Thursday, June 02, 2011

When the Church Becomes Like the World

Jolly Christianity and Sanctified Nightclubs
When the church becomes like the world

by Paul Tautges

A.W. Tozer died the year I was born but, if I had known him, I think we would have gotten along quite well. In fact, I think I would have asked him if we could do lunch once a month so I could pick his brain. Because in my opinion the main ingredient in Tozer’s underlying belief system that caused many to call this Chicago pastor, a “20th century prophet,” was his lofty view of God and the exalted worship that He, therefore, deserves. At the risk of quoting one person too much, let me give you a little taste of Tozer. [i]

The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their positions, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun—Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The ‘worship’ growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself—a sort of sanctified nightclub without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks (pp. 152, 153).

I cannot accept with sympathy the idea that we go to church to soothe ourselves and calm our spirits. We do calm our spirits and there is a soothing effect in worship, but the primary object of church attendance is not to relax—it is to offer worship, which belongs to God (p. 3).

What the Church needs today is a restoration of the vision of the Most High God…The honor of God has been lost to men and the God of today’s Christianity is a weakling—a little cheap, palsy God that you can run and pal around with. He’s ‘the man upstairs.’ He’s the fellow that can help you when you’re in difficulty and not bother you too much when you’re not (p. 54).

Unlike many professing believers today, Tozer saw the cheapening of God as a serious offense and, therefore, was compelled to speak out against contemporary forms of “worship” that eroded the fear of God from the hearts of Christians. What he discerned (and warned against) was the drift of the church away from a standard of separation from worldliness in all its forms toward a pragmatic use of entertainment as an evangelistic tool or tactic to keep worldly-minded believers happy in the pews. That is why reading Tozer’s assessment of the worship trends of his day feels like you are reading a contemporary author but, then you stop and realize, “Oh yeh, this guy’s dead.”

A question that thoughtful Christians must ask is, What brought the church in Tozer’s day (and, therefore, our day) to such a pathetic state? The answer is found in the change in the church’s relationship with worldly forms of entertainment. Listen to Tozer again,

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was—a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability. For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make whatever use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate ‘producers’ peddle 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 (pp. 111-112).

Read that last sentence again: “And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.” In our day, rare is the man that dares to speak out against this same invasion of carnality into the church. And I can tell you from experience that if you dare to protest the worldliness that is running rampant in evangelical churches you will quickly be labeled a “legalist,” or “divisive,” or “stuck in the traditions of the past,” or “unwilling to ride the wave of God,” ad nauseum. It is unfortunate that so many Christians today have relinquished their thinking process because their spiritual hunger and thirst may not be for righteousness, but for whatever is glitzy or trendy or whatever works. With the virtual wholesale selling out of the church to worldly entertainment disguised as worship, should we expect anything more than half-hearted, worldly “Christians”? If the evangelical church sows to the flesh should it be surprised when it reaps from the same? When Jesus returns, “will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Praying He will,

Pastor Paul

[i] James L. Snyder, ed., A.W. Tozer on Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997), pp. 152-153.