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Religious Boredom

bigtimey

I was reading through A.W. Tozer’s book on “Man: The Dwelling Place of God”, when I came across the sections that I highlighted in my “Quote of the Day” section of the page.  I will repeat the quote here for those persons who access my site through a feed instead of actually visiting it.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.

This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf.

So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped-candy technique has been so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

Any objection to the carryings on of our present golden-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is no.

Tozer penned those words in 1966.

My question to you is this, how applicable are they today?

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  1. tam
    April 14, 2009 at 3:21 am

    oooo…so much truth in that, tony. our “need” for instant gratification and demand for entertainment has blurred, dangerously, the REAL need! and the church has bought into this. not all, but many.

    but…there could be good in that too. if that is what gets this generation in the doors, i dont see a problem with it. my problem is when there is no discipleship, no diggin in, no depth offered or desired. i guess thats also what this quote is saying.

    theres a fine line. but above all…GOD has to be the main focus. i certainly have an appreciation for the arts…but its place is never before His place.

    • April 14, 2009 at 4:39 am

      tam,

      There is no doubt that arts are important. We were made in God’s image and my opinion is that includes our desire to create. My struggle is knowing when and how the arts are to be used to draw people to Christ. If God is glorified through a biblically supported action, then there is no question that it will draw people. Christ himself said that if He was lifted up that He would draw all men to Himself.

      Tozer wrote those words over 40 years ago and I wonder if we have gone down the path further than we had in his time as far as being an ‘experience’ driven church instead of a Gospel driven church.

      The book of Acts records the early church doing 4 things that attracted people to them..

      1. Dedicating themselves to the Apostle’s teaching
      2. They fellowshiped with one another.
      3. They broke bread together.
      4. And they prayed together.

      One other thing that is mentioned is the selling of their belongings so that there was no need among them.

      I heard Ravi Zacharias say today on a podcast that “we can become so caught up in the work of God that we forget about God.” How do we recognize when that is happening?

      Maybe it is in the questions that Tozer asks at the end of the provided quote… after all, a people dependent on the Holy Spirit should show the fruit as evidence.

      Its a lot to mull over and I don’t know the answer.

  2. April 14, 2009 at 11:40 am

    T: Been gone so sort of late answering. I see Tozer’s quote as being very “culturally relevant” not just to his day but to ours. Although I am not too sure what there was in the mid 60s that was introduced into the church that was entertaining. 🙂 But I do agree with Tam. There is a fine line between pure entertainment and using the arts to draw people in (although we are admonished to go). I have told our worship pastor that even though music may seem sort of a mundane and even an “ungodly” thing to him, those who walk through the doors are too immature to see that. Many of them are drawn by an invitation to “come hear the music” but then through the Word being preached are drawn to Christ. I have no problem with that. My prob is when everything is hype and there is no substance. I could go on and on about this but won’t. You get my point.

    • April 14, 2009 at 1:31 pm

      Bill,
      I think you and Tam are bringing the same response – which is a good one. Music, arts, or any of the other myriad of tools that are at our disposal are not bad things. In fact, they can be very good things as long as they are not done at the expense of the gospel.

      And, yeah, I wonder what it was that Tozer was seeing in the 60’s that had his hair standing. Imagine what he would say today.

  3. April 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I think there is truth there to a large degree in many churches today, but I also know it is possible to have a balance. Our church is small, but one thing I love about my Pastor is his ability to preach the Word without apology. He so draws a line and makes us face each week, a place in our lives where we need to sacrifice more or make changes in our life. We do things to reach out to the community and draw them in, but once they are there, our Pastor could never be accused of tickling ears. I believe people generally don’t rise above their leadership and he definitely inspires us to do more, pray more, be more Christlike, etc.. Yes, we have bells and whistles to a small degree, but one thing I think is, Jesus made things relevant. THe reason He spoke in parables was to make it relevant to the time. I think He would understand making things relevant to people today to get the message across as long as we’re not watering down the message.

  4. April 14, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    OK.. I think we all agree that there is a balance somewhere that has to be taken into consideration. So, let me put these three questions out there:

    1. How does one determine the balance?
    2. What does relevant look like?
    3. What is ‘church’ and its purpose?

    One last thought. If the church service just had believers coming, would it be necessary to be relevant then? Or could we be satisfied with just hearing God’s word? In other words, what happens to the congregation when all the trappings are removed like the big music productions, the soft pews or chairs, the air conditioning, the children’s programs, and the coffee shops?

    Maybe we need those things more than the ‘unbeliever’ who shows up on Sunday morning. I don’t know – its a hard thing to discern when you are standing in the middle of it.

  5. tam
    April 14, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    i love this discussion! 🙂

    “One last thought. If the church service just had believers coming, would it be necessary to be relevant then? Or could we be satisfied with just hearing God’s word?”

    i think, yes! one of the things God has gifted me to do is sing. my daughter is a self taught musician as is my son. they, and i, use those gifts in the church. so when we gather in our perspective worship times each weekend, we all share our gifts with a focus on God and His Word.

    now. not all our services are like that. our midweek is simply teaching. verse by verse. i love that equally. the teacher is gifted at teaching and that is what he does.

    i see nothing wrong with being culturally relevant – but WE, as the church, should be the ones forming the culture, not the culture forming us, and we should be doing it with excellence in the areas of our calling and giftedness…whatever those things might be. music, painting, dance, serving coffee, preparing communion tables with candles and cloths, etc…

    1. How does one determine the balance?

    put God and people first…and i believe the rest will balance itself out.

    2. What does relevant look like?

    i think its different for each church or fellowship. what might be relevant for yours may not be for ours. we live in a very blue collar community. not flashy. not techy. although not opposed to it – its just not the “big thing” here. however, we do include a lot of those things into our weekends, but we dont inundate the fellowship with it. it would be lost on them, pointless.

    3. What is ‘church’ and its purpose?

    what is church? it is what you pointed out in Acts. and whenever a group gathers to partake in those things…that is church. i often say after a lengthy discussion with my husband and friends that has centered on Christ, “we just had some church”. it is not about going to a bldg. it is about being the building. the hands. the voice. the prayers. the action….

    and, we’re to love God and love people. we are to reach out and share the gospel. our church is very community oriented. i think ours has created a very healthy balance.

    i realize this is probably a bit scattered. im a little distracted by the wasp stuck in the kitchen light…

    gotta go!!!

    • April 15, 2009 at 12:33 am

      I love your reply!

      And I would never suggest that music be stripped from our services … Paul even tells us to sing to each other in Ephesians 5.

      I have to admit that I don’t understand what ‘Creating Culture’ looks like from a Christian perspective. I mean, I know that we can have a culture but do we really have the ability to create one in which the world will follow?

      Do you think we are creating culture today or mimicking it? And what does it mean to our worship experience if we are mimicking the world’s culture?

      I wish I still had my old blog because I had a long write-up on Community + Doctrine which is basically the same thing as Love + Truth. I believe balance occurs when we concentrate on both through the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, I sometimes wonder do we even understand the Holy Spirit and the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I could talk for hours on this subject… and actually have. 🙂

  6. April 15, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Hi Tony – Tam directed me over here after I opened a discussion on what it means to be an Acts-like church. I’ve just seen a lot about it lately. A great post on Shaun Groves blog about doctrine a few days back got me thinking about it yet again.

    Love this discussion…I’ll be back when I’ve got more time to process it all! 🙂

    • tam
      April 15, 2009 at 3:23 am

      hey. i know you! 😉

      • April 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

        you do? 😉

  7. tam
    April 15, 2009 at 3:22 am

    “creating culture” …i dunno. i guess what im saying is we, the church, should be careful to not conform to the culture as if that is the only way. God is a master creator. the inventor of creativity itself. He has equipped us with so much. so id rather see us, the church, perfecting and stretching and pushing the envelope of the culture outside and transforming it into to something even greater and more excellent for Him.

    but i think im getting way off topic.

    im loving this discussion tho.

    • April 15, 2009 at 5:56 am

      What if instead of worrying about creating culture, the church focused on actions that reflect God’s holiness? Couldn’t culture then be a by-product of that reflection?

      There is a phrase that I read in a book by Jim Henderson and Matt Caspar (Jim and Caspar go to church) that I liked. “Non-manipulative Intentionality”. They used it to describe the relationships that we should have with those people who don’t hold to the Christian belief. I think it may hold to many forms of worship. What I mean is this… what if we were intentional about our reflection of God and our love for one another without a desire to create a reaction in someone else? That way our motivations would be about God and not accomplishing our desires and calling that God’s work.

      I would use this example. If I want to show people that I love my wife, the easiest way to do that is to love her in the manner that makes her understand and accept my love. IF, on the other hand, I try to love her the way someone else thinks is an appropriate or acceptable way, I run the risk of making her angry with me which will in turn cause those people who I had hoped to impact wonder what it is that I was about in the first place.

      If I just love her and our relationship grows and matures, people will recognize that and may even celebrate the union that I enjoy with her.

      I like the word that David used above… peripheral. I think we run the danger of focusing on the peripherals when we should have been focusing on God all along. Its a great discussion because I don’t know that there is an easy answer especially when there is not one set way of worshiping God.

      Now.. off to get some sleep. 🙂

      • tam
        April 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm

        i completely agree. as individuals in the church, all doing our part according to what He has called us to do and the in the areas of our giftedness…yes…culture will be created simply by default. and that is exactly what i mean about US creating culture instead of the culture outside creating it for us. if we simply do what we are to do, with excellence and a focus on HIM alone, amazing culture and beauty will be created.

        also know…im talking a lot from the music and arts stand point, being in the music ministry its where my thoughts lie heavy on this subject.

      • April 15, 2009 at 8:41 pm

        I totally love this discussion (and I don’t think it’s gone off topic at any point either)

        Tony, your example of using the “right” love language is part of what Paul was describing when he said (reference) about when in Rome, do as the Romans do (yes, I know that’s not exactly what he said…).

        I think part of being relevant is to learn that culture is a process, not something that just happens, and for the church to be relevant the culture it presents has to be based in the Love of Christ (of course) shaped by the local situation as Tam notes…I think Romans 14 is talking about this in part.

        Finally…I like the question and response about if it’s just for believers, do we need the arts (paraphrasing). I totally agree…the model for church (again from Paul) of teaching, Scripture reading, prayer and singing spirituals songs to me includes arts just by virtue of the fact singing is involved.

        Of course, we just need to make sure it remains a tool to communicate Truth, and not merely exist, or become / obscure the message…

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