The Watchman Report

Plexiglas Preachers

Pop Psychology Masquerading as Spirituality

 

     Ticket 

 

Oh sure it looks friendly enough, warm and inviting even; but what does all of this ambient openness really cost? It is the 'church of no offence', a place where the sinning ‘seeker’ can feel right at home, no pressure, no (overt) manipulation - a place where everyone can just chill and catch the vibe. It's a feel good club where the seats are comfy, the music is pumping, the lights are pulsing, the carpet is soft underfoot, and the dulcet tones of the gifted orator behind the Plexiglas lectern waxes seductive with banal anecdotes appealing to every itching ear present. It's the modern day church and it's coming to a neighbourhood near you.

The trouble with all of this feelings based theology is that it stands in stark contrast from the biblical model. Exponents may well have found a 'new way of doing church' but on whose authority? Where is the Scriptural support for luring the lost into church meetings? Have believers become so lazy so as to relegate their own responsibility of going into the world and preaching the Gospel to that of their splurgy, stage strutting story teller? Sadly it would appear so. The gathering of believers to which Paul referred as being something not to be forsaken (Heb 10:25), was for the admonition and training of God's sheep, not for the entertainment of the goats. But that is what we have and all in the name of evangelism. Charles Spurgeon once wrote...

 

"An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most short sighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.

From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, "and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel." No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him".

Then again, "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? Ye are the salt" (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy---something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, "Let the dead bury their dead" (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, "Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow." Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.

In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, "Come out, keep out, keep clean out!" Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, "Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are." If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God's link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today's ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.
"

 

Spurgeon may as well have been describing a modern day charismatic service when he penned these insightful words in the 1800's. And Spurgeon is by no means alone in his criticism of the entertainment culture within the professing church. Commentator Scott Oliver writing for OldTruth.com observes...

 

"A discerning journey through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy will reveal God giving Moses very explicit instructions on how he is to be worshipped. In no case does he instruct Moses to ensure that the congregation of Israel is entertained when they worship or present their sacrifices to the Lord. In fact very strict instructions are given and the Holiness of God is accentuated in every case. God instructs them through Moses in Deut 4:2 "Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you". They are to follow God's instructions to the letter so God pre-empts any attempt to add what they may feel He has missed in His worship instructions.

We can further look to Exodus 32 when the people of Israel made the golden calf idol then they got antsy when Moses did not come down from the mount. The people of Israel had just left the polytheistic Egyptians and were surrounded by other polytheistic pagans of their day. They felt different so they requested a god or gods so they would not be different. Note what Aaron announces to the congregation of Israel in Deut 32:4-5

What Aaron and the congregation of Israel did was meld pagan idolatry with the worship of the one true God. This is called syncretism and it is a continuous problem throughout the history of Israel (and church history). As soon as the congregation of Israel started to mix pagan practices with their worship and lives then disaster loomed ahead in the form of God removing His hand of protection. If this is doubted read through the Old Testament and trace back to what started Israel's rebellion in each instance and then look at the final result.

Now the typical response is - well entertainment in a church service is not idolatry. But is that truly the case; is there not a greater principle here that we are to take to heart which is do not mix pagan practices of any type with the worship of God? Is not entertainment, movies, television shows, rock music, etc really pagan practices that people just do not want to give up and are attempting to meld with their church service? Could it be that pastors of entertainment churches really can not let go of the idol of entertainment? The prophet Isaiah gives every follower of God a cogent warning in Is 29:13 ".

 

But of course the enlightened 'visionaries' of this new age church, balking at biblical absolutes and labouring under the delusion that God is doing a new thing in this generation, bumble deliriously from one fanciful, warm and fuzzy fad to another leading their sensualised throng ever further astray. With all of its visual appeal and seductive lure, the modern entertainment church is not surprisingly big on shop front yet empty of storehouse. Its Gospel is not that of the Scriptures, but rather a self focused, ego centric psychology that does no more to win souls for Christ than does Buddhism. Neither is its christ that of the Scriptures, but the deity of self.

i-church 

As the following article by Dr. John MacArthur clearly illustrates, far from being a blessing from above, the entertainment church with all of its bravado and bling is quite the curse with unimagined consequences for the biblically undiscerning. Shallow on its expounding of the Scriptures, it relies on pop psychology to lure the lonely (or bored) into delusion. Sermonettes make Christianettes. Please bear that in mind as you read the following.

 

In His Everlasting Embrace

Tony Dean

Moriah Ministries Australia

© 2008

 


 

Fifteen Evil Consequences of Plexiglas Preaching

by
John MacArthur

 

Armed with a "big business" mentality, many in the seeker-sensitive movement have replaced Bible-based sermons with anecdote-filled talks. After all, that's the stuff that sells. In light of this growing evangelical trend, John MacArthur examines what happens when preachers put the seeker before the Savior and abandon God's Word for ear-tickling entertainment.

Everyone who knows anything about my ministry knows I am committed to expository preaching. It is my unshakable conviction that the ministry of God's Word should always be the heart and the focus of the church's ministry. And proper biblical preaching should be systematic, expositional, theological, and God-centered.

Such preaching is in short supply these days. There are plenty of gifted communicators in the modern evangelical movement, but today's sermons tend to be short, shallow, topical homilies that massage people's egos and focus on fairly insipid subjects like human relationships, "successful" living, emotional issues, and other practical but worldly--and not definitively biblical--themes. Like the ubiquitous Plexiglas lecterns from which these messages are delivered, such preaching is lightweight and without substance, cheap and synthetic, leaving little more than an ephemeral impression on the minds of the hearers.

I recently hosted a discussion at the Expositors' Institute, a small-group colloquium on preaching hosted by the Shepherds' Fellowship. In preparation for that seminar, I took a yellow legal pad and began listing the negative effects of the superficial brand of preaching that is so rife in modern evangelicalism.

I initially thought I might be able to name about ten, but quickly my list had sixty-one entries. I've distilled them to fifteen by combining and eliminating all but the most crucial ones. Here they are, roughly in the order they occurred to me. This is what is wrong with superficial, marginally biblical preaching:

1. It usurps the authority of God over the soul. Whether a preacher boldly proclaims the Word of God or not is ultimately a question of authority. Who has the right to speak to the church? The preacher, or God? Whenever anything is substituted for the preaching of the Word, God's authority is usurped. What a prideful thing to do! In fact, it is hard to conceive of anything more insolent that could be done by a man who is called by God to preach.

2. It removes the lordship of Christ from His church. Who is the Head of the church? Is Christ really the dominant teaching authority in the church? If so, then why are there so many churches where His Word is not being faithfully proclaimed? When we look at contemporary ministry, we see programs and methods that are the fruit of human invention; the offspring of opinion polls and neighborhood surveys; and other pragmatic artifices. Church-growth experts have in essence wrested control of the church's agenda from her true Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Puritan forefathers resisted the imposition of government-imposed liturgies for precisely this reason: they saw it as a direct attack on the headship of Christ over His own church. Modern preachers who neglect the Word of God have yielded the ground those men fought and sometimes died for. When Jesus Christ is exalted among His people, His power is manifest in the church. When the church is commandeered by compromisers who want to appease the culture, the gospel is minimized, true power is lost, artificial energy must be manufactured, and superficiality takes the place of truth.

3. It hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. What is the instrument the Spirit uses to do His work? The Word of God. He uses the Word as the instrument of regeneration (1 Pet. 1:23; James 1:18). He also uses it as the means of sanctification (John 17:17). In fact, it is the only tool He uses (Eph. 6:17). So when preachers neglect God's Word, they undermine the work of the Holy Spirit, producing shallow conversions and spiritually lame Christians--if not utterly spurious ones.

4. It demonstrates appalling pride and a lack of submission. In the modern approach to "ministry," the Word of God is deliberately downplayed, the reproach of Christ is quietly repudiated, the offense of the gospel is carefully eliminated, and "worship" is purposely tailored to fit the preferences of unbelievers. That is nothing but a refusal to submit to the biblical mandate for the church. The effrontery of ministers who pursue such a course is, to me, frightening.

5. It severs the preacher personally from the regular sanctifying grace of Scripture. The greatest personal benefit that I get from preaching is the work that the Spirit of God does on my own soul as I study and prepare for two expository messages each Lord's day. Week by week, the duty of careful exposition keeps my own heart focused and fixed on the Scriptures, and the Word of God nourishes me while I prepare to feed my flock. So I am personally blessed and spiritually strengthened through the enterprise. If for no other reason, I would never abandon biblical preaching. The enemy of our souls is after preachers in particular, and the sanctifying grace of the Word of God is critical to our protection.

6. It clouds the true depth and transcendence of our message and therefore cripples both corporate and personal worship. What passes for preaching in some churches today is literally no more profound than what preachers in our fathers' generation were teaching in the five-minute children's sermon they gave before dismissing the kids. That's no exaggeration. It is often that simplistic, if not utterly inane. There is nothing deep about it. Such an approach makes it impossible for true worship to take place, because worship is a transcendent experience. Worship should take us above the mundane and simplistic. So the only way true worship can occur is if we first come to grips with the depth of spiritual truth. Our people can only rise high in worship in the same proportion to which we have taken them deep into the profound truths of the Word. There is no way they can have lofty thoughts of God unless we have plunged them into the depths of God's self-revelation. But preaching today is neither profound nor transcendent. It doesn't go down and it doesn't go up. It merely aims to entertain.

By the way, true worship is not something that can be stimulated artificially. A bigger, louder band and more sentimental music might do more to stir people's emotions. But that is not genuine worship. True worship is a response from the heart to God's truth (John 4:23). You can actually worship without music if you have seen the glories and the depth of what the Bible teaches.

7. It prevents the preacher from fully developing the mind of Christ. Pastors are supposed to be undershepherds of Christ. Too many modern preachers are so bent on understanding the culture that they develop the mind of the culture and not the mind of Christ. They start to think like the world, and not like the Savior. Frankly, the nuances of worldly culture are virtually irrelevant to me. I want to know the mind of Christ, and bring that to bear on the culture, no matter what culture I may be ministering to. If I'm going to stand up in a pulpit and be a representative of Jesus Christ, I want to know how He thinks--and that must be my message to His people, too. The only way to know and proclaim the mind of Christ is by being faithful to study and preach His Word. What happens to preachers who obsess about cultrual "relevancy," is that they become worldly, not godly.

8. It depreciates by example the spiritual duty and priority of personal Bible study. Is personal Bible study important? Of course. But what example does the preacher set when he neglects the Bible in his own preaching? Why would people think they need to study the Bible if the preacher doesn't do serious study himself in the preparation of his sermons? There is now a movement among some of the gurus of "seeker-sensitive" ministry to trim, as much as possible, all explicit references to the Bible from the sermon--and above all, don't ever ask your people to turn to a specific Bible passage--because that kind of thing makes "seekers" uncomfortable. (Some "seeker-sensitive" churches actively discourage their people from bringing Bibles to church lest the sight of so many Bibles intimidate the "seekers.") As if it were dangerous to give your people the impression that the Bible might be important!

9. It prevents the preacher from being the voice of God on every issue of his time. Jeremiah 8:9 says, "The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord; so what wisdom do they have?" When I speak, I want to be God's messenger. I'm not interested in exegeting what some psychologist, or business guru, or college professor has to say about an issue. My people don't need my opinion; they need to hear what God has to say. If we preach as Scripture commands us, there should be no ambiguity about whose message is coming from the pulpit.

10. It breeds a congregation that is as weak and indifferent to the glory of God as their pastor is. "Seeker-sensitive" preaching fosters people who are consumed with their own well-being. When you tell people that the church's primary ministry is to fix for them whatever is wrong in this life--to meet their needs, to help them cope with their worldly disappointments, and so on--the message you are sending is that their mundane problems are more important than the glory of God and the majesty of Christ. Again, that sabotages true worship.

11. It robs people of their only true source of help. People who sit under superficial preaching become dependent on the cleverness and the creativity of the speaker. When preachers punctuate their sermons with laser lights and smoke, video clips and live drama, the message they send is that there isn't a prayer the people in the pew could ever extract such profound material on their own. Such gimmicks create a kind of dispensing mechanism that people can't use to serve themselves. So they become spiritual couch potatoes, who just come in to be entertained, and whatever superficial spiritual content they get from the preacher's weekly performance is all they will get. They have no particular interest in the Bible, because the sermons they hear don't cultivate that. They are wowed by the preacher's creativity, manipulated by the music, and that becomes their whole perspective on spirituality.

12. It encourages people to become indifferent to the Word of God and divine authority. Predictably, in a church where the preaching of Scripture is neglected, it becomes impossible to get people to submit to the authority of Scripture. The preacher who always aims at meeting "felt needs" and strokes the conceit of worldly people has no platform from which to confront the man who wants to divorce his wife without cause. The man will say, "You don't understand what I feel. I came here because you promised to meet my felt needs. And I'm telling you, I don't feel like I want to live with this woman any more." You can't inject biblical authority into that. You certainly wouldn't have an easy time pursuing church discipline. That is the monster superficial preaching creates. But if you are going to try to deal with sin and apply any kind of authoritative principle to keep the church pure, you must be preaching the Word.

13. It lies to people about what they really need. In Jeremiah 8:11, God condemns the prophets who treated people's wounds superficially. That verse applies powerfully to the plastic preachers that populate so many prominent evangelical pulpits today. They omit the hard truths about sin and judgment. They tone down the offensive parts of Christ's message. They lie to people about what they really need, promising them "fulfillment" and earthly well-being--when what people really need is an exalted vision of Christ and a true understanding of the splendor of God's holiness.

14. It strips the pulpit of power. "The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12). Everything else is impotent, giving merely an illusion of power. Human strategy is not more important than Scripture. The showman's ability to lure people in should not impress us more than the Bible's ability to transform lives.

15. It puts the responsibility on the preacher to change people with his cleverness. Preachers who pursue the modern approach to ministry must think they have the power to change people. That, too, is a frightening expression of pride. We preachers can't save people, and we can't sanctify them. We can't change people with our insights, our cleverness, by entertaining them, or by appealing to their human whims and wishes and ambitions. There's only One who can change sinners. That's God, and He does it by His Spirit through the Word.

So preach the Word, even though it is currently out of fashion to do so (2 Tim. 4:2). That is the only way your ministry can ever truly be fruitful. Moreover, it assures that you will be fruitful in ministry, because God's Word never returns to Him void; it always accomplishes that for which He sends it, and prospers in what He sends it to do (Isaiah 55:11).

 

HOME