Squeezed into a mould?
By Mark Stapleton
And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
For the Christian, being “conformed to this world” is not an option. Indeed, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to be “transformed” by the renewing of our minds. How is this done? At conversion, our lives are changed by the inward working of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17). We no longer, or should we say, we should no longer, want the things of the world. For some, this transformation comes quickly, for others it may take some time. Our thinking changes to being God-centred instead of self-centred.
Of course, we still live in this world, but we are not of the world. Our attitudes change when we come to Christ for cleansing in His precious blood. Sin, however, still so easily clings to us, and we often are tainted with the sins and attitudes of the world around us.
Christians form the body of the local church, wherever that may be. There are often hindrances to a church’s spiritual growth; no more so than the influence of the culture around it: worldly idioms, practices and attitudes which press their claims on unsuspecting churches who are unaware of what is happening to them. This can often occur despite good solid Bible teaching and practice. Churches, which have already been influenced and changed by things of the world, seem to affect the unsuspecting weaker church. The weaker church, not wanting to stand out as being different from the rest, easily succumbs to the world’s ways.
The book of Jude is full of warnings about things creeping into the church which are not God-honouring, and which can damage the reputation and witness of the church. Jude reminds the reader of Old and New Testament apostates. He quotes instances from the Old Testament where so-called believers have shown themselves to be false, or at the least unwilling to follow God’s ways. Even in the New Testament, Jude points out the corrupt nature of the love feasts which were being held, which brought discredit to the church.
He also warns that in the coming days there would be those in the church who “… would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” (Verses 18-19) Let us be under no illusion, Satan is out to deceive and to change the Christian church, its people, and its practices, and lead it away from the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed them. He will try to influence it into thinking that the ways of the world are pleasurable and lasting, which, of course, is not so. It does not take much to change the course of a church and the Christians who comprise it.
In his book Warnings to the Churches, Bishop J.C. Ryle was concerned about “Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with, – a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.” Any or all these things can change the life of the Christian and the Bible-believing church. An appalling lack of knowledge of the Word of God today, both by the Christian (and the non-Christian), makes the work of those spreading heresy and error so much easier!
No wonder that Jude exhorts true believers to ‘… earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (verse 3) This statement is as applicable in our day as it was in Jude’s. The “contending for the faith” demands perseverance, discernment, action, and a resolve to preach, study and practice the Holy Scriptures, both in our individual Christian walk and in the life of the local church.
Changes in evangelical protestant churches have come about by all or some of the following,
- Ecumenical influences – Rome wants to squeeze Christians into its own mould.
- The influence of the Contemporary Christian Worship movement, which seeks to change churches into a mould that is not Biblical.
- The evil practices of the nation in which churches are found, put pressure on Christians to move away from Biblical standards. This is clear by the way laws have been brought onto our Statute Book which are against the Bible.
The Roman Catholic church is a false and blasphemous organisation. It seeks to dominate the religious world as well as the political world. It is keen to influence evangelical protestant churches and bring them back into its fold. Even lapsed Catholics have been targeted, as can be seen on the web-site – www.catholicscomehome.com. Jesuit Pope Francis aims to be the head of a one world religion. In March 2013, one week after he was appointed to the papacy, he urged members of all religions to unite to defend “justice, peace and the environment.” He met representatives of non-Catholic religions such as Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists Hindus, and others. The Washington Post reported that Pope Francis, addressing a Roman Catholic audience on July 27th, 2013, had said that it was time to merge our faiths – referring, of course, to all non-Catholic religions. The following year, on 18th September 2014, a summit was held in Seoul, South Korea, entitled – World Alliance of Religions for Peace (WARP), under the slogan “WE ARE ONE.”
The Roman Catholic church, has, and will continue to have, a tremendous influence on the true church of God. We need to keep well clear of anything to do with such a false and evil system, either directly or indirectly. The Ecumenical Movement is very subtle, and Rome will do anything to get the Reformed church to compromise the truth, and is very happy to stretch out a hand of friendship to “our separated brethren,” as long as the Reformed church will let go of their “traditions” and bow to the wishes of the Papacy.
At the same time, we must pray for the conversion of those caught up with the Roman Catholic church, and seek to witness to people when opportunity arises. There is no doubt that charismatic/contemporary worship and the practices of the nation in which churches are found, have been used by the church of Rome to try to win many into the Catholic fold, and into a “one world religion.” Historically, the Roman Catholic church has encouraged a synthesis of pagan and Christian practices, for the same purpose. Many contemporary worship singers, musicians and so-called worship leaders are openly ecumenical.
Churches who profess to teach and hold Reformed doctrine and practice and have recognised the Ecumenical and Charismatic movements for what they are, now face a subtler attack. They are under tremendous pressure to introduce charismatic/ contemporary ways of worship. It takes little for churches to start down this slippery slope. For example, some would think that it does not matter if just a few Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) “hymns” are used. CCM’s agenda includes using some hymns which are acceptable to reformed churches, as a bridge into the movement. Its music style also aims to provide a bridge between the church and the world. All of which may be performed by ecumenically minded Christians, who may not be even be “born-again.” The long-term effects can change the whole life and witness of a church, making it almost unrecognisable from its founding. After all, Satan does not announce his intentions! But we know that he wants us “to be conformed to the world.” Often, worldly influences in a church start in small ways, just like points on a railway line, which take the train just a little way from the main line but can land up miles away. In time, the worship of the local church, the gathered people of God, will have changed drastically.
An example of how a church has changed from its fundamentalist Biblical stand, can be seen in Westminster Chapel in London. Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones was minister there for 30 years, and always sought to preach and to teach the Word of God, without compromise, and without using gimmicks. A decade after Dr Lloyd-Jones retired, Dr. R.T. Kendal took up the ministry at Westminster Chapel. This was to last for the next 25 years. He showed great interest in Paul Cain and the Kansas City Prophets in the U.S.A. These people are Charismatic/Pentecostal, and have a special interest in Apostolic and Prophetic ministry. Dr. Kendal obviously influenced the whole ethos of the church’s witness and stand. Today, even by just looking at the web-site of Westminster Chapel, you can see that it is totally different from the days of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, who would have been very troubled by the state of the vast majority of today’s professing churches.
There are churches who preach a liberal Gospel, whose congregations are happy to hear things which will boost their ego and prestige. If people’s consciences are not troubled by the thought of sin, and the holiness of God, they are satisfied that attendance at a church is all that is needed – and even then, perhaps only once on a Sunday. The preacher does not have to give direct Biblical teaching therefore a moral story with a “good” outcome will not trouble the hearer’s conscience or challenge their daily living. A church’s basis of faith that says it will teach and preach the Word of God – the Bible – “in all matters of faith and practice,” is not always evident in the life and witness of a given church.
Some churches like to draw in crowds by showing themselves to be as close to the world as possible. They like to show-off their musical abilities with a choir, musicians using various forms of instruments, coloured flashing lights, loud music, and sometimes a darkened auditorium and stage on which to display their talents. The preaching is often shallow and uninspiring and, although said to be Bible-based, has little godly edifying.
Churches may try to attract people to come through their doors, using different ideas. It does not seem to matter what the worship is like. For example – there are churches which incorporate a “Café Church” style of worship. That is, you don’t have to sit in rows listening to a preacher; instead you can watch the service from the main church building on a giant television screen, while enjoying coffee and cakes! Entering the words – “Café church” – into a Google Search Engine, reveals some interesting comments from various churches and organisations:-
- “A Christian church model that can be associated with alternative worship and the emerging church movements seeks to find new forms and approaches to existing as a church in the 21st century.”
- “The idea was, as a church, to do something different. Out of the mass of possibilities came Café Church – a church for people who don’t go to church.”
- “Seated round tables instead of sat in rows, we drink coffee, eat croissants, discuss faith and read the Sunday papers. It’s still a service, we sing a few songs …”
- “You are very welcome to join us for café style worship …”
- “More recent Café-style worship has included a quiz and “pass the parcel.”
- “An informal service with refreshments available throughout, using multimedia, contemporary music, conversations and various styles of prayer.”
- “‘Sanctuary’” is a ‘Café’ style service which draws both communities together to worship in a quiet and reflective style.”
- “An informal worship service led by a band that is drawn from several …. churches. … As people arrive they are welcomed into a room set out cafe style … When the worship begins, it consists only of singing. There’s no Bible reading or message delivered. After about 40 minutes, they break and serve more refreshments before worshipping again, often teaching people new songs.”
- “A modern church – Church Without the Boring Bits … Come as you are · Popular Kids Program · Great community.
- “Worship events take place throughout the week so if Sundays don’t work for you … [there is] a cafe style service in a local pub.
- “This [time of worship] is a noisy and busy service with a lot of families but attracts a wide age range of singles and couples as well.”
Then there are churches who use a form of service known as “Messy Church,” where their “worship” includes craft and other activities, and where families can have fun together! Those involved would say that it is all Christ-centred, is for all ages, and is based on creativity, hospitality, and celebration. The “Messy Church” movement is supported, resourced, and enabled by the Bible Reading Fellowship.
It was reported recently that a church decided to have a “Bible-free day.” Presumably so that the strangers in the congregation would not be off-put by Scripture being read or preached, and their sinful life-styles not addressed. How far from Biblical principles has the modern professing church of God strayed?!
(To be continued)