The silence has been nearly deafening. Some Christians recognize the problem and may mention it in private, yet no one in our churches has the courage to say anything about it publicly. No one—from the pulpits to the pews—seems willing to speak out about the incessant claims that the church is unwilling to speak out.
For years it was merely an overused rhetorical trope, a hyperbolic claim that followed a predictable pattern:
Step 1: Take an issue of concern for Christians (e.g., abortion, sex trafficking, global persecution, the gospel).
Step 2: Claim that no one in our churches is talking about the issue.
Step 3: Assume the dual role of educator and Old Testament prophet by explaining why the issue matters and why the church must stand up and speak out about it.
As a tool of persuasion this approach can be useful (I confess to having used it myself, and on a regular basis). But there are two primary reasons Christians need to stop making such claims.
The first reason is because such claims are almost always inaccurate. Indeed, the surest sign that thousands of Christian in church congregations across the country are talking about an issue is that someone will claim that believers in America are not talking about it. While there may be a need for more Christians to become informed and motivated to address the situation, the mere fact that someone is driven to make claims about our apathy shows that there is already a nucleus of concern within American churches. Has anyone ever really come up with a novel and legitimate concern that Christians have across the country have consistently ignored? I can’t think of a single instance in which such claims were universally applicable to American churches.
You’re Not a Prophet (or the Son of a Prophet)
The second reason to avoid such claims is because they assume omniscience. I’m always amazed by how people who attend the same church every Sunday know what is being preached in pulpits across the land. But even those of us with broad experience in American religion aren’t qualified.
During my 44 years on earth I’ve attended hundreds of churches. At one time or another, I’ve been a pre-post-a-millennialist, dispensational-covenantal, semi-charismatic, Reformed-Arminian, Wesleyan-Calvinist attending a Southern/Independent/Fundamentalist Baptist, Free Methodist/Evangelical Free, Presbyterian (USA/PCA), Pentecostal/Assembly of God, Bible/non-denominational church.
I’ve sipped grape juice from glass thimbles and red wine from gold-plated goblets while eating pieces of saltine crackers and chips of unleavened bread. I’ve had dinner on the ground with a pew’s worth of believers and shared feasts with a stadium full of megachurch patrons. I’ve listened to seminary-educated pastors parse Greek verbs and heard semi-illiterate Mexican preachers deliver sermons in Spanish.
More than three-dozen churches still have me on the roles as a “member.”
In other words, I’ve been around. I’ve probably attended more churches in a wider diversity of congregations than the average American. Yet I’ve only been in the pews of 0.00028 percent of all congregations in this nation. (The Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. About 314,000 are Protestant and 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox.) Even if I attended a different church every Sunday for the rest of my life I would not even be able to visit all of the churches within a 250-mile radius of my home.
For me or any other writer to claim to know what is going on in all those churches is sheer foolishness. Only God attends every church service in America. Unless he gives us some inside scoop, let’s stop claiming to know what only he knows. Otherwise, we are not helping our pet cause, we are merely slandering Christ bride.