The 20th Century witnessed the rise of individualism, a greater globalization of various people groups, modernization, an increased hope placed in the scientific method, and liberalization of thought. Nations went to war with one another on a scale greater than any previous century. The method of killing was honed through practice and science to the extend that a single bomb could now annihilate millions of men, women, and children. Greater resources were needed to keep the industrialized nations advancing. Non-industrialized nations were colonized to fuel the greed, thus infecting indigenous peoples of the non-industrialized communities with the same woes of the rest of the world. The unsinkable ship (the Titanic) sank. Economic markets collapsed around the world. Walls of separation were build between the East and the West, between nations, and between cultures. And walls of separation were torn down. The scientific marvel, the Space Shuttle Challenger, exploded right before the eyes of millions of school children eagerly watching the first teacher jettisoned into space. Genocide. Apartheid. HIV/AIDS. Corruption. Riots. Post office and school shootings. Hope was greatly challenged. Failure.
In the jumble of the changing world, people looked for answers to the problems they were observing. For some, Karl Marx offered a solution--communism. For others capitalism offered hope. Some turned to politics. Some sought scientific answers. The atheist philosophers blamed religion and God. Nazis blamed the Jews. Political conservatives blamed the liberals and the liberals returned in-kind. Nuclear arsenals became the answer for those who could amass them. Many in the West sought answers in Eastern world religions and philosophies. In the East, some turned to a greater mysticism, totalitarianism, or various other religious practices. Some simply checked out with the aid of drugs. Many found comfort in apathy.
But not every answer had negative results. The Civil Rights movements in the West granted greater freedoms to minorities and women. The non-resistant protest method surfaced in India and America. Nations formed united alliances and unions in an effort to work together. Concern for less fortunate people of other nations developed. Conservation movements fostered a respect for nature. And through positive advancements,the quality of life for many greatly improved.
The Church also attempted to offer answers. "More than any international organization, corporation, or political movement" writes Gonzalez, "the church cut across national boundaries, class distinctions, and political allegiances" (1985, 336). The challenge however, was that the Church was not in agreement. Gonzalez states, "War, and racial and class strife divided the church--often along lines that had little to do with earlier theological differences" (336). (Had the Church put more weight in Biblical teaching and theology instead of political posturing and advancing moral rules, it might not have had as much of an issue.)
The Eastern churches, specifically the Orthodox communities attempted to unify, mostly through the World Council of Churches, but sadly many disagreements and schisms resulted. Roman Catholics sought religious reform through the efforts of the Second Vatican Council. The Protestants made strong attempts to offer answers in light of the advances and failures of the 20th Century. Some sought greater unity in the Church while others made attempts to separate themselves from society, finding comfort in fundamentalism. Many Christians programs were promoted to help the poor, afflicted, and suffering. Some were even created. The missions movement started or continued, and stronger, bold evangelism was promoted. Greater work was placed upon translating the Bible. Christians advanced the message of hope in Christ Jesus through new technologies and church planting. But unfortunately, among Protestants disagreements surfaced and schisms birthed new denominations. An effort to promote moralism over faith came at the cost of sharing the hope of grace found only in Jesus. Christians also found themselves having to defend (and advance) the gospel through political activism, elections, and the court systems of various nations. As Christians reacted to the difficulties of the 20th Century, societies started reacting to the Christians, which is where the 20th Century closed.
So now, ten years into the 21st Century, the Church is facing a great opportunity to provide answers were previous generations may have fallen short.
González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity:The reformation to the present Day. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.