Many changes have taken place within the professing Christian church over the past several decades. One of the major changes is the mass integration of pop-culture into our churches and the attempt by church leaders to be “cool,” “relevant,” and accepted, in particular, by the younger generation. Our sermons, our music, our outreach, our language, our prayer—every aspect of the church has now been affected by the cultural norms of an unregenerate society. Rather than impacting the world with the clear gospel of Jesus Christ, it appears that we have allowed the world to impact Christianity with its message and attitudes.
Even unbelievers can see the influence the world has had on the church. The proponents of this pop-culture integration claim, “We are reaching more people for Christ by using the things of the world or by rebranding our churches as stylish and appealing.” Really? In considering this issue recently, I found myself revisiting Alan Wolfe’s 2003 book The Transformation of American Religion in which he documents the evangelical church’s infatuation with pop-culture. The following quote stood out to me, especially considering the fact that Wolfe is a self-professed atheist. Thus, we see how at least one unbeliever views the state of the contemporary church today:
What did evangelicals gain by overcoming their suspicion of popular entertainment in favor of contemporary rock? The answer seems to be very little. For one thing, the notion that young people were going to be lured into stronger faith commitments after listening to watered-down gospel music seems rather naive. And just to set the record clear, the firm that conducts survey research for evangelicals asked those who considered Jesus their Savior and found that none of them mentioned Christian music as responsible for their conversion…. Conservative Christians also find their own religious practices being transformed by the very popular entertainment they were seeking to emulate (pp. 210-211).
Wolfe, who has extensively researched the recent changes in evangelical churches and published his research in his aforementioned book, also noted the ways in which pastors no longer preach about sin; no longer take doctrine seriously; no longer judge the actions, behavior, or beliefs of others; no longer preach a message that would “offend” anybody. He writes, “In the ways in which they dispense with doctrine, reinterpret tradition, and transform worship, Americans have long ago left behind ways of practicing religion that would satisfy the prophets and martyrs who shaped their faiths” (p. 184). Yes, we have certainly come a long way—a long way from remaining true to God’s Word to mankind, a long way from doing God’s work God’s way and allowing Him to build His church and convict hearts and minds.
Another author has also noted the changes that have occurred in America’s pulpits during the past several decades. The late Dr. Ernest Pickering, in his excellent book The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism (p. 147), lists several changes that have taken place in America’s pulpits:
- An overemphasis on the positive aspects of preaching while neglecting its warning aspects
- An occupation with psychology (ed. note: a point Wolfe also addresses extensively in his book)
- A replacement of authoritative pronouncement of God’s Word with the concept of “sharing” ideas
- “Issues-oriented” preaching rather than reasoned exposition
- Preaching to what people want rather than what they truly need
- A retreat from what is viewed as “dogmatism”
What should be our response to this epidemic that has broken out in today’s churches? First, pastors must realize that the message they preach is God’s Word, not their own. They have no right to alter the message in order to make it more palatable to the hearer. Second, pastors must remember that God’s Word in conjunction with the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is all-sufficient to make each believer become exactly what God wants him or her to be. We do not need to hear or embrace the ideas and speculations of men. We do not need to try to become more “cool” or “relevant” in order to reach more people or be accepted by a particular socio-economic target. “Preach the Word” and preach “the whole counsel of God”—that is God’s mandate for the undershepherds of His flock.
Sadly, it is obvious that even unbelievers can see the futility in the pragmatic approach to ministry that permeates Christianity today, so how can those who profess to know Jesus Christ as Savior be so blind? Maybe, they are too concerned about being accepted by the world to see the harm they are bringing to the cause of Christ. Or perhaps they, themselves, are too entangled with the beliefs, philosophies, and pragmatic methods of the world. At any rate, we must purpose to make sure all our efforts for Christ are carried out in spirit, in truth, and in the beauty of holiness. God is only glorified when we do His work His way. And, the only way we can know how He wants us to minister is by looking into His Word, the Bible. Don’t look to the world or even to other believers in order to discover how to “do ministry.” Look to God’s Word alone! — Pastor Matt Costella