I drove with my mother past a Presbyterian church in town that had a sign boasting: "Founded in 1714." I said to her, "I want to get the history of that church." My cursory knowledge of colonial American times suggested it once had been an alive congregation. My visit on the occasion of a wedding two decades ago suggested "ichabod" ("the glory has departed").
So said I to my mom. And she (not a Christian) inquired of me as to how that happens---how a church can change so much over the years. As delighted as if she had said, "Please tell me the gospel once more," I replied in colloquial words like the following:
Churches and other institutions and individuals never slide close to God; they only slide away. Christianity became Liberalism and then Unitarianism within two generations. Harvard's official motto was Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae ("For Christ and the Church") until 1843 and then changed to Veritas. The zealous Christian reformers of William Wilberforce's day became the merely moral Victorians.
I always hear it's polysyllabic culprits that killed the Church: Liberalism, Deism, the Enlightenment. And it's true that after Wilberforce, evangelicals, being outnumbered, were forced into coalitions with others to push for their social agenda, and before you knew it, cobelligerents became allies.
But it never would have happened but for slippage at the cellular level. That's always the primary cause. Cultural fads of modernism would never have been able to seduce British reformers---and the high Federalists of New England would never have succeeded in neutralizing powerful men of God into the spiritually effete Boston Brahmins---if every man from the pastor to the sexton had seen to it to abide in Christ on a daily basis. The gradual neglect of simple disciplines of prayer and devotion to the Word are what killed Harvard---and no doubt what killed the church here on Susquehanna Avenue with the sign that boasts its founding in 1714.
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