The 20th century really did a number on biblical depth and understanding in the world. Christians are less biblically grounded now than they have been for hundreds of years. Think about it. Go back before the 1900s and you will see a procession of incredible, Godly, world-changing, men of God. These are the greats, the theological hall of fame, if you will. You have men like the Apostles, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, and more. These are the guys that our theologians today draw upon and quote as their heroes. But when you cross over into the 20th century, you begin to see men of that caliber die out. I find it interesting to watch how the spiritual maturity of the church has changed over the years in correlation with this. If you read about churches in centuries past you will notice that, in contrast, our modern churches seem very spiritually immature. So what is it about the 20th century and so far the 21st century that has watered down our Christian faith?
We have lost our high regard for the whole council of God. Somewhere along the way we stopped persevering in biblical Christianity and started practicing a kind of social Christianity. Throughout the 20th century Christianity was basically the identity of American culture. Going to church was a crucial part of American life. In fact, not going to church felt kind of un-American. Over time, people stopped practicing their faith out of biblical conviction and started practicing their faith as more of a social hobby, a social activity. Over time, people stopped completely defining their life by their faith as discovered in God’s Word and started including their faith as just another part of their lifestyle. The Bible slowly went from a treasure chest of glorious truth that people constantly and desperately examined to a seldom used accessory that people wore to church. They began making really stylish carrying bags to keep your Bible in. You would unzip it at church, look at it while the pastor read the text, and then shut it until next Sunday. The Christian publishing industries began coming out with these devotionals that looked like little magazines. They would have little, lighthearted, five minute devotionals so you could zip through it and then go on about your day. You didn’t even have to have your Bible with you. It was all right there. Christians forgot how to feed themselves and relied on others to feed them.
Toward the end of the 20th century culture, technology, and the social climate in America began to change at an incredible pace. Our nation went from being Christian to vastly secular in just a few short decades. Seemingly overnight, Christianity went from being the American thing to do to being the thorn in America’s side. Churches desperately tried to keep up. They were desperate to keep numbers. They were desperate to reach people. Their intentions were good, but one terrible consequence came out of it. Many neglected and watered down the Word of God to do so.
Some churches called themselves “Seeker-Sensitive.” They had laser focus on the outside culture. They said, “We are going to play the music they like, use all the technologies that appeal to them, speak the kind of slang that they speak, and dress hip and cool so that they will come to our church. And then, when they get in here, we’ll hit them with a really positive, touchy gospel presentation complete with illustrations and moving stories. Then, when they leave, they can feel free to hit up the coffee shop and book store on the way out.” Many people seemingly accepted Christ at churches like this, but not many people grew much more than that. The churches were very wide, but not deep at all. They neglected God’s Word because they only preached and taught the Scriptures that served their seeker sensitive mold. Their preachers could have cut out 75% of their Bibles and the churches never would have known the difference.
Other churches called themselves “Post-Modern.” These churches took the seeker sensitive model one step further. They didn’t just use the culture to convey the Gospel. They adapted themselves to the culture. These churches began teaching an all-inclusive, everybody’s okay, we are all on our own journey of faith kind of doctrine. They traded solid truth for general feel-good statements and were very careful to never offend anyone. They loved buzzwords like “relevant”, “genuine”, and “authentic”. They neglected God’s Word by making it conform to the culture instead of calling the culture to conform to it.
There are many other types of churches that developed in this time, but the point is that we are now suffering the consequences of the gradual neglect of God’s Word. Many Churches have traded God’s Word for anecdotes and bumper sticker quotes, and some have grown very large, but they are filled with spiritually dead people. And while the American church struggles with its identity crisis, the lost culture around us is spiraling out of control.
So what do we do about it?
Paul insinuates something very interesting in Acts 20:26-27. Paul says that because he taught all of the Word of God, because he did not leave one verse or topic untouched, he is innocent of the blood of his hearers. Of course the negative connotation here would be that if Paul shrunk back from teaching portions of God’s Word, much like many churches in recent years have, he would share in the guilt of his hearers. This is the call of the preachers, to preach the Word in its entirety. To endeavor to preach all of it from beginning to end, the convenient and inconvenient, the feel-good verses and the gut-wrenching verses, the easy topics and the hard ones, the love of God and the wrath of God, His mercy and His justice, heaven and hell. And then, like Paul, we can say, “I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” But this is not just the call of a preacher. In the great commission, Jesus tells the entire church to teach “them to observe all that I commanded you.” It is our responsibility and for our spiritual good, to study, learn, teach, talk about, wrestle with all of the Scriptures.
– Jesus said it in the great commission.
– God said it when he told Israel, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)
– Paul said it here in Acts.
– David says it in Psalm 119:6, “Then I shall not be ashamed when I look upon all Your commandments.”
If you look back through the scope of history, you will notice that the great reformations and revivals had one thing in common: a renewed passion and hunger for every word in God’s Bible. They didn’t radically change their preaching style or try to come up with creative gimmicks to draw people. They simply became desperate to know as much about the Word of God as humanly possible. So they studied and taught every word in that Book and the world caught on fire. Jonathan Edwards captured the heart of the great Christian movements when he said this: “Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” They lived for God’s Word. It was their food.
When we come out of this pandemic, I hope we, the church, come out changed. I am praying for a reformation in our churches, our communities, our country, and our world. I am calling for each one of us to pray for a spirit of desperation for God’s Word. I am calling for every member of Christ’s church to have Bibles that are tattered, worn, and faded from hours and years of searching for the face of God. In the wake of this crisis people are going to be hurting and broken, seeking answers. They won’t need more gimmicks, better technology, strategic programs, Christian clichés, or fluffy preaching. They will need the full council of God. All of it. And they will need to see it lived out sincerely in our lives. No more nominal or social Christianity. Because man lives by EVERY word from the mouth of God.