CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Worthless Christianity

Aug 13, 2019

The words of warning given by Jeremiah to ancient Israel seem to be fully needed in today’s church.

Now that I have your attention, no, I am not saying that Christianity is worthless. But what I am wanting to say here is that false religion, fake Christianity, and compromised belief is worthless. Unless you have the real deal, it is all a sham, it is all a waste, and it is all under the judgment of God.

If you don’t believe me, simply have a read of Jeremiah 7. This chapter is all about how worthless false religion is. And it was written to God’s own people – not to pagan nations. That message is as relevant today to the Christian church as it was back then to ancient Israel.  

Consider for example verse 9-11:

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

One can easily change things around a bit

Will you allow abortion, promote homosexuality and fake marriage, push interfaith dialogue with other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

All this and more can be mentioned. And then we seem to have one case after another of high-flying Christian leaders renouncing the faith and turning their backs on the Lord. What are our churches doing that we are producing so many Christian pastors and others who are leaving the faith – and often leaving their families as well?

As but one recent example, I wrote about Joshua Harris last week: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/08/06/in-the-final-stages-of-apostasy/

And this week we have a Hillsong worship leader also embracing apostasy: www.christiantoday.com/article/hillsong-worship-leader-marty-sampson-losing-faith/133017.htm

Sure, there are many Christians who are remaining true to Christ, to their spouses, and to their faith. But they seem to be in the minority nowadays. The church seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, from one case of sin to the next, from one case of rejecting Christ to the next.

When things get so bad and so many believers are bringing shame and disrepute on the Lord by denying the clear teachings of Scripture on so many matters, then we need to go back and listen to the prophets. And a fellow prophet, Isaiah, made it quite clear what God thinks of worthless religion:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Is. 1:13-14).

All of the corruption, compromise and carnality found in the church today makes the words of Jer. 7 all the more relevant. We need to listen carefully to what the prophet said. So let me return to the Jeremiah passage I quoted above.

Just before it the prophet condemned “temple theology” – the idea that God would never judge his people because of the temple. As we find in verses 3-4: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’”

And even more remarkable, just below the passage, Jeremiah is told to not pray for the people. As verse 16 says, “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.” Wow, they were so far gone that he could not even pray for them anymore.

And also bear in mind that Jesus quoted from this passage (v. 9) when he cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). So this is not just some irrelevant bit of Old Testament teaching, but something relevant for New Testament times as well.

Let me round things off here by offering some commentary on Jeremiah 7. Philip Graham Ryken offers these remarks:

Religious observance without moral obedience cannot save. John Calvin put it like this: “Sacrifices are of no importance or value before God, unless those who offer them wholly devote themselves to God with a sincere heart.” It can be stated even more briefly: Those who seek justification without sanctification need reformation.

The first thing to understand about Jeremiah’s message is that it was delivered to a religiously observant people. Jeremiah was preaching to people who were on their way to the temple to offer sacrifices to God. The people he told to mend their ways were devout. They were “churchgoers.” They wore their Passover best and had their scrolls tucked under their arms.

Reformation always begins with the people of God. Reformation is something that starts in the church. . . . The people of Judah were in desperate need of reformation because they had put their trust in the outward trappings of religion.

Michael Brown also says this about the text:

[The Israelites] mistake God’s patience for his approval, as though his longsuffering gives them a further license for sin—a theme addressed in the NT in the context of the misuse and abuse of God’s mercy and grace (cf. Jude 4a, speaking of “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord”; see also Ro. 2:4; note Ps. 50:16-20; Ecc. 8:11).

Thus by their mere presence in the temple they superstitiously suppose they have proof of their right standing with God and/or their ongoing immunity from punishment, little knowing they are only sealing their own doom.

Lastly, Christopher Wright deals with a problem some folks might have here: the seeming contradiction between the unconditional promises of the land, and the very conditional warnings of the need for obedience to remain in the land. He writes:

The tension, in other words, is the fully biblical relationship between grace and obedience. The land was an unconditional gift of grace. Ongoing life in the land required an obedient response to that grace. Obedience was never the means of earning the land. But it was the condition in which the grace-gift could be possessed and enjoyed. Grace comes first. Obedience must come second. The principle resounds through the Old Testament and on into the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

This is a crucial balance that corrects two false assumptions. On the one hand, it rules out legalism and merit. We do not, we cannot, earn our way to God’s favour and blessing. We receive God’s gift of grace as the only basis for our relationship with him. But on the other hand, it rules out the idea that once you have got God’s promise tucked away, it doesn’t matter how you live. Obedience is the only way to enjoy the blessing of God’s promise.

The message of Jeremiah to the Israelites is also a message to the church. Simply rolling up at church, singing a few songs, raising your hands, putting in an offering, repeating Bible verses and so on is no guarantee that you are one of His. Especially if you are condoning or promoting things like baby killing and the war on marriage.

Simply relying on an emotional commitment you may have made to the Lord many years ago also does not cut it. Unless there is abiding, continuous fruit in your life, then one must question whether such a commitment was the real deal to begin with.

It certainly is time for judgment to begin with the household of God. All the sin, immorality, false teaching and apostasy we see in so many places is part of the divine sifting process. And that is a good thing. But the crucial questions that we all must ask ourselves are these: ‘Am I one of the sheep or one of the goats?’ ‘Am I the wheat or the tares?’

[1402 words]

17 Responses to Worthless Christianity

  • Well said Jeremiah and Bill.

  • You can lie to me and you can lie to yourself but you can never lie to God for in creating your heart he know your heart and he knows your mind.
    John Abbott

  • A relationship with God is in one sense akin to a relationship with any other person. If you turn your back on Him, continually spit in His face, and only proclaim your friendship when it suits you, then chances are He’ll wash His hands of you.

    He is vastly more forgiving than any man true, but He’s not a mindless punching bag or an abused child that will do anything for your love. He is also a just a righteous God who will call you to account.

  • Marty Sampson left Christianity citing issues that many Christians ignore: “struggl(ing) with science and contradictions in the Bible … No one talks about it. … How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? … Science keeps piercing the truth”.

    Similarly Charles Templeton – who ranked alongside Billy Graham as an evangelist – left Christianity, saying: “But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world wasn’t created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s demonstrable fact.”

    So what’s wrong? A lukewarm Christianity believes the lies of evolution and billions of years.

    It is a lie. Science has no basis for contradicting Genesis apart from saying miracles aren’t natural. But science is even worse: it has no natural explanation for the origin of universe and life. Period. No one has ever demonstrated any law of nature that allows nothing (i.e. no time, space, energy or matter) to turn into everything for no reason. Similarly, no one can explain how dead stuff can become alive without guiding intelligence.

    Science can’t explain the miracles of universe and life without postulating its own miracles. Big-Bang, origin of life and evolution from simple cell to complex organism all rely on faith: that the impossible happened; for no known reason; against all known laws of science. Period. It takes less faith and is more rational to believe that there must be a supernatural intelligence that is outside the bounds of naturalism.

    So what was Marty taught? When did Hill Song, or your church, last teach that Genesis 1-11 is real history? Ever? Did they ever teach about the Fall, free will and original sin? Does Marty understand that if we do not ‘choose life’ by accepting Jesus, then God will not violate our will: and so, rather than He arbitrarily sending us “to a (bad) place”, we in fact rejected a better place – wilfully ignoring that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

    But many Western churches have abandoned Genesis. The rot started with the atheistic geologists who explicitly set out to “rid the science of Moses”, and sadly the church, especially in the West, has blindly followed. We are well overdue for the church to repent and start defending Genesis as the essential foundation to the Gospel.

  • That is my favourite Worship Song, O Praise the Name of the Lord. that is so sad reading the story of Marty losing faith. I wonder whether he ever did accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour. And believed/trusted on/in the Finished Work of Christ for Salvation.

    I guess we all need to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith; by believing Faith Alone in Christ Alone. Salvation is Not of works, and its Not by trying to work our way to God, but by accepting the free gift that Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins, the place that we deserve, and we are to receive HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, our righteousness is as filthy rags. Ephesians chapter 2. verses 8-9. NIV. For it is by GRACE (unmerited favour) you have been saved, through faith, – and this is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God – 9. NOT by WORKS, so that no one can boast.

    NIV. 2 Corinthians 13.5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?

  • Dear Bill, your words are so exciting, they inspire so many. Exceptionally well written and your response too, Peter Newland

    Mark Bryant

  • It depends what you mean by “the church”. As pointed out here we need to ask ourselves if we are really born again. Also, what kind of ministry are we supporting? Is it faithful or not?

  • Dear Bill, I’m reading through Jeremiah right now and had the very same thoughts but of course, not so well formed or expressed. It did my heart good to find this confirmation. I guess with all apostasy, such as those examples you gave, it is about people putting their own thoughts above God’s thoughts and judging and condemning Him. It is not about not finding answers. There are heaps of good apologetics discussions and ministries out there. It is about the danger of exalting ourselves above our God. The belief is compromised. I am sure that when we act in faith the Holy Spirit can do great things through us, even penning wonderful words of praise. But it is always Him and not us. The Bible tells us to pray for these people, for our own leaders and believers everywhere. And pray we must in such a time as we now are living in. Thank you, Bill.

  • And lest people think I am just making it up about pro-abortion church leaders and the like, consider this very recent case in point:

    https://www.lifenews.com/2019/08/13/baptist-presbyterian-pastors-claim-christians-can-support-killing-babies-in-abortions/

  • I have seen recently way too many in CCM have this or similar happen – leave the faith, leave their spouse (‘God told me I needed a break’) or even come out as gay. When we decide we can worship God anyway we want going astray becomes easier. not that all with CCM go astray but seeing too much of it to be just a coincidence. We can’t appropriate something of the worlds and assume the worldliness of it won’t affect us. We can’t bring the world INTO the church and think it won’t change the church. “we’ll act like the world but still be the same old faithful christians” that is as bad as thinking that 1hour a week of church makes up for 167 hours of ungodliness.

  • Because of the increase of wickedness the love of many will grow cold.

  • Hi Bill,
    I have found over the last few months I have gone back to reading the OT prophets, to see how God evaluates a society and culture. The first two verses of Habakkuk sound like today. And God’s response was to raise up Babylon to bring destruction. Can’t help but ponder that now many are deeply concerned over the rise of China and its spreading military influence. If China called in all its debts from Australia they would own this nation. Hmmm…is God up to a form of judgment here? Just thinking.

  • Yes it is always possible Bruce.

  • China could do the same to America. I bet she could own several western nations. why fight a war to take over your enemy when you can just buy their debt?? ‘come see Chinese culture you don’t have to travel far as we have branch countries all over the world’.

  • Did Marty Sampson investigate the evidence for Christianity before he became a Christian? Did he investigate the evidence before leaving Christianity? Or, were both decisions based on his emotions? Know why you believe what you believe, my friends. Truth matters! I would encourage everyone to read the following books in their investigation of the truth claims of Christianity:

    Christian authors:
    –“The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
    –“The Death of the Messiah” by Raymond Brown
    –“Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh and Sean McDowell

    Skeptic authors:
    –“Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
    –“The Outsider Test for Faith” by John Loftus
    –“Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels

  • Thanks Gary. Yes believers need to know what and why they believe, and your three Christian titles are very good indeed. My only word of caution would be that while mature believers who know their faith and know it well may want to read the skeptics, the atheists and the critics, newer Christians are probably better advised to first strengthen their own faith by studying the good stuff. Later on they can tackle the skeptics if they so chose.

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