It takes a work of God for someone to love Jesus.
But it does not take a saving work of God for a person to enjoy coming to church and singing and being with other people and listening to someone speak about God’s Word.
We definitely see that here in Africa.
In places like Africa where there are so many churches and there’s been lots of gospel preaching throughout the years, you’ll find people have all kinds of different attitude towards the duties of religious worship.
Obviously, some people hate it.And others go to church because it’s what they have always done, or because they feel like it will get them ahead, somehow. But there are still others who actually want to come to church and they are excited about what’s happening in their church, without giving real evidence that they’ve been spiritually transformed themselves. In fact, if you look at the way they actually think about what’s happening at church and what the church is about, they are giving evidence of the opposite, because they are superstitious and idolatrous, and thinking about God in a way that is completely opposed to a true and genuine work of saving grace.
Now there are lots of reasons for that, I am sure. But here are just a *couple:
1.) Entertainment. Sometimes people enjoy coming to church because they really like music and dancing, and maybe, they especially like music and dancing with a religious feel. Or, they like being with nice people, or they think the preacher is funny or intelligent or encouraging. But it’s all about the externals. If you could take God and the gospel out of the music, dancing, people and preaching, (and believe me! some do) they would enjoy it just as much. Or to put it another way, if you put God at the center, and the music wasn’t as enjoyable or dancing or people not as nice, or preaching not as entertaining, they wouldn’t be excited about it, at all.
2.) Relief. Others like coming to church and going through the motions of worship because it makes them feel less guilty about the bad things they are doing. Or maybe, while they haven’t understood the gospel, they have understood that going to church is a good thing. And so, they feel badly when they don’t. And as a result, either way, going to church eases their conscience. That way, they can tell themselves they are a good person, not like those other people who aren’t going to church, even if their lifestyle in every other way is the same.
3.) Superstition. One big reason why unsaved people enjoy coming to church and doing spiritual things is because they think doing that will somehow help protect them from the bad things that might happen to them if they don’t. The world is a frightening place and they feel like these activities have an almost magical kind of power to keep them safe. In other words, they are superstitious and superstition is a very powerful motivation in the unconverted heart.
4.) Reputation. Others like the way people look at them when they pray or sing or dance. It’s as worldly as that. They like to be known as a spiritual person, and especially as a more spiritual person, than someone else.
5.) Self-righteousness. I would guess the biggest reason why people get excited about praying and singing and being with people that say they are Christians and doing all sorts of other religious things is because they want to be their own Savior, and these spiritual activities are an obvious way of trying to establish their own righteousness that they can bring to God and use as a tool to force God to be on their side and do something good for them as a result.
Whether it is entertainment, relief, superstition, reputation or self-salvation, there are all kinds of different possible reasons a person might enjoy church that have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel or with new birth.
I think unfortunately, while, it’s true there are a lot of people going to church in our part of the world, most of what’s happening, is not very exciting actually, because though it might be pleasing to people, it’s not pleasing to God.
*John Owen noted this in his book, On Spiritual Mindedness many years ago. In fact, I’m mostly paraphrasing and applying what he said to our current context.