How the Church has Lost Her Passion for God
What happens when a church culture loses a love for God Himself and replaces it with a focus on other things? Find out in this conversation between Nate Danser and Steve Gallagher. (from Purity for Life Episode #501 – Babylon: An Apathetic Church Culture)
Nate: Okay. So, Pastor Steve, you have said that a culture of apathy in the church creates an environment where the standard of Christian living becomes very different from what is laid out in Scripture. So, people feel like as long as they do some basic, outward good things, they are good to go. But I wanted to talk to you in this segment about what you experienced back in the 1970’s, because that was a time of revival when the church was very strong, healthy and passionate.
You’ve mentioned at different times that the atmosphere in the church today is very different than it was then. I want to talk a little bit about some of the differences and how you’ve seen that affect people’s lives. One of the things you’ve said is that people were very passionate about the things of God. What was it like to have a church culture where the general atmosphere was filled with a passion for God.
Steve: Well, I don’t want to overstate it. The part of the church that I was involved in, which was the Pentecostal side of things, generally speaking, had a high level of passion. I don’t know that it was true of the rest of the church because that’s where my involvement was. And the Jesus movement came up out of Chuck Smith, David Wilkerson and Leonard Ravenhill. Those kinds of men are the ones the Lord used to really usher in the Jesus movement that I got saved into in 1970. So, there was such a difference in that movement as opposed to how things are now in the church.
Of course, a lot of it was that many of us were young and excited about the things of God. Especially those of us who were ex-drug addicts and came out of a lot of darkness. But I guess if I could just get it narrowed down to one thing that I can use as a comparison, back in those days I used to love Sunday night services because after the service was over, we would gather around the altar of the church and we would literally spend hours seeking the Lord. That was the norm. We would often have all night prayer times on Friday nights. We would pray for a couple hours and then go out witnessing to people. That was the kind of passion we had.
Fast forward all these years later and there’s hardly any churches that even have Sunday night services. People are so uninterested. They are locked into things of the culture like television and the internet. They go to church on Sunday morning, but for the typical American Christian, there is not much passion for the things of God in their lives. There are people out there that still are really passionate for the Lord, but not at the level that there were in 1970.
Nate: Ok. So, you definitely have firsthand experience with the church then and the church now. And you have been watching decade after decade this passion declining. When you think about what contributed to that decline, are there things that really stand out to you as the big contributors?
Steve: What happened was when the Jesus movement swept through the church in the late sixties, early seventies, it brought a lot of youth who were excited about the things of God and that just created an overall enthusiasm. And out of that enthusiastic movement, Christianity became more popular in America. There was a real change. It went from being something that old people did to in the eighties when it became something that young people were involved in. So in the eighties, we saw a real change come over the evangelical movement. Mega churches started to proliferate across the country. Christian radio just really took off. There were shows that began then that are still going today and have held that level of success all these years.
So, what happened was success came into the church and it really became the thing to look acceptable to the culture. So, the aspects of success, the size and the focus became shifted from godliness to talent. And as that change happened, there was a great diminishment in the passion, because over time the culture of the world began to mix in with the church. And it’s really gone downhill since then. So, in my opinion, that is why that fire went out from the 1970’s.
Nate: Yeah. So, it’s like the fire was there because people were pressing into God Himself. But then when the focus shifts to something else, you start kind of moving away and you just lose the passion.
Steve: Yeah, it’s just success. I mean, that’s what happened. The church became successful, and the culture started noticing the church. And it wasn’t all negative attention like what it’s mostly become now. Now there is vitriol aimed at the church. Back then it wasn’t that way.
Nate: One of the things that you just touched on was that when you make something other than the pursuit of God the focus, then there is going to be some kind of negative consequence. There’s going to be some kind of diminishment in your spiritual life. And one thing that Patrick and I were talking about in preparation for this interview is how easy it is to pursue a cause because there are so many good ones out there. Like abortion, or justice, or the need to have godly schooling and training for your kids. In a really wicked age, there are a lot of good causes to promote and to fight for. But then there’s just the dangers that can come with it when you make that the thing that you’re going to focus your whole life on. What do you see as being one of the main negative consequences of doing that?
Steve: Well, some of the causes you mentioned were not really going on in the eighties. The main causes back then with Christian activists were against abortion, against pornography and against the homosexual agenda. And because I was in the midst of starting a ministry to men in sexual sin, those issues became big for me as well. And it wasn’t until later that I really could look back and see things in hindsight. You see, what was happening was there was a shift in church culture. In the seventies there was a lot of repentance going on. There were people really seeing their need to repent of their sins and to walk circumspectly with God. Meaning they were being very aware of their own tendencies to veer off or to get carnal or worldly.
By the time of the eighties, the shift that I could see happening was that Christian activists like Don Wildman and Jerry Falwell were creating a movement within the church, and it was taking the church with it. They were focused on these causes and basically what it amounted to was seeing the faults in the culture and focusing on the faults out there rather than people looking at their own hearts. I think that was one of the main reasons why the American church left its passion for God and was kind of displaced in part by those kind of things.
Nate: Ok, briefly, could you talk about what the connection is between why starting to always look outward reduces the passion for God?
Steve: Let me answer that question by referring to the Sermon on the Mount. How did Jesus open it?
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Those were the foundational pieces that should be in place as people come into the kingdom. But those same components are vital for someone to maintain their life in the kingdom. That requires you to have a tremendous awareness of your own need before God.
That is what it means to walk in repentance. And that was at some level very real in the seventies and into the eighties. But it started to change. And part of that change came from people looking at outward issues instead of looking inwardly at their own hearts. And I don’t mean there should be morbid introspection and a total fixation on what’s wrong with oneself. There is a healthy balance between having our eyes on God and on being aware of our own lack and our own need.
Nate: Ok. I have a thought pertaining to what you were talking about. You were saying that sometimes God sees something different in our inner life as we’re fighting for these causes. We may be looking out and seeing all the problems in the world around us and God might see something going on in our hearts. That’s basically what Jesus’s message to the church in Ephesus was all about in the Book of Revelation, because he saw their works and He said there was a lot of good there.
For instance, they were not bearing with those who are evil. They were exposing false apostles. They were patiently enduring. They were bearing up for the sake of His name and not growing weary. But he also said to them that they had abandoned the love that they had at first. He even went as far as to say, “If you don’t go back to where you were, I’m going to take your lamp stand away.” Why is maintaining our first love so important to Jesus?
Steve: Well, the whole point of Christianity is to enter that relationship with God to where we love Him and have a love relationship with Him. Which is different from religion. The Christian religion says, “Okay. I have all these do’s and don’ts” or “I’m supposed to go to church. I’m supposed to not do these things or go to these places.” That’s religion. But Christianity is a spiritual life.
It isn’t just going to church. It is my spirit interacting with God’s Spirit, and the connection between that interaction is love. It’s my love for God that makes me want to interact with Him and makes me want to worship Him. And it’s His love for me that wants to care for me and watch over my life and so on. That interaction between God and us is what it is all about. I know, for me personally, I started off with a passion for God, but it diminished over time and then it came back. I think that is pretty typical for someone on the right trajectory. They start off in that first love and then over time it kind of dissipates. But then it starts building up into a mature love.
And that’s what I can say, 40 to 50 years later for myself is that my love for God is so much stronger than it was 20 to 30 years ago, even though I felt more passionate than I do today. But it has matured into something that’s real and it controls how I think and act. My love for the Lord is why I don’t allow myself to lust and do the things I used to do. I don’t have to beat myself into not doing the wrong thing because I don’t want to do something that displeases the Lord. There’s just a change that has gone on inside me. I’m just using myself as an example, but that I think is part of what has been missing in the Church. A real sincere love for the Lord.
This post was originally posted at: Pure Life Ministries
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.