An internet Christian-themed video streaming provider recently sent out an invitation for a series from a well-known megachurch pastor. I decided to watch at least the first session.
The series was recorded as the sermons at the Sunday service at the speaker’s megachurch, reportedly one of the largest evangelical churches in America. In his introduction to the week one lecture that introduced his theme, the pastor invited hearers to put aside any skepticism about the Bible, and spoke of the conversion of Saul and his transformation to the Apostle Paul in Acts. The speaker noted, “You don’t have to accept any of this,” “This has nothing to do with believing the Bible,” and “Take this question seriously, even if you are not a Christian.” He displayed Ephesians 5:15-17, noting that Ephesians was a letter written telling Christians how to live, and introduced his theme for the series, “What’s the Wise Thing to Do?” Using words from the Ephesians passage as a sort of springboard, he exhorted hearers not to be “unwise,” or careless, but to be “wise,” or careful, and that “the days are evil”, so “don’t let the flow of culture take you where you don’t want to be.”
He then introduced three questions as a formula for making wise decisions. With the first, “In light of my past experience, what’s the wise thing to do?”, he emphasized that what is ok for one person may not be ok for another because of differing past experiences. The second question was, “In light of my current circumstances, what’s the wise thing to do?”, and the third, “In light of my future hopes and dreams, what’s the wise thing to do?”, noting that personal vision is often a catalyst for wise decisions. At the end of the talk, he assigned homework – “Ask it,” noting that in so doing one might learn something about oneself, and that perhaps people don’t always have their own best interests in mind, but maybe God does.
What hit me as I listened was not anything negative about this megachurch pastor’s formula. He could make a mint as a corporate motivational speaker. What really hit me was the thought that many hundreds of people had come to this church and its various satellite locations that week, and heard nothing of the gospel, had heard nothing of grace, nothing of faith and repentance, had heard the word “Jesus” mentioned in passing once or twice, had heard nothing from the Bible. The attenders likely heard a rousing contemporary music concert before this lecture, but at the end of the day they had not in any way worshipped God and had heard nothing from scripture that would impact their lives. Perhaps subsequent lectures in this series might have clearly included something like scriptural principles for decision-making or the Christian life or even included a clear explanation the gospel, but not this lecture. I listened to most of the second and last sermons in the series, but never heard anything of sin, salvation, grace, faith, or doctrine, and barely a mention Jesus.
Several weeks earlier, the same megachurch pastor was featured on a nationally syndicated Christian radio broadcast that I passively listen to on occasion. The two-part broadcast that aired around July 4 featured a sermon delivered at the megachurch, likely delivered the previous year in conjunction with July 4. He delivered a good lecture concerning American history, the founders, and patriotic themes. I recall agreeing with what he said almost in total. But at the time I remember thinking how tragic it was that a few thousand people had attended this man’s megachurch services that week and heard nothing of the gospel, nothing of Christ, nothing really from the Bible. They went to an event at what was billed as church, but it was devoid of worship and anything distinctly Christian. It was essentially a corporate event.
We are told that this is the way to “do church” today. It is surely a road to destruction. The New Testament book of Jude, verse 4 reminds us, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verses 12-13 remind, “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Impressive clouds, but empty.