Silent Night or Acid Trip?: When it’s hard to tell the difference
[Photo: Jeff Maples, South Korea, 2001]
For those who don’t know my history, you might have a hard time understanding why I fight so hard for purity in the church, and for doctrinal truth. I was one of those who grew up thinking I was saved because I had raised my hand and prayed a prayer. There was no evidence of change in my life. It was simply a get-out-of-hell-free card. I grew up under a semi-charismatic preacher at a semi-seeker-friendly church under a weak youth ministry that spent a lot of time on entertainment. I don’t remember a lot of deep theological bible study or preaching. There was a lot of “encouragement” to “do the right thing,” and to “act like a Christian,” yet little understanding of what it meant to be saved. I’m not saying the Gospel was never preached, still I never had a youth pastor or preacher make me uncomfortable enough in my sin to either repent–or leave.
After I’d graduated high school, I moved away from home and went away to school for a couple of years. I really didn’t miss church, but I did miss friends. But my life was different. Drinking and partying became a prominent part of my life. I felt no guilt over it. However, it did become a difficult lifestyle to maintain while trying to study at school. So I decided that joining the military might be a better way to go, and joined the Army. All went well for a while until I went to my first duty station in South Korea. That’s when all hell broke loose, literally. I became very involved in the rave scene in this country. If you don’t know what “raving” is, it’s a type of party centered around demonic techno music and using illegal drugs, namely ecstasy, to increase your experience. These drug parties with their hypnotic, repetitive music and seizure causing flashing light shows would put people into a zombie-like trance, and people would dance in high-energy mode for hours. A typical party would easily last until 6 am, and often, people would go to “after-parties” to wind down.
While in South Korea, I was caught with drugs, and after spending a few months in jail, I was ultimately kicked out of the army. But this was a lifestyle I continued for several years afterward. To make a long story short, after a sequence of events that included my father passing away of cancer, and me getting married to a Roman Catholic, by the sheer Grace of God, I was yanked out of the pits of Hell on earth. After meeting my future wife, I had a very strong desire to reading and studying God’s Word. It was through the study of his Word, and hearing it preached, that God finally revealed himself to me, and I was unable to resist his Grace.
Enter the church.
My wife and I began going to church. We would sometimes alternate between visiting her Roman Catholic church, and visiting the Southern Baptist church I grew up in. Now that I was saved, it started to become clear that this arrangement wasn’t going to work. I became very uncomfortable sitting in the pews in her Catholic church. I did, also, begin to notice several problems with some of the things that had in the past taken place, and were continuing to take place in my Baptist church. But I wasn’t yet grounded deep enough in the Word to be able to quite put my finger on it. There was quite a bit of topical and eisegetical preaching, and some of the Sunday School teachers just weren’t able to answer some of the questions we had.
Eventually, the pastor retired, and our current pastor took over leadership of the church. My wife soon followed suit, forsaking her Catholic tradition. She was saved, and was subsequently baptized. Under the leadership of our new pastor, and through years of bible study, the past problems of the seeker-friendly church I grew up in became abundantly clear. I believe Charles Spurgeon explained it best, as he says,
I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.
In The Soul-Winner, by Charles Spurgeon, he speaks of a sad state of the church–one that cherishes entertainment over genuine worship. A church that “craves the freedom” to “live like worldlings.” The church had downgraded into an industry whose purpose was to attract men rather than preach the Word of God. A seeker friendly church. A church that did “things that which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated.” A church just like today’s typical modern church.
Just like the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22). A church that is neither hot or cold. A church that is materially rich and prosperous, but theologically wretched, naked, and poor. And who God will spit out of his mouth because of their lukewarmness.
A church just like Prestonwood Baptist Church.
At Prestonwood Baptist C̶h̶u̶r̶c̶h̶ Theater, in Plano, Tx, you could have purchased your Premium Ticket Package to the Gift of Christmas Show, which included convenient parking, premium reserved seating, for only $80.00. That is, of course, if you got them before they sold out. This year’s show was fantastic. It included hypnotic repetitive music, and flashing laser light shows. The only thing missing was the ecstasy.
For a moment there I was re-living my previous life. A life before being born again. A life when I was once attracted to these worldly things, like these altered states of mind. A mind devoid of the things of Christ. But the fact is, as a born again Christian, one who actually lived through this life and was saved out of by the Grace of God, I could not imagine having to sit through a so-called Christian event like the one Prestonwood puts on. It’s beyond worldly, it’s demonic.
Truth be told, Even as a nonbeliever who was caught up in the parties, I wouldn’t have been attracted to go to this event that was masquerading as Christian. This would have come off as really cheesy, and would have been a turn-off from church altogether. However, as a youth growing up in high school, who thought I was saved, this may have been entertaining. It’s exactly for the luke-warm so-called “seekers.” Those who think they are seeking God, but are really seeking pleasure. The Scriptures say that nobody seeks God (Romans 3:11, John 6:44). If you think you’re seeking God, you’re lying to yourself. It is God who seeks us (Luke 19:10).
Yet, sadly, this “middle-ground” approach is only entertaining the goats. People come to have their ears tickled, but don’t want to hear about the depravity of their soul. Even if there is any Gospel being presented or preached at this event, it is completely overshadowed by the demonic influence of the show itself. John Calvin says in Institutes of the Christian Religion,
I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities, than to contemplate what must overwhelm us with shame—our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind than flattery, and, accordingly, when told that its endowments are of a high order, it is apt to be excessively credulous.
Goats will come to be entertained, to be talked up, to be motivated, and completely miss any truth if it’s presented, because it’s veiled behind all of the error. And that’s how Satan works. He mixes a little bit of truth with error (1 John 4:1-6). The people attracted to this garbage are luke-warm Christians. Probably many of whom have prayed some prayer, but have no evidence of regeneration, no changed heart, no fruits of the spirit. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” They, as Spurgeon says, still have a hungering for dog’s meat. And that’s exactly what churches like Prestonwood (the Laodicean church) is feeding their congregations. In fact, in his book, Spurgeon says to these people that crave this stuff,
Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering for such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage! Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children, you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys…
What Prestonwood does with its entertainment industry is the exact kind of downgrade Spurgeon spent his ministry warning people about. Folks, this is not of God. This is purely a distraction from God’s grace. God’s Word is pure enough, interesting enough, and all sufficient to save his people. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross for our entertainment and enjoyment. He didn’t even do it primarily to save us from Hell. Jesus died on the cross so that we, who are born of water and the Spirit, could reflect His glory back on to him through our lives and worship. Period.
And Prestonwood, and other churches like it, have made a pure mockery of his grace through this man-centered entertainment industry that has taken over the visible Church. My eyes, by the grace of God, have been opened to this filth spanning the far reaches of Christendom. I personally have seen many of whom I would once have though to be “strong Christians” become so obsessed and so attracted to the wordly pleasures masquerading as church, that it makes me cringe.
In the words of John Calvin, “a dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
I don’t care if people think I’m mean. I don’t care if people think I’m divisive. I don’t care if people think I should “tone down the rhetoric.” I don’t care if people unfriend me, on social media or real life. I don’t care if anonymous trolls attack me online. People are dying and going to Hell faster and faster every day. We don’t have time to sit down and have coffee with everyone. If you believe that somehow my “tone” or “kindness” is going to interfere with the Holy Spirit working through the truth of God’s word being spoken, you need to rethink your beliefs. There are people out there, lost, just like I was, and if someone doesn’t reach them with the truth, their eternity is Hell.
If God can reach down into the darkest pits of Hell and save a wretch like me, he can save anyone. Nobody was nice to me about it. I was simply presented with the cold, hard truth.
[Contributed by Jeff Maples]
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