I eat an apple nearly every day, so I get to cut into a lot of them. It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally I find one that looks perfectly good on the outside, but when I cut it open it is rotten from the core. It is always disappointing when that happens and is totally unexpected. The outside looks so normal, but it is completely inedible.
I believe that, in many ways, this illustration reflects the state of our culture. On the outside, we still see the institutions of our society in operation. Our entertainment industry is still rocking along, the news networks still operate, we have functioning schools, law enforcement and medical facilities in our communities, the government institutions at all levels still exist, our military still trains and deploys all over the world, businesses are still operating and paying employees, and there are churches all over the place which still hold services. While there are, certainly, a lot of things that look bad on the outside, we have yet to see anything that looks like a catastrophic collapse.
Based on the fact that the machine is still running, many people think that everything is basically okay and it will keep running no matter what. But there is rot on the inside and, unless something changes dramatically, there will come a time when it grinds to a halt.
The root of the decay, though, is not in the institutions themselves. Rather, it is in the hearts and minds of those who run the institutions – the people in the culture. Recently, I had an encounter that perfectly illustrates the problem.
I sent out an e-mail to a pastor offering to share my “Religion of the Candidates” presentation with his church. In the e-mail, I explained that the talk was not political in nature, but was an explanation of the religious beliefs of the presidential candidates – Mormonism and Liberation Theology. This pastor shot me back an e-mail, which had quite a demanding tone, wanting to know my take on Liberation Theology. I knew right then that something was up with him. But, I courteously replied back with a more in-depth description of my presentation.
His comeback to that was rather ugly, I am sorry to say. He began by saying he was certainly glad he didn’t take me up on the offer to speak, then began a very condescending defense of liberal theology and the “social justice” movement.
Now, he is certainly free to lead his church based on his beliefs for as long as his members are willing to follow. But the beliefs he was advocating are not Christian. They are Naturalistic beliefs wrapped in Christian vocabulary. The organization he is leading looks like a church from the outside, and what he says about the Christian faith sounds like a Christian message from the outside, but on the inside it is something altogether different.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of pastors and churches just like this one. What appears to be a religious culture which contains lots of churches turns out to be much less than what a surface scan would indicate. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is really a believer in the Christ of the Bible. Not every institution which claims to be a church represents bona fide Christianity. Not every country which calls itself a Christian nation is truly so.
The solution to this problem is committed Christians who are willing to make the effort to grow in their understanding of authentic Christianity and then actively go into the world and make disciples. Without that, there will come a day of collapse.