People who discover they have a dead tree on their property don’t usually get up one morning and suddenly find a dying tree in their yards.
Usually, the tree has been dying for a long time. It started as an internal process, and finally signs of the tree’s demise becomes visible externally.
That’s similar to what is happening within the American church.
It’s no secret the church in America has been in decline for a long time. But more signs of that are showing externally.
One of the signs growing in prevalence is how some “rising stars” within the church, and popular Christian writers (some who are writers but not church leaders) are making subtle (and some not so subtle) changes in wording that radically shifts the purpose of the church.
These newer voices get attention because they’re eloquent at identifying the things within the church that really are wrong and need changing. Many of us have been striving to bring about positive change in the church for a long time. By highlighting the ills of the church, these leaders capture attention. Unfortunately, they then misdirect their audiences with biblically inaccurate remedies.
Here are a few that dramatically contribute to the ongoing decay of the church:
- Restoration over Transformation. Lots of sermons and multiple books focus on teaching that God wants to restore the earth to pre-Fall conditions. These preachers and writers place the emphasis on restoration, which would highlight other related topics such as social justice and a new emphasis on creating beauty. They subtly lift restoration to a primary position, and transformation to a secondary position, a dangerous shift that diverts the mission of the church. God’s primary purpose with His creation is transformation, changing us from who we are into the likeness of His Son; and the mission of His church is transformational, the making of disciples (life transformation). What those who focus on restoration seem to be missing is that you cannot have restoration without transformation; God achieves His desire for restoration through the transformation of lives. That change brings about restoration. However, striving for restoration to the neglect of transformation can mean not achieving the restoration desired. In Galatians 6:14-16, the Apostle Paul states it is our transformation that matters most: “14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.” The Apostle Peter writes passionately with a forward view that emphasizes transformation over restoration in 2 Peter 3:11-13, “11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”
- Culture Makers or Disciple Makers? Those who place such a focus on restoration are making increasingly bold statements that shaping culture needs to be the focus of the individual Christian and the church as a body. That’s completely opposite of Christ’s direct teaching as well as additional teaching in the New Testament. Jesus personally gave the church its mission, which is to make disciples. That is why the church exists. What those who want to embrace culture rather than engage culture seem to be missing is this: you cannot change, shape or make culture without changing people. The way to change people is for their lives to be transformed through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The greatest impact the church can make on culture is by making disciples of Jesus Christ (which is exactly what the mission is that Jesus gave to the church)!
- Social Justice or Righteousness? The world has beat up on the church for a long time for not caring about the poor, abused, homeless, abandoned, hungry, sick, and others who are in very real need. The world was right. The church hasn’t done it’s best to live up to teaching such as James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (although even at its worst, the church still usually does far more than those outside the church have regarding such need). Culturally, it has become popular to support social justice causes. These causes usually have good purposes, such as fighting the increasing problem of sex trafficking throughout the world. The problem with trying to address such vast “social ills” through “causes” is that it becomes something a person can simply contribute to in a simple way … write a check, sign a petition, run in a 5k. God’s design is that we rise up to meet needs, address injustice, and minister to others from a source of righteousness rather than from policy, politics, or cause. When we are right with God, and therefore think as He thinks (Philippians 2:5), we see and value others as He does, and respond accordingly. Just as God is a just God, that justice flows out of a righteous character that expands beyond simple justice to the richness of mercy and grace. By growing in the righteousness of Christ, we have a internal motivation for justice, mercy, and grace that compels us far more than any cause could.
These are just a few of the ways too many voices are tweaking what is taught as biblical truth or New Testament example. But the subtlety of description can lead to radical misdirection that results in the rotting of the church from the inside out.
What’s the fix?
Biblical accuracy and biblical literacy. We must be radically committed to preach and teach biblical truth and to build the biblical literacy of those who make up the church.