Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why Are Christians Marginal Voices In The Culture?

“Why have Christians been so ineffective in affecting the culture for the past 40 years or so?”

Evangelical churches have grown significantly from the 1960’s until now. Today, we have mega-churches with many thousands of members. That was unheard of 40 years ago. However, while we grew in numbers, our influence on basic cultural values continued to wane to the point where the church’s voice now is sometimes viewed by the society as marginal, and at other times irrelevant.

The slide really began in the 1920’s with the Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy. There was a major split within Christendom at the time. The Modernists favored a “social Gospel” where they were concerned about helping people in need, but turned away from the historic issues of salvation by grace through faith. The Fundamentalists reacted by focusing on the historic issues of Biblical faith, but withdrew from activities that had their focus on helping people.

The Fundamentalists were Godly people who desired deeply to be faithful to God and the tenets of their faith. However, the net effect of their decision to emphasize faith issues to the exclusion of social issues was that they withdrew from the culture around them.

In the 1950’s, their decision to focus on “faith only” issues led them to be on the wrong side of the defining moral issue of the day. They did not see God’s heart as it related to the injustice associated with segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. They were silent, when they should have been vocal.

When the next defining moral issue hit in the early 1970’s, the Fundamentalists, who were now calling themselves Evangelicals, were lukewarm in their response. When one major spokesman for the Evangelical church was asked why he did not speak out against abortion, his response was, “I speak out against sin, not against sins.” Again, we were silent, when we should have been vocal.

Why do people in the culture today see us as marginal or irrelevant? Because, when the chips were down and we had an opportunity to speak out boldly for truth as it related to the defining moral issues of the day, we were silent. We lost our credibility.

God certainly wants us to focus on our vertical relationship with Him. But, He also wants us to be alert to our horizontal relationship with the people around us. The two great commandments go together – we are to love God with all our hearts, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we forget the latter, we become “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.”


Will (and Amy) said...

They probably want to sell the DVD. That is what they did with the last debate.

Good idea though... they should look into that.

Nomad said...

George, Do you have any footnotes for this? i.e. Studies to back up the assertions? It covers a lot of modern USA Christian history that I for one am not at all familiar with. Not saying I doubt you, but I'd like to learn more/read some primary sources before you move onto your next topic.

Nomad said...

George replied to me directly on this, "With regard to the question you asked about my recent observations concerning the lack of involvement of evangelical Christians in the Civil Rights movement or the abortion controversy when it first hit - they are the reflections from my life as I lived through those times.

Most of the religious people that were involved in the Civil Rights movement were from the liberal, mainline churches, or even Jews, like Joe Lieberman. The fundamentalist churches really weren't involved. Slavery was mentioned in Scripture, and Christians were to be submissive to authorities, so the whole idea of demonstrations was outside the box of what they were thinking.

When the abortion issue hit in the early 1970's, the evangelicals were again unprepared. I was on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ at the time, and no one really knew what abortions were. The theological question of when life began was suddenly being thought about - when did the "spirit" enter the fetus? There was no clear stand on the part of the evangelical community for quite some time.

I think the bottom line was that the evangelical community was basically out of touch with the world around them because they had withdrawn from actually engaging the culture. The mistaken idea that all problems are basically solved when you "receive Christ" permeated their thinking to the extent that they never bothered to get involved in specific issues.

The apostle John talks about being "in" the world, but not "of" the world. The problem facing the liberal or "modernist" view was that the people were not only in the world, they were also of the world. However, the problem facing us as evangelical/fundamentalists is that we are not in the world."