I trust that you all noticed Michael Spenser’s provocative – and brilliant - article in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Not a pretty picture, but spot on in articulating the sorry state of many churches today.
It’s very sad that once solid, Bible-believing churches continue to trade away the very thing that gives them influence in the world – that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – for a stab at “influence” from the world’s perspective. They have seemed to embrace the notion that the Gospel is a stumbling block to the Jew, foolishness to the Greek (and, in the words of Kim Riddlebarger, “both to an American”).
Spenser is devastating in his assessment and analysis. His conclusion is both breathtaking and easily foreseen – if one has eyes to look beyond the self-deception so common in inbred corporate systems that Evangelical churches so frequently emulate. Why, he asks, are we on the verge of a collapse of the Evangelical movement? In part, he says (and the emphasis is mine):
“We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.” (Take that, “deeds, not creeds!”)
“We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.” (I’d add that this condition clearly isn’t limited to merely the young people either).What does he see coming? In part:
“Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented mega-churches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.”This is the core problem for Evangelical churches – a shift from doctrine to ... well, something else. It always leads to compromise and weakens - even destroys - a church's effectiveness. In their effort to become “relevant” they lose their relevance. When a church compromises on its doctrine and distinctives, it becomes unable and weakened to pass on its truth to the next generation of believers; in fact, it ceases to have anything meaningful to pass on! When a church ceases to defend its own doctrine, for example, it has defaulted on its primary responsibility! Increasingly (if Christianity Today is any indication), churches are afraid to take a stand on even the most basic – core – doctrines because somebody somewhere disagrees. Churches like this may still remain “christian” in the most general (or generous sense), but they are a “church” only in the organizational sense. This is the error that the Mainline denominations made… and the Evangelicals are running after them as fast as possible.
Evangelical churches used to organize around what they believed. Now they organize around what they do. That is a great operating philosophy for a para-church organization, but it has become the philosophy of ministry for local churches!
“Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.” Amen, Michael. I trust, though, that you are wrong when you predict that the “purveyors of the evangelical circus [continue] in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems.” I pray that God will open the eyes of His people to desire beauty and substance of His Word; that God’s people will give up the lie that “we can’t know;” and that men in leadership would be cut to the heart in understanding their responsibility to care for and to feed God’s people with the Word of God.