Monday, September 15, 2008


(News-Herald, May 2004) The Franklin Ministers Forum is in the midst of 40 days of prayer to renew and revive county churches (you can find them at the First Baptist Church tonight at 7:00). The timing is good, because earlier this month, Barna Research Group released results of a survey looking at church involvement in the US. It includes a variety of statistics, but the bottom line is this—since 1991 the number of unchurched US adults has almost doubled from 39 million to 75 million.

How did the church lose so many people, particularly when preachers and televangelists and politichristians were so vocal about a resurgence of faith. Like everyone else, I have a few theories.

I am not, for instance, a big fan of politichristianity. This is the brand of faith in which I declare that God endorses my own personal political agenda. I think we’re on pretty shaky ground when we decide that God wants our country to reign supreme over other countries. When we declare that God supports this candidate or wants Congress to pass that bill, we’re just being silly. Politics is a human invention; to believe that God takes it as seriously as we do is foolish.

In fact, it’s worse than foolish. To claim that a victory for the Wrong Presidential Candidate is a defeat for God is human hubris, a self-important presumption that our political games will somehow change the fate of the Creator of All That Is, Was and Will Be.

So yeah, I think the politichristians drive people away from the church. Whether they’re insisting that God wants Bush II to give people a tax cut or claiming that the Almighty supports the establishment of refuges for rare Lithaunian iguanas, politichristians are so transparently hypocritical that it’s hard not to be turned off.

But I think a more damaging trend is the rise of anti-evangelism.

The traditional evangelical view is that Christians are called to go into the world, bringing the news of God to all people.

But the anti-evangelists would rather not go into the world, in fact do all they can to build a wall between themselves in the world, in the belief that the world is an evil, unholy place and if they’re not careful, they’ll get some on them.

It’s not a new view; the pilgrims were at Plymouth Rock to build a city on a hill, literally an ocean away from the evils of their world. That’s the ideal for the modern anti-evangelists—a place apart from the world and all the other people in it. The milder antis see the world as merely threatening and ungodly; the more virulent antis see the world as their mortal enemy.

They socialize only with people from their church (which they may have changed a few times because their old church was letting too many worldly influences seep in). They home school their children to keep them undefiled by the common herd.

At best, this is just plain lousy witnessing. They set no example because no one who doesn’t already agree with them ever sees them. For example, every home schooled Christian is one less person of faith that students in public schools will ever meet. “Oh, yeah. Christians. I’ve heard of them, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually met one.”

The anti-evangelists become too cliquish, exclusive and elite to ever meet someone who’s beneath them. They’re happy to talk about their faith—but only to the Right People. They may use technology like websites or tv broadcasts and consider that great outreach. But there’s no actual witnessing to live humans, and they’re kidding themselves about who’s really watching.

Of course, the virulent anti-evangelists don’t even want to pretend they’re reaching out. They’re more likely to talk about the need to gather the chosen few together (with a hint of impending End Times).

It’s not that anti-evangelists have forgotten the part of the message about love. They’re filled with love. For people who see things the right way. And while they probably won’t come right out and say it, the underlying assumption is that if you’re not right with God, that’s your fault and your problem. They’ll be happy to talk to you, once you’ve got your head on straight.

Even the least religious folks expect the church to be able to answer this question: how do we love and embrace and get along with people that we think are just plain wrong? If a church has no answer (or, worse, answers such as “Blow them up” or “Burn them at the stake”), people assume it has no more to offer than a country club or a neighborhood bar. And when that happens, the church will have trouble bringing people to the building, let alone to God.

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