Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bandwagon of Popular Christianity

It sounds wrong to put those two words together in one sentence.  PopularChristianity.  In one sense, it's an oxymoron seemingly so contradictory as to be easily dismissed. 

Yet, the rise of the mega church in America hints at a truth to be found in such an incompatible phrase.  To be considered a mega church, 2,000 people must attend services there each week.  These numbers seem almost impossible considering the national anti-Christian trend across America, especially in the political arena.

Yet, according to Forbes, "Churches across America--like shopping malls, houses, corporations, hospitals, schools and just about everything else--have erupted in size in the last few decades. The number of mega churches in the U.S. has leaped to more than 1,300 today--from just 50 in 1970."  Of those mega churches, 9 out of 10 have "more than doubled in size between 2002 and 2007."

While not all mega churches are the same, the spike in attendees in these type churches along with the continued increasing failure to line up our personal morality with the Ten Commandments shows there are two types of Christianity at play in our nation.

There is a true Christianity that leads to salvation and individuals becoming more like Christ and, then, there is a popular Christianity wherein the hearer is drawn to the Word but stops short so that there is no fruit in their lives as evidence of salvation.

This may seem to be a modern problem, but it's anything but.

In the book of Ezekiel when the children of Israel were living in exile within Babylon, God says, "But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, 'Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.' They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain.  Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them" (Ez. 33:30-32).

This passage describes God's people as desiring to hear His Word.  It's an "everybody's going to see the prophet" type mentality.  They were drawn to the beauty of Ezekiel's voice as one would be drawn to a beautiful song heard on the radio today.  Although the passage doesn't say so directly, I believe God's people were also drawn in by the beauty of God's Word, itself.

Yet, when it came down to it, the Word of God literally went in one ear and out the other, not staying long enough to penetrate and change their hearts.  The result was continued moral decline as is represented by their repeated greed, idolatry, and pursuit of their own "lustful desires."

This was a perfect example of a popular faith versus a faith of the heart.

Such is the case today with popular Christianity.  The masses are drawn in by the eloquence and popularity of the speaker, perhaps even by the beauty of God's Word spoken from the pulpits.  But when their feet leave the arena, their lives, for the most part, aren't changed by the Holy Spirit.

Some may argue the problem of popular Christianity is caused by the mega churches preaching only a popular gospel with a great big hole in the middle of it, that they only preach positive, humanistic messages to edify and uplift while avoiding messages concerning sin and judgment. 

Granted, this mis-defining of what it means to be a Christian is a definite problem.  Yet, I have heard half-gospel messages preached from both the mega church and the small church pulpit.  The size of the platform doesn't secure a listener from a false Christianity. 

So, what can we do to ensure we are not guilty of being merely a popular Christian? 

First, we can examine the Word of God, ourselves--in its entirety--to ensure we are receiving Godly instruction from our pastors.  If the preaching we sit under each week isn't lining up with the God we read about in Scripture, then we have a problem.

Secondly, we can follow James' advice.  He warned, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (Jas. 1:22).

In other words, we must realize it is easy to delude ourselves into believing that just because we know the Word of God that we also do the Word of God in our day to day lives.  Then, we must examine our own practices and ask ourselves if Scripture is directing our every action and life choice.

In the end, anyone can be guilty of being a popular Christian.  We want to belong to something greater than ourselves.  We want to feel good, uplifted, inspired...something a worship experience can grant us.  And, as a general rule, we still want to be morally upright people.

We must choose a faith not that is popular and that simply feels good but rather a life-altering faith that consumes our thoughts moment by moment as we seek with all our heart and soul to become more like Christ.

1 comment:

  1. This is very well said. I didn't drop in by chance. Ginger Wade mentioned my name and my book, Changing Churches, in connection with this blog post. I address similar issues in my book. "A life-altering faith that consumes our thoughts" is what we need and hopefully seek.