Historically, Christians have been the “Salt and Light” within society, tempering the process of decay (salt), while renewing the world with the gospel of Christ (Light). Over the last fifty years, however, a radical change has occurred. Christians today, instead of living “Salt and Light,” practice a peculiar “halt and hide” methodology. Fearful of standing out from the crowd, desiring instead to “fit in” with non-believers, Christians “halt” any efforts to share truth to a lost world, hiding their light as if ashamed. Dismally, rather than seeking to make a difference in the world by being different than the world, most Christians today outdo one other in silly attempts to be relevant to a world rotting away in darkness.
I know this sounds strong, but this isn’t just my opinion. The data backs up the bold statements and then some. According to the United States Census Bureau Records and various denominational reports:
1. Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts.
2. Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity.
3. From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).
4. At the start of the twentieth century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America.
5. Given the declining numbers and closures of Churches as compared to new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth.
6. The United States now ranks third (3rd) following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians; in other words, the U.S. is becoming an ever increasing “un-reached people group.”
7. And the worst one of all, half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.
If over half of existing churches in the USA have not brought one new member into its congregation in over two years, then “Houston” we have a problem. Without being “Salt and Light” in the world, the Church, simply stated, is not relevant. The Church is supposed to be a rescue mission where saved “ruined sinners” go into the dark world and reflect the Light of Christ onto others’ lives so they can be transformed by the Light. Christians are to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Instead most are hiding out in Christian ghettos, sniping at each other and anyone who dares to leave the ghetto behind to fulfill our calling. Imagine how much better our world would be if Christians shined more Light and shot less messengers!?! Having mentored fifty plus pastors over the years, I know the challenges they face first-hand and respect greatly those who seek to confront them Biblically. Still, Christianity is about service to God and others; thus, any church that cannot grow one member in two years has, to put it bluntly, descended into darkness. How is it possible for a team of rescue workers to not rescue even one new person in over two years time in the locality they allegedly serve? Furthermore, how can even one church be that ineffective, let alone over half of them? A shameful lack of Christ-centered leadership is the only possible answer.
While I realize the God is sovereign and “works on whom he will” perhaps Christians can begin to work as God’s servants as we are commanded, shining Light rather than cursing darkness. This reminds me of the statement I read daily for years, “Work as if everything depended upon you and pray as if everything depended upon God.” Christians, after all, are God’s hands and feet on earth and its time to get the feet and hands into action by reflecting Light into the darkness. To be sure, the best way for a person to start the process is to model before he messages. The world is filled with people whose message is better than the model, but Christians, while not perfect, should seek to model the love and grace of Christ through their actions. A word of caution here: although the church is woefully ineffective today, if a Christian actually seeks to live Biblical principles, he must be prepared to be shot at, shot at not only by non-believers, but also, depressingly, by hypocritical “halt and hide” Christians. Just as Christ had unjust mud slung at him by non-believers and the religious establishment of his day, so too, not surprisingly, will today’s Light-shining Christians receive unjust abuse from vitriolic unbelievers and the lukewarm religious establishment. For when a person is in darkness, any person who dares to shine Light will either draw him out of the darkness or arouse him to destroy the Light. Of course, since throwing mud on others is more comfortable than seeing the dirt within, hypocrites always end up throwing mud. Nonetheless, shine your received Light anyway because Christians would rather be criticized by man than disapproved by God.
Personally, I will turn fifty years old next year and I thank God for his many blessings in my life. I no longer am driven to build communities for personal success of financial reasons, but I have a bigger dream than ever before from a spiritual yearning. Through studying the Bible, I realize God has prepared footsteps for me and I intend to walk in them. Regardless of how many Christians have chosen to “halt and hide,” I am on a mission to find the remaining few who will fulfill The Great Commission, becoming the “Salt and Light” to a lost world groping in darkness. Indeed, the darker the world becomes, the more Light impacts those it reaches. For example, I have had the blessing of seeing my wife (Laurie Woodward) display the Light of Christ into thousands of lives and her example inspires me to do similarly. Quit playing it small; quit fearing rejection, and start serving God and others. Even if everyone else in your church is hiding out, it’s time for you to lift Christ’s Light up. Be the example and start real change in your community.
Christians should understand they are living life before God’s watchful gaze. It doesn’t matter how many approve you in the world if Christ disapproves and it doesn’t matter how disapproved by the world you are if God approves. The following story tugs at my heart every time I read it:
“There was a concert pianist in the last century that longed to play in the great concert hall in Vienna.
When he finished his first concert before thousands, the people gave him a standing ovation.
Afterwards, he was asked, “Was it the greatest moment in your life to receive this long applause?”
The concert pianist replied, “No! I liked it, but it was not the most important thing to me.”
He said, “When the people all sat down, an elderly man who sat in the top corner of the balcony simply nodded his head at me. That was the greatest moment of my life because he is the master who taught me for 30 years. One nod from him was worth much more than the long applause of the masses.”
Needless to say, God is the “Audience of One”. Our life is His gift to us and what we do with it is our gift back to God. One nod from God is worth a thousand boos from the crowd; conversely, one thousand cheers will not be worth God’s disapproval. Therefore, quit seeking man’s approval and start seeking God’s. In a world filled with darkness, the Light of Christ shines brighter than ever before. Despite one of Satan’s biggest insinuations being how little one person can do to make a difference, the fact is that leaders (anyone remember the impact of Joseph, David, or Paul?) make a huge difference when following God’s calling. For instance, imagine a stadium of people filled with 80,000 people in complete darkness. If one more person becomes discouraged and joins them in darkness, nothing much has changed. It was dark before and its still dark now. Darkness and Light, in other words, are not co-equal forces battling it out in some cosmic drama. Rather, darkness is merely the absence of Light, not its opposite. As such, it has no power to do anything, because it’s simply the lack of something. One person, then, who enters the stadium and lifts Light can change everything because 80,001 sets of eyes are now staring at the only thing different in the stadium – the person who had the courage to lift Christ’s Light.
This is the difference a person living his faith can do. Whereas many Church leaders are failing to do what they are called to do, focusing instead on nasty disputes of arcane doctrine and personal vendettas, while the people drown in darkness, perhaps its time for ordinary men and women to do what God commands by showing our love for God by serving people. Maybe its time Christians start meeting non-Christian’s needs, helping serve in their local charities (LIFE on LIFE), helping serve local people by setting them free from the Financial Matrix, and ultimately, helping them see Light in an increasingly dark world. This is a life worth living and a purpose worth pursuing.
Orrin Woodward: LIFE Chairman of the Board