And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6–8)
In the last chapter, we addressed the absolutely essential need to defend the Christian faith/Word of God in order to restore relevancy to Group 1, the young adults who have left the church, never come on holidays, and never plan on returning. But that leaves the other half, Group 2: those who come at Christmas and/or Easter and who plan on returning after they have children. Compared to Group 1, this group has a much higher level of belief in the Bible. Three-quarters of them believe that they are saved, and the vast majority of them report relatively high levels of belief in biblical accuracy, authority, and history. The obvious point here is that over half of the people who have left the Church are still solid believers in Jesus Christ. What they object to, however, is hypocrisy, legalism, and self-righteousness. The Bible is relevant to them, but the Church is not.
Researcher George Barna highlights this problem:
Loyalty to congregations is one of the casualties of young adulthood: twentysomethings were nearly 70% more likely than older adults to strongly assert that if they “cannot find a local church that will help them become more like Christ, then they will find people and groups that will, and connect with them instead of a local church.” They are also significantly less likely to believe that “a person’s faith in God is meant to be developed by involvement in a local church.”1
We have to be honest: at least half of those who are leaving the Church haven’t left the faith; they have left the fellowship. They wouldn’t see it as a Bible problem (even though they obviously have issues that need addressing), but a church problem. As a result of all this number-crunching and data analysis, we strongly advocate that Christians and the Church everywhere begin to defend the Word. Yet defending the Bible is not our end goal. It’s really just the beginning. When someone is convinced of the relevance of God’s Word, they must then make a commitment to live the Word. Our concerns are twofold:
- The “Church” has become an institution that no longer reflects the characteristics and priorities described in the Word of God.
1,000 young adults . . . believe that the Church is relevant?
- yes. 47%
- no. 53%
When we asked the entire 1,000 young adults whether or not they believe that the Church is relevant, only 47 percent said yes, and a full 53 percent said no/don’t know. And quite frankly, it’s not just the 20-somethings who feel this way. In the book Why Men Hate Going to Church,2 David Murrow addresses another major concern in church demographics: the Church is losing men as well as it is young adults. Men think church is irrelevant, too. The questions that young adults and men ask on Sunday mornings are So what? Why should I go? If church doesn’t work for me, what difference does it make?
- People within the Church are not living authentically Christian lives based on the Word of God.
About two-thirds of the people in Group 2 actually think that the Church is relevant. But they still don’t go. Why is that? It seems to be more a matter of heart issues than head issues. Relationships with people (rather than relationships with God) seem to be the stumbling block.
“Do you feel the Church is relevant to your needs today?”
|Yes||No & Don’t Know|
|Easter and/or Christmas attenders||60%||40%|
|Those coming back with kids||74%||26%|
Notice that those who feel the Church is most relevant to their needs are those who intend to come back when they have kids. Not only do they see the value of the church experience for their children, but it’s quite possible that they also know that the people they’re having difficulty with will have moved on by then! Just to verify the results of that question, we asked this question:
“Do you feel good people don’t need to go to church?”
|Yes||No & Don’t Know|
|Don’t Know Easter and/or Christmas attenders||33%||67%|
|Those coming back with kids||27%||73%|
Isn’t this interesting! At least two-thirds of those who go to church on holidays and plan on coming back feel like good people do need to go to church . . . and yet they don’t go regularly themselves! Why is that? I believe it’s because the Church, and oftentimes the individuals in it, are not living by the Word in at least three critical areas: hypocrisy, teaching, and tradition. Each of these concerns can be remedied by a firm commitment by the Church and by the individuals in the Church to live the Word.
The Hypocrisy Infection
What is the number-one perception of the Christian church today? No matter how you slice it, it always comes down to one word—hypocrisy. Hypocrisy has far more to do with honesty (including one’s approach to the Bible itself) and transparency than it does being perfect. It insinuates that people say one thing (for example, we believe the Bible is God’s Word), and live another way (for example, don’t really believe all the Bible). It implies that people force their own legalism on others but are blind to their own faults and sins—even as they are very judgmental toward those who struggle with their own temptations.
In our study, hypocrisy is more important than the church being too political, irrelevant, or boring. Not coincidentally, 20-somethings who have never been to church at all voice the same criticism. David Kinnaman notes this in his book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters.3 In part, he discovered these perceptions:
- Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.
- Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
- Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
- Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
- Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
- Christians are prideful and quick to find fault in others.
We have to admit that there is an element of truth in many of these critical perceptions. Certainly, the Church is often falsely judged for things that it does not do and does not believe. If you look through that list, however, isn’t part of the problem that individual Christians and the Church as a whole do not live (or really believe) what the Bible says? The LifeWay study discovered similar concerns. Fifty-eight percent of Church dropouts in their study selected at least one church- or pastor-related reason for leaving church. Most common was, “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical” (26 percent). Another 20 percent “didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.” The final category of reasons, “religious, ethical, or political beliefs,” contributed to the departure of 52 percent of church dropouts.4
I greatly suspect (as I have observed this myself) that part of the problem is that many see those in the Church who are against gay marriage and other aberrant lifestyles coming across as hating homosexuals. Most Christians don’t teach that marriage is founded in Genesis, and it is God’s Word that speaks against gay marriage. It is not our opinion we are imposing on people. People need to see Christians building their thinking consistently on God’s Word, beginning in Genesis, to understand where our worldview comes from. Sadly, many Christians just impose their Christian morality from the top down, and this causes major problems.
I will get into this more in the next chapter, but I firmly believe that one of the reasons people aren’t living by the Word is that they aren’t being taught the Word. And certainly, because there is currently so much compromise of history in Genesis, church people by and large just do not understand that the Bible has to be the foundation for all of our thinking. When church people (remember the Sunday school problem) are brought up to allow millions of years and evolutionary ideas to be added into Scripture, many consciously or unconsciously take fallible ideas to Scripture—instead of using Scripture as a foundation for their thinking. Thus their worldview becomes a mixture of biblical morality and human opinion.
Remember, these kids in our sample were in church almost every Sunday. But they heard the same old stuff—shallow, relational, and sentimental stuff that doesn’t have meat and substance and doesn’t really connect them to reality. Many pastors strive to give entertaining messages that leave the congregation feeling inspired. But unless these messages are based on the inspired Word of God, those feelings will quickly fade away. Christianity without the Bible is a nebulous, lofty religion that doesn’t connect to anything in the real world.
After speaking in a church about connecting the Bible to the real world—teaching clearly that the history in Genesis is true and why the gospel based in Genesis is true—a mother and her teenage daughter came up to me. (I have had many similar encounters over the years.) The mother said, “I can’t thank you enough. I have been struggling to get my teenage daughter to church. She keeps telling me it is a waste of time and it’s not relevant. We’ve had major problems. But this morning, she sat on the edge of her seat listening to every word you spoke, and after you finished she told me that for the first time she now understands what church is all about—for the first time she understands why Christianity is relevant. You really connected the dots for her this morning.”
I spoke to the woman’s daughter at length to glean why she reacted in such a way, and I believe she represents the feelings of the majority of church kids. She didn’t see the Bible as real—it didn’t connect to the real world. She thought church was just about spiritual stuff—but school was about real stuff. She was tired of the same old stories she had heard since Sunday school. She thought what she was taught at school showed the Bible couldn’t be true—and no one at home or church could give her answers to her questions. Her mum told me she didn’t have a clue what to say about dinosaurs and science issues, and she had just told her daughter it didn’t matter, but come to church and trust Jesus anyway! But such a situation is repeated over and over and over again in the Church, and it is not being dealt with.
Why aren’t the believers coming to church? When the Church no longer speaks to them, it becomes less relevant; the Church becomes like a clanging gong—making noise but offering nothing of practical value for their lives in the real world.
I believe that those in the pulpit are also missing the opportunity to preach about the relevancy of the Church itself. What does the Bible say about how we are to function together as a Body? Why is it important that we do not forsake our gathering together? The average person sitting in the pew probably doesn’t know these things . . . and those who are already gone certainly don’t understand that enough to reconnect themselves with a vibrant body of Bible-believing people.
The Tradition Trap
Conservative evangelical churches pride themselves on doing things “by the Book.” But is that really the case? When we consider what “church” is from a biblical perspective, we must seriously and honestly ask the question, Are our churches built on the Word of God or the wisdom of man? In the Western world, when you say “church,” at least four things immediately come to mind: a building, an order of service, sermons/Sunday school, and musical worship. That’s biblical “church,” right? You tell me! How many of these “church” things are found in Scripture? How many of them are man-made traditions?5
There is not a single place in the New Testament where the term “church” refers to a building—not one! It wasn’t until A.D. 190 that Clement of Alexandria referred to a meeting place as a “church.” He was also the first person to use the phrase “go to church.”6 Every single one of the appearances of the word ecclesia in the New Testament refers to a gathering or network of believers in Christ, not a physical structure or place.
An “Order of Service”?
Virtually every evangelical Christian service follows the same basic format for “church” every time we meet. In its most basic form, we have opening prayer and music, the sermon, and the closing song and/or prayer. Beyond that, most local churches have a very distinct format that also includes announcements, an offering, and (at predetermined times) “communion.” Strange, but you can look through the entire New Testament and find no such order, nor any suggestion that Christian gatherings should follow such an order. That doesn’t mean that the order of worship we use is wrong; we just have to be honest and say that there’s nothing biblical about it at all . . . and yet it’s one of the most important aspects of our modern definition of “church.”
Sermons and Sunday School?
In the Bible, the good news was obviously preached to the unbelieving masses (Acts 2; Matthew 6–7). Doctrine was shared through letters and taught in interactive small groups. By the fourth century, the “Church” had adopted a format for teaching where a single man stood in front of a passive audience and lectured.7 This can still be a very useful format for teaching and preaching today, but it doesn’t appear to be the format that was used in the first-century Church where teaching believers was done in an interactive small group setting. (Again, that doesn’t mean that sermons are wrong; you just have to admit that they’re part of our man-made tradition, and not biblical history.)
The same goes for Sunday school. Sunday school didn’t appear on the scene until 1700 years after Christ. Robert Raikes of England gets the credit for starting the first Sunday school in 1780.8 Again, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the idea of Sunday school (even though it’s really not working right now), but you’re not going to find it in the Bible; it’s not a biblical element of “church.” So then, if your Sunday school isn’t working like it should, why not do something different!? I’m not saying you should do away with it (as we have stated earlier, we advocate major radical changes), but I am saying that you definitely could cancel your Sunday school program and not violate any specific example in Scripture.
I have spoken in hundreds of different churches, and some sort of music is almost always included. I know that music can be a valid form of worship, and I love great God-honoring, worshipful music. Some claim church choirs were borrowed from Greek dramas and were used to accommodate pagan worship.9 But choirs are mentioned in the Bible and were in existence before, during and after the Temple in the Old Testament. However, the point is Scripture does not mandate we have choirs.
In many evangelical churches, the choir has been replaced by a worship team who leads concert-style music and takes a considerable amount of the service time. Yes, music has a rich history in the Bible, but the type of worship that dominates and controls so much of “church” cannot be found in the New Testament . . . at all. I am only saying this to make a point that we don’t have to do things just because it is tradition. As someone once said to me, “Do you know the seven last words of the Church?—we’ve never done it this way before!” And just because a church does something a different way doesn’t mean everyone else has to follow!
If people want to make music the focal point of their service, they can—and many do. But the music is not really feeding the souls and protecting the minds of the congregation. Our statistics certainly show that music isn’t the reason our young adults are leaving, and it’s not the reason that they will come back. And again, we are not saying music is wrong—it is all a matter of what the focus and priority really should be.
Are we doing church “by the Book”? Just because we might be “conservative” or “traditional” doesn’t mean that we are “biblical.” It’s safe to conclude that if one of the original Apostles visited one of our churches today, he wouldn’t have any sort of clue that he was in a Christian gathering (unless he could understand our language). “Church” today is mostly driven by man-made traditions and not by the biblical mandates to defend the Word of God and live by the Word of God.
Many churches are waking up to this fact. Willow Creek (well-known for its seeker-sensitive approach to bring in people) recently had a look at what they were doing. Through a scientific survey like the one we conducted, they wanted to see if their church was really helping people grow. The findings shocked them:
We discovered that high levels of church activity did not predict increasing love for God or increasing love for other people. Now don’t misread this! This does not mean that people highly involved in church activities don’t love God. It simply means that they did not express a greater love for God than people who are less involved in church activities. In other words, an increasing level of activities did not predict an increase in love for God. Church activity alone made no direct impact on growing the heart . . . . it was a flat line—and a stunning discovery for us.10
That is a tough pill to swallow. But at least they were willing to evaluate the effectiveness of what they are doing and consider making adjustments. Whether or not they make the right adjustments is another matter, of course.
When it comes to the modern-day church, I think one of the most piercing passages of Scripture is this:
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. (Mark 7:6–8; NIV)
May we never hold to man-made religious traditions at the expense of defending God’s Word and living God’s Word. When it comes to “doing church,” are we relying on man’s wisdom or God’s Word? If the forms and traditions that we use are working, then fine. But if they aren’t working, we have a responsibility as well as the freedom to change what we are doing, provided that as a Church we do not neglect the commandments of God and worship God in vain.
Church can be defined many ways. It could be simply defined as “a group of individuals that prioritize the sharing of the Word of God and live by the principles of the Word of God.”
In order to stay true to such a definition, however, we must study God’s Word to find out what the basic principles of church are! My challenge to you at this point is to study for yourself the principles and priorities of church in the New Testament.
Can I ask how you would define church? Is your definition based on man’s thinking and tradition or God’s Word? This is a critical, fundamental question. Yes, we are concerned about the exodus of young adults from the Church. But unless we know what the Bible means by church, all of our efforts and concerns might be misguided. We need to be willing to question all assumptions that we have about church and let the Bible speak for itself when it talks about the Body of Christ.
The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ecclesia. It is used:
- 103 times in the New Testament;
- 20 times to refer to the universal Church;
- 34 times to refer to a group of churches;
- 49 times to refer to a specific local church.
I challenge you to take God at His Word and study both what the Bible says about Church and what it doesn’t say. In order to see a glimpse of the Church in the first century, we must look at passages like Acts 2:42–47:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Descriptions like these give us a picture of what church is supposed to be all about: a community of people whose lives are empowered, directed, and energized by personal interaction with the Word of God and with each other. While some of the descriptions of the early Church are clearly cultural, many of them are universal as we discover the role of teachers, elders, deacons, and pastors—which also means there is structure as well as rules to abide by (for example, for disciplining when necessary). By connecting with what the Bible says about the Church, our churches connect with reality and regain the relevance that has been lost because we have focused only on our man-made traditions.
A very interesting New Testament study begins with a search of the words one another. If you don’t have a Bible study program on your computer, go to any of the online Bible search engines and type in those two words. You’ll discover an amazing assortment of verses that describe what God really intended for lives to be like together as part of the Church.
A similar search can be made for the word church. Read these passages and ask yourself, Is this what church means to me? Do our traditions help us to be more like this kind of church or do they distract from the principles of the New Testament? When you find clear principles and examples, pursue them with all your heart. If you don’t find support for an aspect of “church” that you are used to or that you feel is being treated like a doctrine, know that it’s only tradition. That doesn’t mean that the tradition is necessarily bad. Some traditions need to be kept, others are optional, and some need changing!
One of the foundational biblical concepts for church is that we are to be a “body.” Christianity is not a solo journey. How can you be a solid Christian in isolation? If you’re in isolation, it means you’re susceptible to the devil, evil, and you’re not being held up by fellow believers. It’s a rough world out there. We were not designed to go it alone. You might attend large worship services, but if you don’t have those personal connections with the other members of the body, you’re probably going to fall apart, because there’s no one else there to help hold you together.
Unfortunately, the typical church does not provide these types of relationships or relevant teaching to their young adults. The Barna research indicates this trend:
Much of the activity of young adults, such as it is, takes place outside congregations. Young adults were just as likely as older Americans to attend special worship events not sponsored by a local church, to participate in a spiritually oriented small group at work, to have a conversation with someone else who holds them accountable for living faith principles, and to attend a house church not associated with a conventional church. Interestingly, there was one area in which the spiritual activities of twentysomethings outpaced their predecessors: visiting faith-related websites.11
Because much of the conventional Church is neither defending the Word of God nor living by the Word of God, the young people who have left the Church—particularly those who still have strong levels of biblical belief—are trying to find it elsewhere. Very few are searching the Scriptures to discover what “church” is really supposed to be all about. All they know is that they’re not finding it within the buildings they grew up in, and they are willing to break with tradition to find it—even when it looks nothing like the church of their parents. Right or wrong, they are redefining what church means to their generation. I personally believe this is part of the reason why movements are arising in the Church that are not biblical in their beliefs but seem somewhat attractive on the outside and seem to be more “loving” and “gentle” and “caring.” But in the long run, these churches have no real foundation—no real substance.
A Virtual Church?
Walt Wilson was a sales manager at Fairchild Semiconductor, a start-up executive at Apple Computer, and a Silicon Valley businessman. Now he is the chairman of Global Media Outreach, a ministry that is trying to help the Church enter the digital age:
The business term to describe the shift from atoms to bits is called radical discontinuity. Basically, it is change that happens so fast that we don’t know how to describe it or even forecast it. It would be a huge mistake to think the Church is immune to this development. It is not. Many seekers across the world have shifted to information on the Internet instead of going to a place called church. People are looking for God in the world of bits, not atoms.12 The Internet is now becoming the funnel into the church. If you are not using the Internet to conduct real ministry, then you don’t exist to the current generation of seekers—two million daily!13
Sensing that the conventional church has dropped the ball when it comes to defending God’s Word and living God’s Word, scores of believers are leaving the pews and heading for the couches of living rooms across the country. The resurgence in the “home church movement” has been significant. The home church has its advantages and disadvantages, just like every other form of church. Many people feel that this movement is a step backward and that home churches lack accountability, order, resources, and authority. Those who attend them argue that the Church survived and thrived for 300 years in homes before they started to meet in official church buildings. Home churches can also lack the biblical structure (as given clearly in Scripture) that includes elders, deacons, etc. Many of the young adults who go to them, however, feel like they have been “burned” by a traditional church that does not understand them. They argue that the environment is informal, with less liturgy, and highly interactive. They try to make it known that home churches are not just a place where a bunch of renegade lone rangers go to tie up their horses once in a while.
The Para-church as a Church?
For hundreds of years, concerned individuals have formed organizations that take up the slack where the traditional churches have been dropping the ball. Some print and distribute Bibles, some are mission organizations, and others target high school or college campuses. They refer to themselves as the “para-church”—but in many ways many of them become churches unto themselves. Many of these organizations excel at defending God’s Word and living by God’s Word. They often have “staff” people who are highly trained and serve as mature “pastors” to their flocks. Most members of the para-church are encouraged to also participate in a local church. Many of them do so, but to be honest, relevant “church” is taking place for them somewhere else.
Answers in Genesis is a para-church organization, but we believe it is very important to ensure people understand that we are not a church as such, just a specialist organization raised up to assist the Church in carrying out the Great Commission and building up the body of believers.
Healthy debate will undoubtedly continue about “alternative churches.” Around the country, many conventional churches are beginning to realize they need to use the Bible as their primary “operator’s manual” for church. Many of the committed believers who are leaving Church as we know it are honestly wrestling with all these new definitions. Many have concluded that Church is not something you go to; it’s something you are. Many who are seeking to “live the Word” are even finding themselves back in traditional evangelical or liturgical churches. Things might even look the same on the outside, but with the Bible at the heart of all they do, everything feels different on the inside.
Not an Option
Hopefully, you have already seen that being part of a church is not optional for a committed believer in Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:25). Britt and I are praying that one of the consequences of this book is that churches will be changed from the inside out by the Word of God. We also pray that committed believers will have the freedom to leave, if necessary, to find a group of individuals that prioritizes the sharing of the Word of God, teaching how to defend the Christian faith and uphold the authority of the Word in today’s world, and lives by the principles of the Word of God. And we are also praying that those who have left the Church will find their way back into this type of fellowship. Because of that, we asked those who are planning on returning to Church after they have kids a couple of important questions:
- Do your closest friends attend church regularly right now? A full 50 percent said yes.
- Have any of your friends invited you to go back to church with them? Sixty-one percent had been asked!
These numbers are actually encouraging (somewhat). At least half of the people who have left still have a tight connection with someone who is involved in a church. Hopefully these are good churches, too! Many of them have already been asked if they want to come home.
Only 27 percent of those who never go to church, however, have friends that attend church now. Yes, there is something to be said about positive peer pressure . . . even for adults. It still gives them a natural connection to the Church. Of those young people who expect to come back in the future, 61 percent of their friends invited them to church. And you might be that someone! Waggoner, who headed up the LifeWay survey, had this to say:
Church leaders should passionately and consistently challenge church members to maximize their influence with youth and young adults. Frequent and intentional contact can either prevent or counteract the tendency of some to drop out of church. . . . This return to church after being gone for at least a year is primarily the result of encouragement from others. The most common reason for returning is “My parents or family members encouraged me to attend” (39 percent). Twenty-one percent attribute their return to “My friends or acquaintances encouraged me to attend.” Combined, 50 percent of those who return were influenced by the encouragement of either family or friends. Young adults also return to church when they feel the desire personally or sense God calling them back: “I simply felt the desire to return” (34 percent) and “I felt that God was calling me to return to the church” (28 percent).14
And please, please remember that 30 percent of all the people who’ve left the Church “don’t know” if they will be coming back or not. That’s not just a statement of indecision; we should read that as a statement of possibility. In their hearts, they’re still wondering. Perhaps all they need is someone to reach out to them in a real way, with real information, living a real Christian life. When it comes to church, they are looking for the real deal. Perhaps you need only let them know that the door is still open and that they’re still always welcome to come back and be a part of the Body.
The Most Important Thing
Churches that defend God’s Word and live by God’s Word can once again become “the real deal” to the generation of young adults that has left and the next generation that is teetering on the edge. But I strongly encourage you to always remember that a church is a group of individuals . . . and you are an individual. We hope that you might actually be an agent of change within the group, but in all honesty, the only thing you can really control is yourself—and, in fact, the most important thing you can control is yourself. It’s so easy to point a judgmental (and hypocritical) finger at the Church and think, Oh, if only they would live by the Word. But what about you: are you living by the Word? It turns out that this is a vital question for you personally—far more important than whether or not you are attending church. After Willow Creek realized that what they were doing as a church was not helping people grow spiritually, they set out to find out what does help. Four years, 200 churches, and 80,000 surveys later, they found this:
Everywhere we turned the data revealed the same truth: spending time in the Bible is hands down the highest impact personal spiritual practice. More specifically, “I reflect on the meaning of Scripture in my life” is the spiritual practice that is most predictive of growth. . . . Reflecting on Scripture implies a contemplative process, one of thoughtful and careful deliberation. This practice of “reflecting on the meaning of Scripture in my life” is about using God’s Word as a mirror that reflects back the truth of Scripture on the actions, decisions, and defense of one’s daily life. This is not about skimming through a Bible passage or devotional in a mechanical way. This is a powerful experience of personal meditation that catalyzes spiritual growth, starting at the very beginning of the spiritual journey.15
Now how such a church responds to this, of course, is another matter. If they don’t understand the issues as Britt’s research has discovered, and if they don’t take an uncompromising stand on Genesis, then we would say it would all be to no avail in the long run.
We do have to defend the word in this post-Christian culture, as we have outlined in previous chapters; we must make the connection between fact and faith so that the Scriptures again become authoritative and relevant in the Church and in the culture. The Willow Creek research shows that it wasn’t their progressive musical worship, it wasn’t their dynamic small groups, and it wasn’t their seeker-sensitive (watered down) Sunday sermons. True spiritual growth and a healthy church all start with an individual—with you—accepting the Word of God for what it is—the absolute authority—and treating it accordingly. The Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the living Word of God. The written, uncompromised Word of God in your mind and the presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ in your heart is the pure essence of Christianity. When you gather together a group of people with that, “church happens.” Jesus said:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
When writing about the profound and powerful mystery of being a Christian, Paul wrote:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)
Are you specifically willing to commit to live an authentic Christian life, to “live the Word” as God empowers you through His Holy Spirit so that you can be “the real deal” with Christ, with yourself, with your family, with the Church, and with the world? Brit and I pray so.
Long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you might grow in respect to salvation. (1 Pet. 2:2)
Britt’s Bit: It’s Hard to Explain Sometimes
Every once in a while, some numbers just don’t make sense. It makes you wonder how much people have really thought through their Christian teachings and their Christian faith. Sometimes I have to push myself back from my desk, scratch my head a little bit, look up at the ceiling, and wonder what in the world are these people thinking?
Do you believe that dinosaurs died out before people were on the planet?
- 60% of those who attend church on Easter and Christmas said yes.
- 32% of those who don’t attend church at all said yes.
This is exactly backward of what we would expect. In every other area of belief, those who attend church at the holidays gave more accurate biblical answers to our questions . . . except this one! It’s sad but true that many Christians have not logically thought through the earlier teachings in their lives. I believe those who attend church only on Christmas or Easter and those who don’t attend at all are answering the question about dinosaurs based more upon movies they’ve seen than scriptural teachings. Sometimes you just have to accept that people are not always logical and therefore are never predictable.
But this was the one that really got me wondering: Do you believe that God used evolution to change one kind of animal to another?
- 24% said yes.
When we asked the same group this question: Do you believe that humans evolved from apelike ancestors?
- 30% said yes.
You would expect to have the same identical answer to both of these questions. However, we don’t. And the reason we don’t have the same answer is that these young people were not adequately equipped when they were younger to understand and defend the Scriptures.