Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.''The image of the church is radically changing. (If you have not yet read my first article regarding the Emerging Church, please click here.) There has been a huge shift- do you recognize it? Although this post is directed more at the cultural changes of the church, it is inclusive of the ideals at the heart emergent movement.
My mother tells me of 'once upon a time', years ago when the greatest debate was rather or not to allow a small kitchenette to be built in the basement of the church. There was great concern that the church building remain a place of reverence and respect; a house of prayer- without giving any opening to compromise. Today, however, kitchens are commonplace and seen as a necessity to a complete worship center; the great concern now is what color the tile should be and if stainless steel is in the budget.
But it hasn't stopped there... In fact it has quickly accelerated into something much more. The Mega-Church model offers us gift shoppes, bookstores, Deli-cafe's, coffee lounges, community centers and movie theaters. It's one stop shopping right in your own backyard! Have we adapted too much to the culture around us? What is the purpose in providing all these services within the church doors? Community and fellowship? A seeker sensitive atmosphere that will bring in the unsaved in droves through the front doors?
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with coffee, candles and couches, I find that we have been introduced slowly to this new wave of church "must haves" and the need for the Holy Spirit and the conviction that He brings is "old news". ' As a church we've been seduced into worshiping a God whose primary values are comfort and blessing. Yet the God of Scripture promises us only discipline and sacrifice. While we seek after blessing and protection from pain, pain and persecution are exactly what he promises us'.(1)
Consider the international and persecuted church for a moment... Savings pages of scripture ripped from the Bible and passed from family to family; secretly meeting in darkened rooms for a fear-gripped time of fellowship in Christ; knowing that their conversation could mean dire consequences for their business and family; separation, imprisonment and even death for their unfaltering faith and declaration in Jesus. He is the one they ultimately cling to. He is the one they are willing to die for.
It is not my intent to promote legalism either. I do not believe that sitting on a hard backless wooden bench makes your time with God deeper and more spiritual then if you were to be praising him on a plush lazy-boy recliner. Hiding in an upper room in fear of your life does not assume you are holier than those who meet in the freedom of Sunday church service. Wearing a suit and tie does not make your time with God more meaningful than if you were to wear your favorite pair of denim duds. Meeting on Sunday for worship as opposed to a Saturday night is not necessary for salvific assurance.
It is, however, the mentality of the emergent model that gives me reason to pause and question theses cultural changes within the church. Many churches have adopted this 'comfort' model with the hope to bring more people through the door, but have not yet embraced the philosophy and theology that accompanies it. I warn you though...they will eventually. If the Holy Spirit isn't enough to bring people in (through evangelism of your congregation); then why would comfortable lounges keep them there? When life gets hard and burdens overwhelm in abundance...they will have realized that Jesus doesn't make "life easier" and will take him off... just like an old bulky coat that is uncomfortable.
Why the changes? Why is it 'out with the old and in with the new' the only way? Why must new convert hopefuls be teased and tempted with cappuccinos and candle-lit services? Why are we wetting the appetite of the next generation for the pleasures of self and the desire of entertainment? This is absolutely opposed to scripture and the nature of God's spirit! 1 Cor. 2:4-5 says, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."
If we continue to embrace the influential culture of this fallen world in our churches, there will soon be no difference between us. And hasn't God called us to be set apart? To be 'in the world', but not 'of the world'?
Consider the Apostle Paul as he writes in 2 Cor 11 "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. "
Are we preparing the church for the last days in a stand against the toils of Satan and the true hardships of following Christ? Or have we tickled their ears with sensual sermons and visions of a life full of blessings and prosperity? Our joy as believers lies in the knowledge of eternity with Christ, not in this pleasures of this ever changing world! Let us follow the absolute standard of the Bible that is always the same! Praise the Lord; He never changes and His mercy will never fail!