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ARE WE WITNESSING THE DEATH OF AMERICAN
CHRISTIANITY? – A FOURTH OF JULY SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Friday Evening, July 4, 2008

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).


This text refers primarily to the nation of Israel, which has an everlasting earthly covenant with God that is irrevocable. But, by application, the text refers to Gentile nations which place themselves under the Lordship of God. Dr. Gill said, that it “must not be limited to them [Israel]; for he is the God of the Gentiles also; this nation is the chosen generation, the holy nation and peculiar people, both Jews and Gentiles: and the Lord is the God of these” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the Old Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume III, p. 664).

Thus Americans could once boast that this verse spoke of our country.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

But can that now be said of us?

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French historian and political theorist who became famous for his analysis of American democracy. While traveling through the United States in the early 1830s, he recorded observations of American society, which he included in his book, Democracy in America (1835-1840). In that celebrated book, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote,

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America, and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

That quotation from Alexis de Tocqueville sends a chill through my heart: “Not until I went to the churches and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of [America’s] genius and power.” Could he have said that today? Leonard Ravenhill did not think so. He said,

Just a couple of days ago a fine preacher brother said to me, “We have no great preachers in the country anymore.” I think I know what he meant: no outstanding man with a “thus saith the Lord,” a man terrible in utterance under the anointing of the Spirit. We have gifted preachers, talented preachers, orator preachers, famous preachers, organizing preachers, but where, OH where, are the preachers who startle the nation with prophetic utterance? There is a famine of great preaching…a famine of conscience-stirring preaching, a famine of heartbreaking preaching, a famine of soul-tearing preaching, a famine of that preaching like our fathers knew which kept men awake all night lest they fall into hell. I repeat, “There is a famine of the word of the Lord” (Leonard Ravenhill, America is Too Young to Die, Bethany Fellowship, 1979, p. 79).

In this critical hour of America’s history, we have no prophets! Gospel entertainment is at an all-time high (ibid., p. 81).

Dr. A. W. Tozer said,

It is an open question whether or not the evangelical movement has sinned too long and departed too far from God to return to spiritual sanity. Personally I do not think it is too late to repent…The if is the big problem. Will they? Or are they too well satisfied with religious frolic and froth to recognize their sad departure from the New Testament faith? If the latter is true, then there is nothing left but judgment (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Of God and Men, Christian Publications, 1960, pp. 18-19).

Who will speak out? Where and when will our pulpits again be “aflame with righteousness”? Dr. Tozer said,

How desperately the church at this moment needs men of courage…Fear broods over the church like some ancient curse. Fear for our living, fear of our jobs, fear of losing popularity, fear of each other; these are the ghosts that haunt the men who stand today in places of church leadership (A. W. Tozer, D.D., The Best of A. W. Tozer, Baker Book House, 1978, p. 83).

Again, Dr. Tozer said,

Today we find ourselves on the…chilly stairs that lead downward: (1) No conviction for sin. (2) No transforming conversion. (3) No encounter with God. (4) No object of worship. Where do we go from here? (A. W. Tozer, D.D., The Price of Neglect, Christian Publications, 1991, p. 31).

And Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

The church has failed to tell me that I am a sinner. The church has failed to deal with me as a lost individual. The church has failed to offer me salvation in Jesus Christ alone. The church has failed to tell me of the horrible consequences of sin, the certainty of hell, and the fact that Jesus Christ alone can save (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 924).

I agree with everything that Leonard Ravenhill, A. W. Tozer, and Dr. McGee said. It seems clear to me that the churches in America have fallen far short of what they were when Alexis de Tocqueville observed them in 1835! Here are 12 reasons for the decline of American Christianity.

1.  German “higher criticism” began to eat the Biblical heart out of American Protestantism in the second half of the nineteenth century, leaving many pastors unsure of the truthfulness and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Spurgeon fought this battle at its beginning, in the “Downgrade Controversy” (see Harold Lindsell, Ph.D., The Battle for the Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, 1976; Harold Lindsell, Ph.D., The Bible in the Balance, Zondervan Publishing House, 1979; W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True, Broadman Press, 1973).

2.  “Decisionism” began to replace the “old evangelism” during the same period. From about 1835 onward, “decisions for Christ” rapidly replaced the old Biblical idea of conversion (see Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005; Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994; and C. L. Cagan and R. L. Hymers, Jr., Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism is Destroying Our Churches, Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 2001 edition, available online. Click here to read the whole book).

3.  Feminism has, in this same period, gradually taken over, bringing even our most conservative churches increasingly under the domination of feminization – with men and young people leaving the churches in hordes as a consequence. Even those churches that are pastored by men are still controlled by the women, who dominate the mood of the church. This is true in the most conservative churches, as well as the others (see David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004; Leon J. Podles, Ph.D., The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, Spence Publishing Company, 1999).


These three trends have resulted in the churches of the West, and specifically in America, being filled with unconverted people, while at the same time 88% of the young people raised in the churches leave before the age of twenty-five, never to return; women outnumber men about three to one; and the actual number of people attending has dropped in all major denominations each decade. For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention reports,

The number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the Southern Baptist Convention’s lowest level since 1987…Thom S. Rainer, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, said there is no escaping the fact that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did (“SBC, California Baptism Statistics Show Decline: National Baptisms Drop to Lowest Level Since 1987,” by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press, reported in The California Southern Baptist, June 2008, p. 3).

Thus, even the once thriving Southern Baptists are now experiencing the same kind of decline in membership that has been true of all the major Protestant and Baptist denominations since the beginning of the twentieth century.

I believe that this deterioration in American Protestant and Baptist churches is a direct result of the three trends I already mentioned: (1) An abandonment of the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) Decisionism, which replaced Biblical conversion with a shallow, largely meaningless “decision for Christ,” and (3) the feminization of the churches, which is the main cause of the flight of men and young people from the major denominations. But there are other trends which are related directly or indirectly to this growing problem.

4.  Soft-spoken “Bible teaching” has all but replaced old-time preaching, thus tending to make the churches a feminine place of nurture, rather than a stronghold of bold evangelistic preaching, and every-member evangelism. Even the “preaching” in many fundamental Baptist churches today is little different from what you would hear in a liberal Methodist, liberal Presbyterian or Episcopal church. It’s true! Check it out! We have sunk that far without realizing it!

5.  Prayer meetings have largely been replaced by special interest groups in the midweek service. The prayer meeting of the past is rapidly moving off the scene.

6.  Contemporary music has become a dominant attraction in the churches, rather than evangelistic preaching. As music has replaced evangelistic preaching, preaching itself has been pushed into the background. People are enticed to attend “worship experiences” instead of services where evangelistic preaching is at the center, as it once was. In thousands of American churches, evangelistic preaching has been abandoned altogether. This approach seems to "work" in a few "mega-churches," but it does not work in the average congregation.

7.  An emphasis on evangelizing youth from outside the churches is being replaced with entertainment, in a vain attempt to keep at least a few of those young people who were raised in the church. But polls show that this approach is a failure. Yet no one seems to understand that lost young people from outside the churches must be drawn in through traditional, hard-hitting evangelistic preaching. Someone has said, “If we don’t win the unchurched to Christ, our churches will die.” It is thought that even more entertainment is the answer, but it is only more of the same, and the statistics show that it is not working. Young people and men want to be challenged, not entertained. Unless this situation is drastically reversed, we must expect an even greater exodus of young people and men, those who want to be challenged to confront a godless society in hand-to-hand combat, through vigorous personal and pulpit evangelism.

8.  Keeping the old people and a dwindling group of young people content, rather than challenging them to confront and evangelize a dying culture, has replaced the radical evangelism of the old-time preachers.

9.  Real conversions have been replaced by meaningless “decisions,” which do not produce zealous soul-winners who work to bring in the unchurched to hear fiery evangelistic preaching, which might well convert some of them from the world.

10.  The Sunday evening service, which was once a stronghold of evangelistic preaching, has been cancelled in an increasing number of churches, leaving the men and youth with nothing meaningful to do on Sunday night. The churches will not grow again unless the Sunday evening evangelistic service is restored to its rightful place. Replacing it with more “Bible study” after lunch, as many churches are now doing, only robs the churches of the opportunity of bringing lost people from the world on Sunday night to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Dropping the Sunday evening services won’t help to add people to the churches. It is part of the reason for our decline.

11.  The challenge of the Cross has been replaced with effeminate teaching and ineffective programs that present little challenge to the youth and men of the church to confront our dying culture with a tough, crusading spirit. They might very well respond to that if given the chance, but they are not responding to the feminized, watered-down programs they are given today.

12.  Pastors themselves often tend to act like CEOs, rather than “doing the work of an evangelist” (II Timothy 4:5). The pastor is to “work” at evangelizing the lost, rather than presiding over the few elderly ladies and some little children who already attend his church.


The only thing we seem to have in our favor is that most conservative churches support God’s covenant people, Israel. God made it clear,

“I will bless them that bless thee [the Jews], and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3).

Our churches and our nation would be in an even more serious crisis if it were not for the fact that most evangelical Christians pray for and support the Jewish state of Israel. And, weak as our churches are, God has given some blessings to our nation because we have stood in solidarity with the Jewish people in general, and the state of Israel in particular.

If we should ever have a new President in Washington who backs away from supporting Israel, I fear that our days as a great nation will be over, for God said,

“I will bless them that bless thee [the Jews], and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3).

Our conservative churches generally support Israel. Sadly, it seems that this is about the only thread left that binds us to the ancient text,

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

CONCLUSION

Are other nations now more able than we are to claim that text as their own? I fear it is so.

1.  South Korea, a tiny nation, in the last few weeks passed the United States and Canada combined in the number (not the percentage, but the actual number) of foreign missionaries they are sending to evangelize the world. They now have more missionaries than we do on foreign fields throughout the earth!

2.  Indochina is experiencing mighty revivals today, the kind which America has not seen since 1859!

3.  China itself is in the midst of the greatest ingathering of souls of any nation in modern times. Franklin Graham recently gave a “low” estimate of 130 million Christians in China (Decision Magazine, July/August 2008, p. 13). But many who are studying the explosion of Christianity in China place the number far higher than that. It has been estimated that about 1,000 Chinese convert to Christianity every hour, night and day, 24,000 per day, seven days a week! This is the kind of revival that has been unheard of in America since 1859. China is in the midst of the greatest revival of any nation in modern times (see David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, Regency Publishing, 2003; available from The Voice of the Martyrs, P.O. Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005, (918)337-8015; website at www.persecution.com.)

4.  African churches are leading the West on matters of morality and evangelism. Many Episcopalians, including the famous Canadian theologian Dr. J. I. Packer, are leaving the Episcopal Church, and are placing themselves under the authority of African bishops, because of the moral breakdown of their denomination in America and Canada.

5.  Central and South American churches have been able to keep laws on their nations’ books outlawing abortion on demand, and other social perversions, things the churches have not been able to do in America.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

The so-called “Third World” nations have, it seems to me, a far greater right to claim our text than America does at this point in history.

As America slides down the slippery slope into the “culture of death,” God is raising up new nations, of whom it will soon be said,

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

It would now take more than a revival or two to save America as we know it. It would take a new Reformation! We would have to go back to the “solas” of the Protestant Reformers, and apply them vigorously in our preaching and in our churches, and in our evangelism. I don’t see that happening in America. Nor do I think it will happen. Many are now saying that evangelicalism is dying in our nation, and that the end of Western civilization is near. We will pay a heavy price indeed for rejecting the “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). We will be severely judged as a culture for turning away from the serious, Christ-centered, conversion-centered faith of our Fathers.

As Churchill said to his bodyguard, with tears streaming down his face, when he was made Prime Minister in the dark days at the beginning of World War II, “I hope that it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is. We can only do our best” (John Lukacs, Ph.D., The Duel: 10 May – 31 July 1940, The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler, Ticknor and Fields, 1991, p. 7).

And, after all, that is exactly what God expects each of us to do in these uncertain times. “We can only do our best.” On this Fourth of July, 2008, that is my thought, and it is my challenge to you. Whatever happens to our beloved nation, “We can only do our best.” Let us continue to evangelize Los Angeles. Let us continue to cry out, as Jeremiah did, against the things that are destroying our churches and our nation at this hour. And may God Himself help us to do so. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Times Like These” (by Ruth Caye Jones, 1944).