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.

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Will Your Faith or Fear Define You?

This past Friday, the world was rocked with the news that the people of Paris, France had been attacked by an organized group of terrorists. Most of us hugged our families a little tighter. Prayers were lifted. Songs were sung. People were eulogized. But, the underlying question that lingered in everyone’s mind was, “Could it happen here?” Fear has a way of motivating people to do certain things. Fear could motivate one negatively by attacking individuals who had nothing to do with the events that caused the fear. However, faith can motivate one to do positive things. Fear should not be the motivating factor behind one’s life. There is a greater motivator for believers–faith.

A great example of how faith could drive a person is found in the three Hebrew men known as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but more popularly known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. To give a background on the situation, the Hebrew people had been taken as exiles into Babylon. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that all people bow down before an idol that was set up to propagate fear into the heart of the exilic people. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to cave in to their fears.

Were they scared? Of course they were!

Did they cave in due to their fears? Absolutely not! Because, they had faith.

Their fear would not define them. Rather, their faith would define them! When the king ordered them to cave in and bow down to his idol or else be thrown into a fiery furnace, the Hebrew three said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this manner. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).[1] These three men refused to give in to fear. Rather, they gave in to the power that comes by faith in a Sovereign, loving God.

In the end, the three Hebrew men were thrown into the fire. However, something powerful happened. Instead of seeing three men, the king noticed that there were four! The king said, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? …But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:24, 25). The king then ordered the men out and ordered that everyone pay homage to the God of all creation.

We face uncertain days. We may face the fires of trials and tribulations. But the principle of this story is that we have one walking in the fire with us. For those who have a personal relationship with God, we know that we have a friend walking with us in good times and in the bad. God is with us in the depths of death every bit as much as he is with us in the peaks of life. With Jesus, we have the power to find courage even in the pits of fear and despair.

Don’t let fear define you. Let the love and grace that comes through faith define you. A good modern example is found in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. During a time of silence for the victims of Paris, a fan shouted a disparaging remark. Rodgers said during a press conference that “It is that kind of prejudicial ideology that I think puts us in the position that we’re in today as a world” (Wilde 2015). Rodgers refused to be defined by fear, he would be defined by his faith.

Every generation has had to face some form of evil whether it was Moses facing the Egyptian slavery of his people, the Hebrew three mentioned earlier, the Allies facing the Nazis and the Axis coalition of World War II, desegregation of the 1960s, and terrorism of the current age. Ultimately, the greatest example of faith under fire is found in Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and Savior. He faced his fears head on and won…and will ultimately win. Miles Custis reminds us that the phrase “‘do not fear’ (אַל־תִּֽירְאוּ; ʾal-tîrāʾ) occurs often as an encouragement or a call for courage” (Custis 2014). Jesus gives us great comfort in saying, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

So each of us faces a crossroads.–a fork in the road if you will. Are we going to be defined by fear or by faith? Fear moves us in a certain direction. Faith moves us in an opposite direction. Which will be the defining motivator in your life?

May we all find the courage that comes by a compassionate faith in our Lord.

Praying for the people of Paris and all of those who face the horrors of terror.

Sources Cited

Custis, Miles. “Fear.” Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series. Douglas Mangum et al., eds. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Wilde, Jason. “Aaron Rodgers Upset by ‘Prejudicial’ Shout During Lambeau Moment of Silence.” ESPN.com (11/16/2015). http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14140862/aaron-rodgers-green-bay-packers-upset-prejudicial-shout-moment-silence-lambeau-field.

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

The Greatest Danger for the Christian

For the past couple of years I have written about the top challenges that face the church for the year ahead. God-willing, I plan to do the same at the end of this year also. However, this week during our revival services, it dawned upon me that there is an even greater danger to the modern Christian than those that have been listed in years past. This danger is not found in terrorism, politics, or national threats. Rather, this danger is found in nightmares, the what-ifs, and what-could-be’s. This danger in which we speak is that of fear. Fear can cause individuals to do radical things. Fear makes us shrink back, step aside, or even stick our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich…although it has been said that ostriches do not practice such. Furthermore, fear is a weapon of Satan.

The Bible makes it clear that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).[1] Fear is dangerous for three reasons alluded to in the previous passage of Scripture.

Fear forgets the power of God.

When threats abound and dangers emerge, it is easy for the believer to become panicked. Thoughts abound as to what may ensue in the days and weeks ahead. Could there be a nuclear holocaust? Will there be an outbreak of some unknown disease? Perhaps one’s fears are more simple. What will happen when my son begins to drive? Will my daughter be in danger when she begins to date? When thoughts like these come our way, the enemy takes our eyes off of God and places our minds upon the what-ifs and what-could-be’s. Most of the things we worry about will never come to pass.

Nevertheless, it is important for the believer to keep in mind that God is still sovereign. Even if we face the fears that we hold, God has promised that he will “never leave us or abandon us” (e.g. 1 Kings 8:57; Matthew 28:20). God has an order behind what appears to be chaos. Wait upon God’s plan. It may be that you will not see the full perspective of God’s working in your life until you reach eternity. Even still, don’t be consumed with fear. Be consumed with faith.

Fear forgets the command to love.

Rod Sterling was a genius in the genre of storytelling. His series The Twilight Zone often captured the effects of what fear can do to individuals and to a society. On the show “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” aliens were able to destroy an entire community. The destruction came not by an invasion, but rather by planting seeds of doubt amongst each of the neighbors until the entire community was ready to tear itself apart. The enemy does much of the same. Fear masks the humanity of a person to the point that the person is no longer seen as a person, but an object to be destroyed.

Jesus told his disciples something far different. He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus even noted that the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity would be that of love as he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Don’t be consumed by fear. Be consumed with love.

Fear forgets the importance of service.

When fear is left unchecked, people will not seek to help others. Instead, fear leads people to hide away. Perhaps one is tempted to flee to the desert or to take a one-way flight to Antarctica. The Essenes were an important sect of Judaism in the first-century. Some believe that the Essenes may have been the legitimate heirs to the priesthood but were cast out by the Roman sympathizers, the Sadducees. It is possible that some of the early disciples were of the Essene sect, although this is a hotly debated topic in New Testament studies. Nonetheless, the Christians were not to hide away. Rather, they were to be about serving others in the name of Christ. Do not be consumed by fear. Be consumed with service.

Conclusion

Fear leads to bizarre behaviors. However, the Christian is not to be filled with fear. Jesus often told his disciples, “Fear not, it is I.” I think that Jesus is saying the same thing to modern Christians as well. I think he is saying, “Do not fear. I am still in control. Keep serving until I call you home.” Instead of looking to the stars and to the heavens for signs of Christ’s appearing, maybe we should look to the plow because the fields are ripe for harvest.

Do not be consumed with fear. Be consumed with Christ.

© October 29, 2015. Brian Chilton

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