During this past week I stumbled upon a very slick, visually captivating website for a large Christian Church (which shall remain nameless).
I was very impressed with the website and the multiple ministries which paraded before me with the click of a button and the impressive list of Pastors and staff members and then I read through their vision statements and core beliefs as I tried to get a sense of what this Church was all about.
The words were crafted beautifully. As a wordsmith myself, I like something that reads well. But as someone who is also committed to advancing the Kingdom of God, by His grace and for His glory, those words need to also mean something and focus on the key issues and not just paint a pretty picture. I was looking for substance and essence, not waffle.
When I finished reading everything on this website and learned all that this Church wanted me to learn about themselves, I was left feeling a little cold and quite concerned.
So I began a search of other Church websites across our nation and across America and England. Churches who are operating in the same western, modern culture as ours. I recall doing this many, many years ago when I was building my first Church website back in Orange, but I have not spent any time on other Church websites for many years, until this week. Some were inspirational – usually the simple, basic, less flashy ones which had more substance.
However, after several hours of this, I had to stop and go for a walk and talk to God, because I was left asking the question: What have we become? More importantly, flowing from that question: where is the modern Church in the western world headed?
So I want to share some observations with you which we may not like, but really need to understand so that we are not operating in some mythical world where we have a romantic view of the Church – a view which may be totally detached from reality. When that happens, all preaching and teaching loses its context; it loses its ability to bite into the real issues facing the church and the society around us. So let me take the pulse of the wider body of Christ, the modern Church as we know it and experience it across the western world.
It has been evident to numerous biblical scholars that often (if not most of the time) believers (including preachers) interpret the Bible through the lens of their culture, rather than influence their culture through the clear spiritual principles of the Bible. This has resulted in many beliefs, doctrines and practices prevalent in the Church that are not in harmony with the clear teaching of Scripture.
We believe the Holy Spirit of God inspired the writing, compilation and preservation of the world’s best-selling book – the Bible. When that Spirit is also present today, in us and in our gatherings, as this ancient text is read and explored, then a miracle happens. The essence of the Scriptures; the timeless spiritual principles within the Scriptures come alive and impact us and our Church and our mission direction.
Tragically, it has become evident to numerous biblical scholars that often (if not most of the time) believers (including preachers) interpret the Bible through the lens of their culture, rather than influence their culture through the clear spiritual principles of the Bible.
This is too often the case with the evangelical Church in the United States. Since the U.S. is so influential, American evangelicals have also exported a gospel which has an American cultural paradigm that is not in line with the cultural paradigm of Scripture. Consequently, sometimes in the U.S. pulpit, preaching can come across more like the ‘American Dream’ rather than sound, biblical teaching.
However, we are no longer isolated countries with distinct cultural boundaries. Best-selling Christian books, international speakers at multiple conferences and now the global Church at our fingertips via the internet, has resulted in a total blurring of any of the cultural boundaries we once could identify. The result is that the majority of Churches across our nation and Britain and many other western countries, have been strongly influenced and re-shaped by the American Church.
Some of us welcome that change, some of us curse it, many others are just oblivious to it and don’t see the problem. So, if you are still reading at this point and want to know what I have discovered in this journey following my time looking at hundreds of Church websites, allow me to offer you thirteen observations about the modern western Church as compared to the Biblical picture of the Church. I don’t need you to agree with all my observations, but I do pray that they will at least make you think and drive you back to God as we all ask, “What have we become?”
> Modern western Christianity has a strong emphasis on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny.
> Modern western Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship.
> Modern western Christianity focuses on self-fulfilment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity.
> Modern western Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the kingdom.
> Modern western Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.
> Human reason plays a huge role in the modern western gospel. The Bible focuses on the power of God and the experience of His actual presence in our lives and ministry.
> Modern western Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God.
> Modern western Christianity depends upon services within a building. The biblical model promotes a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
> Modern western Christianity is about efficiency. The biblical model is about effectiveness.
> In modern western Christianity the pastor is appointed, elected or employed. In the biblical model, God calls the pastor and the people discern that call and open the door for God’s man or woman to minister in their midst.
> In modern western Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.
> Modern western Christianity trains its leaders primarily in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders primarily through personal ‘on the job’ mentoring.
> Modern western believers have a consumerist mentality regarding their home Church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the mission of Christ.
So, what does all this mean? Is the modern western Church in trouble? Is it in error? Has it wandered too far from God’s intention for the Church?
Some people are answering ‘yes’ to all those questions and are raising loud alarms. My view is a little more moderate, for I believe God accommodates our bad choices, our flawed structures and our ego-centric goals far better than we ever imagine, for after all, it is Jesus Christ Who is building His Church, against which even the gates of hell will not prevail. That is not our job.
I don’t believe it necessary, nor is it even possible to wind back all these areas and take the 21st century western Church back to the Church in the book of Acts. We can only move forward, with what we have – not backward, trying to capture what we have lost. God’s mercies are new every morning and is Jesus Christ, Who is ultimately responsible for building His Church.
The question for us is a simple one: Do we want to make that building task easy for Jesus or do we want to continually frustrate His mission by allowing the culture around us to re-shape the Church, rather than be the change-agents of God who re-shape the culture in which He has placed each one of us, gifted us and called us to serve?
I have shared all these observations today about the modern Church, not to depress you or discourage you or make you think we have lost the plot and drifted too far from God’s purposes. None of that is true.
I share these observations because no person or Church or business or organization or nation can develop a vision or plan for the future unless they have a very clear grasp on the past and the present. We need to know very clearly who we are now and how we got to this point before we start to dream about who we should be, could be or would like to be.
If your local Church, as one chapter of the body of Christ in your region, determines in the days ahead that you are committed to doing whatever you can to help Jesus build His Church, then I look forward to hearing what you and the Spirit of God can achieve over the coming months and years as you allow God to shine His light on your path.
Today, I simply wanted to share what was on my heart and mind this past week and give you something to think about and hopefully, something to pray about. Like me, you may be shocked and saddened when you are confronted with the answer to the question, ‘What have we become?’ However, God already knows our greatest needs and our path to becoming what He wants us to be.
Never forget, our God is a redeeming God; our God is a transforming God; our God is a God Who can turn whole communities and nations upside down and inside out through His people, who are called His name, as they humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their sin. Then, and perhaps only then, will we become what Jesus made possible through His life, death and resurrection: the Church Jesus promised to build.