End of Evangelical Church?

While doing follow-up research on the article A Christian World ViewI found a post titled The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism by the late Michael Spencer — an evangelical pastor and blogger known also as The Internet Monk.

In my article I encouraged Christians to be politically active, but Spencer wrote in 2009 that political activism would result in the demise of the evangelical church within ten years (or by 2019). In his introduction Spencer wrote:

I believe that we are on the verge — within 10 years — of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”

Spencer had read Steven P. Miller’s book, The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, in which the author suggested that the church took a radical turn from preaching the Gospel to engaging the secular society in a high-stakes culture war. Though I take a different position it is something that I struggle with even now. Sincere Christians believe that the church can be more influential by being Christ-like rather than antagonistic.

The secular society has a built-in hostility towards Christianity which is only inflamed by direct confrontation. It is a lose-lose proposition for the church to set itself up as a moral watchdog as too many Christians are as morally flawed as their worldly friends. The culture revels in its sin, and has no inclination to change.

A pastor told of his homosexual brother who was dying of AIDS. Every day the pastor would sit at his brother’s side and read from the Bible. He would invite his brother to repent and accept Jesus Christ, but the brother would only look away.

The pastor decided to change tactics. On his daily visits he set aside the Bible and cleaned his dying brother’s apartment. Every day he would come and wash the dishes, do the laundry — even clean the vomit crusted toilet and bathroom floor. A short time later the dying brother repented and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; and he said something interesting:

“I didn’t repent because of what your Bible says about Christ … I repented because of how you lived Christ.”

Does that give you pause? It certainly does me. We have to at least understand what is the perception the world has of Christians. Friends, it is not good. For example, the world celebrates homosexuality. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says, or how well the church can present Scripture. What seems to matter most to the world is how we live our lives as disciples of Christ — to live out the peace and joy of Christ such that the world might take notice and say, “I want that peace and joy in my life.” Then, and only then, can a heart be prepared to hear the Gospel.

According to Spencer the evangelical church will lose membership and resources as it vainly strives to make itself relevant in a polarized culture that is increasingly hostile to both Christianity and conservatism. Though he doesn’t call himself a prophet he offered this prophetic insight:

Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This was a mistake that will have brutal consequences. They are not only going to suffer in losing causes, they will be blamed as the primary movers of those causes. Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.

The investment of evangelicals in the culture war will prove out to be one of the most costly mistakes in our history. The coming evangelical collapse will come about, largely, because our investment in moral, social and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. We’re going to find out that being against gay marriage and rhetorically pro-life (yes, that’s what I said) will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence and are believing in a cause more than a faith.

On that last point, Spencer believes a contributing factor in the demise of the evangelical church is that Christians are woefully ignorant of the Bible. Neither can they articulate nor defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The beneficiaries of this shifting paradigm are the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches which are witnessing an influx of Born Again Christians seeking tradition over reform. (Charismatic, Pentecostal and liberal Protestant churches will continue to thrive.)

With regards to the Orthodox church, Hank Hanegraaff (host of The Bible Answer Man and president of the Christian Research Institute) stunned the Christian community when he recently converted to the Orthodox church. Pastor John MacArthur made note of this in last Sunday’s sermon at Grace Church wherein he told the congregation that the Orthodox church, while it traces its roots back to the Apostles, does not uphold Sola Scriptura but accepts — as does the Romish church — both oral and written tradition. Of course, they cite 2 Thessalonians 2:15 in defense of this position.

So, too, the Orthodox church has a love affair with Mary which is inferred from John 19:26-27 where tradition says that Christ gave his mother to the church.

Though I am mystified by Hanegraaff’s conversion it does relate to what Spencer wrote in 2009. This is something we all have to wrestle with, but I do believe (at the very least) Christians should vote for political candidates who will do the least harm to the body of Christ. We have dual citizenship in the kingdom of God and in whatever nation we reside. To the extent that we can influence the culture we must remain faithful to our one true calling which is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ


One thought on “End of Evangelical Church?

  1. It all depends on what “evangelical” means. It’s never meant the same thing to everyone. And it’s changed over the years. Evangelicalism seems to have garnered more of a political connotation than a theological one. Most categories and labels fail to accurately describe my faith. Even “born-again” and “Bible-believing” carries the “negative” baggage of “fundamentalist” and “Bible-thumper”. Bottom line, Christianity itself will always be considered offensive to an unbelieving world.

    Because of what various commentators have said, I have often questioned whether or not I am truly an evangelical. But I’ve never questioned being a born-again follower of Christ. The first church I was a member of was Wesleyan, nominally Arminian. They considered themselves evangelical. The second church I belonged to was American Baptist — nominally Calvinist. They considered themselves evangelical. The church I currently belong to is Evangelical Covenant — yet another so-called evangelical iteration. The common thread connecting these three churches is that they all preached the gospel, taught the Bible as the inerrant and inspired word of God, and sought to minister the love of Jesus to the world around them.

    None of these churches exhibited political unanimity. They all consisted of conservatives, liberals, independents and those who are not political at all. When it comes to “activism”, I confess I have participated in peaceful, multi-church demonstrations against abortion. My gut tells me that my fellow demonstrators came from a variety of political (and even religious) affiliations. Though I myself am politically conservative, my purpose in demonstrating was not political, but moral. I firmly believe that it makes no difference to believe abortion is murder if you aren’t willing to publicly say so and stand up and be counted. That’s not the same as getting into a political argument, or identifying your faith as a list of thou shall nots.

    My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the reputation of evangelicals has been largely projected onto them from the outside, rather than something their own behavior has earned. The biggest fault of evangelicals is that they are conspicuous Christians who are not willing to lie down and be steam-rolled by the godless agenda of the Left. For the crime of opposing the prevailing secular world view, they are demonized for not keeping their unpopular opinions inside their churches, where the godless would like them to stay. Like everyone else, evangelicals are not perfect. However, like everyone else, they have every right to be as politically active as the LGBTQ.

    The root of evangelical is evangel, which is another word for the gospel. Jesus gave us the Great Commission. That means making disciples, which begins by witnessing the facts of the gospel: Jesus is God; he sacrificed himself on the cross for everyone’s sin; and after dying, he conquered death by rising bodily into heaven, where he is seated next to the Father. But if a person doesn’t believe Jesus is God or that he died or that he rose again, they won’t listen. Nor will they listen if they don’t think sin is sin. Therefore, I believe, part of our testimony to the world should be to identify sin for what it is.

    2 Timothy 2:24-26 instructs, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Whatever evangelicalism is, this is what we are to do. To me it sounds like we are to engage with those around us, not remain silent and uninvolved. If we show our human weakness by getting emotionally carried away, is that sufficient reason for us to be censored or condemned? Whatever happened to forgiveness?

    So, when and if the demise of the “evangelical” church happens, the Church will still be here, regardless of what denominations people want to call themselves. Christians will still be proclaiming the gospel. But you can also be sure that those who wish to suppress the truth will have another straw man to replace evangelicals. They aren’t opposed to political activism, per se. They just don’t want to hear about God, Jesus Christ, the gospel, the Bible or any other aspect of what we know to be true. As long as the Holy Spirit is present in us, there will always be voices in the wilderness. And the message they tell will always be a stumbling block to those who reject the truth.

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