A recent Barna study of American pastors from across the denominational spectrum (including, for instance, Catholics, traditional Black churches, and Pentecostals) questioned 1,000 pastors on their beliefs. It concluded that only 37% of American pastors now hold a biblical worldview, and that most pastors were syncretistic – mixing Christian beliefs with those of secular culture and other religions. Many American pastors, the report asserted, “have abandoned even the most basic and hallowed biblical teachings for those which now permeate our culture”. Instead of the church influencing culture, culture is now reshaping the church. Many pastors now assume, for example, that truth and morality are matters of individual choice, and that having faith is more important than who or what you believe. The study found that a many “evangelical” and “Pentecostal” pastors have likewise been heavily influenced by secular culture and have sometimes slipped their biblical moorings.
Society and church in the USA and in New Zealand are significantly different, and the Barna study has some weaknesses. But such a study does indirectly raise questions about the state of Christianity in New Zealand.
How many of our New Zealand pastors – and church people – continue to profoundly believe that there is only one true God, that Christ is fully divine, that in Christ and the Scriptures God has truly spoken, that the Word of the Lord endures forever, that human beings are born sinful, that without repentance before God and faith in Christ we are lost, that Christ died for our sins, that Christ rose bodily from the grave and is alive for ever more, that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, that Christ sets us free, that the Holy Spirit works in believers to transform us, and that Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to make all things new?
To what extent have Christians in New Zealand succumbed to worldly culture, dumbed down the faith, reduced it a few slogans or rituals, and filtered the Scriptures to accommodate our own doubts, ideas, and wants?
Biblical faith or contemporary culture? How can Christians respect their context, and speak well into their surrounding culture? How can they remain biblically faithful, rather than surrender to the assumptions and pressures of the culture they live in? From the beginning, Christians everywhere have always struggled with such dilemmas.