Archive for May, 2015

Last week I wrote about some of the foundational movements in American Christianity and how they still influence the church in the U.S. even today.  The landscape of American Christianity can look bleak at times if we get caught up in all of the changes that are going on according to certain media outlets.  Recent research has shown a near 10% drop in those who claim to be Christians here in America over the past 7 years.  Churches, schools, business, and entire Christian denominations that once believed in and taught orthodoxy are now not only accepting gay marriage, but pushing to have it completely normalized and legalized.  Because of this diversion from our Christian moorings, some are looking for the stars to starting falling from the sky as is described in Revelation because of the seeming turn of America toward humanism, or at least major liberalism.  While a quick glimpse at American Christianity might seem scary to some, I see reason for much hope.  Here are a few.

The Millennial Generation:

This is my generation (those born in the 1980’s – 1990’s).  My generation is generally considered lazy, self-absorbed, and whiney.  There is some truth to this I must admit, however, there is so much more to us than selfies on social media, job hopping, and being restless.  Many in the millennial generation long for authenticity.  We can see though all the smoke and lights to see the heart of the matter.  I have seen many people in this generation going back to a stripped down version, simple church model, of Christianity.  They want in-depth Bible study, biblical preaching, authentic Christ-centered worship, genuine fellowship, and missions within the community.  For the millennial generation this is often done by having a mix of both hymnody and modern songs in worship, doing small group studies, and living missionally while doing it all.  These ideas were part of the original Reformation.  The Reformers wanted to be guided only by what Scripture taught, and not all of this man made stuff.  I see the heart of reformation within many of the millennial generation.  I see them leading their families in worship and discipleship. I see them seeking churches that teach scripture instead of drama.  I see them have a love for theology.  For this reason, I have hope for the state of the church in America.

The Great Pruning of the Church:

With every day that passes it seems that there is some new objection to Christian thinking and Christian living in our country.  Many have predicted that within the next 10 years the American church will look vastly different that it did 10 years ago.  Within the next decade we will know where most every Christian in the U.S. stands on the issue of gay “marriage.”  This issue will most likely drive those of the normative variety away from the church.  The church attendance may get small.  Church buildings may have to be sold.  There may be less money to hire staff, but this is not necessarily a bad thing in the long run.  For the church of America to grow it must be pruned.  Jesus said in John 15, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”  For the church to grow, the dead leaves of nominal Christianity must be cut off.  While it may not appear to be pretty to begin with, the lasting results will beautify the bride in a way that is unimaginable to us.

The Accessibility to Biblical Teaching:

With all that is being said (by the media) in favor of liberalizing Christianity, there are still MAJOR voices crying out from the wilderness preparing the way, teaching with a prophetic voice, and a shepherding heart.  At no other time in history has the world been able to hear such great men of God proclaim God’s word.  At your fingertips you can hear John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Voddie Baucham, Steve Lawson, Matt Chandler, Alistair Begg, Kevin Swanson and a million other preachers.  These, along with many other less well known men, are standing on the truths of God and proclaiming it to the world.  Thousands upon Thousands of people gather each year to hear men like this herald God’s Word.  While the media may want us to think that men like this are in the minority, it simply is not so.  Because of the Roman Road of our day (the internet), sound teaching can be heard in this nation and all around the world.  One thing I know from scripture, God’s Word never returns void, and these mean are proclaiming it to the thousands.

God’s Will Cannot be Thwarted: 

God has promised to build His church.  We see this in Matthew 16 when  Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  No matter what our government may try to do, even it is under God’s authority.  Christianity is still spreading in places like China and North Korea.  While our culture and government may try to change the church, the true church will survive and thrive.  Denominations may die.  Church attendance may drop, but the true church will go on and grow.  It cannot be stopped.  Now that is hope.

The American Church situation is by no means all doom and gloom.  There is so much to love about Christ’s bride.  There are many things that are beautiful and right.  However, you would have to have your proverbial head in the sand to say that things have not changed over the past 50 or 75 years.  While the changes may seem scary when we think of the immediate future, it should motivate us to practice our faith all the more.  It should motivate us to share the gospel openly while we still have such tremendous freedoms to do so.  Yes, there are some things that desperately need to change in our church, but praise be to God, I can see Him doing it on the horizon.  I love the church, and I have great hope for its future here in America.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

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A quick look at church history in America will allow any student to see that the Reformation and the Enlightenment have both left distinguishing marks on contemporary Christianity in the United States.  The foundation of American Christianity has for its roots people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and John Wesley.  However, just a few years into the American Experiment, the teachings of people like Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and even Voltaire were permeating the shores of this new and young nation.  Today we can see the teachings of all of these men (from Calvin to Kant) all across these great lands.  To understand contemporary American Christianity one must understand the influence these two movements in church history have had on this nation.  This will be a two part blog.  The first one will give a little background on how were got to where we are.  The second will explain why I have hope in the American Church. Let’s take a moment to look at our history and how we got to where we are today.

The Reformation:

Modern America owes its life to the Reformation.  “The story of America is literally the story of the Reformation,” says Peter Lillback.  The Pilgrims desired to be able to worship freely.  This desire was derived from their understanding of Christianity based upon Reformation teachings.  The Puritans desired to have a society that was ruled solely by Scripture.  America quickly became a Protestant wonderland.  This is one of the reasons that we have so many different Protestant churches in America today.  A quick survey of Protestantism in the U.S. in the 21st century would find more than 200 different denominations.  We see hundreds of Bible Colleges and Seminaries today because of the strong push for Christian education that was brought about because of the Reformation.  We see many of our early laws in America founded on Biblical principles (“All men are created equal”, “The Church protected from state control”, warnings against kings but in favor of Godly rulers).  These were all Reformation ideas.  This is because the Bible was important to the Reformation and to American society.  This is due to the Reformation’s teaching of Sola Scriptura and the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.  Without the Reformation America would be completely different than it is today.  The Reformation’s influence was great, and it still lives on today.

The Enlightenment:

Secondly, we find the importance of the Enlightenment on American culture.  Karl Barth characterized this movement as “a system founded upon the presupposition of faith in the omnipotence of human ability.”  This is a very good description of the Enlightenment.  It was a movement with its deepest tenant being the rational mind.  It based everything on reason.  Most often it rejected both supernatural revelation and man’s sinfulness.  This way of thinking greatly influenced much of society (especially those of higher education) in America.  It influenced several of our founding documents.  The Declaration of Independence, for instance, is seen by some as an embodiment or culmination of Enlightenment ideas such as liberty, democracy, republicanism, and religious tolerance.  There are some good things (democracy, religious tolerance) that came into the political arena because of the Enlightenment; however, it did much damage to the church as well.  This period was riddled with skepticism about the reliability of the Bible, the church, and many important doctrines.  It gave rise to many liberal denominations and sects of Christianity that have done much harm to the body of Christ.  There is no doubt that the Enlightenment has had a major influence on modern American culture.  Politically, there have been some good things; religiously, you would be hard pressed to find anything positive to say about this period for the church.

There is no doubt that these two movements have had more influence than any other in American history.  In the early stages of America, the Reformation was more important when looking at its influence on the forming of our country.  However, in modern day America, I believe the ideas of the Enlightenment have had a bigger influence than that of the Reformation.  It seems that much of America has become more humanistic in their thinking and way of life.  This is a direct influence of Enlightenment thinking.  This may not have been the intention of some of our early American fathers, but when taken to its logical conclusion it is easy to see why we now have legalized abortion on demand and the Supreme Court deliberating the idea of legal gay “marriage” nationwide.  Reason from a fallen mind and fallen heart is incomplete.  Mental reason is one of the good things that was brought to light during the Enlightenment, but when it is separated from an omnipotent God who has given us a supreme authority to go by (the Bible), a person’s reason is limited and will eventually fail because of its fallen nature.  Enlightenment thinking is ruining our country, and it is ruining our church.  When God’s Word is not considered authoritative, anything can go.  It is time that we return to what made us a great country.  What made us a great country was the Source of our reasoning (i.e. a creator God who was intimately involved with His people).  The Reformation redirected our minds to God and His Word.  This is what our country was built on.  This is why, I believe, the Lord blessed our nation for so long.  While the Enlightenment may be the ruler of today in contemporary American culture, I pray one day soon the heart of the Reformation will rise again within the Church, the Lord will bless the prayers of His people, and make us a great country again for His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell