On Gaining a Market Share of People Hungry for the Word of God

piechart

The question of Biblical literacy came up in a recent Facebook conversation, and it is a concern for many of us here. I wonder if we are not a victim of our own success, in a way. In the earlier years of the RM, and in the first half of the last century, many Americans were well-read in the Scriptures. Theological liberalism began to attack the Bible, but many Christians doubled-down on the Bible during that time, and Bible teaching demonstrated to be very important, by its frequency: Sunday School, Biblical preaching, Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc.

The RM took the Bible seriously. That is why I am no longer a Lutheran. I was raised in the liberal LCA synod, was confirmed, but was introduced to the Bible by other high school students from First Christian Church in Council Bluffs. These students told me what the Bible said about being saved, and how. That’s something I never heard in the Lutheran church.

I became a Christian there, and without knowing it, a member of the RM (Restoration Movement). I might add that it was High School students, and their college friends, who recruited me to attend Manhattan Christian College.

What impressed me, at age 15, was that the Bible was so important, and this church took it seriously. I wonder if that is so much the case today. We have taken the Bible seriously for so long, that we assume we are still doing it, without remembering that each new generation must be taught to have that same concern.

Don Carson, in speaking of the Gospel, says that though a generation or two take the Gospel very seriously, later generations begin to ASSUME the Gospel. So the Gospel is less proclaimed, but assumed, as other things are done: arts, music, counselling, social work, other ministries, etc., etc.

So I wonder if we, sometime in the 70s or 80s, began to do “other things,” and tacitly set aside the Bible. In the 1800s, philosophy is said to have taken “a hermeneutical turn” which has changed the course of philosophy from that time to the present.

In evangelical churches, not only the RM, I think we have taken a “relationship turn,” in our approach to all things, including Deity and Man. This is marked by a move away from propositional Revelation to feeling, from Word to deed, from foundations to structure. Relationships became the main thing–and it was around that time that we heard that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Interestingly, my liberal Lutheran church national youth group was called “Lutheran Youth Encounter.”

Some call it Neo-orthodoxy, a move to separate “fact” from “truth,” but I’ll stop digressing.

In the rush to keep people coming back to church, there has been a subtle change to treat disciples of Christ as the customers of Christ, so that people who profess Christ as Lord must be constantly wooed back to Him. We want them to like us. My take on the entertainment-as-worship phenomena is that is not so much that non-Christians won’t come if they’re not entertained, but it takes a circus to keep people, who are supposedly Christians, coming back. A man or woman who understands the seriousness of their lost-ness will be put off by levity, not drawn to it. How can a person who truly understands their guilt before God, be beholden to silliness in preaching? Is it the Word of God and His Spirit that draws a man to Christ or the band?

It takes a special kind of immaturity to be captive to entertainment, and that especially so when the consequences of falling short are eternal.

Staying with this consumer motif for a moment, we can see then that churches simply aren’t selling what people are buying. If there are faithful, Bible-preaching empty churches on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, it could mean that there is an oversupply of Bible. That overstock is not  fault of the church. There is, indeed, a famine for the Word of God, but no felt hunger among the starving (Amos 8:11). People need the Bible, but aren’t aware of that need. Replacing what is needed, the Word of God, with other business will save no one.

If we are trying to gather a shrinking market share of people who want Bible, and entertainment works, then that will be what is done; I think that this has been the trend for over 30 years now. If “Christianity lite” edges out the gravitas of the Faith, Sunday after Sunday, there will be few left who really do hunger for the Bible.

When I say “doing other things,” I’d like to offer some examples, and ask some questions:

  1. How often does preaching get set aside for other things on Sunday mornings? Special services, reports from missionaries (which do need the time, but need a longer time), skits from the youth group, all are used to replace preaching.
  1. I have seen advertised, from all sorts of churches, “An Evening of Praise” or “An Evening of Worship.” Are you aware of the success of anything like, “An evening of preaching” or “A night of teaching,” with back-to-back Scriptural exposition? Why would this not gather as large a group of people as would something involving music and drama?
  1. Has our preaching shifted from Scripture to needs based subjects? I firmly believe in the need to address needs, but from what I can tell, much preaching is no longer exegeting the Bible and applying it to life as the text brings them up, but first looking at problems faced by many and then finding texts to address those problems. This, though, tends to fragment our understand of Scripture, and makes the Bible more of a go-to book of advice.
  1. If you preach, in sermon planning do you start with Scripture, or your audience? Why?
  1. I assume that if you are reading this that you are a preacher or an elder. How many times have you read the Bible through in your life? Have you done so?
  1. Are students graduating from our colleges and seminaries Biblically literate? Have they read the Bible through? In what things are they literate?
  1. How soon after becoming a Christian did you read the Bible?
  1. If you were to start publically reading the Bible each Sunday (1 Timothy 4:13), and assuming you followed a plan or lectionary so you don’t just cycle through favourite texts, would your church push-back, and say that’s too much Scripture, or that it takes too much time?
  1. Can you imagine a worship service with no preaching, but just worship, offering, music and the Lord’s Supper? Can you imagine a worship service with only the Lord’s supper, offering, and preaching, but with no music? Which of these two are harder to accept?

I can think of others, but the few I listed above give some hint as to the kind of trouble we have in our churches now.

I do believe that the average preacher,  elder, deacon, and church member knows much less of the Bible, is reading it less, and comprehends much less of the Biblical worldview than even 30 or 40 years ago.

Speaking now to the older preachers: Do you remember in the 70s, the Baker Book House catalogue that came out two or three times annually? Almost all the books sold in that catalogue were reference works about the Bible or theology. Even the early Christian Book Distributors catalogues leaned heavily upon doctrine, theology, Biblical studies, commentaries and Biblical languages. Now consider the top-selling books today: Christian fiction, relationship repair, and Bible study guides that state the painfully obvious that could be gleaned by a simple reading of the Bible (Lucado and Warren come to mind). Among Christian bestsellers are few books that actually enable one to understand Scripture better. We are awash in books, but know the Bible less.

If the pool of people who really respond to the preaching of the Bible is small, and shrinking, it is our duty to cultivate and grow that pool.

I think that elders and preachers need to encourage the reading of Scripture, in their entirety, more. This means that Christians ought to expect to read the Bible through, repeatedly, for the rest of their lives. Preachers and teachers must be reading more than what is necessary for the next lesson or sermon.

I also think that preachers and elders ought to model, and encourage, the “plucking out the eye” and “cutting off the hand” of much of popular culture. It simply is not that important to be up on every song, movie, play, novel, trend or sporting event. We only have so many hours in our lives, and we need to get past the entitlement mentality when it comes to our entertainment.

So, are we doing other things, or doing what matters?

“But Church is Boring!”

Tozer

Religious Boredom

A. W. Tozer

THAT THERE IS SOMETHING gravely wrong with evangelical Christianity today is not likely to be denied by any serious minded person acquainted with the facts. Just what is wrong is not so easy to determine.

In examining the situation myself I find nature and reason in conflict within me, for I tend by temperament to want to settle everything with a sweep of the pen. But reason advises caution; nothing is that simple, and we must be careful to distinguish cause from effect. As every doctor knows there is a wide difference between the disease and the symptoms; and every Christian knows that there is a big difference between cause and effect in the sphere of religion.

At the root of our spiritual trouble lie a number of causes and these causes have effects, but which is cause and which effect is not always known. I suspect that many things currently under attack by our evangelists and pastors (and editors, for that matter) are not the causes of our troubles but the effects of causes that lie deeper. We treat the symptoms and wonder why the patient does not get well. Or, to change the figure, we lay down a heavy fire against nothing more substantial than the cloud of dust raised by marching enemy troops long gone by.

One mark of the low state of affairs among us is religious boredom. Whether this is a thing in itself or merely a symptom of the thing, I do not know for sure, though I suspect that it is the latter. And that it is found to some degree almost everywhere among Christians is too evident to be denied.

Boredom is, of course, a state of mind resulting from trying to maintain an interest in something that holds no trace of interest for us (the boss’s jokes, say, or that lecture on the care and nurture of dahlias to which we went because we could not resist the enthusiastic urging of a friend). No one is bored by what he can in good conscience walk away from. Boredom comes when a man must try to hear with relish what for want of relish he hardly hears at all.

By this definition there is certainly much boredom in religion these days. The businessman on a Sunday morning whose mind is on golf can scarcely disguise his lack of interest in the sermon he is compelled to hear. The housewife who is unacquainted with the learned theological or philosophical jargon of the speaker; the young couple who feel a tingle of love for each other but who neither love nor know the One about whom the choir is singing-these cannot escape the low-grade mental pain we call boredom while they struggle to keep their attention focused upon the service. All these are too courteous to admit to others that they are bored and possibly too timid to admit it even to themselves, but I believe that a bit of candid confession would do us all good.

When Moses tarried in the mount, Israel became bored with the faith that sees the invisible and clamored for a god they could see and touch. And they displayed a great deal more enthusiasm for the golden calf than they did over the Lord God of Abraham. Later they tired of manna and complained against the monotony of their diet. On their petulant insistence they finally got flesh to eat, and that to their own undoing.

Those Christians who belong to the evangelical wing of the church (which I firmly believe is the only one that even approximates New Testament Christianity) have over the last half-century shown an increasing impatience with things invisible and eternal and have demanded and got a host of things visible and temporal to satisfy their fleshly appetites. Without Biblical authority, or any other right under the sun, carnal religious leaders have introduced a host of attractions that serve no purpose except to provide entertainment for the retarded saints.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carryings on of our present golden-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is no.

We are paying a frightful price for our religious boredom. And that at the moment of the world’s mortal peril.”

"But Church is Boring!"

Tozer

Religious Boredom

A. W. Tozer

THAT THERE IS SOMETHING gravely wrong with evangelical Christianity today is not likely to be denied by any serious minded person acquainted with the facts. Just what is wrong is not so easy to determine.

In examining the situation myself I find nature and reason in conflict within me, for I tend by temperament to want to settle everything with a sweep of the pen. But reason advises caution; nothing is that simple, and we must be careful to distinguish cause from effect. As every doctor knows there is a wide difference between the disease and the symptoms; and every Christian knows that there is a big difference between cause and effect in the sphere of religion.

At the root of our spiritual trouble lie a number of causes and these causes have effects, but which is cause and which effect is not always known. I suspect that many things currently under attack by our evangelists and pastors (and editors, for that matter) are not the causes of our troubles but the effects of causes that lie deeper. We treat the symptoms and wonder why the patient does not get well. Or, to change the figure, we lay down a heavy fire against nothing more substantial than the cloud of dust raised by marching enemy troops long gone by.

One mark of the low state of affairs among us is religious boredom. Whether this is a thing in itself or merely a symptom of the thing, I do not know for sure, though I suspect that it is the latter. And that it is found to some degree almost everywhere among Christians is too evident to be denied.

Boredom is, of course, a state of mind resulting from trying to maintain an interest in something that holds no trace of interest for us (the boss’s jokes, say, or that lecture on the care and nurture of dahlias to which we went because we could not resist the enthusiastic urging of a friend). No one is bored by what he can in good conscience walk away from. Boredom comes when a man must try to hear with relish what for want of relish he hardly hears at all.

By this definition there is certainly much boredom in religion these days. The businessman on a Sunday morning whose mind is on golf can scarcely disguise his lack of interest in the sermon he is compelled to hear. The housewife who is unacquainted with the learned theological or philosophical jargon of the speaker; the young couple who feel a tingle of love for each other but who neither love nor know the One about whom the choir is singing-these cannot escape the low-grade mental pain we call boredom while they struggle to keep their attention focused upon the service. All these are too courteous to admit to others that they are bored and possibly too timid to admit it even to themselves, but I believe that a bit of candid confession would do us all good.

When Moses tarried in the mount, Israel became bored with the faith that sees the invisible and clamored for a god they could see and touch. And they displayed a great deal more enthusiasm for the golden calf than they did over the Lord God of Abraham. Later they tired of manna and complained against the monotony of their diet. On their petulant insistence they finally got flesh to eat, and that to their own undoing.

Those Christians who belong to the evangelical wing of the church (which I firmly believe is the only one that even approximates New Testament Christianity) have over the last half-century shown an increasing impatience with things invisible and eternal and have demanded and got a host of things visible and temporal to satisfy their fleshly appetites. Without Biblical authority, or any other right under the sun, carnal religious leaders have introduced a host of attractions that serve no purpose except to provide entertainment for the retarded saints.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carryings on of our present golden-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is no.

We are paying a frightful price for our religious boredom. And that at the moment of the world’s mortal peril.”

Dogs May Bark: On Seeking Applause

 

 

 

Sibbes 1

“For the moon goeth its course, and lets the dog bark. We have a course to run, let us keep our course constantly; pass through good reports and bad reports; be at a point what the world thinks. We seek applause at another theatre than the world.”

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 491.

On the Affirmation of Scripture

With respect to the authority of Scripture, the greatest challenge facing Bible-believing churches today is not the disbelief aimed at the Bible from outside the faith; nor is it the attack against it from unbelieving theologians cloaked with Christian terminology.

The greatest challenge facing Christians are pulpits where the inerrant Word is wholeheartedly affirmed but routinely side-stepped and ignored. If your preacher is not preaching the text, he is not preaching the Bible, and functionally denies its authority. It does little for the church to affirm the authority of the Scriptures, if the church’s preachers are not shaped by it. If the preachers and elders of the church are not fed on the Word of God, with what do they feed the sheep entrusted to them?

Stay Out of the Ghetto

resistance

I was concerned when I learned recently that some states in the US are considering legislation to protect ministers of religion from civil and criminal penalties, if they refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages. I think this is a bad thing that appears tempting to the fearful. This is because it creates a safety zone for a very small percentage of Christians, the professional clergy, to operate within the very small confines of their churches; and by “church,” it will be most often restricted to physical property set aside for religious purposes. Churches that rent school space, for example, may not get off so easily.

This is good news for mega-church and small-church clergy alike: They will enjoy “freedom of worship” (to use President Obama’s phrase) and agree to give up actual religious freedom. In fact, by accepting this sort of thing, clergy is supporting a rending asunder of the church between themselves and the majority of Christians who are expected to bow to Caesar at every turn.

Christian ministers need to decide if they are preaching the Gospel of a God who is Lord of all, or is lord of their campus.

Preachers, be prepared to stand with those in the marketplace who refuse to bow the knee to Ba’al.

I had much more to say on this, but I found this little article by R. C. Sproul Jr., who says it much better than I. It is reproduced below, but the full article can be found here.

THURSDAY, JULY 2, 2015

Bread, Circuses, and the Coliseum

While the Christians who went to their deaths under the empire of Rome died for their faith, I fear they did not die for our faith. First, we must understand what Rome had against these saints. Part of the genius of the Roman empire was their “broad-mindedness.” They did not roll into town after their phalanxes had left not one brick upon another and rebuild from scratch. Instead it was their habit to assimilate. As they did with the Pharisees, they cut a deal. We will rule over you, but you can, by and large, keep doing what you were doing.  Keep your temple. Worship there. Keep your traditions, your way of life.  All we ask of you is that you pay your taxes, acknowledge our authority, and then this one other little thing- we need you to acknowledge that Caesar is Lord. Burn a pinch of incense, bow the knee, and then go back to what you were doing. You don’t even have to mean it.

The Christians’ problem was more political than narrowly theological. You see the very first creed of the church was just three words long, but managed to confront Rome at its heart. Christians were those who confessed Christ is Lord. They died by the thousands because they would not confess that Caesar is Lord.

Which brings us to our faith. We’re like the Pharisees. We have our worship services, our private convictions, and that’s where our faith ends. The rest of our lives are committed to the authority of the state, and to the diversions and distractions the broader culture provides. We are in no danger because we are no danger. When the world calls our convictions “hate” we simply change them, insisting that our response to the wholesale turning over of God’s created order is more love, more appeasement, more assurance that we are not a danger. Some of us reinterpret our Bibles to get with the times. Some simply look away awkwardly when the Bible embarrasses us. We conflate the Biblical notion that all sin is rebellion against the living God and deserving of His judgment into the much safer notion that all sins are equal, making all of them innocuous, not worthy to be mentioned.

When the Supreme Court made its most wicked ruling, upending the natural, God created order of things, we ignored it. When we finally woke up, we found safe, reasonable, Rome approved ways of “fighting” it. 42 years later and still three thousand little babies are murdered every day, right in our own neighborhoods. And we are more interested in our favorite football team.

We worship a Jesus who will save us from our sins, but whose reign we’re willing to negotiate. We worship a state that simply requires of us that we be nice and keep our convictions to ourselves. We worship distraction, so that we won’t have to face our idolatry. We worship the acceptance of the broader culture, and sacrifice all else to get it. We’re not like our fathers who died for Jesus, but like our fathers that killed Him and the prophets God sent to call us to repentance, because they, like we, worship the god of this age.

Until we stop repenting to the god of this age for the plain teaching of the living God, and start repenting to the living God for bowing before the god of this age, we will be trodden underfoot. Until we weep for our sin, until we tear down the high places, until we cease to hand our children over to Moloch we will burn with Rome. Lord be merciful to us, sinners.

 

A Few Problems regarding Multi-Site Churches

22 to be exact. Having lived long enough to say this, I think we 21st century Western Christians tend to err on the side of the pragmatic. If it works, it must be ok, and sometimes the “what works,” doesn’t’ get fully unpacked as to what something works toward. We repeatedly fail to understand that method and technology are not neutral, and that there are unintended consequences directly attached to our methods. This is not to say that they are automatically bad, but rather we need the view to “see down the road” to what may arise as a result of our actions. Because we have the technology and the method to do certain things, does it follow that those things should be done?