Christianity can take a punch but it can also be sent to its deathbed in any given region.
The Orthodox Churches know this phenomenon to be true. Modern day Turkey is where the seven churches in the book of Revelation were located. That region used to be called Asia-minor. For several hundred years Asia-minor was the epicenter of Christianity. According to Dr. Phil Jenkins, in the year 1050 A.D. there were 373 bishoprics with over 21 million Christians living there. However, with the spread and conquest of militant Islam in the eighth and ninth centuries, Muslim rule came into effect.
“Four hundred years later, that Christian proportion had fallen to 10 to 15 percent of the population, and we can find just three bishops. According to one estimate, the number of Asian Christians fell, between 1200 and 1500, from 21 million to 3.4 million.”
Fast forward to the twentieth century. In 1917, Russia had its communist revolution; courtesy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Nicholas II, the Czar of Russia, and his royal family were dethroned and then killed. Soon thereafter the Russian Orthodox Church was the target of this Godless revolution. In 1917, it had 66,140 clergy members. By 1940, that number dwindled to 6,376. And as for the churches, there were 39,530 of them in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. In 1940, however, only 950 of them remained functional.
Here in America, we know the impact the Sexual Revolution had on the Catholic Church in the late 1960s. Now, many of its champions are leaders in government, in the classrooms, in the newsrooms, and even in the courtrooms. As time passes and as they accrue more power and influence in the public square, they will become less and less tolerant of us Christians. No need to guess on this; we have history to tell the story.
Hilaire Belloc, the Catholic historian who predicted the rise of Islam when Islam was at its political all time low (in the 1930s), also cautioned Catholics about the "modern attack." The modern attack is any Godless ideology which seeks to destroy the Christian religion. In the twentieth century, communism, socialism and secular-liberalism have sought to do just that. Here, in the passage below, his warning about the “modern attack” is synonymous to what Pope Benedict called, “The Dictatorship of Relativism.”
In 1938 Belloc said, “The modern attack will not tolerate us. It will attempt to destroy us. Nor can we tolerate it. We must attempt to destroy it as being the fully equipped and ardent enemy of the Truth by which men live. The duel is to the death.”
Bishop Fulton Sheen confirmed this by saying that either religion interferes with secularism or secularism will interfere with religion. It is not by violence that the Church seeks to interfere and disrupt secular-liberalism, but rather it is by using her moral authority to bind and loose, to forgive and retain sins. However, seldom does the Church bind and seldom does she retain.
Today, secular-liberalism is interfering with the Church in America. Why? Because Catholics have not interfered with it! We have not repressed and actively combated that false sense of liberty known as license. As Pope Leo XIII said, “(L)icense will gain what liberty loses; for liberty will ever be more free and secure in proportion as license is kept in fuller restraint.” Keeping license in restraint involves calling people to repentance from specific sins; not just sin generally considered. You see, it is not enough to affirm truth; we also have to denounce error. It is not enough love virtue; we also have to hate sin.
This is what Christ did; this is what the Apostles did; this is what the Church Fathers did; and it is what the Saints did. It is also something we must do.
Take the following passages from the New Testament as an example:
St. Paul admonished the Ephesians to do the following: “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them … ” (Ephesians 5:11) And then to St. Timothy, a fellow bishop, he wrote, “Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.” (I Timothy 5:20)
To the church in Thyatira, the Risen Lord said, “Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot ... ” (Revelation 2:20)
St. John the Apostle wrote in his second letter: “Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.” (II John 9-11)
Nevertheless, we have learned to be tolerant of the modern attack, even within the Church. But how, you ask? By giving holy things and pearls to obstinate sinners (our Lord referred to them as dogs and swine). Obstinate sinners are not only those who only sin but refuse to repent from sin. They not only break God’s laws but they advocate the breaking of God’s laws. Yet, they are permitted to sit next to faithful Catholics on any given pew. Here, I not only speak of politicians who support abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but also of couples who cohabitate, couples who are openly gay or even people who attend Mass when they please.
Like it or not, our churches are an admixture of those who earnestly follow Christ and those who live contrary to his commands. In many cases, the City of God and the City of Man exist side by side within our dioceses. As such, a union of minds and a uniformity of action among Catholics are very difficult to come by. But one of the marks of the Catholic Church is unity. Undoubtedly, this unity needs to be better expressed if the prophetic voice is to be an effective force against tyranny. As St. Ireneaus indicated, her message needs to be one and the same everywhere. But I am afraid that the tolerance of mortal sin and the leniency shown towards obstinate sinners undermines this oneness of message and action. Such a permissive approach has the unintended consequence of creating division and confusion within the Church.
Not only does religious liberty depend on this holy unity, but our survival as a Church in any given region depends on it too. Let Asia-minor and Russia be a lesson for us.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.