August 29, 2018

The American Church is Enabling Cultural Decline

As a traveling evangelist, I talk with a variety of pastors and church members each week. If there’s one common thread to those conversations, it’s the dire condition of American society. I firmly believe, however, that the conversation needs to shift from “them” to “us”. After all, the decline of our culture has followed the decline of the church. I would even say that the American church is enabling cultural decline.

In my view, this enabling is no different than what counselors describe when dealing with addiction and dysfunction problems. Simply put, enabling is helping someone in a way that allows negative or destructive behavior to continue. What’s true in drug addiction is also true with sin: skirting confrontation is ultimately a form of harm.

Enabling doesn’t happen overnight. The problem began from the pulpit to the pew as many churches strategized to address felt needs rather than confront sin. Numerous sermons today simply give coping mechanisms for life, which appeal to people who want a “to do” list for happiness. In the words of Leonard Ravenhill, “If you want to be popular, preach happiness. If you want to be unpopular, preach holiness.”

Instead of equipping of the saints, many pastors are just enabling sinners. If sin and salvation are never addressed, then church members can embrace religion without a relationship with Jesus Christ. As a result, the unsaved are comfortable in the church. Let me be clear; there’s a difference between making lost people feel welcomed and making them feel comfortable. When God’s Word is preached and sin is revealed, the conviction of the Holy Spirit should make us uncomfortable – lost and saved alike. In my experience, when biblical salvation is preached, church members get saved.

Even then, some churches are enabling a form of godliness that has no dynamic or demonstrative power (2 Timothy 3:5). Here are just a few specifics regarding how this is taking place:

  • Devaluing church attendance. Too often, pastors enable a “church-lite” attitude to the point of apologizing for infringing upon the busy schedules of their congregation. If families are too busy to participate in the mission of the local church, then they are just too busy.
  • Allowing the temporal to take precedence over the eternal. Affirming activities that place a higher value on a child’s academic and athletic abilities than on spiritual well-being enables worldly thinking and prioritizing. Also, it’s often the cause of overly busy family schedules.
  • Avoiding biblical truth regarding social issues in order to maintain unity. Refusing to preach politically incorrect passages of the Bible enables members to compromise truth for the sake of cultural acceptance.
  • Preaching a perverted view of grace. Jesus is full of truth and grace. He is no more of one than the other. Any time we promote grace and fail to present truth, it can enable the belief that sin is somehow under the protection of grace. I think the Apostle Paul said it best, “May it never be!”

This enabling has made its way from the pews of the church to the public. Few churches today hold to godly, biblical standards. Salt is still in the shaker and lights are under bushels. As a result, our culture feels no shame or restraint. No wonder the American church is declining in numbers and in influence. We’ve been deluded – deceived by false reasoning. Because so many professing believers are falling in lockstep with culture rather than in obedience to Christ, we’re actually enabling apostacy. The decline of the culture will continue to follow the decline of the church.

Thankfully, there are many churches who are not contributing to the decline. These pastors still preach the full counsel of Scripture. They lovingly confront sin, both in the world and within the walls of the church. They teach appropriating the death of Christ by daily dying to self. And they urge believers to surrender fully to the Holy Spirit. But sadly, they are the exception rather than the rule. In the end, God’s Church will prevail. But if America’s church wants to enjoy the victory already won in Christ, then we must be God’s Church in America.