Did I mention I got a Nook? For Mother's Day? Fascinating little device. I finished my latest evening devotional book the other day and decided to look to see what I could get for free on my Nook.
One of the works I downloaded (for free! so cool!) was a collection of sermons by C.H. Spurgeon, sermons he gave to students at a pastoral training school where he taught. The one I read last night is about the need for pastors to be spiritually sound and growing themselves if they expect to shepherd a congregation. Kind of a "duh" for me; he spent a lot of time expounding on the idea, which I'm sure was for the benefit of the pastors he was preaching to, to cause them to truly examine themselves. (Sermons are rarely as effective when read as they are when delivered orally.)
"People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time, all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickled with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners: the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera -- not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual. Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. How little has changed since the 19th century. I hope it doesn't sound arrogant for me to say that I don't feel convicted that Spurgeon is describing me . . . but I do feel convicted that I may, in the past, have contributed to a church environment that allowed people to be this deluded.
Listening to an orator . . . interesting that I think I find myself equating the quality of a preacher's oration with his being led by the Spirit in his preaching, when it is certainly possible that a man could be a fabulous speaker and completely devoid of spiritual power.
Having their ears tickled with music . . . by all means, we should be sure the music we offer in worship is the highest quality we can offer, but I have been in far too many situations when the musicians (even some very godly musicians) were more concerned with the audience's response to the music than to how it would please God (note the term audience) . . . and I KNOW I've been in churches where the congregation was more concerned with their personal enjoyment of the music than they were with the worship they were doing in response to it. I've done that myself.
Eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners . . . in our day, might we equate this with interesting "stage decorations"? Lighting effects? High quality videos? Trendiness? (I remember a sermon once where the pastor invited us to text him questions to be answered in the next sermon.) Not that any of these is wrong, per se, but when they serve no purpose other than to amuse the eyes of the one sitting in the pew, as Spurgeon says (to keep the audience interested and attentive, to make them feel like they're in a "cool" church, to make them want to come back to see what neat thing the worship team will think up next), then there's a problem.
The words that hurt me here? They congratulate themselves because they think they must be Christians -- must be, because they go to church every week and enjoy it.
It grieves me that so many of our churches are so concerned with getting folks in the door and keeping them there, and they forget that pleasure and entertainment are rarely the means to an encounter with Christ that leads to regeneration (frankly, they are more likely to get in the way) and that the only reason we want people there is so they can be regenerated. Not to stroke our egos about our big numbers, or the positive comments we get after the service, or the reputation we have around town. Not so folks can have an enjoyable morning in a family-friendly moral environment that encourages them to be better people. To be regenerated. How many of us really understand what "regeneration" means these days? And yet we think we're leading people to it because they smile at us from the pews as we tickle their ears.
I think this is why we are so reluctant to connect ourselves to one of the megachurches here in San Antonio. I would rather be part of a small congregation where the people are there because they actually meet God there, whether the aesthetics please them or not.