Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking.
The below is taken from Robertson McQuilkin’s book Biblical Ethics (512-14). I have found these general principles helpful:
- Is it for the Lord? Does it bring praise to him? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). (See also Rom. 14:6-8)
- Can I do it in his name (on his authority, implicating him)? Can I thank him for it: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God for Father through him” (Col. 3:17)
- Can I take Jesus with me? Would Jesus do it? “Whiter shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7). “Christ… lives in me” should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). (See also Matt 28:19-20, John 14:16-17, 23.)
- Does it belong in the home of the Holy Spirit? “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify god in your body” (1 Cor. 6:29-20). (See also Eph. 4:30.)
- Is it of faith? Do I have misgivings? “But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21).
- Does it positively benefit, build up (not simply, “Is it harmless?”) “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). (See also Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 10:8; Eph. 4:12-16)
- Does it spring from, or lead to, love of this world and its value system? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). (See also Mark 9:47; 11:14-15)
- Does it involve union with an unbeliever? “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
- Does it come from or have the potential of leading to bondage? “All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23).
- Is the motive pride, or love? “We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ ‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-2)
- Is a godly mind-set the context of my decision on the matter? “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). (See also Rom. 12:1-2)
- What does the church say about it? “He who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men” (Rom. 14:18). “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). (See also Rom. 14:16)
- Would I like to be doing this when Jesus comes? “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming…. We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 2:28; 3:2-3). (See also Matt. 24:44-51; Luke 23:34-35; 1 Thess. 5:2-4)
All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we see two distinct groups. God has called particular people from all nations. As James Hamilton has said, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”
The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are physical decedents of Eve that are spiritually seed of the serpent. This is not just something we see in the Old Testament though. We see it through the whole of Scripture (cf. e.g. Matt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). We see two distinct seeds with two distinct ends from the beginning of Genesis (cf. esp. Gen. 3:15) to the end of Revelation (cf. e.g. Rev. 21).
Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 there are two groups: 1) those who did not believe and thus receive judgment and 2) those who do believe and thus enjoy the presence of God and marvel at Him. And notice Jesus separates the goats from the sheep based on what they did in their earthly lives (Matt. 25:32ff). People are gravely either goat or sheep, wise or fool, darkness or light, faithful or faithless, in Christ or damned.
As I have said, the Bible shows to different humanities, one lost and the other saved, one in heaven and one in hell. This is what we see throughout the story of Scripture and this is what we see reflected in other places in the early church’s teaching. For instance, the Didache (50-120AD) says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways” (1:1).
There is a certain way we should approach questions, the first thing that comes to mind is humility. There are certain things we cannot know the definitive answer to. I think that makes sense since we are creation, not Creator. However, that is not to say we shouldn’t ask. Here are a few of my thoughts on the question…
First, is it actually big? It’s all perspective. To us it seems big, big beyond comprehension. However, Isaiah 40 says that God names every star and that the nations are like dust on a scale. That is, things, even really big things, are small to God. Also, to put things in perspective, ants seem small to us but they don’t seem small to themselves. There are things that are small compared to ants (e.g. protons and neutrons). Maybe it is not the universe that is big but we that are small. Maybe that seems strange because we see ourselves as so big, so grand. Maybe that’s part of the reason the universe is so big, to show us that we are small. We are not the be-all-end-all of the universe. We are small.
Second, the Bible says that the heavens, i.e. the vast universe, carries out a specific role. And what is that role? The vast universe declares the glory of God (see Ps. 19:1ff; 50:6; Rom. 1)! If the universe is declaring the glory of God it makes sense that it would need to be big!
Third, God takes pleasure in His creation. There are stars no human will ever see, fish we can’t imagine, and flowers that bloom and die without any humans awareness. But God knows. And God takes pleasure in it all. Remember, in Genesis 1:31 God said it was “very good.” So, God enjoys His vast creation. Remember God is the Great Creator, the Great Artist. Artists create. And it’s awesome and beautiful and sometimes mysterious but it’s what they do, even if no one sees. Creator or Artist is part of who God is, it’s one of His attributes. It’s what He does
Fourth, it causes us to say, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)? It makes us amazed that God the Creator and sustainer of all, the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power, cares about us. Even to the point of death on a cross.
[In fact, the hardest thing in all the Bible for me to believe is not the resurrection, is not the miracles, is not any of that stuff, that all makes sense to me (God can do all that!). However, what is hard to believe is that God cares about us humans. That is amazing!]
First, our disposition or the way we approach questions is really important. How should we approach questions? What should characterize us?
Humility! Why? Because we are fallible, we make mistakes (We should also be aware of chronological snobbery). However, God does not. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Also, kindness, patience, and understanding are an important part of humility and asking questions and arriving at answers.
Second, where do we get answers from? Scripture. Why is this important? Again, I am and you are fallible, that is, we make mistakes. And how should we approach getting those answers? Are we above Scripture or is Scripture above us? Who holds more sway? Scripture supplies the truth to us, we do not decide what we think and then find a way to spin things so that we can believe whatever we want…
Third, community is important. God, for instance, has given the church elders who rightly handle the Word of truth and shepherd the community of believers. We don’t decide decisions and come to conclusions on our own. God helps us through Christ’s body the Church.
Fourth, it is important to remember mystery, we cannot expect to know all things. We are… fallible. So, we should keep Deuteronomy 29:29 in mind: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” There are certain things that are revealed and certain things that are not revealed.
Fifth, our questions and answers are not simply about head knowledge. God doesn’t just want us to be able to talk about theology. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “that we may do…” So, there may be questions that are not especially helpful. I’m not saying we can’t ask them, we can. Only we may not be able to have a definitive answer and the question may be of a less practical nature (e.g. supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism).