Friday, December 5, 2008

Insulting God: Why Today's Organized Church Has No Power

Eighth in a Series
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Back in Part 1 I introduced the three premises on which this series would be based. The third one was this:

We insult God when we cheapen His grace
into an excuse for sinning,
pampering our own favorite iniquities
while yelling at our society for committing sins
that are on our lists of pet peeves.

Abortion. Homosexuality. Two huge hot-button issues. And rightly they should be.

Do you ever wonder why the church doesn't have more impact on these issues than it does? After all, these things are sins with a capital "S," right? And isn't that something the church is supposed to have an influence on?

Perhaps it's because we've put the biggest capital "S" in the wrong places.

Please don't misunderstand me here. Abortion and homosexual activity are abominations that must be met head-on. The problem is that we're standing at the bottom of a mountain, Avalanche on Mt.Image via Wikipediawatching an avalanche of evil hurtling towards us. The only thing that many of us know to do is to protest against those two evils, pray about them, and hope to avoid being crushed by the rubble of our society's moral collapse.

Like all avalanches, this one had a cause. And if we had dealt with the cause before things got this far out of hand, we would not now find ourselves in this perilous position.

Sometimes the beginning of a problem seems so small. Someone on a mountainside slips a bit, but catches his footing. His companion laughs at his concern and says, "I've slipped worse than that!" And they shrug and go on...until the dislodged rocks hit other rocks, which hit more rocks, which start a landslide that buries some people below.

But like all analogies, this one fails. For one thing, the "slip" that led us to where we are now was not small. It was monumental. And yet happened so gradually, and it appeared so trivial in many people's eyes that they never saw it at all. In fact, most believed it to be a very good thing.

Most still do.

The slip? It was the shift from God-centeredness to man-centeredness. The church once understood its obligation to grow God-centered people. But today's "church" (by and large) imagines a man-centered universe ruled by an obsequious God who doesn't mind having His throne usurped, and knows no higher good than indulging our selfish whims. That is the true "Sin with a capital 'S,'" because all sin comes from rejection of the one true God and enthronement of self (otherwise known as pride). It happened first in Eden, and man-centeredness has been at the core of every human soul ever born. But true Christians throughout history have had glorious times of standing firm, of proclaiming the truth of God's centrality and supremacy. And marvelous reawakenings have often followed.

We're overdue for one. Just look at how many of the "Christian" bestsellers, popular "Christian" songs, and even how many churches focus on the supposedly holy trinity of "Me, myself, and I."

Come on, God...feed my flesh. Please my flesh. Pamper my flesh. Thrill my flesh. Tickle my ears. Stroke my self-esteem. Make me always healthy, always wealthy, always good-looking. Let your church preach only messages that leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Otherwise, I'll go elsewhere.

In order to fill the pews, far too many churches play right along. And if the organized church makes man's desires supreme, how can we expect the culture to do otherwise?

And so the cultural wars degenerate into shouting matches with no spiritual power. The church says, "Don't be self-centered your way. Come be self-centered our way!" And the world replies, "Hey, if you think your God serves you best, go for it. Personally, I serve myself best."

Since both are committed to being served, is there really a difference between the "church" and the world? And if not, why would the "church" expect to have any impact on the culture?

With human desires and pleasures enshrined, everything becomes a battle between the forms of self-indulgence which I accept versus the forms that you accept. All claims of moral authority disappear not only under the weight of relativism, but also under the hypocrisy of one group's self-centeredness daring to preach against another group's self-centeredness.

It's as if two oxen were yoked together, both pulling due West while arguing with each other over their direction. One says, "We're going the right way, because we're supposed to head West, and this is West." And the other one, pulling right along with him, replies, "No, we're supposed to head East. Can't you see I'm heading East? Why aren't you?" And the first ox, who knows they're both heading West, isn't about to change his direction. Why should he listen to the opposing words of a confused creature who is pulling West just as hard as he is, and doesn't even realize it?

The farmer certainly doesn't care about the bickering between his two oxen. He wouldn't even care if one convinced the other to change his point of view. The results are the same. They're still pulling together in the direction he's driving them.

In the same way the modern "church," pursuing self-centeredness with all its might, cannot influence a self-centered world for Christ. And all of its protests and all of its moralizing can only earn pity at best ("those poor, confused idiots"), or scorn, hatred, and malice at worst.

Worse, the godless church's converts often become, in Christ's words, " twice as much a son of hell" as themselves (Mat 23:15), because they're convinced they're headed Heavenward while they're still pulling away from God with all of their self-centered strength.

And the Evil One at the plow couldn't care less about the bickering. He doesn't even care if the "church" convinces someone to join its ranks and embrace its creed, or even to give up the sins that irritate that church most. The results are the same. They're still pulling together, lockstep in pursuit of the flesh, whether they admit it or not.

Irreligious atheism and godless religiosity both serve the same master, and both their journeys have the same ending point.

To set the mind on the flesh is death (Rom 8:6 ESV)

Even if a church fills its days with good works, feeling driven entirely by man-centered purposes, it will not ultimately impact the culture spiritually for good. It will just be one more do-good organization that helps in the "here and now" but offers nothing for eternity. Without God Himself as top priority, "loving your neighbor as yourself" devolves into something far less than God intended. It is the one who loves God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength who is able to love his neighbor in a way that benefits his immortal soul as well as meeting physical needs. (Of course you won't be able to believe that if your concept of "loving God" means simply "loving religion." That's NOT what I'm talking about.)

The only way out of this morass and to have a genuine impact on our culture is to become a God-centered people, boldly proclaiming His supremacy and centrality regardless of whether or not humanity thinks it needs Him. When the church truly worships the Holy God, treasuring Him more than the pleasures of the flesh, God will have the opportunity to shine through us. His Holy Spirit will use our testimony to prick the consciences of those around us. As a result many will hate us, but for those on whom the Holy Spirit is pouring out grace, our witness to God's worth will be a beacon lighting the way to Him.

How do we get to show the world that we value our Lord above worldly pleasures and treasures? There's only one gladly relinquishing them for His Name's sake, whether voluntarily in generous giving, or involuntarily (but still gladly) under persecution.

For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (Heb 10:34)

We're likely to get our chance soon. The days of free and easy Christianity in America seem to be winding down. Are we praying for more God-centeredness? Are we seeking His face, and not just His gifts? Are we seeking to lead others...not simply away from the sins that offend us most, but TO GOD?

Or are we content to see our neighbor go to Hell, as long as he does so as a pro-lifer or a heterosexual?

God is the heart of the matter, so godlessness is the heart of the problem.


Here's a thought-provoking article dated 12/20/08 from Carl Trueman that dovetails well with this topic. "Goodbye Larry King, Hello Jerry Springer!"


Esthermay said...

Amen. Amen. But you preach to the choir with this reader.
You are correct when you say that everything in churches today is “I-” Centered. Just look at the music for one example. How many of the choruses, etc. that we sing (over and over and over and over) are centered on “I.”
I worship you. I this. I that. I I I I I.

We don’t have “Bible Study” anymore. All the mid-week programs are centered around specific needs of ME ME ME ME – 'Weigh Down' to loose weight. . . 'Parents Without Partners' for divorcees. . . MOPS – for moms. . . .(list goes on...) Not that these are bad things – BUT we sacrifice TRUE Worship of God and Study of HIS word for these things.
It’s sad.

I’ve often told people with reference to the abortion issue that the babies we’ve tried to save since 1973 would probably have grown up to a life of godlessness anyway and the majority of godless in our country would be even greater! This is not necessarily the best battle to choose to fight. . . .

This is a wonderful series and you should send it somewhere to be published. Problem is: most Christian publishers will tell you to “tone it down” or you’ll lose your audience. #%^&&@!!! BTDT!

Keep writing!

~ Esthermay @The Heart of a Pastor's Wife

LauraLee Shaw said...

Betsy, I really have to agree with you on this post. Not all individual churches are this way, but the ones drawing the crowds are, and as you put it, "The organized church" as a whole. You nailed it. And it starts with each of us putting the Lord first and then speaking it out, just as you have. Well done, girl!

Josh said...

I'm going to have to go back and read the parts of this series that I haven't read yet. This is so good!

You really hit the nail on the head. If you look at some of the biggest churches in our nation today, they are all churches with pastors that "tickle ears" and sound more like motivational speakers or self-help gurus than they do preachers of the Gospel.

The modern church has become more like the Salvation Army or Goodwill in that it is viewed as a place for help in an emergency. Like you said, what good are we doing helping people's immediate physical needs if we aren't meeting their spiritual needs and ultimately leading them towards Heaven?

I can tell that you put a lot of time and effort into your posts, because they are all very thought provoking. Thank you!

karin said...

Just happened on your blog today. If I knew how to make and give blog awards I'd send you one! This is excellent work and I'll be back to read more. Totally agree with what you have written and how you've said it.

Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

Okay, I'm going to write a book here.

First of all, I want to say that I've never visited your blog (I don't think!) but keep seeing you around out there so popped over. Secondly, this post is amazing! You write the kind of things I only wish I could formulate. As an overseas worker (missionary) looking into the American church from this outside perspective, I am just absolutely apalled at how mancentered and selfish the church is. We have to buy people off to get them in the doors, and these are supposed to be "Christians?"

It seems like American Christians live for themselves and take this lifestyle as matter of fact, unquestioned. If we have been bought with a price, how can we consider this our right?

I agree that we must stand up for what is right...but we also must remember that judgement begins with the household of God and start looking at ourselves. Thank you for this great post.

Sherri Ward said...

Betsy, I particularly liked this: "It is the one who loves God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength who is able to love his neighbor in a way that benefits his immortal soul as well as meeting physical needs."

Pointing out the sin of the unsaved rather than examining our own hearts humbly before God, and acting on what we know to be true doesn't really do anything but make us judgmental... The bible is not written for unbelievers, but to change the hearts of believers.

Thanks for sharing truth.

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