Furthermore, there is at least one aspect of modern life which intensifies this issue. Modern life is busy, especially with the demands of work. Pursuing God, however, praying desperately, immersing ourselves deep into the Bible requires hours and hours in which to pray and read the Bible. For many of us it is just not feasible to spend this amount of time praying. Because it is not easy for us to do this, then somehow we convince ourselves that this is not what God could possibly have meant or what God could possibly be calling us to. He could only have meant what is comfortably possible for us to achieve within the constraints of our lives as they are arranged by societal demands. After all, God knows that I have to go to work! God knows that I have to keep a roof over the heads of my children! And then churches themselves buy into this thing. Instead of challenging the spirit of the age, which dictates that our lives are oriented towards the ongoing pursuit of money, this is a way the Church simply capitulates to the spirit of the age.
Instead of encouraging their members to pursue God wholeheartedly, these churches happily embrace the idea of using money, received from their members, as a substitute for God’s actual power. Instead of praying that God would send people who are passionate for His work, and His cause, to join us in reaching our societies, instead we pay money to advertise our churches on Facebook. Instead of praying that God would work in His power to transform our communities, to transform lives, to restore broken hearts, to draw people into His kingdom, instead we pay money to create websites and flyers, designed to be cool and funky and graphically appealing, as if that is what is going to attract people who have no experience of God or Church life. And surprise surprise, it does not work. There is obviously nothing wrong with beautiful websites and flyers or Facebook. The problem comes when these are used as substitutes for what we actually should be doing, rather than helpful additions. What we should be doing is desperately seeking God.
With money, a church can buy influence in the supposedly Christian world, by buying a bigger building, or a more expensive multi-media system. It can also buy itself a more extensive advertising campaign on Facebook or other social media. Through all of these, it can promote itself as being “more successful” as a church, not because of the power of God at work in it, but because of the money that it manages to accumulate. The Kingdom of God is not supposed to run on an economy of money, although money will remain necessary for interacting down here on earth. However it should not be possible to just throw down some money and buy yourself some instant reputation in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is supposed to run on an economy of love and power that spring from intimacy with God.
It is largely because of money that there is no real impetus from pastors to make a change to the status quo. In Pentecostal churches, using dubious theology and various means of manipulation, many pastors are actually getting rich from the financial contributions of their members. This link links to a search of “Nigerian Pastors” on Forbes.com, a website dedicated to business success. I believe it would be quite enlightening to simply see some of the titles of the articles written about some of these Nigerian Pastors. This hope of financial gain is actually the reason why many supposed pastors set up their churches in the first place. Why would they challenge the status quo when that is precisely the reason they set up their churches in the first place, to benefit financially from that very same status quo? However, even in the more mainstream Evangelical church, money is still all-important – oh yes it is! When everyone knows that there is no real power of God to be experienced, then the only available alternative is the power of money. If that were also to disappear then every pretence of life or power would simply evaporate.
Because of this many pastors are not actively working against the status quo. This is why I can’t help thinking that many of these pastors simply do not believe in God or the Bible. Otherwise they would actually be striving for the power of God. The power of money is such a poor substitute. Surely the only reason that someone would settle for the power of money instead of the power of God is because they don’t truly think that God’s power is real, or is as amazing as the Bible teaches.
I’ve been in a church where the pastor seemed to think that prayer was a way of accomplishing things back in those days, but now too old-fashioned and no longer necessary in our modern life with all our technological tools – the only reason they prayed back then was because they did not have modern business practices! He however planned to be “a successful pastor” – and he was going to reach the community using the principles of “Business and Marketing 101”. And that is exactly what his church is built on. In this scenario there are three sets of people to marvel at. 1: The pastor himself 2: People who attend this church 3: People who regard this church as some big Christian success story – which amounts to many people. This prayerless pastor and his prayerless church are widely regarded as a paradigm of Church success. I am not actually making this up. This is a true story. While yes, I am talking about a specific pastor and a specific church, sadly, this is true of so many pastors and churches, is it not?
In this church there is no power of God to be observed. There is also no pursuit of the power of God – none whatsoever – or at least that was what was true in my experience. Instead there were only clever catchphrases and soundbites, which I suspect is what the pastor spent all his time thinking up, instead of actually immersing himself into the Bible and praying.
God has been speaking to me so strongly that I can be too critical on this blog. That is because many times, these posts are written as an expression of anger at what I experienced in these churches. That is wrong. The point of this blog is definitely not to sit around and bash others because I disagree with their theology, or because I am unimpressed with what I experienced while at their church. However it is not accidental that this “Status Quo Christianity” often results in such bitter experiences. And some of the things I experienced in this particular church were desperately bitter.
I have previously written about how I was thrown out of a Redeemed church for disproving the concept of modern tithing as a Biblical Commandment. Just to be clear, this is a different church. I should also make it clear that in both of these churches I did also experience many examples of friendliness and kindness from the members. And yet, looking back, I regard both of these churches as overwhelmingly negative experiences. Why is that? Because even while expressing kindness and friendliness, people’s hearts were not genuinely full of those things. The true natures of so many people in these churches were revealed over time to be distinctly unappealing. This is not true of everyone in these churches, by any means – some people were lovely from start to finish. I also have to take responsibility for my own character failings which I demonstrated in these churches, and the times that I also behaved in ways which were unattractive. Many times my own ego showed up. That said, there was no desire in my heart to destroy anyone, although I can think of some people whom I desperately disliked – or despised, to be totally honesty – and while I was at those churches I could not always prevent myself from expressing my disdain.
However, where people acted negatively towards me, some of these people acted out of pure malice, with a desperate desire to cut me down to (their own tiny) size….. (Or to be honest, to try to convince me – and themselves – that I was much smaller than they were, and considering how small they were, that would have made me miniscule. This was often, but not always, the reason why at the time I felt that I could not help despising them. Now I hope I have finally acquired the wisdom to refrain from despising anyone. Proverbs 11v12)….. And they were supposed to be Christians! If I have ever embraced actual malice towards these people, it is in retrospect, in remembering the ways they acted and also in the process of writing these posts. I keep bringing my heart to God, for purity, for love, for forgiveness, to let it go, to be full of love and light rather than bitter anger.
A point here about “Status Quo Christianity” is that it does not do much to transform human character into something beautiful and attractive, because “Status Quo Christians” simply do not invest enough time into pursuing God or the Bible to make any radical changes in their lives – and then what is actually in the Bible is watered down – so they think that they are walking in truth, they think that they are good, and they proudly carry around their stinky characters for the rest of us to “enjoy” – and then they even behave as if they are offering other people an amazing privilege, by giving these other people the opportunity to associate with them. And many Christians have appalling character – let’s be honest. This includes many pastors.
It is like the word of God is promoted as an ultra effective deodorant. (I did not make up this analogy, but I have forgotten where I first heard it. At this point, people might try to remind me of the time when…yeah yeah, that was a long time ago!) So anyway, the word of God is promoted as an ultra effective deodorant, but the status quo says that we are too busy to actually pull the lid off and apply the thing. So it is sufficient to simply rub the unopened metal can under our arms. So people do this, and they strut around confidently, thinking that rubbing the can under their arms, without actually applying it, is sufficient to deal with their characters. Of course it is not. Of course there is a huge stink. What makes church worse is that we are all in such close proximity, metaphorically like in an enclosed space. So that just has the potential to make any existing smell unbearable. (To call it a “stench” might be overstating the case somewhat). So obviously when you are talking about these churches in retrospect all you can remember and all you can talk about is the dreadful smell, metaphorically speaking – and especially the most unsavoury people you met there.
At least other people might be aware of their own poor characters, and might limit their actions accordingly. But so many Christians think that they are so good, that they freely assert themselves and their poor characters everywhere, thinking that they are offering salvation to others. This is how “Status Quo Christianity”, like all false religion, can be worse than nothing.
As in the closed can of deodorant, so in the same way for the word of God to actually work we actually have to apply it. Carrying around a big Bible is not going to do anything. Hiding a Bible under our pillow is not going to do anything. We actually have to apply the Bible and do what it says. Sometimes Christians hide negative character traits behind big words, and big word theology. Instead of running away from needing to change, we should embrace every challenge to our character within the Bible: how could I improve? How could I be a better person? How could I love God more? How could I better show God’s love to people around me? How could I pursue God’s word with more fervour and determination? In the same way churches should also embrace every challenge to improve. If you are obsessed with business and marketing techniques then surely you have come across the concept of customer feedback?! Well here it is! If you have a former customer – sorry, I of course mean someone who formerly attended your church – telling you how you have come short, do not try to hide behind a wall of words. Rather take it on board, evaluate yourself, and if necessary – change! Do you know how hard it is to come across someone who will honestly tell you what they dislike, or how you have fallen short?! (Apparently, this is not actually very hard for a pastor at all, but they tend to receive critical emails weekly…)
Stop trying to pretend to be perfect or to be “mostly perfect, but we still make some mistakes”.
While I must admit that I do derive a lot of fun from writing these posts, I’m not writing all of this simply for the fun of it. As individual Christians we have to change. As collective churches we have to change. I should not have to be telling you any of this because the Bible says it all very explicitly. However sometimes I think that as Christians we act like we need permission to take the Bible at face value. So then this blog might be radical in that “my goodness, look, here is someone who is actually daring to take the Bible seriously! Is that even allowed?!”
I am so relieved at writing this post as here I have finally been able to articulate the difference between me and so many other Christians. They will believe that they are “Bible-believing” because they correspond to the accepted status quo of what it means to be Bible-believing, which on the slightest examination is not actually very Biblical at all. So I will go into these churches and be extremely frustrated because when I say Bible-believing, I mean those actual radical teachings of the Bible which are discreetly put to the side as too radical by these supposedly “Bible-believing” churches.
So to conclude then, as Christians, we obviously have to ditch “Status Quo Christianity”, because “Status Quo Christianity” is not actually Christianity at all. it does not change our lives, it does not empower our marriages, it does not impact our communities, it does not attract other people to the truth of Christ. In short it does not do anything at all except to create bitter memories, and to provoke angry blog posts!
Cross image by Junior Libby at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net