Is Christianity Dying?

Dying ChurchIn his post “Is Christianity Dying?Dr. Russell Moore gives Christians another way to look at the secularization of America.

Dr. Moore writes:

Christianity is dying. At least, that’s what major newspapers are telling us today, culling research from a new Pew Center study on what almost all sociologists are observing these days—the number of Americans who identify as Christians has reached an all-time low, and is falling. I think this is perhaps bad news for America, but it is good news for the church.

The lead editor of the report tells The New York Times that secularization—mainly in terms of those who identify as “nones” or with no specific religious affiliation—isn’t isolated to the progressive Northeast and Pacific Northwest. He notes, “The change is taking place all over, including the Bible Belt.”

This is precisely what several of us have been saying for years. Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall. For much of the twentieth century, especially in the South and parts of the Midwest, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be “normal.” During the Cold War, that meant distinguishing oneself from atheistic Communism. At other times, it has meant seeing churchgoing as a way to be seen as a good parent, a good neighbor, and a regular person. It took courage to be an atheist, because explicit unbelief meant social marginalization. Rising rates of secularization, along with individualism, means that those days are over—and good riddance to them.

Again, this means some bad things for the American social compact. In the Bible Belt of, say, the 1940s, there were people who didn’t, for example, divorce, even though they wanted out of their marriages. In many of these cases, the motive wasn’t obedience to Jesus’ command on marriage but instead because they knew that a divorce would marginalize them from their communities. In that sense, their “traditional family values” were motivated by the same thing that motivated the religious leaders who rejected Jesus—fear of being “put out of the synagogue.” Now, to be sure, that kept some children in intact families. But that’s hardly revival.

Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end—even if that end is “traditional family values”—is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.

Now, what some will say is that the decline in self-identified Christians is a sign that the church should jettison its more unpopular teachings. And in our day, these teachings are almost always those dealing with pelvic autonomy. First of all, even if this were the key to success, we couldn’t—and wouldn’t—do it. Christianity isn’t a political party, dependent on crafting ideologies to suit the masses. We received this gospel (Gal. 1:11-12); we didn’t invent it. But, that said, such is not the means to “success”—even the way the sociologists define it.

The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction. Why?

We learned this answer 100 years ago, and it reminds us of what we learned 2,000 years ago. Two or three generations ago, Christians who held to the Virgin birth of Christ were warned that their children would flee the faith unless the parents redefined Christianity. “If you want to win the next generation,” they were told, “you have to make Christianity relevant, and that means dispending with miracles in favor of modern science.” The churches that followed that path aren’t just dying; they are dead, sustained by endowments and dwindling gatherings of nostalgic senior adults with a smattering of community organizers here and there.

People who don’t want Christianity, don’t want almost-Christianity. Almost-Christianity looks in the mainline like something from Nelson Rockefeller to Che Guevara at prayer. Almost Christianity, in the Bible Belt, looks like a God-and-Country civil religion that prizes cultural conservatism more than theological fidelity. Either way, a Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.

Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20-22).

We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America. Again, that’s good news. The gospel comes to sinners, not to the righteous. It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved. And what those honest atheists grapple with, is what every sinner grapples with, burdened consciences that point to judgment. Our calling is to bear witness.

We don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did. Good. Mayberry leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah does. But Christianity didn’t come from Mayberry in the first place, but from a Roman Empire hostile to the core to the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah. We’ve been on the wrong side of history since Rome, and it was enough to turn the world upside down.

The future of Christianity is bright. I don’t know that from surveys and polls, but from a word Someone spoke one day back at Caesarea Philippi. The gates of hell haven’t gotten any stronger, and the Light that drives out the darkness is enough to counter every rival gospel, even those gospels that describe themselves as “none.”

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For more on this, see my new book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.

SOURCE: Moore to the Point

One of Those Days!

outrageous loveHave you ever had one of those days when you feel all alone? You don’t feel close to anyone. It’s like you’re the only person on the planet even though you’re surrounded by a multitude of people. These feelings usually continue down the path of doubt. You doubt your importance, your worth, or even if anyone loves you. You’re alone, hurting, and feel like there is no one who cares that you are alive.

Sometimes you might be led down the path of confusion. You are suffering in so many different ways that you can’t imagine life ever getting better. This usually leads to wondering if the trials are because of something you’ve done. Confusion leads to questions you already know the answer to: “Are things so difficult because I’ve made God angry?” “Is this punishment for not going to church, giving, serving, reading my Bible, or praying enough?” “Does God really love me?” It is not uncommon for those who have suffered for a long period of time to be confused. You are so tired, weary, and worn that nothing makes sense, so you begin to wonder “What have I done to bring this pain upon myself?”

I believe the paths of doubt and confusion are two trails Satan has cut off the beaten path of faith to cause us to question God’s love. Just like Eve in the garden, Satan is still asking questions to cause us to misinterpret God’s Word and forget His promises. He wants us to believe we’re all alone so we’ll try to solve our problems on our own. He wants us depending on self instead of the Savior.

If you’re having one of the those days and about to leave the path of faith, stop and remember the cross. There is no greater sign of love in all of creation than the cross of Christ. God’s outrageous love for you was proven at the cross. At the cross your sin-debt was paid in full. At the cross anything that could bring condemnation upon you was placed upon Jesus. At the cross we can see that our suffering in this life should make us long for eternal life in heaven all the more.

So, if you’re having one of those days, know that our trials, troubles, and tribulations are not a sign of God’s displeasure. They are a sign that we live in a sinfully fallen world that will eventually end. When this world comes to an end, those who are believers in Christ will be ushered into one eternally long peaceful day where we dwell in the presence and love of God!

Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had disappeared and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride dressed in beauty for her husband. Then I heard a great voice from the throne crying, “See! The home of God is with men, and he will live among them. They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all those former things are past and gone.” Then he who is seated upon the throne said, “See, I am making all thing new!” (Revelation 21.1-5)

I Don’t Know What to Do!

Prayer (2)Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to do?  You’ve tried to straighten things out but regardless of your efforts things seem hopeless. All you want is relief, so you ask the simple question, “Now what do I do?”

In 2 Chronicles 20, Jerusalem is surrounded, and Jehoshaphat knows that he is powerless to stop the enemy. What did he do? In 20.6-11, he reminds God of all His promises and then in 20.12 he prays, “…we know not what to do, but our eyes are on you!” He didn’t look at the size of his problem, he looked to the One Who is greater than any problem and trusted Him to take care of everything.

Jehoshaphat gives us a great example to follow. Before trying to fix things, put out fires, or clear our name we need to pray, “Father, I don’t know what to do but I am looking to You.”  This prayer reminds me of a song we sang growing up:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

It is amazing how simply looking to Jesus puts everything into perspective.

Don’t know what you’re going to do next? Try looking to Jesus!

“Homesick for Heaven” by Randy Alcorn

Seeing the UnseenThis book by Randy Alcorn has become a source of great encouragement this year. In a fast-paced world it is not uncommon for us to get too focused on the here and now. “Seeing the Unseen: A Daily Dose of Eternal Perspective” helps redirect my thoughts to my real home—HEAVEN! Everything God has created is good, but it has been given to us as a gift to draw our attention to the Giver, the Creator, to God Himself. This book will help keep your mind focused on the eternal.

I would recommend adding this book to your library.

On “Day 10” Alcorn writes:

When I travel, I find particular joy in those places that remind me of my lifelong home in Oregon. Likewise, one of the greatest joys that Christian pilgrims find in this world is in those moments when it reminds them of Heaven, their true home they’ve read about and dreamed of. They live with the exhilarating assurance that at this very moment their beloved Savior is making it ready for them.

The Bible tells us we are pilgrims, strangers, aliens and ambassadors working far from home. Our citizenship is in Heaven. But we’ve become so attached to this world that we live for the wrong kingdom. We forget our true home, built for us by our Bridegroom.

Nothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven. We think that what we want is money, sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a vacation. What we really want is the Person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven. Nothing less can satisfy us. “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8).

Perspectives from God’s Word

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–3).

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

Perspectives from God’s People

“To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labour, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.” —Charles Spurgeon

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” —C. S. Lewis More

Watch the video Homesick for Heaven: www.epm.org/homesick

Source: Seeing the Unseen: A Daily Dose of Eternal Perspective by Randy Alcorn

That Age-Old Question for Grads

Graduation 2015With graduation for high school and college seniors just a few days away, I thought Ali Ray’s post, “That Age-Old Question for Grads” would be encouraging for those of you preparing for the next chapter of your life.

Ray writes:

“What are you doing after graduation?”

You might think that I have an answer to that question by now. After all, I am graduating from college in two weeks. While I have words to use as a response, the underlying answer is much more complex. I am graduating with two incredible opportunities provided by the Lord. I have a job and a man that will soon say “I do” to by my side. I am overjoyed and incredibly thankful for both of these things. However…

I don’t know how to be a wife. I don’t know how to be an employee. I don’t have any idea how I’m going to influence people for Jesus in the work place or have a gentle and quiet spirit in my future married life.

But what I do know is that I have the Holy Spirit in me. I have the Creator of the universe on my side. He fights for me, He cherishes me, He teaches me to live a life worthy of His kingdom. In my four years of college I have come to the realization that you can work for perfection and you can work to be everyone’s favorite person, but all you will achieve is pure exhaustion. All you can do is love the Lord your God with all you have, and because of Jesus, that will always be enough.

I have learned that I need to live out of the love that God has for me instead of out of the fear that sin generates. I have in no way perfected these things, but The Navigators have given me the tools to hopefully reach this place of wisdom and peace one day. The women who have poured into my life have taught me so much. They have taught me how to be moved by the Word, not just to read it. They have taught me how to pray like life depends on it, because if we are honest, it often does. They have taught me how to become more like Christ by living a life like His. Finally, they have taught me that nothing short of leading by example will help people come to know Christ more. They are my friends, not just people who disciple me. And for that genuine friendship I will be forever grateful. 

Now, do I know how to do all of these things in the “real world”? Nope. I have no idea. How could I? I’ve never done it before. However, what I do know is that I have the tools and knowledge to continue to deepen my relationship with God and hopefully help others come to know Him too. I am so thankful for all I have learned in these past four years. I am thankful for the highs and the lows because they helped me learn to rely on the Lord – not on the world, not on myself, but on Him alone.

The Navigators have had a wonder impact on my life for over thirty years. You can find more out about their ministries and resources at WWW.Navigators.org.