What are some of the greatest challenges facing the church today?

Stephen Nichols & 2 others
4 Min Read

LAWSON: I don’t know that we can say that there is just one. There would be a cluster, and I’m sure the other two men will add to the cluster. I see the church caving in to the world, capitulating to the world, and, trying to, at times, become like the world in order to reach the world. Some have lost sight of the fact that church should not be as much like the world as possible; it should be as much like heaven as possible—another world.

There are other things, and I know the men will add to that, but I see it as a glaring, slippery slope the church is on right now. We’re caving in to the world in what we teach, how we teach, how we worship, and how we carry out ministry. We have yielded the high ground and are on a slippery slope, generally speaking. Burk, what would you add to that?

PARSONS: I completely agree with you, Steve. I think you’re exactly right. Never have we been in a time where the world is more churchy and the church more worldly. For many years, churches understood and acknowledged that they were to be counter-cultural. Then, for two or three decades, certain movements like the seeker-sensitive and attractional movements—and churches leading the charge in those movements—pretended to espouse a countercultural position in the church. But in recent years, it has become easier for churches to be okay with not being countercultural.

That has happened rapidly because of certain leaders in the church and other churches following their example. It’s almost as if some leaders within the church have paved the way for certain pastors, elders, and churches to say, “We don’t have to pretend anymore.” They were hiding under the guise and lip service of being different: “We’re different from the world and we’re countercultural. We’re going to preach the gospel and the Word of God. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks or says.” But now it’s become easier for them to no longer have the pretense.

NICHOLS: I think this question has a different answer for different age groups. There are things that pull it together. The culture question and the hostility we face are huge questions. I spoke with a person recently who has been with a company for thirty-three years and is rather highly positioned. He shared that he is viewed as immoral because he will not champion the LGBTQ cause. Not only does he have to tolerate it, but he needs to champion it. And by not doing that, he’s seen as the immoral one.

The older generations have the biblical literacy to help them to respond to these cultural challenges. We need to recognize that the up-and-coming generations are facing hard theological and cultural questions—questions I never faced growing up. The challenge for us is to help them become more biblically literate and recognize that they don’t have to cave in. They don’t have to go along with culture. The Bible has answers for these questions, and they can have confidence in Scripture, but we have to teach it to them. They have to know the Bible to know that the answers are to be found there.

So, I think the culture question is huge, but it impacts the generations differently, and it helps us to think about our task in equipping them to be able to be Christians and faithful disciples in this moment.

PARSONS: Steve and I were discussing earlier that there is a new religion. It’s a very old religion, but in recent years, the world has become very religious. It always has been religious, but there is now a more united religion in the world, and it has infiltrated the church. Much of the church has bought into it.

The problem with this new kind of world religion is that the world has convinced the church that it must embrace the entirety of this new religion. They can’t just embrace one aspect of the religion; they have to embrace the entirety of it. This new religion is multifaceted, very complex, and constantly changing. That’s where a lot of pastors and churches are getting trapped. At first, they thought: “I just need to be accepting of one aspect of social justice. If I just accept that, then they will accept me.” Then they realize that you actually have to embrace the whole mantra—the entire theology and philosophy of social justice—in the way they define it, whoever “they” is, which is constantly changing too. Then, once they accept that, they say, “That’s not enough.” As their churches change—as people leave their churches and other people come to their churches who are attracted to this new mindset—they come to realize, “I have to embrace critical race theory and critical theory in general.” It is constantly changing and being reshaped, this new woke-ism religion, and they just keep adding to it.

I heard recently about someone I thought was a faithful pastor now having to embrace the whole “defund the police” nonsense because that’s a part of the same religion. If you don’t buy every aspect of it and embrace it, then you’re the immoral one, you’re the outcast. That’s the way it works, and it’s actually the way cults work.

LAWSON: Burk and I were talking at dinner about this. Reformed theology is a comprehensive body of truth and knowledge that is all wired together. So, we were saying, “You tell me what you believe over here regarding theology proper, and I’ll tell you exactly what you believe over here about soteriology, ecclesiology, etc.,” because the Bible is tightly woven together. No truth stands independent of another truth. Truth is like links in a chain, and they all hold together.

It is the same way with this secular worldview that has been thrust upon us like a tsunami over the last two or three years, especially. It is all tightly woven together as well. If you pull a thread over here, it crinkles over there. You must buy into the whole system because none of the spokes in the wheel stand alone. They are all tied into the hub, which we would call “walking according to the world.” It is about buying in to the world’s ideology, values, perspectives, and philosophy. It is all woven together. There might be different labels on the bottles of poison, but it is the same poison on the inside.

PARSONS: If we just teach people the Bible, we teach them to be biblically literate. The reality is that the Bible addresses all of these things—and better. The Bible teaches us why racism is a sin and of Satan. It teaches us why white supremacy—or whatever other supremacy is out there—is absolutely insane. The Bible teaches us about true justice ecclesially, familially, and socially. The Bible teaches us the right ways of looking at these things through right theology and with right ends because the goal is the glory of God.

This is a transcript of Stephen Nichols’, Burk Parsons’, and Steven Lawson’s answers given during our A Continuing Reformation: Pittsburgh 2021 Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.