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An epidemic within the Western church

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (BP)–An epidemic is defined as any communicable or non-communicable disease that affects a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time. Throughout history, our world has seen its share of epidemics — black death, bubonic plague and malaria, just to name a few. More recently, the attention of the medical community has been turned toward epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and the West Nile Virus. Epidemics tend to come out of nowhere. Much like wolves in sheep’s clothing, they sneak in unaware and before you know it half the flock is missing.

I’m convinced that there’s an epidemic that has infected the Western church of the 21st century. I’ll simply refer to the epidemic as myopia. No, I’m not referring to the medical condition in which objects can be seen distinctly only when held very near to the eye. I’m talking about spiritual myopia — a kind of Christianity that has become so focused on self that it no longer resembles the faith of our fathers.

The side effects of this spiritual myopia can be seen and heard all around us. Christian bookstore shelves are lined with volumes that entreat us to “live our best lives now” and “become a better you.” Much of the music that receives a substantial amount of airtime on Christian radio stations is devoid of any reference to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel or the mission of the church. Those references have been replaced with much more subjective ones that focus on me, myself and I. Songs are now intentionally written with a much more man-centered focus in the hope that they will receive playback on mainstream media outlets.

Even preachers have not been immune to this debilitating epidemic. In some circles the sermon no longer is seen as the vehicle through which men of God seek to communicate the truth of God “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Preachers increasingly have given into the temptation to allow their congregations — and not the Word of God — to shape their messages. Consequently, some preachers have traded substance for style and our congregations are showing the myopic effects of the exchange.

Just recently, I experienced a striking example of this epidemic in my own community. I was driving down the road when I noticed the backside of a church sign. The sign was intended to bear a message to the church’s parishioners as they left the church parking lot. The sign simply read, “Claim your blessing today!” Immediately, I thought to myself, “What happened to the signs that used to say ‘You are now entering your mission field’?” Spiritual myopia has left us in such a stupor that the person we focus on the most as we come to and depart from God’s house is ourself.

Having identified the epidemic and its tragic side effects, we need to turn our attention towards a cure. The only cure I’m aware of is to take the focus off of ourselves and to “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” How do we begin to do that? I think we’ve got to start from the top. Pastors must stop allowing the culture and their congregants to determine their message. God’s ambassadors must faithfully deliver the message of their King once again by preaching “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Preaching the whole counsel of God might not always draw large crowds, but if it is a huge following that the pastor is seeking, he is part of the problem and not the solution.

Further, our churches need to recapture a passion for the vital ministry of prayer. Of course, we could list a number of verses that encourage us to be men and women of prayer, but just think practically for a moment. When you have spent time humbling yourself in prayer, are you more prone to think about your own desires or the desires of God? My own experience has proven that I’m never more concerned about the things of God than when I am praying. As the old song says, “The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Finally, we must make the Father’s business our business once again. We’ve all found ourselves asking this question: “Is God really satisfied with what I’m doing right now?” There are many details of God’s will that can cause us to wonder about such things. Yet, when we attempt to fulfill the Great Commission, the questions and doubts begin to go away. The one thing Jesus commanded us to do when He ascended on high was to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). He said that we should be a people constantly committed to the work of going, baptizing and teaching. A cure for our current epidemic will surely be found as God’s people begin to turn their attention towards the fields that are “white for harvest” (John 4:35).

A Christian songwriter from yester-year apparently found the cure for our spiritual myopia. Exactly 50 years ago he penned the words to a song that we seldom sing, “Win the Lost at Any Cost.” The words of the chorus go like this:

“Souls are crying, men are dying,

“Won’t you lead them to the cross?

“Go and find them, help to win them,

“Win the lost at any cost.

“Go out and win, rescue from sin,

“Day’s almost done, low sinks the sun,

“Souls are crying, men are dying,

“Win the lost at any cost.”

When we “turn our eyes upon Jesus,” surely our lives, our families and our churches will express this same manner of urgency as well. May God grant healing from our present epidemic very soon. The transformation of our lives and the salvation of the lost is depending upon it.
Todd Stinnett is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn.

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