The church of the comfortable


NOTE: This editorial originally appeared in the Nov. 8, 2007 edition of The Christian Index.

Vance Havner, a preacher’s preacher of the last generation, used to say, “It is the responsibility of the preacher to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

God instructed the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” In every congregation of people there are hurried, hurting, haggard, helpless people who need to be comforted. It is a noble thing to provide solace and consolation to those in such distress.

However, most church folks have broadened their comfort requirements to the extreme – to include things that actually border on the ridiculous. For example, the temperature in the Sunday School classrooms and worship center must be exactly 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Some church members would consider anything more or less than that ideally controlled climate intolerable.

Other church members must be greeted with a cup of coffee upon their arrival at church each Sunday morning. There must be the right kind of cream and a preferred kind of sweetener to satisfy the tastes of each coffee connoisseur. Any deviation from that expected welcome would be considered unsatisfactory.

Furthermore, the volume of sound in the worship center must remain within a certain parameter of decibels or the comfort level would be compromised.

The time of the worship services must also be factored into the comfort equation. If the services were ever too long, some people would presumably become wearied, uneasy, and just plain miserable.

In fact, most of us are extremely interested in our personal comfort; and we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that the church is a comfortable place for people to come – a place that doesn’t scare or turn people off. But in making it a comfortable place to visit, perhaps we have made it too comfortable of a place to stay. Church folks don’t want to leave the “sanctuary” – the safe, comfortable place of worship – to witness or serve.

One of the primary dangers in being comfortable in our Christianity is that over time comfort tends to begin to feel like something that God – or the world – owes us. What we once called ‘luxury’ we now call ‘need’.

Therefore, let me use the next few paragraphs to afflict the comfortable. Why would I want to do something like that? Jesus did precisely that when He was here on this earth. He was not always a comforting person. In fact, he said some very disturbing things to the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day.

Today there is a strong justification to afflict those who are “at ease in Zion” because a comfortable kind of Christianity will not be able to withstand the ferocious storms and the diabolical attacks that threaten to sink the ship of faith.

First, storms will come that will threaten to undo the foundations of our security. Secondly, Satan is launching some of his heaviest artillery against the church. In his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” Martin Luther wrote, “... and though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us.” Such disturbing storms and demonic attacks tend to make a comfortable Christianity nothing more than an illusion.

When I read the New Testament I don’t see any evidence that the early Christians had a cushy, comfortable life. There was no comfort zone among the early believers where they could seek refuge from hostility and persecution. They had to rely on God for their every need.

Today, the Christian has to battle the tendency to fall into a casual, easy-going approach to his faith. In fact, the believer who is very comfortable in this life can also become sluggish, complacent, and dependent upon the securities of life instead of the Lord.

For the extent of his ministry here on earth, Jesus Christ called those around him to live a life much different from the average person. Many aspects of this new life charged followers to step outside of their “comfort zones” and seek the paradoxical relationship between being his friend and surrendering as a slave.

I fear that somewhere along the way, we have lost the uncomfortable part of the paradox, refusing to surrender.

F.B. Meyer once said, “The one thing that pierces the heart of God with unutterable grief is not the world’s iniquity, but the church’s indifference.”

There is nothing like being at home on a cool autumn night with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate, but can we be content to “relax” when our grandchildren may have to inherit from us a nation that does not know God?

Are you afflicted yet?

comfortable, conviction, culture, persecution