Thomas Sowell once said that “The biggest myth about labor unions is that unions are for the workers. Unions are for unions, just as corporations are for corporations and politicians are for politicians.” And I might add, sadly, some churches are for churches, and some church leaders are for church leaders – not necessarily the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We kid ourselves if we think some believers and Christian leaders are in the church for only pure spiritual motives. There are all sorts of reasons why some people covet leadership positions in churches. The same desire for fame, fortune, glory, power, self-aggrandisement and empire building we find in the world can also readily be found in our churches.
Many church leaders exist simply to protect their own turf, their own livelihood, and their own ego. They especially thrive on the praises and adulation of men. Indeed, while the Bible clearly warns about men pleasers, they are by no means absent in much of the church today.
Sure, one can see why believers can so easily fall into such traps. No one wants to be unpopular, disliked, unloved, and not respected. That is a very human characteristic. But Christians are not supposed to be simply catering to human desires and whims.
We are to be seeking to please God above all else. Indeed, I would rather be accepted by God and spurned by men than be loved by men and spurned by God. At the end of the day the only thing that really matters is what God thinks of us, not what man thinks of us.
I am reminded of a story concerning Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. A clergyman had assured him that God was on the North’s side of the conflict. Lincoln replied to him, “I know that the Lord is always on the side of right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
Quite so. I don’t want to be simply ‘right’. I don’t want to be popular. I don’t want to be successful. I only want to be pleasing in all things to God. I want to one day hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And if that means falling out of favour with man, then so be it.
That is a very small price indeed to pay to be pleasing to God. Yet we seem to find so few leaders today who put God’s pleasure above everything else. They seem more intent on heaping upon themselves the praises of men. They want to be surrounded by admirers, fans, and groupies. They bask in the limelight of human praise, but seem less concerned about heavenly approbation.
And too often such folks find great comfort in the company of other like-minded folks. Thus too often the church becomes a closed shop, a little men’s club, a mutual pat-yourself-on-the back club, where they simply become yes men to one another. It becomes just like any other closed club where any outside assessments, questions or criticisms are verboten, and they remain above any searching evaluation.
They exist simply to exist. It is a self-perpetuating kingdom where existence is paramount. Just as so many politicians will put staying in power above all else, so too many church leaders have ensconced positions of power, where they feed on the praises of men and the adoration of the crowds.
I have seen this first hand too often, and it is not a pretty sight. These folks would rather bask in the applause of men than spend time in the shadow of the almighty. They would rather parade around the world and receive the praises of men than spend time on their faces before the crucified Lord.
They do not believe in the offense of the gospel, or recognise a rejected saviour. They only know glory, power, fame and fortune. Their Christ is only a triumphant conquering king, not a messiah crowned with a headpiece of thorns. Because of this gross imbalance, their Jesus is not the Christ of Scripture, but the stuff of fiction.
And so many believers are so very happy to hop on board such a triumphant and prosperous faith. At such venues the gospel message is usually mangled beyond comprehension. Banished forever are words and concepts like sin, mortification, self-denial, holiness, repentance, sacrifice, and the wrath of God.
Instead, the words are always so warm and fuzzy and reassuring and accepting. It is all about you, and how you can feel better about yourself, and how you can prosper and lose weight and succeed in your business and be wealthy and free of illness, trouble, trials, or suffering.
It is a man-centred gospel preached by man-centred preachers. And for all that, there is only applause and cheers. The offence of the cross has been well and truly disposed of. Jesus is the buddy of mankind, not the righteous judge of the universe whose eyes flash with fire and whose sword drips with blood.
This domesticated Jesus is to everyone’s liking. The masses love him and the false prophets love to proclaim him. His message is so easy and so me-centred. Who wouldn’t want to follow such a figure? But as Leonard Ravenhill rightly warned, “If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”
Indeed, Joseph Sobran was quite incisive when he said this several decades ago: “The church is hated more for her virtues than for her weaknesses. Nobody hates Zeus or Thor or the Buddha, because nobody feels deeply rebuked by their standard of morality. We can look back on them benignly, because they are remote from us and pose no threat to our self respect. Christ is different. He is not out-of-date because he was never up-to-date. He was immediately loved and hated by his contemporaries, most of whom rejected him because his teachings were too hard. As G.K. Chesterton said, his morality was poorly adapted to his time: That is why he was crucified. Anyone who teaches his morality today can expect to be attacked too.”
William Booth said this over 100 years ago, and it is spot on: “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”
This perfectly describes the modern day church. And I am not just talking about the obvious liberal mainstream denominations, but about so many of our supposedly Bible-believing evangelical and charismatic churches today. This describes to a T the situation in so many of our churches.
As is so often the case, A.W. Tozer hit the nail on the head when he said, “The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”
Let me offer you one more quote which is one of my very real favourites: “Controversy for the sake of controversy is a sin: controversy for the sake of truth is a Divine command” (Dr Walter Martin). I for one absolutely hate controversy and conflict. I would much rather sit in a corner and read books all day.
So why in the world I do what I do is a good question. But there is only one right answer: it is because my saviour did not just sit in a corner and read books, but gave up everything so that I might be made right with him. How can I do any less in return?
If standing with him against the gates of hell and the hatred of men toward us is part of the cost, then so be it. I am not in the least bit interested in living a life of ease and comfort. Sure, I can get that and more if I simply go with the crowd and seek to please men. But if I do this, I am crucifying my Lord afresh.
We have sold out the gospel to please men and be acceptable. This is the great scandal of the modern-day church. I for one do not want to be part of this scandalous situation. I want to be with the Lamb who was slain, who now deserves all praise and honour and glory. Forget the lousy praise and honour of men. Who needs it? It is time to seek His praise, and His alone.