Friday, March 23, 2007

What have we shown the atheists?

Today I read a report on one of my favorite Christian websites on the topic of the percentage of “unchurched” people in America, based on a study done by the Barna Group. The web article documents parallel findings from a newly released book entitled “Jim and Casper Go to Church” by a Pastor (Jim Henderson) and an Atheist (Matt Casper). I have not read the book, but the Barna article indicates insights in the book were drawn from the co-author’s visits to several churches across the country including several of the well known ones that appear frequently on Christian TV networks. What caught my eye in this article however was the following excerpt:
Many of the insights drawn from the experiences of "Jim and Casper" parallel the findings of Barna Group studies among the unchurched. Some of the critical discoveries were the relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people; the overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey; the tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God; the absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and the failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith.
This conclusion is a very revealing (and also alarming) insight into the Christian environment in the US. For those who decry the relative weakness of the American church, it adds fuel to their indictment that Christians are asleep while this country sinks deeper into the moral wasteland predicted in 2 Timothy 3:1-4 - But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— (NIV). What this article and evidently this book uncovers however is that Christians are by and large complicit in aiding the moral decline of this country if by no other reason than our indifference and lack of either direct witnessing of Christ when engaging our neighbors and friends, or by not living lives before our neighbors and friends that clearly demonstrate that we are set apart for Christ: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV). Oh, we are probably very good at doing the Christ thing in church on Sunday mornings, with the raised hands, the hand-clapping to the “sound good” church songs and in some circles the “Christian lingo” (“I’m blessed and highly favored of the Lord…”). But, what happens when we sit with friends or co-workers at the restaurant. Is God worthy of our verbal thank yous across the table from your boss, or from your friend who hasn’t step foot in a church in 15 years?

When a friend or co-worker shares a sad story with us in their lives, do we offer to pray for them (or heaven forbid) pray with them right there on the spot? Yes I think the article gets it very right, we are indeed very indifferent to those who are “unchurched”. I know that in this article the unchurched is referring to those who have not attended church services. But in my context I am actually referring to those who are not a part of the church of Jesus Christ. Is one of our first thoughts when we hear of someone dying whether or not they were saved? If that is not one of our initial thoughts, perhaps being saved is not one of the more important things to us.

Believe me, I am writing this post as much to myself as to anyone else. The other day I was driving down the street, and two cars were obviously racing each other around me weaving in and out of traffic…generally creating a danger not only to themselves, but to everyone else around them. As they whizzed past my car and around an upcoming bend, my initial thought was I hope they both run into a wall in their hurry. Paul’s words about “being without love, unforgiving etc. etc.” certainly applied to me at that moment. In some ways I represent part of this apathetic Christian nation of Americans. God forgive me.

The article talks about “…the tendency of church congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God.” Do you see your church in this statement? Thankfully I have not attended many different churches in my 7 years of being saved, and the ones that I have largely attended have for the most part avoided this trap, but I have seen it and it is very prevalent in many churches. It seems many times the presence of God is not allowed to get in the way of the church program. You know the drill: the worship songs then a few speeches, then the offering, another song or two, the “open your Bibles to the message this morning” a prayer then… “have a blessed week”. Don’t get me wrong…in the church with the right heart, the movement of God does and will take place in the midst of our programs. But the article is asking why does it not happen in most churches? How many people have been turned off by the rituals of both Protestant and Catholic churches alike? In both kind of churches the cadenced utterances of the Pastors or the Priests are virtually unintelligible. It sounds more like a performance than a call in the easy to understand language that the unchurched can understand so that he/she may be moved to surrender his life to the Lord. We are indeed a church nation of doers and not worshippers. We have been reared in our culture on the merit system, earning our way to success. With God, we can’t earn our way into His Kingdom. We can worship our way in response to His love however.

As a Christian do we ponder (in all honesty) the measure of our faith? Do we think about it as the daily routines of life continue to provide us with opportunities to display that faith? The article questions whether we listen to those voices that challenge us to dig deeper into our faith. Are we willing to face the Christian in the mirror reflecting what we are as opposed to what God has called us to be? Has complacency or apathy crowded in such that our faith is on auto-pilot?
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11 NIV)

Lots of questions? Do we want to face the answers? As a Christian nation, two scriptures should haunt us as we ponder ourselves in this reality:
"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23); These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)


Anonymous said...

Excellent Post!

My heart just aches when I read these studies.
This is so far away from the heart of God.

Most Christians I know are fairly self-centered. They're not terribly interested in sharing their faith with anyone, they DO see it as a personal journey, not so much a corporate one, and they appear to be largely indifferent to the needs of others. They're not much different than the folks they work with.

It must just break God's heart. But as you so ably pointed out, there will be a great apostasy in the last days. Jesus even asked if He would find faith when He returned. I'm sure He will, but He may have to look pretty hard for it.

Matt said...

One of the points of "Jim & Casper Go to Church" is that the degree of certainty many Christians exhibit--such as claiming to know what's in God's heart (if there even is a God), calling this a Christian nation--is not only off-putting to non-Christians, but in direct conflict with the tenets of Christianity. It's driven more by ego and nationalism than love, and JC was all about love: pure and simple.

Rachel said...

Hi! Thanks for posting about "Jim & Casper Go to Church." I'm a volunteer with Jim's organization Off the Map and I wanted to let you know about our Live event coming up this November in Seattle. Both Jim and Matt Casper will be speaking at this event. Here is the link if you want to find out more:

A God who sends people to Hell?