Doug Wilson wrote a mid-summer post , giving tactical advice for the Christian resistance. It’s pretty good stuff, much of it unexpectedly calls the church back to its distinctiveness; some concerns itself with our handling of current issues that touch the character of God.
As much as there is something tantalizing about being part of a resistance (I mean, they’re usually the good guys in any tale of history), my battle cry has been changing a bit this past year, especially since the last election and the bombshells of the last two Supreme Court sessions. I see a great need for the American church to take care of its own orthodoxy and equip the saints for our day, a day that is increasingly becoming antagonistic to the one, true God.
The medieval church of old, which governed every aspect of village life, performed their Masses in Latin and established themselves as the sole arbiters of the Word of God. They denied the peasantry direct access to the Word and warned them that it was only the clergy who were qualified to read Scripture accurately. Instead of first-hand biblical knowledge, the ignorant common man was reliant on the priests to tell him what he should or should not believe. Unfortunately, the modern American church looks very different, but acts under much the same mentality.
Biblical literacy in America is at an all-time low. As pollster George Gallup summarized:
Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.
Virtually every home in America has at least one Bible. Four Americans in five believe the Bible is the literal or inspired word of God, and many of those who do not, still regard it as the basis for moral values and the rule of law.
A percentage of Americans who believe the Bible is the word of God, only one-third of Americans read it at least once a week—15 percent read it daily and only another 18 percent read it one or more times a week. Another 12 percent read the Bible less than weekly, but at least once a month. More than half of all Americans read the Bible less than once a month, including 24 percent who say they never read it and 6 percent who can’t recall the last time they read the Bible.
For the sake of gaining appeal, many American churches have willingly tossed aside their distinctiveness and have not valued the sacred trust they’ve been given from past generations, that of rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and implanting it in the hearts and minds of those in their seats every Sunday. The message conveyed is that “we love the Bible, we talk about the Bible, but it’s not so important that we need to teach the Bible. We’ll be sure to let you know ‘the good parts,’ the especially good nuggets we think you should know, but further than that, don’t worry about it.” The clergy in these churches convey the belief that the Bible is too stodgy for everyday fare and fear it will keep folks from streaming in, those who come for the dramas and the “lights and big drums” (see previous post, Choosing a Church). They redefine terms in the hope of making the gospel relevant and palatable for the unbeliever in their midst, thus effectively denying that “faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). As Mark Dever has said in his book The Deliberate Church, “What you win them with is likely what you’ll win them to. If you win them with the Gospel, you’ll win them to the Gospel. If you win them with technique, programs, entertainment, and personal charisma, you might end up winning them to yourself and your methods (and you might not!), but it’s likely that they won’t be won to the Gospel first and foremost.”
The American church has re-embraced the ideology of the late 19th – early 20th century, German theologian, Adolph von Harnack, who reduced the whole counsel of God to two precepts, believing the essence of the Christian faith to be (1) the universal fatherhood of God and (2) the universal brotherhood of man. In other words, God’s love gives us all value and we’re all brothers in Jesus; we just need to love one another. In these churches, the gospel lacks urgency, because there is no mention of God’s equally-true natures of holiness and justness. If sin is spoken of at all (usually in terms of “brokenness” or “faults,” or “mistakes” etc.), it is only in terms of God’s over-riding love for us. The second precept plays out in the oft-repeated message of service as the main method of sanctification for the believer (and unbeliever too). Social justice is their battle cry and in an environment bereft of Scriptural grounding, the book of James, alone, keeps resurfacing in sermon series’ and Bible studies from year to year.
So even while embracing Wilson’s call to be calm and carry on, I am finding my heart for Christian resistance to be more about whats happening inside our church walls than outside them.