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“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”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