What's on the spiritual radar screen?
In the context of the state of the church and the nation a verse from the second book of Chronicles (7:14) makes a call to "turn from our wicked ways". The following appeared on an e-mail list some years ago.
posted on a message list in 2005
As I scan the horizon and my environment I am increasingly disturbed in my spirit; and the following is (in no special order) some of the growing concerns that I feel. I should say that what follows applies mainly to Western-style Christianity; and is – like any generalisation – not universally applicable. It gives me no pleasure – only great sadness – to write these things. And they are written with an acute conciousness of the writer's poverty and failures in living the life to which we are all – in Christ Jesus – called.
If your situation bears no resemblance to the following, then I praise God.
* Church Growth Movement
In society's flight away from God and the churches, many church leaders are being caught up in – even hungrily imbibing – what some have called a 'Cross-less Christianity'. In a desire to see large numbers in the seats, 'principle' (what is 'right') has been abandoned for 'pragmatism' (what 'works'). The word 'sin' is now politically-incorrect; and should not be used because it turns people off.
Leaders are running to and fro across the globe – and also accessing locally – whatever, in their estimation, is producing the best results. And by "best results" I mean numerical increase rather than true spiritual growth.
* McDonaldisation of the Church
The supermarket mentality (one-stop shop) is turning many urban churches into the equivalent of out-of-town shopping malls. "Have all your spiritual comfort-needs met here!" And much of what is 'on sale' (literally and metaphorically) is designed to pander to essentially selfish ("what blesses me") desires. Worshippers criss-cross their cities to the ecclesiastical supermarket of their choice whilst small-town congregations are sucked dry of support. Some Christians are making round trips of over 200 miles on a Sunday to get to a city church.
* The 'dumbing-down' of the Christian's mind
The multi-media rapid-fire messages of our consumer-orientated advertisment-driven society has now produced a generation of believers whose eyes glass over if presented with more than a page of text to read. It is just too much trouble!
Preachers are being urged to condense sermons into sound-bites (and these designed to bring self-gratification to the hearers rather than conviction). And there are stories of some preachers now breaking up their sermons with "ads" in the middle. How many Christians do we see carrying their Bibles about?
Many are now taking their theology and doctrines from paperback novels and ('Christian?') self-help books. And churches are doing 'Bible studies' on seeker-sensitive best-sellers written by mere men. [While – in any one book – some of the material which believers are reading is good, it is (often, increasingly and very dangerously) mixed in with new age spiritualities and secular business philosophies.]
This is creating a downward spiral amongst disciples who are reading books more than they are reading their Bibles; and accordingly are less-well equipped to distinguish between the Truth and the error contained (sometimes) in the human writings to which they are increasingly turning.
* The move away from personal salvation to community/city transformation
God's master plan for saving the world is to bring individuals – one-at-a-time and personally – to Himself through Jesus Christ.
However there is (it would seem) a widespread notion that what God wants to do is "clean up our communities". And that He aims to achieve this through Christians who, by their efforts and cleverness, can unite to create a kind of spiritual vapour spray which will cleanse the prevailing atmosphere. Communties are (will be) transformed by personally changed lives rather than Christian "politics" in high places (good though that might be). '"Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit', says the Lord Almighty".
Meanwhile, and very sadly, it seems that Christians are often unable to assemble humbly and inconspicuously together in any one place to pray, but rather create another/high-profile 'World Prayer Center/Centre' or 'Global Prayer Network'. (Matt. 6:5)
* Managing problems rather than dealing with the issues
Many churches are allowing serious spiritual problems (faulty relationships, occult practices, serious error, etc.) to continue unchecked in their fellowships, provided these are 'kept out of sight'; or the various situations 'managed' to achieve a (false) peace. It is much less trouble to tolerate the situation than bring a biblical discipline to bear. (cf Phil 4:2-3)
But – sooner or later – these problems (which are meanwhile a continuous drain on the sprititual life from a fellowship) erupt in a very public and damaging way.
* Trusting in human efforts
Let me first of all say that I have a great respect for the many Christians and organisations that continue to take their various stands for righteousness; and vigorously seek to oppose the contrary and downward trends in our societies and legislation. I pray that God will encourage every one of His saints who seeks to be "salt" in a putrefying world.
However, I do not believe that these efforts will, in themselves, succeed. They might win some victories; and these might serve to slow the rate of decline, but our societies and nations are (mainly) in open rebellion against God. And it is only a sovereign move of God which will correct this situation. Oh that God would bring us to our knees; and maybe He is or maybe He will.
* Married to the spirit of the age
Many of us have succumbed to the values, world views, life-styles, ambitions, aspirations, priorities and fashions of the prevailing secular culture. Kids' education, cars, holidays, kitchens, houses, careers, entertainment, recreational pursuits, etc. etc. absorb so much of the mental, physical and financial resources of God's people, that they have little left to give into the work of the Kingdom.
These "things" have become false gods.
* Turning to 'Egypt' for help
Many Christians - in terms of personal well-being and financial support - are turning to secular 'helps' and methods rather than going to their Father in heaven. This is very marked when it comes to the matter of health. Believers are resorting to new-age (alternative) medical treatments rather than "calling for the elders of the church". (James 5:14)
This is not to say that every treatment in the 'alternative' camp is essentially wrong or harmful, but many are; some are deadly even. And without discernment (which is often cast to the wind) the Christian puts him(her)self in great peril.
Meanwhile, in terms of financial security, I wonder how many of yesterday's missionaries ensured that they had well-stocked pension schemes before they embarked on their life's work? (Matt 6:24-34)
* Caught up in "busyness"
I am sure that the Lord looks down on us and says: "I never made them in order for them to behave that way."
And the still small voice that would say "This is the way; walk in it", is overwhelmed by the 'noise' of our activities. If the enemy of God can't get us flat on our backs he will have us run off our feet.
"Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old."
Lest the above creates a gloomy and downcast picture, let me say in closing that I am rejoicing in what (I believe) God is doing. In a manner similar to the interval in a stage production, I hear the sound of props being moved behind the curtain. I am convinced that the Lord is preparing to change the scene. It's just that much of what we call 'the church' will first of all have to die.