Christian Pomp

What would the public think of Christianity if all the skeletons in the personal and corporate closets were dragged out?

J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

The April 6 issue of Time magazine carried as its cover story what the editors described as a "sex-and-money scandal" that tarnishes "electronic evangelism." The problem is that not only does the scandal tarnish the electronic evangelist, but it may adversely affect the attitude of the public toward ministers and Christianity in general.

Perhaps Time's strongest rebuke came in the lead paragraph, which quoted Ephesians 4:1-3. "Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."* The next several pages were filled with heartbreaking words and pictures that disgrace the name of Christianity! Involved in the scandal are multimillion-dollar spiritual empires involving luxury, sex, greed, drugs, and ministerial rivalries. The article used the term "spiritual black mail" to describe the fund-raising method used by a leading evangelist.

The stories exposed in the article probably represent only the tip of the iceberg. What would the public think of Christianity if all the skeletons in the personal and corporate closets were dragged out? Perhaps it is time for all of us as clergypersons to take careful inventory of our lifestyles.

Included in the saviourhood of Christ is His being a role model for all Christians, especially His ministers. His call to His disciples, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men," is unmistakable in intent. What do the words "follow me" mean in today's society? Shouldn't the application of these words be the same anytime, anywhere, in any society?

Rome in Christ's day had its extravagance of home, dress, sports, theater, and lifestyle that was in sharp contrast to the poverty and slavery of a large segment of society. With which group did Christ identify? He chose to live on the poverty level. Why didn't Jesus invade our earth adorned in scarlet-and gold-colored robes, bedecked with precious jewelry in order to attract attention to Himself? Why didn't He urge His followers to erect ornate churches and temples? Why did He not plan to be born in a wealthy family of renown? Why did He choose a barn for His first earthly residence rather than a marble-pillared palace? Why did He labor in a carpenter's shop for 30 years before entering His public ministry? His lifestyle and methods of evangelism were unlike the customs and practices of most religions in His day and ours. The ultimate question is What was the point in the way He lived and worked? Obviously His work of redemption is not accomplished through outward show. He clothed His divinity with a common humanity and lifestyle that would cause us to become familiar with His perfect character and gospel purpose without being hindered by outward show. Nothing connected with surface display must obscure this precious principle.

Jesus joined the prophets' hall of fame by living a humble life. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that our spiritual Old Testament forefathers were "strangers and exiles on the earth." Note that Moses rejected the opportunity to "live it up" as Pharaoh's daughter's son. He deliberately chose to endure hardship and abuse as a man of God.

Throughout history you can trace two distinct types of philosophies related to religious lifestyle and practice. The one type seems to be dedicated to attracting adherents through display and ceremonies that appeal to the senses of the masses. Magnificent churches, colorfully arrayed ministers, lavish processions, sparkling altars, ostentatious shrines, sublime artwork, exquisite sculpture, rich music—all captivate the eye and ear. From this ultimate outward splendor stem more subdued variations, but the show is only a mockery to the longings of the sin-sick soul.

What a contrast between the show and froth of the religious hucksters and the religion of Christ. Paul, a true minister of Christ and martyr for the gospel, sums up beautifully the lifestyle of our Lord in Philippians 2:5-8. "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

Fellow ministers, when tempted to attract attention by the way you dress, remember these words. When tempted to emphasize sermonic brilliancy of style as the major goal in preaching, remember these words. When tempted to increase your income through sidelines in order to have more of life's nonnecessities, remember these words. When tempted to build a mansion rather than a functional home as a residence, remember these words. When tempted to erect a church temple as a memorial to your own ego, remember these words.

Let the world understand that no external decorations can enhance the light shining from the cross. Let your lifestyle tell the world that value in God's sight is determined by a meek and quiet spirit, which is the true beauty of holiness. A religion that elevates the externals attracts unrenewed hearts. The unregenerate heart clamors for philosophies that equate salvation with ceremony, and spirituality with show. The world is eager for bread made from stones. Rise up, O church of God, and live in harmony with our pattern, Jesus Christ.—J. Robert Spangler.


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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

July 1987

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