Wherever it spread, the Christian church has taken on a pinch of local flavor - some, of course, by necessity. During the time of the apostles, the faith was translated into local dialects, while regional history or culture provided ready illustrations for preaching. St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to try and describe the Trinity (of course, the illustration fails miserably, as most Trinity illustrations do), while newcomers to North America began their own festival of thanksgiving at the end of the harvest.
Many of these local adaptations have been beneficial to the church at large, as Christians today benefit from music that ranges from Gregorian Chant to Paul Gerhard, from Casting Crowns to “Kum Ba Yah”, or artwork and architecture such as Eastern icons or flying buttresses. You could say that each region of the world has woven its own unique threads into the tapestry of the Christian church.
But this isn’t always a good thing.
Each area of the world has also brought its own heresy, its own particular snare which Satan has used to lead Christians away from Christ. Asia Minor brought Gnosticism. Africa and India brought superstition and witchcraft. And North American Christianity? The pragmatic obsession with numbers - a “conversion by any means possible” approach.
If you’ll stick with me here, you’ll see that this is far more than a lesson in obscure church history.
19th and 20th century American “conversion by any means possible” brought tent revivals and a focus on emotional manipulation in order to have someone “make a decision for Christ.” 70 years later, the “conversion by any means possible” mantra turned the church into a business, as congregations sought to woo new converts the same way that any corporation would try to win new customers. Numerical growth was the only goal and only purpose, achieved by any tool available.
And the American church today? The obsession with “conversion by any means possible” has led where false teaching has always led: an American cultural landscape that pays lip service to the idea of Christian morals and Christian ‘principles’ (whatever that means.) Across the country, churches spend more time talking about “how-to” topics than talking about the God revealed in the pages of Scripture; and these churches complement their motivational speeches with music that declares (repeatedly) that I love and I worship and I adore. (Granted, that’s a broad generalization – but I don’t think you’d have to look very far before finding relevant examples of this phenomenon.)
You could say that the “conversion by any means possible” approach has resulted in churches that talk more about self-esteem than sin, more about what I do for God (and how I feel about it) than what God has done for me. Christ as Savior is replaced with Christ as lawgiver, moral teacher, and advice-giver; and people who attend these churches do not receive what they need to hear and know for their spiritual well-being.
This is modern, mainstream, American Christianity at its almost-worst.
The worst isn’t that adults (who own a Bible, and can read a Bible, and have chosen to ignore the plethora of warnings contained therein) are led astray; the worst is that children are raised in these churches.
The worst is that these children are never taught what God’s Word has to say, and rather than spending Wednesday evenings learning the eternal truths of the Bible . . . they spend Wednesday evening playing dodge ball and board games. The worst is that these children are led to believe that church is one of many empty social activities, on par with any other extra-curricular or community event.
I know this doesn’t describe every church in America, and I know (for a fact) this doesn’t describe every church in Fairmont.
But we do live in America, and this is the cultural soup in which we worship, and work, and live.
And - most importantly - this is the self-centered murkiness where Christians must still seek, with Christ-like patience and love, to testify to God’s rock-solid truth of sin & grace.