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The Transformation of American Religion

Greetings All,

     Today's 'thought' comes from Gary Gilley, and is found in Voice - An Independent Church Journal
(November/December 2013 issue). It deals with what many churches are doing to build up (grow) the church, and what we should be doing to grow it well.
     I found his thoughts helpful -- especially the critique by Alan Wolfe, a social scientist who is himself an unbeliever. Just some things to ponder...  Enjoy!

"One of the most insightful of recent books concerning the church is actually written by an unbeliever. Alan Wolfe, a social scientist, has been observing the changing American scene for years. A few years ago he shared his research in The Transformation of American Religion.  The message of his book is that 'religion in the United States is being transformed in radically new directions.'  Wolfe claims, 'talk of hell, damnation, and even sin has been replaced by a nonjudgmental language of understanding and empathy. Gone are the arguments over doctrine and theology... More Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the Lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem. [As a result] the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else.'...
     Wolfe's thesis is that in an effort to win over American culture, Evangelicalism has stooped so low that it can no longer be distinguished from that culture. Take doctrine for example. Small-group Bible studies avoid theology like the plague, lest it prove divisive. Sermons are no better. 'Generally speaking, preaching in Evangelically oriented growth churches, however dynamic in delivery, has remarkably little actual content. Scripture is invariably cited but only as a launching pad to reinforce the message of salvation that Jesus can offer.'  And what kind of salvation is Jesus offering? Why, 'Jesus will save your soul, and your marriage, make you happy, heal your body, and even make you rich. Who wouldn't look twice at that offer?' 
     Nor is this a message found only in the Prosperity Gospel fringe. The wildly popular book, The Prayer of Jabez, written not too many years ago and endorsed, not to mention read, by mainstream Evangelicals, 'is a concept of religion so narcissistic that it makes prosperity theology look demanding by contrast.'...
     One mega-church pastor in Cincinnati describes his church growth philosophy with an 'almost' biblical quote: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is fun!' [Paul says 'freedom,' in II Cor. 3:17]. And another pastor in Houston frankly admits, 'I take what is worldly, and baptize it.'  These approaches are resulting in popularity. 'But popularity means bowing to, rather than resisting, popular culture, and since American popular culture is one that puts more emphasis on feeling good than thinking right, these movements tend to be especially hostile to potentially divisive doctrinal controversy.'  I find myself agreeing with this self-avowed unsaved man who concludes his book with this statement: 'This adherence to growth can have its frustrations; watching sermons reduced to PowerPoint presentations or listening to one easily forgettable praise song after another, makes one long for an Evangelicalism willing to stand up, Luther-like, and proclaim his opposition to the latest survey of Evangelical taste.' "

     Then, after pointing to Ephesians 4:11-16 as God's prescribed method for building up or growing the church -- pastors, teachers and church leaders 'equipping the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ'  --  he goes on to share that the word "equip" was a term used in the first century for the setting of broken bones.
     "When an arm is broken, for example, the arm is out of alignment and functionally useless." So, "how were they to equip the saints?... The instrument for equipping was, and is, the Word of God... It is the Scriptures that equip us for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17).
     That is how God proposes His church be built up -- through the careful, accurate, clear preaching and teaching of His Word. Nothing else will accomplish the task. We can tell inspiring stories, sing beautiful or peppy music, professionalize our program and provide small groups for every conceivable interest, but if the Scripture is not diligently, systematically and correctly taught, Christ's people will not be equipped and the body will not be built up, period!...
     Congregations which focus on techniques, programs and entertainment, at the expense of the Word, may very well build large followings, but they will not build the church of God. Programs, drama and entertainment may amuse, soothe, inspire and stir the emotions, but they will not build Christians. Only the Word of God can do that... Those not being equipped by the teaching of the Word are left hopelessly entangled in a web of immaturity (I Tim. 4:11-16)... The day after a church retreat they are ready to follow the Lord anywhere, by Wednesday all enthusiasm is gone. While attending a Christian musical concert they are overflowing with feelings of love and warmth for the Lord and others. The next morning they don't 'feel' like reading the Scriptures or praying, and so they don't. When convicted of sin, they make strong pledges of future obedience. But a few days later they buckle under the same old temptations. They have mastered the art of selective obedience to Christ.

     Their faith, while possibly genuine, is superficial, lacking substance and power. They are truly 'tossed here and there by the waves' -- at the mercy of so many influences, fads, powerful personalities and temptations that float into their lives.... Rather than being equipped by the Word (or better, because they have not been equipped by the Word) these immature believers are taken in by false doctrines, con-artists, slick programs and campaigns. Place in front of them a great communicator and they lack the discernment to filter his message. Immature Christians are always chasing after the latest book or message promising them an instant spirituality.
     What is the remedy to this endless merry-go-round of childishness -- equipping the saints for the work of service...   The body is built up through the careful teaching of the Word of God and the application of that truth to the local church..." 

     Just some food for thought, and with it a call to return to God's methodology for building His church, Pastor Jeff