The Laodicean Project- Fighting Nominal Christianity

April 29, 2008

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” -Matthew 7:21-23

“They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” -Malachi 3:17-18

Probably my biggest pet peeve in all of Christianity is the prevalence of those today who claim Christ in word and yet not in action. It sends chills down my spine every time I see a rapper or actor accept an award for producing a piece which glorifies all the finer points of depravity and the first thing they do is thank the God who gave them their ability or Jesus Christ their personal savior. Not to say that these people aren’t Christians, but by evaluating these people based upon their fruits (which, if they are believers is perfectly acceptable, see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) I would not be too quick to call them brothers.

This is the root essence of nominal Christianity. The person who checks the Christian box every time and yet they can’t remember the last time they went to church when it wasn’t Easter or Christmas. The person who observes Lent or refuses to drink an alcoholic beverage, and yet they have no boundaries when it comes to sexual relationships or language. We all know these people, and present company included, we may have been or currently are these people. When, as I commented in the previous post, there are 95 million American young adults, 60 million of which would describe themselves as Christian, and yet only 3 million of them actually believe such things as “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth” or “God [is] the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today,” it seems clear that a large percentage of Americans aren’t really all that concerned with what being a Christian means as long as it is something they can just say that they are.

So, is this such a big deal? Certainly. For one, it is a big deal for the people who would be termed “nominal Christians.” If they are just going through the motions then what a terrible thing it would be for them to stand before the Lord on the day of judgment saying “Lord, Lord” just to be turned away. Maybe they never really heard the Gospel. Maybe we took for granted that just because it was being preached in buildings throughout the country, on TV and on radio, that at some point this person had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, not to be crass, but we all know what happens when we assume… This is why it is important to reach out and perform true Gospel preaching ministry in the midst of our “Christian” societies. For someone to live their life with a false hope of inheriting the faith of their parents or community is unacceptable with the various outlets available for Christian outreach, but unfortunately I feel it is a reality that is all too real in Western culture these days. This needs to change.

The second reason this is a big deal is because it dilutes the ability which the church has to be effective in the culture. When the world outside judges the church based on the overwhelming numbers of nominal Christians they encounter it does a great disservice to the true heart of Christian ministry. When the world is able to construct polling data which shows “Christians” as being no different than “non-Christians” on moral issues such as divorce, homosexuality or abortion, it turns into an indictment on the inadequacy of Christianity instead of being shown for what it truly is, that being an indictment on the terrifying number of nominal Christians around us. The Barna Group even admits in their research that when the same moral issues are analyzed against the smaller percentage of respondents who espouse a biblical worldview, then the gulf between the world and Christianity becomes very apparent. Therefore, if we could either ignite or alienate those nominal Christians in our congregations and throughout the “Christian” societies, moving them either into broken or hardened hearts, then we should have no problem illustrating the radical difference that a biblical conversion has on the heart of those who believe and confess Jesus as Lord.

Then the last question remains: just how do we fight the insurgence of nominal Christianity? The most effective way I believe is to simply preach the Gospel, focusing on “Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)” and not just assume that everybody already understands what happened and why it had to be that way. Also, to live our lives as an example of not only Gospel preaching but Gospel love, a sacrificial love which reaches out to others in kindness and not judgment, will make a difference in manifesting the true character of God and the revolutionary effect he has had on us. We need to remember that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13,14) and as such our lives of ministry should be nothing like those of the world, but instead should be found “to be conformed to the image of [Jesus]” (Romans 8:29) so that the world “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).”

Nominal Christianity is a major problem in America, England, and other traditionally Christian societies around the globe. It’s dark shadow has hampered the effectiveness of the Gospel light both to ourselves and our neighbors. Therefore, in order to change the lukewarm nature of these cultures and save them from becoming a biblical loogie we must act in a way as to polarize those just checking the box and remove the pervasiveness of nominal Christianity from our religious atmosphere.

The Laodicean Project- Is This Even Necessary?

April 28, 2008

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” -Revelation 3:16

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:24-25

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” -Romans 1:21-23

“In spite of the fact that many of them are currently disconnected from a church, most Americans, including two-thirds of all adult Mosaics and Busters [ages 18-41], tell us that they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point in their life…. Of course, this raises the question of the depth of their faith…. [O]ut of 95 million Americans who are ages 18 to 41, about 60 million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important; however, only about 3 million of them have a biblical worldview.” -Dave Kinnaman, unChristian, p.74-75

“Recently gathered data on church membership and church attendance show that unless trends are reversed, major British denominations will cease to exist by 2030.” -Steve Bruce, Christianity in Britain, R. I. P.

The most important question to ask ourselves before spending our time trying to deal with lukewarm faith in Christian societies is to first figure out if there is even really a problem. Just because we see a highly secularized media or a pop culture which views religion for its commercial appeal and cool factor instead of its personal importance, does not mean that there is actual an issue with the common everyday Joe on the street. Thus, instead of depending on our own senses and intuition, let’s look at what the statistics have to say:

  • America
    • Among all Americans 78.4% claim Christianity of some sort, 51.3% being Protestant, and 26.3% Evangelical. Among 18-to-41 year olds, 66% claim Christianity of some sort, yet when given a survey of worldviews only 3% expressed a consistent biblical (Evangelical) worldview
  • United Kingdom
    • According to recent surveys only 45% of Britons claim to be Christians of some sort, with 8% actually attending church regularly (compared to 41% in America). Moreover, popular opinion is that major denominations, such as Methodism, will be extinct in Britain by 2030
  • Western Europe
    • In France and Sweden, 60% and 46%, respectively, of population never attend church. Moreover, between a quarter and a third of the populations of France, Sweden, Germany, Estonia, and the Netherlands believe there is no god or any other type of spiritual essence

So, according to the numbers it also appears that there is a problem. The biggest issues I think we see are on two, almost completely opposite fronts. The first front is the problem which seems most pronounced in America and England, that being the high percentage of what is now being termed in the research as “Nominal Christians”; people who claim Christianity but do not exhibit either a biblical worldview or attend church regularly. The other problem is the growth of atheism as a religious worldview, this being seen heavily throughout Western Europe but not yet as much in America. Both of these are substantial problems for the church as it tries to address lukewarmness in these traditionally Christian societies, and as such we will try and deal with each one specifically over the course of the next two posts.

The Laodicean Project- Observing Christ’s Letter to the Church at Laodicea Today

April 25, 2008

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ “ -Revelation 3:14-22

I would like to make a proposal. If you feel the same way after reading this then feel free to join me. I propose that starting today we begin an initiative which I would like to call “The Laodicean Project.” This project will be directed towards reaching the people, not of the remote villages where Christ has never been preached, and not of the impoverished nations where faith in Christ may be all a person owns as they prepare for a slow, undignified death, but towards those people who, in light of Revelation 3:16, are in danger of becoming cosmic backwash!

It is the people of our so-called Christian societies. America, England, France, Australia. Places where Christ appears on any number of TV shows and books and songs and t-shirts. Places where the “Christian” box is checked a majority of the times during surveys. And, oddly enough, places where sin and filth and defilement and evil are as rampant, if not more so, than anywhere else on Earth.

We have discussed this problem before and it continues to be a burden on my heart. I don’t think this is for everyone. I believe that the majority of people are still called to go out “to the end of the earth” and to “make disciples of all the nations” (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19). However, for those like myself, who feel burdened so deeply as they watch the name of Christ dragged through the mud around them, who see people dying with false assurance because others were too busy being PC to ever call them out on their lostness , who watch as “Christianity” assimilates into the culture to a point where all distinctions seem nominal, I want to challenge you to make a difference. As Christ declared to the original Laodiceans, we too must make known the blind, naked poverty of our society today.

Christ warned the Laodiceans. Their breed of half-hearted, self-agrandizing, tepidity made Jesus sick to his stomach, to the point where he wanted to vomit. I can only imagine were he to pen the letter again today about the churches in our Christian societies that his sentiments would be the same. In the following series of posts I want to look further at how we might approach the problem of our modern-day Laodiceas, the obstacles which stand in our way and the principles in God’s Word which can help us overcome. If you feel this same burden, please pray, continue reading the next posts, and feel free to contact me with any further ideas you may have.

But, more than anything, remember to act so that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

It’s Not That We Don’t Know About Sin… – The Question of How to Evangelize Christian Societies

March 27, 2008

“It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.” – R.W. Dale, The Atonement

I was reading “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott recently (which, by the way, is an amazing book!) when I came across this quote by the theologian R.W. Dale. It seemed very poignant to me, especially as recently I have been considering a related larger question which is: how can Christians most effectively evangelize “Christian” societies?

To me, this is one of the most pivotal questions which American, and in general all Western Christians must face. As time goes by we see our traditionally Christian countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, becoming increasingly secular. It is up to the point where weekly church attendance in the United Kingdom has dropped below 10% of the total population, and in America it is not too much better. However, a majority of citizens in these societies would still like to bear the moniker of “Christian”, even though for all intents and purposes that ship has long since sailed. Therefore, as responsible evangelicals we must search for a way to address this issue.

One of the biggest chasams in the way of reaching these people is what I believe the quote is trying to address. In going into a western, Christian society it is not the same as going into the African plain or the South American rain forest, where location and language are the biggest barriers. Instead, what we have to deal with is a people who largely know they are sinners, largely know what the Bible teaches about morality, and yet, through their own depravity and jadedness towards the failings of the church, have made a conscious decision not to be bothered by this. It’s not that the people don’t know that they are sinful, but it is that they know and yet are unbroken by it! Therefore, the challenge becomes how to make people reject a lifestyle which they have actively chosen in spite of, and sometimes even in opposition to, the Christian teachings which have occurred around them their entire life.

This is so crucial because, like it or not, the course of the world is still being driven in large part by the western societies, and if Christianity were to vanish here, it would have a major impact everywhere else.

Expect more on this in the weeks to come, as I am currently preparing a Bible study on the topic for April 4th.