Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What’s Wrong with Evangelical Christians 
and Why are we Destroying America?

By Coleman Luck

This is a very difficult piece for me to write.  It’s hard to say negative things in public about your family even when what you are saying is true and needs to be said.  And evangelical Christians are my family.  The evangelical Church is my spiritual home.  I was born into it.  From my earliest childhood to the present moment I have been nurtured in its churches, schools and organizations.  My father was an evangelical leader, a theologian and Bible teacher who was faithful to his family and calling all his life.  I can say with the deepest gratitude that over my 61 years the most wonderful loving and giving people that I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.  And I have known thousands of them in an array of denominations across America.  Many hundreds have left a personal stamp of God’s love on my life.  So I write as an American evangelical who owes much to this branch of the historic Faith.    

But I believe there is a deep sickness in American evangelicalism.  The germ of the disease has been there for many generations but at least since the 1960’s it has become virulent to the point where our very spiritual life is at stake.  And for those who read this who are not evangelical Christians take no joy.  I do not argue as do some that America was founded as a “Christian nation” and we need to go back to our “Christian roots.”  Given the number of Masons who were among our early leaders and the deep influence of Masonry I could argue just as well that the United States was founded as a Masonic nation or if that makes you uncomfortable how about a Deist nation?  My atheist and agnostic friends should find little comfort in either of those positions.  But, such arguments are beside the point. 

What no one can argue against is the fact that an extremely large percentage of Americans claim to be evangelicals.  Now if you hate evangelicals you can rant and rave all you want about that.  It won’t change anything.  As much as you may dislike us you will be forced to agree that what happens within evangelicalism deeply influences every aspect of American life and it’s going to be that way for a long time to come.  So, strange as it may seem, even those who consider themselves our enemies should be very concerned about our spiritual health and in my opinion our spiritual health is in an advanced state of disaster.

How do I define disaster?

Now I’m going to speak directly to my brothers and sisters in the Faith.  It is disaster when we give up our ability to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus and live out His love within the culture to which we have been assigned.  It is disaster when we lose our moral authority.  It is disaster when political/cultural/moral ends come to justify ungodly means.  It is disaster when we commit ourselves to an agenda of fear instead of faith.  It is disaster when we choose leaders who tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear.  It is disaster when we condone ungodliness and hypocrisy in those leaders.  And because all these things have been happening, it is disaster for the spiritual life of America.  In my opinion not since the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages or the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell has a Christian church so failed a culture as evangelical Christianity is failing and destroying America right now.

Not long ago the sad revelations about the Reverend Ted Haggard spread through the media.  Because of his prominence as an evangelical leader all of us are a laughing stock, the butt of tawdry late-night humor.  And we deserve it.  Not long ago I read David Kuo’s important book, Tempting Faith about the seduction of power within the Bush White House.  Both the revelations regarding the Reverend Haggard and the experience of Mr. Kuo among “political Christians” point in the same direction.  They are the symptoms of a disease. 

Now, every disease has an etiology.  To understand the nature of a disease and recommend treatment doctors begin by looking at symptoms.  Before we try to define the disease that is destroying evangelical Christianity we should do the same.  Symptoms are anecdotal.  It’s easy too misinterpret them because they are viewed through the lens of a specific and very limited observer.  In this case that means me.  So, I present the following perspectives with the hope that you will make your own examination and decide whether my diagnosis is correct or not.  Here is the first symptom: 

The evangelical church is addicted to choosing destructive leaders.

In my experience this is true from the foundational level of the pastorate all the way up to those who represent us in the national arena.  Please understand that I am not saying that every evangelical leader is destructive.  There are many wonderfully gifted and spiritually mature people in church leadership today.  But a disturbingly high percentage are lethally damaged and damaging human beings incapable of making righteous personal decisions much less guiding others.  Why are we addicted to following such leaders?

Back in the early 80’s I was an elder in a small church in North Hollywood, California.  At a certain point our pastor moved on and we had to start the process of finding his replacement.  As we began the search the district supervisor of the denomination met with us and confided to me an important principle to help us in the choice of a new pastor.  At first I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.  In his opinion after many years of guiding evangelical churches in southern California he had determined that there was an important trait necessary to assure a man’s success in the pastorate. 

All things being equal he needed to be a jock.

That’s right, a jock.  Being a jock (okay, a former jock was acceptable) would give him the ability to relate more effectively to his church members and the more prestigious a jock he had been…well, you get the picture.  Now the district supervisor was a good and godly man.  There was nothing cynical about him.  He was honestly giving me the wisdom of many years during which he had dealt with scores of churches and hundreds of pastors and he had been a pastor himself.  He knew his target audience.

Granted southern California is unique.  But in almost every area of culture it has proven to be a bellwether for the whole nation.  Several decades later we might add a new element to the guidance of the district supervisor.  Today besides being a jock it would be helpful if a prospective pastor had some experience as a rock musician.  This is because since the 1960’s in most of our churches music has become more important than preaching.  (For those unfamiliar with such things church-style rock and roll is now the musical base for what most evangelicals call “worship.”  That’s a change from previous eras when the entire Sunday morning service was called worship.)  Many evangelicals choose their church depending in large part on the quality of the musical “worship” experience.

In most of our congregations rock and roll “worship” (all right with a strong influence of folk, gospel and country/western, but let’s not quibble) can go on for 45 minutes or even longer on a Sunday Morning.  But God help the pastor who preaches more than half an hour.  Twenty minutes is the optimal length.  If sermons consistently drag out beyond the thirty-minute barrier the perpetrating pastor had better be one of the greatest storytellers in the world and no matter how good he is he should never talk past noon.  Why?  Because it will encroach on two other vastly important Sunday evangelical activities – getting to restaurants for lunch and home for the games on TV.  (Do you see the nexus between the jock pastor and preaching?)   

Our little church in North Hollywood had another problem.  Not a lot of people attended because we were within five miles of several “mega-churches” with “superstar” pastors who drew large crowds and generous offerings.  Their churches could afford all the amenities.  Why waste your time in a little church with a pastor who struggled to construct a sermon when you could attend a Grand Event that would truly “meet your needs?” 

While we were searching for a pastor I ran into a dirty little reality of evangelical church growth.  With a few striking exceptions I discovered that most of the mega-churches had not grown from reaching the non-believers of their communities.  Like giant corporations that suck up the competition they had grown at the cost of hundreds of other small churches.  Was there some pseudo-spiritual capitalistic conspiracy behind this?  Of course not.  It just happened because great numbers of evangelical Christians are anxious to sit under the ministry of a “Superstar.” 

What is a “Superstar Pastor?”

First, he is a Great Communicator who is skilled in moving crowds through the Power of Emotion.  More than most other preachers the Superstar seems to have an ability to open his heart, to communicate with amazing honesty and vulnerability in front of thousands.  He preaches with passion appearing to relate on a personal level with each individual in the huge room.  Now some of these men are quite legitimate.  They are exactly what they appear – honest, caring individuals struggling to perform a difficult job.  But a dangerously significant percentage are not.  For too many of our Superstar pastors how well they preach the truth of the Bible or how well they even know the Bible is of secondary importance.  Evangelicals automatically assume that numbers and spectacle equate to God’s “blessing.”  (For non-evangelicals the word “blessing” is our code word for success.)  Based upon the size of the “blessing” we make a very dangerous logical leap.  We assume that if there’s great success the pastor’s moral and spiritual life must be exemplary.  He must be a true “Man of God.”  We ask ourselves, “would God fill a dirty vessel?”  Tragically over and over these assumptions have trapped us.  Either He “fills dirty vessels” or we don’t have a clue what the “filling” of His Spirit is all about.  How have we become so muddled?  Here is another statement that will disturb many of my fellow evangelicals:

For most of us emotion has become the measure of Truth.

We are the “Me” generations.  Everything revolves around meeting our “needs.”  How does a “Me” generation member know that God is speaking through a pastor? Emotion.  If our hearts are moved then the message must be from Heaven.  For most of us when certain emotional manifestations are present it is conclusive proof that the “Power of God” is resting on the person in the pulpit.  Let’s be brutally honest.   

Much of what we consider to be God’s Power in our pulpits is nothing but the Grand Illusion of Celebrity and its hypnotic influence on crowds.

How dare I make such a statement?  First, from 61 years of observation in many different churches and, second, from spending decades as a writer and producer in Hollywood the heart of Grand Illusion.  In the entertainment industry the principles of Grand Illusion and the Concept and Uses of Celebrity are well known.  Finally, and what may be viewed as oddest of all, I am a magician, a mental illusionist, who has spent years studying selective perception, misperception, and the power of hypnotic influence in the befuddlement and control of crowds.

Am I saying there should be no drama or emotion in preaching?  Absolutely not.  Our emotions are God-given.  I want to hear passionate preaching.  I’m a professional storyteller and I want to be touched by stories.  But when emotion is the measure of truth instead of truth the measure of emotion we are vulnerable to every trap and disaster that can befall us.

One of the great lies of Hollywood storytelling is that when you are “in love” somehow a deeper “wisdom” enters your life.  You can understand truth that no one else sees.  When you “follow your heart” everything will be all right no matter how stupid a particular decision may be.  Almost everyone who has lived beyond 35 years old knows from painful experience how asinine this philosophy really is.  But we evangelicals display our own version of this romantic stupidity when we fall in love with and idolize our Superstar Pastors and Christian Media Celebrities. 

Now it’s always dangerous to generalize.  Let me underscore a previous statement.  There are many wonderful men and women in church leadership today.  (One or two may even be on radio and television.  And, no, that’s not a joke.)  But the evidence is overwhelming.  A frightening percentage of our leaders are not spiritually qualified to sweep the parking lot much less preach the Bible or make decisions for us.  The clearest argument proving this fact is the number of men who are forced to leave church leadership every year because of “moral indiscretions.”  The evangelical church of a hundred years ago would have used different words.  They would have called it Gross Sin. 

Since the 1960’s the wave of men guilty of such sin has grown ever larger and they are only the ones who have been caught.  How many more are enslaved to pornography and its correlated perversions but manage to keep their addiction secret?  One figure I have read is that four out of ten men in every church from the pastor to the custodian is a porn addict.  Given the influence of the Internet I do not doubt this. 

How many pastoral search committees have ever asked a prospective candidate to bring his personal computer in for examination by an expert who would expose all the deleted files?  How many members of a pastoral search committee or elder board would be willing to undergo that kind of scrutiny themselves?  Do you want to assure yourself about the spiritual quality of your leadership?  Then try it in your church.  The measure of the negative response will be a measure of your problem.  Do you think such a requirement is insulting and unnecessary? If you do either you’re a porn addict yourself or you are abysmally naive.  The fact that we need to start taking such measures speaks to the depth of our crisis.   

But let’s go deeper toward the core of the disease.

The addiction to sexual sin is not the most dangerous of our leaders’ problems.  Many times those sins as damaging as they are, eventually come to light because of the Law of Diminishing Returns.  This inexorable Law forces a person to take greater and greater risks in order to achieve the same satisfaction.  Once in the light the sin can be dealt with if we choose to do so.  Sadly, I know several churches where senior pastors have been removed for “moral indiscretions” and what did these men do?  Each went out immediately and started a new church.  Hundreds of people followed them because they didn’t want to be “judgmental” and they loved the wonderful “preaching.”  But at least the revelation about moral foulness gave everyone a clear choice.  The most dangerous addiction is one that we evangelicals reward our leaders for having and the more they are controlled by it the more we revere them.  What is this addiction?

It is the Addiction to Spiritualized Power.

The heart attitude of one so enslaved might be verbalized in this way:  “God has blessed me.  I am gifted.  Many people hang on my every word.  Obviously I am doing God’s Work.  Look at how many lives are being changed, healed, delivered.  Look at the financial resources that have opened to accomplish my vision.  The Mantle of the Apostles is upon me.  I live in the bubble of my own special dispensation.  The people around me are to be used to fulfill the Great Work that God has given me to do.  Because my Vision is God’s Vision what I set out to accomplish justifies the means that I choose and anyone who stands in my way is a Servant of Darkness who must be removed.”  While, this is a crude statement of the philosophy it is operationally accurate.  Throughout my adult life, I have seen it play out with the most damaging results in a variety of churches and evangelical organizations.  The more successful and powerful our addicted leaders become the more we idolize and reward them. Charming but destructive personalities enslaved to Spiritualized Power fall into a category that we might call Independent Operators.  No matter how charismatic they are and no matter how well they hide it, beyond all else these people are concerned about themselves and achieving their own agendas.

In the mountain community in which I live I attend a church that is still suffering from such a “ministry.”  A dozen years ago in the pulpit of this church there was a very gifted preacher.  I can’t speak about his abilities from personal experience.  I didn’t live here at that time and I never heard him.  But years after he has been gone everyone still talks of his preaching power.  To this day the people love him.  Of course, almost everyone expresses the fact that there was a kind of mystery about the man.  Though he was wonderful in the pulpit on a personal level he was distant and hard to get to know, a man with many invisible barriers carefully established.  Was he an Independent Operator?  You decide.

What happens when a gifted preacher is in the pulpit?  From everywhere Christians congregate to hear him.  And that’s what occurred in this church.  Membership boomed.  People were “being fed.”  (That’s the cliché that evangelicals use to describe their satisfaction with a pulpit ministry.)  There was excitement.  Soon the congregation outgrew its building.  Big plans were laid.  They would build a much larger building.  They would start a school.  And these things they did.  They built the first of what was to be several large buildings.  They started the school.  Needless to say this kind of “vision” costs money and they found themselves with a huge debt.  But all would be well…as long as their success continued. 

Unfortunately, that success was based on the “ministry” of one person.  Not long after the building was completed and the school started this man “felt the call of God” to go to a more prominent church in another state.  When you lose a gifted “pulpiteer” it’s hard to replace him especially in a small community.  As the years passed many in the congregation did what most modern evangelicals do when they grow bored and discontented.  They found other churches where their “needs” could be more fully met.  For years, those who remained have labored under the financial yoke that this “pastor” left on their shoulders.  Subsequent pastors have felt its crushing weight.  In spite of what he did to them the people still speak fondly of this man and revere his wonderful “ministry.” 

Now, let’s be gut-level honest.

To do this kind of thing to people who have vested all their trust in you is despicable.  In any other area of life such lack of concern and commitment would be repudiated.  In business you just don’t start something huge, enlist the deep involvement of many trusting souls, then walk out on them leaving them to suffer the consequences of your grandiose “vision.”  If you were a General and had recruited an army based on your leadership skills then took them into battle, what would your soldiers think if you abandoned them at the height of the war?  But such things don’t bother Independent Operator Pastors.  Why?  They are “Following the Call of God.”  

Saddest of all because of our unbiblical pastoral romanticism evangelical Christians allow such things to happen over and over.  The fact that a pastor is willing to leave a ministry in the lurch should be the first reason another church would refuse to hire him.  But we encourage men like this to go on and on.  That’s because we view our Superstar Pastors like Superstar Athletes.  If we can steal one away from another “team” so much the better for us. 

And the disease continues to grow.

My career in Hollywood was never stellar.  But I experienced enough success to know that it changes you in fascinating ways.  At the heart of that change is a kind of mystical exhilaration about winning a subtle sweetness in knowing that you have succeeded where so many have failed.  With success comes flattery.  The flattery of Hollywood is like crack Cocaine for the soul.  You suck it in whether you want to or not because it’s in the air you breathe and it isn’t just the flattery of words.  It’s the many oblations that are laid on your altar.  

During my years of success in Hollywood, there was a single airline that came to personify it all.  Yes, an airline and its name was MGM Grand Air.  This delightful if small collection of planes flew between New York and Los Angeles and every inch of them was First Class.  None of this pretense to grandeur called “business.”  And certainly no hordes of smelly bodies crammed into constriction seats in a cattle car called coach. 

To fly MGM Grand Air your limousine took you to a private terminal.  From there you were ushered onto the aircraft and seated in a soft, Lazy Boy style lounger with plenty of legroom.  Fine wine and caviar were served followed by a delightful selection of gourmet meals.  An hour or so before landing the staff would bake chocolate chip cookies.  (I am not lying about any of this.  Every word is true.)  I came to look forward to a hot chocolate chip that would sweeten my arrival on either coast.  The rear of the plane was divided into cubicles with four chairs facing each other.  One night flying back to LA I was alone in a cubicle.  Just for me the staff collapsed the loungers into a queen-sized bed.  (Isn’t this sickening?)  As I lay there looking out the window I knew without a doubt that God loved me more than anyone else.

But the most subtle joy in flying MGM Grand Air was the other passengers.  Not on one of those planes would you be crammed in with the riffraff and illiterati that slosh down the aisles of Southwest Airlines.  You weren’t even subjected to the lesser mortals who flew first class on American.  (Some of them might have been upgraded. You just couldn’t tell.)  Every time you boarded the plane there was the quiet assurance that MGM Grand Air catered only to stars and moguls, truly important people just like you.  I won’t mention any of my seatmates on those flights.  Being from Hollywood, I hate to drop names.  Suffice it to say that just to walk on board and sit down made you feel as though you had pierced the inner circle.  Flying at studio expense became a delicious form of flattery.

Too bad they went bankrupt.

What’s the purpose in going into all of this in a screed about why we evangelicals are destroying America?  Because I take seriously Jesus’ command to remove the beam from your own eye before you go after the mote in someone else’s.  Most often, where you choose to be critical of others is where you are at fault.  But there is another truth to consider.  The person who can most easily spot an addict is another addict.  Since I have a verified weakness for success and all the accoutrements it brings, perhaps I am uniquely qualified to identify other addicts.  Or perhaps I shouldn’t be writing about it at all.  At any rate keep this in mind as you read on.

Once you smell the sickly sweet stench of celebrity you don’t forget it.  It’s the reek of desire in your own soul.

Over the course of my professional life I have known more than my share of “celebrities.”  In almost every case, the public persona was quite different than the “off-camera” individual.  Each of these people had a wonderful gift for public charm, but when the camera was switched off, the truth came out.  Infused into many of them was a sickening narcissism that expressed itself in various levels of whining, rage, and abuse.  The people forced to deal with these “elite” individuals suffered in silence remaining in their jobs only because they were extremely well paid to do so.  Now none of the celebrities I’m talking about claimed to be evangelical Christians.  Some were openly hostile to Christianity.  While dealing with them was unpleasant it doesn’t compare to the disturbing experiences I have had with certain evangelical “celebrities.”  Let me give you three examples:

The National TV Reverend

This man is an ordained minister who exudes charm and caring while on camera.  Off camera he is well known for his cavalier lack of concern for the employees in his own large organization.  Some of his actions are horrifyingly laughable such as arbitrarily firing a person then several months later wondering where he was.  Yes I have it on good authority that that actually happened.  I know it sounds brain-dead, but the man’s incapacitation is not mental. 

My own experience with the National TV Reverend took place over a four-day period a number of years ago.  I was part of a small group who stayed with him in a private villa that he had rented for our meeting.  The purpose was to work on a project that he was funding.  (He is a very wealthy man.)  I came to the meeting with enthusiasm.  However, it wasn’t long before all of us crashed into the reality behind the mask.  The private arrogance and elitism of the National TV Reverend were breathtaking.  For four days we were with him from breakfast in the morning through an excellent dinner each night.  During that time he made it clear that he had no personal interest in anyone but himself.  In our little group there was at least one non-Christian.  Though the TV Reverend trumpets his commitment to worldwide evangelism he showed disdain for this man.

Among the unpleasant realities to be observed in this larger-than-life minister was his clear lack of Biblical knowledge.  Though we were working on a story from the Bible he had little interest in the source material.  What fascinated him were the thoughts in his own head.  Let me be quick to say that I had no personal conflict with this man.  When the project was finished he was very complimentary about our work.  But I left the meeting deeply concerned for the millions who follow his leadership and contribute millions to his cause.

The World-famous Bible Teacher

This man is an acclaimed Bible scholar who has written many books.  From this success he has grown wealthy and powerful.  Yet with all his Biblical knowledge he thinks nothing of suing other Christians.  I watched as his actions dragged the name of Jesus through the dirt in Hollywood.  How do I have personal knowledge of this?  It’s not because I was sued.  Rather, a number of years ago this man asked me to moderate a meeting between him and several Christians whom he was suing.  Ostensibly the purpose was to settle the dispute and I was overjoyed at the possibility.  I had a personal stake in the situation.  His suit was blocking a project in which I was involved. 

The meeting went for five hours.  Miraculously at the conclusion he agreed to drop the lawsuit.  I considered this to be a real victory for the Faith.  My sense of victory was short-lived.  Within 24 hours he went back on his word.  For years afterward he continued the suit spending millions of dollars on attorneys and forcing those he was suing to spend millions as well.  The entertainment industry watched with smug interest as the Christians threw muck at each other.  Ultimately the World-famous Bible Teacher lost his multi-million dollar suit.  As it stretched out for years it was a matter of personal sadness and frustration.  The project that would have been groundbreaking for evangelical Christians in secular television withered and died.  I came away from all contacts with the World-famous Bible Teacher feeling that something was deeply wrong.   

The Christian Media Mogul

This is a man who is well known within powerful circles in the entertainment industry.  Because of his prominent position he is pursued to act as sponsor of various evangelical events.  Unlike the other two, very often the Christian Media Mogul is openly brash and arrogant.  Like the others he can be very charming.  Within Hollywood his reputation is for making one right decision years ago that brought him great wealth followed by a long string of stupid decisions.  Also he is well known for deceit.  Several years ago he boasted to me personally about 20 different individuals and organizations that were suing him because of the slick and underhanded way in which he had breached contracts.  (He didn’t use the words “slick” and “underhanded.”  To him it was just “good business.”)  As bad as Hollywood can be within the industry your word is your bond.  Long before contracts are written deals are entered into based on a handshake.  For the “Christian” Media Mogul, even written contracts mean nothing. 

For all of these men, the end justifies the means.  All have been corrupted by power and money.  All are Individual Operators on a grand scale.  Yet, evangelical Christians fawn over them.  Instead of being petted and feted they should be placed under church discipline for the good of their souls.  Of course they would never stand for such a thing.  And who would consider attempting it?  There is no church with authority that they would recognize.  But what about a Christian peer group?  Aren’t there other mature, evangelical leaders on their level who could take them to task?

Welcome to the International “Fellowship” of Independent Operators

From what I can determine exactly the opposite is true.  Instead of a peer group that would hold each member accountable there exists across the United States (and even out into the rest of the world) an elitist “Christian” clique of very powerful men.  These individuals are leaders in media, politics, business, the mega churches and the Christian academic world.  I have had friends who have touched the periphery of this clique.  The members protect each other, fund each other, and promote each other.  Unless someone in the group does something particularly egregious that embarrasses everyone (such as the antics of the Reverend Ted Haggard) normal, everyday arrogance, narcissism, and deceit on a grand scale remain hidden. 

Because they are wealthy and powerful, these men receive special “spiritual” treatment.  I don’t know whether it still exists but a few years ago there was a regular telephone “Bible study” taking place among them.  Every week or two a group of wealthy men would gather in a conference call and a leading minister would give them a short “devotional” message over the phone.  One of those leading ministers was Rick Warren who is certainly a good and godly man.  At one point one of the members listening to him was the Christian Media Mogul.  Perhaps Reverend Warren doesn’t understand that such special treatment is exactly the opposite of what is needed.  Perhaps he should take another look at the Book of James.  What these people require is a truly, tough, godly group of “powerless” men who would kick their rich camel butts hard enough and often enough so that they just might squeeze through the “eye of the needle” that Jesus warned about.  

The Evangelical Church in the United States is becoming like the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.

I’ve told three stories that come from my personal experience.  I’ve had other unpleasant experiences with evangelical celebrities but I won’t relate them here.  Sadly, there are many other cases that are known to everyone – so-called “evangelical/charismatic leaders” who live like bloated slugs crawling through their mansions and onto their private jets while they suck contributions from the pockets of foolish people.  Their lives leave trails of oily stench while they plead into cameras with tearful sincerity (some with mascara running) begging for the flow of money-milk from the great evangelical boob.  It’s time to face a brutal fact.  Many, if not most of our national leaders have been corrupted.  In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was governed by a cabal of sleek and charming bullies.  To an ever-increasing degree the evangelical church in the United States has resurrected that awful system.  But are these men more sinful than the rest of us?  Absolutely not.  Were I in such a position without true and tough accountability I’m sure I would be just as bad or worse.  One thing is clear.   

We have the leaders we deserve.

Is there a single sin in them that is not alive and well in us?  Greed, covetousness, selfishness, elitism, competitiveness, self-pity, vindictiveness, and pride have turned our churches into giant nurseries where pastors spend their lives struggling to change massive piles of emotional diapers.  Love for grand spectacle has transformed our “worship” into expensive extravaganzas of sight and sound worthy of ancient Rome.  The exponential decrease in our collective attention span demands an exponential increase in the entertainment value of preaching.  In our prayers we pay homage both to Jesus and the hydra headed idol of health and wealth.  Is it any wonder that so many of our leaders are corrupt? But there is an even greater tragedy.     

Through it all, our children are dying. 

Never in the history of the evangelical church has such a spiritually ignorant and damaged generation arisen as the one that is staggering toward adulthood right now.  In their confusion and anger our children and grandchildren binge and purge, pierce and brand, cut and rage.  And what is our response?  Utter ineptitude.  In our laziness we blame the schools or Hollywood or peer groups anything and everything to keep from blaming ourselves and taking action. 

In the Middle Ages before the Protestant Reformation there was a centuries-long tragedy in the Roman Catholic Church.  The people in the pews did not know the Bible.  Oh, they knew some Bible stories and some truths that they were told to memorize, but the Scriptures were in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  Only the educated elite could read them.  And many in the religious hierarchy wanted to keep it that way.  These men knew the power of the Bible and feared it.  There is a far greater tragedy playing out in the evangelical church today.  Often within evangelical homes there are half a dozen Bibles in as many versions.  Yet, not since the Bible was translated into English has there been such ignorance and blithe disregard for the Scriptures.  Let’s face another ugly fact:

Most Evangelicals find the Bible boring and have little interest in it. 

How can I make such an outrageous assertion?

1.      In how many evangelical homes is their a time of Bible reading with the whole family present every day?

2.      In how many evangelical homes do the adults take time to read the Bible individually every day?

3.      In how many evangelical churches do vibrant Sunday Schools still exist? Historically, Sunday Schools have been a primary means of teaching the Bible to each new generation.  Believing it to be outdated, we have cast the Sunday School system aside and replaced it with…nothing.

4.      In how many “worship” songs do we find expressed the great truths of the Bible?  For untold generations hymnology struggled to put the truths of Scripture into the musical language of the heart.  Hymns and gospel songs were one of the most effective means of Bible teaching.  Modern Christian lyricists do not know the Bible.  What they know is the power of emotion.  So that is the core of their message.    

5.      How many pastors preach through books of the Bible on Sunday morning?  In modern evangelical parlance such preaching is not considered “seeker sensitive.”  That means we think it would be boring for non-Christians who might visit.  But in a crowd of several hundred on Sunday morning how many non-Christians do visit?  If we’re lucky, three or four.  What would happen if a non-Christian stumbled into a deep Biblical message?  Well we don’t really know do we?  Because it rarely happens.  And it rarely happens because most pastors have not been trained to preach that way.  They think that’s teaching and should be confined to other times and venues.

6.      In how many of our churches does serious Bible study still exist?  Let’s be honest.  When it is offered it’s poorly attended.  Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services are extinct.  Bible studies and Bible classes have been replaced by “share groups.”  Most of these are based on popular books and video series or shared interest in some activity.  This is probably a good thing because there are few laypeople left in our churches who are qualified to teach a Bible class. 

I could go on but there is no point.  In my opinion, the evidence is clear.  Evangelical Christians find the Bible boring.  Since we don’t read or study it we don’t to try live up to it which has resulted in disaster.  All the evils of the world have swept through our congregations devastating everyone.  This loss of the Bible has had two results.  First, we live any way we want and still claim that we are Christians, and second we expect everybody else even those in the secular world not to offend our “Christian” sensibilities.  Do we not justly deserve to be called hypocrites?  Is it little wonder that young people raised in the church are leaving by the droves?  Which brings us back to the original point:  Our reaction to our own sinfulness is not only destroying us it’s destroying the country we love.  The secularists are dead wrong. 

The problem isn’t that we are religious fanatics.  It’s that compared to the history of our movement we’re hardly religious at all. 

We’re just selfish frightened people who go to church on Sunday and give money to bully boys who lead us in flexing our political muscles because that’s all the power that remains.  In Jesus’ day the Pharisees demanded that everyone live up to a standard that they themselves could not attain.  We demand moral transformation from our political and social institutions but not from ourselves.  We demand that the FCC and Congress clean up Hollywood while we continue watching everything Hollywood puts out.  Instead of evangelizing our broken cities we demand that ICE collect all the illegal aliens and ship them back to their home countries where missionaries can deal with their souls.  We demand that moral people be appointed as judges while we don’t have the moral courage or authority to judge the conflicts in our own congregations.  We demand the right to be publicly religious while being privately pagan.  Like the Roman Catholics of the Middle Ages we revere the relics of ancient evangelicalism and hope that by lifting them up some of the power will return.  Nothing is going to change until we change.  Judgment begins with the house of God.  The more we scream and pound our fists, the more we trust in political movements, the more we empower Independent Operators and greedy charlatans, the more we worship health and wealth by “naming it and claiming it,” the worse our country will become and the more we will be justly hated as hypocrites.  The Church is either a light on a hill or a shadow of hell.  There’s nothing in between.

It’s easy to rant about the problems.  But what’s the answer?  Let me suggest a beginning.

Switch it off…Shut it down…Shut up…and LISTEN.

The great national revivals of Old Testament Israel began during times when the nation was in severe moral decrepitude.  In the middle of the darkness someone would find the Scriptures stuck away in the temple and bring them to the king.  The king would listen to them read aloud then rip his clothes in repentance.  After that he would gather the people and from morning to night God’s Word would be read to them. 

So, here is my suggestion:  Every Sunday for one month let all the evangelical churches in the United States switch off their rear screen projectors shut down their blistering worship bands silence the blathering announcements and give the pastor a break from preaching.  For four Sundays no singing, no fake hugging-airkiss-greeting-time, not even communion.  We’re not ready for it.  So what in the world do we do for those four services?  Well, start with prayer.  After that get someone who knows how to read in public to read one of the shorter books of the New Testament all the way through from beginning to end.  (Don’t give the assignment to anybody in the drama department.  It isn’t a performance.)  Personally I’d start with the Gospel of Mark to introduce people to Jesus.  Reading Mark straight through will take about two hours so given the gnat-like attention span of a modern congregation maybe you’d have to divide it into two Sundays.  After that I’d read Galatians followed by Ephesians.  When the reading was finished each week I would divide the congregation into groups of three or four and spend the rest of the service in prayer. 

I can hear a pastor say, “If I did this I’d lose most of my congregation.”  If that’s so, my friend, you don’t have a congregation.  You have an audience paying for spiritual entertainment.  So stop preaching and go to Hollywood where you can do some honest entertaining work with your life.   

Evangelicals pay lip service to the Bible being God’s Word.  We talk about God’s Word not returning to Him void.  We believe that Jesus is The Word Incarnate.  Well it’s time to prove it.  It’s time to get back to the foundation and trust God to speak through His Word.  If this suggestion isn’t realistic, if we can’t trust it, if it wouldn’t “work” in “our situation,” then we’d all better become Zen Buddhists.  And certainly we should stop carping about America being a Christian nation that needs to “get back to its roots.”  What hypocrisy if we can’t get back to our own.

The suggestion I have made is only a beginning.  The point is to fall in love with the Bible again not because we love the pages but because in it we meet Jesus and will fall in love with Him again.   

And you never know we might be surprised.  Maybe God’s Word really does have power to change nations…one person at a time. 

© Copyright 2007 Coleman Luck

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