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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Christianity Lite

Better entertained in goatland ...
I can’t speak to the condition of churches throughout the world, but I think it’s fair to say there is an epidemic of church-playing in North America these days. People are crowding into megachurches weekly to partake of a sort of ‘Christianity Lite’ in which scripture is still quoted as authoritative and many of the right forms are still observed.

But if YouTube reflects any sort of cross-section of Christian reality, many sermons seem to primarily involve wrestling the words of the apostles and prophets into the shape of modern secular values. And if the more popular Christian blogs show us anything, it’s that many believers lead lifestyles indistinguishable from those of someone who does not know Christ at all.

Too harsh? Maybe.

What many people fail to realize is this: if you’re not prepared to serve the Lord with your whole heart, it is much safer to keep your distance. At least during this life.

Some Qualifications

To be fair, not everyone who attends a megachurch is carnal and not everyone whose lifestyle resembles that of the unsaved is a phony or a spiritual slouch. Some are untaught and have no idea where to look for the truth. Some are just living like the other Christians they know, with a nagging feeling that there must be something better but no idea what that might be.

We might well ask this question: Do pastors represent the character of their congregants, or does the makeup of the congregation reflect the character of the pastor? Or is it maybe a bit of both?

Certainly in some modern churches, pew-sitters are being sold a brand of Christianity so diluted that it would be unrecognizable to the apostles, consisting primarily of “socially relevant” sermons that tell the audience what they think it wants to hear.

The Driscoll Sermons

Formerly of Mars Hill Church in Seattle (before tendering his resignation late last year), Mark Driscoll made his pastoral ‘bones’ on the internet and elsewhere by chewing out the men in his audience week after week, all the while lauding single motherhood and telling audiences that good Christian men can’t find wives because they unrealistically expect one who doesn’t already have another man’s children, or that women have no choice but to have children out of wedlock because there are no good men willing to marry them.

I’d support these last two statements with links to Driscoll’s own words, but Mars Hill has been frantically pulling down video of Driscoll since his resignation, not because they admit to any disagreement with the content of his sermons but because of accusations against him of “arrogance” and a “domineering style of leadership”.

If Driscoll is right that 40% of children are now born out of wedlock, this sort of sermon may effectively pander to a growing demographic, but it does not represent a balanced view of the teaching of scripture on marriage. It’s Christianity Lite.

Entertaining Goats

Mr. Driscoll is not the only successful pastor to find that telling his audience what most of them want to hear is a winning formula. William Still warns against this sort of shortsighted thinking:
“The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep don’t want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness.”
Wise words, though infrequently observed.

God and Treachery

What often gets lost in the desire to fill seats and garner approval is that fact that, well, church can be a dangerous place. There is a principle enunciated in Jeremiah that is picked up by New Testament writers and applied to the church. The principle has to do with God’s unchanging character: he cannot abide treachery. Jeremiah describes the relative offensiveness of the nations of Judah and Israel in the eyes of God:
“Because [Israel] took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”

And the Lord said to me, ‘Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.’ ”
The principle is this: if you’re not prepared to serve the Lord with your whole heart, it is safer to keep your distance.

Israel turned to idols blatantly and stuck with it for most of their history as a separate nation. Judah had the same love for foreign gods, but maintained lip service and some form of the worship of Jehovah throughout their history.

God calls Israel faithless. But he calls Judah “treacherous”. Of the two, his preference was for Israel’s unrepentant idolatry rather than Judah’s compromised and phony repentance.

Serve with your whole heart or, if you’re smart, head for the hills.

Church Can be a Dangerous Place

All kinds of other Old Testament examples come to mind: Nadab and Abihu, incinerated for offering unauthorized fire, Amos speaking for God on the subject of insincere religious festivals (“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies”), and Uzzah, who put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant and died on the spot. There were times in Israel’s history that it was considerably safer to be a Canaanite than a half-hearted, uninterested worshipper of Jehovah.

The same principle comes to light in the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira would have been far better off not giving an offering at all than lying to the Holy Spirit to impress the early church with their generosity. The church of Laodicia might have been safer cold than lukewarm. The sinning Corinthians would have been better off skipping the Lord’s supper than profaning it and incurring judgment.


Church can be a dangerous place. Christianity Lite does not cut it in the presence of a holy God.

10 comments :

  1. Tom, the funny(sad) part is, after the first two paragraphs I couldn't be certain as to whether you were speaking of a protestant type of church or the church of Rome.

    Some of your descriptions are so indicative of my catholic friends and acquaintances who still "observe the right FORMS," yet "lead lifestyles indistinguishable......."

    The sad part is they truly believe praying to dead people will give them access to some form of righteousness and worthy of heaven.

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    1. Hi Micah, what exactly do you mean by praying TO dead people? If you indeed have catholic friends and acquaintances, then have you talked to them concerning your observations? They may have a different interpretation of what it means to them. E.g., they do not pray to dead people but they pray for dead people (in purgatory, as Catholics assume there is such a thing), and they might ask someone who they assume is already in heaven (a saint by definition) a favor, same as you do on earth. I am surprised you are not aware of these very basic differences in believe systems for which the information is readily available on the internet. Don't forget that it works both ways, in that your catholic friends consider protestants to be the wayward children of the true church. Now, I know this discussion has and can fill thick volumes and I for one am not interested in rehashing it here. My interest as always is to explore the rationality in the human divide on issues like these and trying to assess if God is being served by it in some mysterious way, that we are not privy to, or if it truly is an undesirable situation for humanity in God's eyes, and how does he expect us to bridge that? It can be guaranteed that because you think that Catholics are not saved, will not make it so. So, what solution would you propose (other than having everyone become (an evangelical) protestant)?

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    2. Gosh Qman, let me see if I can clear up some of the confusion you have with my comments. I propose that you follow the teachings in THE BOOK and not the extra=biblical writings that were added in the years following God's inspired Book.

      If you will ignore the extra=biblical writings of men I think you will be able to see that praying to people such as, Christopher for instance. I'll use him since he's so popular among catholics. Christopher was a man and he is dead physically, am I right? He could be alive spiritually in heaven just like my father who is dead physically is most likely, based on his obedience to God and belief that Jesus is the Son of God, could be spiritually alive today. The problem is the Bible doesn't say that I can pray to my earthly father about anything. It does state that with Christ's sacrifice I can go directly to God with my prayers and supplication. In short, my father and your Christopher are the same in that they aren't pray worthy or praise worthy.

      It's so simple it's almost scary that you don't get that. Why did the catholic hierarchy forbid the laity, your word not mine, from reading the Old and New Testaments based on the Council of Toulouse and the Council of Trent? What was Rome afraid of, Qman? My bible tells me I am to diligently search the scriptures to obtain the truth of Jesus. In fact, my bible states that "I can know the truth and the truth can set me free." Why did the your church leaders deny the general public the right to search for the Truth?

      You're right, the internet is full of information about differences in belief systems. The bible itself is full of information as to who and what we are to worship, who we can and cannot pray to and many examples of the false teachers that will add to and take away from The Word.

      I don't see how you can't look at the pomp and circumstance of your church leaders and not see the similarities of the very Sadducees and Pharisees that rejected Jesus 2000 years ago. I want you to think about how Jesus dressed and the places he taught, do his actions and words remind you more of a huge catholic cathedral directed by expensive robes and gold utensils or a humble little protestant church leader sharing the Good News from a wooden podium dressed in a $75 suit? And if God blesses the Good News pastor with a new suit or a nice car to visit the sick and elderly did he get those things from a congregation moved by the Holy Spirit to give or did his ministry prosper because somebody invented a lottery system whereby you can pay the priest $20 to pray your dead relative to heaven?

      My interest is also "to explore the rationality in the human divide on issues like these...." so let's explore together, but let's use the words and actions of the Savior, not dead men.

      God bless you

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    3. Hi Micah, as I said, a discussion or exploration like that can fill volumes, i.e.,
      go on forever and based on this site's mission statement I believe that's not what it is intended for. So, I am mainly going to pass on that. There may be other blogs or fora where the purpose is exactly that type of debate. Again, the reason I am referring you to the internet is that you might be able to get better answers than I have available.

      But shortly, by the Book I assume you are referring to the bible in its totality (old and new testament). As far as I know all variants of Christian faith, including Catholic, rely on the bible and the difference may be in how some of the fine points are interpreted, a matter for professionals, scholars perhaps. The bible is and always has been the main part in the Catholic tool box as well. If you have other information it is incorrect. Btw, you sort of avoided my answer that Catholics don't pray to people but use different variants of prayer. One is worship, belonging to God, and others are conversational like petitioning (asking a favor), or honoring a saint's achievements similar to what we do with medal of honor recipients, or Martin Luther King day, or Columbus day here in the USA (don't know what they have in Canada). In other words, the Catholic church teaches communion with the saints for the living, where in this instance communion means communication on a spiritual level (I call it ESP :) and where saints means anyone in heaven (including hopefully your grandpa, and you and I one day). The dead are not assumed to simply be spiritual, stationary, uncaring and uncommunicative lumps on a log but are assumed to be proactive as well and able to participate in our affairs by their intercessions and prayers. This is a very attractive notion to most people who are often concerned about heaven being potentially a totally boring blissful state. It's attractive to me because I believe in continuity with regard to all our faculties when we step through that door (and which is supported by NDE experiences such as by Dr. Mary Neal as I mentioned in a previous comment).

      As far as Saint Christopher is concerned, the Catholic church simply selects specific saints because they want to emphasize that saints (that we think we know about) have lived a life worthy of imitation. Not really a bad thing, in my opinion. If they thought they knew about your grandpa being in heaven they would teach the same thing about him.

      With regard to pomp and circumstance, well, that is actually the way humans have been forever. Even today if you got invited to dinner by the queen of England, what do you think you would be in for? And I don't think you are against pomp and circumstance per se, because it is surely appropriate at times especially when talking about our deity. What you are probably concerned about is its unnecessary or extravagant use, and your concern is shared also by many Catholics, including the current pope, but not to the point of its total abrogation. As far as valuables, treasures, buildings, work of art, well you took history and we, luckily in my mind, have these tremendous national treasures from time periods we might want to consider the dark middle ages that have not been equaled again. Secular as well as religious institutions and organizations are benefitting from people being interested in that by way of tourism. It is an outstanding perhaps never again to be achieved outpouring of human creativity that we should turn away from because you might consider it to be decadent? I think quite the opposite in that it reflects well on our creator that he endowed his creation with that type of ability and drive.

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    4. You see, that's the problem, I want to talk about Jesus and what he has to offer and you want to discuss everything but my Savior. You and your religion are compromisers and invent/worship manmade drivel IMO.

      Qman, it's obvious that your interests are all secular. You want to discuss dressing to dine with the queen or look at the church's artwork to impress tourists. You have described things that will perish when Christ returns, things that have zero value in the New Jerusalem so unless you would like to discuss the things built on the words of Christ I am no longer interested in this futile back and forth.

      I will continue to pray that you and others will see that there is a battle being waged. It's not a battle of right and wrong or good verses bad. It's a battle that is spoken about often in the Word, it's the battle of dark verses The Light. And yes Qman, if you will read John 1 you won't have to guess as to who and what I refer to when I speak of The Word.

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    5. Interesting, Micah, I had only heard about your brand of evangelical fundamentalism but have not run into such a person except for now. Actually, your outlook has been described quite accurately it seems in sociology type books and articles. See the following excerpt and the link it came from, a book written by a former adherent.

      "Outrage – The perception that Fundamentalism is part of a cosmic struggle (the most important part) to return secular society and liberal religion back to God creates a sense of rightness in harangue, protest, confrontational behavior against those perceived to be “on the other side,” and in some instances of illegal and even violent behavior. The Fundamentalist mindset is that people who do not share the views of Fundamentalism are actually, knowingly rebelling against God fuels the fires of outrage. Several writers have noted that the culture of outrage against society, even though the outrage is usually law-abiding, nonetheless reflects the selective nature of the way Fundamentalists approach the Bible. . . ."

      From http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/2010/07/characteristics-of-fundamentalist.html

      Again, I am troubled by how differences in what should be a unifying concept of Christianity can nevertheless be distorted by the human propensity for irrationality. The latter is present when it is an impossibility to deal with matters in a logical fashion and the mind has been shaped into such a mesh, a filter, that it seems incapable of dealing with reality. It is bad when even the concept "dealing with reality" is habitually (i.e., not under control) interpreted as a negative instead of the positive it is. You are correct, our discussion would go no place. Evidently you are at a point in your life where only God can create the events in your life that can change you back into someone able to see your fellow men the way he wants you to. Good luck and I wish you well on that journey.

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    6. Qman, would you like for me to return the favor and copy/paste some anti-Catholic/former RCC opinion piece? I didn't think so.

      I'll tell you what we can do, you continue to worship the dogma of men that hide and/or transfer the pedophiles who preach your flavor of religion, but as for me and my house we will worship the Lord and depend wholly on the words and example His Son came to set. Deal?

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  2. I think you're right, Micah; the observation reflects on both sides of the Catholic / Protestant divide in North America. It seems to me that across the board Christendom embraces "a form of godliness" but "denies its power" as Paul wrote to Timothy. Now it may be very different in other countries, and I hear that it is, but this is certainly what I see no matter which way I turn.

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  3. I also like verse 9 in the NLT, "But they won't get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools (anoia: stupidity, by implication) they are."

    I find it hard to take seriously a religion that spent more than a thousand years of telling their adherents that they shouldn't read the Bible.

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  4. When Israel lost the Law, it was lost in a very odd place...the House of the Lord. (2 Kings 22:8) Meanwhile, business of the Temple had been going on uninterrupted. People were worshiping (something), they were conducting their rituals, there were priests in abundance, there were building projects ongoing, there was money in the coffers for new programs... in fact, people had rarely been more religious. But when they found the Book of the Law, at first they didn't even know what it was. Shaphan the Scribe just says to the king, "Hilkiah has given me a book." (v. 10)

    We Protestants used to pride ourselves on being "people of the Book." Well, we had it last, I suppose; but that doesn't mean much if we don't even know where it is anymore.

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