Summary: We are going to look back at some of the obstacles and opportunities the church has faced the last decade, and look ahead at some obstacles and opportunities which may be in our path during the next ten years.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk planning my sermon schedule for the holiday season. I came up with topics for Advent, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, but I really wasn't sure what would be appropriate for the first Sunday of the year 2000. So, I paged through my files and came across an interesting message I had preached on December 31, 1989 - ten years ago. What I had done in that sermon was make some predictions about the 1990s. I focused on obstacles that I thought the evangelical church would face in that decade and opportunities I believed that God would provide. And, do you know what? I maybe didn't exactly hit the nail on the head, but I hit it pretty squarely. In other words, what I predicted ten years ago basically came true. Now, don't worry. I'm not going to show up in any of those ads for the Psychotic Hotline. I don't have any of those types of powers, nor do I want them. I also don't claim to be a prophet in the biblical sense, at least like the Old Testament prophets who would foretell the future and could face the death penalty if what they said did not come to pass. What I did ten years ago was make some educated guesses, based on my knowledge of the Bible and the world in which we live. So, what I want to do today is look both ways. We are going to look back at some of the obstacles and opportunities the church has faced the last decade, and look ahead at some obstacles and opportunities which may be in our path during the next ten years. Now, this is a different type of sermon from what I usually preach, but let's pray that God would use it to encourage and challenge each of us today.
We are going to take a look at three predictions which I made ten years ago. The first prediction was that the church would face a society which was more and more secular. Christians would feel increasingly uncomfortable because of a growing gap between the biblical values we cherish and the prevailing attitudes of our culture. There would also be a growing number of people who could best be described, not just as non-Christian, but as anti-Christian. What has happened in the '90s? Pretty much what I just said. Oh, there have been some spiritual bright spots the past ten years. The "Promise Keepers" movement impacted the lives of literally millions of men. Recently, women have been in the spotlight with gatherings like the "Women of Faith" conferences. Christian conservatives continue to be a potent force in American politics, though their influence probably peaked in 1994. Most evangelical denominations can point to some glowing growth statistics for the last ten years. This Sunday there are probably 35% more people attending a worship service in Baptist General Conference churches than there were ten years ago, chiefly because we have started a lot of new churches in recent years. Professional athletes, politicians, and other celebrities have been more vocal about their faith in Christ than in the past. WWJD, which stands for "What Would Jesus Do?" has become a symbol worn by millions across our country. There are some bright spots but, in the big picture, secularism is thriving and America has indeed become a post-Christian society.
The media and higher education are two extremely powerful institutions in our culture, and during the last ten years they have grown more and more hostile to Christianity. Yes, Touched By An Angel continues to be a popular television series, but the vast majority of movies and TV shows today depict values and lifestyles very much opposed to Christianity. Do you remember the controversy a few years ago when Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet and became the first openly homosexual, or lesbian, character on a television series? Now almost every sitcom has at least one "gay" character. Polls show that in the past decade, the percent of Americans who want the government to recognize homosexual marriages has grown from 20% to 40%. In our schools, prayer is prohibited, not just in the classrooms, but during the past ten years prayer has been banned at high school commencements and football games. Even in our area, Christian students have been told not to speak of their Christian faith when they speak at a graduation ceremony. Different polls show that a growing number of people see the "religious right," or "fundamental Christians," as the biggest threat to freedom in our country.
I also said in my sermon ten years ago that, because of the secularization of our culture, there would be a growing number of people with almost no knowledge of Christianity. There would be more and more young people who had no idea what Christmas and Easter were about. Those who work with children in our Club program have seen that come true. Language that Christians have traditionally used, such as "being washed in the blood of the Lamb" or even "getting saved" have become meaningless to a growing percent of people. However, I also said this would provide a great opportunity for the church, and I believe it has. In the past, there were lots of folks who had no interest in the gospel because they thought they were a Christian just because they lived in America. The phrase "becoming a Christian" meant nothing, because they assumed one was born that way. Often, they had a taste of Christianity which inoculated them from the real thing. Well, nowadays, less and less people have had that inoculation. Many folks who used to call themselves Christians, don't use that label anymore. That may not seem like good news, but these people are often much more open to hearing the gospel message than the religious folks who don't know Jesus Christ. That has always been true. In Jesus' day, there was no group of people who had a harder time embracing Him and His message than the very religious Pharisees. Perhaps one of the reasons for a bright spot like "Promise Keepers" during the '90s was that to many men, biblical Christianity was something new and fresh.