A Diluted Faith?
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth – who was always quick with a quotable quip for the press once responded: “In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.” Author Daniel Sweet says American Christianity is already there: “In a society in which there are no absolutes and every individual is a free agent, we are taught to be self-reliant and independent. Christianity is no longer the automatic, default faith of young adults.” And that’s a problem. But is it the main one?
Or Is It Something Else?
“Pride” is the major issue facing Christians, says Eric Lidji, responding to a question from blogger Jonathan Blundell. “It opens the door for everything else to come in. The same sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven – and the one that causes so much separation in the church today. The church is sick and she doesn’t want to admit that. You have to admit you are ill before you can realize the need for healing. And the few who do recognize it only want to separate themselves from her and judge her. I have been guilty of the latter. It’s time to love the church back to health. The same way Christ loved us to salvation.”
Perhaps, but the biggest problem is that we’re headed in the wrong direction, argues Sweet. “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. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 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.” What does that mean? Is Sweet saying that if the Bible is the only truth on which to build the church, then including differing opinions is fatal?
Do We Have Closed Minds?
If Sweet is correct, then non-Christian points of view are destructive to the faith. Sweet states “If you are a biblically educated believer, you know that some of what Barna refers to as ‘basic, universally-known truths about Christianity’ are pagan myths that actually contradict what God’s Word says about critical issues.” So, is the answer to bar any outside ideas? That’s what the leaders of the Inquisition thought back in medieval times – believing they were protecting the church from dangerous ideas proposed by such heretics as Galileo and Copernicus. Troublemakers were burned at the stake for such crimes as translating the Bible into English.
Which Way Should We Go?
“What is the biggest problem in the church?” asks pastor Kevin DeYoung. A lack of direction. We are torn between Sweet’s strict call and humanity’s yearning for answers. “Every week there seems to be a new issue that confronts Christians, observes author Rich Little: “In fact, it’s hard to read a blog or watch the news or hear a sermon without a new ‘enemy’ being identified and a new cause for which to fight.” As a result we can’t make up our minds and swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. “Does the future lie with progressives who can adapt and change – or with conservatives who remain faithful to the old paths?”asks DeYoung. “Are Christians today basically too mean – or too cowardly?”
Or Have We Become the Church in Laodicea?
Here is what the Apostle John wrote to a congregation in Laodicea, Turkey – which back then was considered one of the strongest churches: “Because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth! For you say, ‘I am rich; I have prospered and grown wealthy, and I am in need of nothing.’ And you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Yes, that’s America, says Sweet: “With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. Why would a Christian be reticent about living and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ? Could it be because neither the Word nor the Lord is real to them? And could that be because the doctrine presented to most Christians is illogical, self-contradictory, confusing, bland or unmotivating?”
A Lack of Honesty?
“Honesty,” was another response Jonathan Blundell received. “Christianity is about doing the right thing,” answered a writer who didn’t want his name used. “The world is a great place and life is so much fun, but honesty in people is something very difficult to find.” David Tuma agrees: “In Western Society there is a crisis due to a breakdown of trust. Who do people trust? Politicians? Banks? Churches? Adults? Police? Scientists? Christians need to return to basics and live Christ-like lives that build trust and point individuals to the Master we serve. Why should non-Christians trust Christ if we do not live loving, humble, obedient, self-sacrificing lives in the Master’s way?”
Then there’s the bad press that the church has received in recent years – ranging from the hate message of Westboro Baptist Church to the sexual scandals that have wracked the Catholic church. In the midst of it all, “the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible,” notes Sweet. “Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. In a period of history where image is reality, and life-changing decisions are made on the basis of such images, the church is in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image.”
Back to the Basics?
And maybe it’s time to stop talking in gobbledegook, using phrases that nobody understands except religious insiders. Consider this leader’s question: “Will we ever solve the ecclesiology problem? Are hermeneutics enough?” Huh? What does that mean? “The church needs to quit talking quite so much about visions, plans, strategies, new teachings, authors, bands, missions, buildings, teams and heresies,” advises Brad Vanderburg. “Just start being the heart, hands, voice and compassion of the Body of Christ.”
Provided by Beliefnet.com