Monday, November 18, 2013

The Modern Mindset & Challenges we Face as the Body of Christ

Good morning :)  Glad to have you here, and I hope I can be a blessing to your walk with Jesus Christ today.  And I hope I can also be a blessing in your efforts to learn more about Christianity if you're curiously seeking.  It's one day at a time for me.  I proceed into the future, learn new things, explore different ideas, and wrangle with complex ideas of sharing my faith with others, the challenges of the church as a whole, and the mindset of the modern human being.

Just like anything, the Christian life is a journey.  But most people I see, they don't seem like they're on a journey.  And this opens up to my topic, which is the modern individual mindset in relation to the body of Christ, which is the church.  Ok, so, two types of non-religious people:

The first type, and I see them everyday, is the type where they seem like they've been staring at television screens, computer screens, cell phone screens, waiting rooms screens and all the other screens for so long and so often they've never stopped long enough to figure out what they believe in and why.  I tend to look for distinguishing paraphernalia such as bumper stickers, posters, or clothing.  And when I observe these people it is almost without doubt three things: their favorite sports team, their favorite alcoholic drink, perhaps a hobbie like hunting or fishing, and any given brand name repeated.  There is a lot of that up here in the north-central Wisconsin frozen wasteland tundra.  Lots of cheese and beer as well.   The kind of people who watch a lot of television!  The kind of people who follow top 40 music, watch citcoms, professional sports, work average jobs, and go to bars on weekends.  That's one extreme.  Reaching this first type is a challenge mainly because there is just little to no interest in spirituality as a whole much less Jesus Christ or the Bible.  I'd describe them as empty shirts.

And there is the second type which many of you probably think of as "hipsters."  These are the modern skeptically minded, scientifically minded, jaded anti-everything-ilists.  They have very firm beliefs on major issues of the times, tending to think their positions are indie and edgy.  But the same ideas tend to permeate the culture and tend to depend on the latest fashions in belief and idea.  How about this for a broad example.. post-modernist in ideas on truth & morals, all inclusive in ideas on spirituality, eastern dialectical in approach to philosophy, and tolerant to ideas of homosexuality, abortion, and drug legalization but strikingly intolerant to ideas of organized religion, Christianity in particular, and any measure of accountability for their own actions.  Tolerance is a huge topic lately, but we'll get there a bit later.

GK Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy said, “But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be a true revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

As Christians we believe and know certain things that the world doesn't agree with.  We believe in moral absolutes.  We believe there is truth and we can know it.  We believe in a God who we call Father.  We believe in a unique Savior.  These are things the world does not believe.  These are things the empty shirt and the modern skeptic do not believe.  And yes there are many more "types" of people and one could say that there are no "types" of people at all.  Both would be right to certain degrees, a person is unique in DNA and thought. A person is also heavily influenced by culture and media, leading to observable patterns in people in general.  What I'm trying to say is that the individual is of paramount importance in the Christian life.  We ought never lose sight of the fact that Christianity is about love, and compassion toward individuals, not necessarily groups as a whole.  Bringing people lovingly into the fold is most often done on a person to person basis.  Just a side thought to remember.

Recently I watched an incredible presentation by Pastor Mark Driscoll where he outlines 9 things that Christians and non-believers disagree on.  Mark Driscoll is a wonderfully popular Pastor on the West coast.  He commissioned a study and focus groups run by non-Christians to talk to non-believers about their problems with Christianity.  Below is the video if you'd like to take a look.  Mark Driscoll is a New Calvinist and I don't exactly agree with all his methods and approaches, but he certainly is a powerful speaker.  I found the presentation highly compelling, but he lost me in the last few minutes on some issues of evangelism.

Here is the video:

I certainly hope that in my life I can have a meaningful impact in the lives of others in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is a huge task ahead of every evangelical Christian.  And it scares me, because of the direction it's heading.  It scares me more because the modern American church whether Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, and so on, seem to be way out in left field with their approach.  Mark Driscoll calls it being "off mission" in our task of being missionaries for Christ.

I like the approach Driscoll outlines in the introduction to "The Problem with Christianity."  He sets up his sermons to be apologetically inclined, and looks at the concerns of non-believers and takes their questions.  At the same time his church has "community groups" that focus on bringing in friends and specifically addressing their questions.  From the community groups new people are encouraged to attend sermons which are opened up for questions.

I've seen something similar at a local congregation called "Downtown Mission Church."  And the name says it all, because they have a specific "shop" right next to a bar at the very center of the city.  On Thursdays they'll have sort of "mini sermons" about 30 minutes long, and after it's done they'll open it up to discuss the topic, and people will raise their hands and a friendly discourse gets started.  I love that.  Another outreach began sometime after in the downtown area, and I think storefront Christian outreaches are an effective approach to evangelism.

The churches of America have to engage the culture.  The church seemed to kind of cut itself off from culture, somewhere in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, almost like the monasticism movement of the 3rd century.  Monks living in the desert off locusts and honey, but unfortunately hardly paving any sort of way aside from into isolation.  Culture has to be engaged.  The church has to be a vibrant part of the culture.  There are many vibrant ways to engage culture, and Driscoll makes a point that while the church at large is arguing over minor issues of doctrine, in varying levels of importance, they're addressing zero questions that non-believers might ask.  And I think that can be linked to church leaders and church congregations being out of touch with the modern mindset. 

Francis Chan, in this video from a Liberty University convocation (the university I attend) refers to many Christians as "weirdos."  And I'd be inclined to say yes, I completely agree!

Francis Chan also makes some incredibly crucial points about culture and evangelism.  As Christians we have to stand out from the culture, yet we need to engage the culture.  And he raises the point that Christians seem to do the opposite, they look identical to the culture and at the same time tend to hang back from sharing their faith, failing to engage the culture.  At the same time he mentions that there are Christians who do share their faith, and they tend to come off as weirdos!

You know, evangelism explosion (a method of evangelism) on the college campuses walking up to me asking if I think I'm going to heaven or not?  That's just odd.  And I recall going through the conversation with them and raising just the kind of concerns that people like Ravi Zacharias tend to address in their apologetic talks on university campuses.  Ravi Zacharias says in all his time doing apologetical (defense of the faith) work he always receives the same questions, and the questions never change.  I was not a militant atheist or even an agnostic looking for a fight when these Campus Crusade people were talking to me.  I was still a seeker.  So I basically inquired into evidence, and explained how I just wasn't yet willing to make that "leap of faith."  I hadn't seen any evidence for the existence of God.  Unfortunately they had no counter for my argument.  At that point if I could go back in time and tell myself some stuff, I would raise issues of the historical accuracy of the Bible, the incredibly high amount of documents supporting and encouraging the validity of the original texts, the philosophical coherence of Christianity, negations of the theory of evolution based on mathematical improbability, and then segway into the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the formula of Christianity when compared to the other world religions. 

We've got a culture in front of us that considers Christians intolerant.  And they don't want to tolerate Christians or our beliefs either.  Of the many points in Driscoll's talk, that was a key one.  It's hipocricy, sure it is, but there it is

We've also got a culture that is quite scientifically minded, and I believe when addressing people who are earnestly seeking a spiritual connection we ought to address them with the Ravi Zacharias and Francis Collins approach of addressing scientific and philosophical questions head on.  Many a time I would ask such questions of Christians and they would simply and this is no lie, they would simply tell me that I needed to believe God is God because the Bible says so.  You can't slap someone in the face with a Bible and demand they believe it!

We have a rebellious generation in front of us, armed with ardent scientific skepticism.  I was part of it until Jesus saved me.  The church failed in the United States to raise up another generation of Godly people.  Ceremonialism conquered, good works as a method of salvation conquered, and now as Driscoll put it there are many, many "zombie churches" that should be gone, but aren't.  Churches that shouldn't exist, yet they just kind of hang around anyway.

Driscoll adjusts the format of services, the format of small groups, and sort of turns his church into an information age evangelical force, an open house, without even using the term "evangelism" and I just love that.  He makes massive sweeping changes while still remaining Biblically sound.  That's what we need.  We need churches who adapt to the culture, integrate partially into the culture ( in relevance, style, angle of ministry, but also remaining utter in observance to sound doctrine) and engage the culture by putting an angle on teachings that addresses specific questions and concerns of the modern mindset. 

There will always be doctrinal questions and debates within churches and the scholarly framework of Christian theology.  And there are people engaged in those ministries who fight for sound doctrine and engage in the debates over details of scriptural intepretation.  We absolutely need those people in their ministry.  But when that's what we're preaching on, it creates divides, endless divides within the Christian church (the body of Christ) as a whole.

 I was at a launch team meeting with some local leaders and we watched a clip from John MacArthur's "Strange Fire" conference.  The conference was convened to respond to the Charismatic movement in Christianity taking place in the United States.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the footage I saw of the conference, which amounted to a bashing session at best.  It's important to address a situation where poor doctrine is being taught on a mass scale, I totally agree, but I would have done so quite differently.  Here is the clip we watched:

I would rebuke this bunch with one piece of scripture if I had such a chance, and that would be with 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV) which states"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful."

There is a balance to be found in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I thought Pastor Shane Idleman addressed a good balancing of that topic in this video:

So issues like this emerge more so than I would like, well that's the kind of world we live.  So be it.  There are plenty of disagreements.  I can live with that.  But I would love to see a more united body of Christ.  We can disagree all we want about various issues, but if we're agreeing on the cross of Jesus Christ and the Bible as the ultimate expression of God's authority, then I think we can unite quite a bit more than at currently.

There are so many denominations and separated sections and sub-sections that there is no unity of effort or gathering of resources and people to provide a united front.  If I had the time and resources outside of what I already do now, and the course of ministry the heavenly Father seems to be leading me in, I would engage actively in uniting the church in the United States as much as possible.  I would try to develop connections between various organizations across the board from east coast to west coast, develop closer networks of churches, and engage in bonds of united leadership.  We Christian leaders sit down together and talk about all the little details we disagree on and denominations form and non-denominations form, and divides form and pretty soon you have churches going up across the street from one another competing for business.  The UNITED BODY OF CHRIST is not a BUSINESS. We're a family.  Even when we don't agree on the time of the rapture in relation to the tribulation, we can agree on salvation through Christ Jesus.  Even when we don't agree on the five points of Calvinism, we can agree on prayer and worship.  Even when we don't agree on speaking in tongues, we can agree on the power and love of the Holy Spirit.  I would try to foster dialogues like that.  But it doesn't seem like that will be my ministry in the future, maybe, you never know, but if it's not I'll pray that God will raise up someone else to take on that daunting task.

For me, preaching the true Christian message to a generation raised on scientific skepticism, transformed by a depraved media, disenfranchised by an irrelevant half asleep Christianity, and married into a culture of complete selfishness and thoughtless patterned repetition is as daunting a task any I could ever face.  

But, God. ...And I'm filled with peace.  Because when the task is just too daunting we can't even begin to start, God has already finished.  He makes it possible, when all the odds are against us as Christians.  I believe we can do this.  We can see a resurgence in the Christian message in the United States, and I'll be even more bold and say that we can see a resurgence in Europe and continued growth in Asia and Africa as well.  It's a daunting task, it truly is.  But with God, we can.  And don't tell me God doesn't take sides, when the angel told Joshua that it was right before a battle, so regarding war, sure, but in regards to the body of Christ and sharing the Gospel, God is 100% on our side!

There are some solid things we can do to see a revival in our time:

1) We can do is pray on the completion of this task. Pray through the completion of this task.  And pray more, after the completion of this task.  Pray daily, pray in your head on the way to work, pray at your desk, pray at lunch, pray with friends, pray at church, and pray everywhere else too.  God isn't deaf, he hears our prayers and they avail much.  After seeing so many prayers answered in my short life as a Christian, I'm astounded and believe completely in the power of prayer.  If this isn't done, no chance in succeeding at all.

2) We can get educated on Christian Apologetics, the defense of the faith.  Youtube is a great resource, I've constantly watched Ravi Zacharias talks at universities, and there are many other speakers, some from RZIM and other apologetic organizations available to view.  There are many great books by people like G.K. Chesterton, Francis Collins, and particularly C.S. Lewis where we learn to intellectually defend the faith, as well as scientifically.  That way we can answer the questions of skeptical non-believers. 

3) We can get evangelical on a day to day basis.  There are so many things we can do to help the process of fulfilling the Great Commission just on a day to day basis.  We can share scripture on social media.  We can talk to friends.  We can email.  We can chat.  We can start blogs.  We can leave Bibles in bathrooms!  Post to Facebook, Craigslist, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media.  Start a Bible study.  Talk to a friend.  Talk to a stranger!  Drop off Bibles at food pantries or homeless shelters.  There are tons of great ideas.

We can take the message to our home congregations.  Do you attend a church that isn't growing in new believers?  Shoot your Pastor an email.  Better yet talk to him or her in person.  Talk to others at your congregation about how we can challenge the current generation with the message of the gospel.  Organize events.  Get some community groups started, Mark Driscoll is getting free resources together on his website.  Establish an outreach, or new policy toward evangelism.  Use your imagination! 

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -John 16:33 NIV

I think the most important thing to remember and which must always remain as the large beating heart of all our efforts is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  It's easy to get lost in all the efforts and approaches and lose the essence of the message.  The life and gift of Christ Jesus is powerful, and the example set for us in scripture in his life remains to this day a quality battle hardened use for evangelism.  The life of Christ can inspire the most stubborn skeptics, as we all have the desire to be honorable individuals within us.

When we reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and keep it central in our message, we know both the great love he showed us and our powerful debt to him, and with that knowing our own compassion, courage, and determination in this quest is made complete.

May God richly bless you and keep you strong, safe, and determined in our quest to evangelize the world.  This task is daunting to us, but a whisper on the lips of God from being complete.  Nothing is impossible to him, and thus, nothing is impossible us, the body of Christ.

It was just before our great and powerful Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and willingly gave his life for all people that he made it clear to us; he had already overcome the world.  Then Jesus the Christ looked up toward heaven and prayed words that echo through eternity:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by[c] that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” -John 17 NIV