The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 2

Continuing Maurice Smith’s great article – this is the encouraging part.

Maurice Smith

 

The Collapse of Evangelicalism

Part 2: Evangelicalism in Transition

Now I want to offer several observations regarding what I see as the outcome of that collapse.

Evangelicalism will look more like the church of the first century, and less like the church of the last (i.e., 20th)  century. I’m tempted to simply allow that statement to stand without comment – forcing you to simply digest it without elaboration . . . . but what fun would that be?!  When David Lehman in “The Answering Stranger” declared, “The Twentieth Century is the name of a train that no longer runs”, he could easily have been referring to the Evangelical Church. The Church of the 20th Century witnessed the rise and fall of the temperance movement in the first half of the century(culminating in the 18th amendment), and the rise of the pro-abortion movement (culminating in Roe v. Wade) in the last half of the century. The Evangelical Church has witnessed Billy Graham filling Times Square (September 2, 1957), and “gay pride” marches filling those same streets. The Evangelical Church has witnessed the rise of the mega-church and the precipitous decline in the impact of the church on American culture. We began the 20th Century with a world wide awakening of historic proportions, and we ended the century with . . . . nothing of note. I believe God is done with the Church of the 20th Century, and He is taking us back to the Church of the 1st Century.

Evangelicalism will be vastly smaller, but vastly more effective.  Let’s face it. In traditional Western Christianity of the 20th Century, “success” is measured by size: the size of your congregation, the size of your budget, the size of your facility, the size of your staff, etc.  Size matters . . . except in the Kingdom of God.  But the day of “size matters” is quickly coming to an end. If God is measuring the Evangelical Church by the size of its impact, what do you think the verdict would be?  In the move of God that is now on the horizon, the new “metric” will be power and impact, not size. The new “mantra” being bandied about is: “‘Small’ is the new ‘big’”. While I believe this to be true, many of the people currently using this mantra are mega-church people who still want to impress others with the “size” of their “small group” ministry. Sorry. When God says “small” He isn’t using code-speak for “big”.  The Church of the 1st Century was quite different. They were genuinely small, and their impact was out of all proportion with their size. In his wonderful book “Water From A Deep Well” Dr. Gerald Sittser of Whitworth University writes: “At the beginning of the second century the church comprised roughly fifty thousand people, most of whom lived in major urban centers of the Roman world. Considering the population of the empire, some sixty million, Christians constituted a tiny minority. Yet several pagan leaders expressed concern that Christians, however small their numbers, were having a noticeable impact in society” (Sittser, page 50). Welcome to the future of Evangelicalism, a future measured by effectiveness and impact, out of all proportion with our size.

Evangelicalism will emphasize authenticity over image. Authenticity means different things to different people, but I use it here to mean “real” or “genuine” or “what you see is what you get”. It is life and spirituality without polish, varnish or veneer. I believe our culture has become weary and skeptical of our large stage performances. Church has become like Major League Baseball. Players refer to MLB as “the show”. When you get “called up” to go to “the show” you aren’t being called up to simply play ball. You are being called up to “perform”.  Major League Church has become like Major League Baseball. You aren’t being “called” simply to “minister”, you’re being “called” to perform. The stage must be well set. The music must be properly orchestrated. The message must be choreographed with just the right gesticulations, practiced for delivery to either Camera 1 or Camera 2. And if you could weep at just the right moment . . . well that takes practice. And the whole performance has the “authenticity” of “reality television” (you can even get “Major League Church: Season 1″ on DVD for enjoyment at home. Personally, I’m waiting for the “Season Playoffs” DVD).  In the season of spiritual awakening which is now on the horizon, stage performances will give way to authenticity, what Francis Schaeffer used to call “True Spirituality”. It will be the authenticity of genuine biblical community lived out in full view in house churches of 15-to-20 people whose lives are an open book to one another. No show. No pretense. Just genuine spirituality – the pursuit of God in the company of friends and fellow believers.

Evangelicalism will be less political, more spiritual and more practical. Now, please note how deftly I avoided the issue of conservative politics versus liberal politics. Mama didn’t raise no dummy! I have said for some time that Christians are at their worst when they are trying to “rule over” others, and they are at their BEST when we take up our calling to serve others. The Evangelical Church of the future (until Jesus returns) will be less about politics and more about the expression of God’s love and the gospel through practical, sacrificial service. I don’t care so much about who you vote for (although I pray that you will vote wisely for godly people), as I do about how you live out your biblical convictions in love and service toward others. This isn’t the old-style “social gospel”. It is the biblical gospel with social legs and practical impact. Who cares what you believe if you can’t “walk it out”? Mind you, there will be numerous “Evangelical leaders” who will continue attempting to hitch their theological and political wagons to the latest “politically correct” rising star (environmentalism being the latest). But that is a false hope. Throughout history, men (and women) of biblical courage and evangelical convictions have never needed anything more than “the Morning Star” to pull their wagons.

Evangelicalism will experience more “pentecostal power” with less “pentecostalism”. Much of traditional Evangelicalism is devoid of any real spiritual power, having driven the gifts of the Spirit out of the Church like a leprous ex-family member. On the other hand, much of modern-day pentecostalism represents a pentecostal paradigm “gone-to-seed” with little actual power masked with a lot of pretentious showmanship (if in doubt, just watch a Benny Hinn meeting or a Todd Bentley re-run). As a former Evangelical who discovered the gifts of the Spirit under the ministry of John Wimber (long story), I have lived and ministered in both worlds. Both groups (the pentecostal and non-pentecostal wings of Evangelicalism) are about to discover the truth of 1 Corinthians 4:19-20, “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power.”  As I said earlier (above), in the move of God that is now on the horizon, the new “metric” for Evangelicalism will be spiritual power and impact, irrespective of which paradigm you may currently walk in.  Those unable to step out of their old paradigms will find themselves frustrated and pushed to the margin as the River of God’s Spirit flows past them.

Evangelicalism will begin to move “underground” as it becomes more organic and less institutional. I am convinced that the collapse of contemporary Evangelicalism and the contemporaneous rise of the house church movement together signal a major “paradigm shift” in what God intends to do in the years ahead.  He is moving away from the institutional and toward the organic. He is moving away from the “congregation” and toward the “community”. He is moving His Church away from the “swimming pool” and into “the River”. He is moving His Church away from leadership by appointment and position and toward leadership by anointing, calling and gifting. He is moving His Church away from the big, visible above-ground structure (which is easily manipulated, controlled and persecuted) and toward the small, the fluid, the underground and the invisible which is much more difficult to control, manipulate and to persecute. In keeping with this article on the collapse of Evangelicalism I have felt compelled to revise a work I began in 2005 entitled “A House Church Manifesto”. I have now completed (if anything is ever really “complete”) that revision and it is substantially different from what went before. It is now entitled “A House Church Manifesto: An Apostolic Strategy For God’s Underground House Church Movement” and now embodies more of my personal thoughts and reflections on where I think God is taking the house church movement. It is too long to include here (21 propositions), so I have posted it on our website and am including a link here:

http://www.parousianetwork.org/PDF_FIles/A_House_Church_Manifesto_7_05_09.pdf

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