I haven’t written for awhile. I went back to Montana to see family last month and since coming home I’ve been in an almost constant state of spiritual agitation. I have wanted to write so many things in response to inner turmoil I’ve been going through, but knew it was better if I didn’t. I didn’t want to say anything that was only out of my frustration or irritation. I want to be sure that I’m conveying the heart of God and not my opinion of the way things should be.
It’s not been easy…believe me!
I have to be honest, the book “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan utterly ruined me. And “Not A Fan” by Kyle Idleman has been my undoing. Watching videos of sermons by Pastor Chan, David Platt, Tim Challis, Greg Laurie, MarK Driscoll and others have left me wasted. Watching Todd Friel’s “Wretched” and even some of the funny, but poignant “Cartoons” of Lutheran Satire (all on You Tube) have totally upset my inner peace. I’ve become so dissatisfied with the “comfortable”, the “passive”, the “non-confrontational”. I’m not talking about legalism, I’m talking about just laying the Truth out there no matter the consequences. And that’s where I’ve been in conflict.
I’m hired by the church to clean and I usually do that on Saturdays. I usually have a Bible Study group in the morning and clean in the afternoon, but this past weekend we cancelled the Bible Study till next week. So I was just going to run down to the Church and get the cleaning done and then head off to town to get some shopping done. As I pulled up to the Church I saw a car there. I would normally have just keep going, not wanting to disturb anything that might be going on at the Church that morning. But I decided to just get it over with and I would work around whoever was there and whatever they were doing. I could always finish up whatever I didn’t get done later.
It happened to be one of the ladies in our Church who is a real prayer warrior and she was there praying. I don’t know why, but when she told me she had been praying for the Church I just blurted out “I could use some of that.” And when she asked why I poured out a portion of the frustration I was feeling. And then we prayed. A huge weight just melted off my shoulders that morning. It was totally a “God thing”.
Now, God didn’t change anything but my frustration level, but He did give me the strength to keep hanging in there; to keep perservering. God’s not done yet.
I have to be honest about the reason for my frustration though. I’m frustrated with the Church. My church and the Church in America overall.
I read a 2009 Barna survey examining the changes in the worldview of Americans since 1995. From the report:
For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.
Overall, the current research revealed that only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview. Among the sixty subgroups of respondents that the survey explored was one defined by those who said they have made a personal to commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior. Labeled “born again Christians,” the study discovered that they were twice as likely as the average adult to possess a biblical worldview. However, that meant that even among born again Christians, less than one out of every five (19%) had such an outlook on life.
Society has been on a rapid downward spiral, which started long before my generation ever came into being. We’re long past the point where people were livid at “Gone With The Wind” because Clark Gable’s character, Rhett Butler, said “the ‘D’ word”. Cable t.v. brings that and much worse into our homes every day. And the days of married couples shown sleeping in separate beds because to show otherwise was inappropriate has been replaced with what would have given you a “X” rating at the movie theater just 45 years ago. Today Michael Sam is a hero and Tim Tebow is a pariah. To be politically incorrect could get you charged with hate speech.
As I reflected in an earlier post the Church in America during Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s visit before WWII is very similar to the Church today. We haven’t changed. In fact, any many ways we’ve gotten worse. Not only have we spent years in public silence over the changing culture of America, we’ve given people a god that is commerically sellable and socially palatable. We’ve gone from Christianity being a walk to being a product and the Church has become a business in search of a marketing plan to attract more consumers.
Worship staged like a 30 minute rock concert. Coffee bars. Groups for every issue of life: parenting, exercise, singles, divorce. Events. Seminars. Outreaches. None of which is, in and of itself, bad. I don’t want to suggest they are. But when they becomes the things that attract new members, rather than solid, biblical teaching I think we have a problem.
The lives of many who call themselves Christians don’t really look all that different from the rest of the world. We’ve replaced compassion with tolerance. To avoid being perceived as “dogmatic” we’ve stayed away from the “hard teachings” of Scripture and chosen instead to sermonize on your finances, your relationships, “Your Best Life Ever”, your purpose, your blessings. We stick to the milk of Scripture to avoid “choking” on the meat.
And yet we still seem to be surprised at the way society has gone so rapidly. We wonder out loud how it got this far. And we are shocked when it’s our own children that are caught in that fast moving stream and swept away.
But what I find personally shocking is what is stated in the Barna survey: most who claim to call themselves Christians don’t believe in moral absolutes or the inerrancy of scripture. They believe that good works can earn you a place in Heaven and Satan is only a symbol or force, rather than an actual spiritual being (which likely means they don’t believe in a Hell, which then means they most probably have a Universalist worldview). They don’t believe it’s likely that Jesus led a sinless life or God is really omnipotent or omniscient. But I guess it shouldn’t, because how can anyone know what they haven’t really been taught? We dance around the subjects: we kind of float around the peripheries or say those are more the subjects for small group Bible Studies. I’ve heard suggested that Sundays are more reaching out to those who may be coming for the first time rather than instructing the regular attender.
While it’s been wonderful to send missionaries to foreign fields (who are probably more receptive) we’ve neglected the mission field in our own backyard; partially because we haven’t really shown our own members how to go about reaching out to our friends and neighbors and partially because our own people don’t even really know what they believe and why.
And now the attacks on Christians and the Church in America are becoming more frequent and more direct than ever before. The push is on to monitor and regulate what can and cannot be said from the pulpit. Entities are putting pressure on the government to remove the tax-exempt status from churches who express opinions on matters deemed political in nature (such as abortion), while others push for legislation that would label as “hate speech” sermons that oppose the LGBT “lifestyle”. Christian organizations are forced to pay for “medical” procedures they may oppose (contraceptives and abortions) through the new healthcare law. And there are outreaches that feed the homeless that have been shutdown because they didn’t meet Health Department guidelines or have the necessary permits to distribute the food.
As the pressure on Christians and the Church to conform more to society increases, it becomes a greater imperative that we instruct our members in the essential doctrines of faith. They must know what they believe and why they believe it. They must have the conviction of those beliefs to be able to stand against those things that come in opposition to it.
A few years ago Washington State was preparing to vote on whether gays and lesbians should have the right to marry. Our local church took a stand opposing the ballot initiative. But there were young members who protested outside the church’s front door because they believed it was a civil right that should be granted to anyone who wanted to make that kind of commitment in a relationship. I can’t totally fault those young people for that opinion because it was clear in my discussion with them that they didn’t understand the overall moral implications or why the Church must make a stand on such things. By the time the initiative came up it was too late to lay that foundation for them. Consequently, because the leadership stood opposed to what they did, they left the church.
For too long the Church has chosen to ignore the weightier issues because it turned too many people off; they felt it was too judgmental. The emphasis was more on increasing membership rather than spiritual growth and depth. Deeper growth was encouraged, don’t get me wrong, but the onus was the individual to make it happen, rather than on building each other up in faith.
The Apostle Paul gave Timothy this charge: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage — with great patience and instruction.” (2Timothy 4:2) It’s time we took this charge to heart and return to preaching THE WORD. Our understanding of finances and relationships and our purpose will come as a result of that. But the emphasis now needs to be placed back on the Word itself. That will lead to spiritual growth and help Christians to be able to stand against the pressures and onslaughts from society.
We may not be able to, at this point, turn society around — and if it does happen it will come only over great time and with great effort. However, we can give our members a firm foundation on which to stand and the knowledge and encouragement to so.
“But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1Peter 3:15-16)
I pray earnestly, that we will return to applying our hearts to instruction and our ears to words of knowledge. (Prove 23:12)