Several years ago, Os Guinness, the Evangelical social critic and prolific author, began to write about the impending demise of the Evangelical church. In his book, The Last Christian on Earth, he analyzes what exactly brought about this demise. To cryptically describe what happened to the church, he utilizes a fictional dialogue of one spy conveying to another spy how to undermine the American church. He calls it “Operation Grave Digger.” The goal of this operation was to trap the Church into becoming captive to the culture so that the Church would work with culture rather than against it. The spy concludes that “the more the church becomes one with the modern world, the more it becomes compromised, and the deeper the grave it digs for itself.” Guinness’ treatise is echoed in the analysis of Warren Cole Smith in his book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church. He concludes that the current state of the Evangelical church is much like the addict who has yet to discover that he is addicted. Through a series of mission experiences to other countries, Smith discovers the dysfunctional characteristics of the church such as its quest for power, money, and fame, something this segment of the church body tends to perpetuate. The conclusion these authors make shows that the Evangelical church in treading on dangerous ground in its flirtation with modern culture.
Evangelicals have experienced great successes in terms of numbers and popularity which have unwittingly created an illusion of effectiveness and growth. In his exposé of the Evangelical myth, Smith begins by pointing out that this apparent success is a myth. Despite the proliferation of mega churches, the emergence of parachurch organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, and the influence of the Religious Right and their value voters, the church has not, in fact, grown. Christians have simply been drawn from smaller churches which have proven to be feeder sources for the larger churches. He draws research from Glenmary Research Center, Baptist Church Planting magazine, and The Barna Research Group, which seems to negate the idea of massive growth and influence and actually shows a possible decrease.
Yet, not everyone has been blinded in the lack of Evangelical influence. Individuals in the middle to latter part of the 20th century such as Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and Chuck Colson were awakened to this reality to be sure. Yet, their analysis was maligned with a heavy dose of pessimism. According to an article that appeared in Evangelical Theological Society, James Patterson, the author of the article, believes that these three individuals “regularly lamented the moral and cultural decay of the West, which they regarded as an undeniable verity of life in the current age. [Therefore] … the pessimism of these three evangelical leaders cannot simply be dismissed as idiosyncratic or marginal.” They sought to galvanize the church into action by pointing out that the culture was heading towards a complete collapse. However, history has shown that such a pessimistic analysis, despite its accuracy, may have served to paralyze the Church’s effectiveness in confronting the culture. What was fostered was a preoccupation with the moral decline of American culture, which resulted in paralyzing the Church into thinking that making a genuine metamorphosis was hopeless. This too must be overcome if the Church is going to make a difference.
Despite whether the lack of Evangelical effectiveness has been realized or not, the Church has evidently failed its cultural mandate to create culture and has rather been excessively influenced by culture, thus the need for a real revival is essential. Everyday millions of Americans are going into eternity without God because of an ineffective church. My prayer is Lord, send us revival! I will close with a statement from J I Packer regarding revival.
"Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been
sleeping and restores a deep sense of God's near presence and holiness.Thence
springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance,
praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.
Each revival movement has its own distinctive features, but the pattern is the
same every time.
First God comes. On New Year's Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and
some of their friends held a "love feast" which became a watch night of prayer
to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, "the power of God came
mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to
the ground." Revival always begins with a restoration of the sense of the
closeness of the Holy One.
Second, the gospel is loved as never before. The sense of God's nearness creates an overwhelming awareness of one's own sins and sinfulness, and so the power of the cleansing blood of Christ is greatly appreciated.
Then repentance deepens. In the Ulster revival in the 1920s shipyard workers
brought back so many stolen tools that new sheds had to be built to house the
recovered property! Repentance results in restitution.
Finally, the Spirit works fast: godliness multiplies, Christians mature,
converts appear. Paul was at Thessalonica for less than three weeks, but God
worked quickly and Paul left a virile church behind him."