…for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… (Philippians 2:10).
Most people have learned that failure to admit a problem only enables it to continue.
This is the fourth and final blog in a series about what it would take to rejuvenate a personal relationship with God and revitalize the church. The problem I keep running into is that satisfied churchgoers refuse to admit the church is in trouble. The key word there being “satisfied.”
The fashionable thing to say now is that only denominations are waning. Glenn T. Stanton of Focus on the Family recently wrote an article for The Federalist website entitled “New Harvard Research Says U.S. Christianity Is Not Shrinking, But Growing Stronger.” According to Stanton and Harvard University “the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776.” And I am supposed to infer from that that things are better today for the church than they were then?
Read the article. The measure the researchers used to determine the vitality of the American church is church attendance. They argue that all the people leaving lethargic and dying mainline denominations are going into vibrant non-denominational churches. But since when did church attendance determine authentic, vibrant, living Christian faith? In the third blog in this series, I pointed out that Lakeland Church in Houston, Texas is the largest church in America with over 43,500 in weekly attendance. The theology and doctrine that pastor Joel Osteen proclaims is a horrible twisting of what the Bible says. But because it is the most well-attended church in America and everyone seems happy and excited it is a strong church?
My premise in this series is not that American Christianity is dead. Rather, we have forgotten how to be Christians and do church effectively. And if we don’t return to repentance (Mark 1:14), courage (Romans 1:16), and sacrificial living (Matthew 5:11), we can call it Christianity all we want to but it won’t be biblical Christianity. The measure of success has never been how people respond to polls or how involved they are in their local church. Instead, it’s always been faithfulness to the Word of God. When faithfulness is the norm, worldly conflict will always result and Christians will be accused as those stubborn naysayers “who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
How in the world can anyone suggest the church is vibrant and strong in America when lawmakers will not vote to end abortion even on those science has proven can feel pain? Those lawmakers are sent to Washington, D.C. by people from every state of the union who feel they adequately reflect their values. Politics is no simple thing, I grant. But if lawmakers cannot summon the strength and courage to protect pain-capable unborn children it means the church has lost its influence on the lives of those in Congress, most of whom say they attend church regularly.
Going from a denominational church to a non-denominational church may be the trend but it is not apparently having much impact on our culture. The church can turn things around but as I said in the second blog of this series, “it’s going to be hard.” It is hard because we have to erase the nonsense in our minds that a vital relationship with God is proven by personal happiness and a strong and vital church is always the fruit of many people gathered together for services. Otherwise, we may as well acknowledge that Joel Osteen should be leading the American church as he seems to have perfected the quest for personal happiness and the largest church.
The four keys I am suggesting will turn things around for the authentic church in America are:
- Learn to see opportunity rather than intrusion: Lift Up Your Eyes, and See…
- Put the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to work for God: Embrace the Power
- As resistance mounts seek boldness to continue for God: The Christian and the Crucible
- Keep your relationship with God and your work in church about one thing: Jesus.
Christianity is supposed to revolve solely around Christ. Christians are to be to Jesus as the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-11 are to the Father on His throne. Our job first and foremost is to worship and glorify our Savior. The book of Acts makes it clear that the apostles' every move was a response to their faithfulness to Jesus.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (2:36).
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (3:6).
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (4:11-12).
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (5:42).
Christianity is not about making sure no one is offended and everyone’s rights are protected. It is first and foremost about proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Christ. The social gospel is only meaningful as it seeks to be an expression of the mind of Christ/will of God. All you have to do to see how putting the cart before the horse is wrong is look at the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. The Christians at Ephesus were lauded by Christ for their hard work in the community (2:2). He acknowledged their sharp biblical acumen in the realm of apologetics and defending the faith (2:2). He even recognized their patient endurance in a hostile environment. And yet He stunningly said, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4). Ephesus was a hardworking, doctrine protecting, sacrificial church. But doing the right things without maintaining the proper focus is, well, apparently not good enough.
The church in America is indeed a busy high profile entity. If that is what the report from the Harvard study is saying then I would wholeheartedly agree. But remember, Mr. Stanton’s article about the report claimed that it demonstrates the American church is “Growing Stronger.” But Jesus said that He would build such a church that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). A strong church sets the innocent and captive free from the demonic. It doesn’t adjust and learn to live for over 40 years with the cruel dismemberment of the unborn.
The Apostle Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare…have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God… (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Yet some of the most prestigious and largest churches in America (along with their pastors) embrace homosexuality as divinely approved despite the clear scriptural condemnation of the practice. That’s a strong church?
The only way the church in America is ever going to be the church that Satan fears and the gates of hell crumble before is if it learns to put Jesus before everything else. Before comfort. Before cultural acceptance. Before even the Great Commission. That’s right, before the Great Commission. Winning souls for Christ (and all the inherent ministries that evangelism implies and requires) is only legitimate when it is a response to our love and devotion to Him. Not the ideals and principles Jesus embodies. Him. Jesus has become a footnote and an afterthought to far too many churchgoers and churches. If you want to save the lost…put Jesus first in your own life. If you want to end abortion…lift up on high every day the name above every name (Philippians 2:9). If you want to pull down strongholds make Jesus your first thought and last stand.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God (Romans 1:16) that enables the church to shake hell’s foundations. It’s not about compassion. It’s not about tolerance. It’s not about accommodation. It’s not about how many go to church. It’s about one thing and only one thing: Jesus.
There’s only one question when it comes to the difficulty as a Christian in a church in tearing down the gates of hell in culture and pulling down strongholds of evil that reign in society:
Do you believe that I [Jesus] am able to do this? (Matthew 9:28).