This is my response to the recent posts at InternetMonk.com on the “Coming Evangelical Collapse” (Part 1 and Part 2) and comes as my personal response just after I made my first post (here). I’m sitting here on Sunday night thinking: “Okay, the church seems to be waning” but I ask myself if Christ is still the lord of the church? I believe he is. Michael Spencer may be pessimistic (and perhaps also realistic) about the old-school evangelical church in North America, but I think he may be missing what God is doing around the world. Sorry Michael… but with all this bad news in the decline in evangelicalism, I do not think God is done with the evangelical churches, or even the mainline churches. In fact, I dare say that God will revive the evangelical churches and mainline churches.
Jesus is the Lord of the church and will always be the lord of the church. We humans may try to usurp God but think we can figure him out but God is going to confound us intelligent humans by doing something unintelligible. God will transform his church. Who is to say that the evangelical church that iMonk is speaking of will not change? I believe the Holy Spirit will do his work and move in a new and sovereign way to renew Christ’s church. It will look radically different from the old form. It may be scary to us but not to the new generations of new Christians who will enter this new church that will emerge.
Let’s never forget what God has done throughout the recent history of the church. God used Martin Luther and John Calvin to give birth to the churches of the Reformation (i.e., Lutheran and Reformed). The Holy Spirit used Luther and Calvin because the Pope, and those high up in the ecclesiastical ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, denied certain evangelical truths. (Note: let’s not get hung up on theology at this point, which can be debated until kingdom come). Later, God used evangelical revivalists such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney to give birth to the evangelical churches because the churches of the Reformation became complacent. Then God used Charles Parham and William J. Seymour to give birth to the pentecostal churches because evangelical churches became complacent. Now God is using new generations of charismatics to give birth to third and fourth generations of Pentecostal-charismatic churches because the first wave of Pentecostalism has become complacent. Each generation of churches have neglected an important aspect of God’s truth and reality so the Holy Spirit has raised up a new generation to include important aspects of God’s truth in his church today. Today, a new wave that has emerged in the charismatic movement is spreading like wildfire around the world. However, God is not ignoring the older church denominations either. I believe God is merciful and will revive the older mainline and evangelical churches. I do not believe that God wants to throw out the old for the new.
While we are seeing a decline in attendance and memberships in many all of the mainline protestant denominations in North America and Europe, the charismatic movement is spreading very rapidly around the world. In fact, it is spreading so fast that we in the western world cannot even begin to keep track of what is happening in the new church around the world. That is where the bulk of the growth is. In fact, the charismatic movement is even giving a re-birth to the old mainline denominations in the developing world (e.g., Lutheran, Reformed-Presbyterian, Methodist, including the Roman Catholic Church). It is through this charismatic revival that the old mainline and evangelical churches are being revived in the developing world through. (Old school theologians may not want to admit to the huge contribution of the charismatic movement but it’s true).
Furthermore, evangelical churches around the world are not dying; they are actually also growing very rapidly. This charismatic revival is reviving the evangelical churches around the world too. Baptist churches around the world are also growing. In fact the number of denominations around the world are increasing every day.
So even though the mainline denominations seem to be in the latter stages of life, and the old-old school evangelical churches (e.g., Baptists) are just entering the latter stage of life, God is reshaping and recreating a new church that will take the place of the old. I am not at all afraid of the future because Jesus Christ is still the lord of the church. Just as old wine is meant to be stored in old wineskins, and new wine is meant to be stored in new wineskins, Christ’s new emerging church will take a new shape and form that we will not recognize. We might be wise to put on our seatbelts and take hold of the handle bars, because God is birthing his church around the world that will surprise the old former Christian world.