The cultural accommodation crowd has a lot to answer for

Do not marvel, my  brethren, if the world hates you…. They are of the world.  Therefore, they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God…. (I John 3:13 and 4:5-6),

First, they told us our language was too churchified and we would need to jettison such terms as justification, sanctification, and washed in the blood.

I remember Arthur Blessit. The hippie-looking, jive-talking, cross-carrying brother in Christ took the young churches by storm.  We stayed most of the night with Arthur at the local youth hangout witnessing for Christ, trying to look and sound cooler than the teens, picking up the drug culture’s language in an attempt to bring the gospel into a foreign land.  Heaven alone knows whether we did good. 

Then, they came at our music. Away with organs and pianos, and in with drum sets and keyboards and guitars.  Amplification on steroids and heavy metal, ear-assaulting, nerve-rattling instrumentations were not far behind.

No one is insisting that pipe organs and upright pianos are scriptural. But when ushers have to hand out ear plugs at the door, something is bad wrong. 

Next, we had to get rid of the hymnals and go to screens, forget the hymns and bring in the latest choruses.

Some of those choruses are great. But so were many of the hymns.  Why did the church feel it had to turn its back on what had served it well for hundreds of years in order to be contemporary? 

Then, the church people had to get rid of suits and ties and the preachers were to start wearing blue jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts. I’m personally giving Rick Warren credit for much of this with his Hawaiian shirts.  You have to wonder, did pastors actually think if they started wearing those gaudy things would they soon be running ten thousand in worship?

When I point out that the commentators and broadcasters of televised sporting events all wear suits–three piece, even, and with neckties!–and that airline pilots wear uniforms for a reason (to inspire confidence), those defending their sloppy Sunday appearance get ballistic and accuse me of all sorts of unchristian behavior.  

All of this was supposed to bring the world into the church to hear the Gospel.

How’s that working out?

How. Is. That. Working. Out.

When you enrolled in that physics course in high school, did they tell you that since you would not understand such terms as the laws of motion, electromagnetism, and relativity, they would simplify them in order to make this easier for you?

Did the math teachers throw out terms like “the value of the integral” and “sines, cosines, and algorithms”  to make math more accessible?

Yeah, right.

When medical students begin classes, are they offended that the language of medicine is arcane and sometimes difficult and unknown to the laity?

Only in the church

Only in the church have we been so afraid of offending the outsider that we jettison two-thirds of the things we were doing in order to make him feel welcome.

Lest someone accuse me of callousness, I do want the outsider to come.  I do want us to reach the lost with the gospel.  The question is not whether we want that but how we accomplish it.

And he’s still not coming.  Yet, we keep doing those silly things.

A long, long time ago I read of a fellow named Mark Sabre.  He stood outside the church–in Australia or New Zealand, it seems like–and noticed what the church was doing.  It was giving dances and parties and remaking itself in the image of the community around it.  “They call it making religion a living thing of the people,” Mark observed.  So people could join the church without having to give up anything.

And then Mark Sabre made an observation that has remained with me for at least half a century….

A man wouldn’t care what he had to give up, if he knew he was making for something inestimably more precious.

Let us never forget the old adage:  He who marries the culture today will be a widower tomorrow.

The gospel is unchanging.  Our Savior, the Lord Jesus,  is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  “I am the Lord; I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

Should the church be flexible and willing to adapt its methodologies to the culture, to the language, to the peculiarities of a tribe?  That seems to be the message of the new wineskins.

New wine must be put into new wineskins (Mark 2:22).  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is, without doubt, that new wine from Heaven which the old forms would no longer hold and which burst out of their confines before our eyes in the New Testament.  That gospel has been bursting through all attempts to corral it ever since.  The Lord’s message is “the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes” (Romans 1:16).  There is nothing else like it on the planet.  It’s the best news ever.

The one thing the gospel does not need is you and me reshaping it into a crude imitation of the world around us.  The glitter of the world and its shallowness will all pass away. But the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ will reign forever.

Let us stand firm and be who He made us.  For Jesus’ sake.

A man wouldn’t care what he had to give up, if he knew he was making for something inestimably more precious.


6 thoughts on “The cultural accommodation crowd has a lot to answer for

  1. Since I have friends who were fired or forced to retire or change churches to make way for contemporary seeker friendly pastors, I appreciate your efforts here, but let’s be careful. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    Luke 9:49-50 (NIV)
    [49] “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
    [50] “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

    I never believed that contemporary worship was a magic bullet that would solve all of our problems, like some pastors claimed in the 80’s and 90’s. But I do believe with all my heart, that God is working in contemporary worship just like He has done for Many generations. Almost everyone agrees that Christian worship should look different than the world. Almost everyone is proclaiming that content matters more than style. Almost everyone is encouraging young people to sing the songs of Zion (hymns). Almost everyone is encouraging multi-generational worship. Almost everyone is warning Christians about shallow worship and shallow faith (read the text to some of the most popular modern hymns like”heart of Worship” “Living Hope”.) If we had the Spiritual wisdom to listen to each other we would know this. There is so much hate and fear in the world today. It is sad to see this hate spill over into the Church. It is sad when CHRISTIANS join the “I hate anything and everything I do not understand party”. I think we need to be careful about attacking each other. Do we not understand that we are attacking the body of Christ? Virtually every negative word I have heard people speak against the modern church is identical, sometimes word for word, to attacks made by past generations. It is almost like people come back from the dead to say the same old same old over and over again – “It’s too secular sounding” “looks like the world” “ theologically shallow”. “Has too much repetition” “can’t stand all of the little dillies”, “if we continue on this path our young people will turn into carnal minded adults”. “The songs are too short”. “The songs are too long”. “The music is too loud” “We need to stick with the psalter (or whatever the old way of doing things were at the time) if we hope to survive another generation” “Congregational singing sounds terrible” “People can’t find the tune to these new songs” “we need to re-educate congregations on how to sing”. Christians have attacked each other’s preaching, singing, and worship with ever more venom since Paul wrote Colossians 3:16 (NIV) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”. Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Issac Watts, Phillip Bliss, Fanny Crosby, (to name a few ), were all accused of trying to look and sound like the world. People tried to murder Charles Wesley for the crime of writing his own hymns. As late as the 1930s many churches would not sing “the Old Rugged Cross” because it sounded to secular and might cause young people to have carnal thoughts, seriously. Before the invention of hymns, it was actually against the law to sing harmony or use a tune other than one found in the church modes in worship. Some people call this time period in history, “the dark ages“. It is interesting to me that modern historians tell us that the dark ages were not so dark. People secretly produced some of the most beautiful art and music
    in-spite of all the regulations and cultural rules against it.

    We are living on the eve of real persecution. The world is doing a great job of attacking true believers and they will probably get better at it. IS IT REALLY HELPFUL FOR GOD’s PEOPLE TO ATTACK EACH OTHER? Maybe it is time we learn to practice grace and show the world what true diversity and true love looks like. Our God is a big God and can handle people worshiping Him in many different ways. Why can’t we?

  2. I’m not merely trying to attack you as a Christian, but I kind of felt the same way Mr. Smith did. I am of the younger generation (34 years old)…my church is progressively modernizing. When I was a youth, we used hymnals and opened our Bibles for the sermon instead of relying on the massive projection screen behind the altar. I have to admit that I have succumbed to using these tools since they made worship more convenient. There are still hymnals and Bibles on the back of the pews for people to use if that is their preference. I also admit that I am not very dedicated with my life with Christ, adhering that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps that is what you are trying to convey, that convenience shouldn’t always be the way to God…that we are created to serve Him, not Him serve us.

    It is 6:26 AM in the morning here; I really want to go to church this morning to send out two cards and a couple of little somethings for our church missionary who is undercover underseas (who played a large part in my adolescence to understand the concept of being saved), yet I have only had three hours of sleep. Unfortunately, this is an all too common thing for me with my bipolar disorder (which really impedes me daily as I am finding myself unstable even with the progression of modern medicine but please don’t preach to me here about demon possession, because it is proven medically as a chemical imbalance in the brain). I guess I am saying this all because anything that makes worship a little more convenient is not necessarily bad. You do not know the situation other church-goers go through. And although it may not appeal to you, Jesus thrills at whatever is good that leads to Him. Although you may say that Jesus doesn’t change, times do. You can’t trust people these days. My mother always brags about how simple society used to be, where you didn’t even have to lock your doors. Nowadays, it’s a common occurrence to see where someone has been shot in the local news.

    As you give us something to think about, I ask you to ponder about my insight. I am new to your blog, as I have read your bucket list on another website. I have to thank you for writing that. It was a true inspiration, and made me feel that I am capable of enjoying life through serving God. I do plan to subscribe to your blog now as that I appreciate the older generation’s wisdom.

    I apologize for my writing being so sporadic, but sometimes it is difficult for me to sort out all my thoughts and allow for coherence at the same time. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, God’s day of rest!

  3. Also, for people that are reading Pastor Joe’s blog, I am recommending his article on The Christian Bucket List: 50 Things to do Before Going to Heaven. Inspirational, enlightening, thought-provoking…definitely puts a good challenge to the table!

  4. Pastor Joe, Thank you as always for expressing so well how many of us older pastors feel. I’m 66 years old, still wear a coat and tie to church and feel like I have plenty to still offer the church. I’m a better leader, preacher, counselor and pastor than I was 40 years ago when I started. My church deeply appreciates me, but we struggle with “attracting” the younger people. We are going to stay faithful and strong. Blessings, Doug

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