For far too long, evangelical protestant churches in America have used ancient church creeds that force the “new wine” of Jesus’s life, words, and deeds into old church doctrine “wineskins.”
This isn’t new. It’s what Jesus faced in his lifetime. Jesus lived out a doctrine of divine love in a human life that upset thousands of years of Jewish doctrine and cultural norms that had become a barrier to human worth and expanded love for all.
Perhaps it’s time for a refreshed understanding of Christianity for today’s reality as well as reclaiming the forgotten Gospel of Jesus.
Among the many reasons to refresh our understanding of Christianity is a practical one, to give evangelical protestant churches in America a Complete Gospel that can reverse a continuing decline in membership.
For the church in the early 21st century Bob Dylan’s lyric should read, “For the times they’ve already changed.” Most religious and church leaders agree that local churches in America are struggling to find their footing as they seek to remain, or for most, to again become, relevant in the lives of their congregations.
Evangelical protestant churches in America are losing members at an alarming rate, more than 2 million since 2006.
Membership of the seven largest American protestant denominations has fallen 13% between 2006 and 2015 (from 40 million in to just over 35 million), with 93% of the decline in four denominations . . . Southern Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian. (The author compiled this data from denominational reports.)
There is a continuing decline in church membership. For the past decade, Yearbooks published by the National Council of Churches show that eight of the largest protestant denominations in America have shown steady and continuing decline. In addition, the annual rate of church closures is more than 4,000 churches along with over 3,500 people a day leaving the church.
The church in America can be the most important institution
for justice and hope. But it isn’t. Not yet.
Research on this decline indicates that people have many more church options to choose from, at the same time as the merits of denomination mean less. People are seeking fulfillment from the church for their lives in the ‘here and now,’ not just ‘then and forever.’
During this same period, the fastest growing churches in America have been those not tied just to a salvation Gospel of Christ. Rather, they are formed around a “clean sheet” for how Christianity is lived out by their members.
These non-denominational churches grew in membership by more than 216% in the same period (from 5.9 million members in 2006 to 12.8 million members by 2015). This doubling in size in just ten years is remarkable. It is also important to note that this growth has been significantly influenced by the refreshed experience of Christianity that non-denominational churches present. This includes a full-throated embrace of the Forgotten Gospel (Data based on Hartford Institute of Religious Research).
Evangelical protestant churches in America, especially, resisted this refreshed approach by continuing to stress the salvation Gospel of Christ, as their members aged in place. Meanwhile, non-denominational churches made living according to the Forgotten Gospel part of the DNA of their message, expectations, and programs.
It seems that Jesus was right. Living a life of love for the other, embracing all, seeking the least of these, and being a thorn in the side of the culture still attracts those seeking meaning and purpose in their lives.
Charlie is founder of Making Faith Matter, a movement to help the local church return to the Complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ. This is expressed best by Jesus when He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Charlie's new book “Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus” explores what could happen when churches adopt establishing the “Kingdom of God on earth” as their primary purpose. Learn more...
Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus
For decades, evangelical protestant churches in America have preached a salvation-centric Gospel of Christ. Today, a majority of protestants believe this is the complete gospel, and their churches have aligned their teachings to “seek and save the lost” only. In doing so, they relegated the life, words, and works of Jesus to secondary, non-gospel status.
But, what if the story of Jesus, passed down to us in the New Testament (especially Mark, Matthew, and Luke), describing His life, actions, death, and resurrection, is true? What if it accurately portrays the whole story of Jesus, the Son of God, as He lived among us? What if He still lives with us, showing us how to live out the kingdom of God on earth?
What if Jesus’s life was a living gospel, as He said it was, yet it has been forgotten by the evangelical protestant churches in America? And if this forgotten gospel has been ignored, what should the church do about it?
The purpose of this book is to explore how the life, words, and works of Jesus can bring churches, pastors, denominations, and members back to the Complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.