“A Form of Godly Devotion”
IN THE face of dwindling support, the churches are trying desperately to rally or revive their membership. But the tactics they employ often make things worse. They exploit the pleasure-oriented mentality. How so? Consider a few examples of what the churches are doing to lure the unchurched to the pews:
“Today there are 3,000 clown ministry groups in the U.S. who put on big noses and suits of many colors in order to serve God,” reports Time magazine. Troupes calling themselves ‘Fools for Christ’ or ‘Holy Fools’ dance, juggle, mime, ride bicycles in church and pass out popcorn and throw confetti and balloons at the congregation. In Saskatoon, Canada, a convention of the Canadian Association for Pastoral Education included a course in “Christian clowning” as a means of reaching people.
“‘Get Their Attention’—Evangelist Does It With Karate.” That was the title of a newspaper article describing the “show-sermons” of a traveling Baptist preacher. “People don’t want to come out and hear a preacher preach, and tell them what’s wrong with them,” he explained. “But they’ll come out and see a karate expert.” The preacher said that most people stay for the sermon after watching the show. “Once in a while you’ll get one who leaves,” he added. “But not too often.”
Under the headline “Churches Use Magic To Lure Parishioners,” The Wall Street Journal quotes a pastor in Indiana as saying that “when a magician occupies the pulpit, people who haven’t attended in months show up for the services.” The nondenominational Fellowship of Christian Magicians estimates that there are over a thousand magician-ministers nationwide, and it sponsors seminars each summer to teach new tricks.
“There’s a Peeler in the Pulpit” is how one newspaper reported on what went on in a Dallas Unitarian church. The church featured an “exotic dancer” in its Sunday services, and “when she was through there was nothing left but her G-string and the congregation’s imagination,” said the report. Children along with the church’s 200 adult members attend the performances. “I haven’t had one complaint,” the minister said. “It fit very well into our service.”
These are by no means isolated incidents in some strange sects or cults. The so-called respectable, established churches are resorting to the same gimmicks. In addition to clowns and magicians, they employ the services of folksingers, rock groups, belly dancers, astronauts, movie stars and other celebrities, in an effort to bolster their waning appeal.
But even if some “lost souls” are thus attracted to the church, are they really being helped to become “lovers of God” if what interests them is an “exotic” dance or a magic show? To the contrary, are they not thus being made into “lovers of pleasures” all the more, and with a silenced conscience because they now can indulge themselves with the approval of the church? Truly, they have become persons “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.”—2 Timothy 3:5.
All of this prompted clergyman William Rauscher to say: “Today too many churches have become Holy Ghost entertainment centers which are more spooky than holy. Much that now masquerades as religion would shock St. Paul.” Actually, though, the apostle Paul would hardly be shocked. And why not? Because, as we have seen, he was inspired to write that in the last days people would “put pleasure in the place of God”!
By the expression “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God” (New World Translation), the apostle Paul calls attention to the contradiction and inconsistency, and thus the hypocrisy, of such people. Though they still want some religion in their lives, they have put pleasure in place of God as the object of their love and devotion. In so doing, they have made pleasure their god.
The rise of secularism and the dwindling of support for the churches are further clear evidences that we are living in the last days of the present system of things. But, more than that, these things indicate that we are living at the very end, the closing phase, of the last days.