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 the "antichristian" origin of the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model. We discovered that by its withholding of the essential truths contained in the gospel, it is guilty of subtracting from the word of God in the same fashion that the Gnostics of the apostle John’s day did. In the closing book of the Bible, we find an express injunction against this very same thing:
"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." (Rev 22:18-19 NASV).
Obviously this prohibition is referring to the specific letter to the seven churches, but the principle it espouses is a vital one and is applicable to all of the Word of God. No man has the right to add to or subtract from the expressly revealed oracles of God. To do so is to directly impugn the wisdom of the Creator who has given to man this revelation of Himself and His eternal purpose. It is not for the creature do decide which portions of the Word of God to withhold from the sons of men. Only those who are vainly puffed up with a sense of their own importance and wisdom would dare to do something so flagrantly in defiance of God. Those who would join themselves to the spirit of antichrist by subtracting the essential truths of the gospel from their message would do well to heed the Divine injunction to the prophet Ezekiel:
"Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand…Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he shall die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand". (Ezek 3:17-18, 20 NASV).
How this particular "user-friendly" model which deliberately focuses on the "relevant, practical" sermon, can lay claim to be obedient to this portion of the Scripture I must admit is beyond me. Its entire approach is built around the premise of avoiding offense to its hearers. What kind of watchmen can he then be who will not warn his charges of the grave danger they are in and instead tells them how to better deal with stress or as is the case with some of these churches who have gone even further down this slippery slope, how to have a better love life? Imagine this, lost and perishing sinners exposed to the wrath of God completely devoid of any righteousness of their own, dropping into a "Christian" worship service only to hear how to improve their conjugal relations with each other! Is this what the noble calling of the prophet of God has degenerated into? What could make the devil any happier than this? Oh, where has the discernment of those who would condone such soul-damning practices as this gone?
One thing is absolutely certain, these men who would employ such wicked practices have absolutely nothing in common with Paul when he could boldly assert before the elders of Ephesus on the day that he took his leave from them:
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:26-27 NKJV).
It is obvious that the great apostle had the words of Ezekiel evermore before his eyes as he went about fulfilling his ministry and declaring his gospel to the world of that day. He understood that their blood would be required at his hand should he fail to warn them of their peril. The true servant of Christ, who genuinely has the welfare of his listeners at heart, will love them enough to tell them the painful truth even if it brings shame and reproach upon him in the process. This is one of the characteristics that marked him as a true servant of Christ. Those who fail to do this can in no manner whatsoever be regarded as true servants of Christ and therefore should be regarded as the servants of antichrist instead. Let those who would scoff at this then do so at their own risk. We will take our stand with the apostle let them carp all they please.
Let us now enlarge further on the inherent flaws in this scheme. To better do this, we need to consider one of the basic problems, if not the basic problem of fallen man as related by the Scriptures, self-centeredness or more properly, self-love.
We need not take long in supporting this assertion as the entirety of Scripture all too plainly testifies concerning this. From the very beginning of man in the Garden of Eden we can see this trait coming into play. Eve’s preoccupation with what the fruit could do "for me" led to her ultimate deception and downfall as well as Adam’s. By allowing the devil to turn her focus inward upon herself, Eve permitted Satan to prey upon this creature instinct which is in every created being. The authority of God was cast then aside in favor of what she incorrectly assumed to be in "her best interests". Adam did the same in that he was more concerned about pleasing his wife and hence himself, then he was in pleasing God. He too became more absorbed with himself than He did with the God who made him. From his day until now, men have acted no differently.
Now there is only one God-ordained cure for this leprosy of self-absorption: a new creation! And this new creation is formed only where the gospel is declared to the sons of men. The Almighty power of God must raise the sinner from death to life by the impartation of divine life through the Holy Spirit’s operation in conjunction with the Word of God. His entire being must be radically altered from within and a new set of principles must be birthed within him. The love of God and the desire to please Him above all things must replace his own innate self-love and self-pleasing. Barring this event, all else that takes place in the sinner will do nothing to cure him or her from their self-love. For until this love of self is dealt the deathblow in conversion, all that remains is the "old man" who is part and parcel of the "old creation". This is why the Lord Jesus asserted:
"He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal". (John 12:25).
"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it."(Mark 8:34-35).
"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26-27).
The Lord Jesus made it quite clear that no man can call Him his Lord and Master who is not marked by a life of self-denial. For just as our justification consists primarily of deliverance from the wrath of God and in having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us so that we are now reconciled to Him, so our sanctification consists primarily in being delivered from this inordinate love of self. Without this deliverance from self-seeking and self-pleasing, an individual’s claims to being in the kingdom are empty and without any foundation.
Now we are expressly warned in the Scriptures that:
"…In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power…" (2 Tim 3:1-5 NASV).
Please do not miss the force of this passage of Scripture. It explicitly states that a man may possess the outward appearance of being a child of God and yet still not be delivered from this inordinate love of self. Notice in particular how this vice heads up the list of those characteristics that mark a man who appears religious and yet is still an unregenerate sinner. This Scripture just further buttresses the point that was made previously, i.e., the power of the gospel is most evidenced in its ability to free a man from self love and in its place create a love for God.
Now the reader may be thinking, "This is all very nice, but what does this have to do with the ‘seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven’ church model?" Quite a great deal! Consider the following story in the gospel of John. In the sixth chapter we find a great multitude of people following Jesus because they were seeing Him perform miraculous healings of the sick. The Lord Jesus then made clear His intention to feed this throng of five thousand using five barley loaves and two fish. This is where we will pick up the story.
"Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; and likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.’ And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:11-15 NASV).
Talk about exuberance! The crowd was so delighted that their physical needs had been completely satisfied that they were ready to crown Jesus king right on the spot. And why should they not have because as far as they were concerned anyone who could supply them with this much food was just the right man for the job! Apparently their worries were over. But notice what Jesus’ response was to this mass acceptance of His Person. He immediately withdrew Himself from them. Now this is very insightful as it demonstrates very clearly His disapproval of the motivation that lay behind their reception of Him. It rose no higher than that of self-love. That this is evident will be seen shortly, but observe what happens next.
After Jesus withdrew from the crowd, He crossed over the Sea of Galilee and returned to Capernaum during the night. The following day, the crowd seeing that He was gone, did something most interesting.
"When the multitude therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus." (John 6:24 NASV).
Do not miss this. Here is a group of "seekers". Look at all the effort they went through as well! They actually had to cross the Sea of Galilee to find this Jesus whom they were seeking after. This was no half-hearted effort therefore but required a great deal of energy to be expended. Now, according to the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model, these are just the folks the church should be looking for and attempting to reach. In their view the entire thrust of the worship service should exist to cater to this group of people in particular. Everything should revolve around "meeting their needs".
But observe carefully what the Lord Jesus said to this group of "seekers". Did He rejoice over their diligent efforts to find Him? Did He praise them for their perseverance in crossing over such a large expanse of water? Did He exult over the large size of the crowd that He had attracted? Did He ask them what more He might do to serve them and satisfy their needs? Let us see:
"Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’" (John 6:26 NASV).
On the contrary, He reproves them for their self-seeking and base and unworthy motives. The incarnate Son of God, before Whom the hearts of the sons of men lie open, saw that they were motivated solely by self-love and were only intent on looking out for what they considered to be their own self interests. Jesus knew that as long as He catered to their whims and satisfied their creature interests, they would be more than happy to take Him as their King. In other words, if He would make their earthly lives happier and more satisfying, they would be quite content to have Him as their King. That this was diametrically opposed to His purpose and to the true and spiritual nature of His kingdom, He makes clear by the following:
"’I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.’ The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.’ These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum" (John 6:48-59 NASV).
Since they were focused only on the earthly and the physical aspect of life, Jesus expressly declared to them that their entire concept of what constituted true life was completely and utterly incorrect. They hadn’t a clue as to how needy they actually were. Their problem wasn’t that they needed more food and drink, it was that they were completely devoid of true life. God had not sent Him into the earth to fill their bellies with food and satisfy their carnal delights or cater to their own self-centered and creature instincts. He had not come to grant them a higher "quality of life". He did not come merely for them to "eat, drink, and be merry". If they wanted a King like that, they were in for a rude awakening for this King declared that if they wanted to eat and drink something, then "eat His flesh and drink His blood". If they failed to do this, they could have all that their carnal hearts desired and still not possess the only thing worth truly having, the life of God.
It is at this point that the Scriptures reveal the true character of these "seekers" for all of a sudden this King is no longer quite as attractive to them as He had previously been before.
"Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? (emphasis mine)…From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:60-61, 66).
What was their reaction to the words of Jesus?
They became offended! Observe that as soon as Jesus put them on notice that He
would not accommodate their carnal desires they quickly grew disenchanted with
Him. One moment they are ready to make Him king,
the next they want nothing to do with him. As soon as they were directed away from the natural and the earthly to the spiritual and to the eternal they lost interest in His person and His message. Truly, human nature is fickle and is as unstable as water.
The point is that these "seekers" were a prime example of those who have a form of godliness but deny its power. They seemed fervent and sincere at first glance and even greatly desired to follow Jesus. They proposed to make Him their King and extolled Him for being their long awaited Messiah, the Prophet announced beforehand by Moses. They even went through great pains to chase Him across the Sea of Galilee. In a rush of religious exuberance, they even ardently desired the bread of God which "comes out of heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:33-34). Yet all the while their true character was not hidden form the Lord of heaven who said in their ears:
"But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe" (John 6:36).
In spite of all this apparent religious zeal, Jesus bluntly tells them that they were still dead in their sins. Why? Because their continued dominance by the principle of self-love spoke volumes to His all-knowing eyes. They were still "lovers of self" more than "lovers of God". They put themselves at the center of their own universe and made everything else revolve around them and exist for their own benefit including even the King of Kings. What presumption in the creature is this! Instead of them taking their rightful place in humble submission and serving the living God in humility and dependence they would have the King of glory cater to them.
Now this is exactly what is going to occur whenever the church shifts to "meeting needs" instead of declaring truth. It is what is precisely wrong with the "seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven" church model. By its very design it plays to this principle of self-love in the masses.
For by catering to this innate self-interest in all men, multitudes will then be taught to follow Christ for the "loaves and fishes", i.e., the earthly and material benefits He can provide. "Want a happier life?" - take Jesus. "Want a better way of handling stress?" – take Jesus. "Want to have a better marriage?" – take Jesus. "Want a better way to manage your relationships?" – take Jesus. "Want a better love life?" –take Jesus. "Having a problem with your children?" – take Jesus. The list is endless but the effect will always be the same. God will be presented in such a fashion as to reduce Him to existing to serve the earthly needs of His own creatures rather than His creatures existing to serve Him. All the while, the true spiritual need of the creature will be passed over in silence for fear of giving offense and being labeled "not relevant". In other words, the great King of Glory will now stand at the beck and call of His subjects and exist only to satisfy their own material and natural self-interests. He will not be loved and served for who He is, but rather for what He can do for the creature. This is self-love exalted to the highest degree. It now makes even the great God of heaven subject to itself! The end result in all this – a self-absorbed religionist is produced.
The proof of this will be seen in the reaction of this "religionist" to the Providence of God. As long as God continues to "perform" for this individual, as long as the religionist feels that the "quality" of his life is improving since his accepting of this God for his God, all will be well. But let the Most High cross His creature and "fail to live up to His end of the bargain" in making their life more "meaningful and satisfying"; let Him arrange some trial that crosses their flesh and makes their life unhappy or unpleasant, and watch how long it will take for the individual to grow disillusioned and complain aloud to heaven of its injustice against him. Let this God lay some claim of discipleship upon him and call upon him to deny himself and take up his cross or suffer hardship for the gospel and watch how he will fret and become bitter against the Lord Christ. In other words, his true self-centeredness will rear its ugly head and he will charge God with baseness and cruelty to himself. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus spoke of when He related the parable of the sower and the seed. In particular He describes the stony ground hearer whom,
"has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away." (Matt 13:21 NASV).
Because he is still ruled by love of self, the stony ground hearer will not deny that self and suffer any hardship whatsoever for the gospel. He is a "fair weather Christian" who in time of storm and trial is dominated by self-love instead of love for God. How could he be otherwise? He has been produced by a system that boasts of being "relevant and practical"; one that shows him how "useful" the Bible can be to him in improving the quality of his earthly life. His image of the great God of Scripture therefore is a warped and twisted one which bears no resemblance to reality simply because the entire thrust of this system is to show the sinner how God can better serve him! He knows nothing of the true nature and character of this God, nothing of his own true sinful nature, nothing of the true nature of salvation, nothing of the nature of the trials and tests that he must face as a Christian, nothing of the nature of the devil he must face, nothing of the nature of the battle which he will now have to engage in, nothing of the nature of the race that he must now run, nothing of the nature of the self-denial to which he is called. In short, he knows nothing at all except how to expect a better quality of life now that he is applying Biblical principles. He is like the foolish Israelites who expected their trip to Canaan to be smooth and uneventful and had no idea that they would have to battle Amalek on the way (Exodus 17:8) or face difficult trials to prove the genuineness of their faith (Deut 8:2-3, 15-16).
What a horrible travesty is this! What an absolute mockery this system makes of all that is considered vital and essential to sound doctrine! How incredibly ill prepared are the victims of this rash scheme for the grim realities of life in this sin-cursed world! What easy prey are they for the "lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour"! How any child of God could condone or tolerate such a method hatched in the very bowels of hell itself is simply staggering to this author. How many more victims must it cast down before godly men will rise up in outrage and condemn it?
In our next article, we will see why this system will be unable to produce true saints who fervently love Christ Jesus with all of their hearts.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Dan Norcini
Copyright © 1999 Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Return to Homepage