American Evangelicalism: Is Our Root Dried Up?

This past Sunday our sermon text at Solomon’s Porch was Hosea 9:10-17.  The Book of Hosea provides a lot of opportunities for social commentary, and this passage in particular is one that we need to read and understand in the modern era.  I’ll explain what I mean by the previous statement a little further down in this article.  But first let me make a few general comments to set the stage.

God refers to Israel in verse 10 as “the first fruit on the fig tree in it’s first season”.  I’ve never planted a fig tree, but I have a little experience growing things.  I like to garden.  In order to grow plants and make them fruitful, you have to employ a lot of self-discipline.  With figs, as with other fruit bearing trees, and many vines as well, you must under go years of labor without getting anything from it.  You actually have to pick the blooms off so the tree will put it’s energy into growing up and out, so in the future it can become big enough to support a lot of fruit.  What God is saying here is, I waited and labored over your fathers all those long years, and then it came time for them to bear fruit.  The first fruit in the first season was the Exodus out of Egypt.  Finally, after years of picking off blooms, it was time to eat the sweet fruit of His labor, establishing a nation.  Then the second half of verse 10 tells of a different tale, the tale of Numbers 25:1-9, where His first fruit corrupted themselves with the Midianites, and became like the thing (false god) they loved, detestable.  The story of Numbers 25, as a microcosm, is, in a sense, the history of Israel.  Which is the point of the story.  God’s current dealings with Israel in Hosea’s time period are no different.  God labors, and keeps His Word, while the people rebel against Him at the first opportunity and corrupt the land.  The curse of the Law was coming upon them.  See Deuteronomy 29:16-29, 30:15-20 for a more full explanation.

The Judgment of God

The rest of Hosea 9:10-17 will be centered around a single theme.  Let’s see if we can figure out what that theme is.

[11] Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!  [12] Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left.  Woe to them when I depart from them!

 

[13] Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.

 

[14] Give them, O LORD— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

 

[16] Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.  Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death.

 

Ok, I underlined it to make it easy.  5 out of the 7 verses mention children.  Specifically, they speak of the judgment of God falling upon the children of the nation.  The themes listed in this passage are infertility, miscarriage, lactation failure, and the horrible loss of life that comes through war.  War and captivity were coming, along with the horrible famine and mistreatment that would accompany God’s judgment on the people of the land.  But I want to take a minute and focus on the overall theme found in this passage.  The theme is this, “When God visits in judgment, His people lose their children”.  Being that we, as the church, are not a nation state with armies and national borders, what would this curse look like when it visited us?

Born Again?

First, I would expect churches to see fewer conversions or “new births”.  The Gospel ministry would begin to fall on deaf ears or not be preached at all because it offends.  Gospel transformations would be at a low-ebb, you’d see people making “decisions for Christ” without the changed life that should accompany the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit.  Baptisms would be fewer and further between.  The ministry would be less fruitful over all, and there would be a general feeling of confusion about why.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, the number of Americans with “no religion” more than doubled between 1990 and 2008

 

According to a study done by Lifeway Research, membership in the Southern Baptist Church is expected to fall by 50% by the year 2050

 

A study done by the Pew Research Group in 2008 found that 52% of all American Christians think that some non-Christian Faiths can lead to eternal life.

 

According to Lifeway Christian Researchers there were 314,959 baptisms in 2012.  That’s the lowest number recorded in 64 years.

Losing Our Children

Second, I would expect to see a mass of exodus of young people out of the church.  Authentic conversions among the children of believing parents would be come scarce.  The church would begin to look generationally one-dimensional.  Many churches that were once vibrant community centers would grow older in membership and die out of natural causes.  A panic would set in among pastors and elders.  They would do everything they could to make the church “fun” and “less churchy” so that younger people would find it engaging and stay.  Still the problem would get worse.  Churches would blame the world with it’s allure of pleasure, or godless government schools, or entertainment culture for the failure.  Few would stop and ask the question, “Is this the curse of God given in Hosea 9:10-17 coming upon us?”  Many pastors would bark back the answer, “of course not!”  “God would never do anything like that to His people!”  These are the kinds of men God warned us about earlier in Hosea 9 when He said in verse 8, “The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways”.  Because here we have God saying the exact opposite, that indeed He would bring judgment upon the children of His people.  At the end of the day, we must understand that it is sin that ravaging our children.  So are we in the midst of God visiting our sin of idolatry with the curses found in Hosea 9:10-17?

A study conducted by the Barna Group discovered that nearly 60% of all Christians in the 15-29 year old age bracket are no longer actively involved in any church.

 

A Study done by Answers In Genesis found that among those that attended a Youth Group in an evangelical Bible believing church for at least 1 year in High School, only 11% were still active in a Christian Church.

 

Pew Research found that the younger you are, the more likely you are not to be affiliated with a religion.  9% of U.S. adults 65 and older have no religious affiliation while 32% of U.S. adults under 30 have no religious affiliation.

 

I would say, as a pastor who has felt for a long time that God was judging His people due to the anecdotal evidence of his own experience, that hard social science is now confirming that my experience is common to the American church as a whole.  I believe I can say pretty conclusively at this point that, “we are under the judgment of God”.

 

The Big Trap

What are we to do?  That is the question we need to ask.  How do we respond to having our eyes opened to the reality of what is going on around us.  I think first we need to avoid falling into the big trap of thinking, “Wow, this is too big for me, the church needs to do something about this!”  I would not wait for institutional churches to implement a plan of revival.  Repentance, reformation, and renewal are rarely top down events.  Let me give an example.

I once was at a conference years ago where a man spoke (I cannot remember his name) that had first hand knowledge of the Welsh Revivals in the Hebrides Islands.  He was Welsh himself, and had been converted under Duncan Campbell’s ministry during that period.  He was a very old, more than 80 when I heard him give the testimony I am about to share.  He said to us, “some of you men think that the revival came because Duncan Campbell was such a godly man…… but that’s not true.  The truth is there were two disabled widows were concerned that the youth of the Hebrides were falling away from the truth, and so they prayed for faithfully together that revival would come to the Hebrides.  These two widows called for Duncan Campbell to come, after God revealed to them while praying that he was to come to the Hebrides to preach.  He refused the first invitation and said he wouldn’t be able to come.  Upon hearing the news that Campbell wouldn’t come, the widows replied, “this is man’s answer, but God has said otherwise, and he will be here within a fortnight.”  And he was.  He came to preach for 10 days, but when God moved, stayed for over two years. Watch the story here  The Hebrides Revival was really an answer to prayers prayed by two disabled widows, and few people even know their names.  Do not think that your prayers and labors of love for the Gospel will be forgotten, or that they will be all for nought.  Mighty things have been done because of the prayers of anonymous saints.  The world may not remember your name, but it is written in the book that matters, The Lambs Book of Life.  The problem is too big for you, but, it is not too big for your Heavenly Father.

Take Direct Action

Secondly, and I really can’t stress this enough, we should encourage people to take direct action.  In other words, people should be involved in hands on ministry.  Most people are frozen, waiting for the herd to act, waiting for the institutional church to organize ministry for them.  Folks want nice clean programs they can plug in to.  Biblically, the work of the ministry is committed into the hands of Christians, not the organized entity we often call Church.  I am not bashing the entity, I am a full time pastor that believes strongly in it’s legitimacy.  My issue is that when the church professionals begin to do things that are not by nature part of their callings, they damage the integrity of the Church rather than build it.  We see this in economics all the time.  Whenever you do something for someone that they should do for themselves, the integrity of the person, and then eventually, the entire culture is damaged.  So indefinite welfare creates ghettos and generational poverty.  We must never confuse the purpose of the organized Church.  It is to equip the people for the work of the ministry…… not to organize and execute it.  We must begin, person by person, to take spiritual responsibility for our selves, our families, and our neighborhoods. Institutions don’t love people, people love people.  Top down corporate Christianity has created ministry ghettos.  Places where nothing gets done without ministry professionals.  We’ve disempowered Christians.  In our zeal to have Biblically ordered churches with Elders and Deacons (these are good things btw), we concentrated ministry into “only” or “nearly only”  their hands.  We often have gifted, responsible, godly believers asking permission to perform ministry in their community that God has called all Christians to do.  We should embrace and encourage direct action, unleashing the ministry potential that is sitting dormant in our pews because we stifled it by seeking to grow the rolls our churches, rather than seeking to grow the Church.  There is a not so subtle difference.  If we want to be a place that bears fruit for the Kingdom, we have to have the environment necessary to grow the plants (ie. Disciples).  Right now, most of us just don’t.

Transformative Worship

Finally, what is the focus of your heart?  Forget everyone else.  The Israelites in Numbers 25 “came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.”

(Hosea 9:10 ESV)  This spiritual truth is retold in opposite form in the New Testament where we are told that, ”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17,18)  What am I driving at here?  The truth is that worship is transformative.  If we worship the wrong things we become detestable like the thing we worship.  If we worship the Lord, we are transformed into His image, from glory to glory.  But worship is more than singing songs at church gatherings.  It is surrendering your life to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is giving your all, your everything to Him.  All the great songs we sing are charades without surrendering our lives to Him.  Here is where we stand or fall because there really is no middle ground.  We are either worshipers or idolaters.  Is your life whirling around Jesus Christ like a planet around the sun, or is it a frantic running from one thing to the next, colliding, crashing, peace-less, and joyless?  Are you drawn by the Spirit to the deep places of God’s Spirit, uncovered and open before Him?  Or are you content with this American life?  Do you pray?  Do you fast?  Do you long for the coming of the Kingdom?  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Do you commune regularly with the Holy Triune God?  Is your soul anorexically thin from not feeding on Christ in the Scriptures on a regular basis?  Worship is transformative, it shapes the soul and changes the person.  While I am ending here, I really think this is the place we should all start, in the Presence of the Holy.  Until we see Him, nothing will change, because it can’t.  In the word’s of Thomas Watson, “fly to Him”.


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