Theology for the Long Haul

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Empty Churches with Open Arms

My family and I had the privilege of living in Amsterdam for about 5 months in 2004-05. While there, we were struck by both the post-Christian culture and the emptiness of the churches. A salient example was the Oudikirk (old church) which towers above the neon windows of the Red Light District. There it stood... a symbol of faith and holiness surrounded by prostitute windows, drug dealers, and thrill seeking tourists. A church that we learned was at one time overflowing with people and filled only with art and spiritual emptiness.

For the last decade the debates have raged throughout American churches over issues of morality and lifestyle choice. There has been a push for the normalization of life decisions that the Bible identifies as sinful. These same decisions are no longer debated in European culture. The debate there is over and done, and the verdict is that any lifestyle chosen is okay. The result over time has been two fold; 1) churches in Europe have become more “accepting” and “supportive” of immoral lifestyle choices; and 2) the same churches, over time, have become more irrelevant and largely abandoned. Somewhere along the way people, having found the affirmation they were seeking, had no reason to remain in churches that taught that the Bible was sometimes authoritative and sometimes not. Simply put, if it wasn’t all true maybe none of it was true.

In the United States the battle rages on. Scholars and pastors behave more like teenage girls rummaging through the closet looking for what fits and gains peer approval than keepers of God’s Word. Many churches are coming to the conclusion that the more “accepting” they are of people, the more their churches will grow. They may be right in the short term. But eventually people will ask themselves why they are following a religion where many of the teachings have to be explained away, deemed as no longer culturally relevant, or obscured to a point beyond recognition in order to become acceptable to its followers. . Like the church in Europe, if the debate is won in favor of those who wish to minimize the Bible’s authority and influence, the church will be abandoned by the same.

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