Most people think of deism as a religious idea that was held by the founding fathers of the United States of America. Guys like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are credited as believing that though the universe was in fact created by some deity, he has since moved on somewhere else and has left the world to continue on by itself. Their god was the watchmaker that wound up his universe and then let it run on its own machinery. In their view, their god was not sovereign over his creation. He was not the author of history, only the builder of the stage on which it plays out. He was not intimately involved in what he created - very much the opposite. He had left our universe behind and didn't really care about the people in it. He didn't answer prayers or perform miracles. It was just as if he really didn't exist, for all intents and purposes.
This view was popular during that time among the non-Christian thinkers because they had not yet invented a strong enough lie to cover over the truth that someone had created this universe. Darwin and his notion that the variety of life on this planet can be explained through naturalistic processes rather than divine creation, coupled with James Hutton's ideas that the earth is much older than previously thought, didn't come on the scene until the middle of the 19th century - about 50 to 75 years too late for fellows like Franklin and Jefferson.
These days, though, there isn't much use for classical deism. The God-haters have their fairy tale about nothing creating something and then that something becoming everything all on its own, so they don't need antiquated means of ignoring God anymore. But that isn't to say that deism has keeled over and died. In fact, it's still alive and well - and it comes to church nearly every Sunday!
The older deism eschewed organized religion as unnecessary, since the watchmaker had wandered off and wasn't listening. The new deism inhabits organized religion like an epidemic, choking off authentic spiritual life and replacing it with a powerless social club mentality. But though there are some key differences between the new and the old, when you get right down to the substance at the heart of both systems of thought, they are the same.
The primary motivation of the older deists was to remove God from the picture and focus on man and his activity. And though it may seem counterintuitive to the idea of 'church' in general (after all, isn't that where people gather specifically for the purpose of a 'spiritual experience' or to commune with the divine?), we find practically the same trajectory in many churches in our day and age.
Tune into the sermons preached to some of even the largest congregations in our country on any given Sunday and you will find mostly entertainment and generic self-help. Far from the focus being on Yahweh - the supreme Creator and Ruler of the universe - and on His infinite perfections and beauty, what you are much more likely to hear might be a list of steps to help you get out of debt. Or maybe you'll hear someone telling you about the 'deep spiritual lessons' of the movie "Slumdog Millionaire".
The focus on man and his activity doesn't end with poor sermons, however. Sadly, even the public prayers offered in most churches today are almost entirely man-focused. Laypeople and preachers both spend far more time focusing on man's needs, or politics, or the success of the organization of the church than they do about the things of God - if He is ever even mentioned at all. Contrast that with the way that Jesus taught His people how to pray:
- Step 1: Acknowledgement that God is our Father and that His Name is holy (Matthew 6:9).
- Step 2: Pray for the increase of God's kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
- Step 3: Pray that God's instructions and laws would be followed precisely throughout the earth and that all of His good decrees would come to pass (Matthew 6:10).
- Step 4: Ask Him to provide the very bread we need to get us through the day (Matthew 6:11).
- Step 5: Ask Him for forgive us for our transgressions of His revealed will - admitting along the way that this is exactly how we must treat those who harm us in any way (Matthew 6:12).
- Step 6: Ask Him to guide us away from temptations of our own hearts and the evil purposes of others that might seek to destroy us (Matthew 6:13).
When carefully examined, Jesus' instructions on how His disciples are to pray show a remarkably God-centered life and worldview! Even our prayers should be chiefly concerned with how awesome our God is, and how important His kingdom, His rule, His Laws, and His decrees are for our own lives and for the lives of every living being in the cosmos. We should be daily acknowledging that our every meal and breath comes from Him as a good gift. In addition to all of this adoration, fealty, and thanksgiving, we are also to daily seek reconciliation for our sins and beg for His protection over us in this area.
Contrast this model prayer with what we so often hear in our churches. Contrast this with the entire content of our worship: songs, prayers, sermon, and even fellowship.
The prevailing religion of the world around us is rightly called 'secular humanism': a focus on man apart from God. Just as Paul described in Romans chapter 1, man has always tried to turn the world upside down and worship the creature rather than the Creator. In older times, this came in the form of sun and moon worship, or gods who had the heads of goats, crocodiles, and eagles. But in our day, the creature being worshipped by the pagan world around us is man himself, and I believe that the church has invited this thinking right inside the doors because the object of worship is just so wonderful and palatable: us!
And thus the church is effectively led back to the bankrupt heresy of deism. God becomes increasingly distant in our worship, and man takes more and more of the center stage. God may as well have wound up the universe and walked away for all of the attention He is ordinarily paid in our churches. We need to recognize the trends, see the deadly pitfalls, and turn back to the God-centered worship that we see reflected in the pages of Scripture.
Let this serve as a warning: