I have read many of the conversations concerning pluralism, atheism, apologetics, unity, evangelism, etc and I am having trouble getting past the division among Christians much less the attacks from other theists or atheists. This conversation is more of a question raised about the possibility of success without unity.
Let me give one example. My wife and I founded and operate an outreach ministry in a fairly small town in the southeastern United States called Compassion In Action. In this small town, there are well over 500 churches. Of these 500 churches there are nearly 100 denominations represented. It would seem to me, that with 38,000 different Christian denominations worldwide, this is not a local issue. It was our calling, which was very explicit, to form an organization to show the unity of the body of Christ. We do not have Sunday or Wednesday meetings, which are the cultural norm, but instead are closed on these days so that our participants can attend their own church. If they do not have one, we direct them towards one of our network churches. We do this to show our heart of non-competitiveness and to show that it isn’t about numbers in a room but rather about life change. We offer instead, life skills classes such as budgeting, anger management, parenting, Biblical studies and ministry training. We also work with local social agencies to provide medication assistance, rehabilitation mentoring and court mandated counseling. Our mainstay is food, clothing and furniture distribution. It is important to note that we purposefully stay away from Federal Grants because of the requirements associated with them and therefore require private financial support. With Federal money, we cannot make any requirements of our clientele such as class attendance or volunteerism. In order for a person to continue in our programs we require participation in some area. We have noted tremendous personal growth when we do this as opposed to a sense of entitlement when we do not. This is purposely to break the cycle of a sense of worthlessness, loss of dignity or self esteem associated with charity.
Our programs are recognized by smaller congregations and non-theistic groups. There are countless testimonies by caregivers and pastors praising the individual growth that they have seen both in clients as well as volunteers (we are a completely volunteer agency). Some of our octogenarian volunteers and clients return for class, not because they need further assistance, but because they are learning Biblical truth that they had never heard coming from the pulpit. One lady quotes, “I have learned more over the past six months than I have in the last 70 years.” Currently we feed around 4000 people each month within a radius of about 50 miles either in house or with mobile pantries.
The problems that we see are not with people in need or the more humble organizations, but rather with the larger more comfortable groups. I call this group the “fat and happy crowd”. These are the mainstream denominational churches with congregations ranging from 200 to 1200 (largest in our area). When approached with the idea of unity and cooperation, the answer is always similar. Responses range from “we can do that better”, “How will our church be advertised”, “we don’t want to over utilize our volunteers”, “we already have too many fundraising projects” (referring to church upgrades, buses, etc.) and even “Well we can’t participate with you because you condone the use of non-Biblical instruments such as the guitar and drums.” All of the above are quotes and not paraphrases. Some, who have appreciated the idea, have actually proceeded to start their own versions under their own name. One group of 4 of the larger churches formed a foundation to duplicate the idea and has since lost interest due to the man hours of operation. We were consulting with them to help get it established. Quotes from one of the more active churches are usually “see what Cornerstone is doing?” (Names changed and paraphrased). I almost never hear “see what God is doing through X”. I gather information like this by attending various churches and group meetings in an effort to network and communicate our heart, so none of the information that I have is second hand or hearsay.
I also communicate with the notably atheistic community both electronically and personally. With over 20 colleges and universities within 75 miles, there is plenty of opportunity. I find that the ammunition and stances are highly consistent; people feel that with all of the division within the Christian community, then what is the possibility that Christianity is correct. When compared with the logic and reason used in academe rather than the emotion, judgment and tradition of Christianity, how COULD they choose Christianity in good conscience? Eighty five percent of the atheists that I speak with were at one time Christian with what they consider personal experiences. Another ten percent come from non-practicing Christian homes and they felt no obligation and the other five percent vary. (My percentages are from informal analysis and not specifically worded questionnaire).
I have not surveyed our partnering churches for specific information to prevent an affront to the ministries, but I also see a high level of pluralism. I have asked the question of whether or not the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and after much fumbling, the results are no. The individuals are left to interpret the Bible to meet their situation without specific direction. How could, after all, a book written 2000 years ago address modern issues? Some ministries are not educational at all, but rather fall into an emotional encouragement style.
Everyone invested in apologetics and ultimate truth understand that the non-Christian argument is entrenched in the lack of unity of the church as well as the lack of education by most pastors and teachers which is thus not translated to the congregation. In a world where everyone is forced to weigh each option to gain the highest and greatest immediate return, a lack of education and reason is found inferior and the long term ramifications are of little consequence.
Although hardly exhaustive, hopefully this offers some insight into the western and European mindset. My question would be, how can we hope to overcome the challenges of pluralism and unbelief when it seems that we (Christian family) seem to be the ones propagating them? If we do not educate our children and parents, then we are to blame. If we cannot agree on what the good news is, then who is to blame? These questions are not designed to cast blame but to promote questions about our motives and strategies. Education in various fields such as science and literature, and not simply Bible and theology, would help with understanding but not with belief. Seeing first hand and continually, the mighty hand of God in our lives helps with belief, but not with understanding. My ministry stands on Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” I despise the completion of the verse and the following proclamation. It would appear to me that we are to be exceptional in ALL fields in order to be effective evangelists of Christ.
Thank you for your time. I’m humble among giants.