According to recent surveys, somewhere between 61%-88% of Christian youth will stop attending church at some point. Why is this? In an article in the L.A. Times, William Lobdell assesses, “…judging by the behavior of most Christians, they’ve become secularists. And the sea of hypocrisy between Christian beliefs and actions is driving Americans away from the institutional church in record numbers.” While hypocrisy among Christians—saying that God wants us to do ABC but doing XYZ ourselves instead—is certainly an explanation, I believe the observation that most Christians have become secularists is the more compelling reason for the exodus. Why waste time going to church if Christians are identical to those who aren’t?
“…that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:18b, 19a)
This isn’t typically what comes to mind when we think about religion today. Christians in the United States have definitely dropped the ball. God hasn’t changed; we have, and we’ve hijacked what Christianity is with us. We have convinced ourselves that being a Christian is synonymous with being an American—that not only can we have it all, but that we are actually entitled to having it all. This may be the American way, but it is Biblical heresy.
Churches have also dropped the ball. In my forty-nine years of life on this earth I have seen a number of specific congregations wither and close. While there were various external reasons for their decline, such as a decrease in membership or a changing demographic in the surrounding neighborhood, the underlying cause was that they no longer served God’s purposes. How can I say this with conviction? Because Jesus set a precedent of warning the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place [the church is identified as the lampstand in 1:20]—unless you repent.” 2 Timothy 3:5 identifies those “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This is descriptive of many churches today—the buildings are beautiful, and smell “church-y;” maybe there is even a Bible reading or The Lord’s Prayer somewhere, but after spending an hour there, their members are none the wiser as to who God is or how they should live. God blesses congregations that honor Him and serve His purposes, but removes those who don’t.
When does a church stop serving God’s purposes? The same as when individual Christians stop serving God’s purposes. “You are the salt [the preservative, the flavoring, the distinctive] of the earth,” Jesus said. “But if the salt loses it flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13) Both churches and individual Christians cease to be useful to God when they are no longer distinguishable from the world around them—when instead of drawing others to the true God they themselves assimilate into the world around them.
Contrary to those who have a form of godliness but deny its power—those who claim Christianity, but are no different from everyone else—true Christianity is powerful and attractive, because it is empowered by the Spirit of the Holy God behind it.
God wants His people to know:
- What is THE HOPE OF HIS CALLING,
- What are THE RICHES OF THE GLORY OF HIS INHERITANCE in the saints [in us], and
- What is THE EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF HIS POWER toward us who believe
Christians have a marvelous hope that no one else has any reason to possess. We have an incredibly rich inheritance of glory in us, and we have the exceeding greatness of God’s power at work in us and for us! I Peter 2:9 tells us, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, [why?] that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This comment wasn’t directed to the nation of Israel; it was directed to the church—to us, who belong to Christ. As Christians, we have been called out from among everyone else to be God’s chosen people, and we have been called out for a specific purpose—to tell others about the incredible God who called us out to reflect who He is!
Various well-meaning Christians have bemoaned the absence of a revival in this country, but there can be no revival without a clear distinction between saved and unsaved, Christian and non-Christian, born-again and unregenerate, forgiven through Christ and still damned in their sins. Not only must there be something to turn from, there must be something different to turn to. First comes the presence of the Holy God mightily at work in faithful men and women who are willing to present the unadultered and true God to an unsaved people—in lifestyle as well as in faithful Scriptural teaching—then comes a conviction of sin, and subsequent repentence and revival. Other nations are now sending missionaries to the United States because our testimony has become weak and emaciated. May we remember from where we have fallen; may we repent and do the former works, so the presence of the mighty God is not removed from among our people!
Help us to know what is the hope of our calling, what are the riches of the glory of Your inheritance in us, and what is the exceeding greatness of Your power toward us who believe. In Jesus name, Amen!