The Commercial spirit
Anyone who goes shopping becomes numbingly familiar with the ploys tempting him or her to spend. “Three for two” and “buy one get one free” are common offers.
The trouble is that this commercial spirit has seeped into some churches, so that the ‘price’ of becoming a Christian has been lowered. Lest anyone should misunderstand my mention of the word ‘price’ let me hasten to confirm that salvation is a ‘free gift’, and that it is all due to the free grace of God. Nevertheless, anyone who reads the New Testament carefully will observe that there are conditions attached to receiving this free gospel. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” urged Peter to his convicted hearers on the Day of Pentecost.
Faith is also implied in the context. It is because they believed Peter’s message that they cried out, “What shall we do?” They were all Jews and Proselytes, and so already had a belief in God and recognition of the Old Testament.
When preaching to the Gentiles Paul would insist on faith (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-11). In a sense the Philippian Jailor had already ‘repented’ (changed his mind) when he cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Then Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” Then they preached the word to him and his household.
Sin is the problem. We have sinned against God. Jesus died to take away the guilt and power of sin. That is why we must repent and believe. But in many churches today repentance from sin is rarely preached and baptism has become an optional extra. Even faith tends to be demoted from an active trust in a living Saviour to an acceptance of historical facts as true. But repentance, faith, baptism and receiving the Spirit are foundational matters, and foundations are vital.
The Psalmist knew this well when he wrote: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). If foundations are missing, defective, neglected or destroyed then the inevitable result in the long run is disaster.
But there are further implications. If there is slackness in the essentials it is inevitable that attention to other matters will be less rigorous. If churches lower standards for conversion and entrance into the church then there is little reason for holding to other standards.
Consequently, Christians tend to become more worldly, so that there is little or no discernable difference between professing Christians and non-Christians. For example, fifty years ago or less in the UK keen Christians would not attend the cinema. Today many professing evangelicals will watch ‘X’ rated (18) films without embarrassment. The teaching of such passages as I John 2:12-15 is ignored. Perhaps there is little emphasis upon a personal devotional life, but surely if private prayer is undervalued the prayer meeting will suffer also. I heard one preacher say, with some justification, that the prayer meeting is the real church!
In an attempt to draw in the unconverted and please shallow Christians more attention is paid in the music to satisfying carnal tastes rather than glorifying God and being reverent (as well as joyful) in his presence.
In such circumstances Christians tend to develop a “pick and mix” mentality towards the New Testament and to neglect the Old Testament, which properly interpreted speaks of Christ. In other words they will totally ignore any Scriptures that challenge their behaviour or preferences. For example, while women may legitimately teach three-quarters of the world’s population (women and children) some are never satisfied unless they can teach men also, even though the Bible forbids this (I Timothy 2:12).
It used to be considered to be good manners for a man to take off his hat upon entering someone’s house, and this was especially true of church buildings because the New Testament expressly forbids men to cover their heads in worship (I Cor. 11:4, 7). But now one or two odd bods have made themselves a spectacle by deliberately wearing a hat while leading worship or preaching. The tragedy is that many Christians just accept this behaviour and do not take exception to it, even though apparently God does!
Those who read church history will know that Martin Luther and John Calvin had different approaches to what was allowed in worship. Luther allowed anything that was not forbidden in Scripture. Calvin allowed only what was commanded in Scripture. Those who follow either of these two patterns have quite a wide choice, especially those who follow Luther’s rubric.
However, today there are churches who follow neither pattern. In fact they more or less ignore the Scriptures when it comes to what is allowed in worship. They ignore any commands or exhortations they do not like and “pick and mix” their church order and worship. They follow patterns, procedures, and examples from the world of entertainment rather than from the Bible.
It seems to me that there are two ways to build a church. One is to teach and preach the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit. The other is by compromise and pick and mix Christianity. For example, one of the largest churches in the world is based, not on what the Bible teaches, but on “what people want.” The question arises therefore, is that really a Christian church?