Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tozer’s Third Concern – Worship and Entertainment

Perhaps Tozer used more ink on the topic of worship than on any other. As Tozer watched the heritage of Christianity being exchanged for a religion that sought credibility in its intellectualism and popularity through its pragmatism, he saw the ultimate casualty was Christian worship. For as genuine illumination of the Scriptures dissipates, and as fervent obedience to Christ’s lordship weakens, what must suffer is the church’s very concept of God. So he would write, “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.”

Pragmatists use whatever means to achieve their ends. The problem for a pragmatic Christian is that worship is not a means to some other end. Worship has no instrumental use. Worship is an end in itself. Indeed, it is the chief end of man.  So, what does a pragmatic Christianity do with this activity, if the ends it is pursuing happen to be greater numbers, increased budgets, greater publicity, or an enlarged ministry? It faces a dilemma, for worship claims to be an end greater than these. The answer of 20th & 21st century Christianity has been to turn worship into a means for one of these other ends. Specifically, as Tozer pointed out, worship was now becoming a form of entertainment.

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life, and even brought into being a new type of church architecture, designed to house the golden calf. (Man, the Dwelling Place of God)

Tozer knew then, as few seem to know today, that the act of adoration and admiration is very different from the act of amusement. Amusement, as Tozer meant the word, means mere time-wasting, passive boredom-relief with anything lightweight, banal or fun. Amusement, by this definition, cannot be serious, demanding, or humbling – all the things that the adoration of God must be. Tozer saw this in the atmosphere of the religious meetings, the abandonment of the hymns of Watts and Wesley for the hymns of Sankey and Peterson, the preference for the casual and informal over the sober in prayer and preaching, the entrance of the erotic and romantic into the music and lyrics of Christian songs, the popularity of games and the comic in Christian meetings, and the growing phenomenon of the religious movie. Tozer saw the sad irony that liberal churches retained the form of beauty while denying its power, and those that professed the supernatural gospel were capitulating to the cultural ugliness of popular culture.

Religious music has long ago fallen victim to this weak and twisted philosophy of godliness. Good hymnody has been betrayed and subverted by noisy, uncouth persons who have too long operated under the immunity afforded them by the timidity of the saints. The tragic result is that for one entire generation we have been rearing Christians who are in complete ignorance of the golden treasury of songs and hymns left us by the ages. The tin horn has been substituted for the silver trumpet, and our religious leaders have been afraid to protest.
It is ironic that the modernistic churches which deny the theology of the great hymns nevertheless sing them, and regenerated Christians who believe them are yet not singing them; in their stead are songs without theological content set to music without beauty.
Not our religious literature only and our hymnody have suffered from the notion that love to be true to itself must be silent in the presence of any and every abomination, but almost every phase of our church life has suffered also. Once a Bible and a hymnbook were enough to allow gospel Christians to express their joy in the public assembly, but now it requires tons of gadgets to satisfy the pagan appetites of persons who call themselves Christians. (The Size of the Soul)

The remedy for this is both simple and painful for the entertainment addict. Obtain a Bible and an older hymnbook. Meditate on God Himself in Scripture. Use the vehicle of the hymns of Watts, Wesley, Tersteegen, Gerhardt, Clairvaux, Newton, Faber to express (and shape expression of) admiration for God. Adore God for who He is. Understand that you will have to be silent, submissive, humble, and earnest. Know that the true experience of worship is “to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.”

This will not drive out entertainment from the church, but it may do so for your own soul.

Tozer’s Second Concern – Pragmatism

Tozer had the uncommon ability to step aside from his own culture, and see as alien what had become natural. Tozer saw that the pragmatic philosophy of Americans, which had brought such material success to the nation, was devastating the evangelical church. He wrote: “As one fairly familiar with the contemporary religious scene, I say without hesitation that a part, a very large part, of the activities carried on today in evangelical circles are not only influenced by pragmatism but almost completely controlled by it. Religious methodology is geared to it; it appears large in our youth meetings; magazines and books constantly glorify it; conventions are dominated by it; and the whole religious atmosphere is alive with it.” (“Pragmatism Goes to Church”, in God Tells the Man Who Cares.)

What was he referring to? What form did pragmatism take in the mid-twentieth century? The introduction of amusement into worship to make it familiar, fun, compelling and therefore popular. The replacement of the hymn heritage of the church with gospel songs, and singspiration hymns. The changing approach to youth ministry: segmenting the youth into herds, becoming a celebration of juvenility and silliness to make church fun and popular. The ministerial ambition for success, measured by the number of attendees, number of supposed converts, size of building programs, and size of annual budgets. The prevalent and increasing appeal of celebrityism, and the increasing place of publicity in Christian ministry. The commercialization of worship and discipleship and the subversion of the pulpit to pander to the tithers.  This had begun in the 19th century, particularly under Charles Finney, picked up speed after the Civil War, gained impetus under D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and J. Frank Norris, and was by the mid-twentieth century, in Tozer’s words, the makeup of the whole religious atmosphere.

Tozer saw further. He recognized that pragmatism eventually affects the gospel itself. If all things are judged by their utilitarian value, that soon enough happens to Christ. “That Utilitarian Christ” is an article Tozer wrote to warn that the American gospel was fast becoming a means to man’s own selfish ends. “The New Cross”, Tozer would say, does not slay men, but leaves the old man very much alive, ready to consume certain religious habits he finds attractive.

Tozer died in 1963. The Jesus Movement would begin by the late 60s. Larry Norman, considered the father of Christian Rock, would release his first Christian Rock album in 1969. Bill Hybels would establish Willow Creek in 1975. Hillsong would release “The Power of Your Love” in 1992. Rick Warren would write “The Purpose-Driven Church” in 1995. In 1999, Joel Osteen would take over at Lakewood Church. In 2005, Time magazine would list among its 25 most influential evangelicals Rick Warren, Ted Haggard, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, James Dobson, and Brian McLaren. And in 1993, John MacArthur would write in his critique of pragmatism in the church, Ashamed of the Gospel, that what was now commonplace in the church was “staged wrestling matches, pie-fights, special-effects systems that can produce smoke, fire, sparks, and laser lights in the auditorium, punk-rockers, ventriloquists’ dummies, dancers, weight-lifters, professional wrestlers, knife-throwers, body-builders, comedians, clowns, jugglers, rapmasters, show-business celebrities, reduced length of sermons, restaurants, ballrooms, roller-skating rinks, and more.”

The last article Tozer wrote before his death was appropriately on the remedy for pragmatism. It was entitled, “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches”.  Imagine if we heeded these words, 53 years later:

“For the true Christian the one supreme test for the present soundness and ultimate worth of everything religious must be the place our Lord occupies in it. Is He Lord or symbol? Is He in charge of the project or merely one of the crew? Does He decide things or only help to carry out the plans of others? All religious activities, from the simplest act of an individual Christian to the ponderous and expensive operations of a whole denomination, may be proved by the answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ Lord in this act? Whether our works prove to be wood, hay and stubble or gold and silver and precious stones in that great day will depend upon the right answer to that question.”