The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Church (page 1 of 2)

What People Really Want

I just finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  Four different theologians contribute four different perspectives on that question.  I may  comment on it in later blogs.

What I want to write now is the author’s compelling answer at book’s end to this question:   “What is the deepest concern of Christians in this area (of miraculous gifts)?”  Wayne Grudem’s answer spoke to my heart . . .

I don’t think that the differences we usually talk about among our churches are their deepest concern.  I do not think most Christians care deeply whether the pastor wears a coat and tie or a sweater or a robe, or whether the church has an Anglican liturgy or a Baptist order of service or charismatic spontaneity with tongues and prophecies.  I don’t think they care deeply whether the church leads music with an organ or with a guitar, or teaches that you should be baptized in the Holy Spirit or filled with the Holy Spirit. These matters are of some importance, but they are not matters of deepest concern.

“I think what people really want is to be in the presence of God.  They want to have a deeper experience of God as they participate in church life week by week.  They want times of prayer that are not just forty-five minutes of prayer requests and five minutes of prayer, and not just quickly praying through a long list of requests, but times when they can pray long enough—in an unhurried way—so that they not only talk to God but also hear his still, small voice bearing witness to their hearts.  And they want times of worship where, when they are singing, they are allowed to focus their attention on God for an extended time—where no one is interrupting them to tell them to greet their neighbor, or to sing loudly on the next verse, or to listen to the announcements, or to listen to the choir, or to fill out the registration card in the pew.  These things, of course, have a place, but they all shift our focus from God alone to the people around us, and they interrupt our times of deepest reverence in the worship of God alone.

“Christians instinctively long to be in an assembly of God’s people where they can focus their attention on God long enough that their eyes and minds and hearts are aware of nothing but his presence, where their voices are singing his praise (or perhaps silent in his presence), and where they are free to feel the intensity of their love for him and to sense in their spirits that God is there, delighting in the praises of his children.  That is what Christians today really long for.  They long to come to a church and be allowed to worship and pray until they sense in their spirits that they are in the manifest presence of God.

“When churches have allowed people to have such extended times of prayer and worship, this longing of Christians has been fulfilled, and these churches have grown remarkably.  No denomination or viewpoint on spiritual gifts should have a monopoly on such times of worship and prayer.  Cessationist churches and “open, but cautious” churches, as well as Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave churches, can provide such times of prayer and worship, each with its own style and within guidelines that protect their doctrinal convictions regarding spiritual gifts.

“Of course, I am not saying we need to diminish the importance we give to sound Bible teaching, in which we have God’s voice speaking to us.  In many of our churches this is done well, in other churches it is not, and people go away spiritually hungry week and week because they have not been fed on the Word of God.  Yet I am saying that I think many churches need, in addition to such teaching, much more emphasis on extended, uninterrupted times of prayer and worship.  I think people are longing to come to church and to know in their experience that they have spent extended time in the manifest presence of God.”

To which I say a hearty, “Amen!”  By God’s grace, we had that when I pastored.  Now, retired and disabled, I can’t find it.  If I could, I’d wheelchair there, however difficult.  We need what this writer describes.  And my soul longs for it.

 

This book is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Miraculous-Gifts-Today-Wayne-Grudem/dp/0310201551/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502383463&sr=8-1&keywords=are+miraculous+gifts+for+today+four+views

 

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Moral Report Card

I usually don’t trust polls.  But this Gallup one, if at all accurate, is concerning.   Here’s the opening paragraph . . .

“Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.”

You can find details at http://www.gallup.com/poll/210542/americans-hold-record-liberal-views-moral-issues.aspx.  It’s worth reading, even if rather discouraging.

For example, 69% of Americans say sex between an unmarried man and woman is acceptable.  An all-time high.  63% say gay or lesbian relations are acceptable–also an all-time high.  Polygamy is acceptable for 17%.

“Some of the largest changes in opinion reflect a transformation in Americans’ views about the institution of marriage and intimate relationships.”  Those changes are toward a moral liberal view.  Of the 19 issues questioned, none reveal a more conservative shift.

Gallup concludes these changes reflect a more “tolerant” view by older Americans and the younger, more liberal generations in our country.

The poll results don’t surprise.  The unbiblical worldview that pervades America (at least among the media, entertainers, and educators) spreads more easily than a biblical one.  Sin is like metastasizing cancer.  And (it seems to me) immorality increases like an uncontrolled truck racing downhill.

Poll results bring to mind Jesus’ words to us disciples . . .

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Doesn’t Jesus mean we’re to have a “salty”, enlightening influence for morality in our country?  One would think.  And maybe we are.  Maybe the morally liberal (not a political statement) permissive view is so pervasive we are holding back the tide from sweeping higher.

On the other hand, a December 2015 Gallup poll reveals 75% of Americans “identify with a Christian religion.”  I know that doesn’t mean that many are what the Bible calls Christian.  Still, I can’t shake this sobering thought:  how many Christians were among the leftward, morally permissible respondents?   Instead of being “salt” and “light” to counter the moral decay and darkness, are some Christians being morally decayed and dark in their moral worldview?  Are we allowing “the world” into the church more than we’re taking the church into the world?  Is our younger generation “moving left” too?

Another poll (!) might give answers.  It’s not necessary.  We should assume that our children are being morally misled.  And we must keep them (or get them back) on track.  That means parents and church teaching them what Jesus taught is morally right.  And that teaching shouldn’t be a one-way lecture.  What do they see and hear?  What do they think–and why?  What “moral sense” lies behind biblical morality?

And, of course, we must hedge our children around with prayer.  The battle is spiritual and demands spiritual weapons.

I hope I’m not fear-mongering.  But I think the most dangerous reaction to the nation’s increasing immorality is this:  “My child could never think that way.”

 

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The End of White Christian America (Finale)

What can we take away from our brief overview of The End of White Christian America?

A Changing America.

For me, the biggest take-away is this:  we live in a changing country.  Here, from the book’s dust cover, let’s read again the change author Robert P. Jones writes about.

“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.  But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States.  The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population.  Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.”

White Protestant Christians have pretty much from the beginning “set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.”  Now the U.S. has been transformed by immigration, lowered white birth rates and the exodus of young adults from the church.  For the last thirteen years white Christians have been less than half of our population.  Projections promise more of the same tomorrow.

” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.”

Jones implies that we “white Christians” are huddling  together, trembling as we watch our familiar world crumble around us, leaving  ever-shrinking, safe ground on which to stand.  We may not understand these changes.  We may wish for the Sheriff Andy in Mayberry days.  We may be unsure of our next step.  But we’re not biting our nails afraid of apocalyptic disasters.  Though we are anxious about America’s future . . .

Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”

Hear the sigh of relief from many of us after Trump’s election victory?  Maybe God gave us a reprieve!  Perhaps Ozzie and Harriet live for a little while yet!  The fact that many don’t know who Ozzie and Harriet were shows how far we’ve come.  A reprieve–maybe.  But “white Christians lack their former political and social clout.”  And, if projections are correct (polls couldn’t be wrong, right?), there’s no going back.  The tide of transformation is relentless.

Misplaced Reliance on Government.

Majority or minority, we’re right to use our religious freedom for life and against abortion, for the sanctity of man-woman marriage and against same-sex marriage, for Christians to practice the faith in the market place and against the progressive view that sexual “freedom” trumps religious freedom.  But we can’t rely on the government to be salt and light. 

Who knows what a Trump presidency will bring?  We can hope for conservative constitutionalist nominations to the Supreme Court.  For an improved economy that will lift people out of poverty and even quench fiery race relations.  For a world somewhat safer from terrorism.  But faith in human government (even headed by not-a-politician) will be misplaced and futile.

Rather than breathing that relief-sigh, expecting that a new political administration will “make America great again”, The End of White Christian America should not only inform us of being a country in flux.  It should also move us (however many of us there are!) to live radically as devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Colony of Heaven.

Stanley Hauerwas, is a United Methodist theologian and ethicist, currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC.  In The End of White Christian America, author Jones cites Hauerwas’ call for the church to be “‘a colony of heaven’ comprised of Christians who are ‘resident aliens’ in a strange land.”  Hauerwas (in his book, Resident Aliens:  Life in the Christian Colony) “emphasized Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affair, not an insider in the halls of power.

In Hauerwas’ vision, the demise of the ‘Christian century’ aspiration was actually an opportunity for a new, truer Christian faithfulness:  ‘The gradual decline of the notion that the church needs some sort of surrounding “Christian” culture to prop it up and molds its young is not a death to lament.  It is an opportunity to celebrate” (p. 213, 214).

Here are several additional quotes from Hauerwas’ book.  They form a fitting way for our “take-aways” from The End of White Christian America—a launching pad to thrust us into the new era of this country as the church of Jesus Christ.

“The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.”

“We believe that many Christians do not fully appreciate the odd way in which the church, when it is most faithful, goes about its business. We want to claim the church’s “oddness” as essential to its faithfulness . . .

“The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a ‘supportive institution’ and our clergy as members of a ‘helping profession’.  The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world.  We are not chartered by the Emperor.”

“The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.”

“We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.”

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The End of White Christian America (Part 1)

Over 60?  Then you feel changes in America.  You can’t define them, perhaps.  But, as I do, you feel them.  This book, The End of White Christian America, defines them, helps us understand them and provokes us to ponder how as Gospel-believing, Jesus-following Christians we should respond.

It’s an ominous title.

The author is Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religious Research Institute.  The book is available from Amazon—https://www.amazon.com/End-White-Christian-America-ebook/dp/B0176M3QC8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478442626&sr=1-1&keywords=the+end+of+white+christian+america). Over the next few weeks, I’ll intermittently blog about it.

Product Details

Architecture.

Let’s start with a visual.  In the late 18th century, steeples of two church buildings towered over lower Manhattan.  By the mid-19th century a building that housed one of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspapers eclipsed the churches and allowed Pulitzer to look down on the churches.  A hundred years later the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building defined New York City’s skyline.

“Where church spires once stirred citizens to look upward to the heavens, skyscrapers allowed corporate leaders to look down upon churches from their lofty offices.  Instead of market transactions happening under the watchful eye of the church, these exchanges literally take place over its head and beyond its reach.”

Even most of us senior citizens can’t remember when “market transactions [happened] under the watchful eye of the church.”  But, America knew such a day—now long gone.

In 1924 the United Methodist Building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, was dedicated as a “sentinel for Protestant Christian Witness and reform in the nation’s capitol.”  The hope was a building “where Christian faith and politics could mingle”, a place for Protestant presence on Capitol Hill.”  Societal changes suffocated that hope.  Today “the building’s tenants are a hodgepodge of Protestant and ecumenical organizations, interfaith groups and secular nonprofits.”  One small sign of the “end”.

In 1980 the Crystal Cathedral was one of America’s first megachurches.  Robert Schuller preached a “feel-good-about-yourself gospel”.   The suburbanization of California’s Orange County contributed greatly to his success.  Robert P. Jones says Schuller’s appeal was simple—he validated and encouraged material success, personal growth and fulfillment and political conservatism.  His ministry was “a powerful new force in white Christian America’s life.”

But when demographics changed, so did the “force.”  Membership dropped.  The empire unraveled.  Schuller’s children assumed control, filed for bankruptcy and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County bought the building.  Another sign of the retreat of Protestantism’s power in our country.

Internal Divide.

In the early 1920s, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians divided over North-South lines (eventually known as Fundamentalists and Modernists).  Central to the division was evolution.  One group in general held to “theistic evolution” (God governed the process), the other to “creationism” (God created everything there is, some insisting on a literal seven-day period).  Yet another sign of white Christian America’s weakening, this time from an internal issue.

These are only some of the forces which have diminished  the social and political clout of white Christian America.  The process, as this short summary shows, has been in play for over a century.

Jones observes that the terms “Christian” and “Protestant” were virtually synonymous for most of the 20th century.  Even now, pockets of the “good old days” of June Cleaver, Andy Griffith and Norman Rockwell remain.  But “it’s no longer possible to believe that white Christian America sets the tone for the country’s culture as a whole.”  Protestantism, as a powerful cultural force, has faded.

Demographics.

Demographics is a reason.  In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that “by 2050 the United States would no longer be a majority-white nation.”  After Barack Obama was elected president, the Census Bureau adjusted that predicted year to 2042.  Population experts now say that by 2060 “the number of people who identify as multiracial will nearly triple and the number of Hispanics and Asians will more than double.”  This process has given rise to battles over “gay” rights and racial tensions.  “America’s religious and cultural landscape is being fundamentally altered.”  That “alteration” was heightened last year when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to legalize “same-sex marriage” nationwide.

Challenge.

Jones concludes his first chapter with a challenge . . .

“There is much at stake for the country in whether these survivors (the next generations of White Christian Americans) retreat into disengaged enclaves, band together to launch repeated rounds (to fight for their old social values) . . . or find a way to integrate into the new American cultural landscape.

Eventually Jones will offer his solutions.  I don’t think we’ll find them satisfactory.  But I take the time to blog through this book, because we must be informed about changes occurring all around us.   Not simply so we can be “in the know.”

But so we can live as intelligent followers of Jesus
in a changing country.

So we help our children
(who never knew the June Cleaver days)
grasp the import of what they face
following Jesus in today’s America.

And so we can all impact this society,
not only for the nation’s sake,
but for that of the kingdom of God.

 

 

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Christian Community

The plan:  our three-year-old church would buy one of our town’s big old houses (we were renting from an Episcopal church then), three or four couples (including us) would live on the top two floors and we’d make the ground floor our worship “sanctuary.”  We wanted a church built around Christian community.

It never happened.  (The Lord had better plans.) But that planned community comes to mind as I read Paul’s closing exhortations in 1 Thessalonians . . .

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves (5:12,13).

Communities need leadership.  Not the impersonal, put-in-my-time-for-my-check kind or the autocratic, professional CEO kind.  “Over you in the Lord” implies leading modeled after a father managing his children or a shepherd caring for his flock.  Therefore, Paul calls the church to “respect” or “acknowledge” the church’s leaders as “those who labor among you.”  These men work hard at their calling.  Part of their labor is to “admonish you.”  The original Greek is nouthetoo.  Generally it means “to instruct”, specifically “to call back to biblical behavior.”  The church is “to esteem them very highly in love.  Thus the relationship between the led and the leaders is to be one of “peace.”

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (5:14).

Paul appeals to the church with four exhortations, the fourth “be patient with them all” summarizes the first three.  ” . . . admonish the idle.”  These are those who won’t work (because Jesus is coming soon?), so their behavior must be brought back to biblical norms (“he who won’t work shouldn’t eat”–2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Those who tend to fall by the wayside when hardship hits must be spurred on to persevere in the faith.  The “fainthearted” are not inferior Christians allowed to be forgotten by the bold-faith members.

The spiritually “weak” must be given “help”.  The Greek word literally means “cling to, hold fast to someone” and then “to pay attention to.”  Paul uses it here in the sense of paying attention to the weak and holding fast to them in order to help them along in their faith-walk.

Our natural tendency is to ignore the idle, to leave the fainthearted behind, and overlook the weak.  People like that need patient assistance.  It’s easier for the strong to go on alone than to bear the burden of the hurting.  But the church is a Christian community.  And a community moves ahead together, albeit slowly because we’re ministering to one another on the way.  Besides, one way the Lord teaches us patience (a fruit of the Spirit) is by putting us with people who require it.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (5:15).

Our sinful nature demands pay-back.  That revenge-drive is especially strong when it’s a fellow-believer who does us wrong. (We expected better.)  But the Christian community is to be a bunch of good-doers, even to evil-doers.

Christian author Robert Thomas writes . . .

Diokete (‘seek’) is immeasurably more than halfhearted efforts.  Eager expenditure of all one’s energies is none too much in seeking . . . “the good”.  In place of wrong, injury or harm dictated by a vengeful spirit, Christians must diligently endeavor to produce what is intrinsically beneficial to others, whether other Christians . . . or unbelievers.  The seriousness of the abuse suffered is no issue.  Some Thessalonians doubtless had been victims of unjustified harsh treatment, but regardless of this, a positive Christian response is the only suitable recourse.  The welfare of the offender must be the prime objective.”

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (5:16-18).

This exhortation-triplet is personal (I must rejoice, pray, give thanks), but also communal.  If Christian community members “rejoice always”, their rejoicing in the Lord will be contagious, their ceaseless praying will motivate others to pray, and their thanksgiving regardless of circumstances will change grumbling lips to lips of gratitude.  This is God’s gracious design (“will”)—little communities of Christians that reveal an alternative lifestyle.

Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil (5:19-22).

“Quench” (sbennute) is used literally of putting out a fire.  Here Paul uses it of “putting out” manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, in particular “prophecies” which they are not to despise.  Prophecies were a spontaneous utterance among the gathered community, taken as a word from the Lord, but not absolute since they had to be tested (though Paul here doesn’t explain how).  What is found to be “good” (that is, the building up of the Christian community—1 Corinthians 14:3) they are to “hold fast” to.  What is judged “evil” (that is, inconsistent with God’s word and with apostolic teaching and does not build up the community, they must stay away from.  The correction for spiritual gifts abuse is not cessation but regulation.  In the Christian community, for the upbuilding of the community, the Spirit must be free to manifest himself.  For Christian community to flourish, the Spirit must impart the presence of the living Christ.

* * * * *

We often gauge the health of the church by numbers; but though numbers matter, health isn’t measured by how many bodies sit in the seats.  We often gauge the church’s health by its music; but though making music to the Lord is vital, health isn’t gauged by how much like a Christian concert we can be.  And often we gauge the church’s health by its preaching; devoted preaching of God’s word fuels the church’s life, but the health isn’t gauged by how like a theological classroom we can be.

Paul’s exhortations here strongly suggest that we should gauge our church’s health by its community.  According to Merriam-Webster, “community” is “a unified body of individuals” and “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest within a larger society.”

Community:  “a group of people with a common interest in Jesus
within a larger society”.

It’s up to all of us to make the church that community!

 

 

 

 

 

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Americans Not Seeking Church’s Answers

O PreacherAn odd situation.  After 44 years of church pastoring, I find myself church-less.  Mostly it’s disability that keeps me home.  Gives me an  outsider’s perspective.  I understand, for example, a person who thinks the church offers nothing special for him will likely not take the trouble of getting up and going.

Don’t misunderstand. I still believe everything the Bible teaches about the church.  I still care about the church’s mission in the world.  At the same time, I think I recognize  better the unchurched person’s view.

That gave the following article (from “Religion News Service”) greater impact.  While I’m generally suspicious of polls, there’s no explaining away the bleakness of this report . . .

God? Meaning of life?
Many Americans don’t seek them in church

By Cathy Lynn Grossman

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-UNCHURCHED-SURVEY, originally transmitted on June 28, 2016.

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

(RNS) The “seekers” have left the church — if they ever came.
LifeWay Research has taken a close look at what might draw them in, zeroing in on people who say they have not attended a religious service in the past six months except for special events or holidays.
Worship? Not particularly interested, 2 in 3 people told the evangelical research firm in a survey released Tuesday (June 28).
Talk about God? Not so much, said 3 in 4 of the 2,000 “unchurched” people in the survey –including 57 percent who identified as Christians.
“Are a lot of Americans on a conscious journey to learn who Jesus Christ is? I don’t think so,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay, which is based in Nashville, Tenn.
The survey was conducted May 23-June 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
The findings suggest most folks could be lured to church through events where faith is not explicit: community causes, entertainment and sports.
Even that old “seeker” standby — the search for meaning — doesn’t cut it for many who a decade ago might have read Rick Warren’s mega-selling handbook, “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Although 57 percent of those surveyed said finding “their deeper purpose” is “a major priority,” 31 percent disagreed at least somewhat and 12 percent were unsure.
That finding can be read two ways. Either folks are feeling secure in their salvation, even without church, or “most unchurched people don’t particularly care,” said McConnell in an interview.
Fully 70 percent of people who do not attend religious services agreed that “there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life.”
But whose plan is the unanswered question.
LifeWay deliberately didn’t mention God in asking about “plan” and “purpose,” McConnell explained, because it wanted to assess whether people had “a framework of wanting to make better, or the best, choices for life.”
If they already view life in terms of plans and goals, it’s easier to talk about the Christian faith. Evangelizing is like marketing a product — you need a value that matters to the customer, McConnell said.
The survey suggested that while evangelical churchgoers say heaven is the main benefit of their Christian faith, “that value proposition is not a product the unchurched are looking to buy,” McConnell said.
The survey found that 43 percent said they never wonder if they’ll go to heaven when they die and 20 percent can’t recall the last time they thought about it.
According to a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans, LifeWay Research found few wonder, at least on a regular basis, if they’ll go to heaven when they die. Photo courtesy of LifeWay Research
The results were not entirely bleak, however: Nearly 62 percent would come for a meeting at church on neighborhood safety.
Offering a venue to “express compassion” can be a top draw for churches, Rick Richardson, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said in a press release. He is a research fellow for the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, which sponsored the survey.
Other ways people could be inspired to visit were for events such as concerts (51 percent), sports or exercise programs (46 percent) or a neighborhood get-together (45 percent.)
Most (51 percent) said a personal invitation from a friend or family member could draw them to church. And many are willing to at least listen to the benefits of being a Christian. Only 11 percent said they’d change the subject if religion came up in conversation.
But only about 1 in 5 would accept if that invitation came from a church member knocking at their door, a TV commercial, postcard or Facebook ad.
McConnell said bringing people into church is “a different kind of conversation. It’s like cajoling them to take a blind date with someone you want to spend your life and your eternity with. We need to say take it one day at a time: ‘Let’s introduce you to Jesus and see what you think.’”

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues.

* * *

Two thoughts from this dreary report come to mind.

One, this is a spiritual battle, not a creative-techniques one.  Of course, we need tactics.  And we probably have to think “outside the box.”  But giving out free Cokes at red lights won’t bring anyone to repentance and faith in Christ.  Nor will a coffee bar in the church lobby.

Two, we have to pray.  When the apostle Paul reached the end of his spiritual warfare instructions, he urged the church,Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.  And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.  For the sake of this gospel I am an ambassador, though now I am in prison. Pray that I may be bold in speaking about the gospel as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20, TEV).

 What might God the Holy Spirit do in Jesus’ name,
if we faithfully, persistently set aside time in Sunday Worship
for the church to pray for the community’s unchurched?
Will we find out?

 

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Changes in the Religious Globe

O PreacherA fascinating report courtesy of the Pew Research Center  . . .

7 key changes in the global religious landscape

What will the world’s religious landscape look like a few decades from now? A new Pew Research Center study attempts to answer that question by projecting the changing size of eight major global religious groups through the year 2050 based on a variety of demographic factors.

The study uses data from 198 countries and territories on fertility, age composition and life expectancy. It also looks at rates of religious switching – where data is available – and migration between countries, and puts all of these factors together to provide the best estimates for the future.

There are many storylines in this data, which can be explored through the full report or on our interactive Global Religious Futures website. Here are a few of the key findings:

1Muslims are the fastest-growing major religious group, largely because they have the highest fertility rate and the youngest population. As a result, the Muslim population is expected to increase from 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population as of 2010) to 2.76 billion people (30% of all people in 2050). At mid-century, Muslims will nearly equal Christians – the world’s largest religious group – in size.

Christian and Muslim Population Projections

2The share of the world’s population that is Christian is expected to remain steady (at about 31%), but the regional distribution of Christians is forecast to change significantly. Nearly four-in-ten Christians (38%) are projected to live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2050, an increase from the 24% who lived there in 2010. And the percentage of the world’s Christians living in Europe – which fell from 66% in 1910 to 26% in 2010 – will continue to decline, to roughly 16% in 2050.

3The number of religiously unaffiliated people, also known as religious “nones,” is increasing in places such as the United States and Europe, and we project continued growth. Globally, however, the opposite is true: The unaffiliated are expected to decrease as a share of the world’s population between 2010 and 2050 (from 16% to 13%). This is attributable mostly to the relatively old age and low fertility rates of large populations of religious “nones” in Asian countries, particularly China and Japan.

Size of Religious Groups, 2010-2050

4In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, with corresponding rises of religious “nones” as well as Muslims, Hindus and others. At mid-century, Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion in the U.S.: Muslims are projected to be more numerous than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

5Buddhists, concentrated in Asia, are expected to have a stable population (of just under 500 million) while other religious groups are projected to grow. As a result, Buddhists will decline as a share of the world’s population (from 7% in 2010 to 5% 2050).

6Indonesia is currently home to the world’s largest Muslim population, but that is expected to change. By 2050, the study projects India to be the country with the largest number of Muslims – more than 310 million – even though Hindus will continue to make up a solid majority of India’s population (77%), while Muslims remain a minority (18%). Indonesia will have the third-largest number of Muslims, with Pakistan ranking second.

7The farther into the future we look, the more uncertainty exists, which is why the projections stop at 2050. But if they are extended into the second half of this century, the projections forecast Muslims and Christians to be roughly equal in number around 2070, with Muslims the slightly larger group after that year.

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This raises a few questions for me . . .

Since Muslims are projected to equal Christians by 2050 because of high fertility rates and a young population, are we Christians losing our young people and not focusing enough on raising devoted Jesus’ followers?

Why is the world’s share of Christians predicted to remain steady?  Does it mean we are becoming less and less evangelistic (that is, disobeying Jesus’ Great Commission)?

What will we do about Europe with its drastically-shrinking Christian population?

Will we make changes in how we live as Christians so that our shrinking numbers in America will be reversed?

This report does not indicate a dynamic church in the U.S.   Do we care?  Should we?  The church of Jesus Christ will triumph in the end, but are we doing all we should now?

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Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here

O PreacherWhat a fitting, beautiful, God-present way to begin Sunday Worship!

For if we don’t humbly and hungrily pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit, what have we in our gatherings?  Yes, we have the written Word of God.  But it is the Spirit who enlivens the Word to our hearts.  And, yes, we have each other.  But it is the Spirit who kindles love and binds hearts.  If we don’t meet with the presence of the living God—our Father through our risen Lord—our meeting becomes little more than a memorial or a classroom.  Yes, we sing songs that proclaim the gospel of our faith.  But if we are merely making a proclamation without the presence of the One we proclaim, we are speaking into the wind.

How beautiful, how sanctifying, the “holy hush” after all the music and singing has stopped!  How we need to stand like that on holy ground in his holy presence and be filled with the Holy Spirit!  How precious those quiet moments when the world fades and all we sense is him!

If your church lacks his presence  like this, perhaps the video and these words have created a thirst . . . and somehow the Spirit will come for his glory and the joy of his reborn people.  I pray it might be so . . .

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The West Coast Rumble: Final Thoughts

O Preacher“It pleased God…to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold, and careless profession of Christianity, to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, and the powerful practice of our holy religion” (Jonathan Edwards, “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions,” Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, first published in 1736, p. 2).”

“We are about to enter a zone where no man has ever gone before. The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I’m going to freak you right out with the things that I’m going to be doing because you’re going to have no grid for it.’ … The Lord’s about to take us on some roads that don’t exist on human maps”  (Darren Stott, 34, pastor of the Seattle Revival Center).

Contrasts.

The contrast between these two descriptions couldn’t be more striking.  Is it just a language-change from the 18th century to the 21st?  Or is it a change in revival aims?   The First Great Awakening seems aimed at conversion and holy living.  Today’s seems aimed more at ecstatic spiritual experiences.  It’s as if today we see these revival experiences as the high point of spiritual life.

Patrick Morley, Christian author and speaker, describes what a revival is:  “During a revival, God supernaturally transforms believers and non-believers in a church, locale, region, nation, or the world through sudden, intense enthusiasm for Christianity.  People sense the presence of God powerfully; conviction, despair, contrition, repentance, and prayer come easily; people thirst for God’s word; many authentic conversions occur and backsliders are renewed.”  Even that enthusiastic explanation implies that God sends a revival because people have become spiritually lethargic and weak.  A revival isn’t like a doctor advising a healthy patient how to have optimum physical health; it’s more emergency room doctor using defibrillation paddles to re-start a patient’s heart with a dose of electrical current.  The ultimate goal isn’t a heart restart; it’s optimum physical health.  So, while God certainly uses revivals his ultimate goal is Christ-likeness.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . ”
(Romans 8:29a)

Need.

Having said that, I’ll repeat what I wrote in an earlier blog:  I think the church in the U.S. needs a revival.  Despite mega-churches and high-production worship services and creative sermons and “portable” Christian music on smartphones, I get the impression that Christianity in America is, as they say about Tampa Bay’s waters, a mile wide and an inch deep.  The church needs renewing.  Whether what’s happening on the West Coast is part of that renewing  remains to be seen.

Skepticism.

I have to admit I get skeptical about “prophetic words” from leaders associated with “the Rumble”:   “The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘This whole thing is going harvest . . . The angel of the Lord is going to be connected with you now,.  You will not leave Seattle until the angel tells you to go'” . . .  and the already-cited, “We are about to enter a zone where no man has ever gone before. The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘I’m going to freak you right out with the things that I’m going to be doing because you’re going to have no grid for it.’ … The Lord’s about to take us on some roads that don’t exist on human maps.” Prophecy as forth-telling I can abide; prophecy as foretelling makes me uneasy.

In the 1970s or 80s (I can’t remember which) the charismatic movement got caught up in extreme discipleship.  Every Christian was to have a discipler to oversee his/her life.  I heard some horror stories.  Leaders of “The West Coast Rumble”. according to author Holly Piver,  “share a common belief that the church is to be governed by apostles and prophets,.  Churches come voluntarily under an apostle and pastors are supposed to submit to them. ‘Spiritual covering’ is what they call it, and if they are not under this covering, they are outside of God’s blessing.”  I don’t see allowance for that in the New Testament and am concerned these folks are repeating the same error as their predecessors 30 years ago.

Confusion.

Revivals tend to feature confusion.   Here’s what Edwards wisely wrote about that:  ” . . . if God is pleased to convince the consciences of persons, so that they cannot avoid great outward manifestations, even to interrupting and breaking off those public means (meetings) they were attending, I do not think this is confusion, or an unhappy interruption, any more than if a company should meet on the field to pray for rain, and should be broken off from their exercise by a plentiful shower. Would to God that all the public assemblies in the land were broken off from their public exercises with such confusion as this the next sabbath day!  We need not be sorry for breaking the order of means, by obtaining the end to which that order is directed. He who is going to fetch a treasure, need not be sorry that he is stopped, by meeting the treasure in the midst of his journey.”

Warning.

Whatever we think of revivals, I warn myself and others not to be found opposing God.  At the end of my writing about revivals, I haven’t discovered any hard, fast rules for discernment, except this:  Jesus must be exalted as Lord and Savior.  If he is not (because, say, ecstatic spiritual experiences are), then either the revival is not from the Holy Spirit or the Spirit is speaking as if through Balaam’s dumb donkey (Numbers 22:21-30).

Pray.

Lastly, I think we should be praying fora genuine revival/awakening/renewal (whatever the okay word is for us) in our churches.  How quickly our routines become ruts!  How low our expectation that God is really going to act in our services!  How little our influence in the community for Jesus’ sake!  When the world can take us or leave us, and when the government fearlessly dares to still our Bible-talk as homophobic or hate speech, the church needs renewed power to effectively proclaim God’s truth in Christ!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the West Coast Rumble for Real (2)?

O PreacherI’m offering Jonathan Edwards’ “signs” to evaluate revivals like the West Coast Rumble—an evaluation, I believe, it’s incumbent on us to make.  “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

By the way, if you haven’t, you should read my last two posts before reading this one http://theoldpreacher.com/the-west-coast-rumble/ and http://theoldpreacher.com/?p=4913&preview=true.

Eighteenth century revivals raised questions and moved Edwards to write “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God”.  In it he identified nine “negative signs” (last post) and five “positive” signs (below).  Again, my goal:  to help us (in John’s words) to “test the spirit to see whether they are from God”.

Positive Signs

Edwards introduces this section:  “I now proceed in the second place, as was proposed, to show positively what are the sure, distinguishing Scripture evidences and marks of a work of the Spirit of God, by which we may proceed in judging of any operation we find in ourselves, or see among a people, without danger of being misled.”
I.  The work exalts Jesus and establishes in people’s minds the truth of the gospel of the Son of God and our Savior. “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world . . .Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:2,3).  Edwards explains:  “And it is to be observed that the word ‘confess’, as it is often used in the New Testament, signifies . . . an establishing and confirming of a thing by testimony, and declaring it with manifestation of esteem and affection.”  In other words, to confess is more than mimicking a doctrine; it is an admission that the confessor stands in worshipful awe of Jesus and his saving sacrifice.  Any spirit that fails to exalt Jesus is of the devil, who abhors Jesus and hates his redemptive work.
To put this sign in question form:   “Does this work exalt Jesus and establish in people’s minds, not only that Jesus powerfully heals and delivers,  but that Jesus is the Son of God and the sinner’s Savior?”

II. The work operates against Satan’s interests. Satan entices us with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”  Such seduction “is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).   Therefore, the Spirit that lessens our value of the world’s pleasures, profits and honor and pulls our hearts away from pursuing these things and compels our hearts toward the eternal kingdom of God and convinces us of the sinfulness of sin has to be the Spirit of God.

To put this sign in question form:  “Does this work make people easier prey for Satan or stronger opponents of him?”

III.  The work causes people to have a greater regard for God’s written word. We are from God.  Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).  Remembering that the only other spirit is of the devil, Edwards comments:   “The devil never would attempt to beget in persons a regard to that divine word which God has given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church . . .The devil has ever shown a mortal spite and hatred towards that holy book the Bible: he has done all in his power to extinguish that light; and to draw men off from it: he knows it to be that light by which his kingdom of darkness is to be overthrown.  He has had for many ages experience of its power to defeat his purposes, and baffle his designs: it is his constant plague . . .  It is the sword of the Spirit, that pierces him and conquers him.”

To put this sign in question form:  “Does this work create in people a hunger for God’s written word or distract them from it?”

IV. The spirit at work “operates as a spirit of truth, [leads] persons to truth, [and convinces] them of those things that are true.” Edwards takes this from the end of 1 John 4:6, “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error”.    He writes, “For instance, if we observe that the spirit at work makes men more sensible than they used to be, [that is] that there is a God, and that he is a great and sin-hating God; that life is short, and very uncertain; and that there is another world; that they have immortal souls, and must give account of themselves to God, that they are exceeding sinful by nature and practice; that they are helpless in themselves; and confirms them in other things that are agreeable to some sound doctrine; the spirit that works thus operates as a spirit of truth; he represents things as they truly are.” 

To put this sign in question form:  “Does the spirit of this work make people love the truth and want to seek it or fascinate them merely with a power that ‘works’?”

V.  The work produces love to God and love to others“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another . . . No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us . . .  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:11.12,20).  Love is a distinctive mark by which we know who has the Spirit of God.  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13).   Love is the first and primary fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments'” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Edwards writes:  “Therefore, when the spirit that is at work amongst the people . . . brings many of them to high and exalting thoughts of the Divine Being, and his glorious perfections; and works in them an admiring, delightful sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ; representing him as the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, and makes him precious to the soul; winning and drawing the heart with those motives and incitements to love, of which the apostle speaks in that passage of Scripture we are upon, that is:  The wonderful, free love of God in giving his only-begotten Son to die for us, and the wonderful dying love of Christ to us, who had no love to him, but were his enemies; must needs be the Spirit of God, as ver. 9, 10. “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And ver. 16. “And we have known, and believed, the love that God hath to us.” And ver. 19. “We love him because he first loved us.” The spirit that excites to love on these motives, and makes the attributes of God as revealed in the gospel, and manifested in Christ, delightful objects of contemplation; and makes the soul to long after God and Christ—after their presence and communion, acquaintance with them, and conformity to them—and to live so as to please and honour them; the spirit that quells contentions among men, and gives a spirit of peace and good will, excites to acts of outward kindness, and earnest desires of the salvation of souls-and causes a delight in those that appear as the children God, and followers of Christ; I say, when a spirit operates after this manner among a people, there is the highest kind of evidence of the influence of a true and divine spirit . . . What kind of love that is, we may see best in what appeared in Christ’s example. The love that appeared in that Lamb of God, was not only a love to friends, but to enemies, and a love attended with a meek and humble spirit.”

To put this sign in question form:  “Does this work move people to love God and others more fully or encourage people to focus more on themselves?”

* * * * *

I’ll have a few final thoughts next post.  Meanwhile, may the Lord give us wisdom to discern what is from him and what is not that we might glorify him and enjoy his saving work in the world!
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