A Critique of the "Seeker-Sensitive, Purpose-Driven" Church Model
"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 examined the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model as it relates to the believer. There we discovered that it falls drastically short of the pattern that the Lord Christ laid out for the building of His church. By its emphasis on the "practical" at the expense of doctrine, it violates the apostolic method of imparting truth to the people of God. By setting itself in opposition to the Divine pattern it therefore is inevitable that it produces "moralists" rather than "saints". For it is only the saint who understands why he or she conducts himself or herself in the manner in which they do. Having the proper doctrinal foundation laid, the child of God sees the reasonableness of a life of purity and devotion to Christ. Perceiving the nature of their holy and heavenly calling, they order their life in a manner that is worthy of that calling. To the "new man", these doctrinal truths become the very life of their soul. These truths shape the manner in which they see both themselves and the world that is around them.
The moralist, on the other hand, never is able to comprehend the "why" behind what they do. To them, Christianity becomes a set of principles which they are to apply to their life in much the same way as a Muslim or Buddhist would do. All their actions therefore proceed from a faulty mainspring. Having never truly grasped the holy nature of the Godhead, the depth of iniquity into which man has fallen, the exceeding worth and value of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, or the glory and beauty of holiness, the moralist is never able to rise any higher than himself as the center of all his actions. His motive in putting into practice these principles from Scripture can therefore never be to bring glory and honor to God nor to bring joy to the One whom he claims has saved him. Rather, he adopts these principles in an attempt to obtain a "better quality of life" and to therefore make things better for himself. For instance, he finds that by learning to handle his finances in a Biblical manner he can eliminate a lot of unnecessary worries and grief. This is to be desired so he thinks and so why not learn what else the Bible can teach him about a host of various topics. He deals with a lot of stress in his life, so what does the Bible have to say about that he now queries. He would also like to see his marriage improve while he is at it, so why not learn the Biblical principles behind a good marriage goes his reasoning. The problem with all this is quite obvious. One can do all these things, apply all these principles, improve their "quality of life" tremendously, and still remain dead in his sins and transgressions.
Bear in mind that this "user-friendly" approach has as its underlying premise that only those things that are "practical" are to be presented to the "unchurched" in an attempt to "meet their needs". It is by "meeting the unchurched at their point of need" that they are to be influenced and thereby persuaded to become a part of the "crowd" that regularly attends the weekly worship service. It is anticipated that they will then at some point give their life to Christ and so become part of the "congregation" and then eventually the "core" of the church. If this is to occur, so the premise goes, doctrinal issues are to be deliberately avoided in the sermon as they are not "relevant" to the "needs" of the unchurched and thereby reinforce the idea that the church is completely out of touch with the realities of everyday life.
While not calling into question the motives behind those who would employ this particular methodology, we nonetheless wish to expose its complete and utter fallacy. To begin with, it abysmally falls short in dealing with the basic problem confronting the human race, i.e., that man is "dead in trespasses and sins" and is:
"…darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness" (Eph 4: 18,19).
No human being descended from Adam can ever escape the force of this truth. Man does not need a few nips here, a few tucks there, a couple of bandages and a few stitches to cure his problem. He is completely and utterly ruined! Look at that description closely. His understanding, his mind is filled with darkness. He wanders about unable to see clearly his own true condition by nature. He knows not where he goes. In addition, he is "alienated" from the life of God and has lost all true communion and fellowship with the living God. As a result he spends himself trying to fill a great void within him that can seemingly never be filled. He instinctively senses the fleeting vanity of this life, but sees no answer to this dilemma. Added to this, he is ignorant. O, he may be skilled in the sciences and wise in technological innovation but he is ignorant of the most essential truths. He is ignorant of the true nature of the God with whom he must deal. He is ignorant of the fact that there is enmity between this God and himself. He is oblivious to the fact that he lies under the judgment of this God and is thereby exposed to His wrath. He is ignorant of his own utter helplessness to deliver himself from this wrath. He knows not that he must stand before a throne of pristine purity and be judged by this God against whom he has so grievously sinned and transgressed. He comprehends not that he has absolutely no righteousness of his own that he can produce which will satisfy the claims of Divine justice. He therefore recognizes not the extreme peril he is in. In short, far from his ignorance being "bliss", his ignorance left unhealed will in the end destroy him. Lastly, his heart is harder than stone. Unresponsive, unyielding, unimpressionable, impervious, he is unmoved by the blows of Providence that fall upon his life nor is he melted by the goodness of the Creator who gives him the very breath that is in his nostrils. This is the dire picture of the human race that is painted by the apostle.
Now, we ask you in all sincerity, of what use is it to inform a man of the "practical, relevant" teachings of the Bible to only leave him ignorant of his true condition? What he needs is not to learn how to apply Bible principles of finance nor is it to learn how to cope with stress or some others of life’s problems. No, what he needs is to be informed of the grave danger he is in and how he may be delivered from this wrath that he lies exposed to!
Where Paul the apostle could solemnly state,
"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…" (2Cor 5:11),
those who rashly deign to improve on the apostle’s approach would give them biblical principles of balancing their checkbooks! What kind of madness is this that has entered the house of God! Is this what the glorious gospel of the grace of God in Christ has been reduced to, a set of accounting steps! Or even worse, a self-help seminar on handling a bad temper! God help us if it is, yet, an exponentially increasing number of American churches are adopting this novel approach Sunday after Sunday as it spreads through our land like a virulent epidemic.
There is a principle in Scripture that in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established. In keeping with this, let us look at another instance of the apostle Paul presenting the gospel to an unbeliever. In the book of Acts, chapter 24, we learn that Paul has been held captive in Caesarea, the governor of which is one by the name of Felix. Desiring to know more of the subject on which Paul is teaching, he sends to have him brought from his cell. Luke relates the story as follows:
"And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ." (Acts 24:24).
Notice carefully the subject about which Felix is curious for more information – "the faith in Christ". In other words, Paul is going to be given an opportunity to speak directly to Felix the very heart of the message with which he has been entrusted, i.e., the gospel. Observe what is next recorded in Holy Writ:
"And as he (Paul) reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." (Acts 24:25).
Look at the contents of the great apostle’s message – righteousness, temperance or self-control, and the judgment to come. Not a word about: "how to cope with anger" or "how to better handle one’s finances", or "how to cope with stress". Neither is there a "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" or any other such banal drivel. Instead, there is the solemn proclamation of eternal judgment and the need for a righteousness which can bear the scrutiny of the Judge of the whole earth. Now look at its effect upon Felix- "he trembled". Well he should have. Indeed, no one under the conviction of the Spirit as "He convinces the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16: 8) can long remain unaffected. He may turn and abruptly leave the presence of the messenger, but the fact remains that he will have been brought face to face with eternity.
One further incident in the apostle Paul’s life will further serve to buttress the point being made. In Acts 17, we find Paul preaching on Mars Hill before the philosophers and other citizens of Athens in ancient Greece. Once again, notice the content of his preaching to these perishing sons of the earth:
"Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:29-31).
No where is the so-called "practical, relevant, meet-them-at-their-point-of-need" approach taken by the apostle to the Gentiles. In verse 18 of this same chapter, Paul had been speaking to them of Jesus and the resurrection. Here we see that he further brings in the same themes with which he confronted Felix, righteousness and eternal judgment. From all of these examples it should be readily discerned that the thrust of Paul’s gospel was the work of Christ Jesus upon the cross, His subsequent resurrection, His bringing in of an everlasting righteousness, and His exaltation to the place of authority and judgment over the earth. He called upon his hearers to repent and believe this report, whose message they rejected at their own eternal peril.
Dear reader, this and this only is the eternal gospel of Christ. This and this only proclaims the "year of jubilee" to those who are slaves to sin and in bondage to the devil. This and this only is the report that lifts the burden of guilt and shame from those that are "weary and heavy laden". This and this only is that which gives peace to the troubled conscience. A crucified Christ bearing the sins of His people, a risen Christ bringing in justification and eternal righteousness, an exalted Christ coming to judge the living and the dead, this is the eternal gospel which is the "joyful sound" in the ears of lost sinners. This is the only gospel which God will own as His own and has owned as His throughout the history of the church.
In our next article we will examine more fully the nature of the message that was proclaimed not only by the apostles but throughout the history of the church by those entrusted with the solemn responsibility of speaking for Christ. We will further compare it to the "user-friendly" approach of modern origin.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Copyright © 1999 Sovereign Grace Bible Church
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