The Confusion and Curse of Casual, Cultural Christianity
What do you think is the greatest problem in America today? Is it health care, immigration, cap and trade, the financial industry or a faltering economy? What do you think is the greatest problem in the church in America in the 21st century? Does American Christianity suffer from a lack of passionate spirituality and biblical authority? Has the Christian Church been gradually co-opted by the increasingly secular culture? Is it too much to suggest that the Christian Church in America is in crisis mode?
A problem clearly defined is half solved. What is the problem behind the problem? It has been described as: Casual Christianity, Carnal Christianity, Cultural Christianity, Convictionless Christianity, Nominal Christianity, Dead Orthodoxy and Cheap Grace. Too many hearts are far from God and in love with the present world and its pleasures.
Dr. Charles Stanley asks some penetrating questions:
- Why do you suppose that there are close to 100 million church members in America yet they are not making more of a moral and spiritual impact? Why is it that on Sunday morning thousands of churches have more empty pews than full? Why is it that the average Sunday School in America has less than 66 in attendance and that the average worship service has 84? Why is it that only 50% of the number on any church membership roll can be expected to attend? If Christians really believe in a real heaven and a real hell, how can we be so silent? The answer to all of these questions is tragically simple! God’s people have made a decision about Jesus but have never made a commitment to Him.
This is the problem of casual or cultural Christianity!
There is, of course, a difference between a decision and a commitment. Perhaps this can’t be seen any clearer than it is in the failure rate of marriages in America. At least 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Why do you suppose that is happening? Because these couples made a superficial decision but didn’t make a life-long commitment. Everyone who married made a decision! They stood before a preacher and made promises and recited vows. They made a decision; they kissed each other and walked out together to live, but not necessarily happily ever after and not necessarily together. So why did they divorce? The answer is they made a decision, but they didn’t truly commit their lives to each other. But when a couple makes a life-long commitment to one another, that’s a different story.
The same is true in the church. The reason that the church is not making more of an impact in our society is that many church members have made a decision about Christ, but haven’t made a life-long commitment to Christ. This is obviously a very serious spiritual problem!
Dr. Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, says, “Perhaps the hardest thing for sincere Christians to come to grips with is the level or real unbelief in their own life…. The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving ‘Christian culture’” (p. 88).
Can there be any doubt that many professing Christians have lost their heart (passion) for God, if they ever had it in the first place? They have lost their motivation to hunger and thirst after God and to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Psalm 36:1b says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This must have been a very important truth because Paul repeats this observation in Romans 3:18. They lack a deep and abiding respect for God – most people fail to take God and His word seriously. They are so ignorant or confused about what God’s word teaches that they lack a clear understanding concerning the true nature of biblical, historical, evangelical, orthodox Christianity. Such ignorance leads to nominal, casual or cultural Christianity which, in truth, is no Christianity at all.
On one hand, millions are going to hell and far too many Christians don’t even have a close relationship with a single non-Christian friend. Too many Christians have traded their spiritual birthright for an apathetic, passionless, carnal and casual Christianity. They have delegated their spiritual responsibilities to the spiritual few and are content to warm the pew or worst yet, to attend St. Mattress Methodist, Bedside Baptist or the Church of the Inner Spring. When asked if they are Christians, 85% of the nation said, “Yes.” According to George Barna, only 4% of American adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision making. He also reported that only 51% of the nation’s protestant pastors have a biblical worldview. Is there something seriously wrong with this picture?
Is it true that Christianity in America is becoming more and more distorted and less Christlike with each subsequent generation? Are we witnessing the last Christian generation in America? We are living in a time when there has been an explosion in the area of knowledge and yet there is a profound theological ignorance and biblical illiteracy in our country. What an astounding paradox! While many profess Christ, few faithfully follow Him.
How have we wandered so far from historical, orthodox, biblical Christianity? In previous generations the Christian faith shaped our culture, but today the church is more and more being shaped by the increasingly secular culture. This change has been so gradual that, like the frog in the kettle, relatively few of us recognize it. The Secular/Socialist worldview has replaced the Christian/biblical worldview as the predominant worldview in our culture. To our shame and detriment, the American church has been increasingly conformed to this secular culture and worldview. It behooves all of us to understand the times in which we live and then learn how to faithfully function in a hostile, antagonistic, post Christian culture.
The Church in America has faced and overcome many challenges through the centuries. In fact, over the last five centuries, it has civilized and educated an entire continent. The church has also given birth to many of the ideals we hold in our nation, such as: freedom of speech, religion and assembly, liberty, human dignity, the sanctity of life and sex, equality under the law, free market capitalism, and charity toward our neighbor. Christianity has been the most positive and powerful influence in American culture. Church has historically and successfully functioned as both salt and light in our society.
What went wrong? According to the great theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, when a group, a church or an individual gives up its belief in Scriptural authority, it is no longer capable of properly disciplining itself – that is to say, it is no longer capable of bringing itself back to the proper spiritual/moral standard which is the authority of the word of God.
Can there be any doubt that Christian/biblical ideas, ideals and values no longer direct or significantly influence any of our cultural institutions? For over half a century all our institutions have become increasingly secular, humanistic and socialistic. It’s not enough for us to preach the gospel, we must also learn to live it the way that Jesus did. The most significant truth ever to be revealed to humanity (gospel) has been relegated to the margins of our increasingly secular culture. The remnants of our country’s Christian heritage are being slowly but methodically removed from our institutions and from the public square.
The biblical illiteracy in our nation is analogous to the famine mention in Amos 8:11 (NLT): “‘The time is surely coming,’ says the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the LORD.’” What is the impact of such a famine? Proverbs 29:18 (NCV) says, “Where there is no word from God [revelation], people are uncontrolled, but those who obey what they have been taught are happy.” To put it another way, where there is no revelation, people come apart (individually and collectively). This is precisely what we are witnessing in our culture today.
Unfortunately, too many people have the idea that being a Christian is something different than being Christ’s disciple. Where did we get this idea? Surely not from the word of God. This twisted understanding leads to a concept called “Cheap Grace.” What is “Cheap Grace?” It is based on an understanding of faith that does not spring from repentance or issue in discipleship. Is it any wonder that, according to Barna, the lifestyle of many professing Christians is not substantially different from their non-Christian neighbors?
How many Christians do you know who are meaningfully engaged in the ministry of evangelism or discipleship in and through the local church? If not, are they just “playing at Church?” Are they just re-arranging furniture on the Titanic? My heart breaks when I realize that Christians are more to blame for being “casual” than sinners are for being “lost.” In any week, how many opportunities do we miss to share God’s love in Christ with others? We are falling right in line with Satan’s strategy. He has two primary objectives: 1) To keep people from coming to Christ; and 2) To render Christians ineffective for Christ.
How many “Christians” do you know that subscribe to a “smorgasbord religion” where they pick and choose what parts of the Bible they want to believe? For example: Even those who give lip service to Scripture in actual fact don’t submit to its authority. Even those who say they believe the Bible know very little of what is in the Bible. Even most ministers have difficulty quoting the Ten Commandments in proper order.
We need to confront the curse of casual Christianity in our generation and the best place to start is with ourselves. We need to take the log out of our own eye so we can see clearly to take the splinter out of someone else’s eye. We need to confront the apathy in our lives and our backslidden hearts. First Peter 4:17 says, “Judgment must begin in the household of God.”
Today, I fear that too many churches are filled with passionless Christians. What is passionless Christianity like? It is like a song without melody and a painting without color. It is like having no sunrise or sunset. It is life without dreams and music without dance. It is like sight without vision and relationship without love. Passionless Christianity is nothing more that heartless per-functionary superficial religion. I’m afraid that many Americans have lost their desire for the things of God. They are no longer hungry for God’s purpose in life but just to relate with His church and not with Him.
How do we know if we’ve lost our passion? How do we know if we’ve lost our first love? Do we serve God with the same conviction as formerly? Do we put knowing and loving Him as our first priority in our lives? Is His will more important that doing our will? Have we ever had more passion and fire for God than we do right now? Are we zealous for the things of God? Is our heart on fire to please and glorify God in all we do? Are we playing church? Do we claim to have a faith in Christ while avoiding a commitment to Christ?
These are all indicators of passionless Christianity. They are all things that pinpoint where we are with God. Many former “God Chasers” have become chasers of things, positions, titles and prestige. Many who would have laid down their life for the cause of Christ and the needs of others have become selfish, self-serving and self-preserving instead of self-denying. Our churches are empty because our hearts are empty. This is passionless Christianity!
What do we need to effectively deal with this most serious problem? What we need is an accurate understanding of who God is as He has revealed Himself in the Holy Scripture. A greater experience of His love and forgiveness, for he who is forgiven much loves much. A deep and abiding respect for God, known is the Old Testament as, “the fear of the Lord.” A true and deep experience of God’s grace so that we can respond with heartfelt gratitude. A deep sense of our great need for God – a hunger and thirst for personally knowing God.
We need nothing less than to experience a spiritual revival brought about by the Holy Spirit: A revival – one that plunges us to our knees and our hearts to repentance; a revival where God’s word is loved and spiritual accountability and discipleship is sought; a revival where we will seek to please the Lord and not indulge the desires of our flesh; a revival that is lasting and life changing. Only God can make the dead bones come alive. In short, we need a revival of passion for God and his holy purposes in our everyday lives.
Isn’t it amazing that if I’m a fanatic of a sports team, it is a cool thing, but if I’m zealous for God, it’s not? What we’re saying is that we need more fans for God, more fanatics for Christ. A sports fan is not ashamed of his team. In fact, a fan wears his team colors, puts bumper stickers on his car and regularly keeps up with his team. We need to be a zealous member of God’s team – the church. Second Timothy 1:8 says, “Never be embarrassed to speak up for the Master.”
Charles Stanley said,
- We nonchalantly and quietly go about our own business as though God never existed, as though God were dead. What we are indicating is: “Lord, Your plan doesn’t fit my plan. I choose my plan over Your plan.” That is disastrous. The Bible is not a book for our convenience. It speaks about commitment and sacrifice and going the second mile, leaving all to follow Jesus. The Christians of this nation are abundantly supplied with many resources, spiritual and material, and yet we are making a pitiful showing in our influence and impact on society. No Christian has the right to live his own life and do his own thing. If the God of the Bible is your God, He has the final authority over your life. The most important consideration is not what you have or do not have, but what has you?
What are you captured by? What are you captivated with? What are you dominated and controlled by? Are you committed to Jesus, obedient to Him, sold out to Him, turned over to Him, following Him, seeking His guidance, doing His will, acting on His commandments, engaged in His ministry, doing His bidding with all your being? Is Jesus Christ Number One in your entire life?
Is your life mission to know Christ and to make Him known? If you are not an authentic Christian – a genuine disciple, you should be!
God makes it clear what He expects from His people. Romans 12: 1-2 says: “Therefore, I urge you,… in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your reasonable service or spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
It is reasonable or logical that we would fully commit ourselves to God. This means that we are to yield ourselves to Him, surrender to Him, abandon ourselves to Him, entrust ourselves to Him and place ourselves at His disposal. True commitment is not something that you can take back, it is a firm life-long vow to trust and obey God. We are committing ourselves to do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory. We can’t be holy without the Holy Spirit, but growing in grace requires cooperation on the part of the believer. The result of offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice is that we may “prove,” that is test out and discover by proof, what is the will of God. It all begins with a life-long commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.
What are some of the commitments that God wants us to make? We begin by committing ourselves to the Lord. God wants us to commit ourselves to developing a Christian worldview, a Christlike attitude and a servant spirit. Will you make these commitments? Next, we need to commit ourselves to personal growth and institute some practical steps to do so beginning today. Then we need to commit ourselves to a local expression of the Body of Christ. We need to make a commitment to our brothers and sister in the Body of Christ. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from being a vital part of God’s family – the church.
Be involved in the life and ministry of a local church. The first priority is corporate worship. Then we need to learn to effectively assimilate God’s word; to this end, regularly attend Sunday school or a small discipling group. Be loyal and cultivate a positive attitude. You will never get your neighbor to visit a church that you are constantly finding fault with. Will you make a commitment that you’re going to look for opportunities to put your gifts and talents to work? The greatest ability is your availability. Are you available for God to use? Don’t wait for someone to ask you, volunteer to help. If we all make those commitments today, your will be a better person and your church would be a better place. By God’s grace let us make progress in becoming the kind of person God created us to be.
The Discipleship Covenant
Today I am stepping across the line. I’m tired of waffling, and I’m finished with wavering. I’ve made my choice; the verdict is in; and my decision is irrevocable. I’m going God’s way. There’s no turning back now!
I will live the rest of my life serving God’s purposes with God’s people on God’s planet for God’s glory. I will use my life to celebrate His presence, cultivate His character, participate in His family, demonstrate His love, and communicate His word.
Since my past has been forgiven and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven, I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting, or faithless worrying. Instead I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry, and fulfill my mission in the membership of His family.
Because this life is preparation for the next, I will value worship over wealth, “we” over “me,” character over comfort, service over status and people over possessions, position, and pleasures. I know what matters most, and I’ll give it all I’ve got. I’ll do the best I can with what I have for Jesus Christ today.
I won’t be captivated by culture, manipulated by critics, motivated by praise, frustrated by problems, debilitated by temptation, or intimidated by the devil. I’ll keep running my race with my eyes on the goal, not the sidelines or those running by me. When times get tough, and I get tired, I won’t back up, back off, back down, back out, or backslide. I’ll just keep moving forward by God’s grace. I’m Spirit-led, purpose-driven and mission-focused, so I cannot be bought, I will not be compromised, and I shall not quit until I finish the race.
I’m a trophy of God’s amazing grace, so I will be gracious to everyone, grateful for everyday, and generous with everything that God entrusts to me.
To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever, and whatever you ask me to do, my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost, I’m ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway. I want to do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory. Whatever it takes, Lord; whatever it takes! I want to be used by you in such a way, that on that final day I’ll hear you say, “Well done, thou good and faithful one. Come on in, and let the eternal party begin!”
Written for The John Ankerberg Show by Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010.