USA Today in an article based upon polls has reported that religion in general, mostly Christianity, is losing numbers in the American populous. A co-worker shared the article with me yesterday morning, and I read it with a sort of “duh” mentality, thinking that the information was not really new news. I was shocked, however, when I got to my class at the seminary last night and discovered that some people there were shocked by the news in the article. They did not have a clue. In this way, this article today might be a good thing, for perhaps it will wake up the clueless to certain fatal flaws found in the American church today:
The “Field of Dreams” Model Does Not Work
For the past several decades, the church in America has adopted a “if you build it, they will come” mentality of church growth. This mentality has become so engrained in our Christian psyche that we do not even realize it any more. We demonstrate it with the language that we use (we invite people to “church” and with all our mind refer to a building when the church is by the etymology, “the elect”), in our methods of evangelism (Upward Basketball, etc.), in our “Christian” advertising, in our building programs, and in our measuring of success by numbers not by lives characterized by holiness. It is demonstrated in our focus on liturgy, on music styles, on carpet color, and everything else that Christians bicker and argue about that have nothing to do with the Church. The Church has been watered down, deformed, and beaten into a building where Christians meet on Sunday mornings, instead of being the ekklesia (“kle-“: called; “ek”: out)–those who have been called out by God to be holy as he is holy.
We wonder why Christianity has dwindled, and the fact is Christianity has been dwindling for decades. The numbers of those who claim to be Christians might not have demonstrated it, but the lives of Christians certainly have. The USA Today article made a good insight and reported that most people in the country view religion as a hobby rather than something that radically alters one’s life. Where did they get this from? I guaranty you that they got that idea from Southern Baptists and Catholics who have demonstrated over and over again by their lives that Christianity to them is a tack-on to one’s life and a social club that meets on Sunday. The statistics prove it, especially among Southern Baptists, for our divorce rates, abortion rates, etc. are identical to that of the world’s. American Christianity has failed miserably to show the country that Christianity has anything to offer apart from having to get up early on Sundays and to vote Republican.
The Church is to Send People Out not Suck People In
One of the top reasons, I believe, that Christianity is dwindling is that we are not sending people out into the world, but we are attempting to suck them into our buildings. Instead of being like the apostle Paul who was sent out (“one who is sent out” being the actual meaning of “apostle”), and who became all things to all people in order that he might win some to Christ, we expect lost souls to come to us and to become like us. They must visit our church, dress in proper attire, and not break the mold of what we believe a church-goer should look like or they may get shunned. There are perhaps thousands upon thousands of curious people who have neglected to visit a “church” because they know that they will be looked at as strange and not belonging if they do go.
Even though we might manage to lure some in and to spat out some watered-down version of the gospel to them while they are in the building, we have on the other hand neglected for years the sheep of God for the sake of the few visitors who straggle in here and there. Because of our church growth model that is focused on attracting non-Christians and catering to them, the actual people of God have been fed milk year after year instead of the meat of God’s Word. Many, if not most, pastors have felt some sort of obligation to dumb down their messages to always end with “Ask Jesus into your heart,” just so that they might add another member to their rolls. They do this perhaps producing a large crowd, but their churches are as they were a mile wide and an inch deep. These pastors today are not shepherds of God’s flock, they are salesmen who give their pitch, pronounce a soul saved because of some meaningless repetition of some “sinner’s prayer,” and congratulate the soul and tell them that they need not worry about their salvation, because Baptists, being good Calvinists on this one point, are not scared to declare that once one is saved he is always saved.
Is there a remedy to our present state as the American church? There is, but most will not practice it, because they do not believe it to be effective:
1. We must be a church that sends out instead of lures in.
Our chief focus as the Church of God should not be to bring to the community to us, but we must go out to the community. The Gospel is good news that is supposed to heralded by messengers, not something that is supposed to played like a movie in a theater. For, as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
2. We must be a church that is willing to practice discipline.
This practice could arguably be our primary focus as the body of Christ. Today, our churches are filled with people who live unholy lives and taint the name of Christ to the world. We should be willing out of love for their souls (because, believe it or not, their prayers and aisle-walks ten years ago did not save them) to hold them accountable to live holy lives and to discipline and to excommunicate them if they are unrepentant. We should also be willing to practice church discipline for the name of Christ, for, because of those like nominal Christians, the name of God is blasphemed among the Nations.
3. We must be willing to preach the whole Gospel.
It is hellish to tell someone that he has heard the Gospel without him hearing anything about repentance and dying to himself. The Gospel is suffering. Romans 8 declares that we will be glorified with Jesus Christ only if we suffer with him. The call to follow Jesus Christ is always a call to obedience, a call to suffer, and a call to forsake all of one’s self for the sake of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ. To tell someone a gospel that is any less than that is nothing short of pure hatred of that person’s soul.
4. We must be willing to pray.
No revival in the souls of men can happen apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on the souls of men. Therefore, we must pray without ceasing that God will show his regenerative favor to us. We are nothing apart from God and his sustenance.
It is yet to be seen whether the American church will ever recover from its great fall. Personally, I am not very optimistic, for I have studied the history of the Church and have seen how those places which were once the great centers of Faith are now places that are all but God forsaken. It seems to me that just as the Europeans were content to pass the torch of Christianity to the Americans hundreds of years ago, so now we are content to pass the torch to Asia. I praise God Almighty for the great work he is doing in places like China and South Korea, but it deeply grieves my heart that their inclusion might mark the beginnings of our exclusion. And it is not as though we do not deserve it all and more–we who have profaned the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God have mercy on us.