Theology is both significant and sadly unfashionable in today’s church. Feeling and friendliness have full reign, ruling the day, with foundational understanding being relegated to the realm of the unnecessary, possibly even guilty of causing dissatisfaction, and reducing the possibility of church growth. A harsh diagnosis? Seemingly so, but nonetheless accurate once the facades are stripped away. Enquire of the knowledge of foundational beliefs in most assemblies, and the situation is clearly evident. This synopsis of the current situation in many churches has been quietly stated to me numerous times recently by church members (both men and women) of more than one congregation and of various ages.
On the more global horizon, this mirrors the decline of fundamental values and the rejection of sovereign origins in society as a whole. With liberal relativism and the pluralistic definition of beliefs comes constant variance in those beliefs. This yields no permanent benchmarks for sustained values, from basic civility to more global societal behaviour. Societal decline, though hidden in high sounding philosophies of man’s ability to rise above problems, continues, and reflects his imperfect nature. With this in mind, we have the spectre of the church institutionally mirroring the proforma definition of man as sovereign, confirming the downward Biblical paradigm illustrated repeatedly after the Fall.
What does this have to do with our everyday congregational and church program focus or experiences? More that might be evident initially.
Today’s church formats include many approaches in style, music, dress, sermon focus and so on. These are frequently structured to appeal to many different congregants depending upon preferences. In the case of worship this allows a diversity that helps all participate – a positive result.
A decade ago, congregants often used denominational choice to express preference within similar evangelical churches. Athough still true to a degree, many congregations exhibit every more similar appoaches to worship and church life, often resulting is very minimal denominational differences. Doctrinal and theological issues have in many cases become completely subservient to presenting a face that attracts congregants. Since the overall size of the congregant pool is not growing substantially (and has not done so over the past several decades), the churches are effectively competing for the same group. This results in the narrrowing of worship and church formats to those which are considered most appealing and desirable. This is essentially a market oriented enviroment.
Foundational doctrinal or theological issues on which a particular church or denomination was founded, especially any that might seem restirctive, demanding or controversial, are proactively removed from view as counter-productive. They are not condusive to the implicit focus on inclusion at any cost and sustained enjoyment, and this do not fit.
The result of this is very likely to be vibrant worship, heartfelt emotional experience, and often strong growth, with little or no foundational understanding or true biblical grasp of the basic beliefs or concepts of the faith. In other words, a wonderful building built on a foundation of sand. In present times this is most likely to be completely invisible and seeminly inconsequential. When looking at the church in the present, it could even be argued (falaciously in my opinion) that it doesn’t matter. In the times of tribulation (which Scripture clearly states are coming) however, how will this church and these believers fair? With the likely removal or collapse of the things supporting the organizational vibrancy, what will be left to cling to, and what will there be to fall back upon? The likely answer is, nothing. Scripture also indicates that this will also take place.
You might conclude that I am proposing that this situation is without any redeeming merit. In many ways, you are correct. I feel very strongly that the current lack of virtually any practical interest in laying solid foundational and doctrinal groundwork in believers (individually and congregationally, new or old alike) is a massive and far ranging error. The long term result is a new generation of believers with no underpining of factual belief. This senario is ripe for collapse in the face of the Scripturally predicted times of and types of tribulation. If there are times of tribulation in which many will fall away to false profits and doctrines, the developing situation as laid out here is what one would expect. The Lord is of course sovereign in all of this, but that does not mean that action is not appropriate on the level of the individual congregation.
The situation is not hopeless. The present growth of vibrant styles can work in tandem with the necessity of foundational development at all congregational levels. The rise of one does not have to mean the decline of the other, though without concerted effort experience would indicate that is precisely what does occur.
To assume (even uncounciously by omission) that new believers do not need foundational grounding as a manditory part of thier development is certain folly. To be even bolder, it is negligent. Further, that grounding does not simply imply vague compliance with some general statement of faith or beliefs. It is basic and specific understanding of the confession, catechism and theology of the faith. This is the only cement upon which a robust structure is constructed.
Futhermore, to assume (particularly in this case, by omission) that ongoing or even basic foundational grounding is not needed for existing and even long standing believers, is the height of hubris.
The laying and maintenance of foundational knoweldge is not a happenstance. It can only be accomplished by deliberate action. As with the case of vibrant worship and prayer, it most often does not happen by accident, but by design.
As we wait for the Lord, let us be deliberate in both worshipping with great vibrancy and in building a faith standing upon foundational bedrock, that we will be carried across the waves to come.
For longtime readers, some of this post may have sounded a tad reminiscent of “What ever happenned to Christian Doctrine?” of some months ago. Though it is related, recent conversations and observations have brought the issue into more practical focus. With the ground work here in mind, the next question would be exactly what should be taught, at what level and in what order of priority? All good questions…