This past week one of our newer authors, Wes Moore, posted the article An Allegory of the Collapsing American Church where he discussed the decline of the Christian Church in the United States. We received several comments from people adamantly defending their church and challenging Moore’s claims. I decided to use this week’s Feed Back to add my comments and perhaps address some of those we received.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some churches that are sound and having a positive impact on their people, but these churches are becoming fewer and fewer in number.
To begin with, I completely agree with Wes’s assessment of the Christian Church in America. In the last sixty years, the Christian church community has pretty much rolled over to the pressures of the secular world and to the few antagonists that have screamed the loudest. The results can be seen in the moral decline of our government, industry, public schools, media and the entertainment world.
I don’t know how else to best describe it except to say that the Church as allowed itself to be castrated, leaving it ineffective to pass a strong moral foundation and legacy on to following generations.
In 1996, my wife and I moved to northern Kentucky to be part of a major international creation organization. We figured that we were moving to the Bible belt and would have no problem finding a sound church. Boy, were we in for a rude awakening. We thought we would have little problem finding a theologically sound teaching church like our church back in Arizona.
We visited a number of churches only to find out that they either had very liberal theology or very archaic theology that was highly questionable. I actually sat down and started going through the phone book, calling church after church and asking my list of questions which I had carefully written down in such a manner that they had no idea from which side of the issue I may be on. Time and time again I heard responses that fell way short of what we were looking for. On one occasion, the gentleman at a church not more than ten minutes from home gave almost all of the right answers I was looking for. Then he asked if I would like to speak to the pastor and when I said yes, he said to hold on and he would get HER. I just hung up the phone and wanted to cry. Sorry ladies, but the New Testament is very clear that women are not to be pastors and I will not sit under one.
Eventually we found a church that was meeting in a local high school auditorium on Sunday mornings. We agreed with most of their theology and the pastor was an expository preacher and we decided to join the church. A couple of years later, the church was starting to grow and as it did, the pastor’s preaching shifted from expository preaching to felt needs and preaching on the topics that local leaders wanted to hear. Our heart’s ached, but we had no choice but to leave another church that abandoned its commitment to Scripture in order to build a big congregation and a big new church building. I would not defend this church or most of the others we visited.
Over the past 30 years, I have encountered far more liberal churches than those that have held true to Scripture and actually teach theology and doctrine instead of what I call emotional theology.
So let me ask you if you really believe that your church is worth defending? When you leave the service on Sunday morning, are you on an emotional high or do you walk out feeling like you’ve actually learned some theology and doctrine and may even feel convicted by your own life?
One commenter to Wes’s article wrote about his church like he was presenting a score card. I’ve often wondered how many of the conversions churches like his count are true conversions and how many of them are more of a spur of the moment emotional response that never develops any further? It’s like the hundreds of people that go forward at a Billy Graham crusade and make a profession of faith. The vast majority of those are nothing more than an emotional response that soon fades away to reality.
Yes there are some genuine conversions at a Billy Graham crusade as I have met some of these fine Christians, but they’ve all told me that they realize they are the exception rather than the rule.
I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I do hope that this makes you examine your church and see where its focus lies. Is it entertaining (20 minutes of uplifting music and then a message that makes you feel great) or is it teaching and instructional? In the vast majority of instances, those churches that place a lot of time and effort on entertainment and tickling the emotions are weak in their theology and teachings.
I’ve also found people from these kinds of liberal churches are ill equipped to defend their faith. They are not taught the necessary theology to be always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). If you are not being properly equipped to defend your faith, then your faith is weak and can be easily swayed and corrupted.
Proverbs 18:15 says, An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. It does not say that an intelligent heart seeks emotional tickling and feel good feelings.
The next time you go to church, ask yourself what your heart seeks and what you expect it to get. Then be discerning about what you hear being preached, is it sound doctrine and faithful to God’s Word? Ask yourself if your church is really worth defending or is it time for you to find a church that actually teaches the Word of God and places the value of theology and doctrine over emotional tickling.
Liberal Christianity is nothing new, it has been around only a slightly shorter amount of time than the real thing. Liberalism of any sort primarily seeks to redefine traditional understandings. This can be a good thing when it is necessary, a detrimental thing when it is not. In this classic book on the subject of the differences that exist between orthodox Christianity (i.e. biblical Christianity) and the liberalism of the early 20th century, J. Gresham Machen doesn’t seek to simply expose liberalism as being counter-productive to orthodoxy, he seeks to expose it as an alternate religion altogether.
It is customary nowadays for liberalism to portray itself as the “inclusive” and “non-judgmental” brand of Christianity over against the hard-edged “exclusive” and judgmental” sort of Christianity that one finds coming from the conservatives. It was no different 80 years ago and Machen completely decimates this diversionary tactic, showing that liberals are not immune to judging and exclusivity. Machen does not spare the rod for conservatives either; both groups are treated to a “behind the barn” beating that should be instructive to those who find themselves on one or the other side of the modern battle. Seeking to answer our critics should cause us to rethink and re-evaluate our own beliefs in the light of Scripture, and Machen is more than willing to cut both ways.
This classic defense of orthodox Christianity, written to counter the liberalism that arose in the early 1900s, establishes the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism has remained relevant through the years ever since its original publication in 1923. It was named one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine and one of the top 100 books of the twentieth century by Christianity Today.