘because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistakes.’ This historic transition primarily from the Enlightenment does not want to reject the Bible, but it want to fit the Bible into its own elitist philosophical framework and use it there. The transition reminds us when ‘centuries-old boundaries between the Christian West and the rest of the world were eroding and a new unknown era was beginning.’ A secular humanist magazine stated, ‘A historic transition is occurring. Barely noticed, slowly, quietly, imperceptibly, religion (when they say “religion,” they usually mean Christianity) is shrivelling in America, as it already has in Europe, Canada, Australia, across the developed world. Increased, supernatural faith belongs to the third world. The first world is entering the long-predicted secular age where science and knowledge dominate.’ A historic transition continue from the Biblical predominant worldview that permeated the 18th century reawakening and nations originally rooted in Christian thinking. People no longer understands right and wrong because, the Bible as the word of God is no longer obeyed as the absolute authority. A historic transition, now with many gods instead of one God, points to moral relativism, ‘those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Secular media saw a world in historic transition with a church in decline, hence, ‘the present, in this sense, is less about the death of God and more about the birth of many gods.’
Historically, human efforts and strategies over the centuries to centralise power across international lines, culture, and hegemony has always been shaped and influenced by mankind’s carnal nature. Resultantly, guilt as a result of human lifestyle full of abomination points to the foundation, acceptance, and promotion of carnal lifestyle acceptable to the society thereby reducing Christian message to “sharing religious experience” and “social service.” Hendrik Kraemer, in his book commissioned for the World Missionary Conference held in Tamram, India in 1938, ‘The Christian Message in a Non-Christian’ was tasked to “state the fundamental position of the Christian Church as a witness-bearing body in the modern world, relating this to different conflicting views of the attitude to be taken by Christians towards other faiths, and dealing in detail with the evangelistic approach to the great non-Christian faiths.” Kraemer in the book sets the context of crises in the West, East and in the church which all call for “the urgent necessity of fundamental re-orientation of the Church regarding its relation to the world and all its spheres of life.” Kraemer, a scholar of religion and ‘one of the first modern mission theorists to make a holistic attempt to wrest the church, on a global scale, from its captivity to Western Christendom’ lived through two world wars. With his life intimately wedded to the progressive decline of the West both from without and within, a question for him and the Protestant mission movement was how should the mission movement respond to this decline, the decline of the great corpus cristianum? Did the decline of Christendom imply the decline of Christianity? And furthermore, did this mean the demise of missions?’
After World War I, church attendance dropped globally and ‘actual numbers are difficult to ascertain because if someone claims they are “Christian” on the census, this doesn’t necessarily mean hey attend church regularly or are what would be defined as “born again” Christians. Abby Day, a British-based anthropologist in her book Believing in Belonging based on her detailed fieldwork in northern English town asked those who had identified as “Christian” on the 2001 Census what, they had meant by doing so. According to her, ‘half of my informers who answered ‘Christian’ were either agnostics or atheists, who either overtly disavowed religion or at least never incorporated religion, Christianity, God, or Jesus into their own discussions. They were …. Functionally godless and ontologically anthropocentric.’ She explained that when she asked her respondent ‘why they had ticked the Christian box, a common explanation was because they had been baptised, or had attended Church of England services when they were younger, or had otherwise been ‘brought up’ Christian. To be Christian, for them, did not include participating in liturgy or ritual, or engaging with Christian principles such as faith in God, the resurrection, or the life of Jesus. It was an ascribed identity from which they could not apparently disassociate themselves.
In a world in historic transition, Day’s book points us to the challenges and continuing problems of ‘nominal’ or notional’ Christian belonging. The reflection is that ‘many people without faith in God, Jesus, or Christian doctrine self-identity as “Christian” in certain social contexts’ suggests a missional deception, church and leadership decline. According to Day, ‘nominalism is far from an insignificant, empty category but a social, performative act, bringing into being a specific kind of Christian identity.’ Lausanne Occasional Papers on Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among Protestants defines a nominal Christians as ‘one who, within the Protestant tradition, would call himself a Christian, or be so regarded by others, but who has no authentic commitment to Christ based on personal faith.’ The size and complexity of nominality is apparent and ‘found wherever the church is more than one generation old.’
Nominality starts from the heart, significantly dangerous and shapes a specific kind of Christian identity and culture Ham called ‘an Acts 17-Type Culture.’ This is a culture that ‘have taught generations of kids and adults to believe in the evolution of life and man/ or millions of years,’ a culture ‘perplexed when Christians talk about a loving God, as they see so many ugly things in this world – whether it’s a devastating hurricane, earthquake,’ pandemic, knife crimes and mass shootings. An Acts 17-Type Culture ‘don’t understand or accept the Gospel … this message is foolishness … the Bible would be accused of being a book of hate speech and so “outlawed” from a culture.’
The nominalism and ‘a specific kind of Christian identity’ sets the context of the church crises and decline. The result of a world in transition that shaped the crumbling of the Christendom within is the promotion of a “non-Christian” world and church decline. There is the need for the recovery of the church’s apostolic and missionary identity in a world in transition, now a “non-Christian” with ‘the intimate ties between nation-state and church in the Christendom paradigm.’ 83 years ago, Kraemer saw ‘“Christianity” in … a shallow baptism of more basic, self-referential ends. He saw this natural, self-referential quality of humanity most clearly in the rise of secularism. Kraemer recognized the numerous benefits of the Enlightenment with its bent toward rationalism, particularly as it helped Christians move beyond the outright demonization of other religions and as the critical edge of secularism exposed the idolatries of the church. Yet, he rejected secularism as an all-consuming philosophy with it penchant to limit all reality to the immanent sphere of life. More knowledge was good but such a pursuit must be kept in its place. Secularism as a principle was ultimately marked by a “pagan and anthropocentric view of life” that found its renewal in the Renaissance and was coming to fruition in his time.
The missional metrics of the historic Christian faith has
the power of undoing church decline because no debate or argument ‘will
liberate human reasonableness from its ideological prisons.’ To resist and
overcome the distorting, destructive and vast pressures of our social decay; to
stop exacerbating, ignoring, and merely palliating our wrongs and human pride,
we need to be reminded of our sinfulness. The inattention, oversights,
irrationality, irresponsibility of decline invites us to acknowledge our sins
‘learn with humility … that the task of repentance and conversion is
life-long.’ To undo church decline in a transitional
age, “the Christian Church is not at the end of its missionary enterprise in
the non-Christian world, but just at the beginning.” According to
Kraemer, the two things that stood at the heart of this missionary calling
summons us to, one, a reformational call for the church in all its local manifestations
to return to the heart of the Christian faith, the revelation of God in the
person of Jesus Christ, and two, a call for the whole church to embrace its
missionary identity. Kraemer’s prophetic and priestly apostolic trajectories beyond
the demographic transformation of Christianity calls for personal and corporate
repentance. A world in transition
calls for a church committed to the historic Christian faith with the examples
in the Wesleyan tradition. Wesley in his own days did not followed the world. He
made the world his parish – a counter-cultural and renewing agent to a church
that has become a parish of the world.
 Lonergan, Bernard, Method in Theology, in Ogbonnaya, Joseph, Lonergan, Social Transformation and Sustainable Human Development (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), pp.89-90
 Thomas Jackson, (ed.), The Works of John Wesley Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), pp. 26-27; The Works of John Wesley Vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), p. 16;
 Sherwood, Harriet, ‘Christianity as default is gone’: the rise of a non-Christian Europe,’ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion
 Okegbile, Deji, Stop the Funeral: Reverse Methodists Decline ( A Prayer Guide) (London: Supertec Designs, 2017), pp, 6-7, 17
 Christ Ritter, ‘Seven Principles for Another Methodist Turn-Around,’ https://peopleneedjesus.net/2015/07/06/seven-principles-for-another-methodist-turn-around/comment-page-1/
 Haught, James A, “Fading Faith,” Free Inquiry 30, no 2 (February/March 2010).
 Meacham, Jon, “The End of Christian Amerca,” in Newsweek, ‘The Decline and Fall of Christian America,’ April 13, 2009, p. 36.
 Kraemer, Hendrik, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (New York: Harper, 1938), p. v.
 Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World , p. xi
 Ham, Ken, Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant (Great Forest, AR: Master Books, 2018), p. 57.
 Day, Abby, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 71-72
 Day, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, p. 180.
 Bullant, Stephen, Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 20
 Day, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, p. 174
 Lausanne Occasional Papers, No. 23 Thailand Report – Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among Protestants, June 1980, pp. 5-6.
 Ham, Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant, p. 67.
 “Christianity and Secularism,” International Review of Mission 19 (1930): 202.
 Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p. 40
 Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p. 127