The Church was not left in this world to perfume the dung-heap of fallen humanity, but to take out, one by one, those who will be saved from the coming destruction. Donald Grey Barnhouse – “The Invisible War”.
The church has come a long way since it was born as a local body of Jewish believers in Jerusalem fifty days after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From a fanatic and almost communistic sect of Judaism to a worldwide expression of Gentile religion, the church has morphed into an institution that Jesus, Peter or Paul would hardly recognize. The church has traveled a long and winding road from its inception. It was born with leaders like Peter and John who walked in a visible demonstration of the Messianic, Davidic Kingdom that Jesus had offered to the Jews, and Paul, the thirteenth Apostle, who was given the revelation of the mystery of the Gentile church and gave the Gentiles their own inspired guidelines to live by.
From these men who lived lives surrendered fully to the will of their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, we have descended all the way down to the likes of Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Jeremiah Wright, Brian McClaren, and a host of others who offer a Christianity that does not look like the sermon on the mount, nor does it conform to the teachings and reality of Jesus Christ, either in what is declared from the pulpit, or in what is represented in the lives of the speakers.
Where is the Cross? Where is the Atonement? Where is the Deity of Jesus Christ? And especially, where is the manifestation of the two commandments Jesus gave us that summed up the whole Torah – Love God with all your heart mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. These basic principles that Jesus gave us have been relegated to theological storage closets filled with old-fashioned, not-relevant ideas that are not culturally compatible, and frankly (according to the pastors), are offensive to the unchurched. Instead of getting the message that God loves them and wants to spend eternity with them if they will change their ways and follow Him, the typical visitor to a local church hears about feeling good about themselves, the great ministry of this particular church, or all the activities that are available to entertain them and their kids. They hear this message after they are subjected to forty minutes of ear-splitting worship led by undulating young women in skin-tight clothing and musicians in their musician outfits that make them indistinguishable from the worldly punk or alternative bands that frequent the local bars and rave clubs. After the show (where nobody worships God, but everybody worships the band), the pastor makes his triumphant ascent to the platform and visitors get a sermon that never mentions sin, the gospel, repentance, self-sacrifical love or Jesus. They hear about how easy it is to connect with God, join the church, get involved, but they never hear that they are dead in their trespasses and sins and are in desperate need of a Savior.
I once attended a Pastors’ Conference at a huge church in Phoenix. The first night, the pastor of the church spent four hours of our time, parading every ministry in the church across the stage. There were live animals (no kidding – camels and horses with a chariot), a two-hundred member choir, full orchestra, and about 2000 people who traipsed across the stage. When they had a time of worship they pumped smoke out from behind the curtain to simulate the Glory of God in the Temple. Man, what a show! And at the end, the head pastor stepped up in his $2000 suit and asked us for MONEY!! Can you believe it? All the poor pastors from churches with 25 to 100 members, just barely making it, already in hock for the $300 conference fee and the airplane ticket, and the guy asks them for money! And then, when he got a small offering, the guy had the nerve to yell at the pastors and call them “cheap, no-vision, ungrateful penny-pinchers”, and warned them that God couldn’t bless people who wouldn’t give to his obviously blessed ministry.
As A.W. Tozer said, “…excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man. If this is true (and I believe it is) then the present inordinate attachment to every form of entertainment is evidence that the inner life of modern man is in serious decline. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no spring within his own breast, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him… Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.”
At one church where I was a pastor, the youth pastor had a saying: “The message is sacred, but the method isn’t.” Then he would lead his kids in car-bashing, paintballing, skateboarding, laser-tag rooms, graffiti boards and the like. One night some of his kids carried their enthusiasm over to the middle school across the street by spraying graffiti on the walls. The senior pastor used up a lot of his credit in the community smoothing that one over.
So why do I use the term “MacChurch?” (It didn’t come from me.) It’s because these days it seems we have a church on every corner, but, to tell the truth, most of them remind me of the old Malvina Reynolds song about the houses out in Pacifica, California – “…and there’s red ones and there’s blue ones and there’s green ones and there’s yellow ones, and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.” We might as well rename the churches “MacChurch, Burger-Church, Wendy’s Church, In and Out Church, Colonel Sanders Church, ad infinitum. Different buildings, same menu. Open the phone book to find a church and every one will offer you the same items – “Contemporary Music, relevant sermons, connecting with God, great Youth group, small groups, missions trips, stewardship classes, How to join the Church,” and on and on. Take a look at the ads in your local yellow pages and count the number of times you see the name of Jesus mentioned in the ad copy or even in the name of the church. So we have dozens of churches in each city, all offering the same menu, all competing with each other for tithing units.
Competition is the operating principle here. Most of the pastors I know make their living from their job at the church. Instead of being free to speak the truth about what the Bible says, their theology is tied to their salary. They spend most of their day figuring out new ways to attract new people to the church. Then they go on the internet on Friday and download a sermon from Rick Warren’s Tool Box. Or they spend their time engrossed in the latest best-seller on church growth, Christian publishers fill the church mailbox with the latest and greatest programs to attract customers, Christian recording artists wear out their index finger calling churches for a paying gig. And the pastor responds to each invitation, or each new thing that sweeps through the church. We have Forty Days of Purpose, the Prayer of Jabez, Space Mission Bible Camp, etc. etc. etc. … Recently I read an ad on the internet that screamed: “DOUBLE YOUR CHURCH ATTENDANCE AND KEEP THEM COMING BACK!!!” The secret was to subscribe to this company’s church growth newsletter and RSS feed. Never once did they mention the name of Jesus or the preaching of the simple gospel message as a possible way to bring people to the church.
Now that I’ve had my rant, I suppose it would be the right thing to offer a solution – so I can be part of the answer, instead of part of the problem. (That saying has always made me sick.) I will give some options in Part II of this article; not because I want to be “good boy,” but because they are just common sense and we are in a time where the church needs to wake up or it is going to slide right off “The Rock.”
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Revelation 3:14-16