Aug 1, 2006

disappearing christians

Family Org, a web site of Focus on the Family cites a sobering statistic that should cause us to consider the way we relate, or don't relate, to those in our church family. I have no way of knowing if every detail of this statistic is accurate, but do know that many souls are leaving the church. Below is a quote that is scary, and sad:
Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, and say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. Tens of thousands more will join their ranks this week.
When one considers the value God places on even one soul, and multiplies that 22 million times, it is beyond tragic. What must we, as the church, do to stop this migration from His body? It's easy to always condemn those leaving as being weak, if this is true, what are we doing to strengthen them in an effort to make them strong?

There are many professing Christians who have left the church and no one seems to care. No one in their church family has contacted them, and the one leaving feels that the church doesn't care one way or the other about them. If our blood brother or sister just disappeared, for whatever reason, we wouldn't stop looking until we found out exactly what happened, but if it's our Christian brothers and sisters we often just look the other way and write them off.

Not everyone claiming Jesus as their savior will remain faithful, but when 22 million Americans leave the church, something is definitely wrong!

ADDED NOTE: Al Maxey in his newest Reflections article; Churches of Christ in Crisis, describes some of the problems causing the church to decrease numerically.


Jerald said...

I would also note that there are many church-planting movements and home-church organizations arising that are gaining momentum and membership.

There are several nationwide governing bodies and planting movements that may account at least in part for the exodus FoF sees.

Aside from that, yes it is indeed tragic that we're seeing this condition. However, it is because of many things that we see this. In my counseling, I see people who have been alienated by the "faithful" in their church. I counsel those who have been betrayed, gossiped about, backstabbed, told they weren't holy enough, told they hated God, told that if they weren't wealthy they must be in sin, told if they were sick, God had them under a curse.

There's only so long new believers and seekers are going to put up with treatment like this.

I think that first, we must look inwardly as a church, and fix the problems at home. Once we do that, I think the other situation will take care of itself.

Larry said...

Thanks for the comments.

It's unbelievable what some Christians try to put on the shoulders of new members. I have seen the same problems you describe in counseling, and know it's true, but very hard to comprehend.

Churches often don't include new members in their church programs and fellowship groups. Over time many new members feel like their not a part of the church, and look elsewhere for a place they feel content.

Laymond said...

Brother Larry it is a sad situation where a Christian new or a seasoned vet. becomes dis-heartned and forsakes assembly. but it is a terriable thing when one becomes so unsettled as to forsake Christ. Without knowing the situation causing them to leave there is no indivudal solution I could give. I am sure the causes are many and varied, if there was but one cause we could work to stop the exodus. Hummm maybe there is but one cause after all. SATAN

Larry said...

The comment Jerald made makes a lot of sense to me:

"I think that first, we must look inwardly as a church, and fix the problems at home.

Christians with a long history at a church probably don't realize how hard it is for a new person to blend into their church surroundings. Often it is very difficult, and on occasions impossible, to identify with the local church when no one seems to care about them.

Alan said...

Important topic!

Here is an intriguing article (actually introduction of a book) that addresses one aspect of the problem.

Larry said...

Thanks for the link. This is probably a book we all need to read.

Mr. Murrow has some very interesting ideas that just might help men rededicate their lives to God.

Royce Ogle said...

I read Maxie's article with great interest. Thanks for mentioning it.

Forgive me for taking up bandwidth, but this quote is worth the space. From Al Maxie:

"Another reason for our decline is placed squarely at the feet of poor leadership. We have replaced shepherds among sheep with executives in a board room. It's no wonder the flock is being fleeced and fed upon, the shepherds are too busy in the board room deciding the price of wool and what color to paint the sheep gate to nourish, guide and protect the sheep. Decline is inevitable when leaders don't lead, but rather lord. The document also pointed to the matter of congregational relevancy within the community. "People leave the church because their congregations refuse to change -- thus becoming irrelevant to their world." If we become so busy "doing church" that we can no longer truly relate to the needs of our communities, we are destined for decline. Another reason mentioned is: "We are seen as mean, dogmatic, elitist, unwelcoming. True or not, it is the outsider's perception of us." As the document states: "We decline when we attack each other, and we decline when we argue over issues that are not salvation-related." Reason #88 sums it up well -- "People outside our fellowship think we are petty, sectarian, judgmental, and ridiculous and want nothing to do with our issues. Our Jesus could be attractive, but our issues, doctrines, actions, get in the way."

"Here are some additional quick reasons listed in the document: "Our 'sectarian' ways have cost us over the years." --- "Our trivial, selfish battles over style instead of substance have caused seekers to seek elsewhere." --- "We've become fixated on numbers instead of hearts." --- "Too many were converted to the Church of Christ and not Jesus Christ." --- "Our lack of love for those not in the Churches of Christ." --- "Our lack of knowledge about God's grace." --- "We have bound our members to 'opinions' of morality and 'rules' of tradition, instead of to the sound doctrine of Scripture." --- "We have shifted our personal responsibilities to the ministers - youth, education, evangelism." --- "Some are driven away from the church fellowship by leaders 'binding' on them traditions or customs that should not be bound." --- "Low enthusiasm is caused by legalism." Well, there are a great many more reasons listed, but I will leave them for those who may be interested in studying the entire document for themselves."

I could not agree more!

Larry said...

Al has a great way of getting right to the point in a hurry.

If not for Al Maxey I would probably still be completely wrapped up in legalism. He has helped me more than any man on earth, and I appreciate his scripture knowledge and wisdom.

More than once Al patiently endured my legalistic approach to following Jesus when he owned the Berean Spirit forum, and he set me straight with a ton of questions that shook my whole belief system to the core.

Royce Ogle said...


Good for Al, and good for you.

I too came out of legalism. Thank God I can now read the book of Galations with peace in my heart and full assurance of my salvation.

"There is therfore now a REST for the people of God."

Anonymous said...

The Chaos Factor In A Unity Effort

Disunity, Disharmony, Division, And/or Chaos Factors Within The Restoration Movement And A Search For A Modality For Seeking Unity Among Believers.

The churches of Christ, the Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ are three main branches divided off from a unity movement which arose in the early 1800s.

By 1906 the Restoration Movement (RM) as it was called was clearly divided into these three branches recognized as fully independent bodies. Now after 200 years there has recently been a long awaited (overdue?) but substantial effort at reunification. Praise the Lord! However, that is what any unity movement should do.

Tragically, this is still only a partial or limited reunification effort. This effort at best unevenly embraces some within its family group and the effort itself is rejected in some quarters by others. Finally almost no one within this family tree has reached out to its original taproot, the Presbyterian Church. It was that denomination from which the founders of the RM had arisen.

These stumbling efforts seem to raise some questions. Can such a halting effort truly signal any possible future success? Is there something inherently wrong with the way in which the RM attempts to facilitate unity? Or is there a pattern of delay and missteps, which reflects some unfaithfulness or a resistance to the leading of the spirit of God? Finally is there a more effective modality for unity? If so then what might it be?

The Restoration Movement Arose Over 200 years Ago Seeking Unity Among Believers

Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell lived and ministered in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries now over 200 years ago. Initially their efforts were independent of each other. Still they were each suddenly successful in calling people to unify.

Their methods varied but their results were similar enough. Their followers met and intermingled, compared notes and it was their followers that sought to bring their leaders together. After a period of time and delays Stone and Campbell came to combine their efforts as a joint venture. As a result they became conjoint founders of the Restoration Movement (RM), which quickly declared itself a unity movement. They were however very different men and their efforts while in the same direction always suggested different modalities.

On the one hand, Stone was educated in America. Impacted by frontier revivalism, Stone was himself a key player in the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, which broke-out at his congregation. His life and ministry would bore earmarks of “being led by the Spirit” reminiscent of the later Charismatic Movement. It might be said that he sought a unity of the Spirit. In some ways Stone’s efforts might have foreshadowed the unifying movement that later arose at Azusa Street nearly a hundred years afterwards and has had a much wider impact on Christendom.

On the other hand and from another direction, Campbell proved to be the stronger force. He was university educated in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was a disciple of the English philosophers, John Locke and Francis Bacon. Campbell greatly admired Scottish Common Sense philosophy. This worldview he rigorously applied to his study of scripture. A powerful debater and logical mind Campbell’s approach was modernistic. His methods were the equivalent of a type of archaeological mining of scripture not for material artifacts but for an ancient ecclesiology or determining the ancient rules and principles for primitive church practices. It might be said that he sought for a basis of unity in understanding the pertinent doctrines and practices of the unadulterated, primitive church.

Both men were reformers from the reform heritage proudly touted by Presbyterians. Both were interested in a return to a simple nondenominational New Testament Christianity as broad as the universal body of Christ. Both were influential leaders of men. Each had a substantial following within the same general area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia. These followers interacted on numerous occasions finally leading to their colluding to bring their leaders together. They did and eventually a union took place. Their approaches seemed to complement each other but in time Campbell’s surpassed Stone’s.

This movement was formulated around two key concepts. First was the unity of believers. The second was the discovery, and restoration of the long-lost, unadulterated, primitive, or true church. Pattern theology emerged from Campbell’s researching scripture using Lockean Logic in his attempt to recover the ancient order of things. In this the movement sought to find and reconstitute the body of Christ without divisions and without any of the latter ecclessiological trappings that had led to division and had denominated the church. This latter concept was thought to be the modality by which people might find a reasonable, common sense, common ground for unity.

It easily seemed to the founders that denominations unnecessarily divided believers. Therefore it reasonably seemed to follow that a return to the true, pure, and primitive church might provide a pathway to unity. That meant that they and their followers would generally embrace a stance that rejected all denominations and all their divisive practices. Some within the movement have been more highly committed and therefore with nobility have more avidly and exactingly pursued doctrinal purity and primitive church practices. This was deemed an essential truth, and a cornerstone or baseline for affecting unity. This view has been held most dear among the right wing elements of the movement. The downside to this dynamic is that it also tends to inhibit diversity.

The Results Are In

Today after 200 years the RM’s efforts have led to almost no bridges to unity except in the earliest times. Instead the movement has spun-off some 80 different groups that are both similar and disparate. In addition except for the effort among these main three branches there has been almost no overtures toward reunification among those within the movement let alone with other believers. Besides the main branches of the RM which include the churches of Christ (CofC), The Christian Church (CC), and the Disciple of Christ (DoC) there are also two generally unacknowledged cults with whom there are ties -- the International Church of Christ (ICC) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Like a dysfunctional family some members talk with others within the family but refuse to even recognize other members. This record and traits do not support the claim of being a unity movement.

Ostensibly the Stone-Campbell movement was a unity movement, however, by the time of the American Civil War the movement divided geographically at the Mason Dixon Line and across a continuum from the more fundamentalistic churches of Christ, Christian Churches, to the more liberal the Disciples of Christ. Slavery and musical accompaniment vs. noninstrumental music tended to be among the more obvious issues masking deeper matters. The churches of Christ under the influence of “pattern theology” (as the revival of the ancient order of things came to be known) have resulted in a drive to recreate a pure primitive church. This approach has lead to repeated divisions up to some 80 times..

Background Strains Affecting Unity

The background of both founders shows a period in western culture when progress was the watchword and utopia was thought to be just around the corner. Presuming that the spirit of the times was moving mankind toward God and a biblical period of world peace Campbell optimistically published a newsletter he named “The Millennial Harbinger.” Both men were also educated under the tutelage of the Presbyterian Church. Both had previously served as ordained ministers for that church. Revivalism was spreading like wild fire and people everywhere were open to religious discussion. On a darker note, the Presbyterian Church, itself, had been imported from Europe bringing with it baggage reflecting its prior status as a state religion. In a number of ways this meant that the Presbyterianism lacked a certain relevance to the American religious experience. Instead the Presbyterianism of that era was infected with issues that fueled useless, artificial church wars. In addition, theirs was also a time marked by the rise of theological Liberalism, which intensified the deism that had already invaded the American scene. It was also a time of continuing warfare and conflict. The enlightenment was powerfully impacting the culture and these men.

In late life Campbell personally aligned himself with the Disciples (DoC), which always tended to more deistic and liberal. If Stone’s influence survived it is difficult to trace, albeit the desire for a more Spirit filled experience does continue and, perhaps, at times has facilitated the more nonrational extremes within the movement

The “True Church” Comes Under Fire from Within

History has shown that the “true church modality” as a basis of unity has not brought unity but rather division. Some within the RM have already abandoned that modality. In 1968 the DoC restructured and became the first if not only RM church to acknowledge its own denominationality. Otherwise, the movement has been in denial regarding its denominationality.

Just a few years later the senior preacher in an influential CofC congregation arose and announced from his pulpit in Abilene TX that the CofC “was a big sick denomination.” This, too, sent shock waves through the CofC. A reinvestigation of the CofC’s basic assumptions began to be taken seriously in some quarters.

The LDS and ICC churches are generally perceived as too extreme and unorthodox. They are generally not thought to be relevant to the others.

The modern CofC is experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. Elements like the North West Church of Christ within the Seattle area have combined with a nearby Christian Church to create a combo-church or joint venture church. While they are united they are at the same time they strangely two in one. The NWCofC already had a “church within a church” concept at work prior to this new arrangement

Other CofCs reflect a continuum of responses on the one hand some are continuing from a strict sectarianism stance while others on another hand seem to court other elements within the Restoration Movement including the DoC for the sake of unity. To my knowledge no one from the right wing of the RM has sought to include the original taproot Presbyterian Church back into their unity efforts.

Meanwhile the DoC seriously had marginalized themselves within the RM heritage. The DoC retained its high call to unity but changed its conceptual modality. Now no longer in pursuit of the one true primitive church as their modality for unity they now pursue followed the Ecumenical Movement. However this was seen as a betrayal of the nondenominationalism. Among the RM churches stylized definitions of words like “denomination” had developed which continue to facilitate “plausible deniability,” in regard to the CofC’s nondenominational fa├žade. This is central both to their identity and their vision of their mission.

In fact so dedicated are some of the more traditional RM members that they are unwilling to share in common activities with other believers whose church practices not compatible with their own. A pragmatic unity is in their eyes equates with selling out the true church and the importance of restorationism for unity. In their view doctrinal differences must first be addressed before any sharing can take place. To their mind there can be no unity unless the true church is restored and all believers adhere to that one true church. This purist position seems to block the very unity that they claim to seek.

An Unrecovered or Unrecoverable Model or Pattern

However, differing opinions continue to exist about whether there is or is not a definitive core model for the early church has never been finally determined. In addition, there are also differing opinions about what are the appropriate protocols for the hermeneutics used to ascertain that model. With the departure of the DoC from the true church modality and the failure of the avid restorationists to affect much more than additional divisiveness then seems that the true church modality is a failed model. It seems to have died never finding its true core. These disputes seem to make the task irresolvable.

The Ecumenical Modality Has Also Come Under Fire

The Disciples restructured and became an organized denomination in 1968. Out of their new Ecumenical framework they have resorted to being a part of the Ecumenical Movement. Perhaps as a result they have rejoined with the Presbyterian Church in some quarters for joint ventures. Nevertheless The Ecumenical Movement has itself come under fire for being to rigid and complex a model. While it has facilitated unity in diversity in some quarters it seems unable to reach others.

The Charismatic Renewal Movement Limitations

The Azusa Street Revival and subsequent efforts have been wide reaching and enduring but limitations have arisen around issues created by those that require specific signs of the Spirit, which are not uniformly subscribed to by even all Charismatics. The Charismatic renewal which had some resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s has passed on without the hoped for results.


Each modality discussed has pros and cons. Each has something that may well contribute to a better approach, but that approach has yet to be widely announced and tested.

A Transdenominational Modality

Meanwhile from another direction and sources has arisen a newer modality for reunification, which sidesteps the nondenominational and ecumenical modalities after a fashion. Transdenominationalism might see all churches much like scripture speaks of all believers -- as earthen vessels. That is they all contain a glorious treasure, i.e., the gospel. This view first of all presumes that God in Christ has created unity and that our mission is not to create unity but rather to maintain the unity God has already created. It would also focus on the body of Christ rather than the church and its ordinances. Further, it does not ignore any doctrinal error but approaches churches and people respectfully, calling them to a more radical discipleship. This modality has not as yet been previously published among those within the RM to my knowledge.

July 7, 2006 by Ron Exum