Losing our vision

by Paul Young

When there is evidence of shrinkage, decline and even closure, we can feel as if we are just holding on to what we have and fail to engage with forward progress. The result is that mission suffers.

LoosingVisionThe seeds of failure in the church in Britain are not new but were sown years ago, resulting in the malaise that is prevalent today. The malaise is witnessed in the lack of expectation that God will bless His Word, and a loss of confidence in the gospel as the answer to humankind's deepest need. It is seen in a hazy view of the greatness and splendour of God and in ignorance of the intensity of the spiritual battle. A diminishing view of sin and judgment is also characteristic of a church that has lost its way and which is bending to the prevailing attitudes of society. In this article we will consider three factors that contribute to this loss of vision.

The church in Britain is being attacked and can easily feel defensive. The attack has not yet reached the level of, imprisonment, torture or martyrdom, although the law has been used to limit Christian work and prevent clear Bible teaching.

Attacks have been more subtle. New atheism has launched a frontal philosophical attack on the Bible and the notion of God as Creator. This has been spearheaded by popular writers, and atheism is considered as a respectable position to hold. Postmodernism has undermined the idea that truth can be objective and so the evidential nature of the gospel is brought into question. Secularism has forced religious belief into the private areas of life and demands that it has no place in the public sphere; for example, politicians should never admit to praying before making important decisions. Pluralism requires equal treatment for all faiths regardless of truth and does not consider the effects such views may have on society. It affirms all faiths regardless of contradictions between them. The media is all-intrusive and its generally negative attitude towards Christianity has had a profound impact on the public conscience. This can leave Christians bewildered and reticent.

Christians are not immune to materialism in Western culture. We too can be taken up with moneymaking, the material and losing the cutting edge of our spirituality, prayerfulness and mission vision. It is too easy to be attached to earthly, material things. We must have a perspective that money and possessions are our servants, not our masters.

There is another danger: the loss of well-thought-out responses which are replaced by simplistic superficial answers to profound issues that affect people deeply. Hunger, redundancy, unemployment, broken relationships, sickness and bereavement, should not be responded to with what are sometimes Christian platitudes. These need the quality answers the Bible provides and the loving actions of Christians in the community. Hurting, isolated  people in society should receive our genuine compassion. Above all, people need the gospel, therefore a significant part of our lives should be about evangelism and mission.

Another way to lose our vision is to be distracted. Distraction takes many forms but one of the most significant is to be too busy. Employment, family, church and home all take time. In the busyness of life we can lose sight of God. Even legitimate activities can take the place of knowing God. Our most important objective should be to know Him personally, and from that depth of true communion, effective activity can flow. How do we find this intimacy with God?
i. Solitude: there is a need to be alone with God. We love to be with people, especially those close to uss, but we must find time to be alone with God.
ii. Stillness: there is a need to reduce or even to stop our all activity and be still. (Ps. 46:10).
iii. Silence: we need to hush the noise of our lives and wait silently in the presence of God to hear His quiet voice.

Yet this is difficult, there are so many people to meet, solitude can be elusive. There is so much to do that being still is difficult and so many voices to listen to that it is hard to be silent. Yet we must if we are going to maintain the vision God has for world mission.

So the need is to live every day in holiness and for the glory of God - to proclaim the gospel evidentially and with every means at our disposal  not only through the formal services of church but in the office, the home and the neighbourhood. We also we need burdened, committed prayer, with a deep sense that we are seeking the power of God for our lives  having a clear understanding that the lost are lost. Our shallow, sentimental culture encourages wishy-washy platitudes to answer such issues as the belief that a God of love will not consign anyone to hell. The truth must be stated that hell is a reality and the lost go there. They need the gospel and we must proclaim it and win them for Christ.

An artist was asked to paint a picture of a dying church. He spent many hours and when the picture was unveiled it took people's breath away. It conveyed a beautifully constructed church building with no expense spared. The place was full of people with new hymn books and an overflowing collection plate. All seemed perfect and a sense of blessing seemed to prevail. However, a closer look at the picture revealed one corner where a collection box was located. On the front of the box were the words 'For Overseas Mission' but across the slot at the top was a cobweb. The artist had it right.

The church, unconcerned for the work of mission and of reaching the lost, is a church in serious decline.

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