Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why the Evangelical Church is Declining

Candy bar with Jesus name

The evangelical church as we know it is shrinking in size and influence. What is happening?

Churches from numerous types of backgrounds see that their numbers are dropping and are quickly upgrading their style of worship, renovating the church foyer into coffee shops, pressing people into the weekly small groups, producing bigger or better special dramas or shows, or spending on new personnel and equipment to better communicate through the web, apps, video and other burgeoning technologies. These help but there is something far deeper going on.

The problem of intellectual integrity

Rachel Held Evans, a popular American christian blogger and author, has recognized the serious problem of younger people dropping out. She wrote an important article on why millennials are leaving the church. She states, among many things, that it has to do with the clash between faith and modernity. Millennials feel caught between “their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.”

Mark A. Noll, a well-known history professor at the University of Notre Dame adds to the idea of intellectual integrity. He wrote in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that Evangelicals don’t think, and concludes that there is not much of an evangelical mind. This problem then surfaces in the evangelical church being ill-equipped to challenge the world of contemporary learning with little room for self-criticism or complex faith issues. Children today are raised up in a social climate with accelerated methods of learning that are complex. Therefore, the attraction between the younger generation and the older evangelical culture is tenuous at best.

Kevin Vanhoozer, research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, adds to this. He believes that evangelicals have never been taught how to think for themselves within a christian framework.

Evangelicals have been very good at providing Bible-study helps—word studies, for instance… But I’m not sure your average evangelical is able to use the Bible as the interpretive framework for his or her daily life.

The largest and fastest growing christian sect, and one the fastest growing religions in the world today, the Renewalists, an umbrella term for Pentecostals, Charismatics, and any person or group influenced by their mystical doctrines, are not equipped to intellectually engage with the modern culture. They have neither the knowledge of 2000 years of christian history and practice, nor the understanding of modern technology and social constructs to actively participate in the complex challenges that society is confronted with. They have instead into the realm of christian mysticism as an alternative to engaging the challenges confronting all of humanity. Many Pentecostals, and especially Charismatics, believe that reason and faith are opposite in meaning and that the only solution is to meet God through a mystical experience. Reason is a barrier. This solution appears even more distant and radical than the previous iteration of evangelical christianity to the public. Christian mysticism is a shift in approach but the anti-intellectualism remains consistent.

There have been so many changes in health, technologies, gender roles, morality, relationships, and scales of economics, that they have created many grey areas. The Bible was written when none of the present technologies and discoveries existed — contemporary discoveries that have impacted greatly. They have created tectonic societal shifts. The future of evangelicalism is how leadership engages in these discussions. Avoidance or one-word answers are not sufficient.

Evangelicals are coming to realize, especially children growing up in this framework, that their religious system contains an insufficient answer for today’s challenges. Many churches weekly promote the old evangelical lines of accept Jesus or that any of life’s problems can be answered with Jesus or promote more faith, piousness, earnestness or sincerity to plow through life’s difficult challenges. It doesn’t take long to discover that these simple formulas do not work in most situations and are too superficial.

However, it is not just millennials, it is also generation x people leaving as well for similar reasons.

The war against modernity is over. Evangelicals need a new identity.

The evangelical movement has always been a counter-movement. One of its central tenets was rejectionist of modernity. Science was believed to be a competitor for the religious mind and the overthrower of the old order. This war against modernity has been honourably lost but many evangelicals have not given up fighting in this battle field. It is part of the evangelical tradition. Modernists hear these volleys as sounds in the distant past, echoes of a time that was. Evangelicalism as an opposer of modernism has run its course. It is no longer relative. The younger generation can no longer use this as part of their religious identification.

The Church as a marketed brand instead of a trusted source has negative consequences.

Another challenge is the fact that millennials and gen-x have become much more adept at screening out marketing and campaign pitches. That is old schtick. The evangelical churches emphasis on slick marketing and branding with little emphasis on content has hit many peoples BS radar.

This can be found in one George Carlin’s most famous comedic routines. George was a well-known stand-up comic, satirist, writer and author. He stated that “When it comes to bull***t, big-time, major league bull***t, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion.”(1)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r-e2NDSTuE

As of August 5, 2016, there are over five-million views on his delivery on this subject. He was merely reflecting a common public opinion – one similarly echoed in my home and community that surrounded me while growing up. George’s audience loudly cheered him on. The evangelical church has not attempted in any way tried to remedy this tension except for dismissal of this community as utterly lost.

There are so many diverse evangelical churches competing for the same audience that it makes propositional truth appear as a relative entity.

There are so many independent evangelical churches being established with different sets of values, missions, and emphasis, that the public has become confused on the evangelical faith. With no central authority or definition, the conflicting messages remove the idea of a consistent propositional truth. Evangelical churches are viewed then as personal brand from the selection of choices found in the religious supermarket.

The Church does not have the budget or the skills to compete as an alternative entertainment package.

The attempt to compete with music studios, movie theatres, Netflix, sports and recreation for their audience has gone flat. They can never compete at this level and win due to the massive amount of money needed to produce a successful project. Neither is it the primary mission of the church to do this.

Adapting to the changing role of church in society.

The church as a universal institution was once involved in all the processes from birth to death. Education, hospitals, welfare, marriage, and cemeteries were once in the realm of the church affairs. This has all been completely transferred to the state. There is no primary role for the church in the present society. It is in an identity crisis.

What needs to be done?

For the evangelical church to survive, there are a number of steps that need to be taken, the first being the most critical one — real content through empowered leadership. They need to be specifically trained to lead congregations through the accelerating myriad of technological, ethical, and moral labyrinths being produced at a dizzying rate.

Secondly, If christians simply understood their own history, there would be much less need to reinvent the wheel in many basic structures of right christian living in this modern day.

Studying the ancient sages is a good reference point and should be the start for creating a christian worldview. As one reads historical writings, one will naturally conclude that these ancient writers were far more intelligent than given credit, and although our technology has definitely evolved, philosophically, we are no different. For everything that happens today, there is likely a philosophical parallel in history where societies, communities and peoples have wrestled with and have come up with a solution.

Discovering these ancient writers and applying them to modern problems should not be a requirement for the lay-person, but mandatory for any church leader. It is their responsibility to communicate these messages in a manner easily understood by a contemporary audience.

When using historical traditions as a guide for building an alternative worldview, it is not meant to be rejectionist of the modern science community or their opinions. Philosophically there are some important differences, but truth, whether it is found in science or in religion, still remains truth.

An emphasis on content would bring churches to similar core values and the public would recognize a coherent set of truths consistent among the broad spectrum of the evangelical faith.

Evangelicals have to change the approach to Scripture. Scripture does not contain every answer to life’s problems. It does provide essential information on the character and nature of God, our relationship with Him and life’s vital questions, but it cannot be used as a legal text for daily living. It is the role of the church to decide exactly what those answers are, based on inference, history, experience and wisdom. It takes strong, trained and experienced leadership to accomplish this.

Evangelicals need to be more active in right daily living and positively contributing to the greater social discussion with emphasis pointing to a better alternative. The Catholic Church is a great example. The Pope and the Catholic Church always brings about alternative views to the world on health, social, and political viewpoints. They are very well thought out and make sense. It is very rare that political pundits or the public have disdain or disregard for their message. Public pundits do not normally agree but accept the Catholic Church as part of the global discussion. Evangelicals have never been invited to that greater discussion because they have never demonstrated this same type of approach.

One of the greatest problems in building a comprehensive framework for understanding and interpreting life from a christian religious perspective is the Renewalist/Evangelical bias of history. There is an assumption that the contemporary mind has far superior ideas about God, the world and life around us than medieval man. This view tends to be rejectionist of all history and its writings. The historical thought has no utilitarian value for today. A short synopsis is this: the church was good up until 300 AD, and then went corrupt, sporadic instances happened for the next 1200 years but nothing of importance, then the Protestant revolt happened, and some acceleration happened in proper christian living. In essence, 1500 years or so of christian history was irrelevant and it was up to the protestant sect of Christianity to reinvent itself. This reinvention is still in process but since 1500 years of antecedents have been rejected, there is a look to alternative influences to fill the void. These alternatives are usually found through celebrity endorsements, the building of a religious celebrity persona, cliches like got Jesus? or abandoning any sense of reason and going into an extreme form of christian mysticism.

There is also an assumption that modern evangelicals are superior to their catholic counterparts in moral and intellectual thought. This excludes taking ideas and thoughts from this community who has diligently wrestled through many of these contemporary issues on a deep level.

So my answer on how the evangelical church can remain relevant and attract people — get some rich content and communicate it well. Superficial can only go so far.

This is a crisis time for the evangelical movement. If it cannot redefine itself with a deep and real purpose, its future will be uncertain.

For further reading:

References   [ + ]

Book Review: The Swerve

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt’s book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, is an excellently well written book that combines both history and storytelling.

It is a scintillating work of historical fiction that is equal to the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Greenblatt’s book revolves around the life and times of a fifteenth century Florentine/Roman scholar and one time secretary to the Pope, Poggio Bracciolini, and his discovery of a lost poem entitled De Rerum Natura by the first century BC poet Titus Lucretius Carus.

The Swerve strings together the complex weave of religion, society, corruption, greed, immorality, Greek philosophy, war, the lives of monasteries, monks, and libraries by following Poggio Bracciolini in his pursuits. It results in Poggio finding this poem which was unknown to civilization for a number of centuries.

He believes that the discovery of this poem written by Lucretius was a cornerstone in the development of humanism and the reshaping of what is now become the modern world.

He gives a very vivid picture of the manufacture of books, sales, and the public and private libraries of the fifteenth century which was controlled by the Church and the cultural elite. The Swerve also outlines that the lives of the copyists and book clerks was not always an easy one. As one copyist noted at the completion of a work, Thank God, it will soon be dark, (Page. 40) meaning that his job was done for the day.

It also shows the daily lives of those clerks and administrators in the fifteenth century; their gossip, sexual innuendos, morality and secret lives — a shocking revelation by many readers assuming that those involved within the Church industry would be there for altruistic purposes.

There is one serious flaw with the book and that is of overstatement. The discovery of the poem written by Lucretius has had minimal affect on the shift to humanism as compared to the works of Aristotle and lesser that of Plato — two Greek philosophers who, although never Christian, have always been a central part of Christian rhetoric. This is an important fact left out by Greenblatt.

He also did not credit Greek philosophy as the only way out for a disillusioned society that recognized the greed, wickedness and immorality within their Church leaders. Any negative speech to Church leaders or doctrine could have severe repercussions. Any reference to Islam or Judaism for structural reform also would bring serious penalties. Greek philosophy, a vehicle by which ancient Christian orators have quoted and structured their rhetoric since the inception of the Church, was a tolerated genre. This form of Greek philosophy did not directly cross into the boundaries of Christian theology either. There was no direct threat. It was the only alternative that did not immediately commute harsh punishment.

This created a natural outlet for protest and an alternative to the dominant structures of the time. It was inevitable that Greek philosophy would become a much more active force in the years to come.

The Swerve was a Pulitzer prize winner for nonfiction. However this is a historical narrative. His storytelling, which makes it an interesting adventure, is not always historically accurate. In this instance he chose style over substance and did a very good job in doing so. His novel approach is his strength and makes this book a good read. It is given a 4.5 out of 5 for historical fiction and 3 out of 5 for historical nonfiction.

The Swerve: How the Word Became Modern is available at amazon.com, your local bookstore, or library. ■

The Apostolic Faith Newspaper on the Azusa Street Revival

apostolic faith newspaper 1906

The following is a digital copy of the first page from The Apostolic Faith newspaper, Volume 1, No. 1, 1906, which covered the events of the Azusa Street revival.

The Azusa Street revival began in Los Angeles, California in 1906. It was one of the most significant Pentecostal expressions in the 20th century, and a cornerstone that generated the expansionism of Pentecostal ideology throughout the world. The Apostolic Faith reported directly on the Azusa Street Revival and the events surrounding it.

Clara Lum, Glen A. Cook and Florence Crawford are the principal contributors to the Newspaper.(1) as described by the azusastreet.org website. There is no reference to any author in the articles themselves, though it appears that there are multi-authors on the first page of the first edition. (2)A clue can be found in the change of spelling of the word baptize. The lead article has baptise while the snippets on the right have baptize.

There are also some typographical and/or spelling errors that have been left uncorrected in the digital copy.

The pdf image that this copy was digitized had some words missing, probably due to the newspaper being folded too many times over the years. Where the copy is illegible, this symbol [. . . ] was put in.

The full edition of this copy can be found in pdf format, The Apostolic Faith, Volume 1, No. 1. The full publications series of this newspaper can be found at the Pentecostal Archives.

The Apostolic Faith

“Earnestly Contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” — Jude 3.

Vol. 1, No. 1. Los Angeles, Cal., September, 1906. Subscription Free

Pentecost Has Come

———-

Los Angeles Being Visited by a Revival of Bible Salvation and Pentecost as Recorded in the Book of Acts

The power of God now has this city agitated as never before. Pentecost has surely come and with it the Bible evidences are following, many being converted and sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues as they did on the day of Pentecost. The scenes that are daily enacted in the building on Azusa street and at Missions and Churches in other parts of the city are beyond description, and the real revival is only started, as God has been working with His children mostly, getting them through ot Pentecost, and laying the foundation for for a mighty wave of salvation among the unconverted.

The meetings are held in an old Methodist church that had been converted in part into a tenement house, leaving a large, unplastered, bar-like room on the ground floor. Here about a dozen congregated each day, holding meetings on Bonnie Brae in the evening. The writer atended a few of those meetings and being so different from anything he had seen and not hearing any speaking in tongues, he branded the teaching as third-blessing heresy and thought that settled it. It is needless to say the writer was compelled to do a great deal of apologizing and humbling himself to get right with God.

In a short time God began to manifest His power and soon the building could not contain the people. Now the meetings continue [. . . ] is kindling all over the city and surrounding towns. Proud, well-dressed preachers come into “investigate.” Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find then in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.

It would be impossible to state how many have been converted, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. They have been and are daily going out to all points of the compass to spread this wonderful gospel.

BRO. SEYMOUR’S CALL.

Br. W. J. Seymour has the following to say in regard to his call to this city:

“It was the divine call that brought me from Houston, Texas, to Los Angeles. The Lord put it in the heart of one of the saints in Los Angeles to write to me that she felt the Lord would have me come over here and do a work, and I cam, for I felt it was the leading of the Lord. The Lord sent the means, and I came to take charge of mission Santa Fe Street, and one night they locked the door against me, and afterwards got Bro. Roberts, the president of the Holiness Association, to come down and settle the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, that it was simply sanctification. He came down and a good many holiness preachers with him, and they stated that sanctification was the baptism with the Holy Ghost. But yet they did not have the evidence of the second chapter of Acts, for when the disciples were all filled with the Holy Ghost, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance. After the president heard me speak of what the true baptism of the Holy Ghost was, he said he wanted it too, and told me when I had received it to let him know. So I received it and let him know. The beginning of the Pentecost started in a cottage prayer meeting at 214 Bonnie Brae.”

LETTER FROM BRO. PARHAM.

Bro. Chas. Parham, who God’s leader in the Apostolic Faith Movement, writes from Tonganoxie, Kansas, that he expects (D.V.) to be in Los Angeles Sept. 15. Hearing that Pentecost had come to Los Angeles, he writes, “I rejoice in God over you all, my children, though I have never seen you; but since you know the Holy Spirit’s power, we are baptised by one Spirit into one body. Keep together in unity till I come, then in a grand meeting let all prepare for the outside fields. I desire, unless God directs to the contrary, to meet and see all who have the full Gospel when I come.”

————

THE OLD-TIME PENTECOST

This work began about five years ago last January, when a company of people under the leadership of Chas. Parham, who where studying God’s word, tarried for Pentecost in Topeka, Kan. After searching through the country everywhere, they had been unable to find any Christians that had the true Pentecostal power. So they laid aside all the commentaries and notes and waited on the Lord, studying His word, and what they did not understand they got down before the bench and asked God to have wrought out in their hearts by the Holy Ghost. They had a prayer tower from which prayers were ascending night and day to God. After three months, a sister who had been teaching sanctification for the baptism with the Holy Ghost, one who had a sweet, loving experience and all the carnality taken out of her heart, felt the Lor lead her to have hands laid on her to receive the Pentecost. So when they prayed, the Holy Ghost came in [. . . ] speaking in an unknown tongue. This made all the Bible school hungry, and three nights afterward, twelve students received the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, and cloven tongues could be seen upon their head. They then had an experience that measured up with the second chapter of Acts, and could understand the first chapter of Ephesians.

Now after five years something like 13,000 people have received this gospel. It is spreading everywhere, until churches who do not believe backslide and lose the experience they have. Those who are older in this movement are stronger, and greater signs and wonders are following them.

The meetings in Los Angeles started in a cottage meeting, and the Pentecost fell there three nights. The people had nothing to do but wait on the Lord and praise Him, and they commenced speaking in tongues, as they did at Pentecost, and the Spirit sang songs through them.

The meeting was then transferred to Azusa Street, and since then multitudes have been coming. The meetings begin about ten o’clock in the morning and can hardly stop before ten or twelve at night, and sometimes t two or three in the morning, because so many are seeking, and some are slain under the power of God. People are seeking three times a day at the altar and row after row of seats have to be emptied and filled with seekers. We cannot tell how many people have been saved, and sanctified, and baptised with the Holy Ghost, and healed of all manner of sicknesses. Many are speaking in new tongues, and some are on their way to the foreign fields, with the gift of language. We are going on to get more of the power of God.

————

Many have laid aside their glasses and had their eye sight perfectly restored. The deaf have had their hearing restored.

————

A man was healed of asthma of twenty years standing. Many have been healed of heart trouble and lung trouble.

————

Many are saying that God has given the message that He is going to shake Los Angeles with an earthquake. First, there will be a revival to give all an opportunity to be saved. The revival is now in progress.

————

The Lord has given the gift of writing in unknown languages, also the gift of playing on instruments.

————

A little girl who walked with crutches and had tuberculosis of the bones, as the doctors declared, was healed and dropped her crutches and began to skip about the yard.

————

All over this city, God has been setting homes on fire and coming down and melting and saving and sanctifying and baptising with the Holy Ghost.

————

Many churches have been praying for Pentecost, and Pentecost has come. The question is now, will they accept it? God has answered in a way they did not look for. He came in a humble way as of old, born in a manger.

————

The secular papers have stirred and published reports against the movement, but it has only resulted in drawing hungry souls who understand the devil would not fight a thing unless God was in it. So they have come and found it was indeed the power of God.

————

Jesus was too large for the synagogues. He preached outside because there was not room for him inside. This Pentecostal movement is too large to be confined in any denomination or sect. It works outside, drawing all together in one bond of love, one Church, one body of Christ.

————

A Mohammedan, a Soudanese by birth, a man who is an interpreter and speaks six[] languages, came into the meetings at Azusa Street and the Lord gave him messages which none but himself could understand. He identified, and wrote [a] number of the languages.

————

A brother who had been a spiritualist medium and who was so possessed with demons that he had no rest, and was on the point of committing suicide, was instantly delivered of demon power. He then sought God for the pardon of his sins and sanctification, and is now filled with a different spirit.

————

A little girl about twelve years of age was sanctified in a Sunday afternoon children’s meeting, and in the evening meeting she was baptized with the Holy Ghost. When she was filled those standing near remarked, “Who can doubt such a clear case of God’s power.”

————

In about an hour and a half, a young man was converted, sanctified and baptized with the Holy Ghost, and spoke with tongues. He was also healed from consumption, so that when he visited the doctor he pronounced his lungs sound. He has received many tongues, also the gift of prophecy, and writing in a number of foreign languages, and has a call to a foreign field.

————

Many are the prophesies spoken in unknown tongues and many the visions that God is giving concerning His soon coming. The heathen must first receive the gospel. Once prophecy given in an unknown tongues was interpreted, “The time is short, and I am going to send out a large number in the Spirit of God to preach the full gospel in the power of the Spirit.”

————

About 150 people in Los Angeles, more than on the day of Pentecost, have received the gift of the Holy Ghost and the Bible evidence, the gift of tongues, and many have been saved and sanctified, nobody knows how many. People are seeking at the altar three times a day and it is hard to close at night on account of seekers and those who are under the power of God.

————

When Pentecostal lines are struck, Pentecostal giving commences. Hundreds of dollars have been laid down for the sending of missionaries and thousands will be laid down. No collections are taken for rent, no begging for money. No man’s silver or gold is coveted. The silver and the gold are His own to carry on His own work. He can also publish His own papers without asking for money or subscription price.

————

In the meetings, it is noticeable that while some in the rear are opposing and arguing, others are at the altar falling down under the power of God and feasting on the the good things of God. The two spirits are always manifest, but no opposition can kill, no power in earth, or hell can stop God’s work, while He has consecrated instruments through which to work.

————

Many have received the gift of singing as well as speaking in the inspiration of the Spirit. The Lord is giving new voices, he translates old songs into new voices, he gives the music that is being sung by the angels and has a heavenly choir all singing the same heavenly song in harmony. It is beautiful music, no instruments are needed in the meetings.

————

A Nazarene brother who received the baptism with the Holy Ghost in is own home in family worship, in trying to tell about it, said, “It was a baptism of love. Such abounding love! Such compassion seemed to almost kill me with its sweetness! People do not know what they are doing when they stand out against it. The devil never gave me a swet thing, he was always trying to get me to censuring people. This baptism fills us with divine love.”

————

The gift of languages is given with the commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” The Lord has given languages to the unlearned. Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Zulu and languages of Africa, Hindu and Bengali and dialects of India, Chippewa and other languages of the Indians, Esquimaux [. . . ] the deaf mute language [. . .] in fact the Holy Ghost speaks all the languages of the world through His children.

————

A minister says that God showed him twenty years ago that the divine plan for missionaries was that they might receive the gift of tongues either before going to the foreign field or on the way. It should be a sign to the heathen that the message is of God. The gift of tongues can only be used as the Spirit gives utterance. It cannot be learned like the native tongues, but the Lord takes control of the organs of speech at will. It is emphatically, God’s message.

————

During a meeting at Monrovia, a preacher who at one time had been used of God in the Pentecost Bands under Vivian Dake, but had cooled off, was reclaimed, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. When the power of God came on him his eight-year-old son was kneeling behind him. The boy had previously sought and obtained a clear heart, and when the Holy Ghost fell on his father, He also fell on him and his hands began to shake and he sang in tongues.

————

Bro. Campbell, a Nazarene brother, 83 years of age, who has been for 53 years serving the Lord, received the baptism with the Holy Ghost, and gift of tongues in his own home. His son, who was a physician, was called and came to see if he was sick, but found him only happy in the Lord. Not only old men and old women, but boys and girls, are receiving their Pentecost. Viola Price, a little orphan colored girl eight years of age, has received the gift of tongues.

————

Mrs. Lucy F. Farrow, God’s anointed handmaid, who came some four months ago from Houston, Texas, to Los Angeles, bringing the full Gospel, and whom God has greatly used as she laid her ands on many who have received the Pentecost and the gift of tongues, has now returned to Houston, en route to Norfolk, Va. This is her old home which she left as a girl, being sold into slavery in the south. The Lord, she feels, is now calling her back. Sister Farrow, Bro. W. J. Seymour and Bro. J. A. Warren were the three that the Lord sent from Houston as messengers of the full gospel.

References   [ + ]