Well, I can’t help it. I am afraid that I am back onto an old soap box…
We listen to the pulpits, We listen to Christian TV, We read the Christian print media, We browse in the Christian book stores. What is expounded, with a very few notable exceptions, is a common refrain in support of programs to appeal to the unchurched and the unsaved. In one form or another, all these sources are expounding on the need to attract people to the Lord and the church by making them comfortable and entertained. This is also presented as essential to sustaining the resources required for this and other congregational outreach. The key words here are, as italicized, appeal and attract. Moreover, and make no mistake about it, the promotion and provision of this is big business in numerous respects. But that is a separate issue.
This is not say that there is anything wrong with the promotion of the church or with making people welcome through hospitality. That is biblical, desirable, and a mandate of every assembly. But these activities are not synonymous with what is happening in substance, underlying motivation or effect.
In all the talk and programs for church growth there appears to be little apparent or overt visiblity of the plain Gospel, and even less of a hint of a complete presentation of it. The talk centers on advertising, presentation, program roll-out and the like – all discussed and designed to entice the listener. Put another way, it is a paradigm to ‘tickle the ears’ of the man on the street, entreating him or her. The assumption is that once they are enticed, they will be more receptive to the Lord. Many will say, what’s wrong this that? Actually, just about everything.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” 2 Timothy 4:3.
What we are witnessing is the application of motivational business models to the growth of the church. Furthermore, the assumption that is almost directly stated, is that by enticing people to the church will result in an increase in the effectiveness of evangelism. The underlyng implication is that people will be welcome and will therefor accept the Lord more readily. Or to cut to the chase, that those actions will have a direct effect upon Salvation.
So what is this really? It is man-centered evangelism, depending upon and acknowledging as siginificant the paradigms of the secular world (rules by guess who?) in Salvation. At the root, it implies that the Gospel is in need of modern help AND that this help (created by men) is crucial to enhance the work of the Spirit for increased success in today’s world.
This is so wrong that I bearly know where to begin! And this paradigm has many insideous tentacles.
Ladies and gentlemen, you can not ‘workshop’ nor ‘program’ your way to heaven or to salvation. To assume (even subtley) that you can is to do exactly what Timothy is implying or more.
In these ear and eye tickling programs there is often lots of impressive innovation and creativity. But what is there of Scripture and it’s approaches? I would put it to you – little or nothing. As such, what is there of the Lord? I will leave that to you…
Now, I hope that this sounds harsh, because that is definitely the intent.
To harken back to a previous post, the use of these tools of the world, in the way that they are emerging, is building a colourful, diverse, vibrant structure with a foundation of sand. In the face of the tribulation to come, it will likely fall, as a sand castle in the rising tide. And as with the sand and the tide, those who have been seduced to rest on it may be at the very least severely tossed about, and more than likely washed away.
Stop any person in the church lobby and ask them about the latest ‘programs’ in the congregation. They will likely have a favourite or one that they dislike, but in either case they will likely know what is going on. Ask them to explain even the very basics of the inerrancy of Scripture or the Sovereignty of God, and you are likely to get no real information to support conviction. Even more, ask casually about the basis of their denominational doctrine, and they will not have a clue (nor much interest), and may not actually understand the question. Even if you don’t use the word Doctrine (which has become a virtual four letter word in many churches), the blank stare will be obvious. Again, harsh but reality.
Is this the correct and desirable picture? Is this the environment that is well equiped to receive and support any new adherents and believers that the many programs are designed to attract? Is this a situation that equips the next generation of believers to weather storms of secular assault? I think not! And what of the spiritual health of those already there and producing the program innovations?
But what of our Lord in these respects? Didn’t he go among the people – the unclean, the unwanted, the undesirable, the outcasts? Indeed He did, and not only that but he thought nothing of frequenting their environments. And we, as His people, can not shun these things. But what He did not do was to use their methods, adopt their habits, or bring either of those things into the assembly of His sheep. As such, we are not mandated to do so either. If He did, someone please shown me explicitly were. He brought the Gospel and the love of God into the their world, and He did so using not only Himself as the Godhead, but also his knowledge of His Father’s Word. He acted in line with Scripture, He preached the Gospel, He shared the Word of God, and He did so whereever the people were. To do this He understood the Sovereignty of His Father, His Father’s Word and the basic doctrines of the faith. And those were the tools. Is this not the correct model then?
Did I miss the part of Scripture stating that the models used by the Lord would expire after a period of societal and socialogical development, to be replaced by superior new ones evolving through man’s experience? I think not.
The emerging set of worldly models and trends are likely, for the moment, an unstoppable movement. After all, the world is moving right along in that direction and Timothy pointed out that many will be along for that ride. Revelations points out that the number included will be legion. Moreover, that ‘many’ likely does not include just individuals but their institutions.
It would seem prudent of us to consider our approach, it’s origins and it’s implications…