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 previous article we examined the philosophical views behind those who adopt the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model. There we discovered the glaring deficiencies in the "message" that they are holding forth to the world in comparison to the gospel as it is set forth in the Scriptures especially when compared to the gospel declared by the apostle Paul. In this article we will examine the true origin of this methodology and will discover the subtle but deceitful spirit that lies behind it.
We have already shown that the true gospel, also called the word of the cross by Paul (1Cor 1:18), is not being preached in these churches that have adopted the "user-friendly" model, no matter what their claims to the contrary. By their omitting the essential truths contained in the gospel; the wrath of God, the absolute necessity for repentance, the day of judgment, the reason behind the death of the Lord Jesus upon the cross, and of the need for a righteousness which will bear the scrutiny of the Judge of the whole earth, these churches can no longer be considered as valid New Testament churches in any sense of the word as it is used in the Scriptures. Having failed in their God-ordained responsibility to be a pillar and support of the truth (1Tim 3:15) they have instead accommodated themselves to the latest societal fad and have shrunk back from declaring to men the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Desiring to escape the shame and reproach from the world that all the true servants of Christ must endure as the result of the faithful declaration of the truth with which they have been entrusted, the purveyors of this novel approach have instead sought to win the approval of the world rather than that of the Lord Christ (Gal 1:10). In so doing, they have shown their true colors and hence forfeit any right to be called true servants of Christ. Rather they have shown themselves to be no different than the deceitful workers who troubled the Galatian church of Paul’s day with another gospel.
Let this charge should cause some of the more simple minded and naïve to reel with astonishment, the writer begs leave for them to consider the following. The gospel is the word of life. It is the ONLY instrument that the church has with which to raise men from their graves of sin and transgression into newness of life. It is the ONLY means whereby guilty sinners exposed to the wrath of God can be reconciled and brought into the Divine favor. It is the ONLY means whereby the slaves of Satan can be set free into the liberty of the sons of God. It is the ONLY means whereby men can be delivered from the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of light. It is the ONLY true light that shines in the midst of a world filled with darkness and ignorance of the true God. Therefore, it is essential that it be defended and protected against corruption by those entrusted with the solemn task of declaring it before the sons of men. This is precisely what Paul had in mind when he stated:
"…according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (1Tim 1:11 NASV)
"…knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel." (Phil 1:16 NASV).
The apostle knew that the gospel had been entrusted to him by his Master and that part of his stewardship included defending it from the assaults of unprincipled men who were doing the bidding of the devil. This often brought him into fierce conflict with those who sought to corrupt it either by adding to it or subtracting from it. This explains the harsh tone he so often seems to exhibit in many of his epistles towards those who sought to pervert it in any fashion. He knew behind it all, lay the work of the serpent of old, the ancient deceiver, the devil himself. As it was truly a matter of life and death, we see him passing on this sense of solemn earnestness to his young protégé in the faith, Timothy:
"O Timothy, guard that which has been entrusted to you (the gospel, note mine), avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith" (1Tim 6:20-21 NASV)
"Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." (2Tim 1:14 NASV).
Not only do we see Paul exhorting Timothy in this regard but we also see Jude exhorting his readers to do the very same thing:
"Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith (the system of doctrinal truth – note mine) which was once for all delivered to the saints."(Jude: 3 NASV).
Notice that these early ministers of the gospel not only expected an assault to be made upon the truth of the gospel, but that they considered it as their God-given responsibility to defend it even if it meant risking their lives and reputations to do so. As vigilant soldiers of their King, they were constantly on guard for any sign of the enemy’s activities and met each incursion of his with a clear rebuttal and refutation of his lies so as to preserve pure their message.
To miss this point and not understand this is to leave oneself totally unprepared and unguarded against the activity of the devil. Far too many professing Christians today act as if Satan is a figment of men’s overactive imaginations and is no longer to be considered as a deadly adversary. Certainly, the apostle Paul knew of no such foolish and dangerous notions when he proclaimed:
"…in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes." (2Cor 2:11 NASV).
Now, the devil has many schemes or devices, chief of which is to corrupt the glorious gospel of Christ. He has never ceased to assault this eternal gospel in the attempt to pervert, distort, dilute, twist, and render it ineffectual and powerless. He must somehow rob it of its "power unto salvation", as it is its truth that threatens his kingdom. But he must do so in as subtle and sly a manner as possible. He must do it in such a way so as to avoid discovery of his machinations. Diabolically cunning as he is, he innately realizes that his nefarious schemes are far more likely to ensnare and deceive if he can wrap them in a facade of truth. An outright, bald-faced lie is far too easy to detect. Hence, enter the subtle, but deadly counterfeit. Error disguised as closely as possible to resemble the truth.
Take a look at his work in these two churches in introducing his counterfeit and watch how Paul the apostle responds to his lies:
"But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8-9 NASV)
"But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a DIFFERENT GOSPEL which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." (2Cor 11:3-4 NASV).
Harsh words some might foolishly proclaim. No love shown here the critics might carp. However that does nothing to alter the truth of these words nor does it alter the seriousness of the issue that was at stake then as it is now. For until one understands the life and death issues that are involved in the proclamation of the gospel and the supreme priority of keeping that gospel free from corruption and guarding it against all attacks, they will never enter into the spirit of the apostle Paul.
What must be understood is the sobering fact that there will always be counterfeit gospels that lie in wait to deceive unsuspecting professors. They existed in Paul’s day among the Galatian churches and in the Corinthian church and they will always exist down until the end of this age. Now, what was Paul’s response to these "gospels"? Did he ignore them? Did he keep silent so as to avoid being labeled as "critical, intolerant, or unloving"? Absolutely not! He immediately condemns these counterfeit gospels for what they were in actuality, lies of the devil to bewitch and beguile unsuspecting and unstable souls. In some of the harshest language in the New Testament, he pronounces an anathema against the Judaizers of his day who sought to add the need for circumcision to the gospel of Christ. Sweeping aside the claims of the maudlin sentimentalists, he condemns these enemies of the gospel to the region of the eternal fires.
In the Corinthian church, he goes on to give the true description of those who were propagating this "different gospel" among his beloved converts:
"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds" (2Cor 11: 13-15 NASV).
Notice how he attributes this "different gospel" to the work of the devil coming as an angel of light to deceive. Now, in all likelihood, these men who were propagating these different gospels were probably quite sincere and well meaning. It is hard to fathom a group of hypocrites gaining such a strong foothold both in the churches of Galatia and in the Corinthian church. Their duplicity would have been spotted immediately by these early Christians. Nevertheless, their sincerity did not absolve them of their pernicious errors. The fact was that they were serving the interests of the devil and not of Christ no matter how sincere they may or may not have been.
This is a critical fact that bears reemphasizing. Sincerity is no substitute for truth. A man can be full of sincerity at the same time he is busy spreading the devil’s dangerous lies through the household of faith. Well-intentioned, but misled people too often overlook this fact and therefore refuse to judge the doctrine and practices of those men who claim to speak for Christ. This is precisely the attitude that Satan relies on to keep his cunning lies and false gospels undetected. His clever substitutes thrive in such an environment. This is why the apostle John commanded his hearers to:
"…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1John 4:1 NASV).
By failing to heed this apostolic injunction, many whom have embraced this "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model have opened wide the doors of their church to the ancient enemy of the faith and permitted him to introduce "another gospel", a "different one" into their very midst. One has only to consider the circumstances which evoked this particular statement from John in the first place to see the dire consequences which follow upon its disregard and its remarkable applicability to our present topic.
In the apostle’s day, a group of people arose within the church that the historians classify as the Gnostics. These Gnostics presented a dangerous yet subtle threat to the primitive church due to some peculiar views of theirs concerning the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were greatly influenced by the prevalent Grecian philosophy of the day which regarded the universe as composed of two separate components; flesh or matter, and spirit. In their view all that was of the flesh was impure and evil. All that was of the spirit was pure and good. What these Gnostics did was to in effect attempt to blend Christian doctrine concerning the person of Christ with Greek philosophy.
They did this by stating that Jesus Christ could not have actually come in the flesh because in so doing He would have had to have taken on the impurity and defilement that is endemic to all flesh. He therefore would not be pure and holy, but actually would have become defiled. Therefore, they postulated, that He did not actually take on flesh and blood, but was in reality an appearance of flesh and blood. In other words, He was a phantasm, an image, if you please, that looked so life like that none could tell the difference. Only in this way could He remain spirit and therefore remain pure and undefiled. They simply believed that Jesus was the appearance that the Christ took on. He was not really a real man, but was only a phantasm. This was the only conceivable way in their own minds that they could harmonize their "Christian doctrine" with their Greek philosophy.
Notice they did not deny Jesus Christ completely. They claimed to believe in Him and to have been born of God and to have come to a true knowledge of God. They used the words, "Jesus", "Christ", "God", "born of God", "knowing God", "light", and others which all were used by the Christians of John’s day as they still are in our day. Read the entirety of John’s epistle observing the frequency with which these words are used and you will soon notice how John is using their words and correcting their misuse and misappropriation of them. Now what was John’s response to all this? How did he react to their "misunderstanding" of the true nature of the person of Christ? He denounced them as "antichrists"!
"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." (1John 4:2-3 NKJV).
This is a startling charge! Why does he not simply refer to them as "misguided brethren" who need to be better instructed concerning the person of Christ? To actually label them as "antichrists" (1John 2:18-19) again seems harsh to many of us who are so far removed form the conflict which was then raging in the early church. Yet to John, whose anointed eye had discerned the true spirit and power that was at work behind these men, their attack on the person of Christ represented a frontal assault on the very foundational doctrines of the Christian faith! If Jesus was merely a phantasm and not really flesh and blood, not a real man, then His death upon the cross could not have made a fitting atonement for the sins of His people. It was men who had sinned in Adam and in themselves and it was therefore only a man, someone of their own true nature, that could provide a fitting substitute for them. As the letter to the Hebrews clearly states:
"Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil…therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."(Hebrews 2:14, 17 NASV).
In other words, if Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh, then His sacrifice of Himself did not make propitiation for the sins of His people and they were still dead in their sins and transgressions and exposed to the wrath of God! This was no innocent mistake, but a deadly and diabolical attack on the very essence of the gospel itself! John saw this as "antichrist" and what he writes gives us a powerful insight into the nature of the strategy employed by the devil as he brings in his "antichrists" to counter the "true Christ" of the gospel.
What these Gnostics did was to SUBTRACT from the essence or person of the Lord Jesus Christ. They mounted no assault on His divinity. They simply subtracted His true humanity from Him. In other words, they omitted from their "gospel" those truths which directly concern the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in their place substituted what "seemed right in their own eyes". In so doing, they demonstrated to all that they belonged not to the kingdom of God, but were in reality part and parcel of the world, the kingdom of darkness and of the evil one. John then goes on to state that they were of "the spirit of error" in contrast to "the spirit of truth" (1John 4:6). This he defines as the spirit of "antichrist".
In other words, according to the apostle John, "antichrist" is anything which under the guise of "Christ" or "Christian", subtracts from its message those essential truths of the Christian faith which are necessary to give a complete and proper view of the object that it is attempting to present before the world. Since the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model by its very design, SUBTRACTS the essential truths contained in the gospel as preached by the apostles by preaching only "practical, relevant" Bible messages, it falls squarely within the confines of this definition. It has been already clearly established in this series of articles, that the "gospel" which it is presenting before the world has absolutely nothing in common with that preached by Paul and is a misrepresentation of the truth. It is this author’s contention therefore, that the entire "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model is completely and utterly "antichristian" in its nature and its origin and can therefore only end in the complete and final apostasy of all those who embrace and/or tolerate it.
In our next article, we will go on to validate this charge by showing from the Scriptures how this model is calculated to produce not true saints of God, but rather self-absorbed religionists.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Dan Norcini
Copyright © 1999 Sovereign Grace Bible Church
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