Over the last few decades, popular Christianity has become a perplexing thing to me. I keep trying to comprehend what it is that has gotten so strange about the postmodern church. Being 78 years old at this writing, and having been in the church most of that time, I probably have a bit of perspective on the subject.
As I was contemplating this enigma, the word “casual” popped into my mind. Immediately, I checked out the word in a number of web dictionaries and was amazed how the word’s several meanings seemed to correspond nicely with the problems I see in the church today. * Let us look at a few of these descriptions.
WITHOUT DEFINITE OR SERIOUS INTENTION
If many Christians went to their jobs each day as they go to church, millions of Christians would be promptly fired.
Being in ministry, I have had occasion to visit numerous churches and over the years my wife and I have been members of different assemblies. We are continually amazed at how people go to church. Many folks are seriously late for the meetings. They drag in, sometimes missing much of the worship service. They are saying with their feet, “I hate this! I wish there was some other place I could be for the next hour and a half!” Gone are the days when people arrived early for church, when they had that initial sweet time of fellowship with other early attenders, or when they reverently sat in their seats, reading their Bibles or quietly praying for the service.
Not only do people arrive late for church, they often arrive in scandalous attire. They wouldn’t dare go to work in such attire. Young girls come in short shorts with spaghetti strap halters and flip-flop sandals. Other people look like bedheads and appear they may have actually slept in their clothes. Perhaps they are wearing their picnic or football-going attire for that wonderful and greatly anticipated after-church event. Just think— they do all this before the King of Kings and the Ruler of the whole vast and glorious universe.
I am not saying that church attendance has to be a suit and tie affair. There is no reason why dress cannot be comfortable. Yet, Paul in 1Timothy 2:9, indicates that churchgoing dress should be with modesty, decency and propriety.
IRREGULAR OR OCCASIONAL
Too many folks in our day don’t bother to go to church at all, or else they do the “every-other-Sunday routine,” or perhaps “the once-a-month routine” in their attendance. Wade Roof and William McKinney in their book, American Mainline Religion, mention some survey results. These found that more than 78 percent of the general public and 70 percent of churchgoing people believe that you can be a good Christian without attending church. Obviously, these folks have a serious argument with the word of God in Hebrews 10:25 which says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
There is a false teaching in the church today claiming that each individual is a temple of God. When the Bible speaks of our being a temple of God it uses the plural form (1 Cor. 3:17). We are a temple as we come together with other believers. The same is true of our being the house of God (1 Pet. 2:5), the body of Christ (1 Cor. 6:19), and so forth. The Bible tells us that we are like living stones and we together make up the holy temple of God (1 Pet. 2:5). It is impossible to do this alone. We need to lay ourselves down in the Lord’s kingdom and quit our wiggling around, so that other stones can be built upon us, and that the glory of the Lord can appear in us. It seems that when we come apart from other Christians we cease to be like glorious living stones and rather become just plain old stumbling blocks.
It seems that the disciple Thomas was one of these irregular worshippers. Unfortunately, in John 20:24-25, we are told that he missed out on seeing the wonderful and astounding appearance of the Lord Jesus, shortly after he was resurrected from the dead.
INDIFFERENT TO WHAT IS HAPPENING, APATHETIC
In many parts of the world today it is impossible to be indifferent in church services. In these places, worshippers assemble fully knowing that they could be slaughtered for doing so. We would have to agree that these are some very serious saints.
But in the US particularly, we are indifferent and apathetic to what is happening at church. Many seem to greet it all with a big yawn. It appears that a lot of people are simply bored with their religion. Some of this may be attributable to the banal and trite sermons that often come forth. However, we cannot blame it all on this.
Church is apparently not very important to a lot of Christians today. Many seem to be agreeing with the priests in Malachi. They were saying of their sacred priestly functions: “…My, how tiresome it is!…” (Mal. 1:13 NASV). We no longer feel that the Christian Church and our assembling together is the most important thing in the world—that it is literally the hope of the world. We probably cannot understand how Israelites of old could journey on foot the one-hundred miles (160 km.) from the Galilee to Jerusalem, to worship and make their offerings. We will also probably not understand how these same Hebrews generally offered up at least 50 percent of their incomes to the Lord in the various sacrifices and other requirements each year.
We sigh, and go on with our lukewarm living.
SHALLOW OR SUPERFICIAL
Then there is the matter of our being shallow or superficial. Likely the most serious area where we are guilty of this is in the area of biblical knowledge. Thom Rainer in his book The Bridger Generation notes that believers are no longer Bible-based. He has made the following chart to illustrate this:
Builders (born 1927-1945) – 65 percent Bible-based believers
Boomers (born 1946-1964) – 35 percent Bible-based believers
Busters (born 1965-1983) – 16 percent Bible-based believers
Bridgers (born 1984 or later) – 4 percent Bible-based believers
This is alarming! However, it is also alarming that few believers today hold a biblical worldview. The pollster, George Barna notes that only 7 percent of Protestants hold a biblical worldview. Non-denominational Protestant churches score only a little better at 13 percent. These figures are distressing and bewildering. Barna says, “The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus.”** He notes that the most prevalent alternative world view is that of Postmodernism.
Obviously, serious Bible study and prayer times are on the wane these days. Many people have stopped bringing their Bibles to church in recent years. Quite a number today appear to be reading their Bibles on their smart phones or I-pads. Some may be serious, but it can’t be denied that there is a great temptation to click over to the game scores or to what is happening with the many gods and goddesses of the celebrity world.
“I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like our cell phone? We would carry it everywhere we go, flip through it throughout the day. We would go home to get it if we forgot it. We would receive messages from the text. We couldn’t live without it. Parents would give it to their kids as gifts. It would be available for all emergencies and any and all conversations. One more thing, it would never be disconnected as Jesus has already paid the bill in full” (Unknown writer).
The dearth of serious Bible study can be noticed today in just about any Christian bookstore. There are aisles and aisles of “How to” books or “Christian fluff,” as these are sometimes called.
In most of these bookstores one will have to search for the serious Bible study section. When it is found, the section will usually be quite small. Again, I can recall how Christian book stores once seemed to be stuffed with Bible study books and materials.
It seems that we have forgotten the admonition of Peter to add knowledge to our faith (2 Pet. 1:5). Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) based his famous ontological argument for the proof of God upon the Augustinian principle of faith seeking understanding. He said, “I believe in order that I may understand.” ***
A CURE FOR CASUAL CHRISTIANITY
There is an easy cure for casual Christianity. We need to begin by taking the word of God seriously and putting it into practice. The Word says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The Bible also says in Matthew 22:37, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
When we begin to do even these simple things, along with some deadly serious prayer and heart-rending repentance, we will begin to notice that our casual Christianity is starting to disappear.
*Check out Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster; and The Free Dictionary for starters.
** Barna Research Group, Ltd., 2003.
*** Larry D. Hart, Truth Aflame, A Balanced Theology for Evangelicals and Charismatics, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1999), p. 112.
Picture credit Wikimedia Commons, Deutch: Die schlafende Gemeinde, by William Hogarth (1728). Public domain.