About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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The Accommodating Church

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.

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