“Lone Ranger Christians? Part 1”
By Pastor Ron Buxton
I hope to spend the next few articles dealing with a very serious problem of the modern church. And, in fact, I will step on some toes in the process. Nonetheless, I make no apologies ahead of time. You see, it’s a problem even more obvious in a small town like Van Horn. I’m talking about the lack of church attendance from folks who identify themselves as Christians.
Now, I’ve lived in areas of this world where the percentage of Christian believers was minuscule. For example, most of the jungle communities in Central America where I lived had no churches. That’s totally understandable. However, in my home state of Maine only 22% of the population ever goes to a church! That means that 78% will never step foot within a church building. And yet, the percentages of self-identified Christians don’t jive with that statistic. What gives? Well, several things have happened sociologically, and within the church culture itself, to explain this. And I hope to outline just one factor in this first article. Today, I just want to talk about our own region of rural west Texas. Future articles, hopefully, will challenge believers about their need to consistently attend church.
Historically, the western expansion of the United States presented its own challenges. It introduced the rise of circuit preachers. These were literally the “sermon on the mount” visiting the newly-formed frontier towns. At the same time, there arose the rugged individualism of the wild west. And this all created a totally different church culture where Christianity was spread without a full-time pastor in place. Additionally, the literacy rates were lower among frontier settlers. And this resulted in the preachers only proclaiming the simple 1-2-3 Gospel message, and leaving the believers very immature spiritually. Folks just went along with whatever the circuit preacher gave them whenever he came to town. And sometimes that could be several weeks between visits.
Once churches got physically built–replacing the temporary “tabernacles”—they would appoint care-taker deacons over those buildings. Essentially, those deacons would hold down the fort until the circuit rider came back into town to preach. And so it went. Church life became important only whenever the preacher arrived. Later when those frontier towns were incorporated, public education increased the literacy rates. Churches also then began installing pastors within those church buildings. However, the pattern of how church was conducted really didn’t change much. Except for those few serious readers of the Bible, most self-identified Christians desired to stay at a lower level of maturity. I told you I’d step on some toes!. And for those folks church attendance became less important. Why not? They’d already memorized John 3:16. What more did they need? Every Sunday their pastor seemed to give the same simple sermon followed by an altar call. Everything else in the Bible was deemed unnecessary and avoided.
Lord willing, my next article will explain why church attendance is essential, and preaching the whole counsel of God is relevant (and necessary) today. Please keep reading…