The way we worship smells bad to God

By Ronald E. Keener

‘Our self-focused society gives off a stench because people are not interested in knowing or pleasing God.’

Mary Camp says that “mega,” as in megachurch, is not inherently distasteful. Afterall, the Holy Spirit birthed the first “mega” congregation, drawing about 3,000 people to faith in Christ.

However, Camp, working with Bible Study Fellowship International for more than two decades, has a definite viewpoint of the larger churches that she shares in  Stench!: How Abominations Polute and Desolate the Post-Modern Church (WinePress Publishing, 2011).

“However,” she says, “worship style is determined by what the majority can tolerate. By necessity, the larger the group the lower the minimum standard becomes. They never raise the bar to honor God but lower it to accommodate the desires of people.”

She responded to questions from Church Executive on what she describes as a stench that is so distasteful in her view of the megachurch:

How did you arrive at the title of the book, and what does it mean to you in the context of larger churches?

The title came to me as a result of prayer and is based on the idea that worship is to give off a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Our self-focused society gives off a stench because people are not interested in knowing or pleasing God. Many churchgoers take this same self-focused attitude with them when they go to worship service and it smells bad to God. Churches that grow large by encouraging people to focus on their own desires and comforts increase the stench with each new member.

“The ‘mega mentality’ has captured the minds and hearts of many churchgoers,” you write.  What is it about megachurch or “bigness” that distresses you?

When I say “mega mentality” I’m talking about the proliferation of small groups for every interest, Bible studies, serving opportunities, evangelistic endeavors, etc. The idea is, “Come to church and we’ll help you get plugged in where you will fit and find friendship and fulfillment.” Fulfillment thus comes from people. This sits in direct contrast with the working of the Holy Spirit who woos and works in us to develop a personal relationship with the Trinity. This book is not an attack on the megachurch in particular, but a critique of any church where these attitudes exist.

Were Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, and others who followed, so wrong about reaching out to people in seeker services who otherwise would not enter a church?

Bill Hybels and Rick Warren simply redesigned the evangelistic service. The problem is that seeker services continue to be evangelistic in nature. They focus on making the people comfortable with coming to church rather than on presenting God as holy and people as sinners.

Explain what it is that you find so much of an abomination, your word, in the contemporary community church.

In a nutshell, the world is too much with us. Church has become big business, adopting the world’s techniques for attracting and entertaining prospective members. Rather than distinguishing itself from the world, the church has lost its saltiness and is being trampled underfoot by it. We have forgotten that God’s primary concern is our holiness, not our happiness.

Many people attend a contemporary, seeker sensitive/seeker centered church where the theology and the message are decidedly very biblical. Admittedly, many churches are more liberal. What do you object to in those churches that are biblical yet contemporary in worship?

If by contemporary, seeker-centered worship, you mean a service designed to be inoffensive to unbelievers, that type of service is not biblical. The true purpose of the worship (i.e., worth-ship) service is to focus on God by proclaiming his worth through song, prayer, scripture reading, sermon, etc. This type of service prepares the believer to face the world with faith, courage, and a message of hope for unbelievers he meets. It impacts any unbelievers present only through the working of the Holy Spirit and not through the “feel good” style.

Aren’t you setting up a “straw man” in assuming that most churches are “feel-good, inoffensive pabulum that keeps believers as infants and unbelievers as reprobates”?  Aren’t many churches also doing a good job at discipleship and followership?

I don’t believe it to be a “straw man” argument but a real problem in the majority of churches. If there is only one church where believers are kept in infancy and unbelievers remain reprobates, then the entire Body of Christ suffers. The shepherd left the 99 sheep in the fold and sought out the one lost sheep. Should we not do the same?

You say “the real issue is to determine what the function of a local congregation is according to Scripture.” Is that real issue inconsistent with the modern megachurch or even a mid-sized community church?

God determines the church’s function, not people.  A church is only a local cell of believers, set apart from the world by God for the purpose of worship of him, and edification and training of believers. This doesn’t change with size, but when people focus on the size of the congregation at the expense of spiritual growth and God-centered worship, the church has turned its back on God.

Can you share what a postmodern church looks like so that it isn’t “doomed to desolation and destruction”?

A healthy, vibrant postmodern church looks very much like the New Testament church where the Holy Spirit directed the work and people obeyed. Pastors preach the Word, teachers teach the Word, and people study the Word. Corporate and private prayer precedes every decision and fortifies every action. People work interdependently in community and hold each other accountable to live in accordance with God’s Word. Church style must never be divorced from theology and doctrine because this will always lead us away from the path God commands us to walk.

“Those who fail to contend for the faith do not possess a high enough view of God.” What do you mean?

Many believers, unaware of the transcendence of God, think of him as a “buddy” who just wants to be our friend. With such a base understanding of God, people don’t see the need to hold tight to the truth of Scripture or treat God as holy. When false teaching or worldly thinking is introduced into a congregation, people don’t recognize it as heretical and accept it instead, wanting to embrace all people in the name of love. Conversely, the higher God is viewed, the higher truth and doctrine are viewed also.


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