Top 10 Challenges Facing the Church in 2016 (Part 2)

Due to the overwhelming response from the first installment, I decided to post the second installment earlier than anticipated. The previous article dealt with the first five challenges facing the church in 2016. Those challenges were:

10. The issue of the Christian’s right to self-defense (that is, the right to bear arms).

9. The sense of entitlement.

8. Apathy for evangelism.

7. Race relations.

6. Trusting God despite chaos.

See the article “Top 10 Challenges for the Church in 2016 (Part 1)” for a fuller treatment of the previously mentioned issues.

This second installment will provide the top-5 challenges facing the church in 2016. As noted in the previous article, these insights do not necessarily represent anything from the current or past churches that I have served as pastor. Rather, these issues stem from trends that must be faced as we move into a new year. Let’s first look at the fifth issue.

coexist

  1. Syncretism: Are there Multiple Paths to God?

It has been noted before, but must be reemphasized: the New Age movement has entered the modern American church. One of the hallmarks of the New Age movement is syncretism. Syncretism is defined as the “incorporation into religious faith and practice of elements from other religions, resulting in a loss of integrity and assimilation to the surrounding culture.[1] Other issues are at work with this problem. Primarily, one faces the classification of a “bigot” or “hate-mongerer” if one claims that there is only one way unto God. Secondly, the problem seems to emerge from a lack of knowledge pertaining to worldviews.

Most everyone in the continental United States has probably seen the bumper sticker that reads “Coexist.” While I agree that we should live civil with those from differing perspectives, the bumper sticker is often used to assume that all religions are the same.

Are all religions truly the same? Not really. For differing worldviews make different claims.

Buddhism, a pantheist worldview, is basically an agnostic religion. Hinduism, a panentheist worldview, claims that God has manifested himself by various gods and goddesses, whereas Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all theist worldviews, claim that there is only one God. Yet, contrary to Islam and mainstream Judaism, Christianity claims that Jesus is the unique Son of God, the Messiah sent to save all of humanity. While all these religious beliefs could be wrong, they all cannot be right. To make matters worse for the syncretist, Jesus himself said things like, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).[2]

Logic dictates that either Jesus was right or he was wrong. If he was the Son of God, one would think that he would be right pertaining to spiritual matters. If Jesus is right, then syncretism cannot be correct. If syncretism is correct, then Jesus was wrong. If Jesus was wrong on this matter, then one must wonder whether he really was the Son of God.

Thus, the person must make the decision. One cannot sit on the fence. Either Jesus was right or he was wrong. If you accept Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), you must ask yourself “Am I going to follow the words of Jesus or not?” If it is true that Jesus is the only way to the Father, then it is extremely evil to claim otherwise as such an accusation would mislead people away from God.

How to combat:          It would seem that the solution to this problem is also the solution to the most challenging problem found on this year’s list.

 marriage

  1. Family and Marriage: Building Strong Families One Home at a Time.

2015 has brought many challenges to the church as it relates to the definition of the family. We do need to define biblical marriage. But, I think the church needs to focus on this issue by another means. We need to build strong families in our churches. Do we emphasize the importance of marriage? Do we emphasize the benefits of having a strong home? The church should be a light to the world.

Do our families serve as good examples of the home?

How to combat:          Church leaders must not allow political fear to strangle the importance of teaching and preaching on marriage. This platform should not be used to insult those that differ with the biblical interpretation. Rather, this platform should be used to instruct and teach how to build strong Christian homes. Perhaps churches could hold marriage conferences and retreats for the families in their church. Perhaps discipleship studies could be conducted on the issue of marriage. For ministers, it is more crucial than ever to perform pre-marital counseling for interested couples to be wed.

 Hostility

  1. Increasingly Antagonistic Culture: the War with Political Correctness.

We must face it. The Leave it to Beaver days are over! Not only is America becoming a post-Christian nation,[3] it is becoming hostile to Christianity. Don’t believe me? Then, start talking about Christ in a public forum. Go talk to Christian apologists who speak at public universities. Now that the shock has worn off, let us understand something important. Seeing the culture as antagonistic is not meant to alarm you. I am not saying that you should stockpile your cabinets and build a bomb shelter somewhere in the deepest, darkest, deserted woodlands.

No!

This is not said to alarm, but to inform. The modern Christian must use different tactics than one would use back in the 1950s. Living in this time is actually exciting. Why? Because when society is at its darkest, the church normally shines the brightest!

How to combat:          As previously mentioned, the church needs to employ different strategies than it did several years ago. The church needs to face the culture much like a missionary would. When a missionary enters a land where Christianity is not dominant, he or she does not assume that the person they are speaking with understands what they are talking about. It seems to me that the modern church should employ similar tactics. Truthfully, studies have shown that as many as 20% of individuals in North America have never met a Christian[4]…as difficult as that is to believe.

 fear1

  1. Fear: An Emotion that Leads to Bizarre and Dangerous Results.

When I first compiled this list, I placed this issue as the most challenging. In some ways, it is. In previous years, persecution has led the list. Truthfully, Christian persecution is an extremely problematic issue in our world. Countless Christians have been driven from their homes and have lost loved ones. Even young children! I mourn with my Christian brothers and sisters across the globe who have suffered greatly because of their faith.

However, it seems to me that there is a greater problem than just persecution. It is the problem of fear. Fear leads individuals and societies to do strange and bizarre things. Fear may even lead one to a loss of love for another due to race or nationality. Yes, I understand that there are great challenges in our time. But, were we not told that one of the greatest commandments was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31)? Fear causes us to lose our bearings.

Paul notes that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Let the world worry about the world. Let us worry about fulfilling the Great Commission and serving God up until the time that our soul is required of us.

 How to combat: Focus less on the cares of the world and focus more on the concerns of God. Personally, I am making a resolution to watch the news less and read the Bible more in the upcoming year. Yes, we need to stay up on the current issues. We need to pray that God would lift up godly, Christian leaders. I know some good Christians who are starting to enter the political field. We need more of that. Nevertheless, it is even more important to stay focused on the eternal issues.

In case you haven’t heard: in the end, God wins!

 biblical illiteracy

  1. Biblical and Theological Illiteracy: The Problem that Propagates other Problems.

When I first compiled this list, I placed this as the 3rd most pressing challenge. However, the more I delved into the issues before us, the more I realized that most of the problems on this list emerge from this problem: the problem of biblical and theological illiteracy.

Earlier this year, I attended a pastor’s conference at a local Baptist association. I recall one pastor (who will remain anonymous) who was concerned with the lack of basic biblical knowledge by many in his church. He is not alone. Unfortunately, many individuals sit on the pews each Sunday without knowing the core essentials of the faith. To some, an epistle is the wife of an apostle…a joke, yes, but unfortunately true in some cases. Many youth do not know the Ten Commandments or the Two Great Commandments.

Why is it that the youth don’t know these truths? It’s probably because many of the adults don’t know them either!

We as church leaders are failing our congregations. More importantly, we are failing our Lord. After giving the Greatest Commandment in all the Bible in Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses wrote that the law of God was to be “on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6) and that one was to “teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). We must ask an ever important question…

 How can we expect people to defend the faith if they first do not know what it is they are to be defending???

 How to combat:          Theology and apologetics are two squads on the same team. Theology is the offensive squad and apologetics is the defensive squad. Both go hand in hand. I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating yet again…WE MUST TEACH BIBLICAL AND SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY!!! Chicken nuggets and pizza pies are not going to cut it anymore. Yes, we should build relationships. Yes, we should build fellowship. But, we must get back to the meat and potatoes of the faith.

I dare say that if we would just fix this one area, many of the other areas would fix themselves.

Happy New Year everyone! Keep contending for the faith!

 

© January 1st, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser, 2009. Logos Bible Software.

 Stocker, Abby. “The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About in North American Missions.” ChristianityToday.com (August 19, 2013). Accessed December 31, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/non-christians-who-dont-know-christians.html.

 

[1] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009), Logos Bible Software.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] That is, a nation that appreciates the Judeo-Christian ethic.

[4] Abby Stocker, “The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About in North American Missions,” ChristianityToday.com (August 19, 2013), accessed December 31, 2015.

Top Ten Challenges Facing the Church in 2015

In late 2013, I posted an article which has become one of the hottest articles on my website at https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com. The article laid forth the top ten challenges facing the Christian church in 2014. Due to the interest sparked by that article, we will make the Top Ten Challenges List an annual offering to you the reader. 2014 witnessed some daunting challenges for the Church.[1] 2015 will also provide some distinct challenges which will need to be met with truth, integrity, and faithfulness. The following list will provide the top ten challenges facing the Church in 2015 and will offer a proposed method of handling the problem.

Challenge #10:           Racial Issues

Problem:         Some may find this a bizarre issue to place on the top-ten list. When the reader discovers that this writer is Caucasian, this may provide an extra bit of surprise as Caucasians do not traditionally address race issues as African-Americans. However, if there is one thing that can be learned from the issues from the latter part of 2014, that is that race relations in America are not as good as everyone might like to think. The issues surrounding Ferguson has demonstrated the lack of trust that some of African descent have towards those of European descent, and vice versa. Couple that problem with the fact that Sunday mornings is among the most segregated time in America, and one finds a real problem. Adding to the mix is the level of distrust that Latino (or Amerindian) individuals possess with those of African and European descent, and vice versa, due to problems surrounding immigration. The sum total of the problem equals a big, grand, ol’ mess!!!

Solution:          The Church can provide a solution. In fact, many churches are already helping to correct these issues. The solution is to focus on the value of human life, all human life. Jesus placed great value on human life and was not divided over socio-economics, race, or gender. This value was demonstrated when Christ met with the woman at the well, a Samaritan woman at that.[2] In addition, the church needs to stress, as Paul did, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).[3]

Challenge #9:             Holiness/Integrity

Problem:         In 2014, the Mars Hill Church of Washington decided to disband their multi-site complex once Mark Driscoll stepped down. Among many other things, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism within his works. Many of his publishers removed his works and Driscoll was left in the cold. Christianity Today’s Morgan Lee reports that,

In a statement, the church’s board of overseers accepted his resignation, but emphasized that they had not asked Driscoll to resign and were surprised to receive his letter.

They concluded Driscoll had ‘been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner,’ but had ‘never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.’[4]

Regardless of Driscoll’s leadership style, the origin of the problems at Mars Hill stemmed from a lack of integrity on Driscoll’s part. It is easy for one to condemn Driscoll, but the cold-harsh truth is that many modern church leaders, as well as many modern congregants, lack integrity in their Christian walk.

Solution:          First of all, each Christian needs to be reminded that they are not responsible for their salvation. For it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, each Christian must stay focused on Jesus, which can only be conducted by regular private and corporate worship.

Challenge #8:             Technology Addiction/Individualization

Problem:         The eighth challenge is not only a challenge that the Church faces, but is one that all modern people face, at least those who have the means: that is, addiction to technology. Messaging has replaced phone calls, instant messages have replaced visits, and emails have replaced cards. Whereas this is not all bad, there has been an increased emphasis on individualization. Technology addiction may have something to do with such a problem. However, can one blame technology for the modern individualization, or is technology addiction the byproduct of a culture that is possessed with “having it your way”? Either way, sympathy, empathy, and compassion are being lost in the “world of me.”

Solution:          It is recommended that Christians set boundaries as to their time spend with technology. Technology fasts may be a good disciple to practice. In addition, families may desire to have “technology free zones;” that is, times where iPhones, iPads, iPods, and computers are not permitted. Good “technology free zones” include: supper time, family time, vacations, and et cetera.

Challenge #7:             Solid Male Leadership

Problem:         The seventh challenge may seem a little bizarre. Nevertheless, the modern Church is increasingly finding itself without an abundance of male leadership. Perhaps part of the problem is due to the breakdown of the family. It could also be that men find Christian principles to be feminine in nature (i.e. love, compassion, etc.). While many denominations have stressed female leadership, much is lost in such a drive. This article is not arguing from either a complementarian or egalitarian standpoint, but is simply noting that many men fail to see their role in the local church. Several families suffer from fathers who have given up their roles. The children especially suffer from the lack of a fatherly role.

Solution:          The Church needs to revitalize its focus on male leadership. If a denomination accepts female leadership, well and good. However, such an acceptance should not come at the expense of the denomination’s focus and training of men in order that they might take leadership roles. Men have a place in God’s house. Men should not expect women to perform all the work at church; neither should they think that their role in the family is unimportant. Perhaps leadership conferences could be held with a focus on male leadership. Churches could focus on masculine attributes of the Christian walk, such as truth, justice, and standing tall in the face of adversity, while also demonstrating that it takes a “real man” to love and show compassion as such disciplines are often difficult. While it is certainly healthy that the Church places its attention on women (and unfortunately many churches in history have failed in this endeavor), such a focus should not be done to the neglect of the men. Both sexes are important to the family of God.

Challenge #6:             Negativity

Problem:         The modern Church has lost its joy! Every Christmas churches sing “Joy to the World,” but do so with a melancholic and defeated temperament. Perhaps the strains of modern ministry have taken its toll on Christians. Nevertheless, the Church must not be bogged down with negativity, but must face uncertain days with the joy that only God can bring.

Solution:          A few disciplines may help the modern Christian reclaim their joy. First, the Christian needs to take time away from the news. If one constantly allows oneself to be bombarded by negative news, one will find oneself becoming more and more negative. Second, limit your time spent around negative people. It is impossible to avoid every negative person, but a person does not need to allow such a person to envelope one’s life. Third, take time with God!!! Even Jesus Himself was known to go “out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Take time with God privately and corporately! You may find your joy quickly coming back!

Challenge #5:             Love/Interpersonal Relationships

Problem:         Perhaps the eighth challenge listed in this article is what affects the fifth. Nevertheless, it seems that the Church, particularly the American church, faces a problem with Christian love, particularly interpersonal relationships. The Church is at its strongest when it is united. Unfortunately, churches have found themselves focusing on trivial matters which lead towards a lack love towards their fellow man. Because of this, the Church has seemed calloused and rigid to many who do not know much about the Christian message.

Solution:          In Revelation, Jesus has John write a letter to the Church of Ephesus. The church had done many things right. They had stood up against “those who are evil” (Revelation 2:2) and have “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (Revelation 2:2). However, Jesus had one thing against them: they had “abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). Perhaps that is what has happened to many Christians. In our effort to stand for truth and to be salt, we have forgotten that we are to stand for love and are to be light. We must remember that all the law is found in two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and to “love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Focus on the major things…loving God and loving humankind.

Challenge #4:             Secularization

Problem:         Secularization is something the Church must continue to face in 2015. The world is becoming more and more secular and the influence of the Church is becoming less and less in certain areas. Ethical values have been tainted and, in some cases, have been completely reversed. Most troublesome is the entrance of worldly values into the church, particularly the American and European churches.

Solution:          Values and ethics from a biblical perspective must be emphasized. No longer should the church leader expect individuals to automatically know right from wrong. In many cases, people have been so tainted by the culture that they may not realize the impact that it has had on the way they view the world. Christian teachers and preachers must stress values and be unafraid to speak on sin. One may lose a member or two, but great spiritual development will come to those who remain. As Isaiah denotes, one should “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).

Challenge #3:             Marriage

Problem:         Marriage is under attack in modern times, indeed and understatement. Not only has the definition of marriage come under assault, but traditional marriages are collapsing as well. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this problem. I recently spoke with a woman who attends a church I previously attended. She told me that she knew of at least three couples that were either separated or facing divorce. Infidelity was the cause of the problems in all three of these occasions. She frustratingly inquired, “Does anyone remain faithful anymore?!?”

Solution:          One cannot offer an easy fix especially to couples determined to part ways. However, there are means of fixing the problem. First, individuals must ask what it is that they really want. Does one merely want a partner with whom to party? Or, does someone desire to find a faithful, loving partner? If the answer is the latter, then one needs to find a faithful Christian partner. Christians should marry Christians. If it takes a Christian several years to find their mate, so be it. It is better to wait and marry the right person, than to rush and marry the wrong person. Second, couples need to constantly work the make their relationships better. Many people will get married and then will stop trying. Continue to kindle the fire in holy matrimony.

Challenge #2:             Biblical Heresies

Problem:         The second great challenge facing the Church in modern times is that of biblical heresies. This year Victoria Osteen was blasted by evangelical Christian for spouting individualistic and unbiblical teachings. Victoria is not the only one offering a watered down form of the Christian faith. Megachurches and small country churches have fallen victim to erroneous doctrines and beliefs. The apostle Paul placed so much emphasis on right doctrine that he boldly proclaimed that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Solution:          The solution is relatively simple. Stay true to the Bible! Preachers should strive to preach expository messages, that is, allowing the Bible to speak for itself, rather than choosing topics and jumping around from text to text. Also, as Greg Koukl has often said, don’t just read one verse from the Bible, read Bible passages and keep them in proper context. I would say that it is important also for preachers to obtain at least some Bible training from an accredited Bible college or university. This will help one to abstain from straying from the truths of the biblical text.

Challenge #1:             Global Persecution

Problem:         While the other nine challenges will be debated by many, it should be beyond dispute that the greatest challenge the Church faces in 2015 is persecution. With the rise of Boko Haran, ISIS, and the continued efforts of the Taliban, 2014 will go down as one of the bloodiest years for Christians (and non-Christians alike).

Solution:          It is difficult to know how to respond to Christian persecution as this has been a problem since the inception of the Church. But, perhaps there are a few solutions that one may find concerning the problem. First, one must pray. Pray for those being affected by such ruthless persecution. Pray for the families who have lost their loved ones. Also, pray for the enemies and attackers. Pray that God would change their hearts. God has transformed people through visions, miracles, and near-death experiences. Pray that God would do whatever it takes to reach these individuals. Second, one needs to pressure their elected officials to protect the defenseless wherever the defenseless may be. The world has seen dictators and ruthless aggressors before in Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. Finally, the Church needs to remember the end result. In the end, God wins. Evil will be defeated. As the Bible concludes, Jesus is noted as saying, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). Along with John, I would also say, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!

Conclusion

Many other challenges could be listed. Ebola, socialism, and countless other problems entered my mind as I prepared this article. At times, it seems that the challenges that the Church faces is overwhelming. But, when we feel overwhelmed, we must remember we serve and all-powerful God. Our problems are big, but our God is bigger. Finally, let me conclude along with Paul in saying “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Bibliography

Lee, Morgan. “Goodbye, Mars Hill: Mark Driscoll’s Multisite Empire Will Sell Properties and Dissolve.” Christianity Today.com (October 31, 2014) http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Copyright 2014. Pastor Brian Chilton.

—————————————————————————————–

Footnotes

[1] When Church is capitalized, the global church is referenced.

[2] Racial tensions existed between Samaritans and Jews. The problems between the two races extended back for centuries. The problems originated when the Samaritans, who were originally of Jewish descent, interbred with Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus was unmoved by the racism of the day and sought to minister to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles alike.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Morgan Lee, “Goodbye, Mars Hill: Mark Driscoll’s Multisite Empire Will Sell Properties and Dissolve,” Christianity Today.com (October 31, 2014) http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html.

Ten Great Challenges Facing the Church in 2014

2014-v1    While many are thinking about what resolutions they wish to make for the New Year, Christians find themselves facing many difficult challenges as they face the upcoming year. Many challenges exist for the Christian church. However, one will find that the following challenges rank among the most important as the church enters its 1,984th year of existence. The following is a top-10 list of challenges that this writer sees as the most pressing issues facing the church in 2014. The reader may find other issues to add to this list. Feel free to add any additional challenges and how the church can meet those challenges in the comment box.

10.       Apathy

apathy

The tenth challenge according to this writer that the church faces in 2014 is the challenge of apathy. Apathy is defined as, “lack of interest or concern” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When it comes to issues of God, there are a growing number of individuals that have become apathetic. There is even a term for this called “apatheism.” Apatheists are just disinterested in issues pertaining to God. How does one reach such individuals? William Lane Craig suggests that the Christian defender shows the apatheist the importance of such issues. As Craig states, “…’IF Christianity were true, what consequences would it have for your life? What difference would it make?’ I think that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives” (Craig 2013, 56). Craig also suggests, “I strongly suspect that the self-styled apatheist is usually just a lazy atheist” (Craig 2013, 58). I would agree.

However, more troubling is the apparent apathy that exists among many Christians today. It appears that many church-goers have become apathetic when it comes to doctrinal truth. Others had rather “go with the flow” or simply do not care to know the truths of Scripture. This really came alive to this writer with issues concerning the theology of popular televised teachers. This is especially troubling when considering that cults have risen out of popular teachers who are opaque and require blind faith. This is something that must be confronted by biblical teachers and preachers.

9.         New Age Infiltration

gautam_buddha_in_meditation

A growing influence upon the church is that of New Age doctrine. Dan Story defines the New Age movement as,

Actually, the New Age movement is not new. It is simply the resurgence of ancient occultic practices mixed with Eastern pantheism (in particular, Hinduism) in a recipe tailored specifically to feed the spiritual hunger of Western secularized man. The New Age movement is secular humanism with a cosmic ingredient. It maintains the humanist motto that “man is the measure of all things” and the humanist goals of global peace, prosperity, and unity, but, to make humanism more spiritually palatable, it sugars it with ‘God’ (Story 1997, 189).

 One does not need to look far to find New Age infiltration. Powerful entertainment icons such as Oprah Winfrey and elevated teachers such as Deepak Chopra promote New Age ideology. A case could be made that such an effort seeks to promote a one-world religion.

To combat this infiltration, it is not necessary for one to become obsessed in ultra-legalism and conspiracy theories, which in this writer’s opinion can become dangerous as it could lead to unnecessary paranoia. Simply getting back to the basics of truth and doctrine will help one stay within the boundaries of biblical teaching. But this requires work. Quite frankly, many a modern Christian has become lazy and disinterested in biblical truth (as addressed in the section speaking on “apathy”).

8.         Changing Ministerial Demands

Evangelism

I read somewhere that even newly established churches begin to adhere to church traditions after about 20 years. The problem is that ministerial demands change with the times. The message of the gospel never changes, but the methodologies used to reach individuals for Christ must change. At a recent Baptist associational meeting, it was projected that half the churches in the particular association was not expected to be operating in 20 to 50 years. Why? It was due to the fact that churches are not equipping themselves to meet the needs of current and future generations. Certain statistics show that an average of 75 churches closes their doors each week. Thom Rainer said at the beginning of the year, “I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level” (Rainer, “13 Issues for Churches in 2013”). There are many issues involved in this problem. One, the society has become so fast-paced that one set time on Sundays and Wednesdays does not always meet everyone’s needs. It could be that alternative services need to be held. Also, online communities are imperative in this technical day and age. Two, many churches tend to zealously hold to unnecessary traditions. Bluegrass gospel is a beautiful form of music. However, it may not be the best thing to employ if you are trying to reach urban youths. Three, there are issues with the lack of apologetic training in leaders. This, however, will be dealt with in more detail later.

7.         Youth Exodus

youthrunningprogram2009

Recent studies have shown that 75% of young adults leave the church when they leave for college. A substantial number of these young adults do not return. This has been labeled by some as the Youth Exodus. Could it be that these young adults are unprepared for the onslaught of anti-Christian attacks from secular humanism? Or could it be that the young adults are caught up in the fast-paced nature of society? It could be that they are simply “sowing their wild oats” as some call it. Whatever the case, the church must seek to minister to these young adults by providing them with the ability to ask questions and search the deep truths of the faith. Churches near educational institutions have especially a good chance to minister to collegiate adults.

6.         Anti-Intellectualism

head in cannon  

Anti-intellectualism is a rejection of higher learning and/or a rejection of learning deeper truths concerning the Bible. Fields that are rejected sometimes include the learning of biblical languages, systematic theology, apologetics, philosophy, biblical historical studies, and scientific fields. According to the anti-intellectual logic, one must only read the Bible, particularly a certain translation, to understand the Bible. The problem is that in order to properly conduct biblical exegesis, one needs to understand the history and languages of the text. This movement probably came about because of the liberal movement that influenced many seminaries and universities in the early 1900s. One older church member explained years ago, “I have seen good men leave to go to college or seminary, and then come back teaching garbage.” The liberal movement in some colleges and seminaries created distrust among many in rural areas. In Baptist life, there arose two systems of tradition: the Charlestonian tradition (highly educated clergy and more liturgical) and the Sandy Creek tradition (less educated clergy and more emotionally driven). This, along with the Revised Standard Version’s break with tradition in translating the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, probably helped stir the King James Only controversy that still affects some rural areas today.

More serious is the lack of ability for the anti-intellectual to answer the challenges of the skeptic. Worse yet, some educational institutions educate their students to become non-intellectuals…particularly in unaccredited church colleges. Educating to be uneducated…that would seem to be a self-defeating principle. This is even more serious when one understands this writer’s predicament. I left the ministry for seven years due to doubt. When I asked church leaders, some who were anti-intellectual, on how to answer the challenges of the Jesus Seminar (a seminar that charged that the words of Jesus in the New Testament were inauthentic), I received the following answer, “The Bible is the Word of God because it says so.” That answer not only did not help me resolve the issues that were being faced; it propelled me to a level of doubt that led me out of the ministry. It was by the Spirit of God leading me to the works of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and a host of others that my faith was strengthened, and my love for theology and apologetics blossomed. The church must meet the intellectual needs of its congregants.

 

5.         Syncretism

COEXIST  

Syncretism is the blending of multiple religious thoughts together. This stands opposed to tolerance. Tolerance is defined as, “the allowable deviation from a standard especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece” (Merriam-Webster). By definition, tolerance allows for differences in opinion. To be tolerant does NOT indicate that one agrees with the conclusions of another. It does indicate that one can (to use cliché) “agree to disagree.” Tolerance is promoted by this writer and this website. However, it is something entirely different when individuals seek to combine differing opinions to create a non-exclusive thought pattern. It is not feasible. In the end, these attempts are performed by individuals who show no real passion for truth and a passion to keep from offending. We should not seek to offend anyone. Don’t miss the point. However, every person has the responsibility to seek the truth and discover it for him or herself. As David said,

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).

God reveals His truth and the person responds likewise. However, when we find the truth, it is irresponsible to think that the truth is not the truth. If the truth is not the truth, then it was never true. We should respect individuals of different perspectives. Actually, it shows a lack of trained understanding of one’s own perspective when conversations denigrate into shouting or violent spells. The church must stand steadfast to its convictions while loving others of different perspectives. It is imperative that the church gets this right.

4.         Lack of Trained, Empowered, Apologetic Leaders

Gary Habermas

Recently a friend of mine on social media asked for prayer. He said that a local pastor had been bombarded with a verbal assault by an atheist. The pastor did not have anything to offer except, “You have to believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was unable to offer why one must believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The atheist said that he was coming back with some friends. The pastor said, “Okay, I’ll have a trained apologist here with me (my friend) when you come back.” The atheist did not return. This showed me something that I have already been convicted of in past days. We must have more trained leaders IN THE CHURCH!!! Perhaps it is due to the anti-intellectual movement among some in the church, but there seems to be a disconnect between apologetics and church ministry. THIS MUST CHANGE!!! Apologetics is the new form of evangelism and church leaders must be trained to handle the problems brought forth by earnest seekers. Remember, Peter said,

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16, NASB).

For the church to minister to a growingly secular community, the leaders must be able to provide such a defense for their faith as Peter states. Gone are the days where one could simply say, “You know you need to be in church” or “You know you need to come to God.” There may be a desire to know God within the person, but whose God are they seeking? Why should they be in church? Why should they trust the Bible? These are issues that pastors, youth leaders, and the like must address.

3.         Issues of Marriage

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The issue of marriage has become a “hot-button” topic in recent days. Marriage is being re-defined by organizations like the LGBT and GLAAD organizations. However, the issue of homosexual marriage is not the only issue where marriage is being redefined. If same-sex marriages are allowed, the next issue on the books will most likely be that of polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy is where one person has multiple wives or husbands. Polyamory is defined as multiple lovers within or without a marriage connection. My question is this: where does it end? The church must define the biblical roots of marriage and where it stands on these issues. The church must ask such questions as: What is marriage? Why is there a marriage covenant? What is this church going to recognize as marriage? Regardless of whether you like it or not, your church is going to deal with this issue sooner or later. Ministers must also decide what constitutes a biblical marriage. Some ministers have even noted that their days of marrying anyone may come to an end (this writer included, although I have not settled my intentions completely). In a land where bakers are being sued for not obliging certain forms of marriage, ministers must ask themselves what they will do if they are approached by a couple desiring to marry and the couple is in a relationship that the minister cannot approve. One thing can be agreed upon by everyone in ministry; it is far more complicated to be a minister in our modern times.

However, on the flip side, Christians need to watch how they address these issues. The worst thing that can happen is for the Christian to make a homosexual person an enemy. Too many times, Christians have hammered on the issue of marriage so much that gay and lesbian individuals have committed suicide and have felt like outcasts. Let us not forget that we are called to love each other, especially those whom we have differences. Remember the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a, NIV). This is not to say that homosexuals are Christian enemies. This is to say that the Christian must not make an individual his or her enemy. We stand against principles and principalities…not people.

(Note: an example of an organization that supports polygamy and polyamory can be seen in the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. According to their website, Harlan White delivered the first sermon advocating polyamory on Sunday, July 10, 1994 at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. For more information, see their website at: http://uupa.org/index.)

2.         Religious Freedom

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In the United States and across the world, the church has dealt with increasing restrictions placed upon its religious freedom. The United States of America was built upon the principle of religious freedom. However, those freedoms are being impeded by secular organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Christian businessmen and women like Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico and Jake Philips, a baker from Colorado, have been sued and, in Philips’ case, could face jail time for exercising their freedom of religious expression. (For more information concerning the Philips’ case, see http://christiannews.net/2013/07/12/attorney-for-colorado-christian-baker-jail-time-possible-for-denying-wedding-cake-to-homosexuals/, and http://www.christian.org.uk/news/us-baker-faces-jail-over-gay-wedding-cake-refusal/. The church has survived times of religious restriction. Consider that Christianity was not an officially recognized religion of Rome until the 300s. The church began with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus circa 30AD. Someone once said, “We’d better proclaim the gospel message while it’s still legal.” But, my question is, will the true Christian keep proclaiming the message even when it’s not?

1.         Religious Persecution

Christian-persecution-India   christian-persecution  christian persecution_burned victim

Lastly, the global church must deal with persecution. The second problem leads into the first. The lack of religious freedom almost always leads towards religious persecution. In Kenya, 59 Christians were slaughtered in a shopping mall. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have suffered some of the worst times of persecution since the 1300s. In Syria, Christians have been killed in numbers, many by being beheaded. One cannot forget Saeed Abidini an American Arab pastor who is imprisoned for his faith in Iran. In Iraq, churches have been bombed. These are not distant individuals. They are our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet, many American churches remain silent as these atrocities occur. We should…and in fact must…lift up one another in prayer. As Kirsten Powers writes,

“Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.” 

As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East” (Powers 2013).

 Again, may I remind Christians worldwide…we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We will all go to the same heaven. We must pray for our afflicted siblings in Christ. It may one day be us. As this website has reached the world, I want to remind our brothers and sisters that you are not forgotten. May I remind American Christians that we need to wise up. Christian persecution is a serious thing. All the disciples, save the apostle John, died as martyrs. If it affects a Christian brother or sister, it affects all of us regardless of his or her location.

Conclusion

The church faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead. However, God will see us through. For as the apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Let us prayerfully join together and meet these challenges for the cause of Christ.

Praying God’s blessings upon you in the upcoming year,

Pastor Brian

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2013.

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Rainer, Thom. “13 Issues Facing the Church in 2013.” ChurchLeaders.com. Accessed December 29, 2013. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/164787-thom-rainer-13-issues-churches-2013.html?p=1.

Powers, Kirsten. “A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent.” DailyBeast.com. (September 2013). Accessed December 30, 2013. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/a-global-slaughter-of-christians-but-america-s-churches-stay-silent.html.

Scripture noted as NASB comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Scripture noted as NIV comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.