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Watch and warn

Three trends that threaten the health of Christ's church

Issue: "Gunpoint evangelist," Oct. 9, 1999

In ancient Israel watchmen were posted in towers on the walls of the city. The watchman reported what he saw from his special vantage point-the approach of a messenger, the progress of a battle, the advance of an enemy. The Lord appointed his prophets as spiritual watchmen in Israel. Today, pastors and elders fulfill a similar role in the life of the church. I want to point to three trends which I believe threaten the health and vitality of Christianity and Christ's church.

Enthrallment with entertainment. You know what we do with babies to keep them from getting bored and irritable? We entertain them. We make sounds and faces; we shake rattles; we bounce them up and down. With a baby no particular form of entertainment has an effect for very long, so we have to keep moving and changing to keep them entertained. Increasingly that's happening with adults as well.

We may choose passive entertainment, content to spend endless mindless hours in front of the television set. Or we may prefer active entertainment-going from golf course to movie theater to restaurant to lake. The point is that we no longer look at life in terms of responsibility, work, and productivity. Our entertainments are no longer temporary diversions that refresh and enrich our lives; they have become the real business of life.

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Our enthrallment with entertainment has a negative impact on us because it is contrary to the nature of man and creation. God created us to work and to exercise dominion over creation and to find pleasure and significance in exercising dominion through our work.

Enthrallment to entertainment also has a negative impact on the life of the church. Some come to church not to worship, but to be entertained. And many are content to sit, watch, and take what interests them, but they feel no compulsion to serve. We greatly need to grow up, to assume responsibility, and to devote ourselves to accomplishing things for God in church and in all of life.

Submission to psychology. A number of years ago a young woman came to share with me the insights she and her husband had attained from understanding "co-dependency." This insight, she believed, had transformed the relationships in her life. I listened and then asked, "Do you believe a Christian coming from your background and facing your challenges could have been a healthy and useful Christian in the first century?" My point was that, if God's people had to wait almost 2,000 years for psychologists to discover "co-dependency" in order to be healthy and useful, then the gospel is not adequate for our deepest needs.

Aggressive psychology claims that real understanding and real solutions come from psychology. Do you know what the "psych" part of psychology means? It means "soul." Psychology is "soul-ology." Aggressive psychology and Christianity are in conflict because they are competing for the same territory-the soul of man.

There is a place for medical treatment of that mysterious nexus of body and soul. There is a role for careful description and analysis of patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. The best pastors have always done this. But I have concluded that either aggressive psychology is true or the gospel is.

We need a renewed realism-life in this world will never be without struggle, pain, and conflict. But most of all we need fresh confidence in the gospel as "God's solution for the plight of man."

Secularization of the Sabbath. Increasingly Sunday is treated, not only by the world but also by Christians, as just another day, though traditionally the one on which Christians hold their main meetings. Lacking is any sense that the day should be treated as holy, i.e., set apart from common use and devoted to the Lord.

For many, gathering on Sunday with the assembled congregation is just one of many legitimate activities like shopping, catching up on chores, or attending an extended family picnic. My purpose in pointing out the loss of a sense of Sabbath is not to attempt to give an exhaustive list of allowed and forbidden activities. I assert only that God claims the day and that on it corporate worship takes priority over everything else.

Christianity cannot survive as one of many competing interests in our lives. The church cannot be strong when there is no day set aside for worship. God knows this. He has claimed one day out of seven, and He calls His people to give it to Him in holy rest, worship, and service.

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