Entertainment. Marketing. Silliness. Secular music in “worship.” Therapeutic conversation (instead of preaching). Moralistic aims. Being “cool.” Being “relevant.” This is what the American church has become. And it is way more American than Christian. In fact, the church is fast becoming Christ-less.
Sure, American pastors talk about Jesus…even refer to him by name. But the church does not seem to exist for Jesus. It exists for the consumer. It exists for the American. And this has to stop. Michael Horton states in his book, Christ-less Christianity:
“…the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.“ (16).
Because the church aims to please the world in its preaching, music, service design, architecture…even the words and language it uses…we should not be surprised when the church looks like the world. The church has started to lack its punch. Sin is not called out as deadly and an affront to God. Repentance is not called for as necessary for salvation. People are just made to feel good. The road to Hell is paved with niceness and good intentions. This is what the American church has become. Thus, it’s really no church at all. It has become just another avenue for Americans to make themselves look and feel good about…themselves. Horton adds,
“Liberalism started off by downplaying doctrine in favor of moralism and inner experience, losing Christ by degrees. Nevertheless, it is not heresy as much as silliness that is killing us softly. God is not denied but trivialized – used for our life programs rather than received, worshiped, and enjoyed.” (Horton, 24).
The majesty of God has been lost. He’s now our buddy. We sing songs about how we feel…not about what Jesus has done. And we ‘preach’ self-help as if we are even qualified to do so.
Therefore, many church-going Americans are not following the teachings of Christianity. They are following the teachings of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Say what? Sounds complex, but it truly is the best descriptive for what we’re doing here in the 21st century American church. MTD was first coined by researcher Christian Smith as he gleaned extensive interviews from teenagers in the church.
He found that most Americans who were church goers thought of their “religion” this way:
1. God created the world.
Now, we would all agree with that. So, that’s a plus…
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
Here is where we veer off course. God does not want people to be good and nice and fair. He wants people to turn from their sin and place their faith (and therefore, life) in Him.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
This is the American dream, not God’s plan for your life. God’s plan is for you to die to yourself and follow Him at all cost. In this, there will be fulfillment and happiness. But this happiness and fulfillment is centered around Jesus Christ and all of the blessings inherent in Him, and not in oneself. This is the narrow way that calls for believers to forsake friends and families. The central goal of life is not to be happy. It is to bring glory to Him no matter what earthly pleasures it costs us.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem.
Most Americans only go to God when they are in need. He’s the great provider and problem solver. He is the genie in the bottle. No…God is sovereign and over all things. Nothing happens without his permission.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
False. Saved people go to Heaven when they die. Redeemed people go to Heaven when they die. Those bought by the blood of Christ go to Heaven when they die. Not good people. There is no such thing. Hell is never talked about because we don’t want to offend people or turn them off. Guess what? The Gospel is offensive. How much do you have to hate someone not to tell them the truth? When you sign up to follow Christ, you sign up to be ridiculed for His name.
Now, let me say that I’m all for marketing your church brand. We do this at First Baptist Moncks Corner. I’m all for taking down obstacles to attend. You know…better signage, a nice nursery, smiling and helpful faces. But…the tail does not wag the dog. Let’s make people “comfortable” when they visit. But if a person is truly lost and far from God, they ought to start feeling very uncomfortable the minute the service starts. And that is exactly what we should aim for. We should sing songs about how we were lost and in sin but now have been saved by the blood of Christ. We should hear preaching about the same. Not small talk. Not conversation. Proclamation. This is what Jesus has called us to do.
Yes, if you do this, your numbers may decrease (for a while) but they’ll increase with new believers, eager to hear from the Lord. Eager to reach others for Christ. Eager to worship Jesus Christ in spirit and truth. They won’t desire entertainment. They won’t desire false promises. They won’t desire the “experience.” They’ll desire God. And when they see themselves in light of His holiness, this realization will bring them hopefully to a place of deep deep repentance for their sin and prayerfully great great joy for what Jesus has done.
For more on MTD, check out these videos and links: