While church attendance is down in traditional Protestant denominations, this is not the case in evangelical churches. Church attendance in many of these churches is booming. What is different is that worship services do not consist of staid formalities. Gloomy silence and religious dogma cannot be found. Rather, services incorporate a theatrical approach in order to produce an emotional response. Informal toe-tapping music replaces the standard fare. Pipe organs and hymnals are gone, replaced by rock bands and big-screen projections. Services often begin with electric guitars, a full drum set, keyboards, backup singers, and a lead vocalist. Many of these churches have become mega churches, boasting a weekly attendance of thousands. In the late 90s there were more than 300 mega churches. Today the figure is around 850. These are churches with a membership of more than 2,000 and many will have coffee shops and a book store-as one writer says, “A Barnes and Noble kind of place.”
The key to attracting members is an emotional appeal that is non-threatening. At these churches one is more likely to get coffee and bagels than fire and brimstone. Messages about sin and condemnation, or anything that is argumentative, are not given. Pastors do not preach the Word of God or take any doctrinal stand. To do so in such a mixed congregation would be offensive to any number of people, and pastors simply cannot afford to offend anyone. As a result, shallow messages about Christian life, self-esteem, and dealing with personal problems are employed. But this in itself will not generate a desire for people to attend, so entertainment must be utilized to draw in and keep up the numbers. The aim is to help people to enjoy themselves and to gain a sense of powerfulness and joyfulness. So that members will feel positive and energized, church services are designed to create an emotionally uplifting experience. Such a response is bound to bring people back week after week. In brief, these churches promote a “feel good” religion, and worship has become entertainment.
Appeals to the Desire to Feel Good
Why is this response to mega churches popular? The answer is that people like to feel good about worship. Sermons that correct and convict are generally not popular. To feel bad about what one does in his personal or business life can bring about a great deal of anguish. It is much easier to be comfortable about one’s religion, so for this reason an attractive alternative is sought. While men generally desire to be good and to be well thought of, the Bible states: “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.” (Eccl. 7:29 NKJV). The Living Bible makes the meaning plainer. “And I found that though God has made men upright, each has turned away to follow his own downward road.” The most difficult thing for most men to do is to receive correction. “O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return” (Jer. 5:3).
Human nature being what it is, there are few that will respond to a worship service that corrects. Most of these churches are filled with people who know nothing about doctrinal truth, and are completely unaware of the responsibility placed on the ministry. To the ministry the Bible instructs: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Rather what is taking place is this: ” . . . My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). ” . . . This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isa. 30:9-10). The kind of worship in these churches could not be successful if people did not want it to be. Mega churches are a big business. Some mega churches have a budget larger than some cities, and since their membership is made up of suburbanites and college-educated couples with children, money problems are rare. Each week brings in a solid income of offerings for the church.
Gets One By Easily as Possible
No doubt members of mega churches believe they are Christians. To believe otherwise would be devastating. Like most today who profess Christianity, they believe that one simply has to accept Christ to be saved. Yet Jesus said: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) According to James, merely believing is not enough. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:17-20)
The prophet Ezekiel described this kind of worship in his day:
Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking [about] thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. (Ezek. 33:30-32)
This is what Isaiah warned: “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isa. 48:1). Even in the New Testament we read: “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). Many who attend mega churches may be shocked to know that “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).:4).
The fact is: Mega churches make it easy to be a Christian. Nothing is taught about the need to truly repent of sin-breaking the Ten Commandments. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Nothing is taught about what happens to the individual when he or she comes to repentance. Nothing is said about the requirement to be immersed for baptism. Nothing is stated about the need to overcome the evil pulls of human nature. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). Nothing is stated about the power of the Holy Spirit that can enable one to conquer these evil pulls. Nothing is taught about the real purpose of life, and what man must do to attain it. People are simply taught to enjoy themselves and to fellowship with one another. They have never been taught “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13).
Convinces Others That
One Is a Righteous Person
It is quite one thing to appear to be righteous and to actually be righteous. There is a big difference between the two. The Apostle John describes the righteousness that is acceptable to God: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [Christ] is righteous” (1 John 3:7). The Bible clearly defines righteousness: “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172).
In His day Jesus severely criticized the Pharisees. Even though they sat in Moses seat, He said: “But all their works they do for to be seen of men . . . ” (Matt. 23:5). Making a good impression was all important for these religious leaders.
Jesus warned His followers:
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven . . . . And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward . . . . Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:1, 5, 16).
Luke records Christ’s denunciation of the scribes: “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation” (Luke 20:46-47). For these religious leaders, religion was largely a show, and even though they thought they were righteous, they were far from it. Jesus said: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). They were very detailed in their obedience to God, so much so that they ignored the more important things. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). They were attentive to particulars, but emphasized physical obedience over love for God and love for fellow man. They appeared to be righteous enough, but notice what Jesus said: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:27-28).
These religious leaders were so respected by the people that there was little chance they would ever admit they were wrong and change. In a verbal exchange with them Jesus said: ” . . . Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). But men cannot read hearts, so for that reason many influential people faithfully adhered to them and followed their example. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him [Christ]; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). This is why Jesus said: “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44)
The problem of inflated self-esteem is ever present in human nature. Paul warned of it in his letters. “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3). One who thinks himself to be righteous may be found to be lacking. “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth” (2 Cor. 10:18). Even the book of Ecclesiastes warns: “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” (Eccl. 7:16). It is very easy to attach oneself to a prestigious church and assume a posture of satisfaction. Mega churches, by their approach, cultivate such an attitude. But church attendance of itself, regardless of the church one attends, is not the hallmark of righteousness. Obedience to the Ten Commandments is. “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Gal. 6:4).
Leads to Unwillingness
to Accept Reality
In a feel good religion one is unaware of the reality of his status. The problem with many people, however, is the fact that they refuse to accept reality when it is presented to them. Ayn Rand once wrote that one may evade reality, but will not evade the consequences of evading reality. When it comes to a feel good religion, reality is generally evaded. What is the reality that is being evaded? It is the fact that true religion requires obedience to the Ten Commandments, and not merely feeling good. God’s Commandments were given for man’s good. “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” (Deut. 10:12-13) But most men do not regard obedience to the Ten Commandments to be good or even necessary. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
What did the Apostle Paul say about the Law of God? “Wherefore the law is holy and the commandment holy, and just, and good . . . . For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Rom. 7:12, 14-15). The Apostle James made this clear statement: “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well . . . . For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:8, 10-11).
Since men are free moral agents, they are given the choice to either obey or disobey God. God said: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). One who refuses to face reality will refuse to accept the seriousness of this human life and its purpose. Many have been deceived into thinking that all that is necessary for salvation is to believe in Christ and to attend church. Perhaps this is why Jeremiah wrote: “For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish [silly] children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jer. 4:22). Why? Because they evade reality. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), and countless numbers of people, while professing Christ, do not obey God’s Law. They believe they are Christian, but what did Christ say? “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament. Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. The refusal to obey what Christ taught in both the Old and New Testaments is the result of evading reality. “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:28-29) “And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?” (Isa. 10:3). Evading reality means that one may never realize the purpose for which God placed him or her on this earth. The real purpose of God in creating man requires facing reality and conforming to what God requires man to do to achieve salvation (Matt. 19:17). And that is much more than merely believing.
Offers No Real Solution
to Man’s Condition
A feel good religion offers no real solution to the present state of man. We have already seen from Christ’s statement in Mark 7:21-22 that man is born with human nature. This nature must be overcome. Paul further describes this nature.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
How many people in feel good religions are guilty of these things, even to a minor degree? Remember what James wrote. He said that to violate one point of God’s Law makes one guilty of all, to do so makes one a sinner, subject to eternal death. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof . . . . For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:12, 23). “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14).
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph. 5:3-5)
What did David write about life on this earth? “Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps. 39:5). Life is short, and men should make the most of it. But there is much to overcome. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16-17). “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:8).
Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can man overcome. But he must first repent of sin. This is why the Apostle Peter said: ” . . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38). Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for breaking God’s Law and recognizing that Christ shed His blood for our personal sins. It then means to turn around and go the other way-to stop sinning. The power of God by means of the Holy Spirit can help one master the pulls of evil human nature. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh . . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death . . . . That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit . . . . For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8: 1-2, 13-14). This is the real solution to the human problem. It is not found by a good feeling created by well-meaning but deceived ministers who convince people that religion is merely attending services that cater to one’s emotions.
A Serious Form of Self-Deception
A deceived man does not know he is deceived. If he did he would likely change his approach to worship. What has happened in many of these mega churches is that congregations have fallen prey to a serious form of self-deception. They believe that by the anticipation of joy each week at services, along with experiencing a good feeling, they are truly worshipping God-far from it. The Apostle Paul warned that many who profess God are not living up to what the Bible requires. They are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:4). They have a form of godliness but deny the real power God provides (v. 5). Most people who attend these churches have been led to believe that the works the Bible requires are not necessary. They believe that what is really acceptable is to experience a religious feeling.
Do not expect any change soon in this form of “worship.” People who feel satisfied are not likely to desire any other form of religion. As Isaiah the prophet wrote: ” . . . A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isa. 44:20) As noted at the beginning of this section, a deceived man does not know he is deceived. This is why the Bible warns that ” . . . evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). There is big money to be made in these churches. The preachers know how to fill the seats and bring in the money. As Paul wrote to the Romans: “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18).
Contrary to this view is the Bible one. True Christians are not to be deceived, and true ministers are to fearlessly preach the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts. This is why Paul instructed Timothy: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head . . . ” (Ps. 141:5). Why? “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14).
The true children of God have been given Bible understanding. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). “Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth” (1 John 2:8).
What needs to be realized is that the true worship of God is not ensconced in emotion and good feelings only. While this may be a part of one’s relationship with God, it is by no means the total. The Bible tells us that much tribulation is required to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). A good feeling religion does not meet this requirement. One cannot be a Christian and go through life by being emotionally charged each week with non-threatening messages. Men must face up to what they really are, and to own up to their sins and shortcomings, and to face the pain of really repenting and changing.
Consider these Scriptures: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4: 12-13). “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). These texts and many more are what the Bible teaches. It does not teach or advocate a “feel good religion.”