What Is Happening To The Church?

Jun 18th, 2022 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Samuel Goh, lecturer of Old Testament at Brisbane Theological Seminary in Australia, has recently written of the “social reality” of American evangelicalism:  A polarization that is paralyzing the evangelical church.  Consider some of his observations:

 

  • “In recent years, there has been a spate of incidents of polarization among Christians, exemplified by debates over public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for these conflicts are not necessarily biblical, but rather polarized views on politics, race relations, gender theory, sexual ethics, Christian nationalism, and other issues.

 

  • Among evangelicals, each side defines evangelicalism by its own set of values. As Jim Cymbala, senior pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, said in a January sermon, Christians in North America now no longer define an evangelical person by whether he or she believes in Jesus, but by whether he or she is Democrat or Republican, pro-vaccination or anti-vaccination, and mask-wearing or not.
  • ‘These were my people, but now I don’t know who they are, or maybe I don’t know who I am,’ Timothy Dalrymple, CEO and editor in chief of Christianity Today, described his friend as saying last year. In February, he told David Brooks for The New York Times, ‘One of the most surprising elements is that I’ve realized that the people who I used to stand shoulder to shoulder with on almost every issue, I now realize that we are separated by a yawning chasm of mutual incomprehension. I would never have thought that could have happened so quickly.’
  • One of the major factors that has brought evangelical relations to this point is the divisive information bubbles formed by polarized mass media and social media. Each side chooses to absorb or disseminate only the data of its own circle. The social reality behind each side’s values becomes the eyes of the beholder, leading to a clear distinction between enemies and friends. Few people believe the other side, and each side speaks its own language. For each circle, the social reality seen by peers is the real reality while the social reality of other circles is suspicious ‘fake news’ or ‘misinformation.’
  • This polarized social reality has no room for objective reality. If both sides are in danger, neither side will be able to detect it due to lack of objective vision. Even more regrettable is the fact that within our own Christian community, there are many rivalries and enemies. Those who seek the truth are at a loss. Many people have created a world of cold and cruel narratives without the mercy and grace of the Lord.”

 

American culture desperately needs a sense of unity right now—unity in the face of a life-threatening crisis.  Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College is certainly correct in his observation: “The problem with ratcheting up of the culture wars in the past decade is that we have essentially treated one another as if we have had the plague according to your cultural and political allegiances.”  Now when we need to work together and to cut through tribal differences, we have little trust.  Furthermore, everyone seems angry right now.  Can we, as Christians, overcome the anger and rage towards those who disagree with us politically?   The former president, the moral leader of our nation, set the tone:  He not only disagrees with his political opponents; he attacks them personally with words of humiliation, mockery and scoffing; he shreds their character and their very person.  To disagree with him is to become his personal enemy who needs to be destroyed.  His political opponents respond in kind.  Instead of setting the tone for the nation, the opposite occurs.  The followers of each political position take on the tone of their “leader.”  Civil discourse, reasonable debate and disagreement are now impossible in America.  There have been divisions within our nation before that were bitter and seemingly irreconcilable (e.g., the feud between Jefferson and Hamilton or during the 1850s before the Civil War).  But today, the level of bitterness and very personal animosity fosters a potentially lethal division when the nation most needs to evidence unity.  Leaders who cannot be believed will not be followed, especially in times of emergency.  Persuasively, Stetzer concludes, “We’ve become addicted to outrage and it’s killing us.”

Finally, what can the church of Jesus Christ do to counter the anger and rage, and minister to a culture that is vulnerable and consumed with fear and panic?  Stetzer offers some wise counsel:

  • First, “when dealing with others we must be empathetic.”  Instead of going to war with people, we start with the view of Scripture, that our world is broken, lost, and in bondage. God’s solution for the world’s sin was not to be outraged but to love, sending Jesus to die for us.
  • Second, we respond with humility.  In Philippians 2, Paul told believers to be of the same mind as Jesus. And what is that mind? “He humbled himself.” We can expect the world to respond with hostility when feeling threatened or misunderstood. We can understand when communities blinded by sin respond to Christians with tribalism and mistrust.   But we who know Christ must respond not with hostility but humility. We are not better than the people with whom we disagree; we have received a gift of salvation and should respond with humble gratitude. “This also means we are careful to be accurate in how we characterize those with whom we disagree. It’s easy today to define those not like us by their worst day or worst examples, but none of us wants to be defined like that.”
  • Third, we see people as image bearers of God—the basis for the value, worth and dignity of every person.  “Even those who hate us are entitled to being treated with dignity. Remember Jesus told us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. You can respect a person as created in the image of God and still disagree with their lifestyle or ideology.”  This is a key issue where Christians need to lead— all people are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect.

 

In this time of national crisis, the Church must not respond with anger or bitterness but with the love that Jesus shows: compassionate, respectful, and courageous (see Matt. 9:35-38).  Our hope is in a God who keeps His promises and who is worthy of our trust and confidence.  We have learned to trust in those promises, and to rest in His character.  Such love, such trust, such hope is what our world needs.  Perhaps this crisis in American culture will produce a significant spiritual awakening in our nation, drawing our nation back to Jesus Christ!  If so, the church must be the catalyst for this revival.

 

The rescue mission of Jesus Christ and His church is therefore countercultural.  When a person places faith in Christ, the process of transformation (aka sanctification) begins.  Jesus transforms a person from the inside out.  The mind, the heart and the will of the justified person are renewed.  Therefore, that person sees things the way Jesus does.  Such is the eternally significant dimension of the kingdom counterculture Jesus is building.  Application?  End the culture war; join the rescue mission!

See Samuel Goh, “Ruth in the Time of Judges: An Alternative Reality Amid Conflicts,” in www.christianitytoday.com (21 April 2022); Ed Stetzer, “People are Addicted to Outrage: Four Ways to Walk a Better Path,” www.christianitytoday.com (11 March 2020); Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, “Christians, This Is Our Moment: A Call to Clarity and Mission,” www.christianitytoday.com (12 March 2020).

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