The Church Confronts Hostility
In Matthew 24, Jesus clearly warns believers to expect a gulf to open up within the church during the Birth Pangs Era, the precursor of the Tribulation - with the faithful on one side and the faithless on the other. The gulf will eventually widen during the Tribulation itself to the point that the one, the faithless, will begin to betray the other, the faithful (Matt. 24:10).
How can it possibly come to that? And is it happening today? And if so, what is its cause? What is its underlying dynamic?
For almost 400 years - ever since the Mayflower Compact in 1620 - American Christians have, by and large, found themselves immersed in a secular culture that fully embraced the moral absolutes of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secular culture was congenial at best and benign at worst.
The Ten Commandments were posted not only in churches, but in secular institutions as well - on court room walls, in the hallowed chambers of legislative bodies, in gubernatorial offices and presidential suites, and, of course, in class-rooms throughout the country. In short, an ethical consensus blanketed America.
There was no moral cleavage between church and state. With few exceptions, the state upheld the church’s definition of sin and punished its occurence with criminal and civil sanctions; and that held true most especially for divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and suicide.
Over the last forty years, however, that ethical consensus has passed into oblivion. It’s gone the way of the woolly mammoth and the dodo bird. Moral relativism now reigns supreme, leaving the church more often than not at odds with the state - and frequently bringing the two into open conflict. More and more Christians are drawing the conclusion that an actual condition of hostility now characterizes the relationship between church and state here in America.
Some Christian leaders have sought to ameliorate that hostility by playing down the church’s historic emphasis on sin, divine justice, and God’s wrath. Brian McLaren, for example, a bright light within the “emergent church” movement, has shied away from calling homosexuality a sin - to the point that he actually presided at his own son’s same sex wedding.
Tony Jones, another emergent leader recently affirmed, “I now believe that GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer) persons can live in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!).”
But if sin is played down, where’s the need for a savior? No sin, no savior! It’s that simple - and McLaren and Jones - both of whom claim to be evangelical Christians - know that. They’ve therefore reinterpreted Jesus - both his person and his mission. The Christian message is no longer cast in the guise of “sinners in need of a savior;” but instead “seekers looking for a guide - a companion - to help them down the road leading to self-fulfillment.” They tell us that it’s an heroic adventure - one that requires great courage to pursue - but one that’s filled with mystery and wonder and is well worth the effort.
But on a deeper level - and here I’m giving them no benefit of the doubt - what they’re really after is far less heroic: they want desperately to fit in with a secular culture now at war with Christians who still hold to a faith that casts humans in the guise of condemned sinners. A faith that, moreover, makes no bones about many of the specific sins that call for that condemnation - including the very sins the secular culture here in America now not only condones, but actually approves; e.g., homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc. McLaren and Jones know that clinging to that faith will engender not just ridicule, but outright animosity. And they’re unwilling to put themselves in that kind of jeopardy. And that’s the real truth!
Weak and enfeebled
Four hundred years in a sheltered hot house! Protected from the scorn and outright persecution that Christians face in so many other parts of the world - especially in the southern hemisphere - and most especially in Africa! The result: the emergent church replete with all its compromises.
Certainly, however, most evangelical churches are not “emergent.” Still ...
It’s all too easy to forget that the mercy, grace, and love of God can only be grasped against the foil of God’s wrath.
The vast difference between the faith so characteristic of Christians facing daily hostility and Christians who have been protected from hostility is reflected in a letter sent by an African bishop to the head of the Episcopal Church, USA. The American church had promised the African prelate financial aid if he could overcome his aversion to the ordination of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, to a bishopric in New England. Dr. Nkoyoyo, the African prelate, replied ...
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important. The Word of God is clear that you have chosen a course ... that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered ... As a result, any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship nor even receive (the) desperately needed resources (you’ve offered). If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it would be an occasion of great joy.”
The power, authority, and majesty of the gospel message is revealed in Dr. Nkoyoyo’s reply. Against that backdrop, McLaren and Jone’s compromises seem woeful and pathetic.
The peace bubble has burst here in America. Christians can no longer expect a sympathetic secular culture to guard them from animosity. We are facing an ever more pervasive and threatening hostility. And the temptation to downplay whatever in the gospel message elicits that hostility is even now splitting the church - including the evangelical church. Are we ready for it? The prophetic scriptures are very clear: it’s unavoidable.
Are you sure?
Are your children tough enough?
A tidal wave of abuse and censure is bearing down on your children. It threatens to demolish all the barriers you’ve erected to hold it at bay - sweeping your sons and daughters up into its wake, ruining their lives, and leaving you devastated.
It arises from the moral relativism that has become so deeply entrenched in American culture over the last forty years.
Moral relativism has pushed aside the traditional Judeo-Christian code of ethics - replacing it with the only ethical imperative it acknowledges: “tolerance” - which is nothing more than a euphemism for “anything goes.”Anyone today, anyone at all, but most especially our youth ...
... that person is apt to be forced to the very periphery of "respectable society" - where he is exposed to ridicule and contempt. A steep price for anyone to pay! And, simply put, most of our children - your children - are not prepared to pay it.
Even if they choose to resist, will they be tough enough to carry through with their decision? Or, ironically, will your efforts to keep them safe turn out to have actually weakened them?
The Church’s Big Mistake
Most Christian parents believe that the spiritual protection of our children is a role scripture assigns - at least in part - to the church; that the church is uniquely equipped to serve that purpose. And, yes, if Christian leaders built churches the way God intends ...
... but instead as marauding bands of soldiers commissioned by God to plunder the devil’s house for the souls of men and women held captive there, then yes, the church could indeed serve that purpose - and do so effectively. But that’s not what most church leaders are doing - and here I mean evangelical leaders.
Nowhere in scripture is the church likened to a fortress. It’s certainly true that scripture likens God to a fortress, but that’s not the description scripture gives of the church. Indeed, quite the contrary: it’s hades, not the church, that scripture likens to a fortress - with the devil and his minions trembling behind its walls - and with the church laying siege to its gates ...
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
In short, we’ve got it all turned around - and, in doing so, we’ve enfeebled the church so that it can’t afford our children - your children - the kind of spiritual protection they so desperately need.
Napolean, the greatest of the 18th Century’s generals was once asked, “What’s the secret of your success.” He replied, “Attaque, attaque, toujours attaque!” - meaning, “Attack, attack, always attack!” And that’s exactly the key to the church’s success as well. A church that’s cast in a defensive posture loses its verve - its elan - its esprit de corps - its very raison d’etre. It becomes weak and debilitated - and so do its members - most especially its youth.
We should be training our children to go on the attack; to know that they’ve been called to walk out a drama that even the angels in heaven covet. We should be teaching them that this world is not their home - that they are sojourners on earth - citizens of another country - a heavenly country - that they should not be putting down roots in the “here and now.” We should be training them for spiritual combat, not simply teaching them Kumbaya songs to sing around a camp fire or providing venues for them to play basketball or soccer.
Your children yearn for a cause worth dying for - a cause that calls on them to go all out; exactly what today’s lukewarm church isn’t doing.
Can you see what’s happened?
You think you’ve created a safe haven for your children by turning the church into a fortress; but, ironically, you’ve done just the opposite: you’ve enfeebled both the church and your children - and left them and yourselves exposed to a terrible danger.
Nobody likes to be asked the hard question; moreover, nobody likes asking it either; but liking it isn’t what matters; it’s got to be done. So, let’s do it ...
What does a relevant church look like?
Those events must become the backdrop against which the gospel is preached. Yes, the gospel must be preached unabashedly and without compromise - without conceding ground to the cultural mind-set that comprises that backdrop; but without that backdrop, it won’t resonate in the minds and hearts of unbelievers.
And that’s precisely what the evangelical church has not been doing for at least the last twenty years or so. She has, with a few notable exceptions, deliberately turned a blind eye to those very issues - and when occasionally she finds herself backed into a corner and forced to address them, her response is fragmented, dull, and lukewarm - lacking passion and replete with compromise and ambiguity. It’s no wonder, then, that the evangelical church here in America and throughout the West is becoming irrelevant and stagnant - especially among the youth.
A study released in 2005 warned that the evangelical church is hemorrhaging her youth ...
“... the evangelical church (is bleeding) internally - especially her youth. They are checking out of the church when they leave home for college - (with the result) that many 20-somethings who were formerly regular, faithful members of youth groups are opting out of the church.”
And, by implication, it warned that not only was it likely to continue, but that it would actually worsen. And, sure enough, in 2012, the Barna Group, a highly respected non-partisan polling agency confirmed the 2005 prediction, even echoing many of the same words and phrases used in that earlier study ...
“Overprotective. Shallow. Repressive. These are all words some Christian youth have used to describe their faith experience. That perception no doubt explains why recent studies show that more than half of all Christian teens and 20-somethings are distancing themselves from today’s Church.”
And what exactly are the issues today’s evangelical church is so deliberately, so consciously ignoring? It all boils down to the ever growing sense that mankind has lost control - that events have catapulted past the constraints world leaders have tried to impose - that we’re engulfed in a series of crises that can’t be checked: military crises, political crises, global economic crises, cultural polarization, a disorienting loss of moral certainty, civil strife, legislative paralysis - all apparently dove-tailing together to form in the not too distant future one single world calamity.
That’s the issue on everyone’s mind; and that’s precisely the issue the church won’t face up to - except when she’s forced to - and then tepidly - almost apologetically.
The real tragedy here is that the church, more so than any other human institution, is uniquely equipped to address this matter. That’s what the prophetic scriptures are all about. And that’s exactly what pastors, for the most part, refuse to address from their pulpits and in their Bible studies - prophecy.
Pastors are frozen in a state of paralysis - not wanting to “rock the boat;” not wanting to raise troubling issues; and, in some cases, untrained and unequipped themselves to teach on prophecy with any real intelligence and perspicacity. Church leaders seem terrified that they’ll be cast in a “Harold Camping nut-mold;” afraid of being ridiculed for teaching prophecy with passion and conviction - afraid of affirming that, yes, we are indeed living in the End Days with the Tribulation right around the corner.
And so the church lurches onward - descending into an ever deepening pit of irrelevancy - with her youth walking away - looking for a cause worth dying for and not finding it in today’s luke-warm church. Shades of Laodicia.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CHURCH?
Wow! What a blessing: four children, all happily married and all following hard after Jesus Christ! Sixteen grandchildren - fun, mischievous, intriguing, and one by one giving their lives to serve the Lord.
Caution has never been a by-word in the Shearer family. We've raised up churches, founded discipleship houses, lived in communes, preached on the streets, trying to live each day as if it were our last - and through it all, hanging on to each other and walking in the joy and peace of our Lord.
And we aren't through yet. Sita and I are working on a ministry that will pull our family and other hardy souls together once again, prime our spiritual pumps, and hurl us all into the very center of God's unfolding drama for the End Days.
I've included the picture here of my grandchildren to encourage those of you who want to go all out for Christ, but who have children and are worried that doing so will jeopardize their upbringing. The bottom line is this: You can trust God.
We did our best, but ...
Sita and I always tried our best to be good parents, spending lots of time with our children and, most importantly, keeping our own marriage alive with joy and romance. Still, we put our service to Christ in first place - and trusted God to watch over our children. The result: four of the best children anyone could ask for and sixteen wonderful grandchildren. Living for Christ is what life is all about.
What we find so troubling
What Sita and I find so troubling is the time and effort parents these days - and here we're talking about Christian parents - devote to filling their children's "dance card." It has become an all consuming obsession with many parents. Every day, parents are hauling their children back and forth from soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, counseling sessions, field trips, Bible studies, youth programs, you name it. Both parents and children are left exhausted and panting for breath.
And added to that is the enormous amount of money most churches these days allocate to their youth programs - more, in most cases, than any of their other church funded programs.
And what's the outcome. Recent data suggests that close to 85% of children raised in Christian homes leave the church following graduation from high school.
What Sita and I did
Sita and I never engaged in that kind of nonsense. Yes, I was a boy scout leader, and yes, I helped coach my sons' soccer teams. But I made sure I never allowed myself to become consumed in it all. We drew boundaries and stuck with them.
What we did for our children that proved so wonderfully effective is get them intimately involved in whatever ministry was at the time engaging our attention. We took them out in the streets with us; we took them on retreats with us; and, lastly, we always encouraged them to bring along their friends. We made sure that they were tied in with their Christian peers and were forming friendships with them - friendships that remain intact to this day.
And it worked. Let me make a suggestion for you to ponder: instead of hauling your children off to a myriad of events each and every week, get them into what you're doing for the Lord. Make them a vital part of it. Talk to them about it. Ask them for their input and concerns. Include their friends.
But of course that can only happen if you and your spouse know what ministry God has called you to serve in. Do you know what it is? Is there room in it for your whole family. If it's just for you and there's no room for your spouse and your children, dump it, and find a ministry you can all enjoy and minister in - one you all find meaningful and joy-filled, and full of high adventure.
Point of caution
One last point of caution: Taking your children to a "family night" at your local church will not normally "cut the mustard." That's not the kind of "ministry" I'm talking about. I'm talking about your ministry - the answer to God's calling on your life - your service to God. That's the kind of ministry you've got to recruit your wife and your childlren into - as a whole family unit. Not dropping them off at your local church for a fun night and sticking around to attend a Bible Study for you and your spouse. That's not the answer. Verbum sat sapienti est.
It was June of 1967 ...
It was June of 1967, Jerusalem had just been captured by the Israeli army and made that country's capital. It seemed an obvious fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. I was a graduate student at the University of California at the time and, along with my fellow students, was transfixed by that event. What, though, was the response of most evangelical pastors? Hardly anything! It was business as usual.
The next year, in 1968, a series of mind-numbing crises began gripping the nation: the civil rights movement transitioned from peaceful protest to bloody confrontation; the War in Vietnam began provoking riots on college campuses; and, underscoring the growing violence, assassinations seemed almost a regular occurrence - with MLK gunned down in April of that year and Bobby Kennedy suffering the same fate just two months later in June. America was being torn apart - the whole country seemed to be unravelling. But, once again, you would never have known it from the sermons that were being preached from evangelical pulpits. With but a few exceptions, it was business as usual.
Outside the Church
To many of us, the evangelical church seemed "dead in the water" - irrelevant and boring. The result was predictable: her youth began leaving in droves.
Then, almost from out of nowhere, the Jesus Movement unexpectedly appeared. It arose from outside the established church structure - and, in fact, often pitted itself against it - "Poor, dead Christianity" was the mantra heard time and time again - and without apology.
The Jesus Movement revolved around the End Days. Prophecy was its motif - its underlying dynamic. In short, what the established church turned a blind eye to - the rebirth of Israel and the capture of Jerusalem, along with all the alarming crises that were then rocking America and the entire world - the Jesus Movement made its focus; and it was that focus which drove us all to preach the gospel with such desperate urgency. Jesus was coming back; judgment was right around the corner; the salvation of the lost had to take first place.
Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was for us required reading - second only to the Bible. Over twenty eight million copies were sold. It tied together all that was then taking place here in America, in the Middle East, and throughout the world - and embedded it within a prophetic framework that called on us to to make evangelism our overriding objective. Nothing was more important.
Once again: it's business as usual
The Jesus Movement ran its course long ago. And, once again, the established church is deliberately neglecting the importance of prophecy. For most pastors today, just as back then, whatever cataclysmic events seem to be bearing down on mankind - however prophetically significant those events might appear - it's business as usual.
A New Wineskin
I predict that what happened in the 1970s will shortly be repeated here in America: the established church will be left behind - circumvented - and in its place God will fashion a new wine skin - a new "Jesus Movement" - filled with young believers who are desperately looking for a cause worth "going all out for," but finding nothing in today's lukewarm church. Shades of Laodicia!
The unsaved want the gospel to be made relevant - they want a gospel message that tells them why they're being pressed toward the abyss. Let's give it to them.
For the last thirty five years or so, evangelical pastors have been working hard to afford believers protection from the dangers inherent in a culture that has become increasingly hostile to the Christian faith.
The "fix" they've concocted has been simple and on the face of it quite reasonable: to transform the church into a fortress - where believers can find refuge and safety from the animosity that's building against them, their families, and especially their children. But it's a fix that runs counter to God's intention. Nowhere in scripture is the church likened to a fortress. It's a metaphor that's often used for God, but never for the church.
Indeed, quite the contrary: Jesus, in his first mention of the church in Matthew 16 ...
I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Pastors have it all turned around
Pastors have reversed the roles; and in doing so, they have unwittingly weakened the church - the very opposite of what they intended. It's a simple truth clearly underscored in scripture ...
Pastors unable to rebuild the church
It's not likely that the church can be rebuilt by pastors. The very nature of a pastor - the gift itself - militates against that possibility. A pastor's primary task - the first concern that springs to his mind - is to shelter his congregation, not lead it into battle. It's far too easy for a pastor to both ...
The first is the task of the evangelist and the second is the task of the prophet.
That's not to suggest that the pastoral ministry is unimportant; quite the contrary: it's vital. Believers need the compassion and gentle shepherding that pastors are best equipped to provide. But whenever evangelists are pushed aside and prophets are shunned, the church loses her militant edge. She becomes soft and flabby, unable to go over to the attack, unwilling to sacrifice, and, lastly, unable to either grasp the prophetic significance of the moment or to galvanize believers to exploit it. It's the Laodician Church!
The pulpit ministry must make room for evangelists and prophets if the church is to emerge from her Laodician slumber, dismantle the fortress she's made of herself, and go over to the attack.
Alarm bells heralding the approach of The Tribulation have been clanging for well over three decades; yet the church pays scant heed. And the reason is obvious: pastors, not evangelists and prophets, are at the helm.
And so the church sleeps on - with genuine conversions at an all time low, with almost 85% of her youth packing off after graduation from high school, with no sense of direction - other than "keeping on with the keeping on."
Hardly any mention is made of the rebirth of Israel, or the capture of Jerusalem, or the ever growing turmoil in the Middle East, or the social and political polarization that has paralyzed governmental institutions throughout the Western World, or even the global economic crisis now underway. The prophetic significance of it all is shrugged off. Once again, it's just "keeping on with the keeping on," building higher walls to hold the rabble at bay, and huddling ever more closely to one another.
It's a pitiful sight; but not just that, it's fraught with danger - especially for our children, who are being swept into the wake of an immorality that no one - Christian or otherwise - could possibly have imagined thirty to forty years ago. It's time to call back evangelists and prophets to the pulpit, not shunning the pastoral ministry, but providing a balance that has been missing for many long years.