So I’ve been having a discussion with several of my pastor, laymen (no offense, just using it as a reference), and missionary friends. Like most people, when I see something that appears to be broken, I try to find out what the root cause is, and think about how to fix it. So when it comes to the state of the modern church, it’s too much for one man’s brain to work out.
I’ve heard so many thoughts on what the root cause is, and most of them start with “the church needs to go this way because….” Because the modern person wants something more real, more natural, more traditional, more showy, more green, less showy, less stale, less authentic, less churchy. It really amazes me how many reasons that I’ve heard that is “because people want…” Really, part of the issue is that church has evolved too much around what people want and not enough around what people need.
In the last 100 years, people wanted less study and more action, so we got the modern Evangelical movement. Yes, it really started in the 1700’s, changed in the 1800’s, but what most people recognize as Evangelical evolved in the early 1900’s. The Evangelical church, in large but not in whole, during this period began to focus on being in the world more and in the books less. Was this due to laziness? Was this due to a desire for ministry instead of knowledge? There are people much smarter and more knowledgeable than I am who might be able to answer that more definitively, but I would say it probably up for debate. But keep in mind, it was a movement and probably had the best intentions in mind.
I think that there was an assumption that the churchgoers would do their studying on their own. And I think that Biblical awareness and knowledge was so common place that it was taken for granted. I say this because of the experiences that I have had in current modern churches. They think that people are studying on their own. But then they realize that they’ve birthed so many baby christians that don’t have the knowledge and experiences that they have and don’t study because it’s not what they’ve seen done (monkey see monkey do), that they then start offering classes. Which these classes are typically being led by people who know less than the pastor, who knows less than the pastor he had, who knows less than the pastor he had. The snowball effect.
In the last few years there’s been a surge, a sort of rebirth of the Reformed church as people begin to realize that the knowledge they seek isn’t where they are. People are starting to realize that there needs to be a much better mix of ministry and book-nosing than what has been in the recent past.
Having said that, I have had a few people, friends even, express to me that they think that the church should go the other direction, even further down the preverbal rabbit hole of more ‘christianese’ and less theology and doctrine. This has usually come to me from people who are all over the self help craze and truly believe that God wants them “healthy, wealthy, and happy.” My normal response is: “Yep, Job knows all about that.” or “Sounds just like what Jesus said.” Sarcasm there if you didn’t catch it.
The sad truth is that people who think God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and happy are suffering from a sever case of idolatry. They think they are happily worshiping a god that loves them more than all else. While in fact, they are putting their puppet “god” on and having it worship them. They lie to themselves to make them feel okay about the fact that they worship themselves. A god that worships you sounds so good it’s easy to know it’s fake. But a god that loves you so much that he wants nothing but good for you exclusively, that’s easy to worship.
So what is the real issue with the modern church? Great question. And if you know the answer, you could probably be rich. My best guess, and what I’ve gathered from speaking with so many of my trusted friends and advisers, is that it is a lack of a proper mix of study and missions.
The missions issue is an obvious fix…go love people. Sounds a bit like love your neighbor as yourself, no?
The study fix might take a bit of work, however. I think my crew (ha, if they read this and realize I’m talking about them they’ll laugh) and I have come up with a relatively obvious cure. Teach hermeneutics, apologetics, and Christ throughout the scriptures. Simple enough. Hermeneutics is the way to study scriptures (and other ancient documents). Apologetics is how to defend your beliefs. And teaching Christ throughout the scriptures seems to be a dying art, but a returning one too.
The concept here is, how can someone defend their beliefs to a well educated atheist (or spiritual warfare in disbelief) if he hasn’t been taught how to defend the scriptures? How can anyone be expected to know how to defend something they don’t know how to study? My favorite dispute I get from mocking atheist is “you take the Bible literally?” as if I’m a fool for it. My response is basically “I take it literally as it was written.”
That throws them off because they really don’t know what it means. It means simply that I take the historical parts of the Bible as history, the poetry as poetry and so on. All of a sudden there’s a real, adult, educated discussion going on about the Bible with someone who thought it was fiction and that I was just dumb enough to believe it.
Basically, I think we are riding the pendulum and it’s swinging back to the balance. Being highly educated isn’t just a necessity anymore, but our society has brought it up to the cool status. This is great for believers, if we head in the same direction. We must be educated in our beliefs and in the Word of God. But remember, you don’t need to go to seminary to get a decent biblical education. You just need to start reading and studying the Word, read theology books (not necessarily systematic theology, but maybe start with some of the books on my books page), and have discussions/hang out with people wiser/smarter than you on biblical topics. How can you grow if you only surround yourself with people who know as much as you or less than you?