Cultural Factors in the Weakening of Churches
By David Cloud
Following are some of the factors that have weakened the character of Bible-believing churches over the past 70 years and helped create a mixed multitude philosophy.
Confidence in the Bible was weakened by theological liberalism and Darwinian evolution, and this greatly weakened the spiritual power of churches.
Though liberalism took many forms, at its heart it was an attack upon the authority of the Bible and it was an application of the theory of evolution to Bible history.
The Northern Baptists became liberal in theology at the beginning of the 20th century. (They were known as the Northern Baptist Convention until 1950, when the name was changed to American Baptist Convention.) For example, in 1918, Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of the influential Riverside Church in New York City, published The Manhood of the Master, denying that Jesus Christ is God. In 1926, the Northern Baptist Convention voted by a margin of three to one not to evict Riverside Church from the convention.
Liberalism entered the Southern Baptist Convention in the first half of the 20th century.
By 1902, J.W. Bailey of North Carolina wrote in the Biblical Recorder that there were a multitude of “theologies” in the Southern Baptist Convention. He said, “Theologies change every day. ... [Baptists do not stand for] formulated dogmas.”
A Baptist pastorate that was probably largely unregenerate stopped depending on spiritual weapons and turned to carnal weapons such as programs and an efficient organization.
There was an emphasis on “efficiency” and “pragmatism” (using whatever works to produce a desired goal).
“Efficiency consisted not in purity or obedience, but in system, organization, and rationality in all areas of church activity. ... progressive church leaders held that the church in the modern age needed a polity based not on ancient authority but on science, rationality, and system. They looked to social scientists and efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, who in this era developed management into a science for producing efficient organizations” (Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, Kindle loc. 2167-2174).
In the 1920s, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary appointed Gaines Dobbins as a “professor of church efficiency.” His 1923 book The Efficient Church had a wide influence. He claimed that Christ's ministry in the Gospels was “the perfection of efficiency” and Paul was the “world's greatest efficiency expert in religion.”
The churches began leaning to the spirit and wisdom of the times instead of God's Spirit and God's Word. Instead of separating from the world and its unenlightened thinking, they learned from the world.
They bowed to the American spirit of individualism and consumerism. They stopped requiring evidence of salvation and practicing discipline so as not to offend potential members. The churches appeased the people's idolatrous, me-centered desire to shop for a church that met their felt needs. They lowered the spiritual standards, became entertainment-oriented, borrowed the world's music to make Christian music more appealing to the unsaved and carnal, softened the preaching, created “youth ministries” that encouraged the generation gap and were merely Christianized versions of the world's pop culture. By the last half of the 20th century, this spiritual appeasement produced the seeker-sensitive, megachurch movement.
The churches bowed to the influence of the “new morality” and allowed church members to live worldly lives. Such things as dating, pre-marital sex, drinking, jazz, rock, divorce, unisex fashions flooded the weak churches.
The churches bowed to the philosophy of non-judgmentalism and non-dogmatism that permeated society.
The concept of church as pilgrims and strangers in a foreign country was replaced by Americanism and flag waving.
The Social Gospel produced an emphasis away from evangelism and church planting. Building God's kingdom on earth through social-justice projects and maintaining good social order began to replace “saving brands from the burning.”
In 1910, William Poteat, president of Wake Forest College, told the annual Southern Baptist Convention that Baptists were in the best position to save civilization.
In 1920, Richard Edmonds wrote, “Upon the Baptists of the South may rest the salvation of America and of the world from chaos and from sinking back into the darkness of the middle ages” (The South, America and the World).
The Public School System
Few things have done more to weaken Bible-believing churches than the public school system with its anti-God, anti-Bible, evolutionary, socialistic, globalistic agenda. It is a major tool of the “god of this world” in these end times. Christian parents have foolishly turned their children over to the hands of the devil to be brainwashed and sexualized and converted to the devil's agenda.
Public school attendance is a major reason why so few of the young people in the churches are true disciples of Christ, why, in fact, many of them become open enemies of Christ.
The public school system was one of the most negative spiritual and moral influences in my youth, and that was in a day wherein the schools in America were not nearly as degenerate as they are today. I entered grammar school in 1955 and graduated from high school in 1967. As I recall, we weren't taught evolution or communism or multiculturalism or feminism or transsexualism.
In fact, for much of that time, we still had Bible reading and prayer in the schools. But even then the secularized environment and the blossoming rock & roll pop culture and the godless friends were devastating to my Christian profession.
My parents took me to church every time the doors were open, but how can a few hours in a weak church per week overcome 30 and more hours of immersion in the world?
By the time I was in junior high school, the Bible and prayer were kicked out of the nation's schools by fiat of the U.S. Supreme Court. Creationism was replaced by evolution. Biblical morality was replaced with moral relativism. The sexual revolution was glorified.
In 2015, I received the following testimony from a public school teacher:
“I teach math to twelve- to fifteen-year-old children in public school in a heavily Protestant-churched community in North Carolina. The students are absolutely addicted to cell phones. Many walk around campus plugged into their devices. Music and games are the most addictive. Posting of 'selfies' on Snapchat is very popular. All the immorality that we had to work hard to find when we were young is available to children in a second. Few, if any, are strong enough to resist biting the apple.”
The truth of 1 Corinthians 15:33 guarantees that a church populated by kids educated in the public school system will be a weak church with weak Christian homes and weak youth. See also Psalm 1:1; Proverbs 19:27; Jeremiah 10:2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
Pastor David Sorenson makes the following wise comment:
“I know of no greater passage of Scripture dealing with the matter of Christian education than Psalm 1. There probably is no institution in this country that more embodies the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful than the national public education establishment. With its systemic teaching of evolution which mocks creation, it certainly occupies the seat of the scornful. With its institutionalized sex education (that is little more than sex encouragement), it certainly is in the way of sinners. As it tacitly ignores the things of God under the guise of separation of church and state, it certainly is the counsel of the ungodly. The objective of Psalm 1:1 is to get our families out of the world and to get the world out of our families” (Training Your Children to Turn out Right, pp. 92, 93).
Pastor Kerry Allen comments on 1 Samuel 13:19-20:
“Children are arrows to be sharpened and shot at our enemy, the devil. Are we foolish enough to believe that if we give our arrows to the enemy, he is going to sharpen them for us? No, rather he will see to it that they are dull and useless against him. Wise warriors will never allow the enemy to tamper with their weapons of warfare” (How Can I Except Some Man Guide Me?)
I realize there are situations in which a child must attend public school for reasons that might be out of the parent's control. For example, there are divorced Christians that have to share custody with an unsaved parent. And in some situations, missionaries have chosen to send their children to a public school in a foreign country after weighing all of their options before the Lord. I know of two cases like this that have turned out right, and those children are serving the Lord. But I must hasten to add that I personally know of only two!
If children must attend public school, the key to having them turn out right for the Lord is intimate, godly involvement by the parents and a committed relationship with a strong church.
The same thing can be said about secular university. Pastor Mike Sullivant has the following observation:
“Very few that go off to secular university go on to serve the Lord. I've got one guy that is in engineering, but he lives with a Christian family off campus and comes home every weekend. His family is active in the church and during the summer he comes home to work and is faithful to church and goes to the activities. Pastor Bob Kelly said that the only way that a saved person could go to a secular school and turn out right is that he not be just an ATTENDER of a good church but that he be ACTIVELY INVOLVED in the church. I've seen some of our young people leave here and go to the university in Winnipeg and attend a church but they are not active in a church, and it seems that it is no better for them than if they weren't going to church at all. I've never seen a non-active one make it without being scorched big time.”
Materialism and Working Mothers
Another key factor in the weakening of churches over the past 60 years is the breakdown of the home, and one of the chief causes of this is the frenzied pursuit of wealth and comfort with the accompanying phenomenon of working mothers.
During World War II, women entered the work force in great numbers because so many men were fighting overseas. (This phenomenon had begun in World War I, but it exploded in World War II.) When the war ended, the trend toward working moms did not stop.
Instead of being content with living on the father's paycheck while the mothers attended to the essential business of keeping the home and caring for the children, mothers and fathers both entered the work force.
This was direct and brazen disobedience to God's Word, and it was evidence that many homes and churches were following society rather than Scripture.
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5).
The working mother phenomenon left children without close parental supervision and training, and the devil has filled the void.
Ron Williams, founder of the Hephzibah House in Winona Lake, Indiana, has many decades of experience working with troubled children from Christian homes. He issues the following warning:
“Small wonder many children and young people forge such strong loyalties to peers even though they are an adverse influence on them. In the absence of a full-time mother, a child will naturally seek guidance, companionship and fulfillment from another source. Loyalties that should have been cemented with his parents and family are instead farmed out to evil-charactered peers readily provided by a satanically-dominated world. Mom, your children need you, not a surrogate hireling. You cannot be replaced by another. God has called you to be a 'keeper at home,' not to stunt your creativity or imprison you in an unfulfilling, demeaning role, but because you have been called to the high and noble office of a homemaker; a responsibility with unmeasureable rewards, heavy demands, great fulfillment, and inestimable blessing for you, your husband, and your children.”
If a married woman doesn't have children or if her children are grown or if she can work part time without causing any harm to her family, that is a different situation.
The Rock & Roll Pop Culture
Rock music is the heart and soul of an ungodly global pop culture. It is the soundtrack of the modern youth culture. Originating in America and England, it spread throughout the world.
In most nations today, young people share the same philosophy, have the same values, wear the same fashions, love the same techno gadgets, have the same heroes, display the same attitude.
Rock music and the pop culture that it began to create in the 1950s weakened churches almost immediately and it has been weakening them ever since.
Young people were enticed, addicted, and brainwashed. The Pied Piper of rock reached into the church in which I was raised and captured the hearts of all of the young people. I don't know of any exceptions.
I remember how I was affected by early rock & roll records in 1962, the year I turned 13. I was mesmerized. The feelings produced by the music were so powerful. Church was boring, but this new world was amazing! I couldn't wait to quit church and live out my rock & roll fantasies, and I did that at age 17 when I graduated from high school and had my own car.
Rock music is enticing and transformational because it brings the philosophy of self-centeredness, rebellion to authority, and moral license.
The rock culture is not morally neutral. Rebellion against God's holy laws is not a sideline of rock & roll; it is the heart and soul.
From its inception in the 1950s and 1960s, rock has preached rebellion and moral license. The rock philosophy is the philosophy of “do your own thing; don't let anyone tell you what to do.” It's the me-first philosophy that lies at the heart of the self-esteem culture.
Rock preaches the ancient lie that the devil uttered to Eve: “God's laws are restrictive; He is keeping you from enjoying life to the fullest; throw off His yoke and live as you please; be your own god.”
“Elvis changed our hairstyles, dress styles, our attitudes toward sex, all the musical taste” (David Brinkley, NBC News, cited by Larry Nager, Memphis Beat, p. 216).
“I'm free to do what I want any old time” (Rolling Stones, 1965).
“It's my life and I'll do what I want/ It's my mind, and I'll think what I want” (The Animals, 1965).
“You got to go where you want to go/ do what you want to do” (Mamas and Papas, 1966).
“It's your thing/ do what you want to do” (Isley Brothers, 1969).
“We don't need no thought control” (Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall,” 1979).
“I'm gonna do it my way. ... I want to make my own decision ... I want to be the one in control…” (Janet Jackson, “Control,” 1986).
“Nothing's forbidden and nothing's taboo when two are in love” (Prince, “When Two Are in Love,” 1988).
“... the only rules you should live by [are] rules made up by you” (Pennywise, “Rules,” 1991).
“So what we get drunk/ So what we smoke weed … Living young and wild and free” (“Young, Wild and Free,” Snoop Dog and Wiz Khalifa, 2011).
“We can do what we want; we can live as we choose” (Paul McCartney, “New,” 2013).
“The whole Beatles idea was to do what you want” (John Lennon, cited by David Sheff, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, p. 61).
Little Richard “freed people from their inhibitions, unleashing their spirit, ENABLING THEM TO DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY FELT LIKE DOING” (Life & Times of Little Richard, p. 66).
At the heart of rock music is sexual liberty, which is brazen rebellion against God's holy law of marriage. Again we quote the rock and rollers themselves as evidence for this:
“Everyone takes it for granted that rock and roll is synonymous with sex” (Chris Stein of the rock group Blondie, People, May 21, 1979).
“Rock music is sex. The big beat matches the body's rhythms” (Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention, Life, June 28, 1968).
“The sex is definitely in the music, and sex is in all aspects of the music” (Luke Campbell of 2 Live Crew).
“Rock 'n' roll is synonymous with sex and you can't take that away from it. It just doesn't work” (Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Entertainment Tonight, ABC, Dec. 10, 1987).
“Rock 'n' roll is 99% sex” (John Oates of Hall & Oates, Circus, Jan. 31, 1976).
“Pop music revolves around sexuality. I believe that if there is anarchy, let's make it sexual anarchy rather than political” (Adam Ant, From Rock to Rock, p. 93).
“Perhaps my music is sexy ... but what music with a big beat isn't?” (Jimi Hendrix, Henderson, cited from his biography 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, p. 117).
“Rock 'n' roll is sex. Real rock 'n' roll isn't based on cerebral thoughts. It's based on one's lower nature” (Paul Stanley of KISS, cited from The Role of Rock, p. 44).
“That's what rock is all about—sex with a 100 megaton bomb, THE BEAT!” (Gene Simmons of Kiss, Entertainment Tonight, ABC, Dec. 10, 1987).
“Rock 'n' roll is all sex. One hundred percent sex” (Debbie Harry of Blondie, cited by Carl Belz, “Television Shows and Rock Music,” The Age of Communication, Goodyear Publishing Company, 1974, p. 398).
Rock music represents the world of the sexual revolution: shacking up, hooking up, the homosexual agenda (LGBT, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual), no-fault divorce, polyamory (multiple marriage partners).
The rock world is a sleazy, filthy world. It is impossible for a Bible-believing Christian to watch the Grammys or to read Rolling Stone and other rock magazines or even to browse the Walmart pop music department or the pop music section of the Apple iTunes store without seeing the continual flaunting of nakedness and fornication.
The lives of popular rock musicians have been filled with profanity, fornication, adultery, multiple marriages, homosexuality, lesbianism, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, tumult, covetousness, theft, and suicide.
No wonder the rock culture has weakened churches. Very few churches have been strong enough to overcome its pull and its influence on the people.
Pop psychology has also greatly influenced society over the past half century and in turn weakened the churches.
Humanistic psychology has greatly undermined biblical morality. It is based on the premise that man is basically good rather than a fallen sinner. It de-emphasizes personal responsibility for one's actions. Man is not a sinner, he is a victim (of his home life, his society, etc.). It has transformed sins into diseases (e.g., drunkenness is alcoholism).
At the heart of pop psychology is self-esteemism, which is exactly what fallen man wants. He wants to be the center of his universe. He wants to follow his heart and chase his dreams, and that is exactly what psychology encourages him to do.
The doctrine of self-esteem was developed by the fathers of the psychological counseling movement and has spread throughout that field and beyond to every level of modern society.
According to the doctrine of self-esteem, man must pursue his own self-love or self-confidence for the sake of psychological wholeness, and anything that damages self-esteem is wrong. The mystical path to the development of self-esteem is psychological counseling. Since absolute rules produce guilt in those who don't live up to them, the pursuit of self-esteem emphasizes the need for “new rules which will allow us more freedom of movement and encourage us to accept ourselves just as we are” (E.S. Williams, The Dark Side of Christian Counselling, p. 116).
Atheist Abraham Maslow emphasized the need for self-esteem in books such as A Theory of Human Motivation (1943), Motivation and Personality (1954), and Toward a Psychology of Being (1955). He taught that a lack of self-esteem can lead to “neurotic trends.” Rejecting the doctrine of the fall, he believed that man is basically good and there is “a positive, self-actualising force within each person that is struggling to assert itself” (Williams, The Dark Side, p. 114). If it is “permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy” (Motivation and Personality, 1970, p. 122).
Dr. Nathaniel Branden has had a massive influence in the promotion of self-esteem through books such as Psychology of Self-Esteem (1969), How to Raise Your Self-Esteem (1987), and the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1995). He treats self-esteem as a basic human need that is essential for mental health. He says, “The first love affair we must consummate successfully in this world is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship.”
Douglas Groothuis identifies the self-esteem doctrine as New Age in character.
“Maslow's past-breaking efforts cleared the way for an exodus from the old psychological view of humanity toward a new human that is essentially good and has within himself unlimited potential for growth. A whole host of thinkers--Erich Fromm, Rollo May, Carl Rogers and others--sound this call. In humanistic psychology the self is seen as the radiant heart of health, and psychotherapy must strive to get the person in touch with that source of goodness. ... This is the message at the core of New Age teaching” (Unmasking the New Age, 1986, p. 78).
The pursuit of self-esteem puts one into contact with the god of end-times apostasy.
Though fashioned by God-haters such as Abraham Maslow, self-esteem doctrine has been promoted far and wide in Christian circles by a slew of Christian psychologists, with James Dobson leading the way.
Dobson claims that “lack of self-esteem produces more symptoms of psychiatric disorders than any other factor yet identified” (Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Confident Healthy Families, 1987, pp. 73-74). His 1974 book Hide and Seek was designed “to formulate a well-defined philosophy--and approach to child rearing--that will contribute to self-esteem from infancy onwards.” He says, “If I could write a prescription for the women of the world, I would provide each one of them with a healthy dose of self-esteem and personal worth (taken three times a day until the symptoms disappear). I have no doubt that this is their greatest need” (What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women, p. 35). He says, “... lack of self-esteem is a threat to the entire human family, affecting children, adolescents, the elderly, all socioeconomic levels of society, and each race and ethic culture” (What Wives Wish, p. 24).
Dobson believes that lack of self-esteem is the cause of every social ill.
“Thus, whenever the keys to self-esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth-century America, then widespread mental illness, neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur. Personal worth is not something humans are free to take or leave. We must have it, and when it is unattainable, everybody suffers” (Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Confident, Healthy Families, p. 67).
To the contrary, the Bible lays the ills of society at the feet of fallen man and his rebellion against God. Jesus taught that murder, adultery, fornication, covetousness, deceit, theft, and such come from man's wicked heart (Mark 7:21-23).
David Seamands is another pioneer of the Christian self-esteem movement. His hugely popular books Healing for Damaged Emotions and Healing of Memories seek to heal the believer of “Satan's most powerful psychological weapon” which is “low self-esteem.” He aims to take the client back into the past to recover and heal memories of events that injured one's self-esteem.
Seamands has been widely recommended by evangelicals, including James Dobson and George Verwer (Youth With A Mission), who wrote the foreword to Healing for Damaged Emotions.
Seamands' mystical path toward self-esteem is “healing of memories” through psychological counseling and New Age techniques. He promotes things as positive visualization, guided imagery, dream analysis, and venting of emotions. Through visualization, the individual is taught to imagine painful past events in perfect detail and to imagine Jesus entering the scenes to bring healing. This is not only vain fantasy; it is occultic and it is a recipe for communing with deceiving spirits masquerading as angels of light. The self-esteem doctrine downplays and redefines sin.
The very popular and influential Robert Schuller, who was a pioneer in the “Christian” self-esteem movement, defined sin as “any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem” (Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p. 14). He defined the new birth as “being changed from a negative to a positive self-image--from inferiority to self-esteem” (p. 68). He even said that Christ was “self-esteem incarnate” (p. 135). Schuller has been praised and promoted by a whose-who of evangelicalism, including Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, R.C. Sproul, Christianity Today, National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Promise Keepers, James Dobson, Tony Campolo, Bill Bright, Paul Yonggi Cho, Jack Hayford, Ralph Reed, Bill Hybels, Paul Crouch, John Wimber, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, Chuck Colson, and Rick Warren, to name a few. (See “Evangelicals and Heretic Robert Schuller” at the Way of Life web site.)
The self-esteem doctrine promotes an unscriptural view of the conscience. While acknowledging that the conscience (an “inner voice”) produces guilt and negative thoughts, the proposed solution is not the biblical path of regeneration through repentance and faith followed by a Christian walk of obedience and confession. The proposed solution, instead, is to lower the standards of morality.
The atheistic founders of the self-esteem doctrine hated the holy God of the Bible and His holy law and sought to destroy His authority over men by denying His existence and teaching moral relativism and the pursuit of Self. Christian counsellors who have borrowed the self-esteem doctrine also tend to downplay the absoluteness of God's law, the necessity of strict obedience, and they replace the biblical means of soothing the conscience with psychological mumbo-jumbo.
Humanistic psychology has had a major influence on modern society, and it has caused the thinking of church members to be corrupted away from biblical thinking. Since most church members were educated in the public school system and are otherwise influenced by psychology, and since most of them are not serious students of God's Word, their thinking is more secular than biblical.
Most churches have not been strong enough to resist the onslaught of humanistic psychology. Most pastors have not properly educated the people or properly warned them. They have not stood plainly against heretical psychological principles. They do not want to “offend” the people and “drive them away.”
The result has been weakened churches and mixed multitudes.
Democracy is another factor that has weakened the discipline of churches.
The democratic political movement of modern times was birthed in America. The rule of kings was replaced with the rule of the people. Though America is not strictly a democracy; it is a democratic republic, which is a democracy under the rule of law, the emphasis is still on the rule of the people. The Declaration of Independence championed “the right of the people,” while the United States Constitution begins with the words, “We the people.” President Abraham Lincoln described the U.S. government as one “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Multitudes of people flocked to America in search of people's rights.
In a great many ways democracy has been a great blessing, primarily in the areas of liberty and economic prosperity. It liberated men from the dictates of autocratic kings and state churches. It created a climate in which churches multiplied and world evangelism prospered. It was the search for liberty and economic prosperity that brought the masses to America's shores and that spread American democracy to many nations.
A danger of this is in transferring the philosophy and attitude of “people's power” from the political realm into the church. The church is not a democracy. It is not “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The believer in Christ is spiritually translated into Christ's kingdom (Col. 1:13), and the church is an outpost of Christ's coming kingdom, and it is obligated to live under His Headship. The church is a theocracy ruled by Christ and His Word. Christ appoints governors, who are called pastors, elders, and bishops, and they have the rule over the church under Christ (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 5:1-2). They don't have have legislative power, because the church's laws are already settled in the canon of Scripture. Rather they have executive and judicial powers.
In the New Testament, we see the congregation participating in decisions, particularly in the selection of deacons (Acts 6:1-6). But this is not “people's power” in that it was done under the direction of and in coordination with the leaders.
What has happened in American churches, in particular, and in churches influenced by them, is the intrusion of the attitude of people's power. Too often, an attitude of “we are the people, and we will decide what we do” has replaced that of “we are the Lord's people and we will live strictly by His will.”
This can best be seen by comparing churches today with those of former times.
Consider the following description of church discipline 150 years ago:
“The oversight of the members was minute and persistent. Their general conduct, their domestic life, their business, their connections in civil society, their recreations, and even their dress, were all deemed legitimate subjects for the strictest supervision” (J.J. Goadby, Discipline in Early Baptist Churches, 1871).
This was a perfectly biblical position, and people in that day commonly submitted to such discipline. The level of democracy and the modern focus on self had not yet ruined church discipline.
But today the attitude on the part of vast numbers of church members is that these things are not the business of the church. The attitude is more alongs the line of, “You can't tell me what I can or cannot do, how I dress, what music I listen to, how I conduct my family life and business, whom I associate with. Who do the pastors think they are?”
This thinking is evident in the way that so many churches “hire and fire” preachers, not on the basis of biblical truth and righteousness, but on the basis of the whims of the people, as if pastors exist to do the bidding of the people and to please them. I think of a Baptist church in Tennessee that fired the preacher nearly every year and got a new one. Typically, it took a new preacher about a year to offend the main families in the church!
The Feminist Movement
The feminist movement has had a very powerful influence on modern society and on the churches.
It began in the second half of the 19th century with the push for women's suffrage, political equality (an equal voice and place for women in politics), workplace equality (equal pay for equal work), and female education. The first gathering devoted to women's rights was in 1848 with about 100 people in attendance. It was led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Full voting rights were granted to women in America in 1920.
By the early 20th century, the feminist movement was pushing for “reproductive rights,” which refers to birth control and abortion. Many 19th century feminist leaders were opposed to abortion, but by the 20th century, feminism was at the forefront of the abortion rights movement which has resulted in the destruction of millions upon millions of unborn children.
The feminist movement has become ever more radical. It has pushed for “non-sexist” or “gender neutral” language (e.g., chairman becomes chairperson). It has often been an opponent of traditional marriage and has been at the forefront of homosexual rights. It has reconstituted goddess theology. Pressure for accommodation of women in all positions, has resulted in the lowering of physical standards for police, firefighters, and the military.
Feminism created the unisex movement and paved the way for homosexual rights. The pantsuit was invented in 1966 by homosexual fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Feminist Linda Grant said that the pantsuit “put women on an equal sartorial footing with men and “is what fashion gave to feminism” (“Feminism Was Built on the Trouser Suit,” The Guardian, June 3, 2008). The breaking down of the created distinction between male and female in the pop culture has, in turn, greatly encouraged the homosexual movement.
The feminist movement has had an influence in Bible-believing churches because so many professing Christian women are more influenced by feminist thinking than by the Bible. They consider feminine characteristics such as “a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pe. 3:4) and modesty, shamefacedness, and sobriety (1 Ti. 2:9) to be outdated. As Don Boys points out, “For us to suggest that women be modest in apparel, attitude, and actions as Paul commanded is almost quaint. Moreover, not only do feminists go ballistic but also many closet feminists in our churches are quick to demand the right to wear whatever they choose, even if the Apostle Paul or their husbands disagree” (“Megyn Kelly, Whatever Happened to Modesty?” donboys.cstnews.com, Nov. 17, 2016).
Christian mothers aren't content to be keepers at home (Titus 2:5). They resist the Bible's command that the wife submit herself to her husband as unto the Lord. The Scripture's command that a woman not teach or usurp authority over the man is thought to be outdated (1 Ti. 2:12). They want an equal voice with the men in church affairs. They want their daughters to “follow their hearts,” even if that means playing male-dominated sports or pursuing something like a career in the infantry.
They bob their hair and wear pants (as a product of the feminist-influenced unisex fashion movement), and woe be to that preacher who tries to reprove them. It has been a long time since a Baptist preacher published a book by the title of Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers! (That was the title of a 1941 pamphlet by Evangelist John R. Rice.)
Rice wrote, “The pulpit is a place for the strongest men that we have. The preacher in the pulpit should speak with an authority that is absolutely forbidden a woman to exercise.”
Where are those strong men today?
The feminization effect has resulted in a softening of the preaching and the militant stance of the church. God is a “man of war,” but very few preachers are. Christ took on the Pharisees and Sadducees, and Paul took on every heretic that raised his head, but such zeal is foreign to most so-called preachers. Martin Luther took on Rome and called the pope the antichrist and called the pope's bull “all impiety, blasphemy, ignorance, impudence, hypocrisy, lying.” Charles Spurgeon took on the Baptist Union and railed against “soft manners and squeamish words” in the pulpit, calling for “dinging our pulpits into blads” [smashing them with forceful preaching]. Gilbert Tennent took on the Presbyterians of his day, lifting his voice in 1740 in the midst of a synod (a regional governing body) to warn that many preachers were unregenerate and calling them “rotten-hearted hypocrites, and utter strangers to the saving knowledge of God and of their own hearts” (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening, 1842).
This type of boldness is entirely unknown among convention Baptists, and it is exceedingly rare among fundamental Baptists. The protest has long gone out of Protestants, and the “fundamentalism” has largely gone out of fundamentalists.
I am convinced that the feminization of society has resulted in a weakening of even the best churches and a rapidly growing de-emphasis on biblical militancy (being a soldier in Christ's army).
The feminization of the churches can even be seen in a softening of the hymns. There is less forthrightness in the lyrics and less military boldness in the music.
New Evangelicalism has greatly influenced and seriously weakened Bible-believing churches, even many of those who would say that they are opposed to New Evangelicalism.
The weakening came after World War II with the advent of a religious philosophy which its own leaders branded “new evangelicalism.”
During the first half of the 20th century, evangelicalism in America was synonymous with fundamentalism. Many historians make this connection, including George Marsden says, “There was not a practical distinction between fundamentalist and evangelical: the words were interchangeable” (Reforming Fundamentalism, p. 48).
When the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was formed in 1942, for example, participants included such fundamentalist leaders as Bob Jones, Sr., John R. Rice, Charles Woodbridge, Harry Ironside, and David Otis Fuller.
By the mid-1950s, though, a clear break between separatist fundamentalists and non-separatist evangelicals occurred. This was occasioned largely by the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham. Most of the stronger men dropped out of the National Association of Evangelicals. The terms “evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism” began “to refer to two different movements” (William Martin, A Prophet with Honor, p. 224).
The sons of evangelical-fundamentalist preachers determined to create a “New Evangelicalism.” They would not be fighters; they would be diplomats; they would have a positive rather than a militant emphasis; they would be infiltrators rather than separatists. They refused to be restricted by “a separatist mentality.”
The term “New Evangelicalism” defined a new type of evangelicalism to distinguish it from those who had heretofore borne that label. The term “new evangelicalism” was probably coined by Harold Ockenga (1905-1985), one of the most influential evangelical leaders of the 1940s. He was the pastor of Park Street Church (Congregational) in Boston, founder of the National Association of Evangelicals, co-founder and one-time president of Fuller Theological Seminary, first president of the World Evangelical Fellowship, president of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and chairman of the board and one-time editor of Christianity Today. In the foreword to Dr. Harold Lindsell's book The Battle for the Bible, Ockenga stated the philosophy of new evangelicalism as follows:
“Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a REPUDIATION OF SEPARATISM and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many evangelicals. ... It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life.”
Ockenga did not create the movement; he merely labeled and described the new mood of positivism and non-militancy that was permeating his generation. Ockenga and the new generation of evangelicals, Billy Graham figuring most prominently, determined to abandon a strong Bible stance. Instead, they would pursue dialogue, intellectualism, and appeasement. They determined to stay within liberal denominations to attempt to change things from within rather than practice separation.
The New Evangelical would dialogue with those who teach error rather than proclaim the Word of God boldly and without compromise and separate from them. The New Evangelical would meet the haughty liberal on his own turf with human scholarship rather than follow the humble path of being counted a fool for Christ's sake by standing simply upon Scripture. New Evangelical leaders also determined to start a “rethinking process” whereby the old paths were to be continually reassessed in light of new goals, methods, and ideology.
Dr. Charles Woodbridge, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in its early days, a founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a personal friend of men such as Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, rejected the New Evangelicalism and spent the rest of his life warning of its dangers. In his 1969 book, The New Evangelicalism, he traced the downward path of New Evangelical compromise:
“The New Evangelicalism is a theological and moral compromise of the deadliest sort. It is an insidious attack upon the Word of God. ... The New Evangelicalism advocates TOLERATION of error. It is following the downward path of ACCOMMODATION to error, COOPERATION with error, CONTAMINATION by error, and ultimate CAPITULATION to error!” (Woodbridge, The New Evangelicalism, pp. 9, 15).
Each passing decade has witnessed more plainly to the truth of Dr. Woodbridge's observations. Toleration of error leads to accommodation, cooperation, contamination, and capitulation. This is precisely the path that evangelical Christianity in general has taken during the past 50 years, as New Evangelicalism has spread across the world.
The New Evangelical philosophy has been adopted by such well-known Christian leaders as Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Harold Lindsell, John R.W. Stott, Luis Palau, E.V. Hill, Leighton Ford, Charles Stanley, Bill Hybels, Warren Wiersbe, Chuck Colson, Donald McGavran, Tony Campolo, Arthur Glasser, D. James Kennedy, David Hocking, Charles Swindoll, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and a host of other men. New Evangelicalism has been popularized through pleasant personalities and broadcast through powerful print, radio, and television media. Christianity Today was founded in 1956 to voice the new philosophy. Through publishing houses such as InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, Tyndale House Publishers, Moody Press, and Thomas Nelson--to name a few--New Evangelical thought was broadcast internationally. New Evangelicalism became the working principle of large interdenominational organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, National Religious Broadcasters, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, Back to the Bible, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, World Vision, Operation Mobilization, the Evangelical Foreign Mission Association, World Evangelical Fellowship, the National Sunday School Association, etc. It was spread through educational institutions such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell, BIOLA, and Moody Bible Institute.
Because of the tremendous influence of these men and organizations, New Evangelical thought has swept the globe. Today, almost without exception, those who call themselves evangelicals are New Evangelicals; the terms have become synonymous. Old-line evangelicals, with rare exceptions, have either aligned with the fundamentalist movement or have adopted New Evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism's compromise is seen in its repudiation of biblical holiness. It has broken down the walls of ecclesiastical separation as well as the walls of separation from the world. The old fundamentalism was staunchly opposed to worldliness. The New Evangelical crowd has modified this. The result has been incredible to behold. R-rated movies are given positive reviews in evangelical publications. Evangelical music groups look and sound exactly like the world. Evangelical Bible College campuses have the look and feel of secular colleges. The students wear the same clothes (or lack of clothes) as the world; they drink the same beer and liquor; they dance to the same music; they celebrate the same worldly events; they care about the same worldly concerns.
Richard Quebedeaux documented this more than 35 years ago in his book, The Worldly Evangelicals.
“The Gallup Poll is correct in asserting that born-again Christians 'believe in a strict moral code.' But that strictness has been considerably modified during the last few years … the monthly question and answer column (patterned after 'Dear Abby') in Campus Life, Youth for Christ's magazine, gives the impression that more born-again high school age couples are having INTERCOURSE than is generally supposed. Among evangelical young people, MASTERBATION is now often seen as a gift from God. DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE are becoming more frequent and acceptable among evangelicals of all ages, even in some of their more conservative churches. This new tolerant attitude toward divorce has been greatly facilitated both by the publication of positive articles and books on the problem by evangelical authors and by the growth of ministry to singles in evangelical churches. … Some evangelical women are taking advantage of ABORTION on demand. Many younger evangelicals occasionally use PROFANITY in their speech and writing (though they are generally careful to avoid traditional profanity against the deity). Some of the recent evangelical sex-technique books assume that their readers peruse and view PORNOGRAPHY on occasion, and they do. Finally, in 1976 there emerged a fellowship and information organization for practicing evangelical LESBIANS AND GAY MEN and their sympathizers. There is probably just as high a percentage of gays in the evangelical movement as in the wider society. Some of them are now coming out of the closet, distributing well-articulated literature, and demanding to be recognized and affirmed by the evangelical community at large” (Quebedeaux, The Worldly Evangelicals, 1978, pp. 16, 17).
James Hunter in the book Evangelicalism the Coming Generation (1987) documents “the evolution of behavioral standards for students” at evangelical colleges:
“What has happened at Wheaton College, Gordon College, and Westmont College is typical of most of the colleges in this subculture. From the time of their founding to the mid-1960s, the college rules unapologetically prohibited 'profaning the Sabbath,' 'profane or obscene language or behavior,' playing billiards, playing cards and gambling, using intoxicating liquors or tobacco, theater and movie attendance, and any form of dancing—both on- and off-campus” (Hunter, p. 169).
Hunter goes on to observe that these rules have largely been dropped. Further, the worldliness on evangelical college campuses has increased significantly in the years since his book was published.
Describing this moral apostasy in The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer said:
“How the mindset of accommodation grows and expands. The last sixty years have given birth to a moral disaster, and what have we done? Sadly we must say that the evangelical world has been part of the disaster. ... WITH TEARS WE MUST SAY THAT ... A LARGE SEGMENT OF THE EVANGELICAL WORLD HAS BECOME SEDUCED BY THE WORLD SPIRIT OF THIS PRESENT AGE” (Schaeffer, p. 141).
The apostasy of today's evangelicalism was described by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in the Cambridge Declaration. The declaration, signed by 80 theologians and church leaders, was released on April 20, 1996, at the end of a four-day conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The signers included James Montgomery Boice, J.A.O. Preus III, David Wells, Albert Mohler, and Michael Horton, and represented Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Congregational, and Independent denominations.
“Today the light of Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that THE WORD 'EVANGELICAL' HAS BECOME SO INCLUSIVE AS TO HAVE LOST ITS MEANING. … As Biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and its doctrines have lost their saliency, THE CHURCH HAS BEEN INCREASINGLY EMPTIED OF ITS INTEGRITY, MORAL AUTHORITY AND DIRECTION. … As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. THE RESULT IS A LOSS OF ABSOLUTE VALUES, PERMISSIVE INDIVIDUALISM, AND A SUBSTITUTION OF WHOLENESS FOR HOLINESS, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope” (The Cambridge Declaration, 1996).
The Southern Baptist Convention is an example of the influence of New Evangelicalism. This is the largest “Protestant” denomination in America and it has a reputation of being staunchly and traditionally Bible believing, but when one examines the SBC at the congregational level one typically finds extreme worldliness.
The vast majority of SBC congregations do not preach separation from the world, and the teens in the churches commonly love the world's music, fashions, entertainment, etc. Like the world, they go almost-naked to the beaches, dance to rock & roll, wear whatever immodest fashions are in style, even get excited about occultic entertainment trends such as Harry Potter.
I grew up in Southern Baptist churches, and it was in a Southern Baptist youth group that I first learned to love rock music. The pastor's son and the deacons' sons had all of the latest rock albums, and I listened to them when I visited their homes. Large numbers of those who attended the rock dances at my junior and senior high school were church kids. I don't recall even one kid in our church that had a serious relationship with the Lord. We professed Christ with our lips, but we loved the world with our hearts.
That which is sadly true of the Southern Baptist Convention is true of most other denominations today. Even fundamentalist Bible churches and independent Baptist congregations are following suit. They do not preach or practice separation from the world.
Television's influence on modern society is nearly indescribable.
In looking back on my childhood growing up in a Baptist church, attending services at least three times a week, the three major influences that stole my heart for the world were public school friendships, pop music, and television, and the three were intimately associated. We got a television when I was about nine years old (1958), and though the programs were innocent compared to today, they certainly did not encourage me spiritually. We got our television a couple of years after Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. By the time I reached junior high school, I did everything I could to stay home on Sunday nights, because that was when the most exciting programs were on, such as the Disney Hour and Ed Sullivan. I don't remember if I was home that Sunday night in 1964 when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but I could have been. I was in high school and about that time my parents were having a lot of problems and had pretty much given up on trying to keep me in church. I had already started drinking and carousing with my public school buddies every weekend. There is no doubt that television and movies fed my carnal imagination and, together with rock & roll, inflamed me with a passion for the things of the world.
One of my sisters gives the following testimony:
“As a little girl, I can remember the television being on constantly. It was my 'friend' and a means of escape from the troubles and insecurities in my life. As I would watch a certain program, I would think, 'If I just had her personality or looks, I would be happy.' Later, when I was older and programming became increasingly wicked, I would stay up late and watch hours of mindless, foolish, empty sitcoms, totally oblivious to the damage it was doing to me. Like a drug, it was altering my mind. When I gave my life to the Lord in 1987, I realized how much of my life had been adversely affected by the media and television. The Lord cleansed my mind as I read His Word and replaced the vain, man-centered philosophies with Truth. We have made the deliberate choice not to have a television in our home today and have purposed to not set any wicked thing before our eyes (Psalm 101:3). A child needs to learn how to communicate with his family, not just sit in a trance in front of a TV.”
Brian Snider had a similar experience growing up. He says,
“I always tell people that 3-4 hours of church a week can't hold a candle to 30-40 hours of television as far as power and influence on a young kid. Church was boring; television was fun.”
The following testimony describes the addictive power of television and its negative influence on spirituality:
“I got saved when I was 19 and used to watch television 8-10 hours a day and 26 hours on the weekends. When I started going to church and then through Bible College, where there were no televisions, I realized how much it had influenced the way I thought and perceived life. When we got married we decided not to have a television and have been thankful for it. It was only on deputation when we had more access to TV's and found when we turned them on that hours would easily be wasted, even just watching FOX News. Not to mention having to continually turn the commercials off. It got so annoying you either wanted to just leave it alone and not turn it off or miss something if you did turn it off. Unfortunately, leaving it on would win, and being aware of this we solidified in our minds we would not have a TV in our home, or cable for that matter. Both the programming and the commercials are written by non-Christians who are trying to influence others with their pagan humanistic philosophies and lifestyles. Cheating, illicit sex, drugs, homosexuality, teens in adult situations, Darwinism, cussing, and all kinds of things Christians shouldn't be setting before their eyes. Numerous times, even on 'conservative' FOX News, they had a story on prostitutes and actually showed a video of pole dancers.”
Only the Lord knows how many Christian lives, homes, and churches have been spiritually weakened, even ruined, by television.
A few pastors of Independent Baptist churches used to preach against it and warn the people of its evil influence, but their number has decreased dramatically over the past 15 or 20 years.
The great power of television has been eclipsed by that of the Internet. Today you don't need a television to access moral filth.
It was the Internet (beginning in the 1990s) and the smartphone (beginning especially in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone) that have made the world and apostasy all intrusive. No church today can escape the effect of this technology, from the cities of wealthy nations to the villages of Third World countries.
In the Internet/smart phone generation, church young people can access the pop culture at the touch of a finger. Church people can connect with any song writer and be influenced by his or her music, philosophy, and lifestyle.
Church women can be influenced by popular evangelical teachers such as Beth Moore.
We have described theological liberalism, the public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet.
These and other cultural and doctrinal factors have combined to create a perfect storm of end-time apostasy that every church must face.
And the Word of God tells us that this storm will grow stronger as the time of Christ continues to draw near.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. ... But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13).
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The storm of end-time apostasy is amplified and empowered by the technology of our age.
Spiritual protection is available and victory is possible, but it requires that church leaders take everything to a higher, stronger level if they want to be standing for the Word of God in the future.
Evangelism must be more biblical. The door to church membership must be guarded more carefully. Love for Christ must be more fervent. Prayer must be taken more seriously. The church must be more deeply immersed in God's Word. Holiness must be pursued more earnestly. Discipleship must be more scriptural. Discipline and separation must be stricter.
Original published on October 19, 2017
Cultural Factors in the Weakening of Churches
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061