Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The State Of The Church

It is December 2015 and the year is coming to a close. It is hard to believe here in Indiana where last weekend the high was in the mid 60s (thanks Al Gore!) but the year is almost over. It hasn't been a banner year for the church in many ways.

One of my primary areas of focus is the church, more so than matters of soteriology or eschatology or any of the other sub-categories of theology. This is kind of a tragic irony because we have had such a difficult time finding meaningful fellowship that approximates what we see in the Bible, often leaving us for long stretches not in community at all. I often feel like a constant nag who is on the sidelines but telling the church what it is doing wrong. Nevertheless I care very deeply about the church because it is made up of my family in Christ.

Viewed from a high vantage point, things don't look that swell for the church in America. By most measures church attendance is plummeting. While that is not in and of itself much of a measure of the health of the church it does reduce the number of people who are exposed to at least some Bible teaching that otherwise they might not get. Hey even someone in a Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite USA, etc. church might accidentally get exposed to the Gospel. America is by any measure a much less religious country. In a lot of ways that is not a bad thing as religion is not any sort of substitute for the Kingdom but at the same time the gross deviancy and immorality we see on display daily is disheartening. If people are going to be primarily religious at least they are less likely to bless two guys getting "married" or a woman aborting her child or a gang member killing someone else because they were "disrespected".

The national face people see of the church is a trainwreck, thanks in large part to Christians who should know better, like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, making irresponsible and counter-Kingdom statements that no doubt become bulletin board material for ISIS recruiters and serve as an additional barrier for those seeking to share the Gospel with the single largest mission field outside of institutionalized pseudo-Christian religion. To compound matters, political figures who have an inexplicable appeal to "evangelical voters" like Donald Trump make the same sort of statements in an even more clumsy and inflammatory manner. I half suspect that the statement from Jerry Falwell Jr. was designed more as a recruiting tool ("Send your kids to Liberty, we will help them get a concealed carry permit!" That is even better to a lot of religious conservative than a winning sports program.).

From within the church the picture is less obvious but even more dangerous. The list of false teachers is long and growing longer. From popular bloggerettes like Rachel Held Evans to the various "progressive" voices who seem to be in a race with one another to see how many central doctrines of the faith they can deny, the church is riddled with wolves. The silent Goliath of biblical illiteracy is damaging enough but an even more pernicious cancer is growing daily of biblical indifference. People no longer seem to care at all what the Bible teaches. The preserved revelation of God's Son just doesn't matter, not when compared to the cultural idol of "God". If I had a nickel for every person that denigrated the importance of the Bible while talking about how important Jesus is, I would be a wealthy man. Or at least would have enough money to but a couple cups of fancy Starbucks "coffee". There is no greater threat to the future of the church than a church that is willfully ignorant of the Scriptures.

With sexual deviancy without any boundaries on the rise and honest questions forbidden, abortion showing no signs of ever being eradicated from the land, religious institutions seeing the first shots across their collective bows, it can seem pretty hopeless. It is understandable that a lot of religious people are already engaged in a sort of cultural retreat, hoping to ride out this mania with the Gospel intact in our cloistered communities hoping to rise from the ashes after the inevitable collapse of civilization.

All is not lost or even discouraging. It is easy to get caught up in the "big events" and miss the simple stuff going on all around us. Millions of Christians are helping with food pantries, crisis pregnancy centers, ministries to the homeless, fighting the national disgrace of abortion. Tens of thousands of missionaries are taking the Gospel to lands around the world and many evangelists are sharing the Gospel here in America. People are still getting saved every hour of every day and that is good news.

The reason things seem so bleak for the church is that we generally don't understand what the church really is. We are still confusing the institution and liturgy and religious calendar and "sacraments" for the actual church which is none of those things. 2016 has all the signs of being even crazier in terms of cultural collapse. The church as an institution is going to be under assault like never before, whether that applies to dying local churches or Christian charities or religious colleges. The voices of schism and heresy will be louder than ever and more and more people will fall under their sway and abandon the Biblical Gospel. But if we focus on the church doing what the church is called to be doing, then the power of the Kingdom will shine forth in he darkness. The Word of God will take hold in the hearts of the regenerate. People will see the church loving our neighbors and yes loving our enemies. 

The more we look at the church as a religious institution, an event, a ritual, the more under assault and dying it will seem. The more we look at the church as the Bible describes it, the less grim things will appear. It should be obvious where our effort, time and treasure should be focused. Will 2016 be the year that we finally shed the trappings of religion? Here at the end of 2015 I am optimistic. The promise of the Gospel will never be denied, we just need to learn to live as though we believe that.

No comments: