Why do people leave churches? Why do children, who grow up in church, abandon the faith when they go off to college? Why do some adults who once embraced Christianity grow skeptical and eventually reject it? These are questions that modern church growth gurus and statisticians frequently try to answer. They poll apostates to find out why they left. They besmirch churches that “run people off” by relying on the Bible. And they attack God's Word, as the reason for why people leave. In numerous odd attempts to explain unbelief, the so-called experts of today miss the “elephant in the room.” Believers stop believing because they aren't really believers. In other words, the reason why some people grow up to reject the Christian faith they grew up being taught is because they were never true believers in the first place. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Jesus said, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom.” (John 3:3) The problem with those who leave the church is not that they are dazzled by 21st century arguments against Christianity. The problem is that they are “dead in their sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) And when the spiritually dead lose interest in the Christian faith it simply proves the reality of their spiritual deadness.
Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley, of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, doesn't see it this way. He considers the Bible to be the problem and has recently increased his attacks on Scripture as an authoritative voice for Christianity. In a recent message, Stanley said: “Perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, ‘Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ That is where our trouble began.” This shocking statement is merely the latest salvo from Stanley in his attacks on Christianity. He goes on to argue that the Bible cannot be defended as historically accurate and therefore Christians should stop trying to do so. He argues that adults leave the faith because of a childish notion they were taught growing up that the Bible is God's Word. Once they become enlightened they realize the Bible is full of holes and they reject it. Stanley's solution, is to go along with their rejection and instead point them to “historical” Christianity. Of course the reality is we would know very little of “historical Christianity” apart from the Bible. In Stanley's worldview the idea of having faith in the unseen God is too simplistic for modern man to accept. To him, teaching a “God-inspired” and infallible Bible is a dead end for churches. To him, Christians who believe in the maxim “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” are making a grave mistake. And to him, this reliance on the Bible is “is where our trouble began.” In an article refuting Stanley, Albert Mohler states that Stanley is pushing “an apologetic disaster that would leave Christians with no authoritative Scripture. Instead, we would be dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe.”
Stanley's argument is eerily reminiscent of another opponent of God's Word from a bygone era. “Hath God said?” is an attack as old as the world itself. Satan tempted Eve by questioning God's Word and God's authority in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1). Stanley tempts modern believers with the exact same attack today. And therein lies the truth that these attacks on God's Word are old, stale, and common. Stanley's heresy is nothing more than a modern day version of the same theological liberalism that has plagued the church for eons. It's root lies in the oldest of rebellions against God, and it's father is the “father of lies.” Sadly, many will fall for Stanley's deception because of his fame, his name, and his church size. Many will gladly accept this attack on God's authority because they have no desire to live under God's authority. And they will salivate over a pastor who smugly tells them they don't need to. The Apostle's Paul's admonition to Timothy is prescient: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4 NASB) Truly that time has come.
The true hope for the church is the exact thing that Stanley rails against. Far from downplaying the importance of Scripture, the church needs to go back to the Bible to understand how God saves sinners. While God uses preachers and the proclamation of the gospel, it is not by man's clever manipulations that people are saved. Spitting on the Bible in a vain attempt to woo unbelievers is not the way God has seen fit to bring spiritual life to the spiritually dead. In fact, the Bible warns against the very type of evangelism that Stanley and so many modern gurus espouse: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1Corinthians 1:21) The world considers itself too intellectual to accept the “foolishness” of the gospel. But it is this “foolish” gospel and this “foolish” gospel alone that tells the sinner of salvation. Is it too simplistic of a message for people to believe? Is it too naive to expect modern man to embrace this message on the authority of the Bible? Stanley says yes. God says otherwise.
It is very telling that the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he PURPOSELY avoided the very thing Stanley preaches: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) Does Stanley believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified? He says he does. But he arrogantly attacks the very place where this truth is taught. And he clearly rejects the means by which people come to understand this truth. Stanley wishes to sweet-talk the unbeliever into the kingdom, but you can't sweet-talk spiritual corpses. You lovingly tell them the truth, but only God can give them life.
Unbelievers don't continue on in their unbelief because of a need for modern methods that attack the eternal truth. And so-called believers don't grow up to drift away because of the insufficiency of the Bible. They drift away and reject the faith because they were never born again in the first place. “Claiming to be wise, they become fools.” (Romans 1:22) Sometimes those fools sit in the congregation. Sometimes those fools stand in the pulpit. In both cases, their assumed wisdom is nothing more than the evidence of their spiritual death.
The church needs to rediscover what Paul called, “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The church needs to proclaim a God who is sovereign and a sinner who is helpless. The church doesn't need to jettison the Scriptures. The church needs to stand upon them and proclaim them and know the truth of what God has said. Believers stop believing because they aren't really believers. But TRUE believers persevere unto the end. TRUE believers trust in Christ and rest in His work. TRUE believers do more than profess the Lord with their lips, they also proclaim Him with their life. TRUE believers keep believing because the “work” that was done in them was an eternal work performed by God. Their faith is not undone by modern persuasive arguments. Their faith is not undone by secular attacks on the Scriptures. And their faith is not undone by false shepherds who boast of knowing God's hidden truth, while attacking God's revealed word.