In trouble

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Will Mennonite Brethren be missionary believers?

It seems our nation and its people are in trouble. And whatever our political, sociological or economic philosophies, from the vantage point of either side of our streets, our neighbors are in the mess with us. It’s hard to find a sociologist, philosopher, economist or even a theologian who is enthused about our future. 

What about us Mennonite Brethren? As it relates to our faith and our view of life, what responsibility does this assign to us?

In our devotional reading a few weeks ago, Carol and I bumped into a great quote: “We must care for the church of God with sincere and thoughtful love; and now that empty religion and irreligion both threaten, let us observe the signs of the times and prepare for conflict.”

If you’re thinking that must be the mantra of some insightful 21st century Bible teacher, it wasn’t. It is the exhortation of Charles Spurgeon and was likely written in the British Isles good old godly days of about 150 years ago. Think about that! Yes, he was concerned about another country and continent, but it seems to me that it had better be our concern now. “Empty religion” and “irreligion” are words that describe our people in multiple ways.

USA Today reported Sept. 22 that the American Religious Identification Survey reveals that 15 percent of our population (19 percent of men and 12 percent of women) do not identify themselves with any religion.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, reported on “A Week in the Life of American Morality” in an article published in the May/June issue of REV!. The questions were intended to check in on the moral and ethical behaviors of average American adults. In a one week window, 28 percent had used profanity in public; 20 percent gambled; 19 percent viewed pornography; 12 percent gossiped; 12 percent got drunk; 11 percent lied; 9 percent had sex with someone who is not their spouse; and 8 percent retaliated for something someone said or did.

While this particular study does not break out stats about Christians, researchers often say that on matters of lifestyle behaviors with ethical overtones, there is little difference in the numbers. Barna elsewhere reports that surveyed evangelical adults confessed to profanity (16 percent) and pornography (12 percent).

The American Church Research Project reports that the number of people attending church on any given weekend in the United States in 1990 was about 52 million; 2009 attendance numbers are still 52 million. In the meantime, the population has increased by 52 million since 1990.

If this trend continues, more than 85 percent of us will not be attending church by the year 2020. This doesn’t sound encouraging. But it is our mission field. Could it be that this is the ripe harvest Jesus talked about?

It is regrettably true that there are times when I end up doing the very thing that I do not want to do—sometimes in attitude, sometimes in action and sometimes in words. Does this happen to you too? It’s a good thing grace is sufficient. It is also true that there are things more important than our sinful misbehaviors. What is in our hearts is the core concern. But, in the end, those of us who are followers of Jesus will by our lives verify our faith claims and our spoken commitment to be followers and imitators of Jesus. Missionaries by self-definition are already set apart by the Lord of the church. They live exemplary lives in, but not of, the world that embody the lordship of the Jesus they talk about.

One last and particularly burdensome concern: Barna.org reports that 71 percent of U.S. adults say they “develop their own set of religious beliefs rather than accept the teachings of a particular church.” Lest you think this kind of stuff doesn’t apply to us, 61 percent of born again adults admit to the same thing. Because of the sea of strongly secularized individualism and pluralism we swim in, we Missionary Believers need to recognize that our first mission field is our personal neighbors in the good old not-so-godly USA.

I’m really serious about this! So let’s set apart Christ as Lord and have at it.

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