By Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O’Neil –
Promoters of illicit materials and their ilk have likely been ecstatic over the many negative cultural changes in America, including the decline of membership and attendance at most American churches. Church attendance and membership began noticeably slowing down by the end of the 1950’s, and by 1990 the most popular denominations had lost between one-fifth and one-third of the membership they claimed in 1965. The proportion of Americans affiliated with a church had reached a 20th Century low.
Studies to determine the reason for the continuing decline have revealed a variety of explanations, none of which suggest a singular cause. So why are today’s Americans no longer as involved in their churches as they once were?
Calvary Chapels buck the trend
A possible clue to the decrease of church membership can be seen in one of the few churches that actually grew during that same time period. It is the biblically conservative, nondenominational Calvary Chapels, which began in Orange County, California in the mid 1960’s, with 25 people and a dedicated pastor by the name of Chuck Smith, but grew to over 1,500 churches world-wide. Credit for that growth has been attributed to their strict interpretations of the Bible, their success at church planting, and their willingness to engage the destructive culture without condemning the individuals within it. They offered love, hope, and a way to embrace faith in God … exactly what most individuals seek but cannot always find.
This excerpt from a sermon by Chuck Smith conveys an incredible message in which he expressed his vision for the church.
Those who lived in the years preceding America’s moral decline, such as Pastor Chuck Smith and his wife Kay, were alarmed by the deteriorating culture, as are many others today, particularly those who had experienced the wholesome culture of the 1950’s. The Smiths had lived in and fully appreciated that time when life was simple but fulfilling, a time when Church was not just a building one visited on Sundays, but a way of life as well. Their hearts ached for the hopelessness they saw in the eyes of many of the younger generation who were deep into the drug use that was so prevalent in the 1960’s, often referred to as “hippies”.
Rather than condemn the addicts, the Smith family brought many of these drug addicted hippies to their home and provided needed food for their bodies as well as their souls. Basically, they “lived” the Word Pastor Chuck taught in his church, and experienced the miracles promised by God.
So began a powerful movement composed of many former addicts along with their friends and families, most of whom became believers after seeing God cure loved ones from the scourge of addiction; a deadly habit that money and doctors had not been able to cure. Some of those new believers became pastors and command pulpits today.
Nevertheless, despite the 1,500 newly planted Calvary Chapel churches, the culture crisis continued to worsen. It would take more than that a few growing church bodies to reverse the downward trend.
Sadly, the majority of mainstream church leaders have not examined the underlying reasons for the decline, and instead appear to have responded with an unprecedented silence, resisting political conversations and actions which might have invited a reversal of the downward trend.
Lack of response breeds vice and immorality
The failure by society and especially Christians to respond, allowed the country to be flooded with vices which had been lawfully forbidden, such as hard core pornography. The addiction to porn was every bit as damaging and harmful as drug addiction. Researchers found an abundance of evidence indicating the detrimental effects of pornography on individuals and society.
One study found that viewing pornography leads to a weakened sex drive, while another discovered that porn addiction distorts the brain the same way alcohol and drugs do, eventually causing irreparable harm to the user, families, and ultimately the community.
Our laws have become increasingly inconsistent; they forbid some harmful substances/activities while legalizing others that are equally or more destructive. What can or should be done to correct that?
Immorality is not something any church or government can stop, but there are ways to minimize and contain it. Cigarette smoking is a good example of how a once highly popular pastime flourished when prominently promoted by advertisements and the media throughout America, only to become quickly unpopular later on and even repulsed by the majority of Americans. That reversal was largely due to a dedicated plan that warned the public of its health dangers, and a media which largely cooperative through negative warnings. Additionally, specific laws were enacted that helped curb its sales by excessive taxation to the buyer and restrictions for smoking in public places.
Unfortunately, historically established moral laws were reversed as well.
A prominent and arguably most grievous example is Roe vs. Wade, which paved the way for legalized abortions. How did that happen? Public attention was targeted on the few percent of women (who at the time were largely poor and/or Black) who harmed themselves by self-induced abortions and/or sought out “back alley” doctors to abort their unwanted babies. One-sided media reports and outrage from public officials helped pave the way for the historic Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court in 1973, which then became the catalyst for 50 million babies to be aborted since that fateful decision.
While there is a debate on when life begins, most people understand the fetus is a live, growing human being that if left uninterrupted in the womb, will produce a live birth. Anything that intentionally interferes in that process should be considered murder. How could that truth be denied? Apparently very easily, since the practice continues and the law is not being challenged, not even when it was discovered there were abortionists like Philadelphia’s Doctor Kermit Gosnell whose practices were barbaric to the point of murdering live babies after unsuccessful abortions!
There are people who profit from immoral activities, whether financially or politically, and they fight hard to prevent Christians and like-minded citizens from stopping that advantage. Most citizens are too busy or lack the skills required to wage a full-fledged fight that might change bad laws or enact new good ones. Thus, it is a relatively few people who have initiated the immoral changes that affect us all, and it would not take an insurmountable number of dedicated citizens to reverse the trend. Such people could be found in pews all over America, if informed of the facts.
Stopping the spread of immorality in America would have been difficult, but few of us even tried. Most controversial bills were written and voted upon quietly, not wanting the public to pay attention, not wanting controversy associated with their names. That might have proved uncomfortable and/or even endangered chances for re-election. Thus immoral bills were enacted without much public awareness, attention, or comment. Once passed into law, the public was exposed to specific immoral temptations, much like the Genesis account involving picking and eating a forbidden fruit.
Thus the age old battle of good vs. evil continues. The question we should be asking is has Christianity in America declined as a result of these laws? Was the churches lack of addressing the immoral laws, and Christians not opposing bad bills at least partly the cause that lead to the decline in their congregations? People living in darkness often refuse to go into the light. Those with dark secrets prefer company that makes their sin easier to excuse.
Church forfeits its civic responsibility
Although there are varying reasons for the tepid response of the Church to inform congregations of bad bills, and the positions of candidates on issues, the most obvious one is fear of the A.C.L.U.’s threat that their tax exempt status could be revoked if they broke any federal election laws. If that threat had been investigated, the Church would have discovered that the warning was largely unwarranted. Instead of accepting the opinion of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and their ilk who promote the questionable Court decision that promoted separation of church and state, they should investigate the law themselves.
Despite a few restrictions, such as the church being prohibited from financially supporting or specifically promoting specific candidates, the church is allowed to take part in the political process and fulfill many positive civic duties. Certainly voter registration tables and specific Christian voter guides are lawful. In fact, many believe it is the duty of churches to encourage their members to fulfill their civic responsibility and vote wisely.
The Illinois Family Institute has non-partisan Voter Guides that comply with IRS guidelines that are legal for churches to distribute. They can be ordered by calling the IFI, David E. Smith Executive Director, at (708) 781-9328 or click HERE to send an email. You may wish to simply pass a guide along to neighbors, co-workers and family. Other states have credible Christian voter guides as well, that are informative and absolutely legal. With a minimal amount of time, Christians can cast their ballots and be proud of their choices, confident they voted wisely.
Another reason for churches to ignore the political issues of the day is fear that a pastor doing so might be offensive and cause some members to leave the church. I suspect good people could argue both sides of that argument, but does that philosophy also extend to avoiding and/or not discussing politically charged subjects such as abortion, homosexual marriage, pornography, and divorce with that same reasoning? And how do church leaders explain sermons that dwell on the Old Testament, where there were warnings and consequences when the people preferred ungodly kings.
The position of president of the United States can be equated to Kings in biblical days. 2nd Chronicles 7:14 is as true today as it was in the days it was written. Some fear the Lord’s hand of protection has been removed from America, due to the sin that permeates the land and the Church that avoids talking about it or doing anything to correct it.
Although history has shown that American churches grew when united against a righteous cause, the modern church seems to have largely chosen to opt out of the cultural debate and politics of any kind. Hear the prophetic statement made by George Orwell, author of the likewise prophetic “Animal Farm” published in 1946: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
The tragic silence of the Church and Christians
Pastors once explained to their congregation which political candidates embraced biblical concepts. Given that most churches avoid preaching or discussing any politics, many Christians, busy with families, work, and the pressures of life, remain largely ignorant about how to mark their ballots. The result: They have simply stopped voting.
Today, less than 50% of Christians are registered and/or bother to vote. Thus the Church has been effectively silenced, much to the delight of liberals whose organizations have no trouble advising their members about such matters and more. Many church leaders have seemingly forgotten that laws reflect the policies and philosophies of those who govern us; those who make the laws have the ability to impact the moral direction of America.
What if there had been a resounding outcry from Christians when liberals first began initiating laws to remove Christianity from as many public places possible? What if our Church leaders would have investigated the law and discovered they could indeed inform their congregations of proposed laws that were morally unacceptable? If the Church had openly stated the positions and backgrounds of candidates, allowing their congregation to know the facts, would America look differently today? Would there have been successful challenges to laws that allowed abortion on demand? How many human lives might have been saved?
What if Christians had not yawned, ignored, and avoided politics, but instead had become actively involved in supporting groups that opposed immoral legislation and supported qualified Christians on their ballots? More importantly, how did their silence affect the congregation? Can the empty pews in America be equated to the empty sermons that avoided the tough subjects of the day? Could the Church’s silence regarding political matters, actually be the main cause of the decrease in Christians attending church today?
It is good to remember the Scriptures about God’s judgment on His people when they preferred ungodly kings; He removed His hand of protection from entire nations. We also know how God blessed His people when they chose leaders after His own heart, such as King David. Christians must pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, but not expect God to miraculously make all the changes. Prayer is a two-way conversation: We ask for His wisdom; He provides it when we are listening. Christians must not believe our job is finished with prayer, because in reality it is just the beginning.
Part 1: Thorner & O’Neil: Calling all Christians http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/09/ready-thorner-oneil-calling-all-christians-.html#more
Part 3: Exploring the role of the Church as dictated by history, and the role of liberalism in stifling freedom of speech in the pulpit.