I’ve lived long enough to watch an alarming erosion occur in modern Christianity. The church I entered back in the 1950s is not the same church as today. Large, influential churches are looking more and more like they got their genes crossed with Wall Street and Broadway. A strange mutation of techniques from corporate America and show business have replaced or at least watered down the sound and systematic teaching of the Word of God. There are notable exceptions, for which I’m grateful, but that’s the tragedy: They are the exceptions, not the rule.
Instead of offering solid meat based on sound doctrine, our houses of worship have turned to the baby food of the world of entertainment. A consumer mentality is now an acceptable substitute for theological thinking and biblical literacy. Naive and impressionable infants in the faith gather to hear what they want to hear from preachers and teachers who are often not much better trained than their hearers!
When I consider these developments, I can’t help but think of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 2 Timothy 4:3–4 in The Message—“You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.” It seems like pastors today will stop at nothing to entertain their audience—not congregation, but audience. And those audiences want nothing more than to hear things that “tickle their fancy.”
I know this comes across to some people as the get-off-my-lawn rants of a grumpy old man. Or the desperate railings of a member of the “old guard” who can’t bear to see an old-fashioned Churchianity replaced by something more “relevant.” It’s not that at all. I myself have called such stultifying killjoys to task for their marriage to man-made traditions, out-of-date preferences, and the obsolete methods of yesteryear. What really bothers me with the deterioration in modern Christianity is the tasteless reimaging of holy things. We’re seeing the deliberate dumbing down of historic Christianity into a silly caricature of the true faith to keep people feeling good in order to keep them coming.
Such pastors and teachers today have all the marks of people who are “from the world.” They “speak as from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 Jn. 4:5). Today, as in the first century, we need to learn how to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1). I challenge you to do that!
Swindoll, Charles R. 2018. Insights on 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude. Vol. 14. Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.