Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “ That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD… They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12
You have to wonder, at this point in history, how this verse could possibly come true. We live in the information age, with its daily onslaught of communication: internet, television, radio; newspapers, magazines, books; ipads, ipods, iphones. (The number of text messages sent exceeds the total population of the planet every day.)
And the Bible’s holding its own. It’s the best-selling book in history (6 trillion copies sold), in hundreds of different languages. Countless Christian websites, newspapers, magazines, radio and TV channels, DVDs, and CDs declare the word of God. Got an iphone? Open some fortune cookies and you’ll get scriptures!
How could things change so drastically?
Wait a minute. Amos didn’t say that there would be a lack of God’s word, just a lack of hearing.
A recent poll by the Barna Group (an organization that does research on issues of faith) had some disturbing findings. When American church-going individuals were asked, most rated themselves above average in living a Christian life. (So far so good.) When asked about their knowledge of the Scriptures, however, not so much. Half couldn’t locate the Christmas story in the Bible; nearly half didn’t know that Matthew was an apostle.
Their confusion didn’t end with trivia. Sixty percent of those questioned didn’t think the Holy Spirit was real, 80% didn’t believe in Satan. Nearly half thought Jesus sinned, and more than half (73%) thought being good would get you into heaven.
The mostly widely recognized verse among those polled was “God helps those who help themselves”, from the book of Benjamin. As in Franklin. ( That proverb isn’t in the Bible and it contradicts scriptural principles.) Disturbingly, 90% of this same group said their faith was an significant influence on their lives.
There’s a name for this problem: zeal without knowledge. And it’s not something God commends. (Psalm 19:2, Romans 10:1).
Amos predicted this development! You can probably predict where it leads. What would the church look like if its members are crazy for God but ignorant of what the scriptures teach? What would their faith be based upon, if not the word of God? (What the culture admires? Whatever makes its members feel good? )
Been to a Christian bookstore lately? (Most are now owned by secular companies.) You’ve seen what this church looks like. Christian trinkets outnumber books by a long shot, because that’s what sells. Fiction and Self-Help occupies way more space than Bibles and Bible Studies. The author of a The Shack (a huge hit), doesn’t believe in hell, and the book clearly negates Christ’s work on the cross. It sold 10 million copies.
Been to church lately? Pastors with evangelical origins now deny the accuracy of the scriptures (from Genesis on) as well as the fundamentals of the gospel. According to these “emergent church” pastors, we can’t say that Jesus died for our sins (too barbaric), that he is the only remedy for sin (too exclusive), or that anybody will go to hell (too judgmental).
What do our leaders believe? Hard to say. A 2010 study by Tufts University interviewed pastors willing to admit (without revealing identities) their lack of faith. Wes (Methodist) views his job as a means to an end– specifically, fostering liberal values in his congregation. Rick (United Church of Christ) was among a wave of men who enrolled in seminary to avoid the draft, but stayed because he saw an opportunity to promote social justice. He views himself as a therapist who helps rid people of the guilt that exposure to traditional Christianity produced. Darryl (Presbyterian) denies heaven, hell, Jesus’ divinity, blood atonement, and the virgin birth, but calls himself a Jesus follower. Jack (Southern Baptist) said that for him, Christianity is just a “bunch of bunk.” All said that most of their colleagues held the same views.
How do they function in their pastoral roles? Adam (Church of Christ), said he sees it as play-acting, putting on the role of a believer and performing. Rick said that as long as he uses religious language– mentioning God and Jesus and the Bible a lot–he can say anything and his Biblically illiterate membership will interpret it as truth.
Why don’t they just get out? Most liked the comfortable and flexible lifestyle. Some were a little more blunt: “I’m doing it now because financially I don’t have a choice… how would I continue to make my house payment?” (Jack).
Please understand that my point is not to cast suspicion on my pastor or yours. My point is that we have to realize that we are ( as Jesus said) sheep among wolves and thus must be as wise as serpents. We must see that we can no longer pick up something at a Christian bookstore and necessarily expect to read truth; we can’t sit blithely in the pew and necessarily expect to hear it. We seemingly are approaching the days of Amos, where people hungry for the word of God will lack a place to hear it.
Jesus promised us, repeatedly, that there would be men like Rick, Wes, and Jack in our pulpits and on our bookshelves. We have to be Bereans (Acts 17:11): examining all things and holding fast to what is good (I Thess 5:21. (And all the more as we see the day approaching.)
Martin Luther said “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel”. It’s our job to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph 6:16) How? By following Jesus’ example. By being ready, at every volley, to answer the devil’s lies the way Jesus did: “It is written…..
Smell a crook? Check the book.