The Modern Machiavellian Church
Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher, writer, and humanist. His most famous work, The Prince, is a story of how politicians manipulate situations and control people in order to stay in power. It is this story that has lead to the expression “Machiavellian” which is used to mean cunning and manipulative.
The modern church has adopted Machiavelli’s tactics. It uses all kinds of techniques to lure people to church and even to a false Christ. The modern evangelical church no longer believes in the power of the gospel or the power of the Spirit. Like jingling keys in front of an infant, the church dangles all sorts of shiny gimmicks and enticing words of men’s wisdom in hopes of gaining members and tithers. It is a dazzling display of human craftiness which is supposed to aid the gospel but which in fact presents a false gospel and manipulates unsuspecting sinners. Manipulation and theatrics may work well for the fallen system we call politics, but when are those the vehicles to spread the gospel?
This is not some difference of opinion about methodology. This is in fact a war against Christ and His Word. This kind of deception rips at the very heart of God’s eternal truth. This kind of theatrics and sensationalism obscures Christ, ignores the cross, and replaces God’s word with the cunningly devised fables of men. Entertaining to be sure, but it is a path that leads to death.
I Cor.2:3-5 - And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Col.2:2-4 - That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.
The strategies of men have replaced the directives of God’s Word. Entertainment has replaced the convicting power of God’s Spirit. Celebrity preachers have replaced the humble servants. Paul says he came with weakness and fear and much trembling. But today’s preacher drives up in a luxury automobile, dressed in expensive clothes, and spews out hubristic words that speak of earthly success, human power, sexual exploits, and all kinds of worthless advice derived from a carnal mind.
The western evangelical church is broken down and its gates have been burned with strange fire.
Neh.1:1-3 - The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,
2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.
The Babylonians had captured God’s people and Jerusalem was in shambles. When Nehemiah receives this news it moves his soul. He begins to mourn with fasting and prayers for his people. He intercedes for the sins of the people, and he is grieved in his spirit for the state of the Temple in Jerusalem. By God’s providence, and in an answer to Nehemiah’s prayer, he is allowed to go to Jerusalem. He leaves the splendor of the king’s palace and will now step right into persecution.
The church has been completely deceived about persecution. We have confined it to the martyrs or the Chinese church or forbidding prayer in the public schools. But persecution is a thousand times more savage and clandestine than we could have ever imagined. The western church is in the midst of the most diabolical persecution in church history. It has not come with chains and prisons made with men’s hands. This present persecution comes in as an angel of light armed with spiritual chains of deception..
It has placed the church in bondage to the allurements of this world. It has adorned preachers with gold and jewels, and it has placed lying spirits in their mouths. And while the church believes it is receiving the blessings of God, the evil one is stealing our youth, stealing God’s truth, and he has replaced the Spirit with all sorts of fallen customs which are against the teachings of Scripture. But since we prosper materially, the church considers itself blessed. In fact we are dancing inside hell’s prison.
And in the midst of great and wonderful church buildings, our spiritual walls are broken down and our gates are burned with fire. The paradox is striking. We have traded our birthright for a mess of worldly pottage. And while we claim to be feasting at the Lord’s table, we are eating from the world’s trough. And we are blind to our condition and addicted to the dictates of the flesh. And Christian television continues to spread falsehoods and lies while it makes carnal men and women rich. Oh how the Spirit must grieve as He witnesses this monstrous betrayal!
I suggest that this is not time for more evangelistic strategies. This is no time for more Machiavellian cleverness that fills the pews with warm bodies and their vulnerable checkbooks. This is no time to learn Hebrew and Greek and parade the wonders of our orthodox exegesis. This is a time to fast and pray. The ground that has been fallow for so long it can only be broken up by fervent intercession and prayer. It is no easy task, and the flesh will resist any authentic attempt to seek a fresh awakening of the prayer closet.
Here we stand. Here we sit. Here we sleep. God help us for we cannot help ourselves. Even the “orthodox” church has embraced their doctrines and their theologies and their original language credentials. But they treat God as an aloof being who is more information than communication. Think about a son on earth. He learns more and more about his father. He uncovers his father’s genealogy, he measures his height and takes his weight. He and his brothers and sisters gather to learn more and more about their father.
But rarely do they speak with their father. Their communication with him is very formal and in comparison with their study about him it is meager indeed. But the father desires greatly to speak with his children. He sees and hears their studies about him, but they do not seem to relish fellowship with him. He approves of their avid interest in him, but he is grieved since they seem uninterested in long and fruitful sessions with him.
We will always have the cults. The apostasy will continue as well. The Joel Osteens and the Rick warrens will continue to flourish and draw great crowds. And we will need to continue to address such things and protect and teach God’s sheep about the many, many wolves. But unless we ourselves repent of our own stilted Christianity, and unless we allow the Spirit to break up our own fallow ground, we will be a lifeless blaring trumpet. Unless there is a significant revival of prayer among us, our truth will be bound to paper and our lives and power will be bound to this earth.
This is not child’s play. This is no game. God desires to meet with us in the dimension of prayer and without the restrictions of tradition and time. We have fallen in love with music and we have treated prayer with contempt. We desire preachers with oratorical prowess but require nothing of their prayer mantle. We spend more time looking for coupons than we do in prayer. We fellowship more with our dogs than we do with God.
In order to avoid being broken and corrected we avoid the threshing floor of the prayer room. We protect our western life styles by avoiding time with a Holy God. And in so doing we also surrender the immense glory of His very presence. Worship without a foundation of prayer is just singing. Emotional and moving, yes, but fleshly at its core. Like holding a dinner in honor of someone but not inviting the guest of honor. You enjoy the special music, you enjoy the fellowship with each other, the dinner was wonderful, but the guest of honor was curiously absent. But you have become so adept at arraigning and organizing the dinner that the guest of honor’s absence is not even noticed. The entire spectacle has become about the dinner itself.
Do we really think that Sunday after Sunday, week after week, month after month, and year after year, people meet together to worship God and never does God move in such a way that they remain at the church house for the entire day, or at least for many hours? Are we really suggesting that the God of the Universe meets with us every Sunday and arranges His presence and His ministry so as to conform to our redundant schedule? Is that what we want the world to believe? So meeting with the Risen Christ, and allowing the ministry of the Spirit to change our lives, requires less time than a football game?
So what has happened to us? We have manipulated the Christian faith and made it conform to our culture. The church gatherings on Sunday mornings are cultural expressions of a popular religion but they have no real power and they elicit only a two hour “sacrifice” which is rewarded by special music and flowery speeches and smiling fellowship. It is usually at this juncture where the “orthodox” crowd tunes me out. We love to hear about Osteen and Bell and Warren and even Obama, but when the inventory begins to invade our doctrinal fort we retreat immediately.
So who seeks the Lord these days? Many claim they already have a Biblically sound statement of faith and theology, so they need not seek the Lord. So you see what has happened? The orthodox crowd is content with their “orthodoxy” and satisfies their own spiritual lethargy by feasting on the errors of others. Not only do I disavow Rob Bell’s theology, but I boldly point out his errors. So I must be filled with God’s power and my spiritual life needs only minor tweaking, if that. That mentality leads to a practice of ecclesiastical traditions rather than a vibrant spiritual church where seeking God is the desire of our very lives. The way the evangelical church prays is an enormous scandal.
Do not think that I speak as someone who has arrived, or as one who can point to my own prayer life as the complete example. I do not. But I do speak as someone who has heard the Spirit and I loudly proclaim that all of us need to stop, see what the Spirit reveals, and with a broken spirit of repentance rebuild the walls of prayer personally and collectively. What would happen if your church said this month they would gather only to pray on Sunday mornings? Attendance would decrease and perhaps the local assembly would lose members. But if at the end of such a month you had a famous Christian singer on a Sunday morning, well the attendance would return to normal.
The end is very near. The deception deepens and widens. And those who embrace the true Christ have fallen asleep. While we stand guard atop the wall for enemies outside the camp, our own camp has slidden into a spiritual state of comatose. Our God is a doctrine, and the paltry expressions of prayer are filled with verbal genuflects to that doctrine. We can come before a Holy God and speak to Him with redundant petitions and familiar religious phrases and with no tears and no trembling lips and especially with no changed lives we can say “Amen”. Just who do we think we are speaking with? A concept? A doctrine? Or is He a consuming fire who loves us with an everlasting love but wishes to change us into His very image?
God is now a wax figure, smiling and waving to the Sunday morning crowds. The situation in the world and in the church is dire, and yet one Sunday reflects the past one and the next one. The spiritual crisis worsens by the day but the church marches on imprisoned by its structure, its debt, its schedule, its entertainment, its false contentment, and its well worn traditions. And Jesus correctly asked if He could even find faith when He returns. Unless there is an unbound and startling move of the Holy Spirit that rushes through God’s church and washes away the ecclesiastical façade we have constructed, then there is little hope for the world.
But of one thing we can be certain. This coming week will be just like last week. And next week? Just push the replay button and enjoy. Niccolò Machiavelli would be proud.