In 2018, around Resurrection Sunday, I pondered the question as to whether Christianity was at an all time low in the United States. This was an effort to provide a broader perspective on the history of the church within American history. In 2018, however, the church’s trajectory was hard to predict. I concluded then:
Christianity today is not without faults and challenges. However the Church is gaining ground in China and Iran even as Western Civilization spirals downward. As our culture reaches a tipping point I find there to be no question that the Church in America today is better equipped to do what God calls them to do than 100 years ago. Christianity is not at an all time low; however, the Church’s trajectory in the United States is hard to predict. The outcome will largely depend on our trust and steadfast stewardship
But where things were not as clear in 2018, the trajectory of the church is perhaps at its most deprived levels in America’s history, now in 2020.
A Barna study of American pastors revealed that 72% of of American pastors view watered down gospel teachings as a major concern of the Christian church in America today. The second highest concern was just like it: the culture’s shift to a secular age at 66%.
America is under attack by a three-pronged theological assault. These three prongs or the Prosperity Gospel which 56% in this survey find a major concern, the Social Justice Gospel, and the Popularity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel promises our best lives now, asserting that the Resurrection brings revived health and wealth to Christians when the Bible makes no such promise. Among its teachers are Joel Osteen, Michael Todd, and Chris Hodges who focuses more on hyper-charity to distance himself from the likes of Paula White. The Social Justice Gospel teaches that part of Christ’s redemption is to redeem social institutions, but rather than adopting a Biblical conception of justice, the Social Justice Gospel adopts a social-Marxist worldview as well as a standpoint epistomology. Whole apostate denominations have gone woke; however many infiltrate conservative theological institutions to subvert the gospel with this heresy such as Rachel Gilson, Grant Hartley, and Beth Moore. The Popularity Gospel, though most difficult to define, is the removal of the distinctiveness of Christianity to make it palatable for the masses. Often it uses carnal methods to achieve these ends. Popularity Gospel preachers include David Hughes and Hillsong.
These ideologies are powerful so powerful and luring that immediately after Kanye West came out as Christian, prosperity preachers came out of the woodwork to undermine his sanctification if he is indeed saved.
Baby Christians fall prey to wolves, and this is why we need pastors. The concerns of pastors for their own church in the same survey was as follows:
Chasing the next generation and declining/inconsistent evangelism were the top two issues by a large margin. The differences between the concerns for the church in America versus the individual church are optimistically vast; however, one wonders how much self awareness is being practiced. In many cases, in an effort to reach a younger audience, the gospel message has been watered down. To a large degree we must admit that a watered down gospel teaching has lead our country into an age of post-Christendom.
But even when the gospel call is not watered down by instruments like the Sinner’s Prayer, how undiluted is the rest of the church’s teachings. The church in America finds itself entering a post-denominational age. And with this lack of emphasis on denominations has also come a lack of emphasis on theology. America is more educated than it’s ever been yet perhaps more theologically braindead than its ever been. The rise of nondenominational churches comes with a more ecumenical teachings. Yet the ecumenicism is not uniting the church to face the biggest theological challenges, until more recently.
In the first phase of church history, the church held ecumenical councils like the ones in Nicea and Constantinople. At these councils, the church condemned false teachings such as Arianism, and also confirmed orthodox teaching such as the hypostatic union and trinitarianism. These were not instant responses to issues threatening the church; however, they were decisive.
When America was first founded, or settled, there was a large emphasis on doctrinal purity. The ideas that would launch the Revolutionary War were preached in churches, at the latest, in the late seventeenth century by John Wyse and others, who would sign The Vindication of the Government of the New England Churches.
In present day America, protestant churches have largely abandoned traditional protestant views of government in exchange for a more absolute authoritative view of government. The view of Romans 13 being absolute did not come about by debating the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates. Rather this doctrine, dating back to the Magdeburg Confessions, has largely been forgotten by the church today. Thus, when the government commands the closing of churches, a mere few denied the government this authority or put up any meaningful civil disobedience to this point.
The forgotten history is well paired with a more theologically braindead church. In this post-denominational era, denominational institutions are all under attack by the three pronged false gospels, most notably the Social Justice Gospel. Indeed, no denomination is immune. Reformed institutions such as the Presbyterian Church in America and Arminian institutions like the United Methodist Church have been driven by the issue of social justice to splinter. The Southern Baptist Convention is already a big tent theological camp but the willingness to put aside differences on “minor” issues has not made it more united against imminent threats.
Since the threat is non-denominational, it should in theory be easier to coalesce as Christians to address. However, we who hold orthodox views do not seem to be in power in the major institutions capable of fighting back. Though African Methodists can maintain an orthodox majority in the UMC, the denomination has no will to curb the heretical churches within openly embracing the Social Justice Gospel. Though the Southern Baptist Convention has a majority of churches who adhere to orthodoxy, this majority is deliberately rendered a silent majority by being priced out of participation in the annual convention. And then there are Catholics who struggle against a Marxist Pope.
Christianity in 2020 finds itself struggling with or because of failed institutions. The lack of organization of those adhering to orthodoxy to enforce orthodoxy leaves us with few artillery in this spiritual war. Working within these institutions has been met with contempt. Elitism reigns supreme in American Christianity. However, the church in 2020 is starting to wake up.
Traditional Christian media outlets such as Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition are being exposed. The Baptist Press does not get the same traffic that three major discernment blogs exposing corruption within the SBC receive. American Christians are realizing that media tailored to them is just as susceptible to corruption as the mainstream media.
Tom Ascol’s Founder’s Ministries released a documentary, By What Standard in response to the creeping egalitarianism as well as the passing of Resolution 9, a beachhead for the Social Justice Gospel. Judd Saul and Cary Gordon will release Enemies Within The Church to expose the Social Justice Gospel and those who preach it. Organizationally, while Founders Ministries is reformed, the Conservative Baptist Network formed with no soteriological exclusion. Though the cancellation of SBC2020 in Orlando was undoubtedly a move to protect elitism, this gives the orthodox more time to organize. The most concerning aspect is that the laity is far more concerned than the learned about the creeping Social Justice Gospel.
State of the Church
The American Church in 2020 is in a state of decadence; however, momentum may be turning in favor of the orthodox. The Holy Spirit may create a revival or we may be told “Well done, good and faithful servants.” having been tested in our resolve to follow the Holy Spirit.
The universal church is the bride of Christ. So we must ask, why would Jesus allow his bride to be in such disarray? When Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:10-15) Jesus states the intimacy in which he knows his followers and his followers know him. This role of the Son in the Holy Trinity is also one of protecting the flock from wolves. This should give us comfort that Jesus will rescue his followers from the mouth of wolves. When Jesus later says, “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1-5), the Bible speaks of God pruning the branches so that they will bear more fruit.
The state of the American Church is one of testing and pruning. Our individual sanctification journeys require us to stay on the vine even in times where the institutions fall off the vine and must be cast into the fire. Though we may lament about the church in America, its state of decay and corruption, the universal church left in America must reminds itself that of God’s plan for us is ultimately good for us.
28And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have no reason to fear the future of the church, for we are the church and if God prunes the vine we will bear more fruit. This is not a time to be idle but a time to be further emboldened to stand up and contend for the faith against the certain persons (Jude 3-4) God has set before us. Gird your loins and put on the armor of God.
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