WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Healthy churches breed a healthy culture, but church problems can lead to social woes, contended political strategist turned ministry leader Chuck Colson on Tuesday.
Based on that logic, Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship, sought to identify the root of current church problems during his address on "Preaching and the Public Square" at the 19th Annual National Conference on Preaching.
"Of course we care about the world. Of course we care about everything happening in society, including politics, but we better get our own house in order because what we see in the cultural collapse of America around us today and in the Western world is exactly on our doorstep," argued Colson, who was a top aide to former President Richard Nixon before being jailed for the Watergate scandal.
Colson believes the root of the church's problem is that Christians don't know what they believe in.
"I think that is at the heart of the problem of the church – we replaced truth with therapy," he said.
"Most people are basically ignorant," he said referring to believers' lack of knowledge on their own religion.
To make his case, he recalled occasions when he asked his friends to explain the trinity or a group of "mature" church elders to explain the church doctrines, and found that they all "fumbled" for answers but could not provide a satisfactory response.
Likewise, during a speaking engagement he asked a group of distinguished Christians that included theologians from respected universities to explain what Christianity is.
Again the Christians could not give a proper answer. One respondent said Christianity is "to love God with all your heart, mind and soul," in which Colson responded that that was a commandment and not what Christianity is.
"We assume people in the pulpit understand it and people in the churches understand it, but they don't," Colson concluded.
The Christian radio commentator and author noted that no one even responded as he expected – that Christianity was a religion or a relationship with God. According to Colson, Christianity is the Word and he recited John 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Knowing what Christianity is and its belief is important as Christians are confronted by social challenges such as genetic engineering, Islamic fascism, and a more aggressive atheism.
Colson said that he begins each morning with a New York Times newspaper on one side and the Bible on the other side so that as a Christian he could "look at everything in life through a Biblical prism."
"We have to always compare what the Bible says and what culture says," he advised.
He also pointed out that Christians are not only given the Great Commission – which is not to make converts but disciples – but also assigned a cultural commission to "bring God's truth and majesty to bear against everything."
"We cannot defend our faith nor can we live it if we don't know what it is," Colson concluded.
Since Monday, hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders – who range from small-town preachers to world-renown Christian leaders – have converged for the 19th Annual National Conference on Preaching just outside Washington, D.C. The three-day conference, running under the theme "Where Do Pulpit and Culture Meet?" has been exploring the role of preaching in addressing cultural, social, and political issues. It concludes Wednesday.