Eight Extinct Things of American Christianity
by Pastor Lee Hemen
January 27, 2009
Recently I was sent a list of interesting things that have or are becoming “extinct” in the USA. Things like VCRs, writing a letter, and family farms. While the list was interesting there is another list that should be disconcerting for us as Christians. Here is my list of the eight extinct things of Christianity:
1. Churches. While there are more and more churches being established every year, they are not keeping up with population growth. In fact, 4 out of 5 newly established churches will fail within the first three years. Fewer than 1 out of 10 newly started churches will survive their first ten years. We have seen a boom in church starts across the nation but the numbers of people actually coming to Christ is way down. Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest non-Catholic denomination in America, reports that their baptisms are at an all time low. In some areas small churches have almost become extinct. Mega churches have begin to suffer because of this and are now acknowledging that smaller churches have often served as “feeder” churches for their growth. The smaller churches in the past did the actual reaching out and witnessing, and the larger church benefited from their commitment but are now suffering when smaller churches disappear from their areas. Reason? People are held more accountable in smaller churches. While churches like Willow Creek recently learned that their “programs” were not actually growing Christians after the first initial spiritually formative years, they have learned that there are things that an be done to develop believers. One is focusing on the spiritual intimacy and accountability that small families of God provide.
2. Tithing and serving Christians. During the 70s about 20% of any given congregation served or tithed (at least 10% of their actual gross income). Now it is reported that fewer than 3% of people who claim Christ who regularly go to church tithe or serve in any capacity at all. While God does “own the cattle on a thousand hills,” each Christian is one He wants to use! Too many want the benefits that a church provides, but few want to invest their time, talent, or treasure to help the church develop its witness in the community it exists in. Tithing and serving are one more aspect of our worship of God just as singing, prayer, or reading the Bible is. The church and God does not need or want your money or service if it is given begrudgingly.
3. Sin. Christians who say sex before marriage, abortion, and homosexuality are evil are a dying breed. For ages 15 to 25 year olds the number of evangelical Christians who actually believe that these are sins has dropped dramatically in the past 5 years alone! Over 40% do not think these are sins any longer but a lifestyle choice. In fact, even older Christians are beginning to formulate their own theology of what the Bible should say rather than what the Bible actually does say. (See the latest Barna Report.) We have replaced the term “sin” with “error in judgment,” a “mistake,” “aberration,” or “personal choice,” thinking that “After all, would a loving God really condemn little old me?” The church is weak spiritually and people live spiritually weak lives not because they do not want God as a part of their lives, they do, but because they have not taken the time to live holy lives. Sin and holiness cannot exist together. You cannot actively actually love God and still be in sin, perhaps emotionally but certainly not spiritually.
4. Church membership. While many Christians think they “belong to a church” as a member by simply going to one once in a while, fewer than 30% actually have joined a church in the past year whereby they have agreed to follow the theology and become an active responsible member under the authority of a local church body. Fewer and fewer folks see the need to follow in obedience in baptism as well. Reason? Emergent church influence and the influence of teachers like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. The reasoning that is often used: “You do not need to be baptized to be saved!” While this is true, it is a fact that we as Christians are commanded to be obedient. Our baptism shows our commitment and is a public display of our faith. This was seen as so important by early baptists that they willingly died for their belief in believer’s baptism through immersion. (By the way, they rediscovered this theological truth by reading and studying Scripture! See below.) Too many are fearful that if they actually join a church they will be asked to do something. What we need to do is show them that being asked to serve is one of the greatest things a Christian can do and that service can take place inside or outside of the church as they live for the Lord. However, church membership makes them accountable to the body of Christ and is Scriptural.
5. Church discipline. Since the 70s church discipline has become almost an anathema to most Christian churches and is seen as personally hurtful and harmful rather than as a means to protect the Christian community from ungodly behavior and grow wayward believers. Church discipline is so non-existent that many churches now openly allow church members to participate in ungodly behaviors. In fact to be non-committal in their walk with God has become a “right” for most believers and woe be the church that brings their ungodly behavior to their attention. No wonder the influence of the church on a community is non-existent! Why do you think so many people got angry over a non-offensive Christian leader like Rick Warren praying at the Presidential Inauguration? His actual presence and prayer reminded them of their sin and need to repent! We have to be willing to discipline wayward members with love, acceptance, and forgiveness with the focus that they grow stronger in their faith. Again, personal spiritual accountability.
6. Church bells. The call to prayer by Muslims is now heard where church bells once were. Since the 70s because of noise ordinances in communities church bells are no longer rung on Sundays, however, in many of these same communities you can now hear the Islamic call to prayer five times a day resounding over loud speakers. The reason? Muslims are more vocal in demanding that they be allowed to do their call to prayer and Christians churches have taken the silent road instead. What people do not realize is that when you allow an Islamic call to prayer, or minarets to be built, it is a Muslim tactic and theology. The call to prayer everyone has to hear and thereby become “submissive” to it by simply hearing the name of Allah and Muhammad publicly proclaimed. Islam means “submit.” Also Islamic minarets are deliberately made tall because it publicly declares that Islam is far superior to any Christian “steeple” or cross. Christian churches are ignorant when they acquiesce their own faith and allow Muslims to have their call to prayer and build their minarets. They are unknowingly “submitting” to Islam just as Muslims want. Muslims see any acquiescence by other faiths as a sign of their weakness and ungodliness as compared to the “one true religion” Islam.
7. Witnessing. For the first 1900 years of the church’s existence it was seen as an individual Christian’s duty to witness to the world about their faith in Christ. The Christian was also required to disciple the person that came to faith because of their witness, make sure they were in a church, and growing in the Lord. This dynamic stopped after the introduction of the “tent” meetings of the late 1800s. By the 1950s church was seen as a social thing one did rather than a way of life that changed one completely to worship and honor God. Church began to focus on the individual rather than the Lord and establishing His kingdom on earth. Christians are to be the servants of God building His kingdom. Not any more. There were some vain attempts to try and get people back to where they were supposed to be in the 1960s and 1990s but the Americanized version of going to church as personal recreation and as a Sunday “retreat” has replaced the actual meaning of what Christians are supposed to be about. Evangelicals adopted the view of corporate America by hiring their teachers, evangelizers, and disciplers. Books, tapes, and the latest Christian fad replaced the actual use of Scripture and the responsibility of the believer to go and make disciples of all nations. Give them a tape, CD, or a book instead. The church is misguided in trying to force people through guilt into thinking they are all to be evangelists when they are not called to be at all. Believers are called to share their faith and this can mean through lifestyle, personal testimony, prayer, interactive personal ministry to others, and consistency of their Christian faith being on open display for others to see.
8. Reading the Bible for understanding theology. (“Theos,” meaning “God” and “ology” meaning “study.” Thereby, the “study of God.”) Nowadays the Bible is usually read as a means for an emotional or spiritual lift. Entire portions of Scripture are ignored. Its history, theology, and commands are replaced by you discovering how you to can be happy as a “Christian” person. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, but you can lose focus and forget about God. Scriptures were seen by the early church as a means of the believer actually studying it to know and do the will of God to build His kingdom here on earth. Not as a “devotional” so you can have a better marriage, more money, or find that significant other. Remember, it used to be called “The Bible,” or “The Book.” It was God’s holy word for His people to understand and serve Him.
The most recent election has convinced me that the influence of the Christian faith on people’s lives is insignificant. In the next few years those whom call themselves “Christian” that voted with their emotions instead of the understanding and influence of their faith will have helped homosexuality to become more mainstream, help pay for millions of deaths of the unborn worldwide, and taken away more of the freedom Christians enjoy to worship as the Bible dictates. We reap what we sow.
This article is copyrighted © 2008 by Lee Hemen and if you reprint it, reproduce it, or want to use it in any way, you must do so in its entirety or get the written permission of its author.