Church Life, Outreach, Missions
by Ed Vasicek
As we enter 1999, we do so celebrating the 50 years that God has blessed and used Highland Park Church. When our church was founded in 1949 under the leadership of Dwight Patterson, American Christianity was quite different from its current replacement.
In some ways, things are better. There are many more evangelical (Bible-believing) Christians than there were then. The latter 40s was, in a sense, the heyday of Protestant liberalism. At that time, the emphasis was placed upon moral behavior while concurrently denying the miraculous nature of Scripture.
As time went on, those affiliated with liberal Protestantism (the "main lines") began asking an obvious question. "If the Bible is not inspired, why should we obey its moral precepts?" Although philosophers and ethicists with impressive degrees tried to answer that question, the masses perceived the obvious conclusion: there is no answer.
But the irony of it all is that we evangelical/fundamental Christians who claim to believe the Bible are perhaps even less consistent in our practice of Judeo-Christian (Biblical) values than our secular counterparts. For example, Evangelical Christians have a higher divorce rate than the population at large, with Baptists leading the way. Interestingly, liberal Jews have the lowest divorce rate. How many young people do you know who met someone to "shack up with" at a church youth group or camp? These are just a few obvious examples of the problem.
1999 is definitely a world apart from 1949. As I view the evangelical churches in our modern society, I am glad that our church tends to be different from most. God has called our church, I believe, to develop Christians who are distinct in crucial ways, ways that make them part of what I call the "spiritual elite."
Evangelical history is a fascinating study, and I am certainly no authority on the subject. But I do have opinions. One such opinion is that American evangelicalism turned a new direction beginning in the year 1976. The rise in awareness that our country was on the moral skids grew rapidly with the Bicentennial. Since then, Christian television, contemporary Christian music, seeker-sensitive churches, Promise Keepers, and the domination of evangelicalism by the charismatic movement have all promised us a nation heading back toward Christ, stronger homes and a deeper, more committed Christianity. In retrospect, it seems evident that just the opposite has occurred. Yet I do not believe most Christians have faced the evidence that something is seriously wrong with our churches.
When are American Christians going to wake up and smell the coffee? Though some of these trends mentioned above have done some good, they are not the answer. No innovation is. The real answer is not in programs but in the determination by adult believers to act their age, become fluent in the Bible, and expend the emotional energy it takes to walk with the Lord daily. And it does take energy. You cannot walk with the Lord if you constantly operate under cruise control. It means Dad determines to pray with Junior at bed time, makes a point of faithfully attending both Sunday School and church, and avoids hypocrisy like the plague. It means staying in the same church, year after year, even if the pastor's messages may sometimes repeat themselves. It may mean making less money by refusing a promotion so that one can spend more time living life with the spouse and kids. It means carefully monitoring what everyone watches on TV, carefully selecting movies, or controlling other influences. It may mean less TV and more family interaction (even good programs are not as important as family interaction). It means telling the kids, "You do not think it is so, but we know more than you. God gave you parents to direct you, and though we are interested in your opinion, we make the decisions, not you." Oh, how those words need to be spoken.
It means being willing to set a trend rather than follow one. It means a willingness to be different, even if others tease us. It means exposing the family to missionaries. It means "hands on living" in light of God's leading. It means coming home from work where you have initiated all day, but instead of vegetating, you initiate some more! It means being able and eager to admit, "I was wrong, please forgive me," both to spouse and children. It means making your marriage a priority and keeping the flame of romance burning. It means staying home and eating together at meals after prayer. None of the things that really matter take frills. But you have to force yourself to get them started. And, at first, things may seem awkward.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us right where we do not want to be. No program, church, or trend is going to make us into "God's elite." The buck stops with us as individuals. The church can provide us with tools, but we have to supply the labor. You are the program.
Mega-churches, quality Christian music, Christian bookstores, 50 Day Spiritual Adventures, Christian videos, retreats, and new trends cannot substitute for the above. Nor can going to church every night of the week. You have to do it, and you have to do it at home and at work. Period. That's it.
When a church is made up of people who take their Christianity seriously throughout the week, whether large or small, wealthy or poor, it's going to be a great church. And as we grow, we will find ourselves able to better "spur one another on to love and good works."
Putting our faith in programs and the institution of the church is producing an inferior product. Will you join God's elite? Will you take personal, hands-on responsibility for yourself and your family?
Reprinted from the January 1999 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church