A unique and informative book entitled Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent, published in 1931, traces the history the advent of churches that reflect the apostolic model, especially those characterized by commitment to Scripture, freedom from an imposing church hierarchy, and practicing biblical ordinances. Far more of such churches have existed throughout church history then most people realize. In fact, despite extreme persecution, many of these types of churches can be found in various places during every era of the history of the church.
In reading about these churches, one of the characteristics that comes to the fore is that whenever they emerged they tended to grow rapidly. People in practically every geographical area and during practically every historical era seem to have had a hunger for biblical Christianity, and whenever it manifested itself many were drawn to it, even despite severe persecution.
This realization has prompted me to wonder regarding the absence of this desire for the gospel and biblical Christianity in America today. Even good churches reveal very little evangelistic fruit, most of the baptisms being children of church families or those belonging to the church family who had never been baptized. The church in America today is shrinking, in part because young people who leave for college tend not to return to the church afterwards, but also in large measure because the American church is failing to reach unbelievers in our society.
Why do Americans have so little interest in a relationship with Christ when in most cultures throughout church history large numbers of people have been drawn to Him? Several factors might be responsible.
Americans might be dissuaded by affluence. Jesus told us that rich people are less inclined to be responsive to the gospel. By this world’s standards, most Americans are rich.
American entertainment serves as the opiate of the masses, distracting people from thinking about the serious issues of life. I visited a lady who was dying but who would not take her eyes off of the soap opera she was watching long enough to listen to Scripture or pray. I hoped to try again a few days afterwards, only to discover that she had died. If a person at that extreme of life was anesthetized by entertainment, how much more the Millennial generation? Entertainment allows people to live in an alternate universe, which prevents them from engaging in the real one.
American education no doubt contributes to a lack of interest in a relationship with Christ. Our educational establishment at all levels has done everything within its power for decades to denigrate Christianity, so that a large and increasing segment of the American population now holds a negative view of Scripture, salvation, and the church. The younger the person, the more negative are his views and attitudes.
Yet another factor contributing to the minimal response to the gospel is found in the minimal opportunity to present the gospel. Secular society has succeeded in hermetically sealing itself from a gospel presentation. It is no longer viewed to be socially accepted to drop in at someone’s home unannounced, and at the same time people are resistant to setting up an appointment to talk about the gospel. Approaching someone with gospel in the workplace could be cause for dismissal.
Beyond these factors is the reality that most churches do not stress evangelism, train people to do evangelism, or provide an effective program in which they can work.
Adding to these factors, I find that for the most part the American evangelical church seems to be oblivious to the problem and therefore is failing to pursue a solution. Seldom do we hear a pastor or other church leader expressed deep concern regarding our incapacity to reach American society, and to my knowledge no leadership group is meeting to find a solution.
I believe that underlying all of these factors is the evangelical church’s undermining of the biblical teaching regarding the fear of the Lord, substituting “reverential awe” or some synonymous term. Instead, it assures the seeker that God loves them. This message detached from a warning regarding judgment and hell leaves the seeker with little reason to respond to the gospel. Without the fear of the Lord as a foundation, the message of God’s love provides them with assurance that however they are living, everything will be okay in this life and the next. We must make our society aware of the prospect of God’s present judgment on our nation and the assurance of eternal judgment apart from Christ. Only then will they be willing to listen to and respond to the gospel.