This Little Church Had None

(November 2008 – Volume 14, Issue 12) 

Ever since my college days I have enjoyed the study of philosophy. It is fascinating to delve into the reasoning of thinkers like Plato, Descartes or Kant and study how they piece life together. However, I have always deliberated on these philosophies from a biblical vantage point. That is, I have found their ideas interesting yet largely flawed in light of the teachings of Scripture. But I have often thought, as I examined the writings of such philosophers, about the reaction of unbelievers to the same concepts. For one thing is very noticeable about philosophies – they are constantly changing. As each new philosopher comes along he rejects the previous philosopher. Each generation considers the last generation, with its set of ideas, systems of thought and social structures, as passé, seemingly not recognizing that the next generation will cast the same censorious comments on it.

This constant flux concerning truth would have to be most frustrating to those without Christ as they observe historically the changing views of thinking people. Even within our lifetimes the rapid presentation of new worldviews that promised to solve the “mysteries of life” – only to soon be relegated to the philosophical trash heap and replaced with the newest idea on the block – has to be unsettling. It is no wonder that postmodernism has taken root in Western thinking. After all, if Plato, Descartes, Kant and a whole-train load of others have presented unique systems of truth, only to be rejected and contradicted by the next set of thinkers, after a while one begins to assume that maybe there is no such thing as objective, universal truth. Perhaps what remains is selective truth, temporary truth, individual truth (truth for you but not for me). If the “truth claims” of the best and brightest from the past have not proven true then what hope do we have that the next philosophy will offer the key to life’s issues. In a real sense, after thousands of years riding the merry-a-go-round of philosophical thought, people have grown tried and want off the ride. There apparently is no absolute truth. There is no final authority. There is no one whose ideas are superior to anyone else’s. We are left with relativism – let each of us do his own thing and believe his own way and let’s just accept one another’s ideas as equal. Eventually all of this rings hollow. Postmodernism, which challenges absolute truth and embraces relativism, has been birthed from the ashes of disillusionment.

Popular movie star Brad Pitt, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, expressed well the disillusionment that many face today. Pitt was discussing a character ( Tyler) who he played in the movie Fight Club:

Pitt: The point is, the question has to be asked: “What track are we on?” Tyler starts out in the movie saying, “Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us – the car, the condo, our versions of success – but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness?” If you ask me, I say, “Toss all this, we gotta find something else.” Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don’t want that.”

RS: So if we’re heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen?

Pitt: Hey, man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. [Smiles] I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it.

RS: But, and I’m glad you said it first, people will read your saying that and think…

Pitt: I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know. But I’m telling you, once you get everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it. Now, no one’s going to want to hear that. I understand it. I’m sorry I’m the guy who’s got to say it. But I’m telling you.[1]

Of course postmodernism did not invent disillusionment; it is the ultimate trademark of any philosophical or religious system that denies the reality of the biblical understanding of the reality of life. In T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” we find the same struggle,

This is the way the way the world ends
This is the way the way the world ends
This is the way the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

There is something within the nature of man that rejects this type of existence and end. There has to be more to our life than what many experience. Something has gone wrong but, having already factored out the biblical view of reality, people are forced to turn to false sources for a handle on life. Having missed the fountain of life other wells must be dug (Jer 2:13).

The Scripture has a different story to tell. Paul informs us in Romans 1:19-23 man’s problem is that he has suppressed the truth about God that has been revealed in the creation around him. This suppression has led to darkened hearts and imaginations that are empty of spiritual reality. Man tries to fill in the blanks with whatever might be in vogue at the moment — in biblical times it was idols and the direct conscious worship of creation. Today it might be New Age philosophy, Eastern religions, human achievement, humanistic theory, modernistic certainty, postmodern uncertainty, or any number of other theories. Bottom line: mankind has rejected God and His truth and suffers the consequences of that choice as God hands him over to enslavement by his own worldview with its resulting sins (1:24-32). It is no wonder people are disillusioned with life; sin and false beliefs ultimately have that affect. As the world system propagates its various views and philosophies we should expect nothing less than minds scratching about in empty speculation and foolish hearts wandering around in darkness (1:21).

Enter the church. One of the things that separate the church from all other organizations is that it is to be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). The congregation not functioning as the support and dispenser of truth falls short of the biblical criteria for a local church; therefore the assembly which does not major on truth does not fit the definition of a New Testament church. Its attendance may be “mega,” its programs prolific, its enthusiasm contagious, and its motives honorable, but if it is not the pillar and support of truth it fails in its job description as a church. Call it a club, a social gathering, a political awareness group, a socially concerned assembly, or an entertainment center, but don’t call it a church.

The church that has God’s understanding of truth will begin thinking biblically. This is often called a biblical worldview. In attempting to discern how widespread a biblical worldview is today (or how similar the beliefs of people are to the teaching of Scripture) pollster George Barna developed a rather minimalist list of required beliefs. They were:

  1. Believing that absolute moral truth exists.
  2. Believing that such truth is defined by the Bible.
  3. And the firm belief in six specific religious views:
  • Jesus Christ lived a sinless life.
  • God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules today.
  • Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned.
  • Satan is a living force.
  • A Christian has a responsibility to share his faith in Christ with other people.
  • The Bible is accurate in all its teachings.[2]

As stated above this is a barebones list. With the addition of even a few other essentials of the Christian faith (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus; the bodily resurrection of people, the actual existence of heaven and hell, eternal judgment, the virgin birth, the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, etc.) the numbers heralded as having a biblical world view would plummet drastically. As it is the statistics are startling. In 2007 Barna identified 40% of Americans as born again (this statistic is highly suspect to me but we will go with it for now) and 7% as evangelical Christians. The directors of the study indicated that “most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs, largely because they do not possess a coherent biblical worldview… Most Americans have one foot in the biblical camp, and one foot outside it.”[3]

In Barna’s most recent study it was discovered that only 9% of those who he claims are born again have a biblical worldview.[4] In a later study of the clergy it was found that only 51% of Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, by Barna’s minimalist definition. He states, “The low percentage of Christians who have a biblical worldview is a direct reflection of the fact that half of our primary religious teachers and leaders do not have one.”[5] But it gets worse, “The research also points out that even in churches where the pastor has a biblical worldview, most of the congregants do not. More than six out of every seven congregants in the typical church do not share the biblical worldview of their pastor even when he or she has one.”[6] To develop a biblical worldview in a congregation requires, “a lot of purposeful activity: teaching, prayer, conversation, accountability, and so forth. [However] if the 51% of pastors who have a biblical worldview were to strategically and relentlessly assist their congregants in adopting such a way of interpreting and responding to life, the impact on our churches, families and society at-large would be enormous.”[7]

More than ever we need to understand the opposition to having and living a biblical worldview, what steps we must take to implement the same in our churches, and then how to evangelize people from a biblical worldview framework.

 


[1] As quoted by Thomas, Jim, Answering the Big Questions About God, ( Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2000/2001) p. 21.

[2] http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdate%20ID=216&P

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdate%20ID=154

[5] www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=CMD=Print

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.