Christless Christianity

Wednesday, December 6, 2023


The following is a quotation from Michael Horton's excellent book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. This sums up my experience visiting churches during my recent sabbatical...

"What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma’am,' and the churches would be full every Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

"It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer. We can still give our assent to a high view of Christ and the centrality of his person and work, but in actual practice we are being distracted from 'looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith' (Heb. 12:2). A lot of the things that distract us from Christ these days are even good things. In order to push us off-point, all that Satan has to do is throw several spiritual fads, moral and political crusades, and other 'relevance' operations into our field of vision. Focusing the conversation on us—our desires, needs, feelings, experience, activity, and aspirations—energizes us. At last, now we’re talking about something practical and relevant.

"As provocative as Barnhouse’s illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point made throughout the history of redemption. Wherever Christ is truly and clearly being proclaimed, Satan is most actively present in opposition.... He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the banality of popular culture and invoke Christ’s name for anything and everything but salvation from the coming judgment.... While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness.

"I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups."

Calling ourselves a church, carrying around a Bible, and invoking "Jesus' name" at the end of our prayers that we use as a way to announce that a meeting is over... That is all just packaging. The important thing is the content and the focus inside the packaging. If Christ is only present in the packaging, then the message is devoid of gospel power and, frankly, none of our business.

Here is what the Apostle Paul said about the nature, character, and content of ministry...

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)

Pastor Noel