‘Heresy’ and ‘apostasy’ have long been hurled as epithets by the ne’er-do-well fringe of Christianity. But I’m now hearing the words more frequently in mainstream evangelical quarters. Usually they target readily identifiable examples, like off-the-deep-end theological liberalism or the so-called prosperity gospel. There’s also good reason to apply it to legalism, in both its behavioral and doctrinal modes.
But not many members of mainstream conservative evangelical churches would see themselves as being in danger of accepting heresy or committing apostasy, when in fact the danger lurks close by.
I was glad to see this article by Mike Livingston, which brings the issue of heresy and apostasy much closer to home. Here’s an excerpt from The heresy of worshiptainment:
The great heresy of the church today is that we think we’re in the entertainment business. A.W. Tozer believed this to be true back in the 1950s and 60s. Church members “want to be entertained while they are edified.” He said that in 1962. Tozer grieved, even then, that it was “scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction was God.”*
More recently, David Platt has asked: “What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would His Word still be enough for his people to come together?” (Radical) …
Like Tozer, we should be concerned that so many people in our churches want to be entertained while they worship. We should be concerned when we no longer recognize the difference between the two. And we should be concerned by the growing belief that adding more entertainment value to worship is necessary for the church to accomplish its mission.
We have had too little teaching about apostasy among evangelicals in the past century, to the point that many laypeople have no idea what the word means, much less how it threatens them or what its consequences might be. Without thinking long and hard, anyone can grasp how the concept of apostasia might apply to those walking with Jesus. In the common usage of the day, it meant “defection.” It is rooted in a word that means, among other things, to desert a compatriot.
Mike Livingstone has put his finger on a real problem. Regardless of worship style or doctrinal tribe, many evangelical congregations are plagued by a demand for feel-good worship. This excitational spectatorism reveals the captivity of God’s people to a culture shaped by individualism, consumerism, subjectivism, and materialism.
And the flip side of the “worshiptainment” heresy is an even more insidious and widespread apostasy that presents a danger to virtually every Christian who does not struggle each day with hunger or violence. It’s a heresy that can be rampant in comfortable houses in a way it could never be under highway overpasses. It lurks in the hallways of church buildings, but would never darken the recesses of catacombs where persecuted Christians take refuge.
Like “worshiptainment,” this heresy is rooted in self-absorption. It’s a happy apostasy committed simply by being completely preoccupied with everyday life, pursuing business as usual, rather than seeking first God’s kingdom and his justice.
We’re talking about complacent Christians who are indifferent toward needy people in a world wracked by violence, oppression, and injustice.
We busy ourselves with First World distractions while around the globe children die of easily preventable diseases, widows starve as outcasts, refugees lie down at night hungry and cold, men and women miss work because they are sickened by dirty water, entire families slave away at backbreaking labor under a master’s whip, and women and children are beaten, drugged, and chained to brothel beds.
We enjoy the comforts of home, food, and bank account while in our own cities children grow up fatherless, young men despair of work and drift without purpose, young women are “liberated” into promiscuity and abandonment, destitute souls live hand to mouth on the government dole, fathers and sons are enslaved by pornography, unborn children are slaughtered for their parents’ sins, hurting souls medicate themselves into oblivion, and multitudes pretend brokenness is wholeness.
But you enjoyed worship this week at your church? How nice for you!
Do you not know that God rejected Israel’s earnest worship and sent his people into captivity because they tolerated injustice?
Have you not read how they were warned, in their prosperity, not to forget the Lord and quit walking in his ways?
Have you not understood God’s displeasure that, when he expected a crop of justice from his people, he instead found oppression in their world?
Has it never occurred to you that in Matthew 25 the “sheep” inheriting the Kingdom and going into eternal life are those who got personally involved in helping people in need?
Brothers and sisters, “you must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.”
“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Our salvation is a journey into justice.
By the way, every time I write like this, I’m talking first and foremost to the man in the mirror. Don’t wear the shoe unless it fits.