Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pleasing the Masses

"For who that is pleased by virtue can please the crowd? It takes trickery to win popular approval; and you must needs make yourself like unto themgelves. However, what you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you. The favour of ignoble men can be won only by ignoble means."

-Seneca's Moral Epistle XXIX (Richard M. Gummere, trans.)

Once again I read the words of "our" Seneca to his student Lucilius and find words most pertinent to the life of the Christian Church. Everywhere we turn we find churches and mega-churches doing everything in their power to appeal to the masses of nominal Christians and unconverted. Crosses are removed in order to prevent offense. Sin is a dirty word. Depth of sermon content is traded for turns of phrase and quirky object lessons. The important thing is that the people are actually attending services, after all... right?

Myself a Lutheran, my wife and I visited a church in New York while visiting family. The service was shallow, generic and feel-good. While leaving my wife commented that her father (a Baptist pastor) could have attended and felt perfectly at home due to the absence of anything distinctively Lutheran about the church and service. She said, "When that is the case, the church is either confused or dishonest." Now, I'm not promoting Lutheranism necessarily. The same should be true of any church. If there is nothing distinctive about the content of a service, nothing of any substance to set it apart from any other type of church, then perhaps there is a bit of dishonesty or deception involved.

Seneca has put his finger on the problem. It requires dishonesty for those who love virtue to appeal to the masses. Churches are becoming generic and compromising the very things they should be most proud of. Why? "It takes trickery to win popular approval; and you must needs make yourself like unto themselves. "Unfortunately, this is death for a Christian congregation. The end sought by a congregation is that those without become transformed and assimilated into the life of the church. The opposite is taking place with the result that the congregation is transformed and assimilated into the life of those without.

Seneca's advice: "What you think of yourself is much more to the point than what others think of you." If you are Baptist, be proudly and distinctly Baptist. If you are Methodist, be proudly and distinctly Methodist. If you think yours is the most virtuous and perfect religion, then why would you want to compromise it to please the masses?


"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 (ESV)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic. Zwingli thought that Seneca was on the same level as Paul. Of course, Zwingli was a nut, but Seneca is good. I read "On Providence" a few years ago. This was the book that influenced Zwingli's views on predestination.

Seneca committed suicide the year after the fires at Rome. Do you know if there is any connection? I have imagined that he might have questioned Nero’s sanity.