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Series Theme:  Learning to Pray for the Church

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PART ONE: The Pressures on the Church


We are going to examine, very briefly for these are only introductory notes, some of the key pressures upon believers that come from the world's teaching & behaviour being at odds with that in the Bible. We are going to very briefly examine:

•  Some Preliminary General Considerations

•  Factors Affecting Belief

•  Primary Areas of Confusion for Believers in this Changing World

•  Affluence & Materialism

•  Science & Technology

•  Relationship Changes

•  Attacks on the Bible

Each of these has contributed to the present state of the Church in the West. We will consider the nature and effects of each.


1.1 Some Preliminary General Considerations


Perhaps, first, some generalization caveats:

•  some pressures are uniform on all age groups,
•  some pressures are especially strong on younger generations,
•  all pressures are to do with beliefs which lead to actions,
•  all the pressures are not necessarily bad, some are good; it is the way we respond to them, in a godly way or ungodly, that is important.

1.2 Factors affecting Belief


•  The world has changed dramatically and church is often unaware of the changes, therefore there is often a failure to teach on those changes.
•  Christians can thus become schizophrenic or suffering multiple personality disorder, in the sense that they are led to interpret reality abnormally, and almost feel they have to have two personalities.
•  The reason for this is that the world tells us one thing and the Bible says another thing (apparently) and therefore believers so often have to live in two different worlds – the ‘real' world out there, and the ‘church' or ‘spiritual' world in here.
•  Failure to recognize these two ‘worlds' and perhaps not harmonize and understand them, is what causes many (especially younger people) to abandon the ‘church' and live entirely in the ‘real' world outside.
•  Failure to teach on these things has only helped to allow it to happen.


In what I have just said, we do need to realize that ‘real world' and ‘spiritual world' are simply perceptions, the way people mistakenly assess these two apparently different worlds. There are two things to be added to this. First, we can say with a certainty that the so-called ‘real world', that we live in every day of our lives, is not only what some of us think it is. There are spiritual dynamics at play even though the people of ‘the world' (and sadly many Christians) are mostly not aware of it. Second, following this, and this is sad, the ‘spiritual world' perception of many inside the Church so often is inadequate and falls short of the wonder of the world that God has given us to enjoy – which we'll consider later – but we think like that out of a defensiveness that arises because our church has not taught and equipped us to see more fully. More of this later.



1.3 Primary Areas of Confusion for Believers in this Changing World


1.3.1 Affluence & Materialism


•  Affluence is God's intent for mankind – abundance in all things. The world that God created was ‘good', very good! (Gen 1:25,31)
•  We live here in the West in the most affluent period of history. People living in the West are likely to be in the top 10% of the world's affluent people. Even those who consider themselves not well off are, in fact, better off with more resources available to them, than the majority of the rest of the world.
•  The danger of affluence is that we become self-satisfied and drift from God (see the warning in Deut 6:10-12). THIS is the very real danger of living in the affluent society.
•  Materialism, disregarding the spiritual, can easily become an offshoot of affluence. It is the outlook of the majority in the West today. The truth, the Bible tells us, is that we live in a material AND spiritual world.
•  Affluence also breeds busyness and in many lives in our secular society, ‘activity' conflicts with church presence (esp. young families with the amazing provision that there is for our children).
•  This last point particularly impacts us because the majority of our society (95% in the UK, 70% in the USA it is said) are not ‘in church' on a Sunday, indicating their values and allegiances, but for the children and young people in particular, much outside provision for them happens on a Sunday morning now.
•  Thought thus needs to be given to take the pressure off Sunday morning services and see there are other ways and other times Christians can gather for fellowship, teaching, worship etc., the things vital to a flourishing spiritual life. More later.


1.3.2 Science & Technology


•  The world has been transformed by science & technology. From the outset we need to understand that all science can be used for good or evil, blessing or harm. A few minority cultures around the world have withdrawn from the world, failing to see that all good gifts come from heaven above. God is not surprised by any knowledge that comes to light in science, or the technology that has been developed over the past half century or more.
•  The outworking of this impinges on every area of life (and the world) – social media, communications / entertainment, travel, home technologies, surgery, health, space tourism, 5g networking enhancing communications and general technology, quantum computers opening up robotic applications in life transforming (or threatening) ways, etc. etc.
•  The future is also creating ‘nightmare' or ‘doomsday' scenarios e.g. robotics & human destruction, Star Wars weaponry and warfare, environmental crises, cyborg lives (technology within the body), superhumans (intellect/memory enhancement), biological pandemics (purpose & accidental) - all are no longer merely ‘on the drawing board' but are being widely discussed as very real possibilities, if not probabilities!
•  All of these things create an entirely different mindset from the person who lived a hundred years ago. This involves the way we think about the world (and God) and ourselves.
•  We often feel knowledge/affluence means we are ‘masters of our destiny'. Enhancing personal pride is a temptation that comes with every new development. Atheistic voices declare that the removal of old, quaint, superstitious beliefs (of religion) will open the door for a brave new future where possibilities are endless.
•  In the absence of adequate, relevant teaching from within the church – see below – believers succumb to this mental outlook which further erodes intentions to hold to traditional biblical values (see below).
•  We should add, and perhaps this is something to be clearly identified and taught, that science and technology often do little to ameliorate the social problems modern society finds itself with and, in fact, sometimes they exacerbate those problems. All things to be recognized and taught.


1.3.3 Relationships Changes


Changes: Since the 1950's there has been a constant change in attitudes towards human relationships, a change towards behavioral autonomy (permissiveness) and away from biblical standards of behaviour. With a moving away from God towards a godless, secular society, absolutes were abolished and an ‘anything goes' attitude prevails. The biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life' has been abandoned.


Consequences: The results have been:

•  sexual activity is viewed by many in younger generations especially (but not solely) as a normal part of an everyday relationship with (any) others, given the opportunity, (boyfriend often means sexual partner),
•  cohabitation is the norm for many, despite the frequent surveys that show that it is far less stable than a committed marriage, and more prone to breakup,
•  divorces are common, with inadequate counselling provision to avoid it happening, despite the frequent surveys that show the harm done to children through divorce, and the ensuing dysfunctional behaviour of the young being observed in society,
•  gender boundaries have been removed and identity confusion reigns with inadequate consideration and understanding being given to a) the reality in each case and b) the effects upon society and individuals.

The overall result is a society that is confused, wandering and lost in a sea of uncertainty and fear (often, of not being loved).


1.3.4 Attacks on the Bible


•  For the believer (or possible future believers) this is potentially the most damaging.
•  For a number of years the attitude of the world has been that the Bible is outdated, inaccurate and therefore irrelevant and many, in ignorance, have listened.  
•  This, together with the attitudinal changes seen in the above three sections, has been used by the enemy to pressurize believers to get them to conform to this belief of biblical ‘irrelevancy' and ‘misinterpretation'. Church teaching to counter these untruths has frequently been inadequate and irrelevant – quite probably from lack of awareness of what is happening ‘out there'.


Enemy Strategy

The enemy strategy has been to remove the Bible as a foundation of Christian belief and this has been seen in:


(a) attacks by leading crusading atheists in the early part of the 21st century which, although well refuted by a number of excellent Christian apologists, still had devastating effect on the beliefs of many, especially when church leaders failed to make themselves aware of these things and teach accordingly.


(b) attacks upon the Bible from within the church, by what were once described as liberal thinkers, a trend where books are appearing that demean or demote the Bible as our foundation. Again the absence of awareness by church leaders and therefore applied teaching, has allowed this trend to continue, a trend one has to say that is built upon ignorance, poor biblical knowledge and poor understanding. Although there will be many who are unaware of this trend, there are an increasing number who subscribe to the dogma, that ‘the Bible is not inspired as has been traditionally taught and therefore it cannot be relied upon as the foundation of our faith'.


•  The level of biblical knowledge by the average believer appears to have diminished over recent decades. Older believers can often quite easily think of a dozen Bible teachers who impacted them. Rarely is that so for the vast majority of younger believers. (Check out Part 5 to see if the names are familiar to you or you have equivalent more modern names.)
•  The lack of biblical knowledge and understanding, means that often the average believer is ill-equipped to sustain a strong spiritual life, and act as a positive witness in the world of discussion.
•  The Biblical record, and the teaching it contains, speaks of normality being God's design for mankind, and the battle has been to undermine the veracity of the Bible and His design.
•  The answer is not to take out passages of the Bible but look afresh at how we understand them. We need to wrestle with the areas of conflict with world data (see below).


Enemy Activity (to be prayed against)

Satan seeks to slow or even destroy the work of God in both the individual and the church by seeking to get individual believers to either

- settle in complacent ‘don't change anything' mode, or

- let doubt and fear (cousins!) reign to create unbelief, or

- settle for ‘I can work to improve us without the Spirit' outlooks, or

- focus on lesser doctrines and concerns and ignore the call of the word and the

   Spirit to bring life to the body and glory to God, or

- resist calls to change, and

- create divisiveness and cliques.


Options: The options here are:

a) to ignore what the world says, but in the meantime that would mean our younger generations are being taught the world outlook and thus find themselves in conflict with what they hear in church, and so opt out of church, or


b) to seek to see the heart of the conflicts and ponder on how the Bible can or cannot be used to understand what the world says but in a biblical context.


Examples of Intellectual Conflicts to be resolved

Some of the areas, where world (scientific) opinion and traditional Bible interpretation are often seen to be in conflict and thus need resolving, include (as a start):

a) Origins

b) Evolution versus Creation

c) Long or short history

d) Piltdown man or Adam and Eve?

e) Judgements by a God of love?

f) Problem of evil - why it exists


This is not the place to expound on each of these but there are good and acceptable answers to all of these. Failures to address these, contributes to what I referred to earlier as almost a feeling of schizophrenia, or perhaps it should be ‘multiple personality disorder', that deals with ‘spiritual language & behaviour' on one hand while at the same time believing the materialistic and sometimes atheistic world view (backed apparently by science) on the other. These are the intellectual challenges.


The spiritual challenges are always there, that we resist the demeaning of God, the Bible and His design, and we learn more fully to live lives in the Spirit, inspired by Him, taught by Him, led by Him, and used by Him, to bring wisdom, revelation and power, both inside the Church and outside it.



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