The church will never be “relevant” so long as it takes too much for granted. Social concerns can become a sorry camouflage if allowed to obscure the primary reason for the Church’s existence. Activity can become a deadening substitute for neglected priorities. The organized church fails miserably if it adopts a theology that either denies or evades the need of individuals to come into a personal relation with Jesus Christ.

A study of the apparent emphasis of much current preaching, leaching, and programming in the major denominations indicates that it is taken for granted that the young people and adults coming under the influence of the Church are all saved people, true Christians. Because of this false assumption, many sermons have no relevance to the need of their hearers, much teaching fails at the point where it should be strongest, and innumerable programs tell people what to do and how to do it but ignore the fact that there is no motivation, on the part of those being so directed, to glorify God in their lives.

Despite the truth of the old Chinese proverb, “You cannot carve rotten wood,” the Church continues to try to make saints out of people who have never been born again; to consider as citizens of heaven those who have never been told they are aliens unless transformed by the living Christ.

We have recently examined rather carefully some of a major denomination’s literature and programs designed especially for youth work. There are many challenges for youth to engage in social activities of one kind or another so that “the world may be a better place in which to live.” But not once is it suggested that basic to all else is a confession of Christ as Saviour and Lord. This is either taken for granted or simply ignored.

This false assumption of the Church, this neglect of its basic responsibility, often comes from a theology that denies the need of individuals for personal salvation. It is assumed that all men are already saved, and the clear teachings of Scripture to the contrary are disregarded.

Such a theology—deficient in its doctrine of man, of sin and its consequences, and of the implications of the Cross—plays havoc with the Church’s concept of man’s need and his personal responsibility to respond to the Gospel. It also plays havoc with preaching, teaching, and programming for effective witness. Its main appeal is to man’s social consciousness and responsibility, both individual and corporate.

Among those whose theology may not be deficient in itself, carelessness and indifference may stultify Christian witness. Our faith demands that we proclaim that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, and that salvation requires that we accept him by faith. Ignore this vital fact and individual Christians as well as the Church as a body fail at the focal point of their responsibility.

On any given Sunday, thousands of people sitting in the pews are spiritually hungry but are not being fed. There are thousands of unsaved souls within the sound of the Church’s program who are not being told that the soul that sins will die and that there is only one Name under heaven by which we can be saved.

All about us there are confused people who have come to regard the Church as nothing more than another social club, an organization designed to help make men comfortable and happy and prosperous in this world.

If theological training either neglects or denies the necessity of personal salvation, or if “Christian education” bases its work on the thesis that all men are saved, or if the program of the Church leads people to think that Christianity is primarily a matter of achieving rather than believing, then, according to the Scriptures, there exists both a grievous distortion of Christian doctrine and a diversion of Christian activity.

Although the New Testament frequently refers to those who are “lost” or “saved,” to “repentance” and “confession of sin,” to the necessity of “regeneration” and its accompanying “transformation” in Christ, such words and concepts have been dropped from the vocabulary of the Church in favor of others with strangely nebulous meanings.

Unquestionably part of the trouble is due to the teaching of a distorted image of God in which his only attribute is thought to be love. This starts with stories prepared for little children, goes into the classrooms of many church-related schools, and continues on into the pulpits of the land. As a result people are led to look on God’s attitude to sin as a benign and sentimental permissiveness, and the significance and implications of the Cross are completely lost.

Another fallacy is that Christian education is synonymous with evangelism, or has superseded it, and that men are educated into the Kingdom of God. Such a concept runs directly counter to the preaching and teaching of the Apostle Paul and gives the human element of instruction precedence over the divine element of the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one would gainsay the good influence of a noble example, or reverent teaching, or scholarly research; but all of these accomplish little unless the Spirit of God takes the things of Christ and makes them plain to the waiting heart.

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By taking too much for granted the Church is presenting to the world at large, and to those who come under its influence, a blurred concept of basic Christian truths. In so doing it is unwittingly contributing to the confusion and disorder of the world.

God has no grandchildren, but many who come under the teaching of the Church are led to think that he does. Saving faith is personal faith. Regeneration is an individual matter. We live in and accept the facts of a world unbelievably advanced in science, but in areas where spiritual truth should be the basis of our work we are neglecting things that are of the utmost importance.

There is no substitute for a conversion experience (whether it be climactic like Paul’s or so slow that we cannot tell when we passed from death to life). Being a church member and being a Christian are not synonymous, although from much of the preaching, teaching, and programming of the Church many might well get this impression.

We write from a deep sense of responsibility and from the conviction that unless the major denominations are willing to return to the clear teachings of the Scriptures and at the same time take warning from history, they may find “Ichabod” written across their portals. But God will not leave himself without a witness. Even now some of the less endowed but more faithful denominations are stepping into the breach, because they do not take too much for granted.

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