This has been the choice ever since the days of Justin Martyr in the mid second century A. D., when "The Church" broke off as a schism away from the Assembly of the early believers: Will you choose the Big Show or the Real Deal?
Justin learned about Messiah and his teachings from the Nazareans, but he didn't want to take up the life of a Nazarean. It was too simple, too humble, for him. After all, he was a Roman who had been educated in all of the Greek philosophical schools of his day. To live as a Nazarean was beneath him, or so he thought.
At the same time, he saw the power that was latent in the Messianic gospel. He realized that if he adopted the Nazarean message, got rid of the Jews it came from, and added some bells and whistles from Greek philosophy - THEN he would have something! THEN he would have his ticket to fame and fortune!
That's exactly how it turned out. Justin took his newly re-worked Christian philosophy to the Romans, set up his own school, and gained money and fame on the back of his gospel - a newly amalgamated gospel that made the Gentiles feel like they were saved from their abundant sins, without needing to keep the commandments or any of that other distasteful Nazarean stuff. The Gentiles loved it and came flooding in. Other Greek and Roman sophisticates realized that this new teaching could be harnessed to promote themselves as it had Justin, so they got on the bandwagon too. Soon, with a small army of Gentile promoters behind it, Gentile "Christianity" swept the Empire from one end to the other.
The Christian Church had become The Big Show!
The Big Show has never stopped. It just kept getting bigger and more phony.
Today we see it in America, in America's Mega Churches. As Christianity declines Mega Churches are taking over. People prefer the glitz and glamour of The Big Show!
This is all "optics" and no reality. The Church building is amazing to look at. The show of wealth is staggering. The salaries of the preachers are staggering as well. Many people say attending a mega church makes them feel like they are part of something special. It is impressive to see the massive crowds of thousands, all singing "feel good" Christian songs, often along with famous Christian Music Stars - performing right on the Church stage!
The Mega Church offers all manner of entertainments for the entire family - even a real Starbucks right in the Church!
What the Mega Church can never deliver, though, is the Gate to the Narrow Way. They don't want the Narrow Way. The day they actually start living and preaching the Narrow Way is the day the Big Show is over. Those people who are drawn to the Mega Church don't want the Narrow Way. Like Justin of old, the Way of the Nazareans is too plain, too demanding, requiring way too much self-sacrifice. And besides, didn't "Jesus suffer for me so I don't have to"? In the Mega Church you are saved, which means that you can be exactly like the world in every way, and Jesus is going to love you! Isn't that appealing - or nauseating - depending on who you are?
Today, even while the Mega Church is growing, Christianity is declining, even dying. The young people are seeing through all of this and they are leaving the Church in droves.
What does all this mean for the Church? What does it mean for you and I?