Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Vanishing Church in America

“Put your finger on any prosperous page in the church’s history, and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: ‘In this age men could readily see where the church began and where the world ended." ~ Charles Spurgeon

Ever since the release of the popular book, "Purpose Driven Church", there has been a flood of books written that are focused on "How to do church". Personally, I think we should spend more time teaching God's word the way it was intended instead of trying to repackage it to fit the constantly changing culture. There is a growing surge of seeker-sensitive megachurches attempting to reach the unchurched by turning God, the Bible and church into a product that appeals to those who are generally not interested in church. Their model is based upon surveys & marketing studies that reveal what people want. Funny, I don't recall reading anywhere in scripture where Jesus had his Disciples go out into the community and ask them what they wanted.

The Rev. Bob Pearle has recently written a book that sheds light on this growing trend. It's not another "how to" book to grow your church with trendy, cool, relevant methods. Rather, it's a wake up call to bring contemporary American churches back to a Biblical model for church.

(Interview & review of the book from the Ft. Worth "Star-Telegram")

Highlights from the book:

“The biblical New Testament church is vanishing from society today. Anything and everything is acceptable as long as it builds a crowd. Jesus wasn’t as interested in building a crowd as He was in telling the truth. Our responsibility as pastors and leaders is not to give people what they want necessarily but what they need.”

“Churches that have lost their doctrinal core are struggling with an identity crisis. . . . The effectiveness of a church’s ministry is largely dependent upon knowing her confessional identity and staying true to her original purpose.”

"Many churches follow "Wal-Mart" strategies of pleasing customers but often soft-soap hard biblical truths like hell, sin and salvation."

"The mysticism invading the early church then and the modern church today is much like Gnosticism…..Naturally this superior knowledge is advanced under the guise of humility."

"In vast auditoriums and smaller places people listen to preachers who roam the stage and tickle the ears with feel-good messages."

"Churches would be better served by pastors who believe and preach, without apology, the whole counsel of God." I translate his words to mean that we require fewer milquetoast pastors and more men of conviction in our church pulpits that are willing to preach the Word, and not worry about whom they might offend."

Pearle's book takes a deep look into what church has become and what it was intended to be. He breaks this down into three sections:

- Looking Inward:
A lost , confused world in desperate need of God's loving truth.

- Looking Backward:
Biblical & historical basis for ecclesiology; The study of the church.

- Looking Forward:
Challenges seeker-oriented methods, asserting that the key to tapping the power of the gospel lies in allowing the gospel appropriately to set the church apart from the culture rather than in churches’ sidling up to culture.

This book also covers topics that are often being overlooked or redefined in so many churches today such as...

The duties & responsibilities of the local church, observance of the Lord's Supper, church membership, the definition of marriage, the great commission, the danger of preaching that which is not doctrinally sound, believer's baptism, persecution that will come as a result of adherence to the teachings of Christ, spiritual discernment and testing teachings against scripture, social justice, the dangers of certain new interpretations of the Bible and how some churches are "selling out" in order to build membership.

Perhaps my favorite quote from this book is a simple yet profound reflection of the Gospel message and why it's so crucial for churches to be teaching it correctly:

"You have to hear the bad news that we are sinners, before your receive the good news of salvation"