Once a year the President of the United States stands before a joint session of congress and gives a speech describing the State of our Union. The session is televised for all Americans who desire to watch. The speech begins with the simple statement reassuring that the union is strong. Then the President descirbes what happened the year before and provides his agenda for the coming year.
I’m writing this post not to say that I have the same authority and position in regards to the church that the President has in regards to the United States. I am writing though as someone who studies American Christianity and the Scriptures. So I want to share with you my State of the (American) Church.
The Church is Strong
The Church is strong. I say the church is strong because God is still God, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit still indwells the church. Although there will be groups that leave the true faith, which has been true since the community of disciples of Jesus was first established, the church will always be strong.
I say the church is strong because many people are hearing and responding to the gospel because of the work the church is doing.
I say the church is strong because I see lives being transformed and disciples being made. People are becoming more and more like Jesus because of the efforts of the church.
I say the church is strong because many in the church are fighting back against the deluge of poor Bible study, preaching devoid of God’s authority, and personality driven doctrine. In its place I’m seeing a greater devotion to exegesis of God’s word, preaching that is text, and therefore God-driven, and a belief that it is Scripture that is right and not man.
I say the church is strong because the physical needs of the world are being met by the church. People are being feed. Disaster areas are being relieved. Diseases are being eradicated because of the work of God’s people.
I say the church is strong because I see many people who are no longer happy with the status quo of keeping the church to ourselves, but are rather seeing the Divine imperative to Go and make disciples.
The Church has Challenges
The Church is embattled from challenges from without. The challenges from without are not the same as have happened in our past, nor the same that are happening to many of our brethren throughout this world. Most of us are not faced with loss of life or treasure for serving God. This could be an indictment of our zeal or it could be that God has decided to spare us this burden.
However, we do face challenges from without. We face the challenge of letting good things become a distraction from doing great things. The Hebrew writer in chapter 12 described the fact that people can be distracted by things that in themselves are good. I see this happening.
We are distracted by our culture of entertainment. This leads for a strong desire to make entertainment a key factor of how our weekly assemblies function. We want preachers who are entertaining, song services that are entertaining, and experiences that we leave feeling like we have left a good production. This has lead to what has been called “worship wars” and the dividing of services to meet the taste of different sub-groups. This leaves the impression that style of worship is more unifying than the CROSS OF CHRIST.
We are distracted by our culture of shallowness. We are used to getting things quickly. The internet and television has lead to us wanting things in quick segments and gives us the ability to turn off information if we don’t find it immediately gratifying. This has lead to a certain shallowness in teaching and it in understanding. This shallowness leads Christians and the church to not be firmly established in truth.
We are distracted by our need for acceptance. We have changed doctrine or de-emphasized certain truth to be accepted by the world around us, both the religious world around us and the secular world around us. We have changed bold living and zealous discipleship for timid faith so that we would not appear to the world to be radical, but rather fit in as one of them.
We are distracted by the American Dream. We have bought into the American Dream that life is about money, possessions, and security. Instead of life being about glorifying God through taking risks for Jesus.
The Church is embattled from challenges from within. The church as always faced false teaching from within her ranks. We have always had to “test the spirits to make sure they are from God.” This is true today. False teaching is still a major issue in the church. Destructive teachings have always led many away from God.
A misunderstanding of grace has caused much troubles in the church. Some have viewed grace in such a way that it is only received if we first live and believe perfectly. Others have viewed grace as an excuse for not striving. Grace, though, is for sinners who are striving to serve God. Grace should never be an excuse to continue in sin and ignorance, nor should we think only our perfection merits God’s grace.
A misunderstanding of truth has also caused much trouble. There are those who believe that truth is subjectively within the individual. Therefore truth is simply within us and determined by us. Others have stated that since we cannot know all truth, then we cannot know any truth. Still others argue that since we are human that truth is real, but unattainable. This has meant that for many in the church truth has become something that is unnecessary. That all we need to do is live like Jesus, not worry about the “doctrines” taught in Scripture.
A misunderstanding of holiness and repentance is causing us trouble. We are saved by grace, because we are all sinners. However, those who are saved are supposed to become like Jesus. Our goal is to live holy lives and holy lives means that we are involved in repentance. Too often we are quick to overlook the ramifications of repentance in hard circumstances and so we avoid doing it ourselves or plainly teaching what repentance means. This has led the church to be in open rebellion to God on numerous occasions.
A misunderstanding of the government in God’s plan. We can believe that the government and a particular nation is God’s instrument to save the world and forget that God’s kingdom is not of this world. While I believe Christians can participate in government, I also believe we cannot lose focus as to our main objectives in this world and in living out the teachings of Jesus.
Follow me on twitter.