"Everywhere there is apathy. Nobody cares whether that which is preached is true or false. A sermon is a sermon is a sermon whatever the subject; only, the shorter the better." (1888, Charles Spurgeon).
These words from 100+ years ago might have been describing our own day. The church has more and more bought into the philosophies of the world with bitter results we are only beginning to taste. A article in last Saturday's Tulsa World (3/8/03) makes clear the challenge: the beliefs of Christians in our nation do not change their lifestyles. George Barna claims 38% of Americans claim to be born-again, but that these people do not reflect their claimed beliefs in their manner of life or thinking. In fact, Barna says, the churches have little influence in our nation because the faith church members claim does not change their lives.
"Why do they not try to live like Jesus? Because they don't think like Jesus. You become what you believe." Barna continues, "Most people who call themselves born again do not have a worldview based on the Bible, and in fact do not have a coherent worldview at all. It's incredibly inconsistent."
He goes on to say that Christians, even though claiming to love Jesus, trusting him for salvation, and giving money, often pick and choose their beliefs from competing worldviews such as deism, nihilism, pantheism, New Age, and eclectic combinations. In order for faith to affect lifestyles and values, people must have a biblical world view, and that means decisions are based on the Bible as an absolute standard of truth. Christianity offers absolute moral truth (and other truth--by). In essence, once you throw out absolute moral truth, anything goes. Some people think, "You're responsible for your own life, and for what truth is, and no document, or no individual can tell you otherwise." Other religions define truth by self, and most people in the church today have no clue about these things, and most churches are not helping people develop a biblical worldview.
Just sharing Bible verses and quotes, even knowing a few Bible principles, does not guarantee that we can think like Jesus. We must integrate that into a whole understand of a cohesive worldview, not just bits and pieces of information.
I think one of the reasons we do not think like Jesus is that we are AOTG. We have been convinced that there are other ways of looking at the world that make more sense, at least part of the time. I suggest here some of the challenges the church faces, hoping we can recognize ourselves:
I. When the church buys into pragmatism, it is AOTG.
Unfortunately, the foundations of the gospel are not based on what works. Paul never determined his message by asking, "what works?" At times, in fact, it appears virtually the opposite. Jesus said that few would follow. The disciples expressed concern about how hard the message seemed.
Pragmatism measures life practically: If a sermon accomplishes a desired end, it is good regardless of whether it is truth. Similar is utilitarianism: usefulness is the measure of good. The other side of this coin is: if it doesn't work, it must not be good, even wrong. John Dewey wrote a book: Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. In it he defines this new approach to truth. Pragmatism used to guide life's decisions inevitable clashes with Scripture.
II. When the church buys into individualism, we are AOTG.
While the gospel raises the worth and value of an individual, and clearly expresses how important people are to God, the gospel never allows individuals to selfishly go their own way. Robert Bellah, in Habits of the Heart, describes a woman named Sheila who describes her religion as "sheilaism." What is good for Sheila is good. We have our variations: what is good for our kids is good. What keeps our kids in school is good. What keeps our kids coming to church is good. Countless variations. One of the most obvious evidences of pragmatic individualism in the church in recent years is the revolution in worship services. Theology has taken a backseat to methodology.
III. In many places, the church has bought into modernism, now post-modernism. And when the church buys into modernism/humanism, we are AOTG.
This new way of thinking we have recently surveyed, and I will not burden you again. Some of the key points are relativity, lack of objective truth, individual measures of truth and reality. Now doctrine is secondary and experience is primary. We in the church may not have swung into the Pentecostal ditch of emotional experience apart from thought, but some are well on their way. Some measure truth by its impact on life (pragmatism), upon my life (individual humanism), and not by the objective truth of God's word.
I fear that the church has become ashamed of the gospel.
Living in an unstable age, the church cannot afford to vacillate. We minister to people desperate for answers, we must not soft-pedal truth or hide the gospel. God's power is not in worldly devices: Jas. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15; Ps. 33:16-17; Isa. 31:1; Zech. 4:6. The whole point about Israel being a light to the world was that they were to be different.
"Our Lord attracted sinners because he was different. They drew near to him because they felt there was something different about him...the world expects us to be different. This idea that you will win people to the Christian faith by showing them that you are after all remarkably like them is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder." (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
IV. Perhaps most damaging of all, when the church buys into worldliness, we are AOTG.
The word is almost quaint--worldliness. The sin of allowing one's appetites, ambitions, or conduct to be determined by the values of the world. What I want, my goals, my desires, my wants, my druthers....
The extraordinary spectacle of church programs designed to cater to such ideas is more than frivolous--but now we have vaudeville, wrestling, mock striptease, dancing, no brand of horseplay is too outrageous for religion. Lost is the biblical notion that the goal of Christianity is a transformed life, Rom. 12:1-2. Paul even tells us how--testing the good, acceptable, perfect will of God.
What ought I to preach? What should we teach? What is a biblical philosophy of ministry?
I have read book after book on ministry and church growth. Few refer to the instructions of Scripture. Ours is a time of itching ears, sometimes ours in the church itch the most. Give us what we want. Paul foresaw just such a time, and he outlined the corrective, 1 Tim. 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 4:2. Success is not in numbers. I need a constant reminder that it is not. 2 Tim. 4:1-5 says it differently:
Maybe it's clearer than we think: 2 Tim. 1:2; 2:2; 3:2; 4:2. We have nothing else worth saying. There is no other message. There is no other good news. There is no other genuine ministry to answer the hurts of our world. Commit the right message to the right men and the world will be won, although some won't like it.
Ashamed of the gospel? Until the church recovers the centrality of the gospel, single- minded commitment to our calling, our efforts will remain feeble. "We are more prone to proclaim a "light gospel" than "gospel light."
When we will not take the message to our neighbors, are we AOTG? When we will not invite others to worship or study, are we AOTG? When we ourselves will not make the effort to attend Bible classes, are we AOTG? When we will not speak up when Christ's name is profaned and defamed, are we AOTG? This is light gospel, not gospel light. There is only one message, one name.
1 Cor. 15:1ff; Acts. 4:11-12. Tell the story far ans wide. Help people respond to God's great demonstration of love. I'm not ashamed of the gospel, it is God's salvation power, to all.
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