Too much of American Christianity has been sort of Sunday School, no real Christian training. There is too much amateurish or people pleasing in Christian teaching that is totally contrary to Christian tradition and actual Christian doctrine. Americans became way too accustomed to the post- World War II church that was much more about being a social society and not much about the teaching, practice and faith of Christianity practiced for 2,000 years. Now we are just stunned that the church has declined so precipitously and is being so attacked and mocked for its weakness. Why on earth would we be surprised? The clergy and leaders of the church don’t take the church or Christian doctrine seriously, why then should anyone else? If, even worse, the church just becomes a weak echo of a corrupt and decadent society, why should anyone bother with the church. Research has repeatedly shown that for the church to be strong there has to be a strong participation by men. Men need to have a meaningful reason to be part of something. Men don’t concern themselves with the social too much, if a group is doing something meaningful men might give that group a chance, if not they won’t bother. If the church trivializes God and Christ, then men simply won’t take it seriously. If the church can show that God is very real, that their eternal life depends on their devotion to Christ, their’s and their family. That devotion has to begin in this life and good teaching and practice in the church needs to further that devotion, they will take it seriously.
The Christian church, the genuine church, not the social center, has for centuries fought to maintain its credibility as Christ’s church, the true Body of God the Son as Jesus’ earthly establishment. The fight is very genuine today in China, Southeast Asia, Near East Asia, many parts of Africa. Yet we treat the Christian church like a society, when the current “issue” arrives, well church isn’t really essential, not that necessary. When we accede to that, we call into question even more the credibility of the church and another reason people have to not bother with it. It’s obviously not important and I’m pressed for time, I don’t need “church”! For most Christian “churches” they would be right, maybe even smart to avoid a group that is professing what is so antagonistic to the Triune God.
CFW Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church, he knew about persecution having been harassed by the German government to conform to the requirement to hold worship and work of the church under the German government. Walther wasn’t about to do that or to do that when he and the rest church relocated to Saint Louis, Missouri.
President Walther preached the following: “The Church of God on earth has always been a fighting one. It has always been oppressed and persecuted, both by those in the world and by those in the Church itself who spread false doctrine. These false prophets secure followers and then cause separations in the Church. In the Church of Adam, self-righteous Cain stirred up dissension; in the Church of Noah, it was Ham, who despised his father; in the Church of Abraham, it was Ishmael the mocker; in the Church of the prophets, there were many who falsely comforted the people and led them into idolatry. Even in the apostolic Church, in almost every place where the Gospel was preached, heretics arose to sir up schisms and even to destroy flourishing congregations. Saint Paul names among them Alexander the smith, Hymenaeus, and Philetus, and Saint John accuses the entire sect of the Nicolaitans. And so this tension continues to the present day. Satan has never been content to let the Church be in peaceful possession of its heavenly good; wherever pure doctrine has been preached, opponents have arise to challenge it. For this reason, the Church has always had to use the Word of God, not only as nourishment for the soul, but also as a weapon to combat the instruction of false teachers. If the Church ceases to fight, it will not survive for long...” [Bolding is mine]
“… Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘For there must be facts among you in order that those who are genuine among you many be recognized’ (1 Corinthians 11:19). If the jewel of pure doctrine were never disputed, those who firmly hold to it would never be recognized. However, if false teachers and enthusiasts appear in the Church, it becomes obvious who believes in the pure Word. In this confrontational atmosphere, the faith of the upright is tested and confirmed. If the pure doctrine were never attacked, Christians would soon become lazy, lax, and lukewarm. Whenever people deviate from God’s Word, the faithful are driven to investigate it more diligently and carefully paying attention to every word. When a pure teacher is challenged by those who promote other doctrines, he will search the Scriptures and thereby grow in divine knowledge and certainty. Therefore, heretics are nothing but the whetstone of the Church by which it learns to use the sword of the Spirit all the more sharply…”
“… People there may have little regard for the pure preaching that results. They do not thank God for these ministers, they continue to regard earthly goods as of more value than the pure Word and Sacrament, they begin to be ashamed of the right doctrine before the world, and after hearing the Word with a sleepy heart, they finally come to despise it. Then God permits these unthankful souls to lose their heavenly treasure. Those who despise the bread of the precious divine Word must be fed with the stones of man’s powerless doctrines…”
Seems like Dr Walther was prophetic. We certainly have people in the church, even the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, which is a very serious, Scripture oriented, Christ oriented Church, people who are ashamed of right doctrine, who won’t stand up for genuine worship and sacrament and more concerned about their popularity and people pleasing. This is not Christian! I understand people today think that Christians, especially pastors, are supposed to be spineless, pushovers, easily bullied. It has astounded me how many people are surprised when I push back and assert Christian integrity and not just rolling over for worldly opinion. It shouldn’t be a surprise since Walther talked about it about 150 years ago. But it’s mostly the responsibility of weak kneed clergy who wanted to be people pleasing and not stand for Christ.
The church has to distinguish itself from the world and assert a genuinely Christian life. ESV 1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” ESV James 4:4 “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James points out how the church has been faithless and it continues to be so.
John quotes Jesus: “ESV John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” This is Jesus talking, there is a passage that suggests if the world thinks highly of you, you may not be in right relationship with Jesus: “ESV Luke 6:26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
Don’t misconstrue this being some kind of call to arms. We are called to love the world and to do our best to serve our fellow man. But we have to make it completely clear we do this in order to serve Christ not people. We can only be righteous and serve righteously when we are made righteous by the Holy Spirit through Christ. No matter how you serve will still put you at odds with the world because you still have to be faithful to what is in Christ and then the world will reject you and even make you the enemy. You can give all you want, but when you reject the issues of the world and this will happen in the church that wants to echo the world, then you will be the enemy and each of us will have to push back in faithfulness to Christ. That may look like “fighting” because when you are dealing with narrow mindedness, bigotry and hate there is only one way for them and that’s their way. We live in Christ and we will have to push back. Walther writes; “If the Church ceases to fight it will not survive for long.” Paul writes to Timothy: “ESV 1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” And that’s just the way it is.