The Christian Post’s Cross Map blog has pointed out yet another “gem” in the ever-disappointing prophecy book genre. From the article:
“The Church in Prophecy and History” is a detailed commentary on the Book of Revelation, Chapters 1 through 3. It illuminates Jesus’s own predictions about the future of His church, and explains how the major events of church history fulfilled His prophecies.
Oh, good! Another commentary that reads the book of Revelation like a choose your own prophetic adventure guide rather than a book of sacred scripture. Despite Revelation clearly fitting into the apocalyptic genre of literature and specifically addressing seven historic churches–seven churches that we actually quite a bit about–interpreters persist in turning these historic churches into church ages that just happen to culminate with today’s church.
I wouldn’t normally waste my time even mentioning a commentary like this, but the article notes something that I found quite revealing about the state of American Christianity and how we interpret scripture. The Christian Post added a telling note about this Revelation “Commentary”:
It focuses on the current state of Christianity–how it arrived at its present weakened condition just before the beginning of the end times, and why it still has a victorious future. It issues a call to return to the simple and powerful message of the Bible and envisions a fresh effort to reach those in the younger generations who have not experienced the life-changing power of the Gospel.
Did you see that? Christianity is weakened and in decline before the return of Christ.
If you’re an Anglican in the UK or Southern Baptist Convention Christian in America watching declining attendance, especially among younger generations, such an observation about the decline of the church would possibly make sense. If you used right wing political gains as the markers of God’s influence, perhaps you’re feeling a bit discouraged after two terms under a Democratic president.
Even if the church was in decline, that’s not necessarily a sign of the end times, especially since it’s preposterous to read Revelation 1-3 as a series of “church ages” throughout history. Play connect the dots with the historical record all you want. It’s just not there. John was writing to seven historic churches. However, most importantly, it’s even more preposterous to argue that the church is in decline or is weakened.
Christianity is plenty influential in America still, and its is exploding in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. If you want to find the largest church in the world, it’s not in America. It’s in South Korea. If you wanted to learn from experienced church planters, you’ll learn a lot more from Christians in India, Cambodia, and China.
If you dared to suggest that the church is in decline, you’d have to explain to this global south and eastern Christians that their ministries don’t really count. You’d have to explain that the church only matters in the west. You’d have to tell them that good news for all people is only “really good” if white people in the west aren’t believing it. You’ll have to explain why you’re praying for a rapture to save you from a world that’s clearly rejecting the Gospel while they see new converts joining their ranks.
Only a Western Christian, most likely an American, could be so short-sighted to suggest that the church is in decline.
The church is growing. Jesus is setting people free. The Spirit is descending and changing lives. The Gospel is restoring lives and communities.
As C.S. Lewis wrote, Aslan is on the move.
Let’s join him and rejoice over his work around the world and ask how we can join in.
Want to Learn More about Revelation’s Message?
My book the Good News of Revelation recaptures John’s original message to the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and shows how that message continues to speak today about persevering through suffering, God’s triumph over evil, and the future restoration of earth. My co-author, Larry Helyer, is a life-long Bible scholar who specializes in New Testament background studies.
6 thoughts on “Only a Western Christian Would Say the Church Is Declining”
Every time I hear that “church in decline” nonsense I wonder if these people have never read what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. Nothing defeats the church because WE BELONG TO GOD FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
Ahem … calming down. OK, so maybe they just forgot what Jesus said. I still wish they’d stop with their nonsense about a weak church. Can’t be weak when the Holy Spirit dwells within.
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Ok, yes, but…. the numbers of young Westerners attending church ARE in decline. The question isn’t “why is the global church in decline” (I agree it’s quite the opposite) but “why are the most affluent, least persecuted places in the world most likely to lose their youngest members after high school (and they don’t appear to be coming back)?” It’s not always easy to be a young Christian in the West, but at least we won’t be arrested for it… so why is it so unappealing, even to those who have been raised in it?
The reason you’re seeing this “church in decline” talk (which needs to clarify it means the WESTERN organizations we call church, not the Big C universal Church) is that we had it all: books, music, T-shirts, bumper stickers, youth groups, camps, magazines, jewelry… an entire subculture created to keep us on the “straight and narrow” and yet none of it could keep Millennials active in their local faith community into young adulthood. Why? What went wrong? That’s the real discussion. Not that global Christianity is failing, but that the (mostly conservative) institutions that were supposed to guard children from the evil outside world and keep them safe in their religion failed to do so…
Oh, I should clarify, I agree completely with you about Revelation. It’s not about prophecy. It’s about marketing and money. As most things are. Much more boring than the apocalypse, eh? 🙂
It is harder to be a Christian in the West than anywhere else in the world. Safer, possibly, but far more difficult. being a disciple of Jesus demands hardship and sacrifice. You can’t be a disciple on an hour and a half a week, and that’s what the vast majority of Western Christians are willing to give to God. The Western Church doesn’t teach sacrifice, they teach salvation. We’ve made it attractive and easy and all about us. The reality is that most Western Christians aren’t. When Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, he wasn’t kidding. Globally speaking, we’re rich. Globally speaking, we’re not seeing much of the kingdom of God.
Amen, Ed! Western Christians need to examine what God is doing elsewhere. It’s like watching the New Testament come to life! God is living and active and welcoming! The nation carrying out the most missionary work in the world is South Korea last I checked.
Okay, okay I’ve stopped, prayed and now respond. Our Western Christian Church loves that our Lord Jesus Christ serves us and by what He clearly has served us in abundance, compared to “other” ever so poor regions of the world, we are clearly His favorite. NOT!
Jesus teaches us each, individually, according to our abilities to learn. The Holy Spirit, of one heart and mind with God, teaches all we need to know. It is so easy to say thank you Jesus for saving my eternal life by serving up your own in my stead. We love it when others, especially God, do for us, in fact we begin to think we deserve it. We have missed over the last 1700 years that we must do something to accept our inheritance as His brother. We missed that we cannot be more than children when we enter into the Kingdom of God, especially since we can’t insist that God speak only through the limitations of English, French, Spanish or German. I am nearly adequately fluent in only one of those languages. The heart, soul, strength and mind we know working through our carnal body needs to adapt as any new born must to the new, infinitely more expanded environment of God.
In the Western Christian Church we still predominately worship God through the trappings of alters, glorious temples, majestic robes, Pharisees and the Sadducee which was the exact opposite of Jesus’ physical example to us in the worship of His Father. We spend so much time scholastically trying to define and explain God to our selves and our neighbors that we skip right over what is all that is necessary to enter into Heaven. It is not at all what we know except to know we are not capable of knowing more than a child relative to the Family of God. What determines our qualification is attitude and not knowledge. If we have the attitude that treasures another as much as our self we have begun. If we have the attitude to subject all ourselves in faith to the limitations of our Father’s authority we have arrived. There are those among us that do so though they are few and only by their fruits allow us know this is so. We have so much to learn from the Holy Spirit moving throughout Asia and Africa if our vanity and ego would let us.
We still have a cross to carry and it isn’t to worship as we please … or to define what our Counselor defines perfectly well for us according to our need … or to gladly accept service without serving. The Decalogue and Luke 10:25-37 speak purely to the attitude of love, mercy, tolerance and choosing out of love to subject all ourselves to the will and authority of our Lord God before we enter into the Kingdom. We in most Western Cultures have the freedom to worship as we please and that has not worked out over the last 250 years all that successfully. Throughout the world we have always had the freedom to love as we please and when that love is self centered (my freedom, my independence) only destruction has been the result. When we have and do love as God pleases growth and strong bonds of reciprocal support have always been the result.
In the middle of Matthew 7 Jesus says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” It would serve us all throughout the world to reflect on all of Matthew 5-7, especially the location Jesus was holding church and the raiment and trappings necessary to spread the Good News to all others; male and female, black, yellow, brown, red and white, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, gay and straight, healthy and sick … “all” others He did to as He would have them do for Him.
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