One Foot In The Church, One Foot In The World: An Atheist Perspective.

There are many Christian blogs and other faith-based writings that speak about living with ‘one foot in the church and one in the world.’ The majority of these point out that living this way is only meeting god halfway and urging people to get both feet in the church. From a Christian perspective this is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly (but not necessarily most importantly), it is what the Bible teaches. Romans 12:2 states bluntly; “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

It is not the Bible though, that seems to truly inspire this vigilance regarding living with two feet in the church. Rather, it seems to be more a request to deny and reject secular culture and elements of popular culture which Christians, especially Christian youth, find desirable, even irresistible. This ideal of worldly rejection in itself is by no means a new development in the church or Christianity; on the contrary, it has always been the goal. Only the fact that this ideal is being rejected en masse by Christian youth worldwide is a new experience for the church, as are the desperate requests for children to ignore the world in favour of Christ.

In more recent years, as the church has begun to come to terms with the fact that popular culture is winning the war in the battle for youth involvement, it has started to defile itself by bringing these seductive pop culture elements into the church in an attempt to lure in the youth; the most obvious example is the integration of secular music and contemporary worship into older church models. While this new adaptive method of fishing for a congregation might be in direct conflict with biblical teachings (again, Romans 12:2), it has, in part, worked for the church. Youth are attending church.

The conflict however, is obvious, as is the hefty price the church is paying for abandoning its roots.

So, what are we to make of an institution which simultaneously supplies people with the things they are taught by that institution to reject?

For atheists, this contradiction in ethics and values is nothing more than yet another glaring example of Christian hypocrisy. We simply see the tactic for what it is. Some people, like myself, may even be angered by this manipulation.

It’s far more important to consider what church youth are making of all of this idealistic confusion. The results are not good. The implementation of secular content into church has spawned a generation of Christians who would be lucky to be seen as having even their big toe in the church let alone a whole foot.

Pastor Paul Washer spoke passionately to the youth on this topic in 2002; “What you need to know is that salvation is by faith, and faith alone in Jesus Christ. And faith alone in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance, a turning away from sin, a hatred for things that god hates and a love for the things that god loves. A growing in holiness and a desire not to be like the Britney Spears, not to be like the world and not to be like the great majority of American Christians, but to be like Jesus Christ.”

It is interesting to note that his words, his entire hour long sermon in fact (which can be seen in full here), was inspired after witnessing one too many light hearted sermons and specifically, the reaction of Christian youth to the contemporary worship band that followed. He noted their passion was not inspired by Christ, it was inspired directly by the band – and some of the behaviors this music inspired are unacceptable for those who claim to be a good faithful Christian.

In a follow up video (see below)  pastor Paul says of that sermon, “There was a sermon that made a lot of people laugh and then toward the end, after all the laughter died down, an altar call, as it’s called, was given and somewhere around 2000 to 3000 kids went forward, laughing and all sorts of things. I’m sure there were some sincere young people in there, possibly. It just seemed, well it was shocking, as I watched them, as I looked at them, I was thinking ‘Where is the reality of Christ? Where is the reality of sin?’  Where is the reality of salvation, hope, eternal things? Nothing. It was like Pavlov’s dog in the experiment where they tie a dog down and they electrocute him and electrocute him and then they take all the bands off the dogs legs and they electrocute the dog and the dog just lays there, they’re trained to respond to stimuli. It’s the same thing, so many of our youth have been brought up with this idea of alter call, and this is what you do, and you go forward. Not so much to blame the one preaching, it’s just what our whole Christian culture has created.”

He continues to discuss the worship band; “I think the big thing that really got me is when the supposed worship band or whatever came out. And all the students ran forward to the stage and were jumping up in the air and screaming and everything else and my wife was there on the front row, and three or four times a young man bumped into her so hard while he was doing his…whatever they were doing, slam-dancing or whatever you want to call it, almost knocked her back in her seat and finally she’d had enough and she pushed him halfway across the thing to protect herself. Then when I saw them pick up girls and pass them over their heads, on the crowd, I was like ‘what on earth is going on here?’”

Knowing his inspiration for this speech, it is quite sad to see  to see towards the end of the sermon’s recording, the band begin to warm up, preparing to provide the crowd some endorphin laced relief to ease the harsh truth Mr. Washer has lovingly bestowed upon them.

In spite of the efforts of Pastor Paul and countless others who take issue with this conflict of ethics, over the past 10 years, we have seen more and more churches begin to implement contemporary content into their services. Whether it be through the introduction of a rock band, or a youth group that purposefully avoids the topic of god and Jesus (to seem more welcoming), churches everywhere are grasping at these god-hated secular straws in an effort to stay alive.

Ironically, the opposite is being achieved. The church is still dying. But why? The church is giving the youth what they want, after all; kids want rock music, they want casually dressed preachers with tattoos, they want less formality and more focus on the social aspect of church attendance – and the church is providing! The problem becomes clear when one asks themselves, what is the purpose of the church? Is the purpose of the church to provide all the fun and inviting things listed above? Is the purpose of the church to adapt itself in order to appeal to world? Referring once again to Romans 12:2, we know the Bible says this is absolutely not the purpose of the church. The writings of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12 clearly defines the purpose of the church; “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” So in the most basic of terms, the purpose of the church is simply, to be the church, to be the body of Christ, to be a community dedicated to service in the name of Jesus Christ and for this life of service to be an example for others and lead them into the body of Christ. The genuine purpose of the church has absolutely nothing to do with what is occurring every Sunday in buildings around the world. This is even more evident is so called “churches of the spirit” or “charismatic churches” which not only revolve around secular content but also take creative license with the gospel through what they call interpretational sermon practices which allow preachers to take the secularisation of the church one step further by modernising the word of god and adjusting its context to appeal and fit with the mindset of current youth. In this adaption of the gospel, nothing remains sacred, age old Bible passages that define Christian lifestyle are reinterpreted to free the youth from its often strict confines – all in the name of the man who died to uphold these guidelines, Jesus Christ.

The thing that saddens me the most regarding what the modern church is teaching the youth, is their shallow and superficial definition of service. In the above Ephesians verse, Paul makes it very clear that service is the one purpose of the church, and it is this service that will bring others into the church. Today, young people seem to have no real concept of living a life of service. They understand what it means to witness, they may even partly understand the concept of mission, though most will most likely never partake. Living a life of service in the style of Jesus though? The Christians who truly seek to emulate their saviour in this way are few and far between.

Young christians remain blissfully unaware of this, though, because the church teaches a different version of a life of service and often mistake service for mission. While mission is “an organized effort for the propagation of the Christian faith,’ service is a lifestyle. It is not an activity, it can not be planned, it does not need to be funded, it is who you are. It represents that you are a follower of Christ and seek to emulate him. If you are not living a dedicated life of service, you are not a Christian.

This change in the definition of service and the role it plays in being a Christian has been detrimental to the church. That one core ideal of the church, the genuine emulation of Christ and the following of his example of serving others as a lifestyle, has been replaced with planned activities, scheduled good deeds, kind gestures and other minute trivialities that are frivolously labelled as service. What’s more, any efforts outside of these minimal activities are escalated to the title of mission because of their ‘effort factor’.

For atheists, this shift in Christian ideals serves us well. It automatically removes many of the ‘we’re better than you’ aspects of Christianity that have been  lorded over us for centuries. The only reason they were able to hold this over our heads was due to the fact their faith encouraged and required them to serve other people. Atheists have always done that too, but it has never defined us as a community – unlike Christianity. Now atheist good deeds are on par with, and even exceed those of Christianity. This isn’t because atheists have taken on Christian ideals, it is because Christians have done away with them. Christians can no longer claim to be living a life of service, and without that, there is nothing that sets them apart –  especially not from a moral standpoint. Christians are no longer Christians, they’re just people who enjoy feeling a certain way and hearing and saying certain things and occasionally help out with a church-based activity. The only thing that separates them from atheists is the belief in god, and more to the point heaven – of course by turning people away from the genuine teachings of the bible and encouraging Christian youth into a lifestyle considered biblically blasphemous and involving activities hated by god, the church is actually condemning these children to eternal damnation. That’s a shame!

But why would they do this? For the same reason the church is implementing secular elements into services, they are abolishing the tedious demands that have been required to enter heaven for 2000 years. It makes Christianity more appealing. Removing the 24/7 commitment to Jesus Christ and a life of service makes it a lot easier for a person to be successful as a Christian. If all you have to do to get into heaven is simply believe in and profess a love for Christ, why wouldn’t you? If you want to take things a step further, go to church every week, see a band, hang out with your friends, how awesome! You’ll even be given the chance to give Jesus some money, just to make sure heaven is in your future. And, man, if you really want to be living for Jesus, then once or twice a year, door knock for the salvos, or perform at a charity show to help the church.

CHRIST EMULATION FAIL!

At the end of the day, the church reconfiguring the requirements of leading a Christian lifestyle makes the church more accessible to more people, which bring more people into the church and, of course, the people bring money. Churches need money to survive; they are businesses, they will do what they need to keep their business afloat – like any business would. It just so happens that by keeping their business alive they are essentially denying and rejecting the foundations, principles and core values that business was built and grown on – and when these disappearing core values have been pitched to the world for millenniums as the only way to live, it also causes the integrity of that business to crumble. The church removing a lifestyle of service and tradition from their core structure is like KFC removing chicken from the menu – it has nothing of substance left to offer, just fries and drinks – bands and friends.

For anyone still doubting that things have changed as drastically as I claim, I leave you with this, a photograph recently posted online by a Christian bible study group:

http://skyydott.com/Screen-Shot-2013-11-06-at-12.09.30-PM.png

Because blowing shit up on the big screen is what Bible study is all about right?

KILLS FOR CHRIST! Can I get an amen?

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