As I mentioned last week, Jonathan Miles and I will be developing a series in this blog on how the church and culture have gotten to be where they are today. Nothing happens in a vacuum and as the old cliché goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
I ran into one of our supporters this week and we got to talking about this project. They wanted to know if this would only be a historical treatise or is there another reason that we are working on this? Is this mostly to point out the problems in the church and culture or to also offer solutions? Those are valid questions and concerns. I thought it would be good to try to paint a general picture and set up a framework of understanding and direction.
First, I don’t think it would be generally beneficial to simply write a book of grievances and complaints. It is easy to find imperfections and complain about them. On any given Sunday many families have roast preacher for lunch. Most apologists can fit a phrase Spiro Agnew once coined about something else, Nattering Nabobs of Negativity. To be honest, expecting perfection in the church is doomed to leave disappointment. The church is made up of imperfect people, many of which are trying to do the right thing, some of which are more focused on making money, building a power base or some other less than altruistic motive.
Second, if we read the Scriptures with any care at all we find that the history of God’s people is a history of having God’s clear direction and will on certain matters and then turning away from that. If began with Eve and Adam and continues to this day. God said, they became persuaded that God had with held some amazing thing from them which were rightfully theirs for the taking and they abandoned God’s command. We find this repeated in the history of Israel. There were periods of loyalty and closeness to God followed by long periods of going to and listening to false teachers and wandering away from what God had said. Although remaining religious and keeping the trappings of Judaism they incorporated pagan worship into their lives in an effort to be like other nations. They demanded a king, in order to be like other nations.
Third, in the church this swing between faithfulness and embracing false teachings, false teachers and attempting to be like the pagans around them is visible even in the first century. It is not the case, as many cults try to make believe, that there was this pristine, unadulterated faith in the early church. Most of the New Testament was written to address, expose and refute false teachings and false teachers who had invaded the church as well as bad behavior on the part of believers.
In spite of all of this there has always been a faithful few. They are not generally popular or large in number. Today some of those faithful few may be in market driven or fundamentalist churches or something in-between.
Fourth, in many cases, the decisions and actions which have brought us here today were not made maliciously. They were often made with good intentions and in reaction to creeping evil of various kinds without real consideration of the outcome of those decisions. For example, the church largely abandoned the universities in the 1930s due to the creeping Marxism and Darwinism which was proliferating in those institutions. The Christians did so in an effort to protect their children and preserve the faith. The result was Christians were less prepared to challenge culture, marginalized themselves out of culture and allowed the growth of the ideas they were opposed to unchecked in those institutions and eventually they took over cultural thinking. The motives were understandable, protecting the youth. The consequences were catastrophic.
Fifth, when we get to offering solutions it is necessary to define what the church should be if it is something other than that presently. Rick Warren said that the biggest mistake the church makes is that we think sermons will produce spiritual maturity Warren then goes on to do some artful Scripture twisting. Is the church supposed to be the place where believers have gone out to find and persuade, drag in or trick in to attending in order for the professionals to sneak up on them with the gospel? We have written on this in the past with articles such as An Indistinct Sound. In reality the ministry of the church is the very thing Rick Warren throws under the bus. First, Scripture assumes non-believers aren’t going to be in the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:23 in talking about church practices (in this case speaking in tongues) he points out that if and unbeliever comes in they will think the church is out of its mind. The “if” assumes that as a general rule non-believers would not be there and the church service is geared to believers. The next verse uses the same “if,” assuming that as a rule non-believers won’t be there but in this case that if one should come in they would be convicted because the word of the Lord is being proclaimed and they would be convicted as a result. In Acts 2:42 we find the believers gather for four specific things, the Apostle’s teaching, the breaking of bread and prayer. It should be noted that all of this focuses on teaching (sermons) in order to bring about spiritual maturity, contrary to what “America’s pastor” contends and moves on to eating and praying together as believers. There is nothing about evangelizing in the church. In fact, that is the mission of the church and is done by the believers after the church meeting once they have been taught, fed and prayed for. Evangelism is the mission of the church and where the church interacts, intersects with and challenges culture. The first century church which tried to be most like the culture was the Corinthian church and Paul sent them scathing letters to address their behavior and bad name they were giving Christ as a result.
The purpose of what we will be doing is to layout in Reader’s Digest form several threads, in some cases disconnected from each other early on, which converge in the 1970s to give us what we see in culture and in the church today. We will also offer suggestions on ways to address and remedy, on local levels, some of the problems and build spiritually healthy churches.