Recently, I read a thought provoking article at "The Aquila Report" written by Pastor Shane Lems (website is www.theaquilareport.com ). His article entitled "The Church's Collapse Into Worldliness" summarized four steps that lead to a downward spiral when a church seeks to be relevant but ends up being unfaithful in the end. These four steps were developed by Os Guinness in his book "Prophetic Untimeliness (Grand Rapids: Baker Books 2003).
Briefly, the four points Guinness makes show how we travel from a solid foundation based on Scripture alone to one more related to culture. Step one as Os Guinness relates it is "assumption". This occurs "when some aspect of modern life or thought is assumed either to be significant, and therefore worth acknowledging, or superior to what Christians know or do, and therefore worth adopting" (Chapter 3 of his book). Eventually this assumption becomes a part of the thought and practice of a Christian's life or the church life as a whole. As Guinness says so well, "The danger is when something is accepted without any thought, simply because it is modern or new."
In the second point, "abandonment", Guinness tells us that anything which doesn't fit this new assumption is either dumped or neglected. This includes truths, customs, traditional forms. If they do not fit, they are shoved aside because the new assumption becomes the authority. Some of the examples given included traditional hymns being outdated, history becoming irrelevant and how uptight traditional morality has become. Anything which holds the church or an individual Christian back from being relevant is considered something which must go.
Then, comes step three which is "adaptation". We go from assuming something new to abandoning the old way of doing things and we follow this with adapting everything else. Do you see where this is leading us? It is a spiral downward when we consider that we were meant to stand on the truth as found in God's Word. Being the salt of the earth means we are to preserve the truth of the Christian faith not water it down. Guinness says: "What is not abandoned does not stay the same; rather, it is adapted. The habits and assumptions of a certain age and culture are accepted without thought, and then they replace the authority of traditional Christian assumptions." (Chapter 3)
Finally, the process ends in step four "assimilation". When the church or the individual Christian is at the end of this road, they become absorbed by the modern assumptions. They are assimilated by the culture. Guinness says that this leads to worldliness and capitulation to some aspect of the culture. Instead of the church influencing society, the society influences how Christians do church. It is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. We have gone from standing firm on scriptural principles to standing on cultural ones in order to draw a crowd and be relevant.
This whole process not only speaks to the historic shift we see today in evangelical churches but in the life of individual believers. I have heard some use the scripture from Paul where he writes:
1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” Clearly when we examine the other writings of Paul, we know that he did not mean he became like the people he was trying to evangelize. However, he used different approaches to each group he was ministering too that he might communicate effectively to them. He never used his liberty in Christ to sin or adapt to the culture. He did not "dumb down" the Christian faith in any way or minimize the truth. In fact, we know that he did not do this as he was stoned, beaten and thrown into prison. Obviously, his message was one that brought conviction.
As believers, we must stand fast to our convictions and the truth of God's Word. It is very easy for us to be more swayed by our culture in an effort to reach people because we want to be relevant, popular and attractive. However, Jesus told us we would be persecuted for His sake because we would be "different" in our message. God's Word ruffles the feathers of the non-believer and this is exactly what it is meant to do.
For us, the question should be, "Do we change (adapt) our worship to suit the culture and live our life to fit in better with it or do we remain firm in our stand on God's Word as our authority in faith and practice? Os Guinness has raised some very good insights into our modern life today that we really need to consider. I have ordered his book and look forward to being challenged in my thinking even more.
I am indebted to "The Aquila Report" and Pastor Lems
for the article he presented there because I think we live in a time of great concern both for society and the Christian's relationship to it. We face tough days ahead with many challenges to our faith. Therefore, we need to step back and consider whether we have been guilty of the four steps in the spiral. Are we standing on the Word or on the culture? God give us insight and wisdom to see the truth. Selah!