The Seeker Friendly Church
I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men, and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd. If he did not save them he felt that it was of no avail to interest them. Unless the truth had pierced their hearts, affected their lives, and made new men of them, Paul would have gone home crying, ‘Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?’ . . .Now observe, brethren, if I, or you, or any of us, or all of us, shall have spent our lives merely in amusing men, or educating men, or moralizing men, when we shall come to give our account at the last great day we shall be in a very sorry condition, and we shall have but a very sorry record to render; for what avail will it be to a man to be educated when he comes to be damned? Of what service will it be to him to have been amused when the trumpet sounds, and heaven and earth are shaking, and the pit opens wide her jaws of fire and swallow up the soul unsaved? Of what avail even to have moralized a man if still he is on the left hand of the judge, and if still, ‘Depart, ye cursed,’shall be his portion."
C. H. Spurgeon
SEEKER-FRIENDLY OR SEDUCTIVELY FATAL
Our purpose in these pages is to examine the so-called seeker-friendly movement and offer what we believe are biblical antidotes necessary to deliver the church from this withering blight. You may find it strange that we describe this movement in such negative terms since, according to popular opinion, today’s Evangelical church is in a state of renewal largely because of the seeker-sensitive philosophy. The problem is that the current "renewal" does not bear the marks of past spiritual renewals. Such awakenings have been characterized by a profound sense of human sinfulness in the presence of our holy God and an accompanying sense of intense gratitude for his mercy and undeserved favor. Additionally, true revivals have resulted in vast, sweeping social change effected by genuine conversions to Christ. In the past, the result of spiritual awakenings has been that God’s people have bowed in holy reverence before the throne of a God whose character they knew. By contrast, today’s excitement is merely characterized by large numbers of people gathered to sing superficial songs and listen to teaching that is only marginally Christian. If revival should occur today, it would largely have to take place in a virtual theological vacuum.It is not our intent to impugn the motives of those involved in the seeker movement. It is altogether possible their desire for church growth springs from pure hearts. It is not their sincerity we are questioning; the problem is methodology. Throughout the history of the church there have been sincere people who have done untold damage to the cause of Christ. The Emperor, Constantine, surely had good intentions when he decreed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, but it is difficult to imagine a more damaging blow to the vitality of true Christianity.We believe this movement, if allowed to go unchallenged, will be devastating to the spiritual health and well-being of the people of God. Perhaps this caution can be best expressed in the words of the Prophet, Isaiah, who wrote, "For the leaders of these people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed. . . ." (Isa. 9:16).In this short article we intend to define the seeker-friendly movement, describe its main emphases and practices, examine what appear to be the presuppositions on which it is based, and offer suggested remedies to those who belong to such churches.
THE SEEKER-FRIENDLY MOVEMENT DEFINED
What is the seeker-friendly movement? It is a philosophy of church growth that seeks to discover what characteristics the unconverted would like in a church to induce them to attend, then seeks to fashion the church to please their carnal desires. There are, of course, different degrees to which churches are willing to compromise the truth of Christianity to accomplish this end. Some seek to retain at least an external appearance of historic Christianity, while others seem to have totally abandoned it. The problem is, once a person has embraced the basic philosophy that drives this movement, there is really no stopping place on the road to adopting pagan religion.
RECOGNIZING A SEEKER-FRIENDLY CHURCH
How can we recognize the seeker-friendly philosophy at work? The answer is relatively simple. In a seeker-friendly church, everything that might be offensive to the fleshly hearer has been removed. Worship is put on the back burner and replaced with an emphasis on "having fun in church." This experience occurs in a "non-threatening atmosphere." Everything with a semblance of theological truth is removed. The great hymns of the faith are replaced with theologically vacuous "praise hymns" that appeal more to the feet than to the heart. Sin becomes "a mistake" instead of a deep-seated nature that raises its rebellious fist against the Sovereign of the universe. Most of the teaching from the pulpit would not be out of place in a secular seminar on human relationships. There is seldom, if ever, an exposition of an extended passage from the Epistles of the New Testament Scripture. If any privilege of membership in the family of God is ever mentioned, it is applied, without distinction, to the entire audience, converted and unconverted. Hearers are seldom directed to look at their Bibles to see what God has revealed. Instead, paraphrased versions of the Scriptures are used to buttress a point the speaker wishes to make even if the word or phrase he wishes to emphasize has no support in the original text. It comes down to this; since sinners don’t want to feel guilty, we won’t tell them they are rebels against God. Since people don’t like to think, we won’t talk to them about doctrine. Since sinners don’t like to think through the theology of the great hymns of the faith, we will give them catchy tunes and rhythms accompanied by repetitive, mindless drivel. It seems those involved in this movement despise our Christian heritage in the way they discard the great hymns of the faith that God has used for centuries to instruct and bring blessing to his people. Since people don’t want to read the Bible, we will use power-point to show them a substitute, a paraphrase that masquerades as Scripture. The bottom line is, a seeker friendly church is one designed by unconverted sinners, not one designed by the Lord of the church.Although not describing the seeker movement by name, Dr. Timothy George has encapsulated its perils well. Describing the theological and practical maladies that currently plague Baptists he wrote,As Baptists have gained influence and status, we have also tended to approximate the values or our environing culture, including its secularity. We have lost touch with the great historic traditions which have given us our vitality and identity. Seduced by he lure of modernity ("whatever is latest is best"), we find ourselves awash on the sea of pragmatism ("whatever works is right"), indifference and theological vacuity. The results are all about us: Church rolls stuffed with so-called "inactive members" no one has seen or heard from in years, trendy sermons which lack both biblical depth and spiritual power, a generation of young people uninstructed in the rudiments of the faith, fractious controversies which sap our strength and strain our fellowship, shallow worship services geared more to the applause of man than the praise of God, a slacking interest in evangelism and missions, all amidst a hurried activism steeped in this-worldly proprieties.2Please understand I am not extolling the imagined virtues of cold, dead, judgmental, orthodoxy. We should seek to remove every humanly erected obstacle to the conversion of sinners. We must reject the idea that we believers are by nature in some way superior to the unconverted. We need to look beyond externals to the deep needs of sinners’ hearts. If they refuse to come into a "church" [building set aside for worship] because of the stupid and malicious antics of the religious people they have known, we should provide an environment, perhaps a home setting, in which they will be willing to listen to our message. We can rid ourselves of every humanly devised tradition that has encumbered the church in her mission, but we must not lay aside the faith once delivered to the saints.
WHAT SHOULD WE THINK OF THE SEEKER-FRIENDLY MOVEMENT?
What should we think of the seeker-friendly/seeker-sensitive movement? Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this matter is that God’s people should need an answer to this question. Had it not been for the decades of spiritual malnourishment among God’s people due to a famine of the Word of God in our nation’s pulpits, the answer to such a question would be obvious. A healthy, well-nourished, discerning Christian will readily detect the blatant problems inherent in this latest "church-growth" movement. I have placed church-growth in quotes because there is a difference between growing and swelling. Living organisms grow naturally when they are properly nourished, receive proper exercise and experience proper elimination. Dead things swell. Simply because something is becoming larger is no indication that growth is occurring. Pastor John MacArthur has rightly reminded us that if we will concern ourselves with the depth of our ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it.
All error, theological or practical, results from one of two mistakes: 1. We may err because, though we have begun with sound presuppositions, we have used faulty logic to arrive at our conclusions. 2. We may err because we have begun with erroneous presuppositions and reasoned to logical but flawed conclusions. Theological and practical errors almost always result from the second mistake. I believe this has been the case with the seeker-friendly/seeker-sensitive movement.
One cannot expect much from those who believe sinners are the efficient cause of their own conversions and that God has done all he can for their salvation. If that is the case, we must surely use every marketing technique and tawdry trick we can discover to bring them to make that all-important "free-will" decision. In reality, the seeker-friendly movement is simply "free-will" theology taken to its logical conclusion.
To me, one of the sadder aspects of this entire situation is that some who have professed to understand and believe the very truths I am suggesting as an antidote to this perversion of biblical Christianity, have themselves been duped into following its methods. My desire for them is that they will return to the biblical foundations on which they have, in former days, professed to stand and engage again in the type of ministry that will glorify God in the edification of his people.
I invite you to examine with me what seem to be some of the basic presuppositions of this movement and decide whether it is founded on sound biblical truth. I have said these "seem to be" the basic presuppositions of the movement since I have discovered them largely by inference from observing the practices and listening to the statements of its practitioners. If you discover its foundation stones to be biblically sound, by all means continue to build on them. Otherwise, I beg you to follow the Lord’s word through the prophet Jeremiah who wrote, "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. . . ." (Jer. 6:16).
Presupposition One:Church Growth is Our Responsibility
The very first unbiblical notion on which this movement is founded is that church growth is our responsibility. This is clearly antithetical to the ministry and message of the Apostles. In his first epistle to the Corinthian church, Paul informed his readers that Christ had not sent him to baptize but to proclaim the good news of Christ (1 Cor. 1:17). He was not in any way suggesting that to baptize disciples was not part of his original commission. Had it been otherwise, he would have been out of line in baptizing anyone. Yet, in this very context he confesses he had baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. What, then, can he mean when the writes that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach? The answer lies in the nature and purpose of baptism. Baptism is the initiatory rite of the Christian faith. It is this act by which one publicly confesses his union with Christ by faith. What Paul would teach us is that procuring such a commitment from sinners is not only beyond his ability but also beyond the realm of his responsibility. Our work is to proclaim the gospel; God’s work is to make the gospel effective. We need to remember that in the early days of the Christian church, Luke tells us it was God who added to the church those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Church growth is his work, not ours. Paul had to remind the fleshly Corinthians who had divided into factions over personalities that it was not the preacher and his manor or methods that caused the church to grow. He wrote,Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers [servants] through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase [caused it to grow] So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:5-7).I recently viewed a video tape of a message preached by one of the leading lights in the seeker-friendly movement urging people to become involved in the great work of evangelism. As he came to the close of his impassioned exhortation, he told of his dying father’s words to him concerning the task of evangelism. His father, in what seems to have been a state of delirium, had continued to repeat the words, "Get just one more for Jesus! Get just one more for Jesus!" As I sat there and listened in utter amazement, I thought, Sir, you are out of your element. You can’t even get one for Jesus, much less one more for Him.Without controversy, it is every believer’s task to spread the good news that there is a Savior who has died for poor, helpless, hell-deserving sinners. We must earnestly seek to persuade the unconverted to turn from the broad road that leads to destruction and enter the strait gate of conversion that alone leads to eternal life. We should diligently implore the great King to turn their hearts to Christ, but having discharged those duties, we must leave the results to Him.
Presupposition Two:God’s Purpose for the Salvation of Sinners Needs a Major Overhaul.If He Doesn’t Get Some Much Needed Marketing Help from Us, Sinners Who Would Have Been
Saved with These New Methods, Will Be Lost.
It would seem any person with even the most superficial understanding of biblical truth about God’s purpose in salvation would immediately reject such a God-dishonoring suggestion. It may be that even those most heavily engaged in this movement would be uncomfortable with such an unvarnished statement of their beliefs. Still, everything they practice indicates this is one of their foundational tenets.The questions for which we should seek biblical answers are whether God’s purpose for the salvation of sinners is in trouble and if He needs human assistance to accomplish His work. Please understand I am not asking whether God uses means to accomplish his purpose and whether he intends to accomplish that purpose apart the use of means. For example, if no one ever proclaims the gospel, will anyone ever be converted? The answer is a resounding, NO! But, there is another question we need to consider. Who is it that sends preachers and kindles a fire in their hearts that cannot be extinguished? Will God ever leave himself without a witness or will he not insure the execution of his purpose by raising up messengers to accomplish it? The question is whether God needs means and methods other than those he has prescribed in Scripture to execute his sovereign purpose? Is there any possibility God’s propose will fail to be accomplished? Apparently, those who adhere to this movement believe these questions should be answered affirmatively.Does the Scripture say anything about whether God’s purpose is settled and certain to come to pass? Is God in danger of failing to get the job done if we don’t find some new methods of evangelism and church growth? To answer these questions we need only appeal to one Old Testament passage. The LORD, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said,Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,' Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it (Isa. 46:9-11).This Scripture, among a host of others, makes it clear that all God has purposed will certainly come to pass. He has not even left the execution of his plan to us but calls the man who executes His counsel from a far country. He who has ordained the end of all things has also ordained the means by which that end will be accomplished.It is clear many who have engaged in the work of ministry either have never been introduced to or have dismissed out of hand the biblical truth that God is governing all his creatures and all their actions in strict accordance with his eternal plan and purpose. For them, the whole idea that the success or even the survival of his work depends on him, not us, is a bizarre concept. On the other hand, those in this movement who have professed to embrace this truth of God’s sovereignty must have yielded to the idea that God is unable to accomplish His purpose by those God-ordained and time-honored means through which in former days He has shown himself so powerful. Such an outlook can only spring from a heart of unbelief. Stephen Charnock, describing Israel’s unwillingness to trust God’s provision for them in the desert and His promise to give them their inheritance, writes,
How did they contract the almightiness of God into the littleness of a little man, as if he must needs sink under the sword of a Cananite!This distrust must arise either from a flat atheism, a denial of the being of God or his government of the world, or unworthy conceits of a weakness in him, that he had made creatures to hard for himself, that he were not strong enough to grapple with those mighty Anakims, and give them the possession of Canaan against so great a force. Distrust of him implies, either that he was alway destitute of power, or that his power is exhausted by his former works, or that it is limited and near a period; it is to deny him to be the creator that moulded heaven and earth. Why should we by distrust put a slight upon that power which he hath so often expressed, and which in the minutest works of his hands surmounts the force of the sharpest of understanding?3
At this point, we simply need to remind ourselves of the prophet Isaiah’s words concerning God’s power to save. He wrote, "Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden his face from you" (Isa. 59:1-2).
Presupposition Three:The Unconverted are to be Evangelized in the Church
The third presupposition on which this movement seems to base its practice is that the church is the place to evangelize sinners. In reality, God has given no commandment for sinners to come to church. Instead, he commands the church to go to sinners. The church is an assembly of God’s called out people. There is only one instance in the New Testament Scriptures of an unconverted person being in the assembly of God’s people, and in that case it is spoken of as a happenstance, ". . .and what if one should come in who is unlearned or an unbeliever. . ." ( 1 Cor. 14:23)? Evangelism is to occur in the world outside after the people of God have been instructed and built up through the solid exposition of the Scripture.I am not suggesting it is wrong for the unconverted to attend the meetings of the church. What I am asserting is that if an unconverted person should attend a meeting of God’s people, he or she should do so to observe how Christians worship their God, not to be entertained and made to feel comfortable in their rebellion against God.
Our message to the unconverted is not that it is O. K. to have fun in church. For those who are devoted to Christ, God’s worship and the edification of the saints will be a joyous experience, but God does not intend sinners to feel comfortable in the assembly of his people. In the passage cited above concerning the unbeliever who stumbles into the assembly, Paul suggests what would happen if every believer in attendance should proclaim God’s truth. He writes,But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so; falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you (1 Cor. 14:24-25).The proponents of this movement seem to believe conversion occurs because sinners feel so comfortable with the people of God they will eventually join us. Never in history have the unconverted felt comfortable with true Christians. Jesus himself prophesied that the attitude of the world toward believers would be one of antipathy and loathing. Jesus said,If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love his own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also (John 15: 18-20).Additionally, James informs us that friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world, makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). Yet, the design of the seeker-friendly movement is to make the church so much like the world that the world will make friends with it.
Presupposition Four:If We Give People What They Are Looking for in a Church, We Are More Likely to Get Them Converted Than If We Continued To "Do Church" in the Traditional Way.
This is another point that may be lost on those who are committed to a man-centered, "free-will" theology, but it is, nevertheless, biblical truth. The reality is, at the end of the day not one of those whom God had marked out for himself will be found outside the fold. Pay close attention to Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:28-30. He wrote,And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.He informs his readers that those who love God are those who have been called effectually by his grace. We know this call is not universal but effectual because those who are called are also declared righteous (v.30). This is not true of those who are merely invited by the proclamation of the gospel. He then informs us that this call is according to God’s electing purpose. Even if we should assume the word "foreknew" refers to no more than God’s foresight of what decision sinners would make in response to the gospel, the number of those who would believe would be equally as fixed as if we understood God’s choice to be without condition in its objects. Whatever "foreknew" means, only those who are thus foreknown will be called, justified, or glorified. It matters not what means we use or fail to use, God will ultimately save all those he has chosen and foreknown.Of course, those who defend the seeker-friendly movement might argue that God also foresaw their use of non-biblical means to accomplish this end, but if God is certain to glorify all his chosen ones, why not accomplish his work using the means he has prescribed?Jesus said, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16). He doesn’t say he will bring them only if someone will be clever enough to devise new methods of "doing church" so that the goats will feel comfortable with the sheep. No, he is certain to bring them to the fold as we, his people, are faithful in employing the biblical means he has prescribed.
Presupposition Five:Paraphrases of the Scripture that Omit or Mangle the Original Meaning of the Text are as Authoritative as the Scripture Itself as Long as the SpeakerCan Use Them to Support the Point He Wants to Make.
This is one of the presuppositions we must detect from observation, since there is likely no statement of this belief from any leader of this movement or practitioner of this philosophy. Still, this must be one of their beliefs since their writings and lectures are most often composed of a collection of witty sayings and pop-psychology buttressed by an occasional reference to a paraphrase of the Scripture that is often ripped from its context and robbed of its original meaning. We need to understand that a paraphrase is merely someone’s idea of what a text means and should not be trusted as if it were the Word of God. Often the proof the speaker is seeking rests on words or phrases not even occurring in the Hebrew or Greek Texts. In this way, they seek cunningly to camouflage the Scriptures to make them more palatable to their carnal hearers. This practice is very similar to glazing bitter pills with a sugar coating to make them easier to swallow. Additionally, hearers can go away with the illusion that they have done something religious since the preacher has told them this is what the Bible says.
Presupposition Six: Declaring the Whole Counsel of God is Unimportant as Long asThose Who Attend Feel Good When They Leave the Church.
Closely related to presupposition five, is the idea that it is no longer important to declare the whole counsel of God to his people. This, too, is a presupposition detected by observation. People tend to talk about those matters that are important to them, but seeker-friendly pastors tend to be extremely limited in the scope of their teaching. They seem to believe human relationships are more important than a right relationship with God. It seems the idea of declaring the whole counsel of God never enters the mind of the average modern pastor. They seem satisfied as long as they can convince their hearers they are doing something religious and can collect their salaries. Do they believe sinners will be converted more readily if they conceal from them the whole truth about God’s character and his plan for the redemption of his people? In truth, one wonders if they even care about teaching biblical truth. How will saints or sinners ever come to know and understand God and his character if such Pastors continue to present only a caricature of the biblical God?The antidote for both these presuppositions is a return to systematic, expository preaching based on a sound and careful exegesis4 of the biblical text coupled with appropriate practical application to the hearers’ lives. If the current trend in the modern pulpit should continue, our churches will produce an entire generation that is clueless about the meaning of the biblical text and about the major doctrines the Bible. We would do well to remember the L’s words through Hosea, the prophet, who wrote, "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. ‘Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children’" (Hosea 4:6). For decades now, in their infinite wisdom pastors have decided it was preferable to give their hearers the skim milk diet they were crying for instead of serving up the meat of the word. In so doing, they have produced a generation of pigmy Christians who are unable to hear the solid truth of Scripture.You are no doubt familiar with the recent controversy about removing a feeding tube from a young woman named Terri Schivo, allowing her to starve to death. Mrs. Schivo had been in a vegetative state for fifteen years. There was testimony to the effect that during that period she could have been taught through physical therapy to eat and drink on her own. Had that course of action been followed, there would have been no need for the insertion of a feeding tube. Once the feeding had been inserted, she passively received nourishment but had no ability to obtain nourishment for herself. She was totally dependent on her caregivers for any sustenance they chose to give her. I suggest this is analogous to the current spiritual circumstance of God’s people. Instead of training them to masticate the spiritual food of the Word of God for themselves, Pastors seem to have chosen to insert a spiritual feeding tube for their hearers, thus rendering them incapable of obtaining their own spiritual sustenance.
Presupposition Seven:If It Is Working, It Must be Good
The problem with this faulty presupposition is it fails to define what "working" means. If "working" means it is attracting a large number of people, Roman Catholicism is "good," Islam is "good," porn sites on the internet are, "good," and we could go on and on. The Bible does not measure success this way. Instead, the biblical writers describe success in terms to faithfulness to the revealed will of God. If we are disobedient to God, we have failed, even if thousands applaud our disobedience.Presupposition EightConversion, in the Biblical Sense, Is Unimportant
It is altogether likely the leaders of this movement would be strident in their denial of this presupposition. They would insist they believe that at some point the unconverted need to become Christians. Yet, the emphasis of their ministry seems to be radically different from that of biblical Christianity. It seems the plan of operation is to teach the unconverted how to handle relationship issues and other matters in a Christian fashion in the hope that they will gradually embrace the Christian faith. Anyone who has read, The Purpose Driven Life, by Pastor Rick Warren, will surely recognize that he consistently addresses his readers as though they are believers. There is one brief passage in which he superficially alludes to a person’s need to become a Christian, but it is a far cry from the kind of conversion demanded by the Scriptures.I recently heard a sermon series entitled "Extreme Makeover" preached by a pastor who calls himself "seeker-sensitive." He spoke about the need for an alteration of a number of our body parts due to the practice of Christian duties. For example, he spoke about having rough knees because we have been involved in prayer. What one would have expected but was missing from this series was a message on the sinner’s need of a heart transplant. Nothing less than that kind of radical change is demanded by the gospel. The gospel doesn’t demand that we repeat a prayer, walk an aisle, or sign a card; it demands a radical change of heart that is above our feeble power to perform.It has now been almost half a century since James Packer penned his Introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen. In that brief introductory essay, he warned that Evangelicalism was loosing its grip on the biblical gospel. We should have listened. The following is an excerpt from that introduction.
There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character andcontent. It fails to make man God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be "helpful" to man to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was "helpful" too more so, indeed, than is the new but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down ad worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. This is to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas theOne reason the seeker-sensitive is so easily accepted by the average church member is that it is not really wholly new. It is simply another step on the slippery slope away from the biblical gospel that has been occurring for decades.
chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.5
WHAT MUST WE DO TO CORRECT THIS ERROR?
The first step we must take is to evaluate the circumstance in which we find ourselves. Before Nehemiah began his great task of wheeling away the rubbish and rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, he spent time evaluating the situation. The following is his account of that reconnaissance mission, Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode. And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King's Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass. So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work. Then I said to them, "You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach" (Neh 2:12-17).You may have noticed that Nehemiah did not take pride in being without walls as some do in our day. He saw it as a reproach. A church without walls is a church without defense and without definition. There may be rubbish we need to cart away and foundations we need to rediscover before we can begin to build again. Building on a rubbish heap is a futile task. Paul wrote, "Put all things to the test, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
Encourage Faithful Leaders
If, using the criteria listed above, we discover the church to which we belong has not yet started down this slippery slope, we should be extremely grateful. If God has led us to a church home where the pastor regularly preaches the Scriptures in an expository and practical manner, we should thank God for such a manifest blessing. In our day, such a blessing has become exceedingly rare. Not only should we express our gratitude to God; we should also encourage the leaders of our assembly as they continue to pursue this kind of emphasis.
Confront False Shepherds
If, on the other hand, we should discover we are involved in a church whose leadership has embraced a philosophy such as we have described above, it is time to take action. You not only have the right to question such leaders, it is your duty to do so. Any leader who minimizes the importance of theologically sound, expository preaching, theologically solid hymns of worship, and biblical principles of evangelistic outreach, must be called to account. If the leaders of your assembly refuse to hear your concerns, you have no other recourse but to seek a ministry with these biblical emphases. If you cannot find such a ministry, perhaps it is time to start one. If you can do nothing but meet with a group of like-minded believers in a home for a time, such action is preferable to continuing under a God-dishonoring ministry.
A Word to Pastors
There is no room in the Christian ministry for cowards. If we are controlled by our fear of the world’s frown, we have no right to be called Christ’s servants. In his Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul wrote, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Gal 1:10). We should subscribe to the words of the old saint who wrote,
Careless, myself a dying man,
Of dying men’s esteem;
Happy, Oh God, if Thou approve,
Though all beside condemn.
Writing to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul described a time when hearers would refuse to tolerate the solid truth of the Word of God. There can be little doubt we are living in one such time. It is important for us to remember the Apostle’s instructions for times such as these. He wrote,I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).It is altogether likely if you should obey these words during such times, you will not lead the largest and fastest growing church in your area. Most likely, fleshly hearers will find your preaching boring and will search for teachers who are more entertaining. You may find yourself financially strapped since unconverted sinners don’t tend to support financially preachers who refuse to prophesy smooth things to them. Most often they will seek out preachers who will make them feel happy as they continue to live in open rebellion to God.If the only people unhappy with your ministry are those seeking a deeper understanding of God’s will as revealed in his Word, don’t you think it is time for you to begin to question the validity of your direction? If those happy with your direction are the ones who wish to have their ears tickled, don’t you think it is time for a major ministry overhaul?Take the time and expend the energy necessary to prepare and deliver theologically and biblically sound expository messages. Teach God’s people what the Scriptures mean in the context in which they were written. Draw your applications from the text. Don’t develop a message consisting of your ideas then try to support those ideas by searching about for some paraphrase that contains a related word or phrase. Even if you should teach some good and helpful truths, you will never teach your hearers what the Scriptures truly teach.If you should follow the Apostle’s admonition, it is likely you will never be the most popular preacher in town. You may not drive the car of your dreams or live in the nicest house in your neighborhood. You may experience the intense disfavor of the ungodly. There are many reasons for refusing the charge God has given. Please ignore them.Why must you be faithful in preaching God’s Word? There is but one compelling reason; you will one day hear the Lord of the church say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Soli Deo Gloria!