If you were to survey the evangelical landscape and compare it to the teachings of Jesus, you would become quickly aware that something is terribly amiss. The mainstream church, particularly in the UK, appears to have lost its effectiveness for reaching the unsaved. Vast numbers of churches seem to be resorting to modern business models and secular consumerism tactics instead of relying on the clear teachings and examples set by Jesus Christ. We are now encouraged to be “seeker sensitive” and “seeker friendly” as we witness to the unsaved. Churches use programs (such as Alpha and the “Purpose Driven” movement) to introduce people to Christianity as though we are trying to sell them a product in the supermarket. This “program based” form of witnessing can be effective, but very often the “uncomfortable” and “offensive” parts of the message of salvation are omitted. Ironically and critically, it is these very parts which define salvation for mankind.
Our friends and relatives are invited to churches where entertainment and experience are high on the agenda. The reverence, devotion and respect for Christ that should be displayed has been replaced by the trivialising (or even denying!) our need of repentance and the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Church services are increasingly arranged to focus on “self” instead of Christ! It is as though we have become so over-sensitive and wrapped up in ourselves that we cannot handle the issue of sin and instead we are seduced into an experiential relationship with Christ based on entertainment, ritual or experience. There are many examples in the UK where congregations are pampered with food and drink during “worship” and are “entertained” with a string of concert like performances and sermons that focus on self-esteem, “life” coaching or other self-centered ideas. This is not to mention the increase of “prosperity” teaching where the focus is primarily our seeking our own blessings and where the content of prayers and sermons often revolves around making our comfortable lives even more comfortable!
This phenomenon is very persuasive in our current cultural climate but the following verses of warning should cause us to be extremely alert as to whether we are being taught the true gospel:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)
Being “seeker friendly” is not necessarily being “friendly” at all! If you believe you are going to heaven, when you have in fact misunderstood the gospel, you are in a worse position than if you knew you did not believe in the first place! Worse still, thinking you are saved, when you are not, can lead to you being “inoculated” against the true gospel! Salvation ONLY comes through repentance for our own sinful condition before God and trusting in the atoning work of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus repeatedly warned that the gospel message would be badly received and He could not have made it any clearer that believers would suffer persecution, mocking and even death for their faith. It is not a case that we MIGHT suffer, He said we WILL suffer, and those that do hold fast to the teachings of Scripture DO suffer, even in our “tolerant” society!
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Philippians 1:29)
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. (1 John 3:13)
Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
The phrase “what would Jesus do?” has been a popular slogan and guide to decision making in evangelical circles for many years and this is clearly a good way to approach everyday situations. But, in order to find out what Jesus would do, it is vital to use the Bible to find out what Jesus DID do! Every believer is commissioned to preach the gospel to non-believers. The best way to learn how to spread the gospel message is by using the example of Christ Himself.
So, what DID Jesus do? Was He “seeker friendly”?
Naturally, we should be “Christlike” in our witness, but Jesus was always very uncompromising on the problem of sin, the reality of judgment and our eternal destiny in either heaven or hell. Why, then, should we shy away from this approach?!
It is important to point out and remember that Jesus was perfect in every way! This sounds obvious, but because of this, our own attempts will always fall short of His example. Our presentation of the gospel will often be clumsy and inadequate. However, we must remember that the message of salvation is actually very simple. Who in their right mind would choose to spend an eternity in hell because the delivery of the message that could save them was not slick or fluent enough?! If, unknown to you, you were in a house that was burning down, would you choose to stay in the house just because the person telling you urgently to get out quickly did not speak with elaborate well-constructed sentences? Of course, not! The message to do with our eternal destiny is far more serious than that – therefore start telling others now!
Jesus spoke abundantly about the reality of both heaven and hell. He never condoned or encouraged sinful behaviour and continually warned of a coming judgment. There were many very specific warnings concerning the coming wrath of God and many subtle, but equally vivid and terrifying warnings in the use of parables.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)
In many encounters with people, Jesus remarks were at best blunt and to be more accurate, they were offensive and intolerant by our cultural standards – He certainly was not “seeker sensitive”! However, it is clear that Jesus’ motivation was a sincere and deep love for His people – this should also be our only motivation. The gospel message should never be redefined and must not be compromised, but our delivery of this often unpopular message should always be humble and loving!
We should obviously never be offensive for the sake of it and we should not attempt to offend. Despite this, the gospel WILL offend because Jesus told us it will. Believers will rarely be thanked for pointing out that mankind is guilty of grievous sin in God’s eyes and in need of a Saviour. This is especially true in our modern world where morals are relative and it is bad etiquette to risk damaging the “self-esteem” of others. However, we need to try to counter this by honestly and genuinely seeking to draw people to Christ because He is our only hope of salvation. The only way anyone will ever feel the need for salvation is when they understand the condition of their own sin. Just because the issue of sin and judgment is very counter cultural, we do not have a licence to alter or re-write the message of Jesus.
Any attempt to dilute, re-package or redefine the issue of sin is NOT the gospel. The gospel message is very clear and simple – it does not need to re-packaged or re-defined. The problem of sin is just as real today as it was 2000 years ago. One of the most sobering passages in the whole Bible appears in Matthew:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
The “emerging church”
There is currently a movement known as the “emerging” Church. The rationale behind the movement is that as culture changes, the Church should “emerge” in response and move with the times. In practice, this usually results in the emphasis on experience over doctrine, feelings over truth, subjectivity versus objectivity, interpreting the Bible allegorically instead of taking Jesus teachings literally, etc. This approach is very dangerous and congregations are vulnerable and susceptible to false doctrine as the “meat” of the message of salvation can easily be lost. We live in a “blame” culture where our own mistakes can always be blamed on somebody or something else. This attitude is diametrically opposed to the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. Repentance is the FIRST step to a relationship with Christ – without this, there is no salvation regardless of the cultural trend we happen to live through!
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. (Hebrews 13:8-9a)
We fear that there are many people sitting in church each week who believe they are going to heaven because they believe a false “social” gospel. What a tragedy it would be if many souls are sitting comfortably through church life oblivious to the fact that eternal punishment may await them. What are disgrace it would be if INSIDE the church, the true gospel message of repentance has been diluted and re-defined to a point where there really is no repentance, therefore no salvation! Worse of all, what a scandal it would be, if the church that is supposed to glorify Christ has instead become some entertainment factory for the masses and Christ Himself finds He is locked out! There is a vivid allusion to this in the letter to the church in Laodicea:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus wants to be invited to church, but He will NEVER force Himself in!
Over the centuries, Satan has repeatedly attacked followers of Jesus with persecution and martyrdom – it is possible that we are not seeing this in the Western world (yet!) because the false gospel that is often preached cannot save souls anyway? Why persecute a church that is leading people to hell?!
Scripture warns that one of the characteristics of the last days will be a society and church bereft of the truth of the gospel. It would be a logical tactic of Satan to plant leaders (referred to as “tares” in Matt 13:24-40) within the church to lead people to a false and worthless gospel message:
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:24)
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2 Timothy 2:3)
What, then, can we do?
Great diligence is required by all believers – we are living in times where the gospel is being subtly changed. This may appear to be with good and noble intentions and but it is ultimately foolish. What right do we have to soften the truths God gave to us with regard to sin and judgment? We urge church leaders to return to the simplicity of the true gospel and to all who do not know Jesus Christ to consider the eternal consequences of their own response to the Lord and Saviour of mankind. Scripture has to be the ONLY test of the gospel. We live in an age where we have unlimited access to the truth of Scripture – in past centuries, many faithful believers have lost their lives securing this privilege for us and yet ironically we also live at a time where the truth of Scripture and the simplicity of the gospel is under relentless attack. Many Christians cannot be bothered to study the Bible themselves and instead rely on the easy option of listening to an entertaining sermon each Sunday. This lazy attitude could be a recipe for disaster. One very disturbing fact is that many attacks on the authority of the Bible often comes from those INSIDE the church. There are many clergy up and down the country who deny the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ or other truths documented in the Bible. In fact, it is often evident that those who hold fast to the clear teaching of Scripture and treat the text of the Bible seriously and at face value are mocked and ridiculed by others WITHIN the church!
Please, be on your guard – it is bewildering to see church leaders adding their own “interpretation” to the gospel message across many denominations.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
Social action IS part of the mandate of the church. However, the highest priority should be to draw people to repentance. Repentance then LEADS to social action naturally. The “social” gospel that is being preached by emerging churches omits repentance, therefore social action becomes a “works-based” false gospel that cannot save souls!
A firm move away from teaching self-centered attitudes is also desperately needed by the Church. We live in a “name it and claim it” culture where we are encouraged to improve our self-confidence, self-esteem, self-pity, self-love, etc! THIS IS NOT TAUGHT ANYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE. It cannot save, Jesus taught that we should “crucify” ourselves in order to follow him.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
Our confidence comes from and in Christ, not ourselves. Pride (in various forms) is a major problem is our society and it is feed by the consumerism and materialistic attitudes we are bombarded with. The Church should certainly not exhibit these trends but counter them instead.
Believers need to teach and display a humble reverence and healthy fear of God – after all, we will all appear before Him one day to give account for how we used the gifts He gave us. Never take lightly or trivialise the immense cost of our salvation. We should come to God each day with tears of relief and gratitude instead of a sense of triumphalism – Jesus defeated sin and death ON OUR BEHALF, we did not! This will result in believers desperately appealing to the lost to find salvation in Christ. We should always use Jesus life as a benchmark for our own conduct. However, this should ALWAYS follow repentance – not be instead of it!
We conclude with the most chilling warning contained in Scripture:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:18-22)
For the sake of your own eternity – please make sure you understand the true saving gospel. If the church you attend is teaching a different gospel why not consider approaching the leadership to discuss it. It may be possible to change the church from within. A godly leadership WILL listen and search the Scriptures. If the gospel presented in your church “adds to” or “takes away from” from Scripture, beware – God’s Words should never be taken in vain! See our page How to be saved for a clear presentation of the gospel of salvation.