Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Advance of the Body of Christ

Don’t freak out. As I have pointed out before, Newsweek is not as helpful as the Bible. So while a recent cover story in Newsweek reports on the decline and fall of Christian America, the Bible says differently about the lasting nature of the Church; something about the gates of hell not overcoming, or something. Of course, the article in Newsweek speaks mostly of a declining political influence, which isn’t necessarily a tragedy. Still, the spiritual influence of the Christian church in America, evangelical or otherwise, is no doubt in troubled times. The culture is becoming increasingly secular, local churches are fragmented, biblical faithfulness is harder to come by, and “postmodernism” seems to dominate the pulse of our understanding of absolute truth. But at the end of the day, nothing is happening that is not spoken about in the Bible as inevitable. Now, as Christians, we just need to do what the Bible says about it. Allow me to articulate this in three problems in the Church and suggested solutions that seem apparent to me.

1. Lukewarm Christians

These are the people that are saved, but as if through the fire. They come to church, faithfully tithe, but are not encouraged and motivated to let the Holy Spirit work powerfully through them, and though they have claimed belief in Him, they are very indecisive about following Him. Their remaining sinfulness most likely leads them into a (perhaps hidden) life of legalism or license. They have become dull of hearing, and are coasting down shore with the earphones of this world distracting them to all else that moves. But they are not lost. To make it personal, without the constant practice of spiritual discipline, gutsy guilt, and an unending fight for faith, through the power of the Spirit, I am always at risk of being in this category. We are either growing closer to Christ, or we are drifting away from Him. There is no neutral.

The clearest solution to this problem is preaching, discipleship, and intentional (diverse) community in our churches that teach and embrace spiritual disciplines and progressive sanctification, encourage members to discover who they were created to be, and challenge them to serve others before themselves. We must understand the concept of whole faith for the whole person (Head, Heart, and Hands); and the Gospel is the source of that faith. The Gospel is the power of God to save not only unbelievers, but also believers, and if it is preached faithfully (and repeatedly) and lived out consistently, it will inspire people to live a life worthy of the calling they have received, and by the Spirit it will help them discern that calling. We should by our example and ministry help them make their calling and election sure (which it is, if they are in this category). We dare not fill our churches with "undiscipled disciples".

2. Unregenerate Sheep

These are people who profess to be Christians but do not have an authentic relationship with, understanding of, or saving faith in, Jesus Christ. They may come to church, open their Bible, take communion, sing to God, go to small group, but they are not converted. Without the illumination and regeneration of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, they will be lost.

The clearest solution to this problem is not accusation or ridicule of those who may be in this category. We can never know. The clear solution is preaching, discipleship, and intentional (diverse) community in our churches where members (and especially leaders) watch their lives and doctrine closely, and faithfully proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Speak the Gospel, love people, and trust the Holy Spirit. We should by our word and deed help them make their calling and election sure (which it isn’t, if they are in this category).

3. Unconnected Non-Christians

These are the people that are not in our churches. They do not come, either because they have no interest in the Bible, God, or spiritual things, or they did at one time but their experience or perception of church is tainted and they don’t plan to come back. In turn, they are agnostic, or atheist, or “spiritual” outside of Christ, and as they raise families and work for a living, their influence is shaping our society away from Christ.

The clearest solution to this problem is engaging the culture with the Gospel, and taking the church to the people. In other words, decentralize our idea of church so that Christians understand and practice the reality that we are the church, not the building we go to. This solution will incorporate a small group structure in our churches that emphasizes cultural engagement with unbelievers, intentional (diverse) community with fellow believers, and selfless service towards those who need both to hear the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to see the demonstration of that Gospel. Go and be, instead of come and see. The creativity and engagement of Christians reflecting the biblical Gospel should be shaping our culture, and not letting the culture shape us.

This third solution should be a natural outflow of, and not a replacement for, the first two solutions. Though the institutional church has driven some away by its inconsistent proclamation, hypocritical demonstration, or overall confusion of our beloved Gospel, it is not time to leave it behind. We should not assume that being the church in our culture is enough, because God desires more. We are called to walk the delicate balance between being in the world but not of the world. Healthy institutional churches, if cured from past sickness, can accomplish this simultaneously by sending out believers to faithfully speak and live the Gospel in their everyday lives, and by structurally representing a unified Body of believers that are not of this world. His Church is advancing with Spirit-empowered force in local churches across the country, and can still be a biblical and profound representation to the world, Christian and non-Christian alike, of the glorious, otherworldly, and invincible City of God and Body of Christ that God is bringing forth in His perfect timing.


This is oversimplified. I know. But I hoped it would be a helpful start. There is more to say, and say more I certainly will do. Please feel free to contribute to the dialogue. But remember that at the end of the day, the Gospel is the issue; any problem in our culture, or our country, or our church, ultimately comes down to a confusing, inconsistent, or false proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. Every effort we make to get closer to the true Gospel will inevitably bring glory to God and will expand His kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. Every effort away from it will further the decline on which even the secular world has now seen fit to report. If you have an uninterrupted 80 minutes sometime soon, I would HIGHLY recommend the following talk:

The Genesis of the False Gospel

A passion for the faithful presentation of the biblical Gospel in our secular culture is not only the ultimate purpose of this blog, but I think also the one thing most lacking in our Church today. Hence my seemingly random attendance at the following conference next week:

I’m humbled to be able to do my part in participating in its preservation.

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