Parts 1 and 2 of this series covered the determined siege against Christianity by forces outside of the Christian fellowship. This final piece will examine the greatest peril to Christianity if all, the threat from within.
For the purposes of this article, a threat from within is something or someone whose presence and/or purposes are detrimental to the existence and mission of Christianity. The biblical witness is the measuring standard to find and guard against these kinds of dangers.
Based on my experience of two decades as a pastor, and my long examination of the subject, here are my top five threats to Christianity from within.
Five: Embracing the Socialist Leftist Agenda
This journal has extensively chronicled the Leftist influence within the modern church in an earlier series. There is abundant evidence for this claim in the recent prominence of modern Mainstream churches who align with the Left on issues such as abortion, gender ‘identity’, ‘climate change,’ and illegal immigration.
To discern the aims of the Leftward Church, examine what they support and oppose. In every case, the religious and social policies of the Leftward Church are identical to the policies of the political Left. Both entities support abortion on demand, redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and any number of other leftist causes. Moreover, the Leftward Church inculcates these policies within their faith as well as advocating for them publically. I can state this definitively because of both extensive research and personal experience as a pastor. One example of how Leftism becomes part of the religious practice is found at Grace Baptist Church in Chicago. This church employed an openly lesbian pastor who lived with her partner. This organization of Christian name and claim chooses a leader whose lifestyle embraces radical feminism and sexuality. Both of which are cherished causes of the political Left.
Since the election of President Trump, the mainstream Leftward Church has taken up the “progressive” cause with renewed desperation. Unfortunately, the 2018 midterm elections have also allowed the Left and their religious allies some new wind in their sails, and the Leftward Church is happily along for the ride.
Thus we should expect to witness more movement by churches with the “Christian” pedigree in the direction of favoring open borders, defending and promoting abortion before and perhaps after birth and pushing for immediate action against the myth of man-caused ‘climate change.’ Moreover, though there is hesitation at the moment, perhaps before the year is out we should see some denomination or splinter group of Catholics, etc. leaping to embrace the newest jewel for the Left, “transexual rights.”
Four: Cultural Appropriation by the Church
Any fellowship of Christian believers exists as a subculture of seekers within an overarching culture which it is, ideally, trying to reach for the LORD Jesus Christ. There has always existed for Christians a delicate balance between being living in the world and living for Christ.
In our modern-day, the balance is increasingly in favor of the culture influencing churches rather than the reverse. The Contemporary Christian group Casting Crowns’ song “What This World Needs” has a particular lyric which fits the phenomenon of churches ‘appropriating’ culture.
What this world needs,
Is for us to stop hiding behind our relevance
Blending in so well that people can’t see the difference
And it’s the difference that sets the world free.
Within the modern-day church, a movement began 40 or so years ago as a way of outreach to create an environment that welcomed strangers and attracted “seekers.” Efforts were made to become more relevant in order to provide opportunities to present the gospel to unchurched youth and families.
This is similar to what the Apostle Paul wrote about in his First Letter to the Corinthian church.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 [ESV]
This is not a bad strategy, as long as one thing remains clear. Don’t neglect to present the gospel because all that is happening, in that case, is showing the outside world that you aren’t serious enough to stand for Christ.
When the gospel is sacrificed to make any church more culturally relevant it will eventually prove destructive to the Church’s continued existence. That is happening in some large churches today.
Listen to the song “What This World Needs” here. There is another portion of it that points us directly to the number three internal threat to Christianity.
Three: Doctrinal Twisting by Leadership
I love that song because it is so on point in so many ways, and Casting Crowns has made a great statement about culture and society and Christianity in it. By the way, I saw them live years ago in Kansas City, and they were awesome.
To be clear, Christian doctrines are simply clear biblical teachings which are meant to help disciples of Christ follow in His footsteps. These particular lyrics by Casting Crowns capture the essence of what I mean by the modern twisting of biblical doctrines,
Another ear-pleasing candyman afraid of the truth,
Another prophet in an Armani suit.
The two types of leaders described both peddle false, twisted doctrine though in different ways. The ‘ear-pleasing” leader does fear the truth, so they bring convoluted positions and policy to bear that are both unbiblical and illogical.
These denominational bodies which are trying to sanctify sin and justify evil in alliance with the Left… include the United Methodist Church, the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. In addition, certain leftist strains of Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and even a group called “Catholics for Choice.” All of which are allied officially within the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
As can be seen by the list above, doctrinal twisting and outright denial of biblical doctrine are a widespread infection of evil within the Left-leaning denominations today. However, there are many very visible ‘independent’ church bodies with leaders that deform biblical teaching and then reform it into their own image for their own benefit, and they are the “prophets in an Armani suit.”
Some of these leaders captured large audiences during the so-called ‘televangelism’ movement that came to prominence in the 1980s. A few of these became very bold in their sin and greed, like Jim Baker and Robert Tilton and others, and they lost their churches and some lost their freedom.
However, there are others who either started after the turmoil had subsided, or laid low and continue in ‘ministry’ today. A common doctrinal error among many of the current crop of deceptive leaders still broadcasting today is known by various names, ‘name it and claim it,’ ‘prosperity gospel,’ or the ‘word of faith’ movement.
In my estimation, this is the most dangerous form of doctrine twisting for it can ensnare those newly acquainted with Christian thought and some who boast long tenure within a church but have not grown in their faith. “Prosperity” teachers such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar [that’s his name, at least on TV] to name two among many, tempt those within their influence with greed, claiming that God wants everyone to be materially rich and if you aren’t its because you lack faith in God’s promises in the Bible.
A thorough review and exposition of the errors of the “prosperity gospel,” would require another article. However, in short, there is one overarching reason these aberrant teachings have arisen with any potency at all, the abysmal biblical illiteracy among Christians today.
Two: Continuing Biblical Illiteracy among Christians
These final two threats from within Christianity differ markedly from the others. All five are somewhat connected among church denominations, networks and leadership, however, these two are more personal than the rest.
This means that of all the internal dangers to the Christian faith, the top two are dangers which can be directly remedied by personal action. The number two threat is a large number of individuals who claim faith in Christ that are not very literate in the basic teachings and content of God’s Word.
When I began in the pastorate I was like most Seminary graduates, both eager and very naive about the task of being a pastor. I was most naive concerning the apathetic attitude of church members toward knowing and following the Word of God.
My thoughts were that Christians would be clamoring to know Scripture and discern its meaning for application in their own lives. Alas, that proved not to be the case.
My own experience is severely limited as I pastored in just four congregations [two simultaneously for a time] throughout my pastoral tenure. Yet I believe, as was true in my own journey, the majority of church-goers and members seldom seek any regular classes or studies about biblical content.
I am quite sure that there are some exceptions to this situation. However, I would challenge any person curious about this to conduct the following experiment.
Attend the Sunday worship service(s) of a church of any size in your area and then attend a Bible study from the same fellowship. Most cases in Protestant or Independent churches will have far lower attendance for Bible studies than for Sunday worship.
For those who wish further confirmation, I can think of nothing but Biblical ignorance to explain these results of a 2018 study by the Barna research group.
Matthew 28:18-20 is the most well-known biblical record of what is commonly referred to extra-biblically as “the Great Commission.” But despite the significance of these and other verses that call Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” a surprising proportion of churchgoing Christians in the U.S. are generally unaware of these famous words from Jesus.
The blame for such widespread lack of a very important part of Scripture could be cast at church organizations and church leaders. However, there is a personal, individual responsibility all Christians share to learn the Bible and know its precepts.
That same sense of responsibility to know the Bible extends into obedience to the teachings in Scripture. Which leads us to the number one internal threat to Christianity, the poor witness of Christians to the world.
One: A Poor Christian Witness to the World
This is the single most important factor to be considered as a threat to Christianity, especially in the developed world. In point of fact, some of the previous threats listed here can be classified as examples of the Church providing a poor Christian witness on a large scale.
However, the greatest danger lies not with large groups, but with small groups and individual Christians that present a poor Christian witness in two main ways. The most obvious way is not to give any testimony of the gospel at all.
A study conducted by LifeWay Research helps flesh out the severity of this problem.
The study… found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. Yet despite this conviction, 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.
This problem runs even deeper than simply sharing the gospel. The study also revealed that the same people are hesitant to even invite others to church to hear the gospel, provided they attend a church that preaches the good news of Christ.
Moreover, this reticence extends to personal prayer as well. According to this same study,
If Christians feel comfortable sharing their faith and recognize it’s their responsibility as disciples, why do so few share the gospel? And why don’t they at least pray for others? One-fifth—-20 percent—-say they rarely or never pray for the spiritual status of others. [empahsis added]
This is another area where personal observations over the years come in handy. I have found that a saying I heard years ago is largely accurate; ‘If you want to see an empty building, just call for a prayer meeting in the church.’
Conversely, the most effective efforts at any kind of outreach and discipleship all have one factor in common, they rely heavily upon the prayers of the saints. I have been privileged to work with such efforts on both large and small scales, including several campaigns conducted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In my estimation, the extent of fervent prayer by the faithful is the single critical item that will either make or break Christianity in the future. It has often been said that ‘prayer changes things,’ and it can result in some remarkable changes in things mundane and serious.
However, the ‘thing’ that personal and group prayer changes the most is the heart of the praying person. It is impossible for anyone to connect with the God of the universe in heartfelt prayer and not be changed and challenged to live for Him.
Here is where I put on my ‘preaching’ hat for a moment and say, as I often did in the pulpit, ‘When I ‘preach’ I am always speaking to myself as much as anyone else.’ So I will finish by stating that we would better serve the LORD if we sought His face more often and sincerely in prayer.
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. Hosea 10:12 [ESV]
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Richard’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Alisdare Hickson’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Indiana Landmarks Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Me Eric Sophie’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Ryk Neethling’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 5 courtesy of Brian Sawyer’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 6 courtesy of Brian Sawyer’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text
Originally published in TIL Journal