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Monday, December 04, 2006

Do Not Love the World - 1 John 2:15

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! (Isa. 31:1).
It happened more than once to Israel. They faced enemies that outnumbered them. The odds were bleak. Their options were limited. The outcome was fairly certain, and it was failure, destruction. So Israel would often take up alliances with godless nations around them. Find strong armies to help defend them. That would protect them. The result, of course, was always the same. Their "wise approach" proved no help whatsoever. Instead of fending off disaster, they received it double.

One of the brightest exceptions was King Jehoshaphat. The Moabites and the Ammonites joined to go to war against Jehoshaphat. His choice of action? Pray (2 Chron. 20:3-4). God told Jehoshaphat, "Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's" (2 Chron. 20:15). Jehoshaphat followed God's instructions and developed a different battle plan than the oft repeated, always failed approach of others of joining with the godless. He took the people to a hill overlooking the approach of the enemy, called up the choir to sing, and watched God annihilate their enemies (2 Chron. 20:20-24). All they had to do was go down to their encampment and pick up the spoils. Not a bad approach.

As the 20th century was winding down, Christian "prophets of doom" began warning of the impending demise of the Church. "If we don't come up with new techniques, the Church will vanish by the early 21st century." It was a dire prediction from the likes of George Barna, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and many, many more. The response of the Church, largely, was not prayer, but an alliance with the world. Take up the world's techniques. Use their marketing methods. Join in their entertainment mentality. Appropriate their musical styles. Give the people want they want (2 Tim. 4:3). The result was the "megachurch." The megachurch phenomenon goes on today. Oddly, it isn't a result of more people going to church, but simply people leaving smaller churches for larger churches where they can get what they want. And while it might appear that the Church is improving her position, I would contend, instead, that she is preparing herself for double disaster.

What would make me think that? Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). In Acts 2:42-47, the first Christian church found itself "praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day" (Acts 2:47). One would think from this, then, that a large gathering of growing Christians would produce an effect in their immediate surroundings. What we find instead is a growing number of people pointing to the fact that immorality is just as prevalent in Christians as non-Christians and that the United States, a "Christian nation", has a higher crime rate than other, less "Christian" nations. This is not an improvement in the Church; it is a serious decline.

What else is in decline? One of the biggest things is worship. It is connected to the borrowing of worldly techniques. Many, many Christians have learned that "worship" is defined as "feeling good toward God". When they experience feeling warmly toward God in church, they say they worshiped. If they felt nothing, they didn't worship. Indeed, many churches have turned their sights on "felt needs". Meet the felt needs of the people that show up, and they will be inclined to be Christians. In other words, "worship" has changed from a singular focus of attention on God's worth (the definition of "worship") to self, what I need, and how I feel. God gets an admirable spot in the Church, but He is certainly not the sole or even primary attention. Paul says that worship is self dying (Rom. 12:1), but we've made self the focus of worship because self is the focus of the world and its techniques. Self-esteem, warm feelings, and so on are the goals of the world, not the Word.

I'm not a Christian prophet of doom. I don't believe the Church will cease to exist. I believe that the Church is the function of God and His work. It is aimed at building believers, not meeting their felt needs and making them feel warmly toward God. It doesn't belong to us, depend on our techniques, or hinge on our ability to make it function. But I do suspect that the Church as we know it is headed for radical losses if she doesn't learn to approach the crisis with Jehoshaphat's successful method of depending solely on God rather than Israel's failed method of depending on the world's methods.


10km said...

Amen, sir. Is it just me, or are the evangelical churches today going the way of the "Mainline Protestant" churches of the 1960s and 1970s? I grew up in churches filled with lots of nice people, but who hardly ever spoke about God. To them He was far off. The primary focus of the youth group was to keep us all so busy with activities (bowling, volunteering at the local recycling center, singing Christmas carols at nursing homes, etc.) that we would be too tired to get into trouble. That was all well and good, but the vast majority of us never understood ourselves to be sinners in need of a Savior, because not one adult ever told us it was so.

I really enjoy your blog, even when I find myself not totally in agreement with you. God bless you for defending His ways!

Stan said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Yes, the Evangelical church of today is indeed going the way of the mainline churches of the 60's and 70's. For a very interesting, enlightening (albeit somewhat depressing) study on this, read Dr. Iain Miller's book, Evangelicalism Divided, which follows the history of the Evangelical church in the latter half of the 20th century.

Ken said...

Pardon the fussiness, but that should be Iain Murray, not Miller. Good if depressing book, and I second your recommendation.

Stan said...

Murray ... yes! I had a hard time remembering the "Iain", and I messed up the "Murray". Thanks for the clarification.