I recently wrote on three situations within the American church– Jerry Falwell’ Vanity Fair interview, Phanatik renouncing Christianity, and Lecrae speaking about losing events over his social comments (read it here). In that post I teased that I would write about what troubles me with the Church today, there are two interconnected issues which do make me seriously question the health of the American church (and at times the viability of Christianity). The first issue I have with Christians is summed up nicely by Brennan Manning:
For me the problem with much of American Christianity is this, we proclaim that Jesus died and rose again which results in a fundamental change in the world, and yet this reality seems to have little impact on the lives of many Christians. The true mark of a Christian life is supposed to be a life characterized by a life reflective of Jesus which come through a life lived in the presence of God’s Spirit and grace which that lifestyle provides.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Galatians 5:22-23
But to our shame these fruit do not seem as present as they should and I can see how many can question the truth of Christianity because of it. Christians make the claim that Jesus is alive and death has no power in the world and the evidence we are supposed to offer is that our lives show evidence of transformation, a transformation only explainable by the presence of God’s Spirit. Sadly, it seems that too many Christians show little of this evidence, even among “Bible believing” churches. Just last week I was listening to a person who expressed concern about the faith (“How can this be in our faith”) over a pastor of a small theologically conservative church bashing and berating congregants. The disgust I saw in that individual’s face reminded me of how much of a problem we are facing in the church. Manning is right, how are people supposed to believe in our witness to the resurrection of Jesus when we do not show evidence of his Spirit present in our lives? Where is our claim to truth when the truth has not transformed the way we live and interact in the world?
As with most things in this world there are two factors which I see as responsible for this trend. The first is simplistic, individuals are not taking seriously growing deep in the faith. And as Richard Foster has said, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” But I do not believe much of the blame rests on individual believers, after all the average person will not grow much beyond where they are led. For this reason I place the blame for the lack of spiritual depth on the systems in place in many avenues of the church. An example of this can be found in the scandal of Jerry Falwell Jr., a man who is admittedly not concerned with following Jesus in his daily life and yet is seen as a pillar of Christianity and was the leader of “a successful Christian institution.” [David French wrote an excellent piece on this situation I recommend reading it, here.] The systemic problems within Christianity are the issues expressed by Lecrae to the Christian Post; it seems churches and leaders are caught up in political culture wars, making money, or drawing thousands to the exclusion of what the Bible actually describes as the marks of the Christian life.
The difficulty lies in the fact that numbers are tangible and depth is not. Christians, like all other humans, want to feel successful and since Jesus said to reach all people with the Gospel it becomes an easy metric to measure how many people have been reached. Thus, success becomes how many people are in attendance on Sunday or how many people buy the book or song. These measurable metrics lead pastors and churches down the road of catering to the crowd. The church has become satisfied with helping people feel blessed through worship without forcing them to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. [Important note: none of these focal points are bad, they are simply settling for the good instead of the great.] The good priorities of many churches are distracting us from the necessary portions of the Gospel and the results are leaders who are caught up in scandal and people becoming disillusioned with the faith. The growing tide of those “deconstructing” their faith points to the reality that people are not seeing evidence of the Spirit poured out in churches. Experiential evidence matters, it matters to believers and unbelievers, those who are in the fold, those seeking, and those who are not. What the church needs most today is commitment to growth in the Spirit– “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Unless this happens I fear that we will continue to see a trend of people leaving the Church behind and leaders embroiled in scandal. Frankly, without the evidence of the Spirit in the Church we have little to offer the world and even our historical and factual claims are diminished. That will be part 2 of this article, check it out tomorrow.