Jody and I just returned from Ireland and one of the things that most stood out to me was the number of ruins scattered across the Irish countryside. Some were ruined castles and houses but the vast majority of the buildings were old churches and abbeys. An abbey is a complex of buildings used by members of a religious order under the governance of an abbot or abbess. It provides a place for religious activities, work, and housing of Christian monks and nuns. Some of the ruins we walked through were almost 900 years old. And still their walls stood. The roofs, made of wood were long rotted and gone, but the structures themselves stood the test of time.
The tall tower you see in the center was inaccessible from the existing structure but rose over 50 feet in the air and was resting on top of stone arches that have been in place for hundreds of years. Usable stone stairways and passages conveyed us to the second stories and from one part of the abbey to the next. Carvings in stone and stone framed window openings told of a once grand and beautiful church (the wall on the far right). Several buildings had a second story with the chimney intact where members of the religious order slept. Other rooms served as classrooms, dining halls and work areas.
The carvings and meticulous detail planned into these buildings is incredible. Often they took multiple years to build. Stone had to be hauled to the site, artisans and masons had to carve and assemble various pieces, like an arched doorway for example, and then workers had to mount scaffolding to put each stone carefully in place.
These types of structures were everywhere in Ireland. A rich past of Christianity and sacred devotion, left behind in stone. Today, 1-3% of Ireland is Christian. Very few existing churches are visible in any village. There are probably more ruins of churches and abbeys than there are functioning Christian congregations. How does a nation go from an abbey and church in every village to almost none at all? I have three suggestions:
1. Faith is not passed along - this is simple. One generation of believers does not help their children or grandchildren know what true faith is all about. They leave this responsibility to someone else and miss the opportunity to help their own family.
2. Faith becomes cultural rather than personal - When so many people believe in Jesus it is easy to look at faith as something that a nation or a culture as a whole, does or believes rather than realizing that each person has to make a decision to follow Jesus. This is why a majority of Americans still think of themselves as Christians even though they have no idea what it really means. Culturally, we once had higher moral standards and held Christianity in higher regard.
3. Faith is politicized rather than preached - In some countries churches are left in ruin because the rulers of the day, the government, use faith as a means of control rather than a lifestyle to be lived. This creates people who on the surface nod along with the preacher because they have to, but in their hearts have no interest in the things of God.
America isn't old enough to have ruins like Ireland does. But there doesn't have to be an abandoned building to know when the church is in ruins. Thankfully, the church in America is NOT in ruins. There is still a vibrant and excited base of believers who are trusting God for great things. But if we want to avoid Ireland's current state we must pass our faith along. Look not just to buildings but to disciples. Are we helping people grow in Christ? Only then can we ensure that our faith is carried on for generations to come.