“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize that about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Self-examination is usually a positive thing. I am Type 2 diabetic. I frequently check my blood glucose level to assure that I am in a healthy range. I go to my cardiologist to get a checkup on how my ticker is doing. Are the particular blood tests within a healthy range? Do I need a medication change? It’s always nice when I can walk out of his office, having heard him say, “Your cholesterol is looking good and I see you’ve lost some weight.” Wow, having reached three-quarters of a century in age, that’s enough to make me sing, walking back out to my car.
Then it always makes me wonder, “How is the Evangelical Church doing in our nation? A nation which appears to be declining morally, spiritually, economically, politically and culturally.” My opinion of the status of the Evangelical Church has been declining for almost four decades.
The visible Evangelical Church in America moved through several transitional periods: the invasive liberalism of the 20’s and 30’s, the increasing separatism of the 40’s and 50’s, the cultural isolation of the 60’s and 70’s, the political joy of the 80’s, the thrill of the mega growth of the 90’s, and the emergent mish-mash of 2000 and beyond. What are some of the current characteristics of the Church, now somewhat embedded in its “emergent” state of affairs? I see several. And they continue to disturb me.
First: A continuing abandonment of the teaching of theology. Liberalism scared us with its quest for higher scholasticism, so we decided to simplify the doctrinal aspects of our teachings. The Gospel became watered down to where the average church deacon could not define for you what the Word teaches about justification.
Second: The almost total lack of catechism – teaching what we, as Protestants, believe. Pastors avoid catechesis, and most parents don’t even press their children to memorize Bible verses, let alone memorize a catechism and understand the fundamentals of Protestant belief. “After all, we’ve got so many other projects and activities demanding the kid’s time; and we can’t seem to get their hand-held communication and entertainment devices out of their hands.”
Third: The continued embrace of the methods of secular marketing to try to get people into church. Our culture’s emphasis is youth driven. Hype up the advertisement, jazz up the music, provide some pastry and coffee, and try to talk folks into considering the Christian faith as though it was an insurance policy for heaven, without any payment of repentance. Besides, that’s a sticky theological word and we avoid those today. Let’s all just be happy.
Fourth: Mediocrity in the Pulpit. Jack Van Impe, with whom I served as an Associate Evangelist in the early 70’s, used to grieve over the ministerial mediocrity he saw in his nation-wide ministry. So it’s said today, whatever you do, don’t say anything that might offend someone. Don’t preach on hell. Goodness, that might make you have to explain why most folks are going there – and already have the sentence of eternal death on them. So what if Jesus preached on hell more than anyone else recorded in Scripture. Do we have to, also?
Fifth: Identity Avoidance. What’s the name of your church? “The Gathering,” “Celebration,” Freedom Church,” “Ocean View,” “Real Life,” “The Crossing,” “Bayside,” “The House,” “Cornerstone,” “Elevation,” “Friends,” etc., etc. Emergent churches often avoid any identification with a particular denomination. Quite often the church is either “independent” or built around a charismatic man. Some emergent churches are quick to avoid describing the sheep and the goats in the audience. After all, we have turned the sheepfold into a zoo. We’ve got to make folks go home feeling good about themselves, not that they are sinners needing a savior. Don’t all churches desire to make people more morally upright and helpful to the community?
Sixth: The lack of Biblical teaching and preaching on evangelism. Have you heard a sermon on soul winning lately? What is it, anyway? Is Proverbs 11:30 applicable to our day? What is a “tree of life,” anyway? Isn’t that why we hire a professionally trained pastoral staff? Is it really true that less than 5% of professing Christians feel it is their personal responsibility to share the Gospel with those with whom they come in contact?
Seventh: The increase of Christian Theft. Less than 6% of professing Christians observe the Biblical requirement to tithe ten percent of their income. Today is the day of the “tipper” not the tither. Did Jesus really say that tithing is the responsibility of a believer? (Matthew 23:23). Did God really say that His people are robbers? (Malachi 3:8-11). No wonder we resort to building warehouses for churches instead of cathedrals. No wonder we can’t afford to tithe. We don’t believe in it. Our churches are filled with thieves! Or perhaps you don’t think it matters to God any more.
Eighth: The abandonment of prayer. As a youth and up to the 70’s, it was a common practice to go to prayer meeting at church on Wednesday nights. No longer. Prayer meetings are a thing of the “traditional” past. Today, pastors are too busy performing their duties as “life coach,” and promoting “recovery” as opposed to prayer for spiritual revival. They may suggest that people pray; but they don’t command it. Should the imperative statement of I Thessalonians 5:17 be changed to a suggestion? It’s only my opinion; but the Evangelical Church in America has abandoned personal and corporate prayer for God to revive His people from their lukewarm, apathetic state.
Ninth: Forsaking any concept of traditional liturgy. Our good old American sense of individualism and entrepreneurship has led some pastors to throw out any type of traditional liturgy (like praying the Lord’s Prayer). Liturgy is simply defined as “a rite prescribed for public worship.” Many of today’s church leaders say, “Let’s do it my way. It will help bring in the un-churched.” So they prescribe their own order of service, establishing their own liturgy. After all, if it’s new, it must be true. But it’s only the liturgy of the contemporary. Nothing unique. Only a parody of the inferiority of a devolving, dying race, in some cases, a ridiculous imitation of something that had more beautiful, theological substance.
Tenth: Surrendering to our culture’s passion for youth dominance. It has been wisely said that our culture, including the church, has been juvenilized. We’re just a big bunch of kids trying to get by, having a good time. Let the old folks step aside and the young and the restless lead the way. And juvenilization leads to a failure of transmuting the wisdom of older, mature believers to the current crisis.
“Dwarfed by the vast complexity of the universe, towered over by technology and its environment, people see themselves reduced to insignificance and their initiative is drained…people lose their sense of individuality. Inaction becomes elevated into a principle. The result is a generation suffering from cultural failure of nerve.” .
In his remarkable book, The Dust of Death, published twenty years ago, Oz Guinness spoke pointedly about the state of the church:
“The Christian community needs first to put its own house in order and regain its integrity and clarity from its compromise with the present confusion…Christians face a subtle danger of creating a new Christian subculture, long-haired instead of short, but equally narcissistic and self-contained…What is needed is nothing short of reformation and revival in the church, a rediscovery of the truth of God by his people and a renewal of the life of God within his people. This is our crying need individually and corporately. Needles to say, both are the prerogative of God, so the probability of revival is beyond the scenarios of futurology. But it is exactly I these nonhumanist hands that the future of Western civilization lies.”
With the decline in our nation in so many ways, one wonders just how long the Ship of State can stay afloat. And what has happened to the faith that once turned the world upside-down with the preaching of Christ by Christian converts? But for any true believer there is always hope.
Things that encourage me: 1.) A return on the part of some preachers to preaching the whole counsel of God and a return to a renewed emphasis on the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. 2.) An awareness that abandoning theology has sprung open the door to all kinds of doctrinal aberrations and wholesale ignorance on the part of the laity as to what we should believe and why we should believe it. 3.) A realization that God is still on His Throne and that Jesus Christ is still building His church. 4.) Another look at the concept of liturgy. Some are realizing that abandoning traditional liturgy and replacing it with a more “modern” or culturally acceptable liturgy has forced older generations of believers to flee the church or surrender to the dominance of today’s youth culture.
So, we ask the question, “Is there any hope”? I can only answer with the Word:
“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within s, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).