A number of years ago, a fellow named Dwight Ozard observed: “Fairly or otherwise, American Christianity is perceived as out of touch, viewed at best like the car driving 10 m.p.h. under the speed limit in the left lane with the right blinker on and a tacky bumper sticker (Loving Jesus is not why anyone wants to honk).”
Arguing for genuine reform, Ozard proposes some solutions. “First,” he says, “the solution cannot be cosmetic. Simply updating our aging hymnody, liturgies or idiosyncratic language will not make us relevant…nothing is more annoying than an old guy trying to look hip.”
He urges folks “to rely entirely on the grace of Christ.” Countering the hokey TV image of Christians that some promote, he says, “The time for super-Christians is long over – it was a lie anyway. Let’s dispense with it, and get on with ‘confessing our sins one to another, that we might be healed.’ ”
Ozard puts his finger on another problem in the modern church: “In an attempt to ‘reach’ our generation, we have tried to ‘spin’ the gospel to make it more attractive. The problem, of course, is that when we become marketers and not missionaries, we become tempted to do what all advertisers are tempted to do: lie. We make claims for the gospel that it never makes, telling bits of it we like, but ignoring or glossing over the difficult or the controversial.” Ozard concludes: “The remedy is simple: Tell the truth.”
Luther once said something similar: “Let the Church be the Church!”
Lacking patience with the slowly growing seed of God’s Word, the people of God are tempted to look for a quick fix. Where that usually ends up is in the denial of first one part of God’s truth…then the ignoring of another…and then the modernization of still another Bible doctrine…until what the Church has to offer is no different than what the world offers.
The history of the early Church provides a neat lesson in patience and faithfulness. Estimates are that after the first 50 years of mission effort, only .0126% of the empire had been won to Christianity. It took more than 150 years for the church to break through the 1% barrier. Then between 250 and 300 A.D., growth went from 2% to 11%. In the next 50 years the Church grew to more than 50% of the population. Historian Robert Wilken makes the point that the early Church grew not by accommodating itself to the culture around it, but by creating its own Christian culture. He makes the shocking statement: “I think seeker-sensitive churches use a completely wrong strategy. A person who comes into a Christian church for the first time should feel out of place. He should feel this community engages in practices so important they take time to learn!” It is always a mistake to join hands with the nervous bean-counters of the church. The remedy is to “tell the truth” and to “let the Church be the Church!” All else is in the hands of God alone.