EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.
DALLAS (BP) — The interview was wrapping up when the reporter asked a prominent leader in the rapidly expanding Chinese house church movement how American Christians could pray for believers in China.
“Stop praying for persecution in China to end,” the leader responded, “for it is through persecution that the church has grown.”
What astounding faith he demonstrated. My admiration of his faith was quickly tempered by what he said next. “In fact, we are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution, so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China.”
Once I recovered from the shock of such a disturbing yet profound statement, I thought about the irony. We in America keep praying for God to bless us, while persecuted Christians in other nations are praying God will dismantle our arrogance through suffering so that we will become the vibrant and significant blessing God made us to be.
The Bible is replete with examples of God humbling the haughty. Arrogance followed by judgment is a recurring theme. Survey the Old Testament and confirm it for yourself.
Before dismissing those examples as ancient history, flip to Revelation and read Christ’s seven letters to the churches. More specifically, read what Jesus said to the church of Sardis: “I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die….” (Revelation 3:1-2, HCSB).
John Burke, lead pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, has made indicting statements about the state of the Western church. “Unless Christians leading the church in America change, and unless the church begins living out the magnetic attractive force Jesus had on the world, the Christian church in America will be completely marginalized within decades,” he wrote. His concern is rapidly becoming reality.
Some time ago USA Today published “Religion Takes a Back Seat in Western Europe.” The article details the enormous drop in church attendance in Western Europe over the past several decades. The reasons identified for the drop are “Europe’s turbulent history, an increasing separation between the church and government and the continent’s unprecedented affluence.”
Ronald Inglehart, director of the World Values Survey, a Swedish-based group that tracks church attendance, said, “For most of history, people have been on the borderline of survival. That’s changed dramatically. Survival is certain for almost everyone (in the West). So one of the reasons people are drawn to religion has eroded.”
The USA Today article detailed social changes taking place in Western Europe. Divorce is quicker, stem cell research is allowed, gay marriage is legal, heterosexual marriage is viewed increasingly unnecessary, religious education is becoming elective in schools and church attendance is dramatically dropping every year. The Spanish undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice in charge of religious and social affairs says that society “has become much more open, more tolerant and more secular.”
Sound familiar? We in America are also being decimated by the winds of secularism. The church doesn’t have enough passionate conviction to support the pillars of our culture which were built on the foundation of the Bible.
Many will say, “Well, that’s Europe and it’s got nothing to do with us.” What makes us think history is going to give us an exemption? Why should we be any different than history’s other self-destructed “superpowers” that arrogantly turned their backs on God and relied on their own intellect and abundant affluence?
This should be a splash of cold water in the face of North America’s sleeping Christianity.
This isn’t a clarion call to political activism by the “religious right.” It is important for us to be involved in the political process, but politics directed by man is temporal and corruptible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and incorruptible! A changed America will come not from ballots in a box or amendments to the Constitution, but from transformed hearts that result in godly lives. This kind of impact on the culture only comes through prayer and fasting.
Research shows that the majority of “unchurched” people are not antagonistic toward the church but have simply never heard the Gospel or been invited by a Christian to attend church. We’ve mobilized the church to flex its political muscle, but when is the church going to flex its missional muscle and become Jesus to a self-destructing culture? More plainly, when are you going to become Jesus to your next-door neighbor?
We as believers have to make a choice. Do we continue on our present trajectory of self-absorbed arrogance, confined to our self-contained little worlds and reap the inevitable consequences, or do we humble ourselves and plead with God for revival, asking Him to “strengthen what remains” so that we can be the blessing we were made to be?
Our brothers and sisters around the world are watching … and praying … and waiting. Are you?
Jimmy Draper is former president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and interim president of Criswell College in Dallas.