Paganism has colonised the Church

(Photo: iStock/ChristinLola)

We are witnessing the collapse of Western Christianity as a culture-creating force. The beliefs and principles upon which the West was built and which it exported to the inestimable benefit of the rest of the world are disappearing in the area in which they took hold to greatest effect. The future of Christianity lies in Africa and Asia, whilst in the West, Europe and the English-speaking nations the Church is fast disappearing.

There is an argument that only the mainstream churches are losing members whilst those who hold to conservative evangelical beliefs are prospering. We must be realistic: apart from a few bright spots on the horizon, most evangelical churches are doing little better than holding their own and much of their growth comes from recycled Christians departing the failing mainstream churches.

A Substitute Religion

The big question is not is this happening, but why is it happening. We usually turn to answers such as the influence of various liberal versions of theology or the impact of secular philosophies such as post-modernism and secular scientism.

However, these are only the surface causes; there has to be a reason why the Church has left the door open so that these ideologies are able to impact on it. The reason why the Church has succumbed to the influence of these philosophies is that it has been colonised by an entirely different and pagan religion, Moral Therapeutic Deism.

What can be wrong with teaching morality, helping people to feel good about themselves and referring it all to God? Its danger lies in the fact that the morality it teaches is that which makes people feel good, and people feel good when they are told that it is all right to do what they want to do anyway and that God approves it. By focusing on making people feel good, the practitioners of Moral Therapeutic Deism usurp the role of God and replace Him with humanity. The god of the Moral Therapeutic Deism taught in many churches today is not the God of the Bible. In many churches the faith 'once delivered to the saints' has become little more than an antiquarian curio.

Bland Niceness

Moral Therapeutic Deism teaches that there is a god who created and watches over the earth and its people. This god wants people to be nice to each other, as taught by the religions of the world. Assertions of strong theological conviction are shunned as harmful and judgemental leading to a supposed equality amongst all religions. There is no repentance for sin, keeping of God's law, becoming a servant of Christ, or devotion in prayer and Scripture reading. The teaching of Moral Therapeutic Deism leaves people thinking that the main goal of life, and what god wants for us, is that we be kind to others and feel good about ourselves. This god never judges, and good people inevitably go to heaven when they die. Subjective wellbeing has replaced revealed truth as the guide for Christians.

Thus we have congregations where people do have a form of belief but do not have any understanding of their own religious traditions and what they are supposed to believe to be Christians. If they do understand their traditions they simply don't care to believe them and substitute whatever makes them feel good. Nobody must be made to do or to be something which makes them feel uncomfortable, is difficult, or goes against their own desires.

Individual is at the centre of the Moral Therapeutic Deism world leading to a reflexive non-judgementalism which is reluctant to say that anyone might be wrong in what they believe or do, except if they hold to the teaching of the Bible, especially in matters of sex.

This leads to an unbelieving church merely reflecting the mores of the time, usually after a panting struggle to keep up with the world's cause du jour. It is commonly a few years tardy in triumphantly arriving at the latest trendy belief; meanwhile the world has usually moved on to a new cause. As a result the church ends up looking pathetic in the eyes of the world which asks, 'What took you so long?'

The Challenge

Moral Therapeutic Deism in its various forms is an enduring challenge to the church. We have been warned about this since the beginning: 'For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions' (2 Timothy 4:3). Nearly 400 hundred years ago John Calvin spoke of people who 'wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond that which their own reason prescribes for themselves'. We have reached a stage where the church sits in judgement on God and decides what He may and may not say.

You cannot keep God at a comfortable distance. People who speak of truth as something that 'works for me' are following a false god, a new paganism. 'Christianity is true for me, but if your truth leads you to Islam or Hinduism, or to paganism, then it is just as valid,' is superficial tolerance. Their commitment, sincere as it might be, is only to something that makes them feel good and acceptable to themselves and the world around them; it is not Christianity.

We must ask ourselves if we are accepting, living with and practising what Francis Schaeffer described as true Truth: the truth of God Incarnate who reveals Himself in Scripture. Only those who are honest before God themselves have the right to ask others, 'Do you want God, do you want Truth, or are you going to be satisfied with something that only feels like God and Truth?'

Then we have to set about evangelising a people that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some form of deity, considers itself 'spiritual but not religious', but has only a tangential connection to historic Christianity.

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a parasite which has latched on to its host and is sucking the life out of it, leaving nothing but an empty, desiccated husk. Our challenge is to rebuild.

Campbell Campbell-Jack is a retired Church of Scotland minister. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.