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

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!

In ‘sex-crazed culture,’ Bible makes ‘no exceptions’

give a holy temple to a holy godThe following is a post by Grace Thornton, assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, in regard to a sermon series preached by David Platt.

Thornton writes:

Be careful about shaking your head at same-sex marriage, warned David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and author of the best-selling book “Radical.” Christians should grieve the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal ban on same-sex marriage, but believers should also be “careful not to be guilty of selective moral outrage when it comes to the issue of homosexuality,” Platt said.

Everyone, each individual, is bent toward sexual sin, Platt said.

“This is something that every sinful heart is prone to struggle with in some way or another,” said Platt, who preached in late June on the subject of the cross and sexuality. His two-part sermon series on 1 Corinthians 6 book-ended the week of the Supreme Court’s two rulings June 26 supporting gay marriage. 

“If we roll our eyes and shake our heads when we see the Supreme Court ruling on this case, yet we turn the channels on our TVs to watch the trivialization of sex on shows and advertisements, to surf the Internet to find images in order to satisfy our lusts, to go to movies that glamorize sex … and entertain sexual thoughts and desires outside of our own marriage, then we have missed the entire point,” Platt said.

Sins shouldn’t be acceptable just because they are the sins of the majority, he said. The church needs to declare war on every sexual sin that plagues Christians in order to show the world sexual purity and godly marriage.

“All throughout the Bible from cover to cover, sex is only celebrated … in the context of exclusive covenant relationship between a husband and wife. Period. There are no exceptions to that,” Platt said.

There’s no exception for homosexuality but there’s also no exception for adultery, promiscuity, pornography or masturbation, he said.

What’s happening in “our sex-crazed culture” today is essentially sex worship — the idea that “I would be happy if I had the freedom to express myself sexually,” Platt said.

“According to [secular culture], we’re not human if we can’t please our bodies however we desire, so any attempts to limit sexual expression are seen as oppressive and inhumane,” he said. “We set our minds on the things of the flesh, which is hostile to God, and we exchange God’s Word for our experience.”

So often the Bible is twisted to fit preference — as with the argument for homosexuality — or its supposed silence is interpreted as liberty, Platt said. For instance, he said, when he was a teenager he and others would ask the question, “How far is too far?”

“I never once heard a well-reasoned, objective answer based on Scripture,” he said, explaining that instead leaders would tell youth to pray, set boundaries and decide what they thought was right, because the Bible didn’t spell it out. So when he and other guys would talk about it, they would “do what teenage boys do” — set the standards as low as they could.

“I found myself in this dangerous gray area that led to guilt and failure,” Platt said, noting that even though he and his wife Heather didn’t have sex with each other or anyone else before their marriage, “that doesn’t mean we glorified God with our bodies.”

Platt urged unmarried men and women to consider that the reason God has no explicit instructions for sexual behavior between unmarried people in relationships is because God didn’t intend for them to engage in any at all.

“God in His Word has no category for two people who aren’t married but kinda sorta act like they are. It’s not mentioned one place,” he said. “That’s because they are your brother or sister in Christ and likely to be someone else’s spouse some day. If you say, ‘Well, I think I’m going to marry her,’ then marry her.

“Looking for a guideline? Don’t do anything with a brother or sister in Christ that you wouldn’t do with your brother or sister, or with someone else’s wife or husband.”

That also goes for how married people relate to people other than their spouse, he said, as well as in the case of pornography. Pornography isn’t at all relational as God intended for sexual activity to be, and in no way emulates the character of Christ.

“Men, these women are someone’s daughter — they aren’t objects, they are souls,” Platt said. “They need you to point them to Christ, not fuel their exploitation.”

Platt said he’s convinced the reason the mission field is dominated by so many single women is because pornography has such a grip on men that they are too weak to follow Christ’s call. Men need to fight the battle for the sake of unreached people worldwide and for the sake of God’s glory, he said.

“So much of the power of sin is found in its secrecy,” Platt said, urging Christians to be intentional about having accountability in place. “Guard yourself with godly friendships and Gospel accountability.”

And don’t give in to the desires of the flesh outside of marriage, even in masturbation, he said.

“God designed sex to be relational; masturbation is lustful,” Platt said. “It teaches people to satisfy themselves” and is isolating, noncommittal and self-centered. Masturbation “goes against the design of God” just as homosexuality does, he said.

“Let us give ourselves to His design and reclaim godly marriages” for the sake of Christ, families, the church and the world, he said.

Platt said he’s convinced that “living as a Christ follower is going to be harder, not easier, in the coming days” and that the Supreme Court decision will “have ramifications on religious liberty.”

But “marriage is a union that represents our union with Christ in heaven, and it will not go away,” Platt said. “It is wise to be confident in the resiliency of marriage, in the opportunity for the Gospel and in the sovereignty of our God.”

“Flee sexual sin and run to Christ,” he said.

Are You Drifting?

give a holy temple to a holy godD.A. Carson has said:

“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated”

We can find so many ways to justify our sinful failures so as to not feel guilty. However, God has called us to be holy. In 1 Peter 1.13-16 we read:

“So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (J.B. Phillips Version).

Clearly this verse is calling those who have placed their faith in Jesus to be holy as He is holy. This is really not an option. If we are going to live a holy life it will only happen when we find complete satisfaction with God’s holiness. Holiness is not being self-determined to not sin. Holiness happens when we no longer are satisfied with or fulfilled by sin. As we grow in holiness we do not desire sin because it no longer offers anything that is appealing. Our satisfaction is found in God, and His holiness is all we desire.

By examining our desires and subsequent actions it should be obvious if we are pursuing holiness. Let’s look at the quote one more time by D.A. Carson:

“People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated”

How do you measure up? Are you drifting away from holiness? Are you making excuses for you sinfulness? I once heard a pastor say, “If all Christians were just like me, what kind of church would this church be?”

Which Jesus Will You Choose?

drapedOnTheCrosstitleWhen you think about how excited the crowds were as Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem on Psalm Sunday, it is hard to believe the way they demanded His crucifixion just five days later. What could have happened that would change public opinion so drastically? Why did they choose Barabbas over Jesus? The Savior they were looking for was within their midst, and yet they chose someone else. Why? Answers to these questions can be found in our Easter Sunday sermon, “Which Jesus Will You Choose?

I hope you will take the time to listen to the message and then examine your own life to see which Jesus you have chosen to follow. To hear the message please follow this link: “Which Jesus Will You Choose?