What’s wrong with Evangelical America?
Brothers and sisters, we live in a world where the Christian faith has been trying to keep up with “what’s hot right now” for perhaps 100 years. We live in the age of Designer Christianity. Do what feels good, and what you want. This, of course, seems to be restricted to the Protestant vein of the universal Church. The Orthodox and Roman Catholic ministers don’t seem to spend much time trying to convince their congregations about rules of faith, and why they ought to be maintained. Protestants have been faithfully reinventing themselves for so long; we are now in danger of seeing it almost totally fail.
The Protestant church is virtually dead in Europe, where it began, and the trends continue to follow here in America. Being Americans, who are part of the Protestant story, it is important that we wake up and realize that our precious faith will soon be gone. Most experts agree that there may be nothing to do, it’s just a reality. This is because Protestants have relied more and more upon their mass cultural appeal, continuously reinventing themselves in order to “capture the next generation,” or “be relevant.”
A Flabby Faith?
This is exactly how we have found ourselves in a place where even the Bible cannot speak to our current circumstances. We are not sure what God teaches about homosexuality, suffering and patience, or even the coming return of Jesus. I have even heard earnest Christians debating about what the “Gospel” really is (under the context of what can be changed in order to gain mass cultural appeal).
Our culture no longer values the traditional and Scriptural stances of the past Church, and in the process of reinvention—in order to be relevant—the church has ceased to be the Church. We have lost our identity. We have given in to the constant demand to change or die, to be relevant, to capture the next generation We have agreed with the larger culture, and thrown out the previous generations “version” of Christianity. IN constantly seeking to make Christianity our own, we have thrown out sacred item after sacred item, tradition after tradition, and method after method, into the street to be trampled upon. And now, here we are, with a church that isn't strong. We are flabby.
It turns out the wide and paved road, and not the hard and narrow road, is killing the Faith. The Church cannot compete with the pleasures and pastimes found only on easy street. An extra day of work, a day at the lake, a day on the ski slopes, a sporting event, or just “busyness,” are the nails in the coffin of Christianity. Listen now: by reinventing ourselves, we have lost ourselves.
What’s a shepherd to do?
I believe that God has called me to shepherd a congregation that does not rely on the cultural appeal that churches in Evangelical America have come to rely upon. We ought to turn back to the practices that have stood the test of Scripture, scrutiny, value, and the test of time. We ought to take seriously the things that have worked for the countless generation of Christ followers that have come before us.
Namely, that our congregational worship would be about ministering to God, together. That the sermons we preach would be well founded in the Word of God, aimed at the spiritual growth and maturity of our congregations. Our mission must be that of the Gospel.
Our ministries would not be about hoarding resources or people, admiration or applause, but about keeping the lamps at the ready, wicks trimmed and oil full; the dispensing of grace, love, and Spirit.
It is ludicrous to believe that someone else will be doing this in our churches—if we are not. Pastors are the leaders in such things.
What are these things?
Believe it or not, I think the road to strong faith lies with true pastoring, which reaches beyond good programs and sermons; into the homes and workplaces of struggling believers. Pastors have to lead the way in utilizing better tools. I was surprised when I found out that even the most mature believers in my church did not know what the Apostle’s Creed was. So I began teaching it immediately. I also began teaching about what sacraments are, because (surprise!) nobody knew what the word meant. They also didn't know how we came to receive and protect the Scripture. The reformers had it right, I think, that the laity absolutely must know what the sacred things are; and that only comes from teaching and experiencing.
Sometimes these methods go misunderstood by the ignorant, misguided, or unbelievers. Undoubtedly, our larger culture will call us regressive, backwards, and extremist. They will eventually work up the courage to call us evil. Probably, they will one day seek to repress our understanding of Truth. But, God did not ever call us to make people happy with our faith. We have to stand on something that can survive and thrive in an evil world full of lusts, pleasures, distractions, amusements, money, and eventually the persecution of all who oppose the world.
The only thing it will cost us in the current economy is our public dignity. All that we must suffer is the rolling of eyes, and the general frustration that comes with being a people who are not of this world. I believe we must now lead the way in being such a laughingstock; that when we die (for we all will), or Christ returns (which He will), we will be well pleasing to Him.