June 13, 2014 | Tom Olago
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Are there any clear indications as to how the Church in America is headed? Ed Stetzer believes that based on certain researched trends, the church in America is not dying, but there are still some challenges and changes to be considered. He goes on to describe four “Mission trends” that need to be considered when it comes to the state of the church in America.
Stetzer argues that when we consider missiology (the area of practical theology that investigates the mandate, message, and mission of the Christian church), part of the discipline includes considering how churches relate to their culture in a dynamic way It also considers what current cultural changes mean for future church engagement of that culture.
In a recent article published in Christianity Today, Stetzer outlines four trends that are already evident and expected to increase in importance in future:
1. The Word “Christian” Will Become Less Used and More Clear.
There are three broad categories that make up the approximately 75 percent of Americans who refer to themselves as Christians:
• Cultural Christians, about 25% of the U.S. population, are simply those who, when asked, say they are a Christian rather than say they are an atheist or Jewish. They are “Christian” for no other reason than they are from America and don’t consider themselves something else.
• Congregational Christians: They account for another close to 25% of the population. This person generally does not really have a deep commitment, but they will consider refer to themselves as Christians because they have some loose connection to a church—through a family member, maybe an infant baptism, or some holiday attendance.
• Convictional Christians, also about 25% of the population, are those people who self-identify as Christian and who orient their life around their faith in Christ. This includes a wide range of what Christian is—not just evangelicals, for example. It means someone says they are a Christian and it is meaningful to them.
Stetzer elaborates: “The trend is that less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously. In other words, cultural and congregational Christians, or the “squishy middle,” is collapsing while convictional Christians are staying relatively steady. In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean—and will be used—less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”
Stetzer’s research also brings out another startling reality: America’s true Christian population is therefore at about only 25%, which means it is now only a Christian nation in name by virtue of about 50% of Americans professing Christianity as their religion of preference, as compared to just 25% of convictional and practicing Christians. The Bible indicates the test of the true Christian:
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. (I John2:3-5).
It certainly seems clear that as far as God is concerned, those we consider “nominals” are actually no different than the self-professed “nones”.
2. The Nominals Will Increasingly become Nones.
Stetzer explains: “Type one (cultural) and two (congregational) are what we would generally call nominal Christians…they’re simply calling themselves Christians because that’s who they consider themselves to be, not because of any life change or ongoing commitment. Those types of Christians, about half of the population now, will become a minority in a few decades. We are now experiencing a collapse of nominalism. The “Nones,” those who give say they have no religious preference, could potentially represent as many as half of the population in the next 20 to 30 years…”
The natural consequence or conclusion of this is that as the Nones rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane and Christianity will be further marginalized. In essence, those who profess Christianity in name only, and without a serious commitment to Jesus Christ, will find it easy to disassociate themselves when the tag ‘Christian’ starts to be seen as a liability or inconvenience, and will thus end up missing the “narrow gate” and the “difficult way” that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).
3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics.
According to Stetzer: “The next 20 years are going to be a challenge for convictional Christians and churches in many places. We will be engaging in cultural conversations often as the minority we truly are. Those who aggressively fight this as a culture war will find it hard to reach people. Instead of being seen as those who are seeking to engage and serve people in the culture, Christians will be seen as an enemy…In Biblical terms, we may experience what it means to be salt and light in the midst of an adversarial culture.”
Stetzer suggests that to counter this “adversarial culture”, we must hold the Word of God in high authority as the Berean Christians did in Acts 17:11. Christians must become seriously committed to Scripture and the Gospel in every aspect of our lives. We should also wisely discern the present culture and strategize how to best glorify God. “From the Issacharites, who understand the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Stetzer concludes that “…There are ways to stand for the good, advocate for cultural realities that engender human flourishing, and do so in a loving way. That’s the future convictional Christians need.”
4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism.
In Stetzer’s view, the next 20 years are going to be a challenge for convictional Christians and churches in many places. It is beginning to cost something to be a Christian in America—not as much as in many places in the world or in much of history, but more than it used to.
Churches that are preaching the Gospel and are focusing on Biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them. The end result? Robust Christian communities are going to get stronger. These Gospel-preaching churches will have members who are more, not less, committed and these committed churches will have less nominal Christians in the years to come.
Christianity will become more of a minority in culture, but more refined, more Biblical, and more missional churches will be the result.
Stetzer concludes by saying that “the lasting effects of these shifts will force churches to make a critical decision. They will either become a cultural church that allows the societal trends to dictate their ever-changing beliefs. Or they will become a counter-cultural church that faithfully adheres to Scripture and proclaims the gospel in a carefully considered way. The latter church will offer real hope in the midst of an adversarial culture and is the only real future for the American church.”
How true. We are already witnessing the increasing divide between the culturally conforming churches that support such vices as abortion and homosexuality, and the uncompromising churches that do not. Preaching against sin and immorality is now being labeled “hate speech.” Sadly, much of the persecution that will be suffered by the true Church will come from the conforming, compromising churches. Jesus warned: They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.(John 16:2).
Yet, the promise of God still stands firm and secure:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:“For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:35-39).
Read more at http://www.prophecynewswatch.com/2014/June13/135.html#td1vepzObhC0GFXR.99