Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Church (Page 1 of 3)

Wedding Bells Are Not Ringing

I was surprised to read, “Religious congregations hosted (only) 22 per cent of weddings in 2017. . . ”  Then I read other interesting and concerning statements, so decided to send the whole blog by Jacob Lupfer.


(RNS) — As summer begins, another wedding season is upon us. The air is warm, the earth is lush and everything is as pretty as a June bride.

But for all our marriage cliches, one now belongs on the endangered species list: Wedding bells are not ringing.

We live atop shifting sands, at least as far as faith is concerned. Part of the change is that fewer Americans are Christians. Churches nowadays do not usually have bells, especially churches that meet in storefronts, rented school cafeterias or aluminum-sided monstrosities in far-flung suburbs. And the percentage of weddings that take place in churches has plummeted, dropping by almost half in less than a decade.

Reporting on a survey from a leading wedding website, the evangelical Facts & Trends discussed religion’s recession from the wedding landscape.

Religious congregations hosted 22 percent of weddings in 2017, down from 41 percent in 2009. Churches are losing ground to banquet halls, hotels, country clubs, wineries, rooftops and museums.

Clergy are solemnizing fewer and fewer marriages. Instead, couples are turning to civil magistrates or even loved ones who obtain credentials. In 2009, 29 percent of couples had a friend or family member solemnize their wedding. That number had increased to 43 percent by 2016.

What accounts for this dramatic change? Is anything lost? Does it even matter?

The main reason church weddings are dropping is that more people are raised without religion. This is something we can prove empirically: Though rates of belief remain persistently high, church membership, worship attendance and congregational participation are in decline.

Since the 1960s, social expectations concerning sex, cohabitation, childbearing and marriage have quietly undergone profound changes.

Religion is the great loser in that revolution, not only ceding its cultural influence, but also struggling to govern the lifestyle choices of its own adherents.

Clergy and churches, once gatekeepers to the social respectability that marriage afforded, are now often reduced to paid extras and photo ops.

Couples are increasingly choosing less traditional locations for wedding ceremonies. Photo by Ibrahim Asad from Pexels

It’s not just a decline in faith. With Americans more mobile, atomized and rootless than ever before, fewer have a connection to a religious congregation where they live or even “back home.” Thus, when rites of passage like marriage (or birth or death) come, we are less likely to turn to the church to help us mark them.

It would make sense that couples who lived together before marriage and/or have no intention of attending worship together thereafter are much likelier to skip the church wedding today than in previous generations.

In this way, it is perhaps a credit to young people’s integrity: At least they are not pretending to care about marriage as a sacrament or religious rite. Many just do not see marriage (or sex or childbearing) as bound up with religious faith anymore. We can debate whether that is god or bad, but it is undeniable.

This was certainly my own experience. My first marriage as a 21-year-old virgin was a traditional religious wedding, though held outdoors.

When I remarried following a divorce, my religiosity was at a low ebb. But having cohabited with my then-fiancee and having no intentions of being religious together, we were in no mood for pretending. We hired a notary public, had her say a prayer or two commensurate with my nominal religiosity and my unhealthy need for older folks’ approbation, and got married in a city park.

Lots of marriages today seem to lack a self-consciously divine character, and certainly not one mediated through the life of a religious congregation. They are not “Christian marriages” in any meaningful way.

So what, if anything, is lost?

I hesitate to admit it, as a person whose religious marriage ended in divorce, but both church and society are worse off as marriage has declined and shed its sacredness.

With no religious wedding, couples receive less marriage preparation. They have less access to marriage counseling from a clergyperson. They do not spend time thinking or praying about what’s distinctive about sacred marriage. They aren’t taught to embrace marriage as a vocation to a particular way of being in relationship as a symbol of Christ’s love for the world.

Marriage is a bedrock social institution. We all suffer if it is weakened. Civil marriage may have no sacred character, but strong, enduring unions are vital to our common life together. Sacred marriage builds social capital that benefits everyone.

Religion imbues marriage and families with value, commitments and permanence that neither law nor culture can confer. Society is impoverished when fewer couples enter marriage through this portal.

(Jacob Lupfer, a frequent commentator on religion and politics, is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

Impossible Church-Prayer

“Who are you to evaluate the church?  You don’t even come!”

That’s how I feel, an outsider looking in.  But my church comments come only because that’s what Paul is writing–praying–about.  So here’s his impossible church-prayer.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14,15).

After the Spirit prompted Paul to “sidetrack” into his Gentile ministry (3:2-13), he picks up his prayer-report begun in 3:1. “For this reason” he prays.  That is, because his readers (believing-in-Christ-Jesus Gentiles and Jews) have become part of the new temple where God’s Spirit lives (2:11-22), he prays for their spiritual empowerment.

Since Jews typically prayed standing, when Paul writes, “I kneel before the Father”, he’s probably describing an intensified prayer.  Intercession is a struggle, war in the spiritual realms; thus Paul fights to pray for the church.

Commentators differ on “the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  The most reasonable interpretation seems to be this:  God as Creator is “Father” (progenitor) of everyone.  That God “names” everyone signifies his creation of them and dominion over them.  Paul, then, intercedes to the all-authoritative One.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Paul tells them he prays that they may be strengthened with power (dunamis).  The Greek is literally “according to the riches of his glory”.  Paul prays that God may give power in a way that corresponds to his glorious riches–in particular, that they may be made strong by means of the Spirit “in your inner being”.  Paul isn’t praying here for more visible manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, but for an “inner being” empowering.

“ . . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  Christ (by the Spirit) already indwells their hearts.  Paul tells them he’s praying they might more deeply experience Christ’s presence in their lives. We generally think the Spirit does one work (regeneration) or two (regeneration and baptism in the Spirit).  But Paul implies the Spirit’s work is not only ongoing, but may (should?) include several significant experiences. Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) comments: “It would seem that he is praying for the emotional increase or experiential expansion of what is already a theological fact. His desire is that the Lord Jesus, through the Spirit, might exert an ever-increasing and progressively more powerful influence on our lives and in our hearts. It is what I like to call, the incessant spiritual reinforcement in the human heart of the strength of Jesus and his love.”

D.A. Carson says, “this cannot be merely an intellectual exercise. Paul is not asking that his readers might become more able to articulate the greatness of God’s love in Christ Jesus or to grasp with the intellect alone how significant God’s love is in the plan of redemption. He is asking God that they might have the power to grasp the dimensions of that love in their experience. Doubtless that includes intellectual reflection, but it cannot be reduced to that alone” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 191).

This indwelling presence happens “through faith”—an ongoing trust that Christ alone is our salvation.

By virtue of faith in Christ, Paul’s readers are already “rooted and grounded in love”.  Now Paul tells them he prays that they may have power to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.  This is the “inner being” power for which Paul prays—that they may grasp the huge dimensions of Christ’s love and experience it. This God must do; believers’ intentions or actions can’t.

Paul prays his readers “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.  Is it possible that believers in this life may be filled with all God’s moral excellencies?  Probably not.  But this is the direction toward which we should aim.

Such experiential knowledge of God’s love, such filling with God’s fullness, is a “together with all the saints” experience—personal, but not private.  Which raises the question:  what would a church look like that’s experientially knowing the unknowable love of God?

Paul finishes his prayer-report with a doxology . . .

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Any thinking person, with any church experience, knows how impossible Paul’s request is.  However genuinely loving a church may appear, tensions inevitably exist beneath the surface.  But Paul prays for God to do what we cannot.  And he “nails it” with this doxology.

God can do huperekperissou“far beyond, so much more than”—“than all we ask or imagine”.  Has Paul’s supplication been colored by his God-enthusiasm?  Can God really fill us together with such unknowable love?  Is it possible for God to take our ordinary church and fill us to the fullness of himself?

His power is already “at work within us”.  And corresponding to the power God can do far more “than all we ask or imagine”.  Therefore the doxology:  “Now . . . to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Yes!”  Undoubtedly this “glory” reaches its height and extends on into eternity.  But Paul praises God who will receive glory in his love-fullness church now and to the next generation and the next and to all.

* * *

Well, we’ve talked about prayer.  Let’s pray . . .

“Father, in my heart I kneel before you.  You are Father of us all and want us to be family.  Out of the super-abundance of your glory, through your Spirit, make us strong in our inner selves.  In that power, may Christ be more and more at home in our hearts as we trust our lives to him.  Root us deep in the soil of your great love.  Empower us to know, together with all your people, the extravagant dimensions of your love—how wide and long and high and deep it really is.  May we experientially know the too-great-to-know love of Christ.  Fill us together with the fullness of life and power that comes from you. 

“Now, all glory be to you, God!  By your breathtaking power you can do far more than all we dare ask or even imagine.  Glory be to you in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations for ever and ever!  Amen.”





Don’t Quench the Spirit!

The following article appeared on the website April 28th.  Read it and hear, pastor!  Hear, church! . . .

if the apostle Paul himself had not warned us about quenching the Spirit, who among us would have thought it was possible (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22)? To suggest that the omnipotent Spirit of God could ever be quenched, and thus restricted in what he might do otherwise in our lives, and in the life of the local church, is to tread on thin theological ice.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God has granted to Christians the ability either to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the life of the local church. The Spirit comes to us as a fire, either to be fanned into full flame and given the freedom to accomplish his will, or to be doused and extinguished by the water of human fear, control, and flawed theology.

“God has granted us the power and authority to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the local church.”

How many of us pause to consider the ways in which we inadvertently quench the Spirit’s work in our lives individually and in our churches corporately? Do we church leaders instill fear or courage in the hearts of people by the way we speak and preach and lead? Do we so repeatedly pepper our sermons and small group Bible studies, even our personal conversations, with such dire warnings of charismatic excess that we effectively quench the Spirit’s work in their lives? Or, after listening to us and observing how we conduct ourselves in Christian ministry, do they find themselves encouraged, courageous, and confident to step out and take risks they otherwise might not take?

The Spirit obviously desires to work in your life and in your church. To use Paul’s metaphor or analogy, the Spirit is like a fire whose flame we want to be careful not to quench or extinguish. The Holy Spirit wants to intensify the heat of his presence among us, to inflame our hearts and fill us with the warmth of his indwelling power. And Paul’s exhortation is a warning to all of us lest we become part of the contemporary bucket brigade that stands ready to douse his activity with the water of legalism, fear, and a flawed theology that, without biblical warrant, claims that his gifts have ceased and been withdrawn.

Seven Ways We Quench the Holy Spirit

1. We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely decisively on any resource other than the Holy Spirit for anything we do in life and ministry.

Any attempt to conjure up “hope” apart from that power which is the Spirit (Romans 15:13) is to quench him, as well as any effort to persevere in ministry and remain patient with joy by any other means than the Spirit (Colossians 1:11). Any effort to carry out pastoral ministry other than through “his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29) is to quench the Spirit. Any attempt to resolve to carry out some good work of faith through a “power” other than the Spirit is to quench him (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

2. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his personality and speak of him as if he were only an abstract power or source of divine energy.

Some envision the Spirit as if he were no more than an ethereal energy, the divine equivalent to an electric current: stick your finger of faith into the socket of his “anointing presence” and you’ll experience a spiritual shock of biblical proportions! The result is that any talk of experiencing the Spirit is summarily dismissed as dishonoring to his exalted status as God and a failure to embrace his sovereignty over us rather than ours over him.

3. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress or legislate against his work of imparting spiritual gifts and ministering to the church through them.

Every gift of the Spirit is in its own way a “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit himself (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Spirit is made manifest or visibly evident in our midst whenever the gifts are in use. Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression in the way we do ministry.

“Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression.”

Does this mean that the doctrine of cessationism is a quenching of the Spirit? Whereas I don’t believe cessationists consciously intend to quench the Spirit, I do believe the ultimate consequence of that theological position quenches the Spirit.

Most cessationists desire for the Spirit to work in whatever ways they believe are biblically justified. They simply don’t believe that the operation of miraculous gifts today is biblically warranted. Thus, the unintended, practical effect of cessationism is to quench the Spirit. By means of an unbiblical and misguided theology that restricts, inhibits, and often prohibits what the Spirit can and cannot do in our lives individually and in our churches corporately, the Spirit is quenched.

4. We quench the Spirit whenever we create an inviolable and sanctimonious structure in our corporate gatherings and worship services, and in our small groups, that does not permit spontaneity or the special leading of the Spirit.

Twice — in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 — Paul refers to “spiritual songs,” most likely to differentiate between songs that are previously composed (“psalms” and “hymns”) as over against those that are spontaneously evoked by the Spirit himself. I believe the best explanation of what Paul meant by “spiritual songs” are unrehearsed, unscripted, and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses extolling the beauty of Christ. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.

Could it be that we quench the Spirit’s work either by denying the possibility that he might move upon us in spontaneous ways like this or by so rigidly structuring our services that there is virtually no allowance for the Spirit’s interruption of our liturgy?

In addition, we read in 1 Corinthians 14:29–31 that the Spirit may well reveal something to a person at the same time another is speaking. This spontaneity is not to be despised or scorned but embraced, as Paul counsels the person speaking to “be silent” and give room for the other to communicate whatever the Spirit has made known.

5. We quench the Spirit whenever we despise prophetic utterances (1 Thessalonians 5:20).

No matter how badly people may have abused the gift of prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture — in other words, a sin — to despise prophetic utterances. God commands us not to treat prophecy with contempt, as if it were unimportant.

“We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely on any resource other than him for anything we do in life and ministry.”

Rather than quenching the Holy Spirit by despising prophetic utterances, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test everything” — meaning examine or judge all prophecies. Paul doesn’t correct the abuse of this gift by commanding disuse (as is the practice of many today). His remedy is biblically informed discernment and only “hold[ing] fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Such discernment should be applied to all spiritual gifts.

6. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his activity that alerts and awakens us to the glorious and majestic truth that we are truly the children of God (Romans 8:15–16; Galatians 4:4–7).

In both of these texts, the experiential, felt assurance of our adoption as the children of God is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. To whatever extent we diminish this experiential dimension of the Spirit’s work, we quench him. To whatever extent we fail to lead people into the conscious, felt awareness of their adoption as God’s children, we quench the Spirit.

7. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress, or legislate against, or instill fear in the hearts of people regarding the legitimate experience of heartfelt emotions and affections in worship.

I find it instructive that Jesus, as he extolled the Father, is described as rejoicing “in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). Affections for God such as joy, peace, love, zeal, desire, and reverential fear are an essential dimension in Christ-exalting worship. How often do we orchestrate our corporate gatherings and issue strict guidelines as to what is “proper” in times of worship and in doing so inadvertently quench the Spirit in people’s lives?

“No matter how badly some have abused prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture to despise prophetic utterances.”

John Piper says it best: “the vibrant fullness of the Spirit overflows in appropriate expressions like singing and making melody from the heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18–19). And if you don’t like those expressions and you resist it, fold your arms — ‘I am not going to do that sort of thing; I am not going to sing’ — you are quenching the Holy Spirit.”

May I urge you to carefully search your own heart and assess the possible ways in which you may have quenched the Spirit in your own life and in the experience of your local church? Yielding to and making room for the Spirit’s work in our midst is not to be feared but fostered. May God grant us both the wisdom and confidence in his goodness to facilitate a greater and more life-changing experience of the Spirit’s transforming power.

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


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  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.”


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.”

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— Over the next few weeks, I’ll intermittently blog about it.

Product Details


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 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.


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.



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!






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?


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.


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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