Once while traveling rural Alabama some years past I decided to visit a local church for the mid-week Wednesday night service. I can’t remember the name of the little town I was in but I will never forget that church and what happened there. It was a true experience but to this day I still think that what I found there is what church is all about.
I almost stopped first at a larger church only a block from away from the little church I visited. The large brick church had a parking lot fairly full of cars and several people were going in as I drove by. I can’t say what made me keep driving but only a block away was a little white church with two people sitting on the front steps. As I slowed down to look at the church the two people waved to me and smiled. They beckoned for me to come in. I did.
When I entered that church there were only four people already there and no more came in throughout the entire service. I made the fifth person but then I noticed beyond a doubt that there was a sixth presence there also, it was the Lord. One way I knew he was there was because of Christ’s own promise…For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20. The other way seems much more subjective but to me was no less reliable. I could feel the presence of the Lord there; in fact it was so powerful I was nearly overwhelmed.
The power and sweetness of the Spirit I found in that little church was for me one of my greatest experiences and it became a litmus test for me later in life. I have been to few churches since then where the Spirit of God has moved so mightily.
I’ve attended churches where thousands of voices rang out in song and flag dancers whirled around the room. Soloists with clarion voices and perfect pitch sang special music and the preaching was polished to the nines. But often I went away un-inspired and very sure that God was not as pleased with all the fanfare as the people who attended were.
The late Vance Havner was a grand old-time evangelist who preached around the country until his late seventies. He pulled no punches and spoke as a prophet to those who had ears to hear. He said that today’s church offered people an experience but only delivered a performance. In my experiences in the church I have tested Havner’s statement and rarely have I found it to be faulty.
Entertainment is a multi-billion dollar business in America today. It is like a fix or an aphrodisiac to almost all Americans. Witness the tens of thousands of contestants who show up city by city to audition for things like American Idol. Everyone must either be sucking the spectaculars into their senses or helping to produce them in some way. In the secular world this could all be understood by just considering the source but when it leaks or in some cases pours into the church, it should raise some serious questions.
The idea of Christian Rap music, dancers and performers in church services, touring gospel choirs, and a myriad of other Hollywood style fluff is proof that there is more of the world in the church than there is church in the world. Some contemporary theology might find a way to justify all this but the bible does not. If the church needs to borrow a vehicle to present the gospel to the world then the power of the gospel is not supplemented but it is supplanted. Adding the flash of the worldly to the gospel weakens it and is probably displeasing to God after all…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15
Jesus said that if we lifted him up and simply proclaimed his gospel it would bring out the sheep. If we have to make it entertaining and gild it in gold and adorn it with buttons and bows then it is most likely not the gospel of Christ in its purest form. Jesus said he was the Rock and the whole world was sinking sand so why then would we present him with a media that will be blown away just like the sinking sands in a flood?
When we borrow from the world to present his gospel we insult its power to stand by itself and do exactly what Jesus said it would do. It is still the old time gospel that saves men and nothing more. Yes, it can be adorned with every kind of flashy presentation available today but it is most likely to be buried by it instead. The Holy Spirit convicts men of sin and leads them to the door of grace he does not entertain their senses and lead them to the back door of the church with praises for the presentation. And if the presence of God in a church is any test at all, then it may be that in many cases he doesn’t even show up in such places.
It is best said by the use of an old analogy I heard about an old man who tried to worship in the big church but was constantly turned away. He was abjectly poor and that was seen in his shabby appearance. All who entered the church were well dressed and their culturally based congregation looked sharp each person reflecting the same level of success as their peers in that neighborhood. The services were filled with praises sang from the projected songs from the computer displayed song sheet replete with moving images of ocean waves and mighty waterfalls against golden sunsets. Theatre productions, dancers, professionally trained and well rehearsed musicians played in symphonic perfection the contemporary songs of the day. But for the old gentlemen there was no entrance. He simply looked bad and was so shabby he was repeatedly turned away at the doors.
One Sunday morning after being turned away yet once more he went behind the church and sat under a tree and wept. As he was sobbing Jesus Christ appeared to him and with a gentle voice said…” why are you crying so sadly my son.” He said, “Because I have been trying to get into that church for a long time just to worship you my Lord but they will never let me in.” Jesus replied, “Don’t be too sad my son, I have been trying to get in that church also, and they have not let me in either.”