By Tom Wacaster
When I was growing up I was blessed to sit at the feet of good and godly men who taught our Sunday morning high school class, Wednesday evening class, and an occasional but regular men’s training class. It was during those six or seven years that I developed a desire to preach, a burning within my soul that would come to fruition immediately following my discharge from military service in 1970. There were a half dozen young men who attended those classes at the Urbandale church of Christ in Dallas, and each of us were blessed beyond measure from the training we received that would eventually lead to many of us being active teachers, preachers, and leaders in the Lord’s church. While this is not the thrust of this week’s article I must pause and remind all of us that the classes at the local congregational level have a great influence upon those who sit at our feet. I doubt that those men who taught our classes at Urbandale had any idea what influence they would have on us young boys who barely had a handle on life itself. But I digress, and must get back to the intent of this article.
I guess it was during those teen years that I began to grasp the magnitude of religious division, both in number and in the degrees of error embraced by the various denominations. The number of religious divisions within so-called “Christendom” was astonishing. The common number selected as a total of religious divisions was 250; but even then I suspected there may have been more. Little did I imagine that within my life time that number would grow; in fact it would multiply many times over. Investigation by the inquiring individual will reveal that the number of denominations in America now numbers into the thousands, and one figure being bandied about is in excess of 10,000. How has this come about? Why is it that people living in a country that has such deep roots in the Bible seem to care less about such division? The division in “Christendom” is bad enough. Lets add to that the infiltration of eastern religions, pantheism, humanism, agnosticism, and dozens of other “isms,” and the religious landscape in our country is more like the idolatrous situation that existed in Athens when Paul arrived into that city than what we might think characterizes a nation that has its roots in Christianity. Bobbly Liddell made this astute observation:
One reason that current religions are where they are today is because many of their participants are the product of an educational system that has produced a generation (or two) of graduates who have been heavily influenced by atheistic Humanism and the false ideas of organic evolution, into thinking that there is no God and that truth is only relative, situational, and subjective...Bibles are looked upon as out of date oddities and are dusty and hidden from view, even in the homes of religious people. Knowledge of the Bible, that should have been learned at home, is woefully deficient, or entirely absent, and wolves in sheep’s clothing prey upon the biblically ignorant, spiritually weak, and defenseless. We have jumped off the cultural cliff and are falling headlong into the abyss of immorality. Yet every day the media assures us that there is a ‘new normal,’ far removed from the antiquated beliefs upon which our country was founded. Modern America boasts of its tolerance and progressive enlightenment, yet silences God, forbidding mention of His name and His Word and public prayer to Him, and vilifies those who cry out against the sins of a country our President proclaimed is “no longer a Christian nation” (Spiritual Sword, In Times Like These, page 168).
Some years ago I gave thought to keeping a tablet in my automobile and every time I passed one of those new independent churches that has put some attention getting name on their building, that I would add that to the list. I never started that list and have on many occasions regretted not having done so. A quick search on the internet lists an amazing array of churches in our city. Just to name a few of the denominations: Anglican churches (2); Apostolic churches (7); Bible churches (18); Evangelical churches (11); Pentecostals (20); and Other churches (63). Other names include, but are not limited to “Calvary Cathedral,” “Morningside Episcopal,” “Celebration Fellowship,” “Gospel Kingdom Church,” “Beautiful Feet Church,” “Victory Outreach,” “Harvest Assembly,” “Journey Church,” “Seeking God First Church,” “Greater Progressive Church,” “Great Prayer Tower Holiness Church,” “Love Sanctuary,” “Pilgrim Rest Church,” “John 316 Temple,” and “Denny’s Friends.” It is enough to discourage even the most stout hearted in a search for some kind of stability and standard in matters of religion.
Most, if not all of the mainline Protestant denominations grew out of a background of deep seated belief in a particular theological system. Though wrong in doctrine, those who came to the New World to seek freedom to practice their religious beliefs maintained a strong belief in the Bible and a sincere reverence for things spiritual in general and worship in particular. But somewhere in the mid to late 1800’s reverence for God and a desire to pay homage to the Almighty began to give way to a self centered religion. In the mid nineteenth century the frontier “revival” form of worship started to take on a “circus atmosphere,” and the main function of the public assembly shifted from an occasion for worshipping God to a focus on bringing in the “converts” and increasing the numbers. John McArthur noted that these churches “were not trying to hit at the core of biblical faith; they were simply trying to make Christianity more palatable to a cynical world.” Even the late and illustrious Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon sounded the warning of a shift away from a Biblical foundation to a “feel good” approach to religion. His cries went unheeded. What we are witnessing today in this mass proliferation of religions is the result of that trend which began in the late 1800’s and accelerated toward the end of the 20th century. Today identification with any particular religious body is not based so much on doctrine as it is on what that church can do for the individual. If a church does not meet the self-centered demands of any particular member, that member simply starts another church, with a different name, and some kind of unique, catchy title, or some bizarre practice (moral or spiritual) that satisfies their immoral penchant or twisted way of thinking. A good case in point came to my attention last week when I was directed to a web page featuring yet another church called “Beer And Hymns.” It is a spin off of the First Christian Church in Portland, Oregon. The author of this little tidbit of information described this new “church” thus: “With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer. Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom. The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it’s an exploratory approach to do church differently.” The “pastor” of this church, Amy Piatt, believes that church is going to be “something different” and what it is to be “we are still finding out...But it’s lovely, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”
Sensible, Bible loving seekers of truth recognize immediately that the above approach to “do church” is so far removed from the teachings of the Bible that we scratch our heads in utter astonishment. But the “Beer and Hymns” church is a good example of how pragmatism, humanism, postmodernism, and will worship have contributed to a trend in which every man becomes a law unto himself, and the final outcome can be more proliferation of religion; all in the name of religion. How sad!