Can your fellow congregants articulate the gospel and other basic tenets of our faith?
Yesterday I found myself in a discussion with a co-worker. This is snippet of an exact approximation of what was said.
Me. “How long have you been attending this Presbyterian Church?”
Her. “Almost 7 years”
Me. What’s the pastors name?
Her. “Her name is Pastor _________ “
Me. “What do you like most about the Church?”
Her. “Our pastor is so funny. She’s always telling jokes and always makes a really good connection. Plus we have really good music. Its not boring like a Catholic service.”
Me. “Does she preach the Gospel?”
Her. “What’s that?”
Me. “I don’t know. You tell me.”
Her “You mean like what Christians believe?”
Her. “Well you have to be a good person…you can’t steal or sleep around. you have to treat everybody equally. pretty much follow the rules so you can live a better life and go to heaven”
Me. “I see. And where does Jesus come into this? What’s his role in the gospel/ Christian faith that you believe in?”
Her. “Jesus makes the rules”
Jesus. Makes. The. Rules. While I let that sink in a bit, I’ll point out that while clearly she has made a mess of things and either isn’t listening or these truths are not being articulated at all from the pulpit, she’s by no means a minority or one-off. She’s the majority and she is the rule. I wrote about a similar situation a few years ago. In response to that story, one of my commenters wrote this
“The reality is that the MAJORITY of the adults that attend these Institutional Churches have no real understanding of the Gospel or the Cross.
I challenge any of your readers with this: Ask 5 grown adults in ANY Institutional Church, it wont matter what denomination it is, to clearly articulate and lay out for you the basics Tenets of the Faith.”
I think that’s a pretty bold challenge and one I’ve often thought about. While we know that having an intellectual knowledge of Christian doctrines does not necessarily translate into having a love for God or of having a saved soul, it’s also true that having this intellectual understanding often is a mark of a deep love for God and for his Word. These people love God and want to know all they can about him straight from the source, and I think it’s a sign of sanctification and maturity that people know at least the basics- otherwise what on earth are they being taught?
I wrote in a previous post “mush before milk before meat” that it seems that many churches will spend 10 weeks preaching on leadership, or 4 weeks on a sex series sermon, or 12 weeks on finances and 8 weeks on interpersonal relationships, all the while three quarters of their church members are theologically and doctrinally ignorant.
They can tell you all sorts of mystical, magical things about listening to the still, silent voice of God, but they have no conception of how to answer a basic apologetic question, like “where did we get the Bible from, how do we know it’s true, and who decided what books should be in it?”
They can probably tell you about the amazing way they felt during worship, and how God “showed up” this one time when the worship leader played “Let it rain” for 20 minutes, but couldn’t tell you how the Old Testament relates to the New, couldn’t name a single church father, and couldn’t tell you anything about the first 400 years of Church history or even why it matters.
They can tell you about how to narcissistically insert themselves in the Biblical stories as if somehow these stories are about them, but they would run for their lives if asked to explain the Trinity, or God forbid offer even a basic refutation to the theistic challenges of a Muslim, Oneness Pentecostal, or a Jehovah witness.
They can tell you about the awesomeness of the latest books from Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, “Open theist” proponents and any other spiritualish poision-spewing lunatic that comes around, but they can’t speak with authority on what the five solas [Fide, Gratie, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria] are, why they matter, and how the relate to each other.
They can tell you about a lot of things, but can they articulate a clear presentation of the Gospel? Can they tell a person, in no uncertain terms, how men and women are justified and found to be at peace and no longer at war with God?
And we’re not speaking of mere ignorance here. How many of them would not only not know, but rather would actively argue against you? How many would push back on fundamental Christian doctrines like the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation, issues of biblical sexuality, the nature of God, the relationship between sin and mankind, and a host of other things? How many of them, when pressed, would reveal to have some really bizarre and idolatrous views of Christ and his work and his means? How many, straight up, would you find to be outright heretics?
Its a good question, and speaking from my experience alone, one worthy of deep thought and reflection. That comment does reveal a pretty good question- namely
1.how many pastors would feel confident and comfortable that if they asked ten of their churchgoers five or six questions on very basic doctrinal issues, that their members would give clear, biblically sound responses?
2. If you’re not a pastor- how do you think your peers and the teens in your own church youth group would do?
And if you’re not optimistic, then maybe you shouldn’t be in that Church, or maybe its time to confront the pastors and the elders.
[Contributed by Dustin Germain]