Does the Church Have a Future in Our Culture?

I would like to consider these words as I begin a dialogue concerning the Church. Notice, Jesus gave a great promise to establish his Church. That promise came on Pentecost Sunday. Members of the Church are the baptized believers in Christ Jesus. They claim him as Savior and Lord.

Jesus told the Church they would have difficult times, but he also gave them another promise: the gates of Hades would not overcome it. The Church will be here when Christ returns to this world. However, it might not be in a particular location where it once was strong. Many sections of the Mideast where once the Church was strong – Paul himself had been the preacher there – are not so today.

You could even go to some great countries of Europe – Scandinavia and parts of Germany, for example. I am best acquainted with Scandinavia. When I sat in some of those glorious cathedrals that seat thousands of people, I could only count at most a hundred or a hundred and fifty people. The Church there is not very strong.

Could it also happen in the United States of America? What can destroy the Church in a given area? There is only one thing. Adolph Hitler could not change it; Joe Stalin could not destroy it. However, a failure to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ can destroy the Church.

I am happy and proud this day to have my grandson with me. We are going to discuss the question, Does the Church have a future in our culture? Tim and I had two discussions on Christian Crusaders during his years at the University of Iowa. Since our listeners have reacted in a very enthusiastic way in the past, we are going to have a third discussion.

Tim recently graduated from the University of Iowa where he was a student in the college of business administration. He has now accepted a job with an investment bank company in Chicago where he will be employed for up to three years, after which he plans to study for his Masters of Business Administration degree.

Tim is a committed Christian; he loves the Lord and his Church. He has already chosen the congregation where he plans to worship when he is in Chicago. His love for the Church makes him interested in its future in the United States. Will it continue to preach the Gospel faithfully and be faithful to God’s Word?

Tim, I ask you this question: Does the Church have a future in our culture?

(Tim)

I believe it really depends on whether the Church stands by its authority. It seems like in our politically-correct culture today, rather than stand by its authority, which is the Bible, and stand by the truth, not being afraid to state it, the Church has tried to water things down. It has gotten away from the simple message about the Gospel: those who walk in a personal relationship with Christ and trust him as their Savior when they die will go to heaven. Those who do not, will not. I think the extent to which the Church stands by its message is the extent to which it has a future. It is important for the Church to stand by its authority or it will not have a future because then there is no authority, period. And the Church will be just another organization in society with no real pull on its people.

(Rev. Larsen)

Tim, in our conversations, you mention quite often that the Church has to be distinct, or the world will see it as irrelevant and not be concerned with it. Jesus said very much the same thing when he said, “You have to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” Do you want to talk a bit about that distinctiveness?

(Tim)

When I say distinct, I mean the Church has to be clear to the world that it is making a tangible difference in the lives of its people. If someone spends every Sunday going to church, and perhaps even some time during the week, but lives a life no different from the typical person, then the Church is not distinct from the rest of the world. If a person spends time at church every week, but holds convictions no different from the average person, then the Church is not distinct. The Church has to be distinct. By this I mean its people have to view the world differently and live differently than the people outside the Church, or else the world will wonder why a person is spending so much time there.

(Rev. Larsen)

As I listen and speak to people in your generation, it is thrilling to see how pragmatic they are. I think my generation has been willing, at least to some extent, to accept the Church sort of as a tradition. We don’t want to upset the apple cart. However, now I hear you saying that is not quite it. In a pragmatic fashion you are saying the Church really has to count. It has to produce right down to the individual life, or what is happening in other parts of the world in the Church will happen here.

Tell me now, you have accepted a career that will throw you into the business world. How do you see your career relating to this Gospel and to its higher purpose?

(Tim)

I think for every Christian a career has two primary purposes relating to the faith. The first is, in whatever arena you are in, the way you live your life and the convictions you have can be an example for other people. In every industry there are people who are Christians and some who are not. I see it as the job of Christians to set an example to non-Christians by the way they live and by their core beliefs.

The other purpose is to work in your career with a high degree of excellence, because you are adding value to the life of another person or organization. It is important that we take our responsibilities seriously and do them as well as we can. Obviously with a career, you have an opportunity to earn money, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with making a lot of money. However, a career should not be just a chance to make a lot of money so you can buy many things. That gets a little shallow. We should keep in mind we have an opportunity to be an example for people who work in the same place as us and do our jobs with a high degree of excellence, because we are adding value to the lives of other people in our work.

(Rev. Larsen)

Tim, four years ago, as we were discussing some of these things, I think there was in my heart, as well as in your grandmother’s and your parents’ hearts, something of a big question. We had complete faith in you. We knew you, as a high school graduate, were committed to Jesus Christ. However, you had lived in a very protected home and attended a conservative, biblically-based church. Then you went to the University of Iowa with thousands of students, many of them agnostic, so many of them with no time for Christ. Yet you came home stronger in your faith. You are a more mature person today than you were four years ago.

How do you see yourself growing and maturing in the Christian faith so you can stand up to the wiles of the devil in the world of business?

(Tim)

It all begins and ends with having a sound basis for my convictions. Ultimately that rests on what God’s Word says. To me, there is absolutely no question that, to grow spiritually, you must spend time in God’s Word, learn it, and take it seriously. When that happens regularly, it changes a person, because God’s Word is convicting and powerful. It changes the way you view the world, and it changes the way you live.

Had I not been well grounded in God’s Word and then exposed to a culture that was atheistic and anti-Christian, where Christianity is mocked, I probably could not stand up to my professors who thought they had all the answers and attacked Christianity. Unless you have a basis for what you believe, you are going to be in some trouble. However, because I feel like I am well grounded in it, and was committed to spending time in God’s Word regularly, my faith was not hurt when it was being attacked. It actually strengthened it, because it made me aware of the number of people in the world who do not take it seriously. It made me thankful I do have a faith, and it gave me a greater sense of urgency. It all begins and ends with spending time in God’s Word, so you know what your convictions are.

(Rev. Larsen)

Okay, you say we have to get serious about studying the Bible. Along with studying God’s Word, what part do the small group and your circle of Christian friends have in the maturing of the Christian faith?

(Tim)

Standing firm in anything is always much easier if you have a good support group of people who are of the same mind set as you, no matter what it is you are doing. I think that is the whole point behind groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. If someone is an alcoholic, they face a real battle in trying to stand firm against alcohol. So they join a group of people who are fighting the same battle. Those people can influence each other positively and give each other strength.

I think the same holds true in a person’s Christian walk. If they are surrounding themselves with people who aren’t very good influences, then the door is opened to begin questioning their faith and the way they live. However, if people who view the world the same way surround them and share their convictions, then ultimately they will be strengthened, because they will have more positive influences than negative.

(Rev. Larsen)

Good. You and I have grown up in the Lutheran Church. We are thankful for all God has given to us in his Church, and we are thankful we can go there Sunday after Sunday to worship.

Things are changing again as you head off for Chicago. You have chosen a church home. When you come in to a church, Tim, what is the most important part in the worship service? Is it the contemporary music service versus the traditional music service? What really grabs you when you come into a service?

(Tim)

This is being repetitive, but ultimately it is getting a sense of what the church’s authority is. That comes in seeing what their biblical emphasis is in the preaching, teaching, sermon, or whatever is going on in the service. If I get a sense in a church that the Bible is not taken seriously, then I do not think the church is to be taken seriously. My number one criterion is, what is this church’s authority? If its authority is the Bible, then their authority is the same as mine, and that is probably a good church for me. If not, then that church probably lacks power and credibility, and there is no sense in anyone wasting their time there.

(Rev. Larsen)

There is considerable church hopping today, Tim. By church hopping I mean people moving from one congregation or denomination to another. Pastors do not like that very well. Can you understand people, especially your age, church hopping?

(Tim)

I think people are probably trying to find a place that is the best fit for them. Underlying all that is some frustration in many of the people attending. Some people, and I would put myself in this camp, listen to what a pastor is saying on Sunday morning, and they find it tough to walk away with the point the pastor is trying to communicate. What is he trying to say? When that is the case, it is pretty frustrating for someone who is trying to learn something from the pastor. There is no sense in complicating the message. I think deep down inside, people just want to hear the truth stated as simply as it can be stated.

(Rev. Larsen)

I know this is a very difficult thing for you to do, but let’s take a hypothetical case here. Let’s say one day, in your work, you were forced to make a choice between doing what is right and hurting your future with a company, and going along with the crowd and moving up the ladder. Where will your Christian faith play a part there?

(Tim)

Like you said, knowing exactly in what kind of situation that choice might arise is tough. As far as how my faith plays into that, what you see as the purpose of life is what shapes all of your decisions directly or indirectly. In that type of situation, if I see the purpose of my life as solely my own fortune, success, fame, or power, then I am probably not going to make any decision that jeopardizes it, even if it conflicts with what I know is the difference between right and wrong. On the other hand, my faith has given me the conviction that my purpose in life is to live in a way that pleases God. Because I see the purpose of life as pleasing God rather than advancing my own power or fame or money, then I think I have the conviction and strength, with God’s help, to make the choice that is consistent with what God would want, not necessarily with what advances my own way of life.

(Rev. Larsen)

In just thirty seconds, Tim, could you answer the question we have been discussing: Does the Church have a future in our culture, especially as you know it?

(Tim)

Ultimately it comes to whether or not the Church is willing to stand by its authority. Is it going to complicate things and accept all kinds of different viewpoints? Is it going to encourage each person to find the answers that work for them? Or is the Church going to do what it knows is true and right and stand by the simple truths of the Word of God? I think if the Church chooses the first answer, there are going to be problems, and it will not be relevant. If the Church chooses the second answer – proclaiming the simple, but true and powerful message – then it can continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

(Rev. Larsen)

Tim, although you are moving into the working world, I hope to have many more visits with you about what Christ is doing in each of our lives. You have meant so much to me in these last twenty-two years. You will continue to be in my prayers today. Thank you for this time.

Father in Heaven, when we hear the testimony of this young man, realizing he represents millions of others who feel like he does, we know there is a future for the Church in our country. Primarily, of course, because the Holy Spirit is at work, but also because of their testimony through which the Holy Spirit does his work.

So we pray your blessings upon Tim and all of the others, these young men and women, going into the working world and into the universities. Make them faithful to your Word, in Christ’s name. Amen.