It appears that the FBI is nearing the end of its investigation of the allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh. The findings of the FBI should prove to be interesting as the foundations for these allegations appear to be crumbling - filled with inconsistencies and still lacking corroboration. It appears, at least from reports from several news sources, that the confirmation vote will occur probably on Saturday. As people will look back upon this nomination they will certainly discover that this was NOT one of America's finest moments. It can only be hoped that what happened with this nomination is not setting a trend for future nominations not only to the Supreme Court but to other governmental appointments.
Last week two articles came across my desk. One was an editorial, written by Ron Way who lives in Edina, MN, that was published in the September 23 edition of the "StarTribune." The editorial was titled, "What Churches Get Wrong [and how to repopulate them]." The second was an article, written by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries located in Georgia, that was published by Fox News. It was titled, "Five reasons people leave the church." This article can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinions/2018/09/23/five-reasons-people-leave-church.
Both Mr. Way and Pastor Stanley are looking at the growing concern of people leaving American churches today. As Mr. Way looks at the churches of today he describes the scene of abandonment by many this way: "Sure, folks are busy. But there's something more basic: The church, broadly, has been hijacked by TV scammers, narrow-interest evangelicals and unending sex scandal. Too, the church has largely stuck with Sunday school scripture by anecdote and has failed to remain relevant to society's altered priorities. Frankly, the institutional church has itself to blame. In a period of social divide and gathering doubts, it's a bit puzzling why so many mainline churches seem mired in orthodoxy and creedal dogma that take us on Sunday morning jaunts through antiquity before sending us out and into today." Later in the editorial he would write, "Mainline churches too often take the Bible wildly out of context, spread misinformation (no, Jesus did not oppose gay marriage, and it was Romans, not Jews, who crucified Jesus as a Galilean insurrectionist), and insist the Bible was divinely inspired. As more people peeked behind the curtain as I did, they see a church tied to ancient myth while missing the larger messages for today." One of Mr. Way's criticisms of the church is that it is "mired" in the scriptures. He states that is one of the problems that is causing people to leave the church.
But is proclaiming the Scriptures really the problem? I am presently teaching a class here at my church on Church History. It has been a fascinating journey filled with those moments of "Wow! can you believe that!" to moments of "You have got to be kidding." And yet the Bible was proclaimed. But something was wrong then, and something is wrong today. The Bible was preached but it was never made relevant to the needs of the people. The Bible was proclaimed in a sterile environment. People never made the connection between what the Bible said and how it was to be lived out in their very lives.
Furthermore, if the Bible is simply a collection of ancient myths, legends, and fables, as Mr. Way contends, then how can it purport to be relevant to our lives today. I can read the stories of the ancient Babylonian legends but find no connection between those stories and real life today. I can read the ancient stories that were a part of the Egyptian history, but again, find no connection between those stories and real life today. So, if I only believe the Bible to be a collection of myths and legends, then it follows that I really cannot make a relevant connection between those stories and the world in which my congregation and I live. My understanding of the Bible creates the framework for my proclamation of the Bible.
But, what if the Bible really does relate to us God's Story? What if the Bible really does tell us of actual people, living in an actual time period, and facing actual problems and difficulties in life? If those are true, then the Bible takes on a relevancy for life today.
So, as I read Mr. Way's editorial I was affirmed with two truths. First, I affirmed that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God. I affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. I affirmed that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. I affirmed that fire fell from heaven when Elijah prayed. I affirmed that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and that He died upon a cross and rose three days later from the dead. Basically I affirmed that the Bible is true! Second, I affirmed that I MUST proclaim Biblical truth and make it relevant to the times in which we live. It was not just good enough for the prophets to say "thus says the Lord" to their generation, but they MUST say "thus says the Lord" to our generation. So, as much as I struggled with many of Mr. Way's points, I have to say that I believe he had a strong point to make and I appreciated the reminder.
Andy Stanley approached this topic of people leaving the church from a different viewpoint. He states in his article, "Many people see Christianity as anti-intellectual, overly simplistic, and easily discredited. For decades, college professors with biases against religion have found Christian freshmen easy targets. Much of what makes American Christianity so resistible to those outside the faith are things we should have been resisting all along. While many of us have been working hard to make church more interesting, it turns out that fewer people are actually interested." He then proceeds to share five reasons why people are leaving the church.
"1. We tell people that the Bible is the basis of Christianity." I must confess that I struggled with this thought. Yet, the more I pondered what Dr. Stanley was saying, the more I had to agree with Him. Yes, we need to hold the Bible up as our standard of Truth, but the Bible must never replace our focus upon Jesus Christ. For He alone is the true basis for our faith.
"2. They believe suffering disproves the existence of God. ... But the foundation of our faith is not a world without suffering. Pain and suffering don't disprove the existence of God. It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn't allow pain and suffering."
"3. They had a bad church experience." I have witnessed this many times over the 46-plus years I have been in the ministry. Those bad experiences are not easily forgotten or overcome.
"4. We're bad at making people feel welcome. ... It wasn't just his message that made Jesus irresistible. It was Jesus himself. People who were nothing like him, liked him. And Jesus liked people who were nothing like him. Jesus invited unbelieving, misbehaving, troublemaking men and women to follow him and to embrace something new, and they accepted his invitation."
"5. We made 'ekklesia' (the church) a building. ... 'Ekklesia' was not, and is not, a religious term. It does not mean church or house of the Lord. It certainly shouldn't be associated with a temple. The term was used widely to describe a gathering, assembly, civic gatherings, or an assemble of soldiers. Or as was the case in Acts 19, an assembly of rioting idol manufacturers. An 'ekklesia' was a gathering of people for a specific purpose. Any specific purpose. It's not a building. It's not a physical location. It's a group of people. It's a lot easier to stop showing up at a place than it is to disconnect from a group of people who intimately know, love, and support each other."
Two writers, each looking at the decline of the American Church but through differing lenses. Yet there is much we can learn from each viewpoint. I appreciate the way Dr. Stanley closed his article: "If we want people to stop leaving the church - if we want Christianity to be irresistible again to the world - then maybe it's time to take another look at the movement Jesus started 2,000 years ago." To that I would say a rousing "Amen!"