Rev. Bob Yount’s sermon this past Sunday is the basis for my reflections in this blog post. He emphasized that the church was never supposed to be a place that people are brought to in order to hear the gospel. It is supposed to be a place where Christians are taught and prepared to bring good news, compassion, and help out into the world.
As I listened, I was struck by how the misunderstanding he described has probably led rather directly to the present state of affairs in the church. And ironically, it is the heyday of Christianity in the United States that may have been a chief influential factor.
When everyone went to church, the people that needed to be evangelized were in the church’s midst -those who attended for cultural reasons rather than devotion. And so one preached at the unbelieving and complacent in one’s midst. As it increasingly became the norm for those who didn’t believe to simply not come, the focus of Christians (who by this stage had largely forgotten how to share their faith in a meaningful and effective way) was increasingly placed on inviting those people to church, where a professional could proclaim the message to them.
By focusing on evangelism Sunday after Sunday, perhaps ironically, fewer and fewer Christians had any sense of what they believe or why they believe it, which might have enabled them to interact respectfully and confidently with others who questioned or challenged them. And fewer and fewer Christians were being taught to live and act in Christlike ways that would speak louder than the words they found themselves ill-equipped to articulate outside of the church’s walls.When people are challenged about their beliefs, and haven’t been taught about their basis – or when people think that their “faith” actually means subscribing to those doctrines and dogmas – then when they find themselves confronted with other viewpoints, rather than loving their enemies, they are prone to become defensive and dogmatic.
The church’s failure in its mission of discipleship may thus be the reason we have such widespread fundamentalism, misguided apologetics, and much else.
And so the question is whether we can get back to what we’re supposed to be doing, and in the process transform the church from something that has lost credibility to something that, whether one is part of it or not, is having a positive impact that can be recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike.