Is your church preaching the Gospel or is it preaching humanism?
I have had the opportunity to visit several churches in the past year. In some cases, I’ve been called to preach. In other instances, my wife and I just decided to visit. A handful warmed our hearts with the unadulterated preaching of the gospel. However, a good number centred their pulpit ministry on humanism. The long and short of modern-day humanism is that it elevates the goodness of man above the glory of God. It is often politically correct. It is afraid to speak truth lest someone’s subjective feelings get offended. It is sensational, feel-good and me-centred. In a nutshell, it’s all about you; your happiness, your feelings, your methods, your ideas, your comfort and your preferences. Humanism is an antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus that tells us to die to self (Galatians 5:24, Luke 9:23, Galatians 2:20).
In one instance, my friend was concerned that his church was departing from using the Bible to preach the sermons. The backbone of his pastor’s sermons would be pop culture references like Tiger Woods’ new golf win or the latest episode of a popular TV series. The scriptures then became supporting casts to the pop culture’s main message instead of the references supporting the word of God. And at the end of the sermon, you almost felt as if you need to catch up with the latest season of Game of Thrones if you want to understand next week’s sermon. The pastor’s defence was that he wanted to make the sermons interesting. What his congregants were not telling him is that they left the “presence of the Lord” as hungry as, or hungrier than, they came. One may read this to assume that I am against pop culture references in their entirety; that would be untrue. Certain pop culture references (not all) can be useful in driving the point home. However, the point is to state that cultural references should never replace the scriptures, as humanism often does. Our responsibility is to break down the word of God and not conduct an exposition of the latest iMax film. I’m also wary of referencing pop culture imagery that spits at the face of God. Some pop culture references often betray the preaching of the word because of their overtly sinful attributes.
Another friend summarises his experience by saying, “My church is a hoax. I get more spiritual refreshment reading a chapter of the Bible at home. Plus I don’t get seduced by my pastor to watch some of the carnal entertainment that God has delivered me from.” It’s a day when humanism replaces the Gospel, Beloved. The shepherds have forgotten that we are called to feed the sheep and not entertain the goats. One day he got the courage to confront his pastor lovingly (because the elders refused) on his spiritual dryness. His pastor confessed that he had neither read the Bible nor prayed in more than a year. The confession was not in remorse but rather in incredulity and perhaps to comfort my friend who was in a dry season. Reading the Bible and praying had been relegated to a resolution the pastor had horribly failed to keep, almost like brushing up on your French or going to the gym but failing to do so since last year. Yet he was on the pulpit at least twice a month. Was it a wonder that the core message of his sermons was centred on themes like “just love yourself more”?
The concept of loving self is a key sign of humanism. In our culture is often rooted in a form of narcissism. And narcissism is a strain of humanism. The Old Testament, The writers of the Gospels, Christ himself, Paul the Apostle and the short epistles lay emphasis on loving God and loving your neighbour. Jesus says to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). The assumption is that you love yourself by default and without strain. The real strain is to love others and it goes against our sinful selfish nature. Paul says whoever loves his wife loves his own body (Ephesians 5:28). Ephesians 5:29 goes on to even rhetorically prod, “Who hates their own body?”
Jesus commands us to die to self. We are commanded to deny self in the scriptures. We are commanded to think of others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love is not self-seeking. But Beloved, I hope you don’t mistake me for saying self-neglect is a virtue. C.S. Lewis aptly said that humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. We must ask ourselves why the humanistic messages of self-love are on the increase while the levels of depression and suicide follow closely. Perhaps it’s not working. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise when the scriptures tell us that one of the eschatological signs of a generation that rejects God is being “lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
Yet such Oprahesque messages have flooded many pulpits. This aches me but it doesn’t surprise me altogether because scripture foretells of an apostate church that will want to have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3). In short, they will hate the truth of the Gospel and prefer self-deceptive teachings like the humanism that is rampant. Also, we know that there must occur a falling away from the truth in the last days (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).
So is the point to only complain about the evil? No. I write so that you may be awake. And to help with that, here is a brief litmus test for humanism. It is not extensive but it should jolt the reader to examine their church. Jesus taught in John 7:24 to evaluate with righteous judgement.
These are the three main frameworks of humanism:
1. A falsely optimistic view of human beings
Humanism teaches that we are nice people who have just done a few wrong things. Some may have done many wrong things but there is still good in them. We should, therefore, encourage people to suppress the bad and live the good. Humanism sermons will talk about how things will work for you eventually, regardless of you indulging in sin. The humanistic preacher doesn’t want to mention that because it will not excite the crowd. According to humanism, you are simply a victim of bad circumstances. One famous humanistic televangelist famously said, “99.9% of people are good.” He then proceeded to justify that they’ve just suffered bad strokes of luck in life. Humanism teaches that you don’t deserve bad things happening to you because you are a good person. And if bad things happen to you, it’s because you are getting a bonus from life; meaning something bigger and better is coming your way. And you must note that the bigger and better things that humanism promises are often carnal and never spiritual.
2. A domesticated view of God
Humanism falsely teaches that God is a nice guy and accepts anyone without requiring them to change. They even abuse the gospel of grace to say that any effort to change and become godly is trying to have salvation by works. Humanism’s deceptive teaching has a false depiction of God’s grace. It says “God accepts you as you are.” The truth is that God accepts you despite the way you are and not the way you are. His unconditional love is despite your situation. Humanism domesticates God by painting Him as a butler at your service. It teaches that God is bending over backwards to make your bad circumstances easier to deal with. He will wave his hand like a magic wand and your debt, your relationship status, the car you wanted, the money you desire and the holiday you long to give you relief will come. Sermons centred on humanism will paint a picture that shows God existing for you and not you for Him. Humanistic teachers will never touch the idea that some of your bad circumstances are because you love your sin. The God of humanism will conveniently ignore that because you are cute to him.
3. A view of good works as a means for moral self-reform
Humanism falsely teaches that since I am generally a nice person, all I need to do is keep improving myself and spread good energy. As long as I don’t hurt anybody or do any of those bad things, I’m generally okay. My good deeds outweigh the bad things I’ve done. I’m generally an okay person. Humanism is actually against the message of grace because it implies subtly that if you just do your best you will be acceptable to God because after all, nobody is perfect. Humanism discounts that we can never be acceptable to God except through Christ. It also subtly denies Adamic sin and falsely implies that we are natural friends with God.
The reason I believe that humanism is one of the biggest enemies of Jesus Christ- even bigger than blatant Satanism is because of its deception. It deceives millions to think that all is well between them and God when the boat is really sinking. It is also worth noting that humanism would be a perfect ploy of the enemy to destroy the credibility of many Gospel-centred evangelical churches.
The Gospel of Jesus, on the other hand, has a radically different framework:
A true pessimistic view of human beings- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All are doomed to eternal damnation (Nahum 1:2, Romans 6:23). Our sins are more serious than we think (Isaiah 59:2).
A true lofty view of God- God is Holy, perfect, sinless, divine and with a righteous standard none can attain (Exodus 15:11, Psalm 77:23). We are natural enemies of God because of our nature (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:10).
The futility of religion and good works- none of us can attain God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:10-12, Psalms 53:2-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20). All our good deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). A Holy God cannot be impressed by our trying harder (John 3:3).
Humanism says I can be good. The Gospel says there is nothing good in me. Humanism says God can be impressed. The Gospel says God cannot be domesticated. Humanism says good works will help. The Gospel says good works are futile. Humanism says just be nice. The Gospel says the idea of niceness will deceive you and pander at your ego and vanity; the Gospel says you need to be new. Humanism views Christ as a great moral teacher. The Gospel presents Christ as the perfect, sinless, God-incarnate and only way to be right with God, through his sacrifice on your behalf.
Is your church preaching the Gospel?