DECLINE STARTS AT THE PULPIT
This multi-part series looks at the principles found in the Book of Hosea, reflects on the conditions of today, and ultimately calls us to a decision point of how will we choose to respond to God.
The Book of Hosea, found in the Old Testament of the Bible, is a passionate picture of God’s continual pursuit of a people who have a continual disposition to reject Him. The northern nation of Israel (as separated from Judah to the south) was at a low point in its existence as a nation. Its culture had either totally rejected God’s guidelines or they had corrupted and perverted His standards with worldly thoughts and other religions to render them useless. Hosea was sent by God to declare final warning to return to God or there would be painful national consequences to their actions and behavior.
Within Hosea are four chapters that show the order of cultural rejection of God and establishes clear need for a healthy and engaged church in culture and society. Chapter 4 established the Lord’s case against Israel starting with the church and pastors (read Part 1 here). Chapter 5 continues by pointing out the failings of national leaders. Chapter 6 reiterates God’s grace and love that if people would repent (renounce their sinful behavior) God would forgive and heal. Chapter 7 summarizes that the culture had fallen too far and judgment against the nation was forthcoming. Please read Hosea Chapters 4 – 7.
DECLINE STARTS AT THE PULPIT
God’s case against His people in Hosea starts with a scathing rebuke of the religious leaders in Chapter 4. In verses 1 – 3, God calls out how lost the nation, culture, and people were by stating “There is no faithfulness, no kindness, no knowledge of God in your land”. I can see the pastors (yes, I replaced priests with pastors on purpose) standing there saying “you go God, look how these people are behaving”. In verse 4, God makes a surprising accusation, “My complaint, you priests [pastors], is with you”. Ouch! Society is in shambles and God says the fault starts with pastors of the church? Not the people? Let look at God’s accusations then and compare these accusations to the state of pastoral health in America today.
The pastor’s lack of relationship with God created a lack of familiarity with God (4:6). Familiarity with God comes primarily through three ways: the Bible, prayer, and through fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Approximately 38% of Pastors read the Bible for the purpose of getting to know God better and 28% do not use the Bible to prepare their sermons (article link). I recall reading Pastors average only 15 minutes in daily prayer. Lastly, only 42% of people believe the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity and even fewer believe the Holy Spirit is a person we can relate to and fellowship with. How can pastors know who God is if they do not spend time in His Word, time in prayer, and spend time with the very person of the triune nature of God who is our “helper” and “counselor” in this very age?
Lost pastors replicated lost pastors who only did more damage (4:7). In 2004 a survey found only 51% of Protestant pastors held a Biblical Worldview and “the pastors least likely to have a biblical worldview were seminary graduates”. This was 13 years ago and all indicators point to further erosion and decline. (Jackson & Brown, 2004)
There was greed and self-service within the church (4:8). There are countless examples in church history and in the church today where greed and self-service corrupted the culture in and around the church. Mega church pastors live as multi-millionaires; churches spend vast sums of money on campuses and entertainment venues; Christians give only 5 cents of every $100 to world missions. America has a clear culture of greed and self-serving mentalities and these behaviors have affected the church. This is a reflection and reality that while intentions may be dedicated to God, we are still fallen people prone to sin.
Idol worship went unchecked and was even preached and taught. Currently there are over 50 “pastors” and 20 church congregations who are actively fighting AGAINST Initiative 1552 in Washington state which would restore woman’s privacy in locker rooms and bathrooms. These pastors, in their desire to reach the lost people in the LGBT movement (the lost we are all called to reach) are errantly and mistakenly embracing, encouraging, and even living the lifestyle that causes separation from God (worshipping the idol of sex, lust and feelings). There are countless other acts in churches that encourage or condone idol worship such as the “prosperity” gospel teachings which encourages the worship of money and status, the cancelling of church services to deconflict with large sporting events thus encouraging the idol of sports, and many more. Idol worship is alive and thriving in today’s churches.
The people reflected the conditions of the pastors in their lives as verse 9 demonstrates “And what the priests do, the people also do”. If pastors do not know God or the Bible how can the people; if pastors do not hold a biblical worldview how can the people; if the pastors participate and model sinful lifestyles how can we expect the people to be better; if the pastors embrace not just sinners but also the sinful lifestyle how can the people stand for righteousness?
Yes, the decline of a nation, culture, and people starts with pastors. More to the point, a healthy culture starts with a spiritually healthy and engaged church led by spiritually healthy and engaged pastors.
OUR NATION’S NEED OF PASTORS
Pastors who are deeply connected with God: Pastors need to spend more time seeking the true heart of God through time in the Word (Old Testament and New Testament); through longer times of meaningful prayer; and through deep fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Pastors with a Biblical Worldview: Pastors, how would you answer these questions used by George Barna to measure if someone holds a biblical worldview? Do you believe that absolute moral truth exists? Is the Bible totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches? Is Satan a real being or force, not merely symbolic? Do you agree that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works? Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life on earth? Is God the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today? If you answered any question “No”, please return to the previous paragraph.
Pastors who recognize God’s “national” economy: God’s places an emphasis on “the nations” throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. From his call to Adam and Eve and Noah to populate the whole earth through clans and nation–to his promise to Abraham to bless all nations through his family–to His call to us to make disciples of all the nations, God deals with big numbers. That is God’s economy.
Pastors, and church leadership, often focus on individuals rather than the bigger picture of nations. Many fall into this trap. We are tempted to believe we can only make a difference one life at time. We are taught it is only through deep one-on-one relationships that people are saved. This is not accurate. We do not save people, Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit does! Again, we do not save people, we just connect them with the One who can and does.
Failure to recognize God’s economy of scale limits the impact of many pastors because their focus turns from a church seeking to impact the nation and culture to a church concerned with being “seeker friendly”. Seeker friendly churches, not wanting to offend any single individual, avoid clear biblical teaching on tough societal issues. The impact of the seeker friendly concept are churches, pastors, and pulpits that are far more influenced by the lost culture than they are in saving the lost culture. Pastors do not engage in tough discussions around the biblical design of marriage, family, and gender. Topics such as the sanctity of life and healthy sexual behavior are neglected. The result is a culture in decline with many so-called Christians leading the charge.
Pastors who affect the culture: Our nation and culture desperately needs pastors who are willing to follow the example set in Nehemiah 8:8 where “They [the pastors] read for the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.” The results were “…the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” because of their realization of how much they needed God and how separated from Him they were. Unlike Ezra, we have so much more to offer people. We have the offer of a personal relationship with God Himself through the promise, hope, and assurance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
National and cultural decline does indeed start with churches and pastors. More to the point, national recovery and cultural restoration also starts with pastors. Which way will our pastors lead us?