I got an e-mail this week that made the claim that Canadian society has moved from indifference to hostility when it comes to Christian faith, beliefs, values, and practice. I'll be honest; I'm getting pretty tired of hearing this.
It's a common narrative these days: "The church is losing influence in the world! Politicians aren't listening to us and are enacting laws that are contrary to Scripture!" In other news, sinners continue to sin.
Please forgive my cynicism.
A few months ago I sat in a room with a gathering of pastors from around my region and time and time again, I heard this refrain. "Government doesn't listen to us!" I was embarrassed. Why was I embarrassed? Because the room I was in also held our federal riding's Member of Parliament. In fact, the meeting was her idea. She invited us. She invited us because she, a member of not just parliament but the governing party, wanted to listen to us. She wanted to hear from us.
She heard a lot of complaining.
Interesting, though, there were no complaints from any Imams or Rabbis in that meeting. Incidentally there were also no Imams or Rabbis present at that meeting. I don't think they were invited. Actually, that's not fair, I'm sure they would have been invited if there were any synagogues or mosques in Renfrew county. I checked, there aren't. In a region of 100'000 people, no mosques, no synagogues, and about 100 churches. Yeah, we're really being marginalized...
But perhaps I'm being a little unfair. Churches are struggling and shrinking. The statistics are undeniable. Here's an excerpt from that email I referenced earlier:
"In 1993, 39% of the Canadian population “strongly agreed” and 22% “moderately agreed” to the statement: “I believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God provided the way for the forgiveness of my sins”. In 2013, these figures also dropped to only 24% who “strongly agree” and 20% who “moderately agree”, which is a drop from overall 61% of the population agreeing on some level to 44% in just 20 years.
In 1993, 50% of Canadian population “strongly agreed” and 26% “moderately agreed” with this statement: “God is understanding and forgiving.” In 2013, these figures dropped to a mere 36% who “strongly agreed” and 22% who “moderately agreed” — a drop from 76% agreeing with the statement on some level to only 58% over a 20-year period in Canada."
In 1993, 39% of the Canadian population “strongly agreed” and 22% “moderately agreed” to the statement: “I believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God provided the way for the forgiveness of my sins”. In 2013, these figures also dropped to only 24% who “strongly agree” and 20% who “moderately agree”, which is a drop from overall 61% of the population agreeing on some level to 44% in just 20 years.
Aside from the fact that I don't understand how one can "moderately agree" that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God provides the way for forgiveness of sin, it is obvious that there are fewer people who would affirm Christian truths around.
What if that's actually a good thing?
There's an expression in baseball, if a team does really poorly during a season (Looking at you Red Sox...) often they go into a period of "rebuilding." This can take many different forms, but the most common is to trade away the most expensive players, and rather than replacing them with equally expensive guys, taking a deep breath, investing in young prospects who are much less expensive and developing them for a couple years before trying to contend again.
What if God is "rebuilding" the church in North America?
The church in North America has simultaneously become both fat and malnourished, a feat that would be impressive if it weren't so tragic. On the fat side, many mega-churches exist to cater to the "felt needs" of their congregants without preaching sin, repentance, grace through faith and, in a word, the Gospel. They exist for their own existence and comfort, not for God's glory. They have become social clubs. Some of them even have spas and their own coffee shops! Big churches aren't the only guilty parties, some small churches are so strained financially that all the discussion that goes on within leadership amounts to: "How can we keep the doors open? How can we continue to exist?" No risks are taken for Jesus or the Gospel because feathers of the faithful might be ruffled and thus their comfort (and their dollars) might be lost.
The malnourished side is not much better, many churches ironically now see biblical theology and doctrine as a barrier to ministry. Their faith in God's word has become so watered down that they are allowing, even celebrating, things that are clearly not Biblical. Despite their best efforts to tickle the ears of their congregants, many of these churches are closing. My thinking is that it's because many people are slowly realizing how horrible a hobby Christianity is.
Forty years ago, North American Christianity was in the middle of what many call "Christendom." This was a time when Christian morality was central to many facets of North American life. Remember how scandalous it was that JFK was a Roman Catholic? To get elected, you had to be a Christian (preferably protestant), laws were Christian (or at least based on Biblical morality), and Christian organizations like the Moral Majority really were the majority.
But those times are gone.
There's a much touted "rise of the nones" being talked about in evangelical circles these days. Essentially, there are more and more people who are saying that they have no religious affiliation compared to a generation ago. Some take this to mean that the church, and by extension, Christianity is shrinking and fading away. But what if people aren't leaving the church because they no longer believe in God, but rather, they're leaving the church because they never believed in God and now no longer believe in the church either?
What if the "Rise Of The Nones" is actually a "Farewell Of The Fakes?" What if God is "rebuilding" His church in the off-season? What if rather than shrinking away into obscurity and death, God is simply investing in the next generation of "prospects" while the expensive and fruitless "cultural Christians" (those who "moderately agree") are "released" because their needs aren't being met anymore?
I say let them go.
That may seem heartless coming from a pastor, but I'd rather see someone leave the church who thinks they're a Christian so that they can discover they're really not and (hopefully) eventually repent than keep them in the pew and watch them condemn themselves with their "lukewarm" "ethnic" or "cultural" Christianity.
"Moderately Agree" I still don't get that one.
It's impossible to moderately agree with the Gospel, It's probably the only thing in this world that is binary and black and white. You're either a part of the Kingdom of God, or you`re not; you're either saved or you're not.
I'm looking forward to seeing what this rebuilt church will look like in 10-20 years, one thing's for sure, if I'm right about this, it'll be more than a contender, it'll bat 1.000.
With great love and hope for the church.