In the last two articles I’ve made an assumption. That is, there is problem of nominal Christianity in the South. I’ve made that assumption without definition.
Furthermore, in those two articles I’ve argued that 1) the overt Christian culture in the South is something other than mere hypocrisy and 2) the only accurate and Biblical assessment we can make involves the confession of self-described Christians, no more, no less.
If as I proposed last time, we can say that many of the self-described Christians in the South are actually Christians due to their right confession of the person and the work of Jesus; and those individuals are what make up the culture which is overtly Christian rendering a Kingdom focused and Christ centered cultural confession; then the original assumption of the problem of nominal Christianity in the South must originate from something other than inauthentic or fake Christians.
In other words, there must be something else causing the symptoms of nominal Christianity by which church leaders are making their judgment.
Lets take a closer look at the symptoms before we jump to another conclusion.
If there’s anything that aggravates pastors and church leaders, its apathy. Apathy comes in many forms for Christians. One of the most noticeable is of course church attendance. Church attendance is down everywhere, including the South and in a region of the country where your self-identity remains linked to the question “where do you go to church”, that form of apathy sticks in the crawl of those who reflect on the condition of the culture. Other forms of Christian apathy include lack of involvement in church, lack of involvement in evangelistic activities, decrease in tithes and offerings, lack of involvement politically, lack of Bible study, minimal prayer life, and a general lack of interest in spiritual matters.
There are many other types of apathy that could be listed here. I’m sure you’ve already thought of several you’d add to the list. The point is though that apathy is common in the Church as a whole and in a culture that still places a great deal of value on church activity, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Sunday mornings are times for the Bride of Christ to come together and worship the King of kings and be fed by the Spirit through the preaching of the Word and the administering of sacrament. All too often though, the sermons turn into blistering lectures on why the pastor or his staff is “fed up” with the behavior of so many wayward Christians. It’s easy to excuse the unregenerate that know no better, but what can be said about the thousands who “live like an angel on Sunday but like the devil on Monday”?
To hear of and experience sinful behavior of the many folks in the community who profess Christ is disheartening. It’s only natural to look for a reason for this behavior and its so easy to go to the laundry lists the Apostles give us in the New Testament to merely relegate those folks to “false professions”, knowing full well that those lists are not meant for us to judge others profession of faith as false, but for us to judge our own.
This self-righteous finger pointing often exacerbates the problem of nominal Christianity especially in a culture where morality remains an integral and virtuous part of a person’s self-identity.
Lack of Biblical knowledge
In a culture where even the most agnostic of people can probably quote several Bible verses, it’s frustrating that those who profess Christ and even worse confess some form of Sola Scriptura (Biblical authority), have such a limited Biblical and theological foundation.
Some of the ethical issues of the day are so easily dispatched by such a minimal exegetical, theological, and apologetic foundation that it’s more than maddening that discussions about same-sex marriage or abortion should ever need to take place.
Even worse is the fact that most of the people both inside and out of church who claim to be regenerate haven’t even a laypersons understanding of grace, a vital tenant of our Faith. Most Christians would accidently attribute some work to their salvation and thus depreciate the work of Christ as sufficient and efficient.
The fundamental doctrines of the Faith have unfortunately been highjacked by fundamentalism in the South and have been conflated with works. The lack of understanding of Theology 101 has led to a total misunderstanding of the Gospel, the person and work of Christ (John 17:2-9), the Trinity (John 1:1), the nature and authority of Scripture (Mat 4:4), Original Sin and the inability of man (1 Cor 2:8-14), and God’s gracious gift of salvation (Eph 2:8-10)).
All of this has been replaced by folk theology like “Left Behind”, I can do it, try hard, don’t’ drink, don’t chew, and don’t hang around with those who do.
All of a sudden, a culture that prides itself on its allegiance to the Bible looks hypocritical.
The Church in the South has reaped what she has sown…
The logical progression of these three symptoms would indicate the fault of all of this lies entirely on the Christian gone astray. But, what if we reverse the order? What if we begin with the lack of Biblical knowledge? What does that do to the blame?
Whose fault is it that 100’s of thousands of Christians are walking around with almost no Biblical and theological understanding?
Well pastor, elder, deacon, church leader, I’m gonna do a little finger wagging.
Although someone who is newly converted should have a desire to go to church, read their Bible, and pray, pray, pray, they probably need your help.
I know it’s a radical concept, but doesn’t the Great Commission say something about discipleship?
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)
How is your teaching ministry? Not your preaching, I’m sure it’s great, but how well does your church disciple its members and converts?
Do you teach theology? If not, how do you expect your people to put this huge Biblical narrative together without falling into some heretical quagmire?
Are you training your congregation in apologetics? If not, how do you expect them to know how to answer the questions that our well-prepared culture fires at them?
How’s your Gospel presentation? Are you emphasizing the work of people to come or to do? Or are you offering the gift of salvation to those who believe?
It’s my opinion that a misunderstanding of grace leads to a believers final realization that they cant live up to God’s expectations and they can never earn his favor, finally giving up in exhaustion because they’ve never been taught that grace has nothing to do with them and their value as participants or their ability to live up to it.
That one thing eventually leads many back into sinful behaviors that they have never realized or been taught that they have been freed from. Why try so hard? It’s impossible to please a God who’s constantly writing down the things you do so he can see if you measure up.
Sinful behavior is discouraging to authentic Christians. Those who are finally beaten down by trying to live up to God’s favor give in and throw in the towel. Apathy reigns in the Church because grace has been relegated to the sidelines, discipleship has been left to the lone disciple, and teaching has been dumbed down to glorified VBS in most churches!
The fact is, if you reverse the logical order of the symptoms of nominal Christianity, whether you’re in south Alabama or southern California, the result is a guilty Church standing hand in hand with an inept Christian. No longer can the pulpit blame game be played placing it all on the guy who “may not be a Christian”.
All of this is a sociological theory of a “good ole boy” I know, but 40 plus years of experience on both sides of the fence in a culture that I love and long to see flourish in the grace of Christ has caused me to examine deeply the concerns of those who I respect as Church leaders.
What can be done to reverse this tidal wave of tainted tradition?
Let’s look at that next time…