The Changing Landscape
The Changing Landscape
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Criswell Theological Seminary by 1970 worldwide there were 18,800 denominations, and by the year 2000 that number had risen to 34,200. According to current estimates that number had now grown to 45,000. Clearly, things are changing rapidly in the denominational world. In this lesson I want to look at some current trends among the denominations.
Membership in many major denominations has been declining in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 1990 to 2008 membership in Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian churches all declined. People are sharp. If the standards or expectations of a religious group are really not much different from the culture, then why do I need to commit or be involved in such a group?
Out of the previously mentioned declined has come a number of community type churches that do not wear any denominational name, even though many of them still abide by specific denominational creeds. Such churches do not oppose denominational teachings or practices, they simply seek some organizational independence. So when they say they are “non-denominational” the statement is misleading. When we use the term we mean that we are seeking to be just the church in the Bible and that we oppose denominational division and doctrines. Yet they are not against denominational doctrines or divisions, rather they embrace most denominations. A number of them have become mini-denominations, this means that they establish satellite churches following their own model, build their own organizations and schools, and train their own leaders. Let us remember that in the Bible elders are only allowed to rule the congregation of which they are members (Acts 14:23; 20:28;1 Peter 5:2). The idea of a church having satellite churches has no authority in Scripture.
Sincerity: The Sole Criterion for Salvation
This has been a trend that has been moving quickly for decades. Along with it goes the attitude that is hesitant to expose any sort of doctrinal error. Yet Jesus made it clear that at the Final Judgment sincerity will not be enough to find favor with God. He has warned us. Many apparently or seemingly sincere people, will be lost (Matthew 7:22).
Another trend is the number of people who have rejected organized religion altogether. Some have labeled these people “nones” (from the fact that they claim no affiliations) or “dones” (they have rejected former affiliations). This group tends to adopt a concept of spirituality that is individual in nature and rejects the command to assemble with other Christians on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:24). Yet Christianity is anything but purely individual in nature. Jesus shed His blood for the church (Acts 20:28). It is impossible to read the New Testament and come away thinking that church membership is not essential. We always find Christians working and worshipping with other Christians (Acts 2:42; 11:26).
The Root of Such Dissatisfaction
- Some could be “done” with churches that no longer teach the Bible. That is a good thing.
- Some could be “done” with the lower moral standards that they see in some groups. That is also a good thing. There are currently 130 churches in the United States that actually meet in bars, with beer served while services are conducted. Other churches actually have youth groups where drinking alcohol is part of the social get together.
- Others do not have good reasons. Increasingly in the United States, all groups from civic organizations, schools to youth sports are complaining about how hard it is to get people to be involved these days.
- Admittedly there is a new view of being “spiritual” or “good” in the world. Particularly in the Northwest if you recycle, ride your bike to work, are into running for a good cause, embrace, support or are open to such things as gay marriage, open marriages, crossing dressing and changing your sexual identity, and defend abortion, such is now viewed as being far more spiritual and moral than following what Jesus taught.
- Thus, profanity drinking, getting high, and fornication are not wrong, the new spiritually claims that saying that such things are wrong – is wrong (Isaiah 5:20).
The Rejection of Bible Authority
Of course this has been happening for centuries in the religious world, but there is a bit of a change.
- In the past denominations often attempted to justify a belief or practice by still appealing to Scripture, albeit a Scripture pulled out of context many times.
- Now many people believe that the Holy Spirit is personally directing them, and they feel little need to either study the Bible or appeal to it. So their own feelings have become their primary religious authority instead of the words of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:2-3; Matthew 7:21). It has been observed that in many religious groups the Bible has really become a secondary source of authority and simply exists to serve as “filler” in between emotional and funny stories. Yet, the Bible warned us about trusting in our feelings rather than in the word of God (Proverbs 3:4; 16:25; 28:25).
Made to Order Religion
“Perhaps one of the greatest changes in attitude is seen in a different view of the very purpose of faith. There is little talk in the modern world about pleasing God. It is assumed that if something pleases us, it must please God. Israel was warned in the Law not to do as they ended up doing during the time of the Judges, doing whatever each though was ‘right in his own eyes’ (Deuteronomy 12:6; Judges 17:6; 21:25). In our world churches will actually survey communities to learn what people are looking for in the churches that are within their neighborhoods… This ‘as you like it’ religion has had a profound impact on the religious world. Churches have become market-driven supercenters offering everything modern man imagines… This thinking has changed expectations of the nature of religion. It is no longer a matter of worship aimed at pleasing God. The focus is now on what a church can do for us” (The Changing Face of Denominationalism, “It’s a Different World”, Kyle Pope, p. 12). Paul warned us about a time when members would want to have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3). This is one step beyond that. That is where people who claim to follow Jesus actually reach out to the lost and ask, “How can we tickle your ears?” What a contrast to the attitude of Jesus who said, “For I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29), and Paul who said, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10).
Some of the “nones” and “dones” may be done for all the right reasons. Let’s be ready to recommend the Lord’s church when we encounter them. In addition, such a group will not be offended by the truth, so let’s be vocal and clear about what we teach and practice. “In spite of the negative attitudes and improper thinking that exists there are, nevertheless, people in error with good attitudes just waiting to learn the truth. These are souls ‘no far from the kingdom of God’ (Mark 12:34). May God help us to seek them, find them, and share with them the glorious riches of the truth of God’s word” (Kyle Pope).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017