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In 2001, Donald Bloesch raised the question in a Christianity Today article and set the looming issue on the table before us all. Professor Bloesch ably addressed some needed areas of great concern. To this I would like to touch upon some similar matters as well, that remind us of the ever-present schemes of Satan and his relentless pursuit of distraction and disorder in The Church.
Preaching of course is of paramount concern. A tickling of the ears will always find a hearing in the comfortable pew, but silly-free preaching that is clear and compelling and convicting is rare today in many a pulpit.
Early on I learned that you can preach the Bible and not preach the Word of God! Much preaching today is impersonal information about God, it is often more human personality laced with interesting stories on how to build a good image rather than good character.
Theologian John Stott said in one breath that the current state of preaching is “miserable, abysmal.”
Preaching is not everything in a church. But that it effects everything is the issue. If the Word is not being heard and there is no Christ-centered clarity that brings soul-satisfying power, then Sunday by Sunday, “corporate worship languishes, evangelism shrinks, discipleship falters and mission becomes half-hearted,” said evangelist David Turner.
True preaching speaks to the mind first, then the heart. From there it moves to the will. True preaching in simple terms is the truth of God in Christ through human personality. It, like reading scripture, is a sign post that points you to Christ, never an end in itself. It must ultimately point you to Him, take you to Him.
Consumer-oriented, program-reliant, health/wealth/ pleasure-focused and therapy-dependent is often what we have come to. We run from reality. Our Christianity is reduced to window shopping based on likes and dislikes. We are no longer discernible, definable or deliberate. We are uncertain as to who we are and therefore what we are about, divided in our loyalties as to what is good, better or best. We are in an identity crisis while claiming to help others find themselves. Marked by moral conspiracy that says, “I won’t tell you anything is wrong with you, if, you won’t tell me anything is wrong with me.”
The lowest common denominator has become our highest standard. Respectability is our loftiest goal, which can be just a notch below scandal to be accepted. Respectability is a very low standard. The respectable man does not have to be a saint, but he cannot be a notorious evil liver, as the old Book of Common Prayer put it. A respectable man can go to hell, and in fact, can go to hell in part because he has relied on his respectability.
Joe, an old classmate of mine, and I attended a funeral of a man he and I knew well. My friend, John, was smart but lacked savvy in world perceptiveness. Joe and I sat in the back pew and listened while the preacher went on about the goodness of old John in the casket. The John we knew was not the John the preacher knew — for sure. Joe, in his naivete, looked at me as if to say, “Where are we? Are we in the right place?” It looked as if he wanted to go up and check who was in that casket.
One of the main problems the church in America is facing today is the lack of believability. Are you believable? Is your life and your words believable? We are often perceived as being nice but not new.
Moving on, I would say God has disappeared because The Church is out of balance and has lost its bearings.
God has placed The Church in the center of the world, to keep the world centered. We long to be a people who are all for Jesus because he is Lord of all and gave his all for us. And yet, we have become about ourselves. We have lost our focus and consequently our balance. We can’t think straight.
As Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister and medical doctor, puts it: “The terrible, tragic fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all man’s troubles are due to his environment, and that to change the man you have nothing to do but change his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was in Paradise that man fell.”
Two things almost always precede failure in a church:
1. Refusing to face our problems — It’s a lack of honesty.
2. Refusing to prioritize — Jesus demands it: “Seek first,” He says.
In Luke 14, He calls us to face the issues of eternity decisively, and they are primarily about allegiance to Him. The alternative is a disordered life and a rejection of being a disciple. In short, Jesus says, get it together or forget it!
The Church is not a religious playground.
The Rev. Chuck Cooper is a longtime pastor, the developer of Daybreak Ministries and the founder/director of Men Made New. He and his wife, Linda, live in Walla Walla. Contact him at [email protected] or 509-540-6104. Pastors in the U-B circulation area are encouraged to write 500- to 700-word columns. Send them to [email protected]
As you well know !