Recently I was asked, “what is the greatest problem facing the church today?” Certainly the inquisitor had in mind a specific issue, which was never revealed, but I shared my perception nonetheless.
Concerning the church at large in the world I said that I consider the way the work of Jesus has been minimized is the greatest problem. Too many churches have gone away from preaching Christ Crucified (1 Cor. 1:23). People don’t want to know about a suffering and murdered Son of God, who took their place in God’s wrath. They don’t want to believe that they are actually sinners, and that their sins are so great it would require them to be saved from them. Minimizing Christ means minimizing their own sins. If I am not such a sinful being, then there is no great sacrifice needed. If no sacrifice is needed then, I also don’t really need the forgiveness offered by God. So then, I can live a more palatable relationship with God on my terms, not His. “My terms” often become (though not always) the way of the prosperity gospel. There are so many preachers that proclaim how God wants such good things for us that the nicer we are and kinder we are in life, the more the rewards He will heap upon us.
God’s Word warns us against such charlatans (2 Tim. 4:3), but they are still sought out. They want you to feel good about yourself, and about God’s plan to heap material blessings upon you if you only give more to the church and seek to live in peace and harmony with the world around you. Of course they don’t use the term “prosperity” because then people could easily recognize them. No, these “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). And as the old saying goes, people “swallow it; hook, line and sinker.”
I followed up with a qualifier on the Lutheran Church, and specifically the LC-MS, since that is what I know best. I said that the problem with our churches is that we have not been diligent enough with teaching our children ‘Law and Gospel,’ which had always been our strength in the Lutheran church. Because of that our youth grow up with more influence from the world than from our faith. God clearly told us the way it should be done in multiple Scriptures such as Dt. 11:19 where He says concerning His Words, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” In failing to be faithful to God’s teachings we leave our children to be led astray and swallowed by the lions of this world.
Look at the devaluing of the things of God. 1) Worship is a come when you feel like it activity, not a regular time of devotion and praise of God. Too many things easily take its place and without a second thought given to it, the world becomes our master. 2) Offerings, a few dollars here or there to ease the mind is enough, forget about the tithe or giving from the abundance God has already given to you. 3) Bible Study, how few of the people that attend worship stay for Bible study. Many go for breakfast or just to get on with their day. And these are only a few things on the list of our minimizing our devotion to God.
What we can do now is return to God. Return in our prayer, devotion, worship, offerings, service, witness, spirit, life. Neh. 1:9 says “if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered …I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.” Where there is life, there is hope, where there is confession there is forgiveness, and where there is faith, there is salvation. No one has gotten this faith life “right.” We have all failed, but with Jesus, “with you there is forgiveness, (Ps. 130:4). This is a new day and we start again. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 2:23-24). Give God the past. And while you are at it, give Him your present and future too. With God as our guide we have hope to face a better tomorrow in the church than we have in the past. Let’s leave the greatest problem behind and focus on the greatest opportunities ahead.