"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 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; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2Tim 4:1-4 NASV)
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this you know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (1John 4:1-6 NKJV)
"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 its 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." (John 15:18-20 NKJV)
"The world hates me because I testify of it that is works are evil" (John 7:7 NKJV).
In our last article we gave a brief introduction to the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" approach that is proliferating among American churches in our day. We have examined its general philosophy in attempting to reach the masses with the gospel. In our current article we will attempt to weigh this approach in the balance of God's Word and test it against the touchstone of Scripture.
You will recall that the basic tenet of this approach is to meet the "point of need" of various members of the local community in which the church is located in an attempt to draw them to the church services often enough so that eventually they encounter the gospel and are brought into the kingdom of God. This is to be done by the focused preaching of "relevant, practical Bible messages". In particular, the "practical" books of the Bible such as Proverbs are heavily emphasized as well as the "practical" sections of the epistles in which instruction in Christian conduct is set forth. Doctrinal exposition of the Scriptures is hereby purposely avoided as it has very little "relevant" value to the "lost" or as they are oftentimes referred, "pre-Christian" or "unchurched". This is the first of many points in which this method betrays its inherent flaws. It violates the apostles' method in presenting truth to their hearers. Regardless of whether one is dealing with believers or unbelievers, the pattern laid out by the apostles is remarkably similar in every situation.
Lest some should think that this is "straining at a gnat only to swallow a camel" they should consider what God said to Moses so long ago:
" who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'See', He says, 'That you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.'" (Hebrews 8:5).
The Infinite Majesty on High did not leave it up to mere men to come up with their own pattern for erecting His tabernacle on earth under the old economy of things. Neither did He do so when it came to building His temple under Solomon. The pattern which was to be followed in its construction was also clearly laid out by God to His servant David (1Chron 28:19). Under the new economy, His tabernacle no longer consists of dead stones but rather now consists of "living stones" (1Peter 2:5). Are we now to believe that He who declared that "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" has left it to our own ingenuity and human cleverness to devise whatever pattern we see fit to build the spiritual temple of God? Who could be so foolish or arrogant as to think so?
It is from the epistles then that we learn the divine pattern which the apostles followed in presenting their revelation to the church. That pattern as is clearly set forth in the epistles is first doctrine, then practice. The "practical" is never mentioned or urged upon Christians without first referencing the doctrine from which this conduct is to be inferred. One looks in vain through the writings of Paul for any mention of practice without him first laying down solid doctrinal truth. Only when this is done does the apostle then proceed to deal with how the Christian should conduct him or herself. A good example of this is the book of Ephesians. The first three chapters are devoted exclusively to the establishing of Christian doctrine. There is absolutely no mention of "practice" of any kind. Some of the most sublime truths of our faith are contained in these first three chapters of this heavenly epistle: election, predestination, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sin through the shed blood of Christ, God's eternal purpose, our heavenly inheritance, etc. It is only when we reach chapter 4 that Paul begins to address the issue of how the child of God is to conduct himself and even then it is only briefly as he soon takes up some more doctrinal instruction. Then in the latter part of that chapter and on through to the end he deals almost exclusively with the "practical". The letter of Romans also follows the same basic pattern. The first eleven chapters are primarily focused on doctrine. It is not until the twelfth chapter that Paul begins to draw the applicable practice that follows as a consequent of understanding this doctrine. Peter follows the same approach in his first epistle. He never urges practice without first laying down the doctrine from which the practice can be drawn.
In other words, God's pattern for building His church is to first impart doctrinal truth to His children and then to grant them an understanding of this truth that will in turn regulate their conduct. When Paul exhorts the believers to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called", the apostle is assuming that they have first grasped exactly what that calling consists of. Only then are they instructed in the "practical" aspects of the Christian life.
In other words the Christian is the man who asks the question: "why do I put off the old man and put on the new man"? Because, I have been chosen from the foundation of the world and that choice of God is unto holiness comes the answer from doctrine. "Why am I able to do this?" Because the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in all of God's children enabling them to do so. Without a proper understanding of doctrine therefore, the Christian is like a rudderless ship. He or she has no true guide with which to steer through the currents of this life's sea. However, once aware of the heavenly nature of his calling, of his lofty and honored position in Christ, of the spiritual nature of the kingdom to which he has been chosen, of the holiness and purity of his God, the Christian will begin to so order his life as to conduct himself in a manner worthy of the doctrine he professes to believe. In other words, he is a man who knows why he walks the way he does. He is therefore, not a man who has simply adopted a set of moral principles that are found in the Bible and applied them to his life. This pattern may produce moralists but it will never produce saints, and, saints my dear friend are what comprise the building that God is creating.
For instance, the "practical, relevant" Bible message approach quite frequently deals with the topic of handling anger. One can scan the frequent advertisements from the various churches promoting their programs and easily verify this. The typical sermon using this approach will usually cite numerous passages out of the book of Proverbs in particular showing the biblical way to handle anger. In itself, this is fine as "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction in righteousness". We have no quarrel with the Word of God; we welcome it preached and are glad that it is. However, take a look at Paul's method in presenting the sin of anger in the New Testament and one will readily discern what is glaringly lacking in the "practical, relevant" model.
"Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity .And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph 4: 26,27, 30- Eph 5:1)
Simply consider the following questions. How does the devil gain a foothold in the life of a believer? What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit of God? What are some examples of those who did grieve the Spirit? What does it mean to be sealed? What is the day of redemption all about? What is the nature of the forgiveness that God has granted those in Christ? How does one imitate God? If I am to imitate God, what does the character of God consist of? Note well, these are all matters of doctrinal instruction without which the believer has absolutely no idea what Paul is even saying in his letter to the Ephesians. Yet unbelievably, those who would propound this approach to the church can unashamedly tell us that doctrinal matters are not "practical or relevant" to most people and are therefore to be avoided or at least minimized when teaching the Word of God!
In focusing exclusively on
the "practical", the seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven
model is therefore diametrically opposed to the divine pattern
as laid out by the apostles. Any pastor or teacher who would assert
that they have been instructed by the Lord to focus their teaching
exclusively on the "practical, relevant" portions of
Scripture to the neglect of doctrinal instruction is grossly deceived.
They are setting themselves in direct opposition to the apostles
and will ultimately end up doing incredible disservice to those
who sit beneath their ministry.
We have done with the presentation of truth to the believer. Some may argue that when it comes to the unbeliever this "practical, relevant" approach may be usefully employed. In our next article we will turn our attention to the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" model as it relates to the presentation of the gospel to the world. There, we will discover the manifold errors it contains and the serious consequences it is having on the American church.
Yours in Christ,
Copyright © 1999 Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Return to Homepage