Because of recent trends in the church I’d like to quote a statement
from the well known book entitled "Christianity Through The
Centuries", written by Earle Carins, and first printed in 1954. This
book was our text for our church history course in Bible College. On page
172, under the sub-heading, "The Growth Of The Liturgy" Carins
writes, "the political union of the church and state under
Constantine and his successors led to the secularization of the
church. … The influx of pagans into the church throughout the mass
conversion movements of the era contributed to the paganization of
worship as the church tried to make these barbarian converts at
home in the fold".
During the fourth century Christianity became the legal religion of the
Roman Empire. This meant that you had to be a Christian in order to
receive the privileges of Roman citizenship. Thus most conversions were
probably not real, but conversions of convenience.
The fourth century church accommodated these pagan non-Christian
converts into the church in a number of ways. They built church buildings
that resembled pagan temples. Their teaching about Mary came close to
female goddess worship, something the pagans were used to. Statues were
erected as a form of worship. Symbols and traditions associated with pagan
worship became part of Christmas, which are still with us today. These,
among other things were attempts to make non-Christians feel "at home
in the fold", as Carins states.
This sounds strangely familiar to me because from my perspective we’re
beginning to do the same today. For example, the Anglican Church of Canada
met recently to discuss how to accommodate the secular person into their
church without straying "too far from their Biblical mandate",
as if they haven’t strayed too far already. They concluded that they
needed to become more inclusive. They specifically noted that they needed
to include the gay community into their church without having them feel
the pressure to change.
The United Church of Canada has already traveled this road by hiring
gay ministers. Beyond this, there are some who want to unionize their
clergy to protect them from church members. Just recently they’ve
written an official church statement protesting the bottling of water for
the purpose of retail sales.
"You should expect this from the mainline churches" you might
say. Well maybe so, but in my thinking parts of the Evangelical church are
heading in the same direction, howbeit the trend to accommodation is in
the name of evangelism.
We sing secular songs Sunday mornings because that’s what
non-Christians like. We ignore the word "repent" because we
wouldn’t want anyone squirming in their seats and not returning. Some
more evangelically orientated churches may present the non-Christian with
a quick "repeat after me prayer" for salvation, making them
think they’re in the fold when they might not be. All of these things
and more are attempts to make the non-Christian feel "at home in the
fold", hoping at some point they get saved. I understand the idea
behind this trend. I just don’t see its Biblical context.
The move to secularizing the church in the fourth century didn’t
work, and it won’t work now. It led to the disaster of the dark age of
church history. I even believe it helped spawn the Muslim religion. By
accommodating non-Christian elements into church life, I think we forsake
our Biblical mandate that calls everyone to repent and give his entire
life to our Lord Jesus Christ. Only then do people enter and feel at home
in the fold.
There’s only one door into the fold. There’s no back door to slip
in unnoticed, and there’s no side window to squeeze through. Anyone
wanting into the fold enters by the front door for all to see. It’s not
a secret thing as we’ve seen many times over the years. That is,
"just slip up your hand quickly while everyone has their eyes closed,
so no one will see you get saved" . We might as well get it right
from the beginning and make a public stand for Jesus.
We can learn something from the Christians in the first two centuries.
If someone was thinking of entering the fold back then, they seriously
weighed their decision because it was a dangerous place to be at times.
"Feeling at home" wasn’t necessarily the first thing on their
minds. By entering the fold, they’d certainly lose their prestige in
life, and possibly their jobs, and maybe even their lives. So the church
wasn’t thinking of accommodating anyone. They were thinking of their
survival and rescuing the non-Christian from the world. This mentality
changed by the fourth century, and now I wonder if the fourth century
mentality isn’t re-emerging today.