At times I have a tendency to make assumptions.  With the title of this blog I’ve generally assumed that most Christians know there is something very wrong with American Christianity today.  In an article titled Religious Boredom A.W. Tozer says “That there is something gravely wrong with evangelical Christianity today is not likely to be denied by any serious minded person acquainted with the facts.”

This sentiment is shared among the writers and editors of this blog.  But I have not made clear what “the facts” are that lead me to this conclusion.  So here I hope to build the case; to explain, at least in part, why I believe there is something gravely wrong with Evangelical Christianity today.

First, I think it necessary to define what is meant by “tradition”.  By tradition I mean those beliefs and practices of the Church that are based mainly on the influence of humanity and culture rather than rooted in the Word of God.  Typically these practices have been passed down for some substantial amount of time, but they could also be practices recently introduced to the Church that were mainly influenced by cultural custom.

With that understanding, I believe there is something wrong with the way things presently are because:

1.  Our Evangelical practice does not align with the normative Church practices established in Scripture.

The hard fact of the matter is many things we do in Church simply are not Biblical.  I will not make such a claim without examples.  It is Biblical to raise children up in the way of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4).  It is tradition that tells us Sunday School is essential to this.  Now I’m not against Sunday School, much of what I have learned regarding the things of God was in Sunday School.  However, I am concerned that parents neglect their parental responsibilities because “the Sunday School teacher will do it.”  I’m also concerned that in many Sunday Schools the curriculum is simply baby food repeated on a three-year cycle.  I am concerned that in spite of 18 years of Sunday School most Evangelical young adults are not prepared to handle secular university life and have never heard the term “apologetics” in relation to the formation of a Christian world view.

We could broaden this to our discipleship in general.  Discipleship as Jesus practiced it was relational.  Jesus built lasting and impacting relationships with His disciples.  Today much of our discipleship is centered around imparting information. Information is important, but  information alone does not make disciples.  For 18 years I grew up in the Church attending Sunday School, youth group, rallies and conferences, summer camps, etc…  And all of those things contributed to my spiritual development.  But I daresay the 19 months of my life that I’ve been involved in true relational discipleship have helped me develop spiritually more than the other 17 and a half years combined.

I would recommend all of my readers write down a list of all the common practices in the Church, read through the New Testament, and then see how many of those practices are legitimately rooted in the New Testament.  For example, where in the New Testament does it say one must be an ordained minister to serve communion or baptize someone?  It doesn’t.  Where in the New Testament does it say deacons shall be prominent businessmen, lawyers, and doctors?  It doesn’t.  How were people ordained in the New Testament?  If we look at the commissioning of Baranabas and Paul, the process is much different then what is experienced in our present-day Churches.

2.  Our commitments do not align with the commitments of the New Testament Church.

Look at how missional the New Testament Church was.  2,000 years later with all our technology and sophisticated methods we still aren’t as effective in our church planting as the Apostle Paul was.  In fact, many of our main-line denominations and fellowships are more focused on maintaining the Churches that have already been planted then they are on planting new Churches in other countries.

The early Church was also devoted to prayer.  God help us, prayer is virtually unheard of in today’s Church.  I think every Church in the nation should issue The Life of Prayer by A.B. Simpson and The Prayer Life by Andrew Murray to every single one of it’s members.  Such a bold move might shake us up or at the very least help unify and encourage the remnant.  But honestly, if I invite people to the theatre I’ll get 10-12 friends; if I invite them to a prayer meeting I’m lucky to get 6.  What’s wrong with our priorities?  We’re in an adulterous relationship with entertainment and we risk offending (if we have not already offended) God Almighty.

Fellowship was another important part of the 1st Century Church.  Today our fellowship is reduced to a 5 minute meet-and-greet at the beginning of each service.  Shame.  Fellowship, in the Biblical sense, involves sharing each other’s lives.  Today we must be dignified. We must put on a good face for Church. We mustn’t get too personal with each other.  Rubbish.  We need to quit worrying about dressing up in costumes every Sunday and start sharing our lives with each other.  I would love getting phone calls every night saying “Joey, I have this need, can you pray with me?”.  Our fellowship should be deep. We should be the most loving, open, honest people on the planet.  Is not the world to know we are Christians by our love?

I could continue on along this line, but there are simply too many areas where our commitments are not right to list them all here.  Hopefully they will be addressed in future posts.

3.  Unlike the New Testament Church, ours is a Church without power!

We have not power because we have not the Spirit!  I think, in a very real way, we are guilty of putting out the Spirit’s flame.  We have squelched Him, continually suppressing His leading.  Mark Batterson suggests today’s Churches do to people what cages do to animals.  I don’t think anything could be more true.

We’ve used strict regiment, calculated programs, deeply rooted tradition, and a 1,000 foot tall hierarchy of power to make it nearly impossible to follow the Spirit’s leading.  We rely more on political favor than on the Spirit of God for our success.  I’m with Leonard Ravenhill, I won’t pray for revival in America, I’ll pray for revival in the Church.

4.  Our present-day Ecclesiastical practice is hindering the Body.

To be very frank, I’m afraid our present-day Church structure actually hinders the Body of Christ from functioning as the Body of Christ.  We’ve divided the Body into “clergy” and “laity.”  Such a distinction is unheard of in the New Testament.  We are proud because we have pompous-sounding titles, and we’ve actually organized the Church like a business (I am a business major, so I could get technical with this, but I will refrain).  Think about it, “Bishop T.D. Jakes,” “Pastor Al Sharpton,” “Deacon John Smith”.  These have all become titles of prestige, rather than descriptions of service in the Body of Christ.  We’ve capitalized on apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, and evangelists.  Many Christians feel disempowered from service because they don’t have such a fancy title.  They feel “second-class.”

What is the result?  The 98% of the Church that doesn’t have a title doesn’t feel capable of doing anything.  C.H. Spurgeon wrote that when a “body” is just a large eye it ceases to be a body and is in fact a monster.  We’ve created a very top-heavy monster.

5.  Our expectations of the Christian life are far below what is described in the New Testament.

Let’s face it, the climax of American Christianity is a 60-90 minute service once a week.  This has become the totality of our Christianity.  God help us!  What happened? Why are we not like Peter and John who pray for the lame man going into the Temple?  Why is it that if an exorcism is necessary no body knows what to do, and we have to wait for “the reverend?”  Why is it we only expect to experience God intimately at a retreat or some other special event?

We should be experiencing God every day, walking in close fellowship with Him.  It should be odd if God does not show up during our worship.  Simply singing, uncritically and ritualistically, is not good enough.  We are servants of the living God!  We ought to believe Jesus when He says where two or three gather in His Name He will be there.  If we gather and He’s not there we must ask what we’ve done to be acting outside of His Name (authority, will).

Also, in the New Testament Church there was an eager anticipation of the return of Christ.  Such an expectation is totally lacking, indeed, we’re afraid of it.  Perhaps it’s good we’re afraid to talk about eschatology; that at least indicates a functioning conscious, though the verdict of that conscious may not be good.

In Conclusion: These discrepancies, among others I’ve not had the time to list, are why I insist on questioning tradition.  We have to break the mold if we are to experience the freedom and abundant life Christ has promised us.  We must return to our apostolic roots found in the New Testament.  We need to stop relying on what man says, and start examining what God says.

This is going to be a showdown of strength.  And this is something I welcome.  I don’t have hundreds of seminaries. I don’t have a 13 million member denomination. I don’t have 850 prophets of Baal on my side; but this showdown won’t be won by numbers, it’ll be won in the prayer closet (Ravenhill).  It won’t be won by he who has the biggest army, but by he who’s God answers by fire.

“Our only hope is that renewed spiritual pressure will be exerted increasingly by self-effacing and courageous men who desire nothing but the glory of God and the purity of the church. May God send us many of them.” -A.W. Tozer

“If we will let Him, Christ will do in us and through us that which He did in and through the committed believers after Pentecost. The potential is ours. Do we dare believe that the faithful Christian believers may yet experience a great new wave of spiritual power?” -A.W. Tozer

God bless!

Josiah


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Comments
  1. Howdy,

    This was an excellent post, and it really helped me to try to get a grip on your point of view. Now the discussion should get really interesting ;).

    I appreciate your commitment to Biblical Truth. If there is to be any hope for the western Church, it will be a Scriptural approach to Christianity. All the re-imagining in the world is useless if it springs from human imagination rather than the Heart of God. Most of the reform men are seeking today is absent of a solid foundation in Scripture. Nothing is profitable that is not Biblical.

    I also appreciate your wide-reaching assessment. So far I have read your Biblical criticism of “traditional” Sunday school, discipleship, missions, prayerlessness, Bible illiteracy, and more! I think the true criticisms you have made are indications that there is something gravely wrong in western Christendom, and I think the problem is far larger than ecclesiology. In short: Christians are not living up to the Truth they have been given. There is not a Christian in America who is not aware of the fact that he should be praying, but he is not! It is the same with Bible literacy. We might discuss the methodology for teaching them to act like Christians, but most of them are much too happy to remain blissfully ignorant. Therefore I am lead to believe that you will not be advocating a minor change in methodology to solve the deep, deep problems in the status quo.

    Thanks again, and expect to hear more from me in the discussion.
    -Z

  2. sweetswede says:

    Thank you!

    One of my main hesitations regarding the Emerging Church is the fact that they want to “change” things, but that change is hardly ever in favor of a more Biblical pattern. They’re not really questioning tradition (as I’ve defined tradition), they’re simply replacing some traditions they don’t like with others that they do.

    You’re right, I’m not advocating a “minor change in methodology”, and the problem is much larger than ecclesiology. Most of those things I have pointed out are just symptoms of the problem. I’m not sure as if I could provide a major diagnosis. I think much of it has to do with a concept of God unworthy of Him and unworthy of the Church (Tozer), few Christians are experiencing an intimate walk with the Savior, and our means of recognizing spiritual success is wholly material (“He wears Christian shirts and a WWJD? bracelet, he must be extreme!”).

    But there’s lots of hope. From the Spirit of God falling on a hotel room in Cincinnati last year to the uniting of numerous fellowships and denominations to the formation of teams that are truly partnering in the Gospel on college campuses I’m convinced there’s lots of hope.

    God bless!
    Josiah

  3. Of a Truth, there is immeasurable hope! It is “a hope that is both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil (Heb 6:19).” It is Christ in us (Col 1:27)! My concern is not that there is no hope, but that many Americans who call themselves Christians are not truly recipients. That is why I say “if there is to be any hope for the western Church.” The Hope is absolutely sure, but the innovations of many trying to solve the woes of evangelicalism do not seem to be getting any closer to it.

    I have been wondering, how do you define “missional?”

    It is only a short slide for Christians who are disconnected from the Harvest to become disconnected from the Cross. If Christians are disconnected from the Cross, where is their hope of resurrection? “If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans6:3).” It is only logical that if Christ has already called every believer to the Harvest field (which He has, John 17), then believers who refuse to be laborers in His vineyard will become disconnected from the Vine (cf John 15:6). To this end, I agree both that the early Church was and that the True Church must be “missional.”

    However, the term missional has been inculcated with a host of other concepts that I am considerably less agreeable to. Although, in fairness, I think missional is a word of fairly recent popularization and its definition seems to be hopelessly linked with the emergent church. In fact, the terms “Emergent Church” and “Missional Living” were combined on Wikipedia because in common usage the emergents are dominating the discussion. Therefore, I might have to conclude that my definition of “missional,” which I so briefly described above, may not be inculcated with other meanings so much as I am unwilling to accept the understood implications of the word. Nonetheless, I have serious issues with some of the implications of “missionality.”

    I think they stem primarily from the shift toward a mission-centered church rather than a God-centered church. Most missional Christians would object to the differentiation, but it seems more and more pronounced as missionality becomes more clearly defined. There is a great emphasis on “contextualizing” the gospel to a given culture (with an extremely liberal definition of “contextualize”). It is no surprise, then, that there is so little emphasis amongst “missional” Christians on absolute Truth.

    Jesus claimed to be THE TRUTH. Without Truth (with a capital T), what is left of Christianity?

    What is the mission, anyway? What is the purpose of the Cross? It is to redeem mankind—to bring them into a right relationship with Him and that His Name might be great in the Earth. If it is all about being relevant and culturally meaningful, we may as well be a social club.

    This is the fundamental problem of the emergent movement that prevents me from even beginning to engage in “the discussion.” My First Principle is faith in God, His Son, His Spirit, and His Holy Word. The first principle of the emergent movement seems to be “question everything.” At first blush it seems that the whole movement might be built upon a backlash against the emptiness of American churches, but that is no solid foundation!

    I did find it interesting that your definition of tradition includes “practices recently introduced to the Church that were mainly influenced by cultural custom” whereas the emergent conversation is extremely interested in “contextualizing” the gospel to more fit the culture.

  4. sweetswede says:

    I deliberately defined tradition to INCLUDE emergents. By means of compromise emergents are bringing a lot of societal traditions into church practice. Emergents certainly question dressing up for Church on Sunday’s, but my gosh they get upset if you question the role of entertainment in today’s Church. Question societal traditions like watching Sit Coms, most of which are filthy, and an emergent will excommunicate you so quickly you won’t be able to say “That’s what she said”. In a sense the emergents are becoming the true fundamentalists, only from an opposite perspective.

    Not to mention, most emergent “theology”, like that proposed by Brian McLaren, is based on a very liberal hermeneutic (I owe the terms “theology” and “hermeneutic” an apology for associating them with Brian McLaren). This isn’t new, figurative approaches to interpretation have been around for quite some time. It’s only because of the current culture they’re gaining popularity.

    At any rate, I agree with your definition of “missional”. I do realize it is closely associated with the emergent movement, but this is a good term so I’m willing to fight them for use of it 🙂 Basically though, we need to focus on fulfilling the Great Commission.

    I like what your statement that a Church only focused on cultural meaningfulness is not a Church but a social club. A speaker at Catalyst (can’t remember who, maybe Matt Chandler) said something similar and you heard “boo!” from the audience. Boo? When Christ is the center of Christianity people boo? This makes me think very seriously that 1. There is something very wrong causing people to seek alternatives to the Institutional Church. 2. The Emergent Church is a very dangerous alternative to the Institutional Church, because for everything against it, at least the Institutional Church is doctrinally sound (though, as Leonard Ravenhill said, doctrine can be as straight as a gun barrel but still just as empty).

    Very good points you brought up, God bless!
    Josiah

  5. sweetswede says:

    It was Matt Chandler who said that, he actually said “rotary club”, but it’s the same idea. You can read the notes on his sermon here: http://willfjohnston.com/2008/10/10/catalyst-session-8-matt-chandler/

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