Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prescription for Christian Renovation

I have written beforehand on the Three R's needed in modern church life and habit--Revival, Reformation and Revolution (Postscript in The Two-Talent Church: Truths for Health and Growth, Second Edition, 2010). Other writers have noted concern for revival (e.g. David Mains, 1990s; www.glotorch.org by The Sentinel Group outlining great city-wide revival movements and needs), reformation (John Piper, Mark Dever, but see Barna's work in http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/447-reformed-movement-in-american-churches) and revolution (a term coined by Christian Schwarz in Paradigm Shift in the Church: How Natural Church Development can Transform Theological Thinking; Frank Viola, Reimagining the Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity).

May I say, however, all to little or no avail! The latest Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in America notes an overall decline in Protestantism in America and a rise in the "Nones" -- those who say they have no religion (now one in five Americans). We are becoming a nation of "heretics" (See Ross Douthat in Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics). Don Sweeting of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL notes that "spirituality and religious pluralism in America are on the rise" in http://www.worldviewchurch.org/wvc-digest/reasoning-together/18585-reflecting-on-the-protestant-decline-in-america. Yes, there are individual churches doing individual things for the gospel and the glory of God (See latest issues of Outreach Magazine at www.outreach.com), and we are thankful for them and their efforts. But the truth is we are fast losing the battle for souls and for the soul of this nation. Christian churches and institutions are becoming more and more marginalized. One example is that my wife and I were on a recent vacation and decided to walk this small town we were in on a Sunday morning. The restaurants were packed. On another trip, the malls were packed on a Sunday morning. Our hometown restaurant, long closed on Sundays, has recently opened its doors for business on Sunday--especially for the church crowd!!  And then there is the whole homosexuality battle with traditional Christian viewpoints being blasted, even by some in supposedly evangelical ranks. No longer is the Christian church the sounding board for morality and right thinking in America.

So, I propose a fourth "R" to my previous mix -- Renovation. The term means restore, refresh, reinvigorate, bring to a state of repair. We need a breath of "fresh wind, fresh fire" as Jim Cymbala would say. We need to start seeing things once again from God's point of view and not our homogenized, refined, American-laced Christian point of view. We need to repent, individually and corporately, as churches and as the Church in America. We need to own our spiritual poverty and desperate state. And we need some new champions of the faith, some Joshua's and some Paul's, to give us new challenges from God's Word.

Long gone is the Puritan hope of a "city on a hill" or America being a beacon of gospel light for the world. In many places we need the gospel to be freshly brought to us, along with the rest of the world. So, here's a five-point suggestion for renovation:

1.  Stop kidding ourselves!! We need to own the sad and poor state of the church and evangelical Christianity in America. We need to stop "pumping ourselves up" and waving our fading banners. We need to own our failure to really influence society around us. This has to be done church by church and movement by movement. We need to admit our need, to God especially, for major repair.

2.  Repent! Individually, corporately, nationally, denominationally, large and small churches and movements, parachurch organizations and everyone who wears the mantle of evangelical. We must repent of our pride, our insulation from this society and world, our puffed up sense of "having it together." We must repent of our failure to impact our own people who fill our pews Sunday by Sunday. We must repent of making converts but not disciples. We must repent of our laziness as ministers of the gospel and minister the gospel!! We must repent of building our own empires, our own churches, our own movements while ignoring the world going to hell in a handbasket.

3.  Reframe the gospel message for a new day! Not change the message, or massage the message, or dumb down the message. We must bravely and courageously make the gospel message relevant and pointed to our people and our society. This requires more study, more prayer, more sweat by preachers and teachers today. We need to stop preaching each other's sermons or one another's packaging. God has called us if we are preachers and teachers of the Word of God to labor with God in prayer and with His Word until renovation begins in our own contexts.

4.  Seek to work together for God!  We have ineffective ministeriums in many towns and cities across this nation. We have fundamentalists refusing to work with evangelical Catholics. We are splintered, and this needs to stop. We must answer the call for "oneness" that Jesus wanted in John 17. We must join forces, work together for God's glory and the good of everyone around us.

5.  Get involved in our communities for the sake of the gospel! We need to return to the older model of being ministers to the town or city or area God has called us to. We need to see our parish as everyone in that place where God has called us to labor. We need to serve as police chaplains, as hospital aides and prayer partners, as Chamber of Commerce board members and influencers. We need to pray for and with our business leaders and political representatives. We need to stop preaching AT them and start bringing Christ's love and Word TO them in meaningful service.

There are most likely many more points to make. But enough for now. Renovate!!