*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 15th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Mail time- today responding to a question from Allen in Athens Georgia.
(Side note: that’s the birthplace of REM, I was there a few years ago- did the REM tour and went to Wuxtry Records where Peter Buck worked. Also, congrats on the Georgia Bulldogs)
Allen asked in the context of a slightly longer email: “what do you see as the biggest issues concerning the church today and do these have historical parallels?”
Ooh. OK. Instead of me deciding what the biggest problems are facing the church today I decided to see if I might find survey data from Christians or pastors answering this question. And if you ask for such a thing, often it is Barna that delivers some answers. I have a “State of the Church” survey asking pastors what they believe to be the most pressing issues in the church today. I will note that while this is a recent survey, the results were released in February of 2020. I think something happened after that. Yes, those were the before times.
So- of all the pastor's responses I have selected a few to note and then look at historically.
First, the most prevalent answer, with 72% of pastors answering affirmative- their #1 concern was.
1. Watered down Gospel teachings
I don’t love the language on this one, but I get the gist of the complaint. Of course, what is “watered down”? I’ll take this as slight disagreements over the nature of the good news of the Gospel. It’s not heresy but theology isn’t binary between “orthodox” and “heresy”.
Good news if that’s your concern- you are in good company with the council in the book of Acts, the ecumenical and later councils, and then later confessions of faith. When we have disagreements on the central issue it can lead to clarity.
We all disagree with one another on a number of issues, the question is how do we deal with adversity pertaining to diversity.
Number 2 on the list was:
2. The Challenges of Secularism
Once again, I don’t love the language- but I’m not Barna. Fair enough. I know some very smart people have tried to write about the birth of a new kind of secularism… ok. Cool. But I think the root concern is that political power and social influence are diminished by a dominant antagonistic culture.
So… like how Christians lived until granted freedom of worship in the early 300s. And of course, the great critic of secularism wrote his famous book in 426. It was Augustine and the City of God- trying to separate Christian culture from Roman culture. And today wherever Christians live in the minority they have to deal with a prevalent and powerful antagonistic culture. With this concern, pastors are placing themselves on a long continuum.
Let’s roll fast through a few more, lighting round style.
3. Prosperity Preachers
Read the book of James. Preachers can favor the wealthy and can also favor being wealthy themselves. From simony to indulgences we’ve dealt with money issues as long as we’ve been around.
4. Political polarization
I get this, and from an American perspective, it does seem rough. But imagine ages of revolution when it wasn’t candidates and single issues people worried about but rather whether or not the leader was divinely appointed.
5. Church abuse
You know the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? That came from Lord Acton writing a letter to an Anglican minister regarding men acting badly, some in the church. What we often leave out is the rest of the phrase: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”. Yowza, and an argument against the worldly models of fame and power.
Sometimes the abuse is fictional: the perceived self-righteous are often targets for slander. Sometimes it's real and we cry “Come, Lord Jesus”
6. Digital Communication/Issues
Imagine going from scroll to codex to printed book to digital book?
What happened when churches got electricity or voice amplification. The concern can be real (especially with disembodied services- this isn’t brand new, see radio and television ministries) but if you’re struggling with mediums and media you may be in good company, how to communicate is at the heart of a gospel that is preached from mouth hole to ear hole.
Thanks for the question Allen- I appreciate the opportunity to confirm that things aren’t great, but in the words of the theologian David Byrne “Same as it ever was”.
The last word for today comes from Titus chapter 2:
1 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 It is He who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a pastor whose real concern for the church is bad coffee. Go to gillespie.coffee to sort this out for your own church. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose greatest concerns involve the Angels pitching staff… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.