As I was praying this morning I started to meditate on some fundamental questions with respect to our modern religious practices.
Amongst those who believe that true religion matters, there are many different belief systems and religious organizations. Some of these organizations are growing in number, and some are not.
Now it doesn’t take much to see that the size of one’s organization has a strong relationship to one’s credibility, prestiege, financial power and influence.
We tend to talk about people who are influential, and their words are often assigned more weight than the words of others whose circle of influence is much smaller. For example, if someone can say that they have taught 100,000 pastors through their seminars, even the world will give that person’s sayings weight and credibility.
Most of us like to be influential, to have impact, to make a difference. To fulfil this desire, we would tend to look to the ideas and systems of others who have already achieved influence before us. The tendency is to copy and adapt what others are doing. Thats a lot easier than going to God and getting a genuine revelation from the Lord about His will for our lives and ministries. But leaders are many times encouraging us to be followers of their ministries and systems in such a way that we really do not need a supernatural revelation of the mind of God.
To see what we are really valuing as a block of Christians, we could read the marketing material on the back cover of Christian books. “Ps XYZ pastors a fast growing church of 15,000 in affluent area W”, or “ABC has preached the gospel through television to over n million people” or “More than 500,000 copies sold”. Nowadays, we measure the credibility of a person’s message by considering the scope of their influence. Tell me it isn’t so.
How much of what we do in church and life REALLY requires the leading of the Holy Spirit? How much of what we do can be done by any religionist in his own way? If our organization is growing and God seems to be blessing it, does that really mean God approves?
The Mormon church is one of the fastest growing cults in the world. They have an outstanding religious system which year after year gains adherents for them. If we as full gospel or evangelical believers wanted a system that could swell our numbers, we could look the mormons for some good ideas. The distinctives of their message are ridiculous and totally without any kind of solid foundation. They are rooted in the imagination of man. Yet, year after year, they gain adherents, money, property, influence and so on.
Islam is also growing fast. One of the arguments muslim use to defend their religion is precisely this. They argue that Allah is with them and that is why their religion is triumphing. They don’t consider that it could be rather that Satan is with them. The Bible declares that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, and I had better be careful what I say about the “peaceful” religion of Islam, or someone might send me a death threat.
Megachurches grow. Some have a pentecostal flavour, while others don’t. A lot of management skill, psychology, marketing savvy and administrative prowess is required to successfully implement a megachurch. These churches can grow irrespective of their doctrinal positions on the Holy Spirit, on salvation, on healing or on deliverance. If we buy into the idea that numerical and financial growth is the strongest evidence of God’s blessing, then it would seem that issues like speaking in tongues, the use of the gifts, the need for repentance, the nature of saving faith are not so important to God. What IS important is “leadership”, “influence”, “mindsets”, “mentalities”, “paradigms”, “target audiences” and “methodologies”.
I say that it is possible to be a member in good standing with most church today without and even to do most of the things they recommend WITHOUT HAVING A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
Does it take GOD to turn up to church, to sing a few loud songs, or soft songs, to put money in the bucket, to hear the message, or to socialize with people? Does it take GOD to invite someone to your church? Does it take GOD to be a nice person? Does it take GOD to facilitate a discussion based on the Alpha Course or the Purpose Driven (TM) (R) books. Does it take GOD to earn a good living? In one sense, it does, but it is only in the sense that an unbeliever also needs God to do these things. It also might be that you are a very fearful person and you need God’s help to do something like lead a small group – but I have to say that even the world can help you to overcome these fears. Psychology can achieve a lot. What it can’t achieve is to save your soul.
The Bible says in the Book of Daniel chapter 11 concerning the last days, “But those who know their God will be strong and do exploits”. Does this imply that those who never do exploits in the last days do not know God? I think one could argue logically for that based on the text. For if they DID know God, they would eventually be strong and do exploits.
I am living between Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia and I have seen some good church leaders here, and fine looking congregations. But until now I have not found a church where people are truly praying fervently together for God’s purposes. We may “sing loudly” with the help of amplification systems, but I have not seen evidence of people PASSIONATE to seek God in prayer. No doubt people are doing it privately, but I have not until now seen an entire congregation that is genuinely praying together regularly and in a disciplined fashion, with fire and endurance, for a move of God. Maybe we are quite happy with church growth. They tell me that such prayer meetings actually turn people away.