Monday, June 25, 2007

On the Gospel

For the past 20 years or so the watchwords among those seeking "church growth" has been "meeting needs." Expressed more acurately it is "meeting felt needs." The result is a consumer mentality that suggests to individuals they should find a church that "meets their needs." One story making the rounds is about a family who began attending a large church. When they were invited to the membership class their response was, "Oh, we're Catholics. You have a wonderful youth program and when our kids are out of high school we'll go back to the Catholic Church." Such an attitude reflects no concern for truth but only a consumer mentality.

In the effort to "meet needs" churches confuse pop psychology with the gospel. Teaching individuals how to build successful families is not the gospel. Teaching biblical principles of stewardship is not gospel. Presenting messages about the second coming and the sequence of events preceding it is not gospel. Preaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the "leading of the Holy Spirit" is not gospel. The Gospel is preaching Christ and him crucified!

Am I opposed to preaching and teaching about those things? No! The fact is, these things and a lot more are the results of believing the Gospel and responding to Christ. In other words, Christians need to learn there are biblical principles relating to building a Christ-centered family. Christians need to know Christ is coming again. Christians need to know, too, there are principles guiding the use of resources. The fact is, though, that although unbelievers can successfully apply many of these principles, they will not directly result in meeting their real need which is redemption through the shed blood of Christ.

It is thought that if you meet the need it will open the door for a presentation of the Gospel. I've been a part of churches of all sizes for years now and my question is, "When is the gospel presented? Where is the proof that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God?" That biblical principles contribute to building a good family is no motivation for acknowledging Christ as the Son of God. It often appears the principles of Mormonism contribute to the building of a solid family. If Mormon principles work as well as biblical principles what reason is there to reject Mormonism for Christ? For all of its faults, Islam promotes family solidarity. What reason is there to reject Islam for Christ if both contribute to building a successful family or financial stability or whatever? My point is that when another ideology is thought to work as well or better than biblical truth there is no motivation to acknowledge Jesus as the way, the truth, and the light. He becomes simply another way that a consumer may try.

Many congregations today assume that seekers are already believers who simply need to "join" a church. There are exceptions, of course. Lee Strobel is perhaps the best known. It is clear, however, that someone took the time to teach him about Jesus. His journalistic mind led him to do his own research about the "case for Christ" and his commitment deepened. He is an exception that proves the rule.

We act as if the majority of Americans know who Jesus is. This is a false assumption. It is strange that even Rick Warren tells people that Christ is not Jesus' last name. Many there are who have heard of Jesus, but few who accept him as the uniquely born Son of God. Few preachers spend much time preaching Christ and Him crucified in the New Testament as did the New Testament Church. Many churches adapt Saddleback's "base path" series of membership classes. I've studied these 100 classes (membership) from churches as diverse as Saddleback, Cherry Lane Christian Church in Idaho, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, First Christian in Canton, and Christ's Church of the Valley in Arizona, and, I confess, I've written a few myself. All of them, even mine, assume the attender knows Christ and is seeking church memb ership. The classes highlight the differences between various churches, how to become a member, how the church does its work, what is vision and goals are, but there is little, if anything, about who Jesus is and why he is Lord and Savior.

In 1843 the teachings of William Miller were exciting the nation. Christians of most denominations, including Walter Scott in the Restoration Movedment, got caught up in the fervor of expecting Christ to return in 1843. Remarking on this, Alexander Campbell questioned Miller's understanding but he went on to say that such preaching was really no motivation for turning to Christ. He wrote that the Gospel had not changed from the moment it was first presented on Pentecost to the present. Preaching to frighten men to respond was not preaching "good news." The good news -- the Gospel -- is still the same as it was in the first century!

In this day when false teachers and worldly skeptics cloud the truth about Jesus, there needs to be a clear voice sounding out the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The so-called Jesus Seminar presents a human Jesus who did much good but who was only a man. The DaVinci Code confused thousands of nominal believers and the biblically illiterate who became convinced Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. There is a resurgence of Gnosticism promoted by Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, both of whom are influential writers and university professors. Not long ago we were told about the discovery of the tomb of Jesus complete with his bones and those of Mary Magdalene. We can no longer assume that someone seeking to unite with a church believes the truth about Jesus. He must be preached. He must be taught!

I'm not opposed to preaching to meet felt needs. Let's just recognize that the greatest need is not always felt. Any person's greatest need is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. The rest of it is encompassed in the "observing of all things" commanded by Christ in the Great Commission. After all, what real motivation is there for the non-Christian to live by biblical principles except pragmatism? Such people are carnal Christians who are "in it" only because it works not because it is true or right.

Think about it.