What’s New Out There?

I’ve been insulated as a Primitive Baptist pastor for the last five-plus years, which certainly has its advantages. There’s been a lot of change in the Evangelical world since then and I’ve just now finding out about it. I’ve noticed it mostly in the area of corporate worship, but that is just one of many areas. Being away for a few years has given me a fresh perspective. A few things come to mind initially and I hope to write a few posts about them.This list includes both Baptist and Presbyterian churches we’ve visited.

First of all, there has been a decline in reverence for worship. Now call me a stick in the mud (a term I’ve started to embrace) but since when did ministers stop wearing ties? Since when did members start dressing like they were going on vacation? I understand someone coming in from working 3rd shift wearing work clothes, but most people aren’t in that position. If this were the only symptom I wouldn’t suspect there was a disease, but it goes deeper than that. Worship in most churches has all the gravity of a kernel of popcorn. And this is in conservative churches. Of course this is not to say all churches are this way. But too many are. And the way people dress (at least in the South) is one indicator of how much priority they put on worship. Does this mean you don’t love God if you don’t wear a tie? Of course not. But when the people at Wal-Mart are better dressed than people in the church, it raises a few questions.

This can also seen in the more feminine style of hymnody. We all know about choruses that gush about one’s relationship to Jesus like a middle-school love note. But a new element is taking old and modern hymns and putting them to romantic-style tunes. It has a certain sterilization effect on the song.

The general thrust of conservative, Evangelical churches is one of trendiness. We don’t want to be seen as out of the loop so we will try to make people comfortable, yet remind people that we are Christian. These churches haven’t abandoned the message, but the message is being slowly contextualized into oblivion.

In reaction to the empty philosophy of ministry embraced by some, there are doctrinally rigorous, spiritually empty churches. I don’t mean high-church, liturgically-minded churches, although that can always be a problem. I mean churches that appear conservative but are really dead. It is easy to look godly, and preach accurate sermons that give no spiritual nourishment. When this happens it’s like looking at rocks that stick partially out of the ground. As long as you don’t turn them over you won’t ever find problems. But when you do turn them over you find all kinds of nasty things. What’s more a minister can busy himself in doctrinal matters, hunting out heretics and the like while ignoring the pastoral snarls within his own church. It could be that the pastor has chosen to turn a blind-eye to the problems because he knows it would blow the church apart. Or the pastor could actually be deluded into thinking that his members are better Christians than those everywhere else. Either way, spiritual dry-rot sets in and its only a matter of time before the church dies.

Whatever ditch these churches fall into, they all have good qualities. They don’t want to don an heir of hypocrisy, hence more laid-back dress. They strive to show Christ’s love almost every church we’ve visited has been friendly. Others want to make sure they uphold their respective confession. These desires are not problems within themselves until they override all other desires. Then it becomes harmful to the body.

Having said that, I’m not indicting all churches. Amanda and I have visited a some churches that are faithful to the gospel, loving to outsiders, and spiritually strong. My prayer is that their number will increase.


  1. Luke C. says:

    Good Insight. Hope things are doing well for y’all.

  2. John R. says:

    Matt, I would love a blog post on Leithart’s efforts at a reformed catholicism that includes a co-belligerency on theological (and not just ethical) matters, especially in contrast to the skepticism of folks like Carl Trueman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKekHEco87U

  3. John, could you explain what you mean by co-belligerency on theological matters in contrast to the skepticism of Truman?

  4. John R. says:

    In their Biola discussion, PL seems to be arguing that Reformed churches should seek theological unity with the RC church that the world will see and appreciate. Trueman (if I remember correctly) thinks growing theological unity is fine as long as it’s the RC church which is moving towards the Reformed position; Trueman seemed skeptical that anything more than co-belligerency on ethical matters like abortion could be achieved unless the RC or Reformed churches softened (or compromised) their current contrasting positions. Don’t feel obligated to write anything on the topic, unless it’s just a bait you feel you have to cast.

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