Many times over the years I've read and heard church experts describe the American Church as a "frog in a kettle." The illustration tells us that if you drop a frog in a kettle of boiling water it will jump out immediately in reaction to the pain. On the other hand, if you put the frog in water that is room temperature, slowly heating it, the frog will remain in the kettle and eventually cook to death. This is a good time to revisit the idea in light of the recent events that signal the decline of Christianity in our nation.
What the News Tells us About the Frog
Not long ago, a Newsweek Magazine cover story featured research about the decline of Christianity in America. In the article titled, "The End of Christian America," Jon Meacham commented extensively on the implications of the recent results of the American Religious Identification Survey. Two core facts that have arrested everyone's attention are the findings that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990 and the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009.
Also in the news we found a riveting article in the Christian Science Monitor by Michael Spencer titled "The Coming Evangelical Collapse." This thoughtful article predicts that within 10 years there will be an accelerated collapse of Evangelical influence coupled with an open hostility toward Christians by our securely and religiously antagonistic culture. (You can read the article here.)
During a speech in Turkey, our president boldly described the United States as a secular nation and not a Christian nation. Clearly this signals a firm definition of our nation as a people no longer identified by strong Christian roots or values.
While people of faith are certainly not disappearing from the landscape of America, the trends certainly tell us that the water is getting hotter around the frog.
An Understanding of the Water
It is important that we understand that the water in which the frog is cooking is not the culture. The danger to the frog is not secularism, liberalism, or atheism. To believe this is to conclude that these worldviews are more powerful than the message of the cross.
I believe the water in which we are boiling is our own spiritual apathy, missional indifference, and prayerless irrelevance. In essence, the frog stands in danger of boiling in its own water. Just as Jesus warned some of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3 about their precarious spiritual condition, we too must recognize our own need to take responsibility for the situation.
What the Frog Must Do
As I read, pray, and consider our present situation in this nation, I am moved by the relevance of the mission of Strategic Renewal. The incredible risk God led me to take in leaving the security of the Sr. Pastor role to follow this passion makes sense in light of all we are now seeing in our nation. Personally, I am convinced that I must do all I can to encourage the church in vital renewal in these days.
Further, I believe the American Church must seriously "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Just as Christ's words to the seven churches of Revelation brought a stern wake-up call and, in some cases, words of comfort - so we need to try to understand His heart for our present condition in our nation.
Recognition - As we reflect on the objective findings of these recent studies we should carefully consider our response. What is more, we should see the data as merely symptomatic of even deeper concerns about our spiritual substance in the American church. Many of us have observed over many years the growing conformity to the world's practices and a business-oriented approach to ministry. We've had concerns that we are depending more on methods, technology, and human skill than on the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. We've observed our prayer-deprived congregations, knowing that at some point it would catch up to us. The water of our apathy has slowly come to a boil and it is imperative that we recognize it and act in obedience to the Spirit.
Repentance - I often say that the problem in our nation is not the pervasiveness of the darkness but the failure of the light. If darkness is advancing it is because the light is failing. Speaking to the churches in Revelation, Jesus repeatedly gave the command, "Repent or else" (Revelation 2:5, 16, 21, 21; 3:3, 19). My prayer is that the current state of affairs will motivate us all to turn from our self-reliance and self-satisfaction. My prayer is that God will allow us to turn from everything that might encourage our faith to rest on the wisdom of man rather than the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5).
Resurgence - Jesus called the church at Ephesus that had left their first love to return to their first works (Revelation 2:5). He urged the church at Sardis to wake up from their dead state and to strengthen what remained (Revelation 3:3). He appealed to the lukewarm church at Laodicea to open the door of their lives to the presence of Christ and exchange their self-sufficiency for His best gifts (Revelation 3:17-20). At all costs, we too must sense His call to spiritual resurgence and genuine renewal during these crucial days. Of course, this is the mission and vision of Strategic Renewal.
Revival - Jesus challenged the churches in the book of Revelation to overcome, and offered them abundant promises if they did. I am mindful of John the Apostle's words in 1 John 5:4-5: "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" Of course, at this Easter season we are especially mindful of the fact that Jesus the Son of God reigns in resurrection power and is desirous to manifest that power through a dependent people.
The Hope of Overcoming, Prayerful Faith
I am hopeful that these present times will motivate the truly regenerate Christ followers to overcome in faith. I am also persuaded that many who have attached themselves to the church in America in a spirit of convenience or entertainment will fall by the wayside.
Finally, I am reminded of Christ's story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 who serves as an example of His command that we should always pray, and not lose heart (v. 1). At the end of that passage He asks a penetrating and truly relevant question: "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" In context, this faith is marked by a persevering prayerfulness.
These are the times that challenge us to consider the seriousness of that question and, by grace, to respond with a resounding "yes." May the Lord find us always praying, persevering, and trusting that the overcoming power of faith in His Gospel and His presence within us will make the difference in these defining moments for our lives, families, and nation.
© Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
Daniel Henderson is Founder and President of Strategic Renewal, a ministry focused on igniting the heart of the church through personal renewal, congregational revival, and leadership restoration for the glory of Jesus Christ. An accomplished speaker, teacher and author, Daniel travels across the U.S. leading seminars and events that motivate individuals and entire congregations to greater passion and effectiveness in prayer. With 25 years of pastoral experience, he offers individuals and churches the spiritual tools for a more intimate relationship with God.