The Greatest Danger Facing the Church Today
For my final “Culture Watch” column (2000-2003), I was asked to reflect on the greatest danger facing the church today. I believe that, more than anything else, the church is imperiled by its own failure to teach, to believe, and to live out the great truths of the Christian faith in a way that pleases God. This is true not only of theologically liberal congregations—which essentially abandoned the Bible long ago—but also of too many evangelical churches and institutions. When “truth stumbles in the public square” (Isaiah 59:14, NSRV), when the church succumbs to the larger culture’s trivializing of life’s greatest questions, then the gospel and all the truths of the Bible go unheeded. People lose their way and call good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). As Jeremiah lamented, “Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28).
The cultural indicators are clear. Religious involvement is high, but spiritual discernment is low. Knowledge of God is scarce. Occultism and gratuitous violence fascinate millions and are common fare on television, in popular music, movies, video games, and even children’s books. Immorality is evident and taken for granted at every level. Forest rangers ignite massive forest fires. Huge corporations ignore ethics for the sake of selfish profit. Serial killers terrorize us. Teenagers go on homicidal sprees in our schools—and commit suicide in record numbers. Although America is threatened by deadly terrorism, it refuses to get deadly serious about God, the soul, and matters of eternity. Many just want life to return to normal when “normal”—designer religion, materialism, crass sensuality, and relentless entertainment—is precisely what God wants us to repent of (1 John 2:15-17). Even after September 11, 2001, and even among supposed Christians, moral and religious relativism stills runs rampant. (Teenagers have been the hardest hit.)
Our pluralistic society has deceived many Christians into believing that all religions lead to God, Scripture to the contrary (Exodus 20:1-3; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). Many Christians take up yoga, ignorant of the fact that it is a Hindu spiritual practice. Biblical illiteracy is staggering—even when more Bibles and study tools are available than ever before.
Given the erosion of biblical truth, the church is in peril of losing its saltiness and snuffing its light (Matthew 5:14-16). But who else can explain, defend, proclaim, and apply the Gospel of Christ if not Christ’s own followers? Who else can offer an objectively true, reasonable, ethical, and truly liberating worldview to our religiously confused and ethically corrupted culture? Who else but Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe (Colossians 1:15-20), can call people to repentance, forgive their sins through his sacrifice on the Cross, justify them before God, and empower them for true spirituality, faithful obedience, and world-changing service?
We must recover the truth of the gospel. And we must obey it—come what may. The gospel is only good news when the bad news of sin against a holy God is rightly taught. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “It is after you have realized that there is a Moral Law and a Power behind that law, and that you have broken the law and put yourself wrong with that Power—it is after this and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.” If the church speaks with a muted voice concerning sin, it cannot speak in the name of Christ, the only Savior from sin (John 3:16; 14:6). Christians cannot accept relativism—in ethics or in religion (Exodus 20:1-17).
Salvation comes only through the grace of a loving and just God revealed in Scripture and through the perfect life, atoning death, and death-defeating resurrection of his divine Son. This Gift is received by faith alone in Jesus alone (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5). There is no other gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). And this Gospel summons followers of Jesus to be disciples (not spiritual consumers), to submit to his lordship over all of life (Matthew 28:18), and to be transformed through the renewing of their minds and the offering of their bodies as a living sacrifice in God’s service (Romans 12:1-2).
The greatest danger facing the church today is the loss of the truth and power of the gospel. There is no greater loss.
· Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he heads the Philosophy of Religion Masters program. He is the author of ten books, most recently On Jesus and On Pascal. He can be contacted at: Douglas.Groothuis@denverseminary.edu.