by Jefferson David Tant
During our recent Christmas holidays, several churches around the country canceled their Sunday services. Some of the statements made by church spokesmen probably revealed more than they realized, as they not only reflected an attitude towards the mistaken idea concerning the birth of Christ but an attitude towards the religion of Christ in general.
"It's more than being family-friendly. It's being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy," said Cally Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church, the biggest in the Chicago area.
“…lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy.” That says much about our time and culture. It doesn’t matter that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Just cancel such verses! Even though we are still one of the most churchgoing nations on earth, the number of people who are regular churchgoers continues to decline, Religion in Europe is in its death-throes. For example, in Norway, 95% of the people belong to the state church, while only 5% are active.
We have been on this trend for a long time, with churches canceling services for “more important” events such as the Super Bowl and other such momentous occasions. In my younger years, a church in Abilene, Texas held services in a drive-in theater. “Just come as you are” included pajamas and bathrobes, with hair in curlers. The preacher stood on top of the concession stand, as I recall, and preached through the P.A. system with individual speakers in each car. And of course, the ushers went from car to car with a collection basket in hand. Our trend of having myriads of stores open 7 days a week has forced many to choose between working or going to church and often work wins out.
“Lifestyle-friendly” also speaks to those churches that cater to the current trend of accepting and celebrating homosexual couples. You will remember the flap a while back about the ordaining of Gene Robinson as an Episcopalian Bishop. He had left his wife and children 13 years before and was living in open sodomy with his male wife/lover/husband/concubine (choose one). He was ordained a high official in the church, even though there was some strong opposition. I wondered—if he had left his wife and children and had lived with his 25-year-old female secretary without marriage, would he have been ordained? I seriously doubt it. The word of God does address this lifestyle: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals” (I Corinthians 6:10). More and more churches are canceling such teaching.
"At first glance, it does sound contrarian," Willow Creek senior pastor Gene Appel told the Tribune. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas — hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day."
By all means, we surely need to have a “more personal” experience. After all, myself is what is most important. Our mantra is “What’s in it for me?”
Well, the church really isn’t that important, after all. It’s common knowledge that you can be a good Christian and go to heaven without going to church. Haven’t you heard that? I certainly have, more times than I can count. In fact, many denominational churches are becoming less and less “church’ and more and more “entertainment.” The bands, orchestras, stage productions, and ball teams are growing in popularity. I am told that sermons are often a reincarnation of “Dr. Phil” in the pulpit, using one scripture to launch into a good lesson on human psychology.
Never mind that God has placed great emphasis on the church. It was so important in God’s mind that he gave his son to die for it. He admonished the elders of the church at Ephesus to "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). But let’s go ahead and cancel or decentralize the church. We have more important things to do.
Hmmm. Is there anything else we can cancel? I’ve got it! What about baptism? It’s so much simpler to be saved by simply raising your hand and saying “I believe.” Most denominations have already effectively canceled baptism in their creeds. The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches (Hiscox) declares that “Baptism is not essential to salvation” (p. 20), and a Jehovah’s Witnesses book states: “What, then, does Christian baptism signify? It is not a washing away of one’s sins, because cleansing from sin comes only through faith in Jesus Christ” [The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 183]. While these churches do practice baptism, it has become only a hollow symbol, while the true meaning of baptism has been canceled.
The Bible does have several words to say about baptism, including Christ’s own statement in Mark 16:16: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned.” Then the Holy Spirit directed Ananias to tell Saul of Tarsus, “Why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). But since it’s more important what we think than what the Bible says, we can cancel all the many scriptures that deal with baptism (and there are many).
"It's a sign of how totally identified with the culture [evangelicals have] become," Calvin College historian James Bratt told the Tribune. "The church has subordinated to cultural icons, and family is one of them." This statement very well sums it all up. What has happened is that the world (“culture”) has changed the church, rather than the church changing the world, and wherever the Bible contradicts what culture dictates, or what modern denominations say, or whatever interferes with personal or family interests, we just mark it “canceled.” Well said, Mr. Bratt.
But let it be known that there are churches all over the earth that still seek to follow the words of God given to the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus saith Jehovah, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). To do otherwise is certainly fraught with danger. We are given clear warnings about tampering with God’s revelation in more than one place.
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
As for me and my house, we will choose to follow the Word of the Lord. To do otherwise, I am afraid that when we would stand before the Judgment Throne of God, he would take my passport to Heaven and write across it “CANCELED.”