Popular Christianity

When I first became a Christian, I didn’t have a lot of discernment. I kind of thought that as long as people called themselves Christians then they were trustworthy. I got on board with a lot of church culture and thought it was cynical and judgmental to criticize anything Christian, whether it be bands or megachurches or preachers. So I just accepted a lot of stuff that I should have been more critical of.

Popular church culture today kind of scares the heck out of me. It’s like a big business. It often seems like an imitation of mainstream pop culture. People are so obsessed with being trendy and cool and relevant that they’re often not focusing on actually obeying Jesus and living holy lives.

So much of today’s church culture looks so much like the world that it makes one question if it’s really the real Church, the bride of Christ that is supposed to be sanctified and set apart.

So many Christian leaders just tell people what they want to hear. A lot of today’s preachers seem to focus on motivational and inspirational preaching, kind of like self-help gurus, and avoid the more difficult and sobering topics in scripture. They’ve made the gospel palatable and inoffensive.

It’s kind of a joke when you think about it. In the early Church the believers were always counter-cultural. They were so different than the world that they made an impact everywhere they went. They preached the gospel as it is without trying to water it down or make it more appealing. They lived startlingly holy lives, and they were anything but materialistic. People looked at them and knew they weren’t like everyone else.

But now the “church” is so obsessed with being current and “seeker-friendly” and drawing new converts that it looks just like an imitation of the world. Rather than doing things differently, they’re just doing things on the world’s terms.

Worship has been made into entertainment and church has been turned into a concert with fancy lights and weird dance routines. We’ve turned worship leaders into celebrities, zooming in on their faces during worship instead of focusing on Jesus. Christian artists now release creepy music videos that look just like a regurgitation of pop music videos.

We think that we’ve broken free of religion, but really we’ve just created a new type of religion, one based on consumerism and materialism and entertainment and prosperity and trendiness. It’s become its own brand now.

But the gospel is anything but trendy. It’s offensive. Everything about it is offensive. It’s contrary to everything in the world. It calls people to sacrifice everything.

Jesus tells you that you’re not okay as you are and that you need to change. He tells you that you need to leave your old life behind and live a holy life. He tells you that you need to turn your back on the world, not become more like it so that you’ll be perceived as “relevant.”

There have been a lot of horrible, legalistic Christians. You know, the ones who are scared of everything and shelter themselves and believe any secular music is Satanic and that you have to wear long skirts. Yes, those Christians are wrong, but why would we become the absolute opposite in order to prove a point? Legalism is terrible, but so is lawlessness. I don’t want to be a part of either of those groups.

So many Christians are so obsessed with proving to non-Christians that they’re cool and relatable that they don’t even know what holiness is anymore. But I don’t want to prove to people that I’m cool enough. Because you know what? Those non-Christians that you want so badly to impress will quite likely reject Jesus anyway. And if they do listen to a watered down version of the gospel, it will be pretty useless because we would have formulated a false Jesus who can’t save anyone from their sin. And I don’t want that Jesus. I want the real Jesus.

I want the Jesus who is offensive and convicting. I want the Jesus who tells me the truth exactly as it is without sugarcoating it. I want the Jesus who won’t let me stay how I am and won’t let me become immersed in the things of this world. I want the Jesus who tells me He is the only Way, not just an option.

I want the Jesus whose statements about sin and righteousness and eternity give me chills and convict me in the depth of my soul. I want the Jesus who tells me the the harsh truth about myself and my sinfulness, and who assures me that if I don’t repent and change I will die and be separated from Him for all eternity. Because if someone loves you, they’ll tell you the truth, even if it hurts. And that’s what He does.

The Jesus popular church culture is trying to sell is not the Jesus of the Bible. Because the real Jesus can’t be sold. He could never condone the Church being turned into a prostitute and worship being turned into a performance. He could never condone ministry being turned into a money-making machine.

So popular church culture, I don’t want your grace doctrine or your prosperity gospel. I don’t want your wacko televangelists or your narcissistic megachurch preachers.  I don’t want your money-making, bureaucratic businesses that you call churches. I don’t want your shallow, mass-produced music or your weird, abstract interpretative dance routines. I don’t want your lukewarm celebrities or your fancy conferences.

Christianity can never be “popular.” If it is, then it probably isn’t real Christianity. Because it’s a narrow road (Matthew 7:14). Following Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus promised Christians persecution (John 15:20). He said we would be hated because of Him (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17). So how dare we try to make the cross more appealing. How dare we try to make the gospel marketable.

Dying to yourself has never been cool. Admitting that you’re inherently sinful has never been cool. Living righteously has never been cool. Calling sin what it is has never been cool. And it never will be.

I want to walk the narrow road. I don’t want to go with what feels good and looks appealing, because it will likely prove to be a deception. The Christian walk is hard. We can’t follow a counterfeit Jesus so that the world will like us or so that we can live our “best life now.” God’s word says that friendship with the world means enmity with God (James 4:4). We have to choose between God and the world. We can’t have both.

Honestly I feel kind of embarrassed when I look back at the time when I just accepted everything at face value and didn’t use discernment or pray to ask God what was and wasn’t trustworthy. I was led by my feelings and not by the truth.

Just because people call themselves Christians does not mean they are true followers of Jesus. Just because something has a Christian label does not mean it is inspired by the Spirit. Just because something is partially good or partially true does not mean it is completely reliable.

I’m tired of accepting everything. I’m tired of being told that everyone who calls themselves a Christian must be trustworthy and I’m just being judgmental if I question them.

Why have we forgotten all those verses about wolves in sheep’s clothing and false teachings? Why are we so selective about which parts of the Bible we listen to? Why are we so scared of being perceived as “judgmental”? By today’s standards, Paul would have been the most judgmental person ever. And Jesus would have been considered a real buzzkill by people who claim to follow Him.

It’s time that Christians started questioning everything and measuring everything by scripture. Because there are a lot of counterfeits in this world. We need to open our eyes to all the lies in the church. We need to stop being so selective about which Bible verses we read, because we can’t afford to know only part of the truth.

God’s word is harsh. It’s not all “positivity” and motivational and inspirational talk. It’s convicting and it’s unsettling. It says a lot of stuff we don’t want to hear, but we need to hear it anyway. Sometimes we need scripture to slap us in the face and wake us up. We can’t only read the warm, fuzzy verses and take Jeremiah 29:11 out of context for the rest of our lives.

I know this all sounds very heavy, but I’m just tired of the compromise going on in the church. I’m tired of counterfeit versions of Christianity. I want the truth, even if it unsettles me. I don’t want to live in a false comfort.

I want to make it clear that this is not an attack on individuals. There are many lovely Christians who genuinely love Jesus who are caught up in this popular church culture, and I’m not questioning their authenticity. Heck, the first year or two that I was a Christian I definitely loved Jesus and loved others, but I was just blind. What I’m doing here is criticizing the larger system.

I believe there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who purposely lead people astray in order to become rich and famous, but I don’t think it’s our job to try and determine who those people are. I’m not telling you to go on any witch hunts, but I am telling you to be aware.

I also want to clarify that I am definitely not saying that anything cool or modern is bad. I am not against all conferences (I’ve been to some and there are some I would still go to), and I love modern Christian music. We can be current without compromising, but few people find that balance. It’s so important to make sure we’re always putting the truth before our preferences.

I really don’t intend to discourage anyone with this post, and I certainly don’t want to encourage anyone to be cynical or distrustful. I genuinely believe God is doing a lot of amazing things in the Church right now, and we should be excited by that rather than discouraged by the counterfeit. I also believe that God is certainly capable of reaching people even in questionable venues or through iffy ministries.

I hope that this will encourage you to question everything and judge everything by God’s word. Don’t willingly accept anything and everything, and don’t let anyone preach a different gospel to you or sell you a false Jesus.

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For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. |2 Corinthians 11:4|

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! |Galatians 1:8|

 

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