It has been brought to my attention by a student, concerned for the church and our country, that I may be assigning the causality of apathy in local churches to Western democratic styles of government and from people “doing what is right in their own eyes.”
A theory was then put forth that it is more likely that the apathy in the church is primarily caused by:
…the increase in the standard of living—forces that were already at work to turn us into a secular society and the emergence of technology and the distractions that come with affluence.
Case in point, in the late sixties shops and malls were closed on Sundays, football was not on TV multiple evenings or days during the week. The first super bowl, I believe was held in 1965 so the game was just starting to gain popularity. When shops and malls were closed, I noticed that folks stuck around after church and greeted each other and got to know one another. Folks tended to go to their neighborhood churches, most households had one car, and if a family had a second car it was typically a junkyard used by husband to get to work and back.
As the 70s wore on, this began to change. With malls opened, folks would no longer stick around after the service. They now ran off to lunch (eating out became much more common than in the past due to, again higher wages and later easy credit) and ran to the mall. As the standard of living grew especially in the 80s credit cards were handed out like candy (in the early 70s getting a credit card was similar to obtaining a mortgage) church people could now afford to play golf, own boats or other toys or run home to watch football.
Urban sprawl (especially in the South and West) expanded, now family’s had multiple cars and society evolved to the point that one could live in the South part of town, work on the North part of town and if they preferred a church way on the West part of town because of programs etc. that’s where they went. So, now you had churches with large congregations (because pastors also bought into the idea that success meant larger buildings and congregations) that were scattered all over the city- no real community there!
Another change that I witnessed, was that prior to late seventies when folks still attended their neighborhood churches and congregations were smaller,the pastor would visit the flock. I remember pastor coming to my house to visit my parents. He got to know us and our needs and we got to know him. Fast forward from 80s to present and the churches are so large that pastors stopped visiting and now one needs an appointment to see pastor – everything has become very impersonal. When the pastor has to tell his congregation to greet one another, and you look around and see everyone mechanically paint a smile on their face, but no one is really interested in your name or who you are – well you know that the Church has lost something and there is something wrong with the body. I believe this something is 1) an ignorance ot the word because Christians have been led to believe that by warming a pew one or two hours a week- this alone makes them a good christian – this is like eating breakfast on Sunday and going without food the rest of the week! And 2) Little spiritual growth keeps the church population in a self absorbed mode.
I could go on with other examples, but suffice to say that affluence, technology (i.e. TV, internet, computer games, etc.) and the fact that two career couples became the norm, and leave little time for church and the word has had a greater influence on the Church than our political structure.
Let me begin by stating that I enjoyed reading this well-thought out, systematic approach on the issue of Christian apathy. It is rooted in the well-observed actual history and change of culture that has been experienced in America. So, the theory above maintains that apathy has been caused by a change in affluence (wealth, technology, etc.) of the country as a whole.
I agree that there is a great lack of biblical-theological literacy and also a serious lack of understanding of the local church and how believers are to understand and relate to her. This condition underscores the entire burden, student requirements, and teaching being implemented in the Doers Class.
The Cause of Apathy
In response to this, I would clarify that all the above cases, based on increasing affluence, are the symptoms of the preexisting condition of apathy and not the cause of it. Local churches across many denominations showed little regard for the preeminence of Scripture and the main responsibility of the local church: to make mature disciples. Church history, over the last 170 years, bears out that many good evangelical churches moved away from Christ-centered preaching and its role as disciple-makers well before America began to became the financial giant that it now is. So, apathy was very prevalent in the church, and the increasing materialistic wealth and technology in our country only exposed the problem. It exposed those seeds that became choked out by the cares of the world (Mt 13:22). Note this verse is about self-professed Christians that deal with apathy. Compare this to the seeds on the rocks that had no root that endured only until persecution came (Mt. 13:21). This deals with self-professed Christians living in persecution.
Affluence is not necessarily a bad thing; so it cannot be the cause of a wrong spiritual condition. For it is the “love” of money that is the cause evil. It is only when spiritual malaise already exists that affluence can exacerbate the issue of apathy. In order to understand spiritual cause and effect relationships, we must go back to Scripture to understand the sources of spiritual problems. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). In response to this passage, the apathetic believer does not “put on the whole armor of God.” So, I would say not being daily nourished in the Word and not submitting to being Christ’s church, as He commanded, is the source of apathy and not the result of any outside influences of affluence, technology, etc.
In a state of apathy, believers disorder their priorities of life, they worship and assemble how and when they please, and they include God only when they choose. They effectively have no real sovereign King in their lives who demands their worship exactly how he specifies it to be done. This is exactly what the Bible refers to when it describes God’s people, who had no king, as “Doing what is right in their own eyes” (Deut 12:8; Judg 17:6; 21:25; Prov 21:2)
Apathy and Freedom of Religion
I would also like to clarify to the class of what I am referring to when I often speak of local churches in regards to Western democracies (the setting and context of our class). I apologize for any confusion. I am not demeaning America or her form of government. I fought for this nation during my time in the Army. I was not referring to the “form” of government that is wrong, although the very nature of its secular existence is problematic—as is all government forms of this fallen world (eg. King Jesus does not hold to “freedom of religion”; he only allows it for now as he does all evils of this fallen world). Rather, I was referring to the modern, intrinsically Western, democratic mindset.
First, it is very difficult for people born and raised in a democracy, far removed from a monarchy, to truly understand living under the governance of a monarch (that has absolute authority). This is why the book of Leviticus is so difficult for most Westerners to understand. This is why citizenship in the kingdom, through submission to be the local church, can be hard to understand as well.
Second, as all things in this world tend towards decay due to it’s fallen state, our Western democracy continues this course as well. It is well within this context that the church displays its apathy, and to a large degree, is the very cause of Western decay. While both the persecuted church and the apathetic church have to always be on guard against heresy, the apathetic church can only flourish in an environment that gives it complete freedom to worship however it pleases. This general apathy has happened historically under the rule of kings, queens, and emperors who were very friendly to the church. In our modern setting, this apathy is occurring mainly under the freedoms of democracy (through republics and corresponding forms of capitalist economies) and not the socialist/communist forms of government that produce persecution of the local church instead.
I believe you would agree that America has never been a “Christian nation.” There is no such thing according to the Bible. The nations are all in darkness, and the church is the only source of salt and light as the keeper of the keys to Christ’s kingdom. The only nation that belonged to God was Israel. However, America was most profoundly influenced by Christianity, but due to apathy, the church’s influence on western countries has greatly diminished. Meanwhile, it continues to lose its salty influence on our once great (qualitatively and not quantitatively speaking) nation.
The Apathy Test
Let me leave the class with a way to test yourselves in order to detect apathy in your lives. If the news on TV, social media, or the internet concerning the state of our country (politics, social justice, economy, etc.) greatly disturb you so that it negatively influences your thoughts, emotions, speech, or relationships more than the time you spend in prayerful thoughtfulness, creativity, and the doing kingdom work—serving King Jesus through your local church—then you are being choked out by the cares of this world and are suffering a great apathy.
One who is totally absorbed in kingdom work, and not apathetic, can say “what election?—what inauguration?” not because they are ignorant to the word around them, but because they, as fact, mourn for the world around them and so desire to devote and immerse their life into being salt and light to their neighbors in order to bring praise and glory to their great King.
This test leaves us with two questions: As a “doer”, which camp do we fall into, and do we have the humility to change?
I hope this clears up the perspective I am seeking to project to the class. Thank you for interacting with the teaching and holding me accountable.