Much has been documented about the fact that the Christian church no longer enjoys the influence it once had in western culture. (I have written about this earlier on this site.) While there are some notable exceptions, in general churches in Canada don’t occupy the prominence they once had. This change has taken place in my own life-time which now includes a span of more than sixty years.
In the mid-sixties of the last century, the church in western Canada flourished in what was then known as the church-growth movement. Even in my own denomination some large churches were built to accommodate the conversions to Christianity from among people of every nationality and age-group. Church attendance was relatively strong. Church news, including such matters as pastoral changes, figured prominently in community newspapers. For example, when I came to pastor the Lakewood Alliance Church in Prince George, the local newspaper announced the event as a news feature. Church building programs received special attention. And various government programs, such as citizenship court, featured a prayer by a Christian clergyman.
However, during the last thirty years or so, there has been a significant shift in popular culture away from a special regard for Christian faith in general toward what is often spoken of, in particular, as secularism and pluralism. Various influences have served to strengthen a sense of disillusionment about the Christian faith. Among these influences are those that include such things as a rising interest in materialism, other religious ideas, and various kinds of technical advances. For example, whereas it used to be that the father/husband was the main wage-earner, now it is the case that both parents/spouses work to contribute to the family income. This inevitably has affected the amount of discretionary time for activities surrounding the pursuit of communal faith. Likewise, the rising interest in human rights has legitimized the idea of one religion being as important as another.
So it is that, sadly, the church has lost its voice in an objective sense. It no longer has that place of authority it once had to speak easily to issues such as abortion, euthanasia, the nature of marriage, and sexual morality. All of this, undoubtedly, is partially due to the fact that there have been many examples of the church’s own cases of serious moral transgression and abuse. And that brings up the fact that the church in recent years has not only lost its voice in an objective sense, but also in a subjective sense. Somehow, the church doesn’t seem to have the ability to speak authoritatively like it did even a generation ago.
It is this latter matter that is of greater concern and something that could, I believe, potentially be changed if Christians were willing to come to terms with this loss. What’s most disturbing about the present situation is that the church has caved in to the objective trends and hasn’t the strength or fortitude to speak with reason and boldness to the challenges of these times. Like the children of Israel during the time of the judges (as recored in the Book of Judges of the Old Testament) the church of our day has been subdued by the Enemy to the point of resignation, withdrawl, and even a kind of slavery. Instead of being bold and aggressive concerning the reasonableness and significance of the Christian faith, Christians easily content themselves with survival and various social niceties. The church has lost the edge it once enjoyed in the marketplace of ideas. In our times, it seems to me, that the church’s voice has been reduced to all but a mere whisper.
There are many ways in which this reality is evident, one of the major ones being in the authoritative preaching of the Scriptures. Many pastors, these days it seems, content themselves with running the church otherwise instead of faithfully, accurately and relevantly proclaiming the truth of the Gospel as found in the Scriptures. It seems to me that there is a dearth in regard to this central feature of God’s voice — strong biblical preaching. Perhaps I am being overly critical, but I perceive that pastors are often no longer willing to do the hard work of spiritual and mental preparation that goes into the delivery of a good message from the Word. They are content to occupy that precious time with telling humorous stories instead of providing a good in-depth explanation of the relevance of the text. I myself have not been immune to these tendencies. This is a travesty of the highest order. Too often the message, it seems, has more to do with entertainment and sentimentality than it does with good biblical exposition that challenges the prevailing ideas of our day.
This critique certainly does not apply to all. There are some noble and brilliant examples of pastors and churches that are seeking to deal constructively with the spiritual challenge of our times. They are truly spiritually burdened about the deplorable moral conditions in our land and have a vision not only to see people in their lost condition, but also to perceive how to effectively reach out to them with the Gospel. If ever there was a time for the church to find its voice once again, it is now. May God enable the church to be the salt and light He intended by this kind of revelational revival!