• The Christian Spectacle
The Christian Spectacle
Outreach Letters

The Christian Spectacle

  • The Christian Spectacle

The Christian Spectacle

Spectacle is vital to religion. Whether it be a High Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, a Hindu procession along the banks of the Ganges, or an American ‘Christian Television Spectacular’; the passion to display, to dramatize, to excite the senses and to stir up the emotions is plainly evident. That passion, however, has nothing to do with the way God approaches things. Though He is the one true God, the Creator of all things and Lord of the Universe, He has nothing to prove… and He is not a

Show-offs are insecure people trying to prove something about themselves, and the most insecure show-off of them all is Satan himself. Can you imagine a more insecure position than that of being God’s arch-enemy?

Satan craves the glory and the position which belong to God alone but, because he cannot have either, he is forced to settle for a convincing substitute. Which is why he loves religion, for it offers him the opportunity to play on man’s insatiable appetite for the mystical and experiential.

In promoting religion, Satan has found many willing allies in ambitious, insecure men who, like him, have a pressing need to continually prove things both to themselves and about themselves.

Secure men, of whom Jesus stands as the supreme example, have no need to prove anything. Though there was an inevitable element of the spectacular in much of what Jesus did (as there is in many of God’s works) He neither needed that nor desired it. In fact He tried to play it down and, wherever possible, He avoided it altogether. The fact is, He knew who He was, He knew who He represented and He also knew the purity of His own heart. He was, therefore, secure and at rest.

Jesus taught strongly against self-promotion in the name of God. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen of them,” He charged. “If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. …When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Potent words – and how damning of so much in this present day which claims to be done in the name of Jesus and to the glory of God but which is, in fact, nothing more than insecure men promoting themselves, their ministries and the works of their own hands. Such people feel a great need to impress, to excite, to inspire …and to receive the fame, fortune and acclaim which men have to offer them. That’s all they will receive however for, as Jesus clearly stated, such men have no reward from God. Why? Because those efforts of which they are so proud, and which they so loudly promote, are in no way representative of God, nor are they for His glory. They are representative only of vain man and are the result of his striving for personal gain – even if they are performed in the name and with the power of Jesus.

Jesus’ miracles were not for spectacular effect. They were simply acts of love. When many who saw His miracles believed in Him, His response was to “not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.” (John 2:24 & 25).

Jesus emphatically did not set out to build His church on the spectacular, nor on people’s response to it. He was unmoved by the acclamation of the crowd but was greatly moved by Peter’s heartfelt declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”. Peter had seen, not the spectacular but the spiritual, as Jesus himself then declared: “…this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.”  Little wonder that He then went on to say, “…on this rock I will build My church.”

When Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus to the top of a high mountain and, in awe, saw Him transfigured before their eyes, they were amazed. Then, when they saw Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with Him, they were overwhelmed. Who can dispute the fact that these men witnessed an awesome, amazing, out-of-this-world spectacle? Yet the creation of a spectacle was not in any way the purpose of the event. Jesus had simply allowed three of His friends to glimpse something of the world to which He belonged and the company He kept.

Had Jesus wanted to get the whole Jewish nation behind Him, He could have turned that incredible event into a great public spectacle – with lots of advance advertising. Can you imagine how many of today’s Christian ministers would have capitalized on it? After all, Moses and Elijah were two of the Jews’ greatest heroes. With those two legends from the past miraculously appearing and Jesus himself being transfigured before their very eyes, the coup would surely have been complete. What an awesome sight! What a spectacle! Who then would have doubted that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God?

Seeing, then, that Jesus could have made the transfiguration a great crowd-convincing spectacle, why didn’t He? Simply because His goal was not to excite men’s senses but to move their hearts. He was not seeking a popular following; He wanted disciples.

Unlike most ‘men of God’, Jesus had no ambition to build an earthly kingdom. He specifically said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and He meant it. Only those whose hearts and eyes are open to see the unseen are fit to be His followers.

Compare Jesus’ approach with that of those who, today, claim to represent Him. Look at their self-promotion. Look at the things they do ‘in the name of Jesus’ and ‘for the sake of the gospel’. In most cases neither Jesus nor His gospel are being represented (proclamation is not the same thing as representation). Instead we find insecure, ambitious, self-glorifying, self-seeking men and gaudy, high-profile institutions, peddling themselves and their wares to all and sundry. Why? Because they crave recognition, because they need a following, because they lust after success, and because they love the trappings which accompany those things.

So often we see Christian organizations engaging in ‘humanitarian’ projects, not – as they claim – because they love the hungry and needy, but because they seek to curry the favor of the well-fed and prosperous. They promote themselves so as to convince those who have (their financial benefactors) that they are worthy of support. And who dares question their compassion?

It’s an old game, but it works well: make yourself a hero by manipulating the need of the ‘have-nots’ and the guilt of the ‘haves’.

Of course the same is done when it comes to ‘spiritual’ needs. Highlight the need, with the aid of suitably shocking statistics (where would persuasive sensationalism be without statistics?) then impress as many as possible with the way in which you are moving to meet that need. The need of others can so deftly be used as a stepping stone to self-gain and self-glorification. After all, who can gainsay it? Who dares criticize those who campaign on behalf of the needy? Jesus did.

Consider one notable champion of the poor. His name was Judas. Not the self-seeking thief who betrayed Jesus, but the honoured disciple. One of the ‘dedicated dozen’, no less. The very man to whom Jesus entrusted the finances. Consider this paragon of all things virtuous, who could not help but raise his voice in protest on behalf of the needy poor when a foolish, impetuous woman poured expensive ointment over the feet of Jesus. Who could have disputed his claim that, had that ointment been sold instead of ‘wasted’, the proceeds could have been used to help the poor?

That fact was indisputable, but it was not the need of the poor which was in question. What was in question was the motivation of the man who was promoting that need!

Despite his polished performance as one who cared, Judas was no giver. He was a getter. The need of the poor merely provided him with a handy, respectable vehicle for his own self-seeking. Had the ointment been sold and the money entrusted to him for distribution, the poor may well have got some of it. But not before Judas had taken his percentage – both of the cash and of the glory. And Jesus would have been left unloved.

Time and again I see, on television and elsewhere, so-called men of God indulging in self-promotion and self-congratulation. I see them using whatever means they can to convince, to impress, to stir and to manipulate. They and their ministries thrive voraciously on ‘needs’. Whether in relation to humanitarian aid, the saving of souls or some other similar sphere of activity, the spectacle presented for public consumption is so rarely a true portrayal of the kingdom of God.

The Christian Spectacle exists neither for God’s glory nor for the welfare of His people. Like the Tower of Babel it stands, in its many and varied forms, as damning evidence of man’s striving to prove and promote himself and the work of His hands. As such, it is much more akin to the ways of Satan’s kingdom than it is to God’s. No wonder Jesus said to the very ones who claimed to believe in Him: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.”

The purveyors of the Christian Spectacle seize upon the gullibility of people, manipulating them to achieve certain responses – not of the heart, but of the mind and emotions. They care not for the welfare of those whose lives they touch. Instead they lust after their response, their support and their acclaim.

And, like teenagers intoxicated with the mood-changing euphoria of a rock concert, those who are moved by the Christian Spectacle duly receive their ‘blessings’. So long as they continue to make themselves available and give the appropriate responses they will be rewarded for their usefulness. Once they cease to be awed and impressed however – once they withdraw their acclaim and support – it’s a different story. They then lose their value to the system and are considered totally dispensable.

While men seek to capture minds, God is seeking hearts. While men covet support, God looks for commitment. While men promote the spectacular, God extends His love.

It has become fashionable for Christians to run from place to place in their quest to be in on the ‘action’. As a result, this shifting mass of thrill-seekers is a highly targeted group for the producers of the Christian Spectacle. “You’ve got to get in on where God is moving!” is their catch-cry and they sure know how to whip up a ‘move of God’!

Nicodemus made the mistake of thinking that Jesus, too, was a spectacle-producer, albeit a God-sent one. In his mind the whole point of Jesus’ miracles was to create an awesome, convincing spectacle. How wrong he was. Jesus quickly pointed out to him that ‘the move of God’ is not that which the senses comprehend, but that which takes place when the Spirit moves invisibly upon the hearts of men. It is an internal reality, rather than an external spectacle. And the only proof of the Spirit’s internal work is its fruit. As Jesus went on to say to Nicodemus: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

When men strive to prove something about themselves and to be successful, they betray their carnality. When, on the other hand, they open their hearts to God’s Spirit, making themselves available to Him and resting in all that He is, they bring forth not the works of the flesh but the fruit of the Spirit. Those who are led by God’s Spirit have nothing to prove. Like Jesus, they walk in harmony with God, being content to live in love with Him – doing only that which He is doing and saying only that which He is saying. Such people know who they are and, in that knowledge, they are at rest. They know God is establishing His kingdom and in that they rejoice. They have no need, either to chase after ‘the action’ or to prove they are a part of it.

It is very sad but also very true that the Christian Spectacle is but a pathetic parody of the true work of God’s Spirit.

Never were the words of Jesus more apt or relevant than in these days of high-profile, aggressively-promoted Christianity. He said: “The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”