A Contemprary 95 Theses for the Western Church
When will the Church dare to defy the western atheism and liberalism?
On 31st October 1517 Catholic theologian Dr Martin Luther is reputed to have pinned his famous ‘95 Theses’ to a church door in Germany’s Wittenberg, sparking a reformation across a Europe then dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was branded a heretic by the church he sought to reform. Out of the conflict that followed emerged the protestant churches, new democratic nation states and unprecedented freedom for evangelical Christians.
Western churches would do well to heed C.H. Spurgeon’s warning: “Unless the church is herself rich in the things of God and strong with divine energy, she will generously cease to be aggressive, and will content herself with going on with the regular routine of Christian work, crying ‘Peace, peace,’[Jeremiah 8:11] where peace cannot exist. She will not dare to defy the world… when her own condition is pitiably weak”. [Backhouse, R. (1996) Spurgeon on Revival, p.17. Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne].
Spurgeon would probably despair of today’s Church despite the good things that are happening. The decline of the Church and Christianity in the West has been dramatic and tragic. Evangelical leaders must rise to the challenge before them. Pointing to new church buildings or the numbers attending churches is not as important as other more subtle issues. Elders should be both good shepherds (Psalm 23) and effective servant leaders (Matthew 20:26). All Christians must “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Christian truth should be heard and seen everywhere in society.
There is a need for a church-wide reformation.
In Challenge Weekly (July 10, 2006) it was reported that a Baptist survey in Dunedin found many did not believe the church was modelling authentic Christianity, nor was it showing how Christianity was relevant to the questions of life. In the same issue (p.6) Dr Mark Strom says Christians live in their own ghettos because they “lack the confidence and freedom to live a bigger life”.
Here is a modern take on Luther's 95 Theses. We do not seek to condemn anyone, but out of a loving concern for God’s people and the lost we are determined to uphold biblical truth (Colossians 3:16). Evangelical churches remain complacent (Zephaniah 1:12). In their weak spiritual state they are largely incapable of spearheading revival and are a poor witness to the nation, despite the good work done by many.
1. Western Civilisation is in an accelerating moral decline. A post-Christian paganism is evidence of the comprehensive failure of the priesthood of all believers to act as salt and light in the West.
2. The church’s failure to confront evolution, humanism and liberal biblical re-interpretation are the underlying reasons for the Church’s poor witness across more than five decades.
3. The mainline Protestant churches are steadily declining because they have failed to return to first Century Christianity following the Reformation. This left them exposed to myths (2 Timothy 4:4) and deception (2 Corinthians 11:3).
4. Unless the right steps are taken immediately the evangelical church will almost certainly drift into the same malaise afflicting many Protestant churches now. Church building programmes and well choreographed audio/visual services will do little to improve the quality or influence of genuine Christianity.
5. Doctrinal understanding, the bedrock of Christianity, is not taken seriously. Hence, the widespread, inadequate application of Biblical principles to practical reality.
6. Many Christians prove Jeremiah 7:4-8 when they elevate their church life above the greater need for an effective Gospel-centred Christian witness in the world. There is a lack of urgency in our Christian mission.
7. Jesus Christ did warn us that ‘false prophets’, ‘false apostles’, ‘deceitful workmen’, ‘hired hands’ and ‘savage wolves’ will come amongst us to distort the truth and draw disciples after them (Matthew 24:11; Acts 20:29-30; John 10:12; 2 Corinthians 11:13). Many Christians choose to ignore the Lord’s warning.
8. There is a huge gulf between Christ's calling on the church and its kingdom-building performance.
9. If the Church is to stand up with authority and dignity in the Western world it must remake itself, but its ability to do so may be impossible given its current culture and leadership.
10. The growing trend for Christians to leave established churches and look for a more authentic Christianity in small groups may be the Church’s brightest hope for the future.
11. The Church’s survival depends on a recommitment to obeying God’s commands – following Jesus Christ and the Bible.
12. Many fatalistic Christians, forgetting the examples of David and Gideon (who trusted God), assume having any real impact on society is impossible (Psalm 18:27-29).
13. To fear God is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13). Will Christ Jesus uphold the Church while many of its members continue to support political parties that so obviously persist in doing things God hates?
14. Society says religion is personal, separate from the collective life of the nation. Christians have swallowed this separation myth. As a result churches have become isolated, stand alone entities, without a unified stake in evangelising local communities or the nation.
15. Christians, by adopting secular notions of tolerance in all things, have forgotten their mandate to judge between right and wrong in areas God has already judged. The ‘judge not’ mantra has been applied unbiblically.
16. Prayer meetings are often the most poorly attended church event. Intercessory prayer for a lost nation is neglected. Instead personal needs and church life often take precedence.
17. Too many Christians have lost the ability to apply the principles, taught in Jesus’ kingdom parables, to living in this world.
18. Many Churches fail to reinforce the significance of the Bible on a regular basis - its trustworthiness, spiritual power, accuracy and source of truth.
19. Many Evangelical Christian leaders are failing to see the secular forces at work in churches. They look for only the best and often refuse to look at the worst in their churches, making them ineffective clubs rather than centres for a powerful movement.
20. It is possible for a non-Christian to listen to a Christian radio station for hours or go to a church for a month and not hear a clear statement of the correct gospel, or a persuasive defence of the Christian faith.
21. Some Christians are accepting that Monotheism, the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, has some basis in fact. This idea breaks Commandments One and Two of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and must be opposed.
22. God’s word is applied mostly to the life of the Church and needs of Christians, when the Biblical model is to prophetically influence the political and social world with Godly wisdom and loving confrontation.
23. Unless leadership is radically transformed the evangelical community cannot advance. Too many leaders harbour the Nicolaitian spirit despised by Jesus (Revelation 2:6, 15). The word, in Greek, refers to the unbridled exercise of power over the people (Titus 1:9; Matthew 23:8-12).
24. Evangelical Christian leadership often fails to exhibit the real qualities of servant leadership.
25. Many leaders have failed to authoritatively teach or model a correct mix of right doctrine, a Christian worldview, church history, social action, social service or apologetics.
26. Leaders often seek to please and appease people when they should be directing them towards a fear of God.
27. Christians will often follow a ‘charismatic’ leader and fail to test the leader’s theology and actions against scripture.
28. True Christian leadership must be respected.
29. True leaders do not rule by their own authority. They are by nature equippers rather than rulers. They are also on their guard against false teaching and prophecy – Titus 1:9 (Conversely, see Jeremiah 5:26-31 and 3 John 9-10).
30. It is often assumed that a person with a theological qualification is fit for leadership. Serious questions need to be asked about what is taught in many theological colleges.
31. The fivefold ministry exists to equip all the saints (Ephesians 4: 11-16) for service. This has not been happening. Instead the people are encouraged to fellowship within a restricted, ineffective church culture that is ill equipped to face the world or protect itself.
32. For accountability and transparency reasons leadership must always be plural. Individuals can head particular ministries but overall oversight must not rely on or defer to a single person.
33. Leaders must move away from any tendency to see a group of Christians as their church. Instead they must see themselves as shepherds within God’s flock.
34. The rise of ‘royal families’ – a leader’s children, or chosen protégé, inheriting the mantel of leadership ignores God’s will in the election of true shepherds and is based more on self-interest than it is on the good of the church.
35. The evangelical Church’s poor performance in western societies can be laid at the feet of misguided leadership and a complacent or self-seeking laity.
36. The Church’s salt-like, preserving effect in society has been absent for at least 40 years. If its salt has lost its effect then little more can be expected from within existing churches (Matthew 5:13). New churches must and will take their place because Jesus Christ is building His Church (Matthew 16:18).
37. Because Jesus’ command to be salt and light has not been taken seriously the ability of churches to understand and apply other essential biblical teaching is compromised.
38. Love for ones neighbour, by helping the poor obtain justice, showing mercy and advancing social equity has been largely reduced to the ‘gift of helps’. The application of the principle should be much broader.
39. Many Evangelical Christians do not know that Catholics base their faith on a false gospel that depends on earning salvation through works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is for this reason that Luther sparked the reformation. Misunderstandings about Catholicism have led Christian leaders to ignore evangelism amongst Catholics and embrace ecumenism.
40. Leaders who condemn those Christians who decrying the Church’s poor performance are to be mistrusted as unsound shepherds (Jeremiah 6:13-14).
41. The evangelical church today bears the luke-warm characteristics of the Laodicean church, even amongst those who hold to correct doctrine.
42. It has become clear that the Church does not understand what it is really here for or appreciate the extent of the war being waged against it. Without this understanding it is impossible for leaders or laity to properly represent the cause of Christ in the western world.
43. Embracing church growth (seeker-friendly) principles with the emphasis on large churches, a ‘cheap grace’ gospel, personality leadership and a range of marketed Christian ‘products’ is taking the Church away from the Gospel of the Kingdom.
44. Many Christians view spirituality narrowly as outward manifestations of something supernatural and the performance of core institutional functions within churches.
45. Evangelicalism has become institutionalised with pastors often donning the mantle of the priest and demanding acceptance of their dictates. The priesthood of all believers has been undermined (1 John 2:27).
46. The evangelical church is in the position decried by Jesus in Matthew 23:23.
47. The ‘theatre model’ dominating church gatherings encourages dependence and complacency. It must be replaced with a more inclusive, practical model. Front-led singing and a sermon delivered from a stage must be replaced by more diverse and effective methods for equipping, encouraging, blessing and empowering the saints.
48. The emphasis on the church gathered on Sunday’s needs to be balanced by a renewed focus on the effective witness of each Christian throughout each week.
49. An over-emphasis on the perceived mystical work of the Holy Spirit, particularly within the area of the ‘gifts’, is a misrepresentation and a distraction that has often exposed the church to ridicule. There must be a return to the Holy Spirit’s principal role – as our comforter and the guarantor of truth.
50. Evangelical churches must reaffirm that the scriptures intimately connected to the power of God. ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17 & 1:16; Mark 12:24; 1 Corinthians 1:18).
51. Within the Church people who cannot agree often separate. We need to face this problem head-on, become more mature in applying the Word of God and recognise that diversity (within the boundaries set by Truth) should be common practise within the Christian community (1 Corinthians 11:19).
52. As long as we agree on the essentials of the faith and there is no heresy or sin attached to an alternative position Christians should be able to apply the Fruit of the Spirit and live and work together.
53. Christian culture is dysfunctional because it is too brittle and insecure to function within a climate of open debate and critical analysis. Many church leaders fear open debate and treat anyone who dares to question them as divisive.
54. Ad hominin arguments (attacking the person) are often used when anyone dares to raise a concern about the church or a leader. This approach is cowardly, deliberately sidestepping the real issues.
55. Too much emphasis is placed on the role and the vision of a single pastor, often at the expense of equipping the saints for works of service in the world and in the church. The combined power of the ‘many parts’ of the Body of Christ is not being harnessed.
56. Christians must band together in local congregations around a shared and correct understanding of God’s purposes. Fellowship and worship must not be the only goals. Living lives in community with a heart for injustice and the lost must take greater precedence.
57. Evangelical Christians must learn to move past their divided faith ghettos to engage together in community-centred action, providing they are not constrained by an unequal ‘yoking’ with the un-saved.
58. Christians are poorly versed in church history, leaving them at the mercy of social movements and trends without any comprehension of their context in history.
59. Christianity depends for its influence on standing out as different, unique. It must be ‘countercultural’, but Christians today hardly understand what this really means.
60. We have not given sufficient time to focus on how to equip people and for what purpose.
61. Sanctification, the process of growing in holiness as each person seeks to follow the Lord’s instruction, needs to be given far more emphasis. Many Christians claim to be ‘bible believing’ but James warns us to not only read the Word but do what it says (James 1:22-23).
62. Fellowship and unity have been mistakenly elevated above truth, holiness and sanctification.
63. Whether teaching is scripturally correct or not is rarely tested (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Consequently, the Church regularly falls victim to false prophets and teachers.
64. Christians must return to testing everything, discarding that which does not accord with sound teaching and holding on to everything that does (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
65. The unbalanced emphasis on youth in some churches ignores the obvious importance of parents and the wisdom, borne of years, available to youth in a balanced church environment.
66. A market oriented approach to church planting or growth, based on costly building projects or appeals to specific Christian ‘markets’ (e.g. youth), robs otherwise viable churches of their best people and encourages Christians to be self-seeking church ‘hoppers’. Christianity is demeaned and the really important aspects of genuine Christianity are undermined.
The Gospel and Doctrine
67. The evangelical church’s top priority must be to distinguish between those within the Church who are truly saved from those who are merely converts to fellowship. Unless this is done the church will remain fatally compromised.
68. That salvation is by faith in the full and complete sacrificial work of Jesus Christ ALONE must be constantly reaffirmed.
69. People should not come to faith because they are told Jesus loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. This is a misrepresentation of life’s reality and a false presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This seeker friendly approach is perverse and works against the church.
70. In presenting the Gospel the reality of heaven and hell, the pervasiveness of sin and the vital importance of genuine repentance must be stressed. The mistaken idea that this will scare or offend people is not supported by practise, providing the right approach is taken.
71. Conversions must be grounded in a clear understanding that Jesus had to die for us because nothing we can do, will ever justify us before a perfect, totally holy God.
72. The Ten Commandments are God’s essential signposts signalling humanity’s hopelessly fallen and lost state. They are God’s schoolmaster pointing to the vital importance of our Saviour and Lord – Christ Jesus (Psalm 19:7; Galatians 3:24; Romans 7:7; Matthew 5:17; 1 Timothy 1:8-10).
73. A misplaced concern for a person’s self-esteem or feelings must not dilute the presentation of the Gospel. The hearer must understand they are lost. But, this truth must nevertheless be delivered with sensitivity.
74. The faith-prosperity ‘gospel’ and an often self-serving false doctrine on Old Testament tithing is unbiblical and must be rooted out.
75. An over-emphasis on mystical worship and experience has replaced a dedicated willingness to understand the Bible’s call to a whole of life faith.
76. Unbiblical notions about a triumphant church and claiming cities for God, before the return of Christ Jesus, are false ‘Latter Rain’ teachings with no foundation in biblical end-times revelation. They are exaggerated expectations in the midst of accelerating apostacy in the Western world.
77. New Age or mystical visualisation, meditation, self-esteem, prayer labyrinth and ‘god within us’ teachings threaten to invade the church and must be strongly resisted.
78. The Church must cease accommodating itself to the world. The growing trend towards the ordination of women and homosexuals is not Biblical, but simply the evidence of a church easily swayed by secular trends.
79. Christian culture is dysfunctional because it is so willing to adapt to worldly values rather than Godly principles.
80. Male leadership must be understood as a God-mandated role not a gender specific superior calling (Matthew 23:8-12).
81. Men and women are equally important in God’s economy but their roles differ at some points. There can be no compromise with the world in this area. To do so has and will fundamentally undermine God’s order and the already compromised effectiveness of the Church.
82. Evangelical Christians invariably fail to appreciate the debilitating influence of secular cultural pressures on church life. We must accept that a reformation that removes secular influences will inevitably involve conflict, disagreement and separation before an effective Church is re-established.
Defending the Faith
83. Some influential people are promoting ‘emergent church’ and ‘post-evangelical’ ideas that often compromise a true understanding of Scripture as they seek common-cause with the World. The Church needs to be defended as much against this foolishness as it is the compromise and complacency in it already.
84. Christians generally seem unable to accept that they are engaged in a battle of ‘world views’. Christians have allowed the secular humanist worldview to run rampant. A Christian worldview is an understanding of how Christians must behave in all spheres within a fallen world.
85. Unless the Church seeks to stand out from the world with an uncompromising Christian world view there can be little hope for revival.
86. In the main most Christians do not have a Christian world view nor would they know what the term means. Because there is little teaching in this area the Church finds it is hard pressed to escape its luke-warm weakness.
87. Appropriate Christian behaviour in a fallen world depends on accepting and living out the commands, principles and examples found in the Bible. Forming a Christian worldview on this basis is given little thought by today’s Church.
88. Christians are therefore ill equipped to understand why other worldviews are incompatible and cannot co-exist with Christianity. Christians must have answers for and be able to defend their faith.
89. Defending Christianity relies on challenging non-Christians to justify their position, while never compromising on essential Biblical doctrine, principles and commands.
90. It is and has always been clear that the Church should have no difficulty defending the existence of the one true God and the Bible’s legitimacy against all humanistic, evolutionary and liberal theological attacks.
91. We are not focusing on roles in society that have the potential to influence other individuals and society. This is particularly true in the humanist bastions of politics, the media and academia.
92. Understanding and living out Biblical principles will increase the Christian’s ability to discern what is right in situations not directly covered in Scripture.
93. The principal purpose of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in truth so that we are not deceived. We are thus able to recognise and defeat the powers of darkness in this world.
94. Much more energy needs to be put into devising a model of Christian living, which reduces the debilitating effect of secularisation and frees the people of God for evangelism and church-building.
95. The Church will only reassert itself when it faces and attacks the deep secular cultural views that depend on a belief that the physical world is all there is, that truth is what we decide it is and that reality is only what we can see.
Martin Luther was branded a heretic by the Catholic Church of his time for wanting a better more Godly Church. Will you similarly condemn those who want to see a restored evangelical church in the West? The Church needs to regain the freedom to live a ‘bigger life’ … The way forward? Study all 95 Theses. What must change in your church?