Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Why the Church Is So Ineffective

Dec 23, 2010

Anyone with a passion for Christ and his work will be less than thrilled with how his church is going about its affairs. While many believers are sold out for Christ and are doing great things for his kingdom, the church as a whole seems to be sadly lacking.

I readily agree with recent prophetic voices who have urged us to become all we can be in Christ. They have rightly warned about our lukewarmness, apathy, lack of dedication and commitment. They rightly contrast the church of today with the early church.

A few representative quotes can be offered here.

“Surely, no man with his eyes open can fail to see that the Christianity of the New Testament is something far higher and deeper than the Christianity of most professing Christians. The formal, easy-going, do-little thing which most people call religion, is evidently not the religion of the Lord Jesus.” J C Ryle

“We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; there are many services, but few conversions.” R.A. Torrey

“To me it is a shocking commentary on present Christian feebleness that while, in the first century, 120 men could move from an upper-room closet and shake Jerusalem, nowadays 120 churches claiming a like experience of the Holy Spirit can be in one of our cities and yet that city at large hardly know they are there. In our spiritual warfare the churches must be shooting with dummy bullets. To change the figure, we must spiritually be running with empty freight cars.” Leonard Ravenhill

“I’m sick to death of the so-called Christianity of our day. What’s supernatural about it? When do people come out of the sanctuary awed and can’t speak for an hour because God has been in glory there? Dear God, as soon as they get out, they’re talking football, or sports or something, or there’s going to be a big sale downtown somewhere. We are not caught up into eternity!” Leonard Ravenhill

“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” A.W. Tozer

Those who long to see God move afresh in our churches do not need research to back up their disquiet with the current sad state of the church – they feel it in their bones. However, when research does come along which tells us what we already know, then at least we can appreciate the confirmation.

The Barna research group in America has just released what it calls the “Six Megathemes” which emerged in 2010. There is very little which is new or surprising here, but as I say, it does reinforce what concerned observers of the church have been saying all along.

Let’s look at some of these themes. The first one is this: “The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate”. Well, it certainly does not take a rocket scientist to know about this trend. It has been going on for decades now. I have written numerous articles bewailing this sad development.

The report says this, in part: “What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans – especially young adults. . . . The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.”

It certainly is a theological free-for-all. Despite the numerous warnings in Scripture about not forsaking sound doctrine and solid teaching, and not allowing false teachers to wreak havoc, Christians of all stripes are today known for their theological illiteracy. And so-called Bible-believing evangelicals tend to be just as bad.

A second theme is that “Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented”. This too comes as no surprise. After all, it follows closely from the first major theme. If believers are not clear about some essential doctrines, such as the fact that we are all sinners heading to a lost eternity, and only repentance and faith in Christ can save us, then there will be little urgency in telling people the gospel.

Indeed, the good news of the gospel only makes sense if we first believe the bad news of the gospel, which includes the fact that we are all dead in our sins and stand under the wrath and judgment of God. If we have ceased to believe these basic truths, then there of course will be little sense of the importance of sharing our faith.

The fifth of his themes is also a no-brainer for those even remotely aware of where today’s church is at: “The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church”. Boy, you can say that again. The worldly notion of tolerance which says we are to judge nothing, condemn nothing, get upset about nothing, and worry about nothing has invaded the church big time.

The report says this: the Church “has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.”

I have written time and time again how believers should have nothing to do with this politically correct understanding of tolerance which urges us to accept and embrace every idea, every teaching, every worldview, and every lifestyle. Amazingly so many believers think this is somehow what Jesus was all about – a mushy, sentimental wimp who accepted everyone just as they are and demanded no change whatsoever.

The sixth theme is also a winner: “The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible”. Yeah, you can say that again. And it follows especially from the first trend. If there is nothing really to believe in with all one’s might, then why even differentiate oneself from the world?

If our beliefs are at best just private, subjective preferences which are no worse or no better than any other person’s beliefs or religion, then of course we will keep our mouth shut, and of course we will have no influence on the surrounding culture.

To our shame, this stands in direct contrast to the early church. It is said of the early believers that they turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). We are not turning anything upside down. And how can we? We are in so many ways just the mirror image of the world.

And we certainly don’t want to rock the boat. We just want to get along with everybody, and not ruffle any feathers. We want to live a life of ease, and please people. We have forgotten almost entirely the words of Christ when he commanded his followers to take up their cross and follow him.

We have forgotten – or deliberately disobeyed – his commands to die to self and live for others. We have rejected his demand for us to be salt and light in a needy world. We have closed our ears to his teachings that true followers of his would be hated by the world, just as it hated him.

We have dismissed the clear teachings of Scripture that friendship with this world is enmity with God. We have forgotten that we are not here to have a good time, but that we have a job to do. It is not about us, but Christ crucified. We have forgotten all this and more.

We used to sing, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last”. But not anymore. We used to exalt in words such as those of martyred missionary Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose”.

Until we recover what biblical Christianity is really all about, and until we rediscover the passion and the dedication of the early church, I am afraid we will only get more such megatheme reports being announced. Sadly, if God’s people were where they should be at spiritually, they would not need a researcher to tell us these things.

They would long ago have listened to the prophets and true preachers who spoke about these very themes. And they would have not just listened, but they would have repented and obeyed as well. This research is simply a damning indictment on a church which has lost its way, and is in danger of being spewed out of our Lord’s mouth (Rev. 3:16).

It is up to us how we respond to all this. I pray that we get it right – and soon.

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45 Responses to Why the Church Is So Ineffective

  • Hi enjoyed most of your article. Particularly love Tozer. A favorite writer of mine. Could I recommend a website for you to take a look at & give yr heart & spirit a boost. It will also restore your hope in the church. It’s You will be amazed that there is a missions base in Kansas city who love & adore the lord Jesus & follow this devotion thru with works of justice to the poor. Bless you & thanks for your ministry.
    Margie Nielson

  • Hi Bill
    I have a question here. I read part of article written on this website, .

    “We believe that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. No ordinance, ritual, work or any other activity on the part of men is required or accepted in order to be saved.”

    Now in the next sentences this is contradicted, because the above says that nothing is required on the part of men to be saved.

    “This saving grace of God, through the Holy Spirit, also sanctifies us by enabling us to DO what is pleasing in God’s sight in order that we might be progessively conformed to the image of Christ.”

    This definitely tells us that we have to DO something.
    But if it does not matter what we DO, than why all your good work on this website, why teach our kids or anyone for that matter to do good to others. Why not live a selfish life and DO only what is good for me?

    Anne Van Tilburg

  • Thanks Anne

    You rascal you! This article is not meant to get us into yet another major Catholic-Protestant debate here. So I really don’t want to get into a big discussion here. Your question itself is fair enough, but you must realise that many folks on both sides will once again want to turn this into another big theological war.

    So with fear and trembling – and a warning to all who want to pick another sectarian fight – I offer a few quick points on the Protestant understanding of salvation (which is admittedly ridiculous to attempt, since all important theological discussions cannot be done quickly or briefly!).

    We are saved by grace through faith, as Paul clearly teaches (Eph. 2:8). All over the NT we see that we are dead in our sins and trespasses, and unable to save ourselves. That is why Christ came. Believing in him, putting our trust in him, and accepting his atoning work on our behalf is how one becomes a believer. Protestants refer to this aspect of salvation as justification.

    But that is not the end of the matter, but just the beginning. The rest we call sanctification (and finally, at His return, glorification), as we allow the Holy Spirit to make us more and more Christlike and less and less sinful and selfish. That work goes on for the rest of the believer’s life. And it is in sanctification that we have hundreds of commands to obey. We are to abstain from impurity; we are to put to death the old man; we are to shun that which is evil; we are to crucify the flesh; we are to resist temptation; we are to pursue holiness; we are to resist the devil; we are to pursue love and good works, etc., etc.

    These are all things the believer does, with the help of the Holy Spirit, once a person becomes a Christian. Doing this does not save us, but once saved by an act of faith, we now work out this salvation. But our initial salvation is by grace through faith, and not of works, lest any man should boast. But once saved, we are to work out our salvation, to cooperate with God in our sanctification.

    The same can be said of ancient Israel. They were trapped in bondage and slavery (in Egypt) and could not save themselves. Yahweh delivered them, freed them, saved them, all as an act of grace on his part, not because Israel merited it or deserved it. Only after Israel was saved, did God give the law, and the Ten Commandments. Keeping these laws would not save Israel – they were already saved. But keeping these laws was an expression of gratitude and an indication of that initial salvation.

    Similarly, we are now able to keep God’s law which we could not in the past, because upon salvation, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us now live lives pleasing to God that we just could not do before in the flesh when we were not in a relationship with God through Christ.

    This in a nutshell is the Protestant understanding of salvation. But as I say, it is a very large topic which can hardly at all be properly covered in a few short paragraphs.

    And again, I don’t want this now to degenerate into a major Catholic-Protestant bun fight. So please everyone show grace here, or I will cut this off real quick!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Anna,

    the contradiction is only apparent, and not real.

    We cannot DO anything for our salvation, or for our adoption into God’s family as His redeemed children. We cannot DO anything to free ourselves from the power, the penalty or the guilt of sin.

    But once we are saved and are included in the family of God, we have responsibilities – we have work to DO, as assigned by the Holy Spirit.

    We have a new Life to live, new behaviours to adopt, new friends to fellowship with etc. But none of these new things can make us good or get us into heaven.

    John Angelico

  • Thanks Bill

    I appreciate your explanation, and I believe all you believe. I believe I am redeemed by Christ but have to work to get into heaven by being a good person. In a way that is what you believe, because you also have to work at being a good person. maybe our wording is different. I believe this unites us in Christ. I am not looking for division or arguments. I seem to be putting my foot (or mouth) in it often. I did not mean to.
    I still class your website as a good work, and pray for your good work every day.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  • Your representative quotes are good and challenging, but have you considered that all of them are from the past, commenting on the Church in their day, not ours.

    Today’s church needs to return to it’s Bible, Barna’s comment on theological ignorance reflects a worrying change among believers, they appear to be caught up in the delusion of inner revelations and pseudo prophets.

    William Horsburgh

  • Thanks William

    Tozer died in 1963 and Ravenhill in 1994 – so it was not all that long ago. And if their words were true then, they are even truer today. And there are plenty of living believers who also offer such prophetic utterances. One thinks of a Paul Washer or a Ray Comfort.

    But yes, the church does need to get back to the Bible – not just reading it but obeying it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    The author of the report says this:

    “The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate… What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share… The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.”

    And I take it you agree.

    I’m interested to know your thoughts on some of the pressing theological questions of our time. I understand that God has blessed you with an interest in culture, politics and ethics; but you have also often shown your capacity to write on theological topics.

    You’ve obviously made it clear that you believe in the foundational truths of Christianity such as the holiness and righteousness of God, sin and wrath, the exclusive claims of Jesus, and so on. How about some of the other theological issues and controversies out there? I know that you don’t want to facilitate divisions among otherwise likeminded Christians. But in certain sections of the church these are important debates. I appreciated the way you recently offered some commentary on the millennium in a gracious way.

    These theological topics come to mind:
    – Is the Bible “inerrant”?
    – Was Jesus punished on behalf of sinners? (cf.
    – Are humans predestined to salvation, or do we choose salvation by our own free will?
    – Is hell eternal punishment, or annihilation?
    – Can some people be saved if they have never believed in the gospel? (cf.
    – Is God completely sovereign and immutable, or is he subject to ignorance and change (open theism, process theology)?
    – Will Israel be literally restored?
    – Can a Christian believe in evolution

    (It may be that you’ve written on some of these topics a long time ago — if so, feel free to direct me to the relevant article, thanks!)

    Jereth Kok

  • Thanks Jereth

    Yes all the theological topics you list are important; however not all would I categorise as primary Christian doctrines. Some, like the place of Israel in God’s ongoing purposes, may be regarded as more of a secondary doctrinal issue (although still very important, and one that obviously ties in with other important doctrinal issues, such as eschatology, and so on).

    And many of these topics I have discussed elsewhere. As a few quick examples, on the issue of salvation and hearing the Gospel, see these, eg.:

    Or on the issue of free-will theism and process thought, see these, eg.:

    As time permits I hope to do more articles on major theological issues (although realising that short essays like these can hardly do them justice).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Thanks for providing those links. Ahh, so it sounds like you are not convinced by either inclusivist theology or open theism. Same here!

    I agree that some of those topics I raised fall into the “secondary” category. There are many other secondary debates that generate a lot of discussion, but where Christians should be free to disagree (eg. baptism).

    I wonder though whether you think these 3 theological issues are primary, and worth taking a stand on:
    – inerrancy (a major debate in the US, which has affected the Southern Baptists particularly)

    – penal substitutionary atonement (a major issue among British Christians since 2003)

    – eternal punishment vs. annihilation (a growing divide)

    My opinion is that what the Barna group says about a “theological free-for-all” is most relevant to topics such as these.

    Jereth Kok

  • Thanks again Jereth

    An entire article would best answer your questions. We are now talking about who determines – and how – what are key, primary doctrines which a person must affirm to be called a true Christian. What are the boundaries of orthodoxy, in other words? It is a big topic, and I may write on it soon.

    As to the three topics you list, in one sense, yes they are all primary. But that needs to be teased out further. That the Bible is God’s inspired and authoritative word to us is vital, but there are of course differing views on how all this is exactly to be understood, including the issue of inerrancy. I happen to believe that Scripture is inerrant, and a good case can be made for it. But how much exactly a believer needs to affirm in all this to be called a Christian is another matter.

    The same with the atonement. The atonement is fundamental to biblical Christianity. But of course there are various theories of the atonement, and Scriptures presents us with different models or metaphors of it. Penal substitution happens to be my preferred model, as it would be for most evangelicals (if they are in fact thinking about such matters). I have written it up here, eg.:

    As to hell and future punishment, yes I also think that is a key doctrine. But can one not believe in it and still be a Christian? We all know and respect John Stott, but he sadly affirmed annihilationism. Does that erroneous belief mean he cannot be considered to be a Christian? I believe he is a great Christian, but he is seriously wrong on that particular doctrine.

    So a lot of issues arise here, and simply determining what the basics are can be at times contentious. But stay tuned, as I may well soon seek to write about this more fully.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A meaningful post. The church is of course made up of individual Christians – so if there is a problem with the church it is reasonable to assume that there are problems with at least some of the individuals who comprise the church. With that in mind I would add a Jim Elliot quote:

    “Christians today haven’t got what the New Testament calls ‘singleness of heart.’ They haven’t got one constant desire. And that one desire I will name ‘the lust for God.’ I am using the word ‘lust’ rather than the love for God because the phrase ‘love for God’ has become almost trite. It is the lust for God that we are missing. You lust only after those things that you desire intensely.

    “The lust for God is the thing that should characterize a Christian. Not that you’ve attained. Not that you’ve arrived. The apostle Paul says, ‘I haven’t arrived. I don’t pretend to have apprehended. But I press toward the mark.’ Paul had huge desires, and that’s what we ought to have.” (Jim Elliot: A Christian Martyr Speaks To You, page 25)

    Robert Lloyd Russell

  • Hi everyone,

    Our church ( has decided we will start to move towards “Gospel Communities” as described in the book “Total Church” by by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. I’d recommend this book because it looks at how the early church focused on living together with a focus on the gospel and mission. The book then gives real life examples of how this model of church has been used today to better reflect this way of living together for the purpose of evangelism and living out the gospel. You can read more about it at . Has anyone read anything about “Total Church” or “Gospel Communities” before?

    David Roberts

  • Hello all of you out there. Please pray regularly that Bill will be protected and blessed so that he can continue championing God’s cause. Great post Bill.
    Stan Fishley

  • The Church has allowed the world to walk thru it’s doors and dictate how the Word is taught. Some Christians do not get up Sunday and say “I can’t wait to hear the message”…. they are wondering what songs the rock band is going to sing. Christians for the most part have forgotten what Jesus told his disciples their job was, and instead we have become like everyone else. If we do not get this turned around, I fear we will not only lose many souls to satan, but we will lose our freedom of religion.
    Mark Caplinger

  • Barna confirms what most Christian’s know – we in the west are in a rapid spiritual decline. For example, in Britain in the early 1960’s 80% of women who married were virgins, now 45 years on about 2% of women who marry are virgins. It would be similar figures for all of the west I am sure. The secular humanistic ‘system’ is winning, no doubt. It is a PC system that we all have to battle with everyday – I will expose it and say it is an anti-christian spirit and a blanket of unbelief towards God Almighty – it is militant & virulent and it does affect all. I know from first hand experience, going to India & the Phillipines, that to preach the gospel over there is liberating and you see tangible results with signs & wonders following. I am not making excuses for the western Church or the western Christian – but we are like the frog in the water who is slowly being cooked, rather than thrust into the boiling water, whence we would leap out. All immigrants are affected by the culture of the new country too to some degree – the west is on life support – all believers can do is rely on and trust in God’s grace to function and perform……..I dont know the answers to the wests spiritual apathy & decline.
    Neil Innes, NT

  • Anne (apologies for mis-typing your name), you wrote:

    anne van tilburg 23.12.10 / 8pm

    Thanks Bill

    I appreciate your explanation, and I believe all you believe. I believe I am redeemed by Christ but have to work to get into heaven by being a good person. In a way that is what you believe, because you also have to work at being a good person. maybe our wording is different.

    I think you have still expressed a difference there which is more than wording. Having to “work to get into heaven by being a good person” is the key point where Bill and I (and others) would differ.

    “Salvation” embraces “getting into heaven”, and “good works” are what we are to be occupied with here on earth in the meantime.

    We will certainly be assessed on our good works vs our bad works when we reach heaven, but our actual entry to heaven is completely assured, based on our faith in the Perfect Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, followed by His Resurrection.

    When we place our trust in Jesus’ effective work, we are permanently adopted into the royal family of heaven. However, we need to learn the “family rules” and work in the “family business” – thus we fulfill our new status as joint heirs with Christ.

    John Angelico

  • Hi Jereth,

    Regarding “can a Christian believe in evolution?” I would answer “yes”, as I don’t think it’s a core doctrine. However it is quite a dangerous belief to have since it contradicts the bible and hence is a slippery-slope to unbelief (if I don’t believe Genesis, then why believe the other parts?).

    As a believer matures, hopefully they would realise that evolution is incompatible with the bible and that as such would reject it. See for a useful discussion.

    David Keen

  • Hi Bill,

    Yes, the primary/secondary distinction is an important one to do some further thinking (and possibly writing!) about.

    A problem to note is that many Christians abuse this distinction. Very frequently, you will hear people say “that is a secondary issue”, as an excuse for theological laziness and avoidance of an issue that they feel uncomfortable about or do not wish to confront. This is exactly the kind of malaise (not unlike the laziness and malaise you find in ethical and political thinking) that leads to the Protestant “theological free-for-all” and “unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.” spoken of by Barna.

    So it is important for us to assert that even when a topic may be technically secondary — that is, it is possible to get it wrong and still be a true, saved, born again, Christian — it may yet be an important doctrine that the Bible is clear about, and laziness, indecision or error can still cause spiritual harm.

    This applies, for instance, to inerrancy and eternal punishment. I think that some people get these topics wrong (eg. John Stott, as you mention), and are yet true Christians — but their error can cause serious spiritual harm to themselves and others. As you know, I think that NT Wright is deeply in error on justification, but I think that it is possible to hold his (very harmful) view of justification and still be a Christian. I think that, depending on the circumstances, it is possible to hold even openness theology and inclusivism while still being a saved Christian.

    One of the most dangerous things about “theological free-for-all” is that it undermines everyone’s conviction that there is absolute truth in God’s word. So today’s divisions about “secondary” issues becomes tomorrow’s divisions about “primary” issues. To look at it another way, it may be possible for us err on a “secondary” issue and still be Christians, but the following generation of believers, who go one step further, may not be Christians because of our failure.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I look forward to hearing more of yours in the future. Merry Christmas Bill!

    Jereth Kok

  • Hi David,

    Thanks for that.

    Yes, I think evolution also falls into that category of “secondary” issue where it is possible to be a Christian and accept it, but in the long run it can cause a great deal of spiritual harm to the church. It contributes to general theological sloppiness and laziness, and a gradual downhill slide in to further and further error.

    As I wrote to Bill, (above) we should take a stand on some key secondary issues (including evolution) because of the harm that error on these issues may inflict on a future generation of Christians. I suspect that the devil has a long term strategy of beating the church by attacking the truth on “secondary” issues and persuading us to think that because it is only “secondary” issues at stake, we do not need to bother with them. When the current generation of Christians is safely in the grave, our children, who will have inherited our general complacency will be ripe for his attack.

    Happy Christmas
    Jereth Kok

  • Thanks John

    I respect your faith, and as the final goal we all want to be in heaven.

    But I also respect Bill’s wish not to have a Catholic-Protestant debate here.

    I love this website and want to be part of it, but according to the rules and regulations.

    I admire all the faith and the zeal all people have here.
    If each person only had half of the faith and zeal that I have experienced here the world would be a better place, and that includes you.

    So thanks for all the articles and the comments.
    Keep them coming!

    Anne Van Tilburg

  • Jereth, you said:
    ‘Yes, I think evolution also falls into that category of “secondary” issue where it is possible to be a Christian and accept it, but in the long run it can cause a great deal of spiritual harm to the church.’

    I’m not sure evolution falls into ‘secondary’ category, because for a Christian to believe it requires that they set aside Genesis as a true historical account. So this goes to the infallible authority of Scripture question – do we believe what God has written?

    Secondly, the need for salvation, the reason for Jesus first coming, derives from the Fall. Accepting any theological view of evolution damages our historical understanding of the actions of Adam and Eve, the Curse, sin and the entry of death into the world.

    Thirdly, evolutionary theology impugns God’s character, and distrusts His self-revelation as the Creator.

    These look to me more like primary issues, rather than secondary.

    John Angelico

  • Going back a step to David’s comment and link, yes I can agree that we are not instantly made perfect in theology when we are born again, so I am not disagreeing with his point.

    But I would still hold that the significance of the authority of Scripture and the need for salvation raises the evolution question to a matter of primary importance, one which often holds back potential believers.

    John Angelico

  • Thanks John

    The doctrine of God is obviously primary, and under that heading I would include God as Creator. However, the fine details of how exactly God created, and how long it may have taken, I would be willing to describe as a secondary doctrine. Sure, these particulars are quite important indeed, but one can be a Christian while having differing opinions on this.

    And if Anne was kind enough to forego yet another Catholic-Protestant debate here, perhaps I can ask the same of those who would be quite happy to turn this into yet another debate on the age of the earth.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • You lost me in the first sentence….by refering to the Institutional church as “HIS” church. Jesus didn’t establish an institution, He established a realtionship between us and our Father. The institutional church is a part of the world system….which is on the way out. Christ’s church, however, like yeast in the loaf….is on the rise.
    Shirley Sloan

  • I guess we could all say a lot, but with all our efforts sweat and exertions we have failed to demonstrate the kingdom and true Christian community in a real way that causes those around us in the wider community to sit up and take notice.
    Presently there is plenty of human reasons and explanations to explain the church as just another religious organization and frankly that is what Christianity, in the main has become
    It was the demonstration of a heavenly life without an earthly explanation of the early church that made the difference.The weren’t trained and learned men, just smelly old fishermen etc, could hardly read or write never even had a new testament yet they raised the dead healed the sick cast our devils and turned the world upside down
    Tragically with all our boasting of revival,charismatic sounds and fury signifying nothing, goings on, all the presumptuous claimed healings and miracles with out the corresponding reality, and so on, all we have managed to do is inoculate a whole generation against the gospel.
    They see us as flakey because we are flakey. On top of that the biblical test of our gospel, that it provokes the Jew to jealousy finds us out for what we are. He looks at us and yawns instead of seeing the gift that was meant for him “demonstrated” and is jealous and desirous for it, that’s why the scriptures say the Jew is in that condition, an enemy of the gospel for “our sakes”
    We may even have the doctrines correct, know our bibles inside out and still miss it because the letter still kills and the spirit gives life. And who by practice can even tell the difference these days.
    Where is the fear of God (which goes hand in hand with the glory of God) in our midst. Is there even one fellowship left where this is a reality.Once I used to watch amazed when I took fellow bible college students 100 miles down to a dinky little fellowship in an old shop in Van Texas where the conviction of God came down in a remarkable way and they became aware of their condition before God before the pastor even spoke. That pastor was David Wilkerson.And that Church was as rare as rare amongst a multitude, and you know what stood out more than anything? The leaders in that Church loved the people in an incredible way with genuine tears in their eyes as they ministered. And that fellowship had the fear of God the moment one walked in the door, believer or non believer.
    As friend Art Katz once said, the very fact we are still putting on services is the evidence we are not a genuine expression of the body of Christ as it was meant to be.
    Have a read of his book The Spirit of Truth put together from a number of messages addressing this sort of thing.
    The early church never even held service and certainly never had anyone stand out the front giving a greek oration, the basis of the modern sermon. In reality, the church in modernity bares no likeness whatsoever to what went on there. Who was it? George Barna and Frank Viola that put out the Book The pagan roots of Christianity, citing where most of our practices originated from. Maybe we should study what they have said seriously. And we wonder why we have lost it? Let alone the sin question!
    I knew a man once, an English evangelist who demonstrated the life and it was 24 hours a day not just while he was in the pulpit. Once he was called to baptise someone and the next night a lady became a new creation. Why because what was said, no, because she saw the look on this mans face and knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God was real and loved her. And that sort of thing happened all over the world on buses trains in the steet.
    What do people see on our faces?
    That mans name was Derrick Gitsham and he paid a terrible price to manifest that life. His face and words still echo in my heart today,’It’s the life, it’s the life. And by the way he never prepares his messages, like Art Katz it is just the life flowing from inside, both those men have brought me to my face and tears a number of times and expectantly because they ‘demonstrate” a sense of God as he really is in both judgment and in grace. Why aren’t we like that? I have also seen people literally rise up and want to kill both of them literally, why because it is spirit against Spirit. Who wants to kill us because we bare a family likeness to Jesus in a real way.
    Sorry for the long post.
    Robert Withall

  • Bill
    On primary and secondary, see Creation Magazine Jan 2011 just released (arrived here today), pp16–18.

    Article “Creation and redemption”
    Lael Weinberger talks with the president of the
    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr Albert Mohler

    Very interesting link to the comments here. Sorry no online link to the article as yet.

    John Angelico

  • A good article with some very good points. I think I would go a little further than you and say that it is ministers who are the most theologically illiterate of all. And their sermons are proof. The last time I heard a sermon in a Baptist church, it seemed to be aimed at those of little understanding and even less intelligence.

    It was preached by a man who used to be a teacher of Classics. On of the memorable things he said was that the Holy Spirit is like a dustman, taking the rubbish out of our lives.

    We no longer attend church because of the shallowness of the sermons.

    Oh, and what about singing the songs of Zion, written by God, instead of man’s emotional outpourings. Some of the hymns are theologically sound and a pleasure to sing. But not in worship. In worship we ought to sing those songs which God given us.

    Edwina Theunissen

  • John Wrote: I’m not sure evolution falls into ’secondary’ category, because for a Christian to believe it requires that they set aside Genesis as a true historical account. So this goes to the infallible authority of Scripture question – do we believe what God has written?

    John, I respect this thought but If the Bible was good enough for Peter, its good enough for me. wait… What did Peter believe? What did Paul believe? really.. this is a flat Pharisaical argument. The Jesus I read about is the one that was lecturing the leaders of the Church and fought against such dogmatic tyranny.

    Colossians 2:8.. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    The reason these discussions exist is because of we are paying attention to the Shadows of the world instead of the Truth in Christ. If a person is walking in Jesus Footsteps and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, leading people to Jesus as a personal savior, Who are anyone here to judge who and what they should or should not believe. We are called to be Witnesses in our walk with the lord, not judges or Lawyers. Jesus will do his own arguing… when we do it for him, we twist his truth and its why Wars are waged in his name.

    I believe that Jesus died and was resurrected. My personal walk with Jesus is based on that and the information I receive.
    Colossians 2:8.. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    Until the world stops judging Churches, and Churches stop judging each other, we will just be STUCK in Court and keep waiting for Witnesses who will never show up.

    Chris Litchfield

  • I appreciate your Good Work of encouraging God’s people to Know their God (Phil. 3:10). In this way the ‘church’ will be able to accomplish it’s purpose of showing God’s Grace to the “heavenly rulers and authorities”, (Eph. 3:10). When we become more aware that the ‘church’ is made up of individuals who ‘examine their own hearts’ and are willing to ‘forsake their personal sins’ in obedience to the filling of the Holy Spirit will there be room for Agape love, then it will be known what Christians really are. Fighting over narrow issues (though what we believe about them is important) does not give a true picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
    Gail Williams

  • Bill your reply to Anne does not conflict in any way with Catholic theology. I trained as a Catholic teacher in Scotland and taught the faith to children for many years. We had “Bible History” for half an hour every morning and catechism for the afternoon half hour as well as short morning and afternoon prayers.

    We learned that EVERYTHING is grace and gift to us from God. Our redemption and salvation are pure gift, our faith is His gift and our every good thought word and action is only possible and is empowered by Him through grace. We have nothing of our own except sin and our God given freedom to choose sin and reject God. Our sanctification is accomplished through humble and faithful co-operation with God’s grace. We also learned that to choose grave sin over God’s law will exclude a person from heaven, by their own choice, if they die unrepentant. We can’t live any old how, ignoring Jesus and flouting God’s law and treating His world and His mankind with contempt yet expect to go waltzing into Glory when we die. I suspect, to my sorrow, that today’s children are not taught so well as we were in the past.

    Anna Cook

  • Chris Litchfield, you said:

    Colossians 2:8.. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    The reason these discussions exist is because of we are paying attention to the Shadows of the world instead of the Truth in Christ. If a person is walking in Jesus Footsteps and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, leading people to Jesus as a personal savior, Who are anyone here to judge who and what they should or should not believe. We are called to be Witnesses in our walk with the lord, not judges or Lawyers. Jesus will do his own arguing… when we do it for him, we twist his truth and its why Wars are waged in his name.

    Are you saying that any process of deciding who is or is not keeping to the Scriptures (eg. this very discussion about primary and secondary theological issues) is “paying attention to the Shadows”?

    Bill has written elsewhere on the general question “who are we to judge others?” but the standard we uphold is the Scriptures – the Word written which testify to the Word Incarnate.

    And in those Scriptures we find that Jesus upheld the historical veracity of Genesis, Adam, Noah and Abraham in his disputes with the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes. His excoriating charge against them was that they erred by not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God (Mark 12:24). He even said straight out that the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

    The Scriptures are a plumb-line against which we are called to judge our own standing, and secondly the behaviour of others, in order to know if we and they are of the faith or not.

    The Scriptures are also our standard for assessing if we are hearing the true Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4), and while we are to be wary of dividing Christ (1 Cor 1:12), we are to separate ourselves from those who are not approved (1 Cor 11:19).

    These seem to be more than the shadows of philosophy, but rather the substance of systematic theology, applied to our lives today.

    John Angelico

  • Bill’s point was the church is losing its effectiveness as a whole. Yes there are churches doing great things, but overwhelmingly the majority are not. Its about the harvest.
    Daniel Kempton

  • Hi John A,

    Perhaps it would help if I clarified what I mean by “primary” and “secondary” – I believe that if you get a “primary” issue persistently wrong, despite knowing better, you cannot be saved. If an unbeliever comes to believe in Jesus through a Jehovah’s Witness church, and gets hit by a bus the next day (before he gets a chance to learn the truth about Jesus’ divinity), he might be saved; BUT if he remains a JW his whole life, and persistently rejects the divinity of Jesus despite knowing that this is the orthodox understanding of Scripture, I do not think he will be saved. The divinity of Jesus is a “primary” issue.

    I believe that if you get a “secondary” issue persistently wrong, while having faith in Jesus, you can still be saved. So if someone believes in evolution for their whole Christian life, while knowing that the orthodox teaching of Scripture is otherwise, yet has faith in Jesus, I believe he will be saved. The death of Jesus covers this sin.

    I agree with you that getting a secondary issue wrong (such as evolution) can cause a great deal of spiritual harm. I’ve expanded on this already in my previous comments.

    Personally, I think that the divinity of Jesus, penal substitution, justification, and a right understanding of sexuality are examples of primary issues.

    I would put baptism, speaking in tongues, evolution, hell (eternal vs. annihilation), and eschatology (the millennium) as “secondary” issues.

    Some issues – like inerrancy, exclusivism vs. inclusivism, and theism vs. open theism – I am not sure where to put these. I think they might sit somewhere in between primary and secondary! I think that getting these issues wrong may in some cases jeopardise a person’s salvation, and in other cases not. I would be inclined to say that someone like Clark Pinnock (who is a prolific advocate of inclusivist open theism) is almost certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the kind of person that the book of Jude tells us is destined for hell (unless he repents). But I also think that it may be possible to be “naively” led astray on these topics and still be a saved Christian.

    Jereth kok

  • There is alot of junk being thrown around and being presented as biblical, i.e. self-esteem, pop psycology, dominionism (ihop stuff) name it and claim it…… that is enough for any new believer or seeker to become disillusioned about fellowshiping with any church or denomination.
    Most trurhs that I notice about people is that they want to be entertained at church and receive only a touch or good feeling from God at the service (funny how church or fellowship has become called a service). They also only want shallow relationships with God just like they have with their own neighbors and own families……Yes these all have to do with doctrinal issues as well as identity issues with the truths of God.
    Yet in the midst of all of this there is grace, but do we truly have the love. The love for God will help us to become like his son and the love for his salvation will truly set our hearts ablaze….

    Love set us free and love will keep us
    hope holds on while faith grows in trust
    by testing and refining we learn what is right
    by loving one another we will win the fight

    More can be said and enogh has yet more will be and more will be done.
    Scott Moore

  • Jereth, thanks for the clarification.

    I think I am on the same wavelength, along the lines of CS Lewis’s statement that being a Christian is a question of spiritual fact, whereas particular doctrinal beliefs (in the ‘secondary’ category) were a question of being a “good” or a “bad” Christian.

    I responded to Chris L as I did because I thought he was questioning even the idea of sifting out primary and secondary issues, because he saw all such doctrinal debates as secondary.

    I am encouraged by the discussion here because elsewhere the debate rages over what’s primary vs. secondary without a clear set of parameters to sift those things out.

    Many thanks.
    John Angelico

  • Hi John,

    Yes indeed, it is crucial that we have parameters that help us determine what is primary and what is secondary.

    My view is that if the Bible clearly says that a particular false doctrine is incompatible with salvation, then this makes it a primary issue. So, 1 John 4:1-3 makes the full divinity of Christ a primary isssue; Gal 1:8-9 makes justification by faith alone a primary issue; 1 Cor 15:14-17 makes the literal resurrection a primary issue; 1 Cor 6:9-10 makes sexuality a primary issue. And so on.

    Another factor is whether a doctrine is directly linked either to salvation, or to the character of God.

    Jereth Kok

  • “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    A brief theological discussion.
    Theodore A. Jones

  • Thank you for the article, Bill. I am so grateful that you are out there doing all this work, and heed the word to pray for you. Have not been on the net over Christmas so am rather late commenting. I do agree with an early comment in a) loving Tozer but b) noting that all those you quote are dead. Only Ravenhill will have been alive to the Charismatic revival. I was converted in 1966, 3 yrs after Tozer’s death, and did not even start to learn about the work of the Holy Spirit until 1971 even though (or perhaps because) I was in a Brethren fellowship which encouraged us to read the whole Bible through every year and then a Church of Scotland led by Willy Still where the Bible was virtually worshipped and whose sermons lasted at least an hour. While VERY grateful for the underpinning this gave to my faith, I am sorry that I had not known more about the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of Christ earlier. I believe that there have been wonderful moves of the Holy Spirit in the church in recent times and rejoice that many people have been coming to Christ in recent times at least within the denomination I am currently involved with (a Bible believing Evangelical church). At a conference we learnt that we were not the only individual church experiencing increase. We do not claim this is through our virtue, but through the grace of God – one lady was sitting outside our church when there was a Holy Spirit day (Alpha) and the minister’s wife noticed her and invited her in. She now comes regularly. Several others have been drawn in with no human intervention. People are growing in their desire to know more about God and to know more of His presence. Our sermons are based on the Word of God, filled with His Spirit and wonderfully practical. It is very hard for me to join the general doom and gloom BUT I still realise it is extremely important to remain active in the wider front – to fight the erosion of our Christian freedoms in both the UK and Europe.
    Every blessing to all in the New Year
    Katharine Hornsby

  • Katharine
    Whilst I’m thankful for your blessings and upbeat non doom and gloom, I must wonder about a real problem area: 15-35 year old males. Where are they?
    Daniel Kempton

  • Robert you said “That mans name was Derrick Gitsham and he paid a terrible price to manifest that life.”

    Derrick and I spent two years together at the same bible college. I would be interested to know what the price was he paid.

    I lived in England during the time of Leonard Ravenhill, not far from him and went to meetings he spoke at. My judgment is that the church then had a lot more commitment than it has today, but he was still a challenge to most of us, especially his book “Why Revival Tarries”.

    In those days we often spent a weekend in prayer seeking God. Today we are lucky to get an hour one night a week. In one church I was in we used to meet every Tuesday for about three hours just waiting on God to hear his voice.

    Six months later revival came. It was a baptist church and we learnt from God about the supernatural gifts of the spirit and healing and speaking in tongues.

    Last year I asked a pentecostal minister this question. “If you are a pentecostal church why do we not see anything supernatural.”

    Answer “I don’t know.” If the so called spiritual leader doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to want to know, is there a future for the church pretending to be the church.

    Roger Marks

  • Wow brother Bill! there sure are a lot of problems going on in churchamerica or not and as well stated that the world has come into the church, the church has been dumbing down for years with no stopping in sight. You are right brother, we need to get back to the Scriptures and find our way back and as you know, we must “teach” our way back and there must be submission to the Word taught. That is why in James it says, let there be not many teachers, a solemn responsibility which falls squarely on the shoulders of the shepherds (pastors, elders, presbuters, and overseers) all the same people but with emphasis on each responsibility as stated in the context,cf,1 Pet.5:1ff. All we have to do is look at the OT shepherds and seeing their failure in leading the fold in their disobedience. They were preaching “Peace, Peace” when God said He was bring them into judgement by the Assyrians, but they wouldn’t repent. Even among believers there is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the ways thereof are the ways of “seperation”. I use that word instead of death because a believer can never experience the judgement of God,only the joy of fellowship. I truely believe that if the “local” churches would practice 1 Co.11-14 and rid themselves of the evil of sectarianism, they could begin to find their way back from the sin of causing the Lord of glory to “vomit”! Just look at christendom today with all the instruments in the “solomn” meeting, and they call it “contemporary” how sad. Where did all the robes come from? and the stained-glass windows, and the steeples on the buildings they call churches-you don’t see any such man made additions, it was simple, yet solomn. Instead, we have huge building programs, huge salaries,etc.
    I do hope brother Bill that God will continue to bless your ministry and endeavors that are in His will.
    Yochanan Heimeyer

  • This post just showed up, again, on Facebook. It is still as timely as when it was written. As an evangelical pastor of a small United Methodist Church I suspect some of your writing will end up in a sermon or two. A question – in your answer to “Anne” you said, “The same can be said of ancient Israel. They were trapped in bondage and slavery (in Egypt) and could not save themselves. Yahweh delivered them, freed them, saved them, all as an act of grace on his part, not because Israel merited it or deserved it. Only after Israel was saved, did God give the law, and the Ten Commandments. Keeping these laws would not save Israel – they were already saved. But keeping these laws was an expression of gratitude and an indication of that initial salvation.” The question is, how were they saved? Was there a concept of the coming Savior at that time in Israel’s history?

    Geary Rowell, US

  • Thanks Geary

    They were saved by grace through faith, based on the finished work of Christ, just like we are. That a messianic or salvific figure would come was hinted at all the way back in Gen 3:15.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Its’ very simple Bill. The teaching [or theological] bias tends to pander to the individual, rather than the way God looks at it, which is his love & concern for Godly generational lines. When you focus on “grace” for the individual alone, you allow that person to ignore the impact of iniquity & sin on their offspring in areas where they don’t turn to God. Deuteronomy 5:9. God will permit you to do pretty much anything you want, but if you don’t turn to Him, there can be an impact in this dominion, for generations to come. Craig Hill is one of the few teachers out there that nail this to the wall, & as a result we are seeing lasting changes in families.

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