Recently, a story broke that should get everyone's attention in the Church world. That story was the closing in late February of Family Christian Stores, the nation's largest chain of Christian book and merchandise stores after 85 years in business. The announcement will affect more than 3,000 employees at more than 240 stores around the nation. For many, a story like this is "no big deal." After all, in an age of Amazon.com and less serious reading by the public, one might not think too much on this story. Few would think that such a financial bankruptcy pointed to an even deeper spiritual one in the Church. You see, what we are watching today are signs of a major spiritual decline in the American Church and a movement away from Biblical foundations and literacy.
From the beginning, the Bible has been the cornerstone of Christian Faith and discipleship. While Bibles may have to be smuggled into some nations today, just about every American has access to as many as they want for a low price. The problem that has come up in the last 50 years or so is that our consumer driven culture has created a demand for millions of other books about the Bible and the Christian Faith that are being promoted and read instead. And while some of this is good, we are beginning to see the downside of the Christian consumer world we have created. Instead of reading and studying the Word today, many Christian consumers are lost in a sea of shallow, pop culture books and literature. Many of these books are written by famous celebrities and mega church pastors that are about the latest spiritual fashions and fads that tell their audiences how to lose weight, deal with a difficult person, become a better parent or how to be more successful and blessed. Instead of just reading and studying the Word and hiding it in our hearts, we have been buying Bible verses for our refrigerator magnets and wall hangings.
Somewhere along the lines, Family Christian Stores gave us what we wanted and allowed us to follow our cultural driven pursuit of self. We have ended up buying popular and trendy books and products that moved us farther and farther away from the Lord and His Word. The acid test for this claim is the rampant Biblically illiteracy today that has exploded all around us. It seems that even pastors and Christian leaders are not really clear on basic Christian doctrine anymore. According to pollster George Barna, only 9% of self-identified born again Christians have a Christian worldview. Barna defines such a Christian worldview as answering "yes" to the following doctrinal beliefs.
• Do absolute moral truths exist?
• Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
• Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
• Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
• Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
• Is Satan real?
• Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
• Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?
The beliefs outlined above reflect basic Christian doctrine that should be believed by every Christian. Now if only 9% or less of the Christian Church believes these basics of the Faith, it tells you we are in an unprecedented spiritual crisis. Those shocking statistics help to explain why Family Christian Stores just went bankrupt. It seems we have lost our appetite for the real Lord and the study of His Word. We have gotten distracted, confused and tied up with a consumer counterfeit that has diminished our real spiritual life and passion for the Faith. We certainly can't blame Family Christian Stores. They just sold us what we wanted to buy. Businesses, after all, are in the business of giving us what we want, not what we need.
This loss of a serious interest in the Lord and His Word is not only closing bookstores, it is transforming our churches and the spiritual landscape of the nation. How many Christian leaders really think we are doing better spiritually today in the Church world than we were doing 25 years ago? Just the opposite is the case. Many insightful writers and thinkers today would say we are in a "post-Christian America," if not an outright apostasy from historic Christian Faith. And yet, few seem to sound the alarm or speak out in a prophetic voice. It seems that many of America's leading churches and spiritual leaders are content with the current state of affairs or unwilling to do what is necessary to change it.
One of the important things that could be said about what we are facing today is that we have been here before. The loss of the Bible and biblical literacy is hardly a new problem. In the Old Testament, the Nation of Israel had lost the Bible during a time of cultural and spiritual decline that had gone on for generations. When King Josiah had the Temple cleaned during his reign, they found the Bible and it started a revival and renewal of the people (II Kings 22:8). This loss of the Word was also alive and growing during the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had to have a Bible study with the disciples on the Emmaus Road because they felt our Lord had failed as Israel's Messiah by dying on the Cross (Luke 24:20-27). Loss of the Word and Biblical illiteracy are always issues for the Lord's people and something to be guarded against in every generation.
If you just go back to the period of the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church was without the Bible in the common language and few knew anything about it. The Church at that time lived with stained glass windows, statues and religious symbols that gave little to the people about the Lord and the real meaning of the Bible and the Gospel message. In those days, virtually no one owned a Bible to read. In today's American Church everyone has Bibles, but it appears that few are really reading and studying them in a meaningful way that is changing lives.
In speaking on the challenges facing the Church today and the need for a new Reformation, theologian and professor Dr. David Wells said,
If we do not recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage again to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, we will lose our right to call ourselves Protestants.
One would have to wonder if the Church, as a whole, is ready to listen to Dr. Wells' admonition. The closing of Family Christian Stores is a symptom and warning to the Church world of serious trouble underway. Like the disciples on the Emmaus Road, one would have to wonder if the Lord's people are any better prepared for the Lord Jesus's return than they were for His arrival.
May each of us go back to the Lord and His Word and find a joy, delight and passion that only comes from knowing the Lord in a real and meaningful way that is not conditioned or shaped by culture, any other author, pastor or leader than the Lord Himself.