THE 21ST CENTURY AMERICAN CHURCHES
I spent last summer in southwest Florida. While there I visited different churches just to see what is available out there. The first Sunday it was a Nazarene Church in North Ft. Myers. This church is located on a four lane divided street with easy access. They have a very nice building with plenty of parking. It was not at all what I expected. They were perhaps fifty people there. Fifty people in a sanctuary that would hold several hundred. There were three ladies there that looked to be in their thirties. They had a small child with them. Apart from them there was no one there under fifty years of age and perhaps none under sixty. What did the elderly pastor preach? I have no idea; it made no lasting impression. Obviously, unless something dynamic happens this “church” is headed for extinction.
There are three Wesleyan churches in the Ft. Myers area; one in the Villas, one just east of Ft. Myers Shores and one in Cape Coral. The only thing these three have in common is that they all belong to the same denomination. The worship in each of these was completely different, as was the preaching. Not just different preachers but a different emphasis. The order of the services was different and had I not know they were Wesleyan I would have had no idea that they were, or that they were even of the same denomination. I also went to something called “The Word of Life Church.” Then there were two Assembly Of God churches, one in Ft. Myers and one in North Ft. Myers. Another was some kind of Christian Church. These were all well attended and had great music and musicians. The pastor of the Christian Church reported, during his sermon, that he had had bad feelings toward one of the members for years. He said they had patched things up. He treated this as a perfectly normal occurrence that all Christians have to deal with. In other words there is no victory over sin. I also wondered where the Holy Spirit was all these years; why hadn’t He shown these two that their ways were sinful.
Then I attended an Independent Baptist Church in North Ft. Myers. The pastor used Romans chapter 8 for his scripture. He only made one passing mention of the Holy Spirit in a message that ran for the best part of an hour. Of course he treated the Bible as a rule book which left little room for any ministry of the Holy Spirit even though the Spirit is the main subject of that chapter.
I went to a Free Methodist Church in Cape Coral on advice of a friend. I saw nothing there to identify it as Free Methodist. The pastor preached a Biblically sound message. I saw numerous places where he could have made practical application of the Biblical principles he raised but he never did. He left it to his hearers to apply it or not apply it as they saw fit. I suppose that way nobody gets offended and they can then all return next Sunday and deposit their offerings in the offering plate.
One sermon I recall from all this was preached at the Assembly of God in North Ft. Myers. The pastor did a good job of preaching on hell; the first message I had heard on that subject in years.
The last Sunday I was in Florida I was in Brooksville the home of a friend, where I attended a Lutheran church. There was some humor attached to the event. My friend and I were preparing to leave for church and his wife couldn’t believe he was going. This was not his usual Sunday morning activity. I told her he used to teach a Sunday School class in a Methodist Church on the lower east coast. He said, “You didn’t know that did you.” She then said he was a backslider. He took exception to this and we were off. After the sermon etc. they served communion and I inquired of a lady in front of us if they used grape juice or wine. She said wine but there was some juice in the middle of the plate. I decided not to take communion in any case but my friend went forward, knelt at the altar and took communion. When we got back to his house I told his wife, not to worry as he took communion, is reclaimed, and no longer a backslider. While you may find that humorous, as I did, the sad truth is that millions of people believe such foolishness really works.
I recall that, years ago, I read after one who spoke of “the world’s churches.” He meant just that; that they are the world’s churches and not the Lord God’s churches. He said if you want a church with formal services they are available, if you want one with a lot of emotion you can have it. I you want one that claims to be a Bible church that is available. What ever kind of church you want the Devil has provided it; anything to keep you from the true church, the body of Christ and from being shown the right way, Christ’s way, the “strait and narrow,” the only way. That author had it right. What my investigation of modern churches showed me was, quite simply, that they have all lost their way; they have “a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof”as sin is the norm.
Since my investigative foray into the church world, in our USA we have been hit with great economic failure and election results that have many Christians disillusioned and greatly disturbed. But we are told we are Americans and we always bounce back and overcome. Sounds good, but what evidence is there that we have the fortitude necessary to turn things around? Certainly what I observed in the churches gave no indication that there is any real hope for the America we have known. I don’t know about you, but this old reformed gambler has no intention to risk anything on a what is a sure, losing, hand. I have my treasures laid up much higher. I would advise you to do the same.