Consider where the Christian church started and how it has changed. The following article written over 100 years ago describes a move to secularism and a decline in spirituality. What about today; is Christ in the so-called Christian churches or have we been deceived?
A Lowered Church Standard
How the World Looks upon It
By C. L. Taylor
Under the heading, “The Church Penalized,” the Kansas City (Missouri) “Post,” in its issue of Sunday, May 29, 1910, took occasion, editorially, to say a few plain things concerning “the church of to-day.” I quote:
“Almost every church of Christendom began as did the apostolic church—down among the mudsills of society, the common people, so commonly despised. But without being able to detail the processes of each, the law of ecclesiastical evolution seems to have seized upon the spirit of the followers of the lowly Nazarene, and a few generations have been sufficient to develop a church pride and aristocracy which have caused the church to ‘forget the pit from which she was dug,’ and ‘the rock from whence she was hewn.’ ”
“Two or three illustrations prove the rule. The Methodists were a plain, homely folk, laying special stress upon plainness of dress, of meeting-houses, simplicity of worship, and a spirit on fire from a new Pentecost. Fifty years have seen this denomination grow into flattering numbers, highly educated clergy, fashionable congregations, colossal church buildings, cathedral-like in architecture, great pipe-organs, and cultivated choirs singing in an unknown tongue.”
The masses and the backwoods have all been left in the apparent race for an ideal of greatness. Seeing the needs of the hour, the Disciples’ church came to the rescue, and making better time, because living in a faster age than their Methodist brethren, have, within the recollection of the young man writing this article, grown from the four square wooden walls of the unpainted meeting-house, and as bald a service as it was possible to have, and a ministry which belonged to the common people, and which decried education, and with a prejudice against musical instruments often codified into a law of the congregation—these followers of Him who had nowhere to lay His holy head, have become spurring rivals of their pioneer Methodist brethren, and now worship God in imposing edifices, sometimes looking more like a heathen temple than a house of the manger Babe, and with poetical, philosophical, and logical orators in the pulpit, and the costliest organs in the loft, and also with choirs which seem to have been selected more because of their skillful use of Greek in singing than because of their superior soul power in song. They, too, have broken with their humble origin.
While some portions of this picture may be a little too highly colored, the fact remains that for years the church of Christ has notoriously violated her own principles of professed humility and simplicity in the very ways pointed out in the “Post” editorial. She has adopted and adapted the spirit of the age in her extravagance and love of display, this being especially true in our great cities. And it is a just reflection on the part of many, that as the cost of church buildings and equipment has gone up, the real value of the church service has gone down. The better the pew the poorer the religion.
A Non-Theological Creed
But sad as may be the fact that in outward display the church of to-day is so sadly lowering the standard of Christian profession, sadder still is the fact that she is finding it convenient to abrogate the very fundamentals of Christian doctrine. A clipping from the New York “Evening Telegram” of April 21, 1910, will serve to illustrate the trend of the times:
“New Haven, Connecticut, Thursday — A new confession of faith, which drops the Apostles’ Creed and requires no formal expression as to the divinity of Christ, has been adopted by the deacons and will be presented for adoption by the Center Congregational Church of this city.
“The significance of this action is that the church has strictly held to Puritan orthodoxy for more than two and a half centuries, having been founded in 1638. New members will only have to pledge themselves to believe in a higher life and to moral purposes. The old confession of faith will be spread upon the records of the church as a historical relic.
“As explained by the church officers, the purpose of the change is to make the confession of faith absolutely non-theological and to gather into membership those who have hitherto been debarred by slight theological scruples.”
It may be, indeed, that to many religionists “the divinity of Christ” is a matter of “slight theological” importance, and therefore may be advantageously omitted from church belief. To all true followers of the Lord Jesus, however, this doctrine of our Lord’s divinity constitutes the very foundation of all Christian living. As well may we believe in a Bible without inspiration, as a Jesus without divinity. Only because He was “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16), “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), was Jesus Christ worthy of our affection and worship. Only divinity can save from sin, and only faith in divinity can bring salvation into men’s lives.
Who cannot see that in this yielding up of fundamentals the church is veritably allowing her colors to trail in the dust? It is a deliberate surrender to those forces which would make the church only a social club, her faith a mere form of words, her work a purely esthetic quantity. Think of it! People want to join the church, but demand before doing so, that she eliminate those doctrines which are essential to her existence, but which are distasteful to their ideas!
Along with this surrender of principle in matter of faith, there come practices quite foreign to the spirit of the pure Gospel of the Scriptures. The San Francisco “News Letter” of February 13, 1909, had this to say about present-day popular methods of carrying forward church work:
“A clergyman, either in the doctrines he preaches or the manner in which he presents them, must be in sore straits when he resorts to theatrical devices for luring people to his church. The tendency to sensationalism in the pulpit and to extraordinary musical programs, is quite prominent nowadays, and some pastors are even advertising, just as theaters do.”
Yes, advertising, and sensational advertising at that, has taken the place in many ministers’ work of the drawing power of the Spirit of God, as it was manifested in the work of an Elijah, a Paul, a Luther, or a Wesley. And not only have certain Protestant ministers adopted advertising schemes for themselves, but they have gone into print and boldly advocated their methods as models for their brethren to follow.
But would the ministry dare endorse theatrical plans if their congregations stood in open opposition? Is it not a case of “like people, like priest”? Do not the people “love to have it so”? Have not “extraordinary musical programs” and other mere entertainments been introduced because the majority of attendants upon church services really demand it? The fact is, church members, unreproved and unreprovable, are so largely in attendance upon and educated by the common theater through the six days of the week, that their tastes call for theatrical food the other one day.
Theatricals Planned for
That the church trend is toward the theatrical, toward loose plans which will draw the multitude, may be seen from the following clipping:
“Philadelphia, June 2 – Fairhill Baptist Church, one of the largest in the city, is to be so enlarged and reconstructed as to provide for a roof garden, upon which in warm weather vaudeville is to be presented in conjunction with Gospel services. When the weather is cold or it is raining a spacious auditorium, which the proposed roof garden will surmount, will be used instead.”
In justification of the scheme, the pastor, the Reverend Mr. McClellan, is reported to have said:
“It is time that Christians who would win unsaved men and women from the playhouse, cardtable, and saloon to the church should provide practical means of making the latter attractive. A radical departure in church work is needed, if we are to appeal successfully to non-churchgoers.”
But this is CHURCHianity instead of CHRISTianity. Men and women may indeed be drawn to the church by stage performances and kindred methods, but they are not drawn to Christ. They will find in the end and to their utter dismay that the church had lost her power, and had provided them only a deceptive substitute. It has long been known that plain, open, worldly vaudeville is demoralizing, worthy of all Christians’ severe condemnation; but what shall be said of it when it assumes a Christian name, masquerades in the sacred precincts of Jehovah’s church, and claims to be able to save people from their sins! No wonder that the theatrical world of nowadays seeks closer union with the church, and claims a place in the work of man’s moral uplift.
Note the following from the New York “Evening Telegram”
“BOXING IN CHURCH—Atlanta, GA, Friday.— Deacons of a church here have hit on a plan to induce delinquent members to attend services. A boxing contest was advertised to take place in the church last night, and long before the time for the bout to begin every pew was filled.
“Shortly afterward two of the deacons appeared gloved for the ring. The fighters faced each other and the fight was on, but after sparring a few minutes, both failing to land a blow, the bout was declared off and the usual services held.”
These things are painful. Gladly would all true followers of the Lord Jesus forget them and if possible bury them deep in oblivion. But that cannot be. God says, “Cry aloud” (Isaiah 58:1). Only because earth’s millions stand in danger of complete and eternal loss are the sins of God’s professed people to be plainly revealed. It may be, yea, it will be, that some will hear the warning and flee from the paths that lead to death.
Honest hearts, one here, another there, in this land and in that, are breathing earnest prayers to God that He will turn back the tidal wave of worldliness which seems about to engulf the church, and give back to them the days of Spirit power and Pentecostal preaching. Their petitions will be answered, but not as they expect. The Scriptures declare that the last days will be filled with mighty perils, summed up, as it were, in a church “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3: 5). The church, as a great whole, will not repent and reform. She will go on in her blindness and folly, lowering the standard more and more, until, as a part of great Babylon, she will finally become the rendezvous of evil men and wicked spirits (Revelation 18:2). But “out of her” God will call, His people (verse 4). Upon the platform of “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12) they will take their stand, and triumph when the Master appears.