World Versus Church: Who Is Winning?

Scripture makes it clear that there will always be an ongoing battle between the people of God and the surrounding culture. Both can have a big impact on the other, but the hope is that the values and beliefs of God’s people rub off on the surrounding culture.

In the Old Testament Yahweh commanded Israel to neutralise the Canaanites so that they would not adversely impact on Israel. Yet Israel did not fully comply with this, and eventually the Canaanite influence on Israel became far greater than the Israelite influence on Canaan.

What is that saying about ‘it’s easier to get Israel out of Canaan than it is to get Canaan out of Israel’? That is a perennial problem. God’s people are meant to be in the world, and impacting on the world, but at the same time are not to be contaminated by the world.

Christians are called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16). Yet Jesus warned about the salt losing its saltiness, and our light being hid under a basket. Sadly much of the church seems to have lost its saltiness, and/or hidden its light.

We are warned about this in various places. In Romans 12 2 we read that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Or as the Phillips translation puts it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold”. But that is happening far too often. As a very recent example of this, consider new research conducted by George Barna:

“A recent Barna Group study shows that Christian teens from the U.S. are less and less enthusiastic about sharing their faith. Information on the study released last week provided evidence that ‘among born again Christian teenagers, the proportion who said they had explained their beliefs to someone else with different faith views in the last year had declined from nearly two-thirds of teenagers in 1997 (63%) to less than half of Christian teens in the December 2009 study (45%)’.”

Terry Erickson of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship said, “I think many teens as well as young college students have really bought into the cultural view of tolerance. You don’t want to offend anyone, so there’s a reluctance to share your faith. So we see lots of students that have to get over that hurdle in college if they want to do evangelism.”

He also said that there is a theological issue as well: “That issue really has to do with many of our students, and I think this is even true for teens, really need more understanding and more conviction about Jesus being the only way to God.”

These findings are alarming, but not unexpected. For decades now the West has swum in a sea of relativism, false conceptions of tolerance and compassion, and a rejection of the notion of absolute truth. Today the only sin is to be intolerant.

This cultural rot has unfortunately infiltrated the churches big time. We now have the very sad situation in which many believers feel they are being judgmental, intolerant or lacking in compassion simply to proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus and his singular role in salvation.

The moral mush and soggy notions of truth found in the West have taken hold of large parts of the church, rendering it insecure, lacking in confidence, and questioning its own purpose and rationale. The strong sense of certainty and assurance which is everywhere found in the New Testament has given way to sloppy sentimentalism and spiritual lethargy.

When we get to the place where we think presenting the gospel is unloving and intolerant, then we might as well give the game away. We need a major turnaround – a turn back to truth, to certainty, and to conviction. We need to remind ourselves of the early believers and the great saints of old.

We need to be reminded that men and women had such rock-bottom certainty and assurance of their Lord and their gospel that they risked everything for it, even life itself. They could endure suffering, persecution, torture and death because of their complete conviction that Jesus was who he said he was, and that everyone desperately needed to know Him.

Imagine Elijah worried about offending the prophets of Baal. Imagine Paul worried about appearing to be intolerant of the Judaisers. Imagine Jesus saying, ‘Well, I might be the way, I could be the truth, and it is possible I am the life, but you never know; we all better find our own path and our own truth’.

Sadly today we see marks of compromise, uncertainty, and unbelief in many churches. Today the stress is on dialogue, interfaith relations, and hearing all sides of the debate. We have become uncomfortable with the radical claims of the gospel, and we instead offer a wishy-washy feel good message, hoping to offend no one.

Jesus had no time for such nonsense. He said quite clearly, “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9).

But unfortunately the world has squeezed us into its mould, and we are now paying the price for it. We now find such strong words to be lacking in love, inclusion and acceptance. We want to be liked by all people, instead of being liked by God.

Over a century ago Andrew Bonar said, “I looked for the church and found it in the world. I looked for the world and found it in the church.” That is now our condition. What will we do to get out of it? We better decide soon. Too much is at stake, and the world is being starved of the gospel that it so very much needs to hear.

[980 words]

16 Replies to “World Versus Church: Who Is Winning?”

  1. Well said Bill. I find it remarkable that post-modernism has claimed so many scalps, the classical definition of the word ‘tolerate’ is just one. I often find myself agreeing with Atheists who accuse Christians with being ‘anti-intellectual’. While this problem is certainly not limited to Christians, ‘we’ generally seem to have discarded critical thought for something else. Truth, in the objective sense is by definition exclusive. But the truth about Christ, if applied correctly can not lead to anything that is not to be admired.
    Tim Stacey

  2. Hi Bill,

    Only a thought, I do get annoyed at the odd occasion when let’s say Jehovah’s Witnesses or a pair of Mormons at my doorstep, certainly with the Mormons are generally they young men from America. I know these people are not Christian and I don’t know the theological reasons why they are mistaken; but I don’t think I could evangelise the way they do, going from door to door like that, but is that what we as Christians should be doing?

    Carl Strehlow

  3. Good stuff Bill. I find it interesting that Christians generally are reluctant to offend others and far too tolerant (or indifferent?). However others certainly do not have any problem sticking it to the Christians.
    Lawrie Mcnamara

  4. Thanks Carl

    Part of my reply comes from what Lawrie just wrote. Why is it that those in the cults, other religions, and even secular religions so often seem much more willing and able to actively share their faith? Why are so many Christians so reluctant and hesitant about openly declaring the good news of the gospel, while so many of these other groups do not seem to have such fears or inhibitions? We do stand condemned as we compare our silence to their zeal.

    But another part of the answer is this: there are all sorts of ways in which we can evangelise. One of the most common and natural ways is simply through the relationships we have – with family, friends, workmates, classmates, etc. When we have a trusted relationship with another, it is much easier to share our faith. And we all should pray for open doors and divine opportunities to share our faith.

    We are of course told throughout the New Testament of the importance of sharing our faith. We are told by Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples. Thus we have overseas evangelists who share the gospel. We call them missionaries. But we can also evangelise closer to home, and God calls many to do street preaching, door-to-door work, and so on. While not all Christians are called to be evangelists, we are all called to be witnesses for our Lord.

    But there is a final point which we can all consider carefully. We tend to freely talk to people – even complete strangers – about whatever we are really passionate about. How easily do we tell others, even people we do not know, about our favourite football team, or whatever. Why are we so happy to share with others our passion about sport or some other love, yet so hesitant and ashamed to share with others our passion and love for Jesus? We all need to prayerfully ask ourselves that question.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Hi Carl,
    Perhaps the occasions when false religionists show up at your door wanting to talk religion are great opportunities to share your faith without leaving your home. Similarly the great numbers of people coming to Australia from other cultures gives us the opportunity to be cross cultural missionaries without the need to leave the country. Just a thought.
    Glenn Christopherson

  6. Thanks Glenn

    Yes quite right on both fronts. As to the door-knocking cultists, only Christians who are well-grounded in their faith and know what they believe and why should engage in dialogue with them. There are plenty of good books and resources available on these various groups and their heterodox beliefs. All of these cults are off on the major Christian beliefs, eg., the deity of Christ, the Trinity, etc., or hold to false teachings, such as extra-biblical revelation, works-based salvation, and so on.

    But the world of banking can be of help here. All well-trained bank tellers know so very well what real money is like, that they can spot a fake bank note a mile away. We too should know our basic Christian beliefs and doctrines so well, that we can easily pick up heretical or cultic teaching.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. If I may just share on the door knockers situation? I had a group of them at my door the other day and they said “have you heard about a higher power?”
    I said yes, he’s called Jesus.
    They said “you may like to read this pamphlet”.
    Well only if you read mine, I said. I then said, do you believe in the bible?
    Oh yes she said.
    I said, and yet you felt the need to edit it and write your own?
    They said “we’ll just have to agree to disagree”. And left.
    Must of been something I said.

    God Bless you Bill.
    Daniel Kempton

  8. May I gently suggest that as an evangelist I share often most days as the Lord leads people across my path; at the end of the day my husband is too shy to share; we are both learning to rest in His presence and not strive to do more or feel guilty if we have not ticked off our quota box. Trust more that today is more about you and Him, and your light will shine out of your relationship with Him, not because of what you do for Him.
    Ilona Sturla

  9. Quite a few years ago, when my wife and I had 5 young kidlettes – 5 under 5 🙂 we were unable to do many of the evangelical things that we wanted to do. So we set about learning as much about JWs and Mormons (and another group) as we could. There are many resources out there, but being personally acquainted with Adrian VanLeen was the best. We started a habit which we still follow today. We always invite them in, sit, offer tea/coffee and bickies and engage them gently in debate.

    We don’t know what has happened to any of them since, but as Walter Martin used to say, “Plant seeds, plant seeds”, and that we did. One JW circuit elder and his wife came back 4 times. If you can’t go out to the mission field, use the one that comes to your door.

    I pray for you and your ministry Bill. Please keep it going.

    Kev Downes

  10. I have invited Jehovah’s witnesses to come by appointment to my home and agreed to listen to them if they’d listen to me. I had plenty of back up prayer and The Holy Spirit gave me all the scripture verses I needed to show that the triune nature of our God is plainly revealed in Scripture. I wouldn’t have done it lightly but believed I should try as the man said he had been baptised and grown up a Christian and that now he’d found the truth! He left in a temper at the end but I’m sure God’s not finished with him yet. May God bless him and his quiet gentle wife.
    Anna Cook

  11. Hi Guys,
    I can’t believe this happened to me today after posting my comment earlier today. I walk a long way to visit my mother in aged care, Friday each week (about ninety minutes up there and back). She sadly is suffering from dementia. On the way back, I bumped into two nice, well dressed young youths with Jesus Christ Church of latter Day Saints badges on their suit jackets. They introduced themselves and we talked about the weather. As we talked and I informed them I already go to a church and they asked me why etc and replied that I go there to worship God and even went on to say that I go there as I should love Him as well and explained to them that unlike what Richard Dawkins would say that there is a rational to belief in God. This gentleman then talked about things I never heard in my Sunday school classes and from sermons about how these writings were lost etc, how they have been revealed (I assume it is this book of Mormon) I replied “That’s where we theologically differ.”

    It is funny Daniel that you mention some others who asked you “you may like to read this pamphlet” and you responded “Well only if you read mine”. This same guy offered me some pamphlets too, to which I refused. I was also thinking I should have some reading material myself if this happens again. I couldn’t’ talk to them any more as I had more than an hour to walk to get home. But I was thinking as I was walking back home why I didn’t say also the reason why I also go to church is that I believe what is said the Gospels testify about Jesus to be true. That He was crucified under a reluctant Roman Governor and placed in a tomb and rose again on the third day; the whole of Christianity rest on the belief of the Resurrection. But I am not well placed to discuss this with these people but made it and interesting day as I try and think how to talk about my beliefs.

    Carl Strehlow

  12. Hi Bill, Hi boys and girls! What is the battle plan? Tactics, strategies, resources, logistics? Is Yahweh our Lord Sabaoth [Lord of the armies – heavenly hosts]?

    In the deeply meaningful comments above there were only two tactics of the battle plan shared ie. prayer and sharing.
    Now given the statistics so ably provided by Bill – we appear to be losing? After 222 years in Australia, of Sunday church, preaching, praying and sharing we appear to be losing.

    Is Jesus still in the crib? Or perhaps still on the cross? Or is HE the Warrior Bridegroom revealed in Revelations 19?

    Y’shua is the Great IAM and therein lies the battle plan that equips us to “move forward” [sounds like a political slogan] with a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7.

    Ray Robinson

  13. We need to be reminded that men and women had such rock-bottom certainty and assurance of their Lord and their gospel that they risked everything for it, even life itself. They could endure suffering, persecution, torture and death because of their complete conviction that Jesus was who he said he was, and that everyone desperately needed to know Him.”

    This part of the article is the most poignant and relevant part of the whole issue of real faith! All I can personally do is to hope to God (no pun intended!) that if it came to the crunch that I would never deny him. Apart from that, what about the “complete conviction that Jesus was who he said he was and that everyone desperately needed to know him” How incredible is that? I have to admit that I seem to be missing that type of conviction, God have mercy on me! Thankfully I have Jesus going to bat for me before God on the day of judgment!

    Steve Davis

  14. Can someone explain to me why Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians. What beliefs or lack thereof make them non-Christians? I have never been certain of this.


    David Williams

  15. Thanks David

    But even a basic understanding of biblical Christianity, or the JWs – or both – would reveal the very obvious differences, and therefore explain why the JWs are a cult. The key beliefs they deny include the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith. JWs believe that Christianity is an apostate religion, and they are the one true revelation of God. Thus for the past 19 centuries the false gospel of Christianity has been allowed to spread, but only in 1870s did the true teachings, as pushed by Charles Taze Russell, emerge.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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