Are we in a midst of another need for a Spiritual Reformation in America?

After much study, review and research of the muliple causes of the the millions of souls who started out in the church, only to leave the church , I thought that this article would be appropriate for your consideration.

Most researchers will agree that due to the lack of biblical literacy, poor discipleship methodology, along with the fact that many church goers are not truely regenerated by the Holy Spirit, our culture is not as spiritual as we would like to think. Many of these individuals [who have fallen away] were deceived by subjective experiences that they believed was biblical faith. In this regard, they were not able to develop the required Biblical worldview that a disciple must have in order to navigate through this world. In times past, a disciple of Christ was required to spend their life-time learning the Way of the Master with a balance of Spirit and Truth. This was essentially an ascetic lifestyle leading toward holiness and spiritual maturity. My friend, recent researcher are revealing that this type of seeking is lost in the past, never to become a in fashionable quest by those who are "Christian". I've included some supportive data to note the very sad condition our spirituality is at present in America. The following is from George Barna year end analysis of American Christianity 2009!

Barna Studies the Research, Offers a Year-in-Review Perspective

Based on his company’s interviews with thousands of people during the year, researcher George Barna synthesized the findings across numerous studies and summarized four themes that emerged from his research regarding religion in 2009.
Theme 1: Increasingly, Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity.
“Faith remains a hot topic in America these days,” George Barna commented, expanding on the theme. “Politicians, athletes, cultural philosophers, teachers, entertainers, musicians – nearly everyone has something to say about faith, religion, spirituality, morality, and belief these days. But as the fundamental values and assumptions of our nation continue to shift, so do our ideas about faith and spirituality. Many of our basic assumptions are no longer firm or predictable.
“One of those assumptions relates to how we develop our faith. These days,” he continued, “the faith arena is a marketplace from which we get ideas, beliefs, relationships, habits, rituals and traditions that make immediate sense to us, and with which we are comfortable. The notion of associating with a particular faith – whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or some other strain – still has appeal because that connection provides a discernible identity and facilitates the possibility of belonging to something meaningful. But the actual components of what we choose to belong to are driven by our momentary needs and perceptions.
“Our studies consistently demonstrate – as explained in unChristian, the book by my colleague, David Kinnaman – that being a Christian or associating with the Christian faith is not as attractive to Americans as it used to be. That is largely due to two realities. First, the mass media have unfavorably caricatured the Christian faith, devout Christians and Christian churches. Second, it is relatively rare to find someone who is an exemplar of the Christian faith,” the researcher explained. “Consequently, millions of Americans have less trouble embracing Christ than they have embracing Christianity, but many people assume it is a package deal: that is, you cannot be a Christian without adopting the institutional framework and limitations of the Christian world. Young adults, in particular, find that unappealing.
“Ultimately, in a culture where people are busy, distracted, confused and trying to keep it all together, there is less loyalty to a faith brand than to self. The purpose of faith, for most Americans, is not so much to discover truth or to relate to a loving, praiseworthy deity as it is to become happy, successful, comfortable and secure. For a growing percentage of citizens, their sense of spirituality, more than Christianity, facilitates those outcomes.”
Some of the related survey results Barna cited from this year’s studies included:
o Just 50% of adults contend that Christianity is still the automatic faith of choice in the US
o Nearly nine out of every ten adults (88%) agreed either strongly or somewhat that their religious faith is very important in their life
o 74% said their faith is becoming more important in their life
o Substantive awareness of other faith groups is minimal; even simple name awareness of some groups, such as Wicca, is tiny (only 45% have heard of Wicca)
o Most self-identified Christians are comfortable with the idea that the Bible and the sacred books from non-Christian religions all teach the same truths and principles
o Half of all adults (50%) argue that a growing number of people they know are tired of having the same church experience
Theme 2: Faith in the American context is now individual and customized. Americans are comfortable with an altered spiritual experience as long as they can participate in the shaping of that faith experience.
“Now that we are comfortable with the idea of being spiritual as opposed to devoutly Christian,” Barna pointed out, “Americans typically draw from a broad treasury of moral, spiritual and ethical sources of thought to concoct a uniquely personal brand of faith. Feeling freed from the boundaries established by the Christian faith, and immersed in a postmodern society which revels in participation, personal expression, satisfying relationships, and authentic experiences, we become our own unchallenged spiritual authorities, defining truth and reality as we see fit.
“Consequently, more and more people are engaged in hybrid faiths, mixing elements from different historical eras and divergent theological perspectives,” Barna stated. “In some ways, we are creating the ultimate ecumenical movement, where nothing is deemed right or wrong, and all ideas, beliefs and practices are assigned equal validity. Everyone is invited to join the dialogue, enjoy the ride, and feel connected to a far-reaching community of believers. Screening or critiquing what that community believes is deemed rude and inappropriate. Pragmatism and relativism, rather than any sort of absolutism, has gained momentum.”
Some of the survey findings that related to this theme included:
o About half of all adults (45%) say they are willing to try a new church or even a new form of church
o 71% say they will develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination
o Three-quarters of adults (75%) believe that God is motivating them and others to connect with Him through different means and experiences than were common in the past
o Barely one-third of self-identified Christians (36%) strongly agree that it is important for followers of Christ to maintain positive relationships with people who are not Christians
o Two-thirds of adults (64%) are willing to experience and express their faith in new or different environments or structures than they have in the past
o Only one-third (34%) believe in absolute moral truth
Theme 3: Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal in the U.S.
Barna’s findings related to Bible knowledge and application indicate that little progress, if any, is being made toward assisting people to become more biblically literate.
“Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles.
Barna noted that some of the critical assumptions of many preachers and Bible teachers is inaccurate. “The problem facing the Christian Church is not that people lack a complete set of beliefs; the problem is that they have a full slate of beliefs in mind, which they think are consistent with biblical teachings, and they are neither open to being proven wrong nor to learning new insights. Our research suggests that this challenge initially emerges in the late adolescent or early teenage years. By the time most Americans reach the age of 13 or 14, they think they pretty much know everything of value the Bible has to teach and they are no longer interested in learning more scriptural content. It requires increasingly concise, creative, reinforced, and personally relevant efforts to penetrate people’s minds with new or more accurate insights into genuinely biblical principles. In a culture driven by the desire to receive value, more Bible teaching is generally not viewed as an exercise in providing such value.”
Some of the survey-based results that led Barna to his conclusions included the following:
o 68% of self-identified Christians have heard of spiritual gifts, a decline in the past decade; a minority (roughly one-third) can actually identify a biblical spiritual gift they claim to possess
o Less than one out of every five born again adults (19%) has a biblical worldview, which is unchanged in the past 15 years
o Just half of all self-identified Christians firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches
o Barely one-quarter of adults (27%) are confident that Satan exists
o Less than four out of every ten self-identified Christians firmly accept the teaching that a person can be influenced by spiritual forces, such as angels or demons
o An overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians (81%) contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible
o Only 4% believe that poverty is an issue that is primarily the responsibility of the Church

Theme 4: Effective and periodic measurement of spirituality – conducted personally or through a church – is not common at this time and it is not likely to become common in the near future.
“There are two levels on which evaluation of where we stand spiritually can take place,” noted the California-based author. “There can be external measurement, such as that conducted by pastors, teachers, coaches or peers, and there can be self-evaluation. At the moment, we’re seeing very little of either form of review related to a person’s spiritual condition.
“Our studies this year among pastors showed that almost nine out of ten senior pastors of Protestant churches asserted that spiritual immaturity is one of the most serious problems facing the Church. Yet relatively few of those pastors believe that such immaturity is reflected in their church. Few pastors have gone so far as to give their congregants a specific, written statement of how they define spiritual maturity, how it might be measured, the strategy for facilitating such maturity, or what scriptural passages are most helpful in describing and fostering maturity. Those pastors who made any attempt to measure maturity were more likely to gauge depth on the basis of participation in programs than to evaluate people’s spiritual understanding or any type of transformational fruit in their lives. Overall, less than one out of every ten pastors said they were completely satisfied with how they assess the spiritual condition of their congregation.
“The situation is similar among Christian individuals. Americans have an almost insatiable curiosity about themselves and how they stack up against others. Yet, in the spiritual realm, that same level of curiosity is much less apparent. Perhaps it is because of the lack of tools for such measurement or even the absence of motivation to grow or to deepen their relationship with God.
“Not surprisingly,” he continued, “our research found that a majority of churchgoing adults are uncertain as to what their church would define as a ‘healthy, spiritually mature follower of Christ’ and they were no more likely to have personally developed a clear notion of such a life.
“It may well be that spiritual evaluation is so uncommon because people fear that the results might suggest the need for different growth strategies or for more aggressive engagement in the growth process. No matter what the underlying reason is, the bottom line among both the clergy and laity was indifference toward their acknowledged lack of evaluation. That suggests there is not likely to be much change in this dimension in the immediate future. In other words, as we examine the discipleship landscape, what we see is what we get – and what we will keep getting for some time.”
We still have hope in the work that is before us!
Much Grace and Peace
Brother Alonzoe' Thornton, M.Div.
Sharing the Light Of The Messiah...until He returns!

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Comment by Alonzo E Thornton, D.Min. on March 5, 2010 at 2:15pm
Thank you Brother Alexander and Brother Dockrey for you most recent feedback on this post. One of my favorite books on Spiritual maturity is: Reformation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. In this well researched book, spiritual maturation in the believer is the complete transformation of every ontological aspect of our human-being via the work of the Holy Spirit inwardly. It is far greater than reading the Bible, or legalism, church or "just doing good things. It is a reformation of the heart,mind and will; the physical body, one's spirit, one's missional aspect, and the soul aspect of the individual. The cross is applied to all of these aspects, along with our willingness to endure "life happenings" combine to simulate a inner and outer spiritual purging in order to create a New Creature in Christ. This type of regeneration is only possible through brokeness and lost of one's will to live in order to exhange my will for Messiah. This is the long, life-time discipline of discipleship. Only then can one be considered spiritually matured, by the shaping and molding of the Holy Spirit via the will of our Heavenly Father.
Charis-Shalom
Brother Alonzoe'
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 5, 2010 at 12:08pm
I think that the Bible clearly lays out a criteria for spirituality - the fruit of the spirit. The opposites are the works of the flesh. A tree is known by its fruit. Paul called the Corinthians carnal because they were not exhibiting the fruit of the spirit, but rather the fruit of unregenerate man.

Certainly developing spiritually is a lifelong pursuit as one conditions his mind to think according to the mind of Christ and daily crucifies the flesh, but I don't see really see these two things as contradictory.

But I think what you may be getting at is a legalistic criteria inconsistent with the New Testament. That obviously is bad.
Comment by Craig F Alexander on March 5, 2010 at 11:44am
Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't think following what the Bible teaches is bad at all. In fact that should be what we do all the time. The danger is when people see maturity as a Christian as meeting criteria rather than an ongoing process that should last our whole lives.
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 5, 2010 at 11:40am
On second thought, maybe the author did mean rules in the legal sense. But that might not necessarily be bad. After all, Jesus gave certain commandments that his followers were expected to adhere to - love of the brothers, for instance. That would technically be a rule. Maybe the question could have been worded more specifically. But either way, I think that statistic reveals a lot.
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 5, 2010 at 11:31am
I think that the word "rules" used in this context could refer to a gauge, as in "rule of thumb". I could be wrong, but I didn't take it to mean a rule in the legal sense. So if I'm right you might paraphrase the question, "Do you believe that principles in Scripture are the sole barometer for measuring spiritual growth?"
Comment by Craig F Alexander on March 5, 2010 at 11:17am
This is what I found most alarming about this research:

"o An overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians (81%) contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible", and...

“Our studies this year among pastors showed that almost nine out of ten senior pastors of Protestant churches asserted that spiritual immaturity is one of the most serious problems facing the Church. Yet relatively few of those pastors believe that such immaturity is reflected in their church. Few pastors have gone so far as to give their congregants a specific, written statement of how they define spiritual maturity, how it might be measured, the strategy for facilitating such maturity, or what scriptural passages are most helpful in describing and fostering maturity. Those pastors who made any attempt to measure maturity were more likely to gauge depth on the basis of participation in programs than to evaluate people’s spiritual understanding or any type of transformational fruit in their lives. Overall, less than one out of every ten pastors said they were completely satisfied with how they assess the spiritual condition of their congregation."

So here we see that people don't understand what spiritual maturity is, but they believe it is attainable by following the rules in the Bible. Why is it that we yearn so much to be under a burden of rules? Maturity isn't following a set of rules in the Bible like graduating from a class once you have received enough credits. One of the things that I see as a measure of maturity comes from Hebrews:

Heb 5:14 - But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

We use what we have learned in the Word and our experiences to help the Holy Spirit guide us to discern between good and evil. This process can be extremely slow for somebody that never tries or it could happen in short order if they are willing to yield to the Holy Spirit and search out God's Word. An individual's maturity can also be hindered if pastors do what Chris spoke of below and tailor the Gospel to the demands of the people. Without honesty and an openness to correction or rebuke, is maturity possible?
Comment by Dr. Henry, President of the AOCI on March 2, 2010 at 10:03pm
Amen brother. Timely and concise article on a great need for a much needed spiritual reformation in America. Keep up the great work for the Kingdom and keep those articles coming.
Comment by Christopher R. Dockrey on March 2, 2010 at 12:32pm
“Ultimately, in a culture where people are busy, distracted, confused and trying to keep it all together, there is less loyalty to a faith brand than to self. The purpose of faith, for most Americans, is not so much to discover truth or to relate to a loving, praiseworthy deity as it is to become happy, successful, comfortable and secure. For a growing percentage of citizens, their sense of spirituality, more than Christianity, facilitates those outcomes.”

So true. The danger here is not that we will tailor our presentation of the Gospel for our audience, but that we will alter the content of the Gospel to fit our audience.

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