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 its works are evil" (John 7:7 NKJV)
In our last article we examined why the message of the cross arouses the hostility of sinners when it is faithfully declared in their ears. In this article we will delve into the attempts by the proponents of the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model to minimize, if not outright eliminate this inbred resistance by the world to the gospel of Christ.
"But, I brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." (Gal 5:11 NASV).
The word translated stumbling block in this passage, also translated "offense", is the Greek word, "skandalon", from which we derive our English word "scandal". Simply put, Paul is saying that the cross is a scandal, a stumbling block, to the natural man. The preaching of it offended men then and it will offend them now. This is one thing about it that will never change nor can it ever be changed. This is the reason that those who declare the gospel, the word of the cross, to unregenerate sinners, can expect to meet with nothing but the jeers and scoffing of a hostile world.
There is however one way to completely avoid this persecution from an unbelieving world: remove the cross from the message and you remove the offense. Omit the great truths that explain the reason for it and you eliminate the opposition that it will induce and thus remove its "foolishness". This is precisely what the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model has done. It has completely ‘gutted’ the "word of the cross" in a deliberate attempt to remove its "offense" to the natural man. It has attempted to take a "foolish" message and make it seem "reasonable and useful". In so doing, those who employ it have stripped their message of any life-giving power and rendered it completely inoperative as far as making any true saints of God. The very power to raise men from their death in "sins and transgressions" has been literally discarded in an attempt to make the message palatable to those who have no relish for truth in the first place.
The harsh reality of this entire matter is that the proponents of this philosophy, whether they realize it or not, are ashamed of the gospel. Oh, they are not ashamed to promise their hearers life and peace. What they are ashamed of is declaring to sinners the reasons why this need this life and peace in the first place. Look at what the apostle Paul declares:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…" (Romans 1:16);
No doubt many of these employing this methodology would say, "Amen! Neither are we!" But a closer look at the rest of the passage from which we quoted reveals something that these men seriously overlook at their own peril and the peril of their listeners:
"For in it (the gospel, note- mine) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…" (Romans 1:17-18 NASV).
Notice very carefully these two verses and what they are contrasting. On the one hand there is the righteousness of God. On the other hand there is the unrighteousness of men. From heaven comes the revelation of the wrath of God against all the unrighteous deeds of sinful men. It is witnessed in the declarative judgments that Paul goes on to enumerate in the remainder of the first chapter. God, in Paul’s day, and is presently still so doing in our day, making it clear to a sinful world that He will most certainly punish sinners for their unrighteousness and trampling of His laws. From the gospel comes the revelation of the righteousness that He Himself brings in. Only this righteousness will shield men from His judgments which go forth against all of man’s unrighteousness. That Paul witnessed to this and plainly declared it in the ears of guilty sinners is clear from this next quote:
"But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation…on the day when, ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:5-8, 16 NASV).
It is impossible to miss the force of what Paul is saying in this passage. He is unequivocally stating that the gospel message he preached to the world included the message of a day of reckoning. Not only was he stating that he was not ashamed to tell men the way to life and immortality, he was also not ashamed to tell men the consequences of their rejection of that way. Anyone therefore who would deliberately and calculatingly refrain from declaring this entire truth to men forfeits his right or any serious claim to be called a true messenger of "the gospel". He is declaring to men only half of the message of the cross because he is refusing to tell them what will happen to them should they reject it.
In essence, what the devotees of this "user-friendly" system have done is to so neuter their message that there no longer remains any source of shame in its presentation to the world. Where is the element of shame in telling men and women better ways to handle their finances? Is there any cause for embarrassment in telling people how to find and maintain happiness? How about better ways of handling stress? Of course not! But teach and preach the same gospel that Paul the apostle set forth and you will be ridiculed by a scoffing world and face humiliation by the inhabitants of "Vanity Fair" as portrayed in Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress.
The fact of the matter is that this model is indeed calculated to appeal to the masses. And it is a fact that in order to appeal to the masses, one is certainly not going to employ any procedure or proclaim any message that would cause them to react in such a fashion as to bring shame upon the messenger. In other words, if my product is one which by its very nature causes people to reject not only it but myself as well, then I must do something to alter that product so that it will no longer produce this undesirable effect. Those adherents to the "user-friendly" model would do well to give earnest heed to the words of our Lord Jesus:
"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38 NASV).
In failing to preach "the word of the cross" and thereby avoiding the shame that attends its proclamation, they give clear proof of their complicity in this matter.
Is it any wonder then that the masses are streaming to churches proclaiming this "so-called" gospel and its proponents report exponential growth in their congregations. It contains nothing in it to offend them in the least. Neither does it disturb the lost sinner’s peace nor does it alarm in the slightest his slumbering conscience. He can sit there in perfect tranquility never once being confronted with the reality of his own perilous condition nor with the character of the great God of heaven and earth with Whom he must deal. Conviction of his own "lostness" therefore, is completely and conspicuously absent as the doctrinal truth of man’s alienation from God is passed over in silence. Since the evil in his nature is left unexposed, and the light of truth does not shine too deeply into his heart, he is quite content to sit there and receive all kinds of these "practical, relevant" sermons. He therefore goes out the same way he went in, a captive slave of the devil (2Tim 2:26). Only this time he is a bit more "moral" slave than he was previously.
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace…" (Luke 11:21)
This is exactly the condition of every man born of Adam. The strong man, i.e., the devil, keeps his slaves in perfect peace by blinding them to the extreme peril they are in. They possess a peace all right. But it is a false peace, the sleep of death, from which they must be awakened or they perish eternally. The gospel is the only God-ordained remedy to disturb or unsettle this deceitful peace and expose their false sense of security for the sham that it is. In a true sense, it rings the alarm bell in the sinner’s ear and rouses him, startling him by breaking in upon his slumbering conscience and stirring him to activity.
Those who would adopt this "seeker-sensitive" methodology, by failing to give the alarm, merely repeat what has already happened so long ago. It is with them as it was with Jeremiah the prophet who spoke during a period of horrible defection from the truth in the land:
"And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14 NASV).
"An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?" (Jer 5:30-31 NASV).
The people of his day had absolutely no idea of the danger that they were in. The Babylonian juggernaut was poised to descend upon their land in savage fury and instead of the alarm being sounded throughout the land, these "prophets" spoke only of continued ease and plenty. They failed to confront their listeners with their egregious ways and warn them of the consequences of their continued rebellion against the Lord. As a result, the people were totally unprepared for what they were about to encounter.
"But, ‘Ah, Lord God!’ I said, ‘Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who are prophesying, although it was not I who sent them – yet they keep saying, ‘There shall be no sword or famine in this land’ – by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! The people also to whom they are prophesying will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and there will be no one to bury them – neither them, nor their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters – for I shall pour out their own wickedness on them.’" (Jer 14:13-16 NASV).
The end result of all this upon the people was easily predictable. Listen to their attitude:
"Misfortune will not come on us; and we will not see sword or famine." (Jer 5:12).
Ignorant of their peril and rashly assuming that all would continue in their lives as it had always been, they were suddenly (Jer 15: 8) destroyed and left without any remedy.
"We waited for peace, but nothing good came; and for a time of healing, but behold, terror!" (Jer 14:19 NASV).
If only they had hearkened to the voice of Jeremiah. Instead they chose to lend their ears to those who would tickle them instead of faithfully reproving them.
"I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and the evil of their deeds." (Jer 23:21-22 NASV).
Dear reader, the Scriptures speak very clearly when they state:
"That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl. 1:9 NASV).
In the same fashion in which the ‘prophets’ of Jeremiah’s day failed to warn their hearers of the danger they were in, so too do those who employ this "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model fail to warn those who sit before them as well. While promising them "peace and safety" by failing to sound the alarm in their ears, they are merely following in the footsteps of the contemporaries of Jeremiah. But as he so eloquently put it, "What will you do at the end of it?"
In our next article we will look at a specific example of one of these churches employing this model and will attempt to point out the glaring deficiencies that are inherent in its philosophy.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Dan Norcini
Copyright © 1999 Sovereign Grace Bible Church
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