In his book, Prophetic Untimeliness, author, Os Guinness makes the following important observation.
“Emphasize only the natural fit between the gospel and the spirit of our age and we will have an easy, comfortable gospel that is closer to our age than to the gospel—all answers to human aspirations, for example, and no mention of self-denial and sacrifice. But emphasize the difficult, the obscure, and even the repellant themes of the gospel, certain that they too are relevant even though we don’t know how, and we will remain true to the full gospel. And, surprisingly, we will be relevant not only to our own generation but also to the next, and the next, and the next.”
Guinness is right. The usual shrinkage in attendance and giving as a local church, or denomination, gives way to liberal theology, is prima facie testimony to his statement. For example, we bought our church building from an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) congregation. The congregation had shrunk down to about 30 people all over the age of 65. ELCA is the denomination that recently authorized the ordination of practicing homosexuals. True to form their once vibrant denomination is withering away. Why go to church if sin doesn’t matter and everyone is going to heaven anyway?
Our local ELCA congregation was suffering from the same problem. When I asked their pastor what he thought about penal substitution he respond, “What’s that?” Nothing is more counter-cultural than a gospel focused on penal substitution.
On the contrary, to the degree that a church is counter-cultural it will be strong, vibrant, and relevant. It will be filled with young and old, black and white, all set apart from the world, committed to the gospel, and willing to make large sacrifices to see it extended.
Aaron, You are right. How the mighty have fallen. Actually, under the leadership of Melancthon they began to turn away from Luther's cross-centeredness shortly after his death. The history of the Lutheran denomination demonstrates how fragile is the gospel flower. It wilts easily.