The contemporary evangelical church bans all the unpleasantries and challenges of life, providing the attendee with a happy, sanitized environment. Let me cite four of the hard realities not permitted in church.
Brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe are being beheaded, raped, and enslaved on a daily basis. Yet, evangelical churches in America apparently view these atrocities against spiritual family members unworthy of mention in prayer or sermons. Maybe once yearly they give a tip of the hat on a persecuted Christian Sunday, or this issue may be mentioned in a generic prayer, but substantive concern for them is not part of the church DNA.
This despite the instruction in Hebrews, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV) If we were in prison with them, witnessing the rapes, beatings, and even more grim tortures, we would quickly recognize our current neglect of their plight.
A second element not permitted in the contemporary evangelical service is discussion of cultural decay. The words of Jesus recorded in Luke 11:29 apply to contemporary America: “This generation is an evil generation.” Though no generation is perfect, some are better than others. This one, beginning with the 1960s, has introduced abortion and the promotion of homosexuality, has created entertainment fraught with immorality, and has presided over the destruction of the family. These and other immoral developments are especially egregious since they do not merely stem from moral decline but from a philosophy that advocates these immoral outcomes.
Since these trends are being intentionally imposed on our society, since we and our children are forced to live in this environment, since they are dragging our nation to lower and more dangerous depths almost daily, since they are infringing on the liberties of the church and God’s people, and since these are spiritual issues at root, addressing these cultural trends and seeking to remedy them falls within the scope of the church’s responsibility.
Yet most evangelical churches exclude them from prayer and sermons. Perhaps we fill baby bottles with change or annually stand on the curb holding pro-life signs, and maybe a sentence is included in the morning prayer, but substantive grappling with these issues, does not constitute part of the contemporary evangelical genetic code.
A third challenging aspect of life that has been removed from polite evangelical discourse has to do with the demands of Christian living. The New Testament is replete with commands related to righteous living, the blessings attached to following them, and the dire consequences of not doing so. Obeying these commands requires the development of discipline and endurance, another topic frequently addressed in Scripture.
Nonetheless, these types of topics have been surgically scrubbed from the contemporary evangelical service. Instead, the believer is assured that God accepts him unconditionally and that he need not perform to live in God’s favor. Mention of any demands of the Christian life is quickly branded as legalism, and any concern expressed regarding breaches of scriptural commands is labeled as judgmentalism.
This exclusion of the demands of Christian living assures the attendee of a guilt-free environment—the promise of worship in a judgment-free zone.
A fourth uncomfortable topic banned from the church entails the substantive conditions related to salvation. We understand that we are not saved by works, that is, we cannot earn our way to heaven. Nonetheless, we must somehow reconcile this biblical doctrine with the many passages asserting that becoming a believer includes a high level of commitment that transforms our lifestyle. For example, this teaching by Paul is found in the epistle that probably most stringently opposes works salvation:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)
Explanations have been contrived to explain away this and the many other passages indicating that saving faith includes a commitment to Christ. These explanations eliminate from the church experience any uncomfortable discussions regarding whether those displaying ungodly lifestyles are genuinely headed for heaven. Consequently, attendees who believe the facts of Scripture and have prayed the prayer of salvation need not be concerned that they will be challenged regarding the genuineness of their faith.
Compelling reasons exist for including in evangelical services all four of the topics cited above. Therefore, their exclusion must be intentional and done for a reason. What might that reason be?
We find a clue in the fact that all these topics are uncomfortable and therefore would introduce discomfort into the worship experience. They would prevent the worshiper from singing happy songs, hearing a supportive prayer, listening to a comforting message, and leaving church having been blessed. Instead, they would confront the attendee with challenging real-life issues of paramount importance.
In addition, all of these issues demand soul-searching, which can produce an added level of discomfort. What should we be doing for the persecuted Christian? How should we as salt and light engage our deteriorating culture? Is my life reflecting godliness? Does my lifestyle demonstrate that I am a genuine believer?
Finally, in many cases, this soul-searching demands action, which frequently takes us out of our comfort zone. This result not only has me leaving church struggling with these issues but also compels to actually do something. Now that is really uncomfortable.
Contemporary evangelical churches spare the worshiper of those discomforts. However, this leaves the persecuted Christian languishing, the culture rotting, the Christian sinning, and the prospect of many who think they are believers actually headed for an eternal hell.
These outcomes make us wonder whether there may not be issues more compelling than comfort. One also wonders if the parishioner made to feel uncomfortable by his church will opt for a more comfortable on up the road.