It is obvious that in the last several decades in America (and in Europe) the Christian Church has lost its influence and relevance in our culture. In most instances it has become a theatre to entertain the “faithful”, a social center, a place to come to feel empowered and receive an enhanced self esteem – where what were formerly understood to be sinful behaviors are not only forgiven but celebrated. It has become a place where one commentator calls a super fun rock band church. A place of appeasement of the soul. Instead of “the law and the gospel” it has become “guffaw at the faithful.”
Here is a quick laundry list of what has caused this slide into irrelevance:
- Political correctness; culture of “not offending anyone”; tolerance as the highest value
- Catering to lack of faith (don’t insult anyone with God’s miracles)
- Church growth movement: Growth is more important than truth
- Follow the money: The biggest donors set policy
- Spiritualizing nearly everything in the Bible; almost nothing is fact
- Marginalization: The Church’s self-imposed retreat into a small corner of our culture
- From counter-cultural to part of the culture; a Kiwanis/Rotary Club/women’s/men’s social club in a permanent building
The great majority of sermons of most churches are basic lessons on “how to behave as a human being and feel better about it”, stuff we all should have learned by 2nd grade but haven’t. The most relevant connection to our lives sermons can muster is how to overcome swearing on the golf course – how to overcome anger, impatience, lack of confidence, or fear – all nice topics for a Dale Carnegie course.
On the other hand, we have the likes of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Luther preached on what was offensive to the corrupt church he was a part of. He promoted “liberty of conscience” contrary to prior Catholic edicts. He was not politically correct. He didn’t tolerate evil, he didn’t follow the money, he didn’t care all that much about church growth or spiritualizing everything in the Bible. In fact, he was outspoken about the man-made spiritualizing the Catholic Church was deeply engaged in. But he was instrumental in starting a more faithful, God-honoring church, and guilted the Catholic Church into adopting many needed reforms along the way.
We have Bonhoeffer who preached against the evils of Hitler and his fellow Nazi’s and the crimes against humanity they were committing. He condemned the German Christian movement that allowed most churches to become a puppet of the Nazi party. He argued that Christians should not retreat from the world but act within it which was contrary to what fellow Lutheran Martin Luther promoted as a “two spheres” doctrine which separated “the world” from spiritual concerns. Bonhoeffer raised the first voice for church resistance to Hitler's persecution of Jews, declaring that the church must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”
D. James Kennedy, a prominent Presbyterian minister of the 1970’s through 1990’s was known for highlighting the Christian foundations of the United States and the dire need for a Christian influence in our government and culture. His efforts were criticized by those who believed that Christian faith should be marginalized into a corner of our culture and not be involved in attempting to influence public policy.
So much for not retreating from the world.
Christian isolationists have prevailed in our recent culture. Even leaders of our most conservative denominations have embraced doctrines of cultural surrender in favor of two alternatives approaches:
- Teaching the Bible as ancient history with little application to today’s world, or
- Teaching the Bible as God’s word for the individual, but not making any application to the world around us, whether it be government policy, the threat of Islam, or declining morality and faithlessness.
Here are a few examples of topics that ought to get a lot more air time in our churches as opposed to the Ann Landers-type sermons we hear most of the time:
- Persecution of Christians and church burnings in Islamic majority nations, what’s behind it and how it is spreading.
- The declining influence of Christianity and Biblical morality in America and the coming persecution of faithful Christians within our own land.
- The dangers of a “tolerate everything” culture where avoidance of offending is more important than the truth.
- The need to be “salt and light” in our culture by speaking up with kindness to those around us about what Christians believe.
- Yes, the need to actively influence public policy with Christian ideals.
- The dangers to our own civilization of immorality promoted by media that impacts birth rates and family-building, including homosexuality, abortion, tax policy, and the general mocking of family life.
- How Islam is a major threat to our faith and freedoms and not just another religion. Yes, so-called “cults” are not orthodox and take away potential church goers, but none have promoted supremacism, terror, evil and hatred like Islam does.
- Competing world views such as humanism, big government as a God-substitute, scientism, and other views that ignore God.
Any one of these topics could be the centerpiece of a multi-part sermon series. The overarching themes of Law and Gospel could be the foundation of every one of these topics.
So why doesn’t this happen? Certainly these topics are more relevant to our faith and freedoms than why we shouldn’t cuss on the golf course or why we shouldn’t fear adversity. Are we that immature as Christians that week after week we have to be told what a three year old is told? That is outrageous. Is it the denominational mandates that prohibit anything that might be the least controversial? Is it the Church bureaucracy or is it the local pastor that’s the problem? Or is it the weak Christians in the congregations who object to this degree of relevance and demand pabulum?
Whatever the problem is, it needs to be fixed. Whether God does it through allowing great destruction as he has many times throughout history, or through another Great Awakening or better, the 2nd coming, let it come. Maranatha.
Here are words from a famous sermon given by Charles G. Finney, December 4, 1873, who is credited with the first Great Awakening:
“Brethren, our preaching will bear its ligitmate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is reponsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is respnsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is respnsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it. Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.”
I don’t know that any Charles Finneys exist in our nation today.