The Church’s Identity Crisis

I once discovered that a friend of mine had started attending a Unity church. "What?" I said. "You're a Christian—and Unity is a cult." "Really?" The man looked surprised. "Of course it is," I said. "They don't believe in the Resurrection or even in one true God." Then the man's wife spoke up. "Oh, but we love it there. We always come away from the service feeling much better." Feeling better? Is that what church is all about? For many people, unfortunately, the answer is yes. What they look for in a church is a spiritual social club—fun and friendship. They're not looking for a truth that will change their lives. USA Today recently asked a sampling of Americans why they attend church. Forty-five percent checked off because "it's good for you." A little like taking your daily vitamins, I suppose. Another 26 percent said they attend church for "peace of mind." Almost no one said anything about what the church actually teaches—what its doctrines are. Most just wanted a church that helps them feel good about themselves. As one sociologist put it, going to church is no longer a way to fulfill a spiritual duty but a way to meet an emotional need. Some churches have become more like therapy centers than churches, with a full range of support groups from Overeaters Anonymous to Joggers for Christ. It's all very well to minister to emotional needs, but in the process we're failing to really transform people's thoughts and lives. Most churchgoers are hardly any different from their unchurched neighbors. Evidence of that comes from a recent Gallup poll, which asked people about everyday ethical decisions—like calling in sick when you're not, puffing up your résumé, or cheating on tax deductions. Except for a tiny minority of committed Christians, the poll found "little difference in the ethical views and behavior" of those who attend church and those who don't. There wasn't much difference in how much they give to charity, either. Among evangelicals, 40 percent say faith in God is the most important thing in their lives, yet only 25 percent give tithes to support God's work. Compared to previous generations, today's Christians are the most thoroughly conformed to the secular culture. Though plenty of people are still walking through the church doors, the dominant worldview in America is secularism. Spirituality is just a gloss—an icing on the secular cake. A lot of Christians don't even feel their own church offers anything distinctive. In one poll, most Christians said all religions are essentially the same, that all worship the same God. What a weak, insipid view of the church. And what a contrast to the robust teaching on the church in the New Testament. The Bible described the church as a new community, called out from the rest of society to demonstrate a new truth and a new life. How can we regain a biblical vision for the church? That's the question I ask in my new book The Body. And I'll explore it more deeply tomorrow.


Chuck Colson


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