Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Gospel: To Offend or Not Offend...

A fairly new term has cropped up in religious circles of late. We hear of churches being "this" and Bible studies offering "this" and even types of evangelism practicing "this."

But what is "this"?

The phrase is "seeker friendly" or "seeker sensitive." You know, there are:

"Seeker friendly" churches.

"Seeker friendly" programs.

"Seeker friendly" ____________ (fill in the spiritual blank)

Now, before we move on, please hear my heart. I am not against methods and practices which encourage people who are "seeking" God, and I am not against churches adopting concepts that help to get the gospel to the lost, in fact, evangelism is among my greatest passions.

The term or concept of "seeker friendly" (usually) though goes much, much farther, and has a far more darker side than most Christians are aware of.  More often than not, the concept of "seeker friendly" has to do with how the "gospel" is presented, and the goal is to present something that will not "offend", "turn off", or be negative in any sort of way.

Some may be protesting:

"Well, what's wrong with that? I mean, whatever it takes to get 'em in the door! Right?!"


The problem is that the gospel itself IS offensive to our human nature. The fact that Jesus had to suffer, shed His blood, and die on the cross to pay the price for our sins to save us from hell is...well, a bit of a blow to the ego of mankind.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

"...we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews, a stumbling block, and to the gentiles, foolishness."
(I Corinthians 1:23)

The Greek word that we translate "gospel" literally means "good news", but it's the kind of good news that is only good when you understand the "bad news," too. You see, the good news is that Jesus really did die on a cross to pay the price for your sins and my sins, to save us from a lost eternity. But, embedded within that, is a whole host of "bad news" that we must be willing to admit.

First, we are sinners. The Lord says: "For ALL have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God" and "There is no one righteous, no, not even one..." (Romans 3:23, 3:12).  No one likes to hear that, no one wants to believe that they are sinful, but God says it. It is the truth. Every time we look in the mirror, we are looking at a spiritual "most wanted" photo with the word "guilty" at the bottom. We willingly lie, deceive, lust, and are unthankful, just to name a few. There's no denying it.

Secondly, our sin deserves the judgment of a holy God. God actually does hate sin. Psalm 5:5 reveals: "(The LORD) hates all workers of sin." God also says: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you..." (Isaiah 59:2)

Sin separates us from a holy God, and if we die in that state of separation, we will ultimately be lost in the judgment of the lake of fire. In Revelation 20:15 we read these chilling words: "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire."

If that's not offensive, then I don't know what is.

But, that's only a PART of the gospel, albeit a necessary one to acknowledge. The other side of that "gospel coin" is the good news.

First, that God created us and loves us (John 3:16)

Secondly, that the Father sent Jesus, the Son, to take your place and my place on the cross, and that He died to pay the penalty for our sins against a righteous and holy God.

Finally, that God can now offer salvation and forgiveness as a totally FREE GIFT to any and all who are willing to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. (Ephesians 2:8,9, Romans 6:23)

You see, the good news wouldn't make any sense, if it weren't for the bad news, too. If you just tell someone that God loves them and that Jesus died for them, they might smile and say: "That's nice." But it has no effect, no power in their heart until they understand why He came, why He had to die, and what they must do about His free offer of grace.

Here is a simple example: Imagine that you are sitting in a doctor's office awaiting the physician to return after a vigorous and thorough examination and testing. The wise medical professional walks into the room and says, "I have some good news, it looks like you are a perfect candidate for brain surgery!" 

He smiles... don't.

"What do you mean---brain surgery?!?!" you exclaim in shock.

He gets a surprised look on his face, then slaps his forehead. "I'm sorry," he begins, "look at this latest MRI scan. You've got a life-threatening tumor in your temporal lobe. But, good news, this kind of surgery is almost always successful at stopping this type of cancer."

You see, it wasn't until the BAD NEWS (you have brain cancer) was understood, that the GOOD NEWS (brain surgery shows excellent results) really made any sense. I don't care how nice, or "seeker friendly" the doctor is, no one is going to submit to life-threatening brain surgery without a little explanation of WHY it is necessary.

The good news of the gospel isn't good news unless a person understands how dangerous their spiritual condition is. Think about it, every unsaved person is one heartbeat away from a lost eternity. That is about as precarious as one could even imagine.  They need to know the truth.

Now, I am not advocating that every Christian runs out into the streets with posters proclaiming: "You're headed to hell, accept Jesus now!"

There are ways of getting your point across that won't immediately alienate the listeners, and that won't relegate you as a "fanatic nut-job."

As we read the book of Acts, which is a record of how the early Christians began to evangelize a lost world, we see different examples of techniques used to get people to realize their need, and them to present Jesus as the solution.  If the audiences were predominantly Jewish, the early Christians would often begin by pointing out the many prophecies in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) that spoke of a coming Savior who would die for our sins, and then introduce them to Jesus, the fulfillment of those prophecies.

If the audiences were logical types, then you will often read of the apostle Paul and others using logic and reasoning to demonstrate the validity of the fundamentals of the gospel. If they were non-Jewish religious types, we will see a case being presented with proofs of the One True God, and of our sinfulness, and then of Jesus as the answer to our greatest need.

Though the gospel is offensive in it's core message (we are sinners deserving of God's judgment) it doesn't have to be presented in the most offensive way. The doctor won't just walk into a room and say that you have a problem, without at least seeking to identify a possible or probably solution(s). The good news, really is good news, never forget that.

The problem with the ultimate end of this "seeker friendly" environment, such as we see demonstrated in the Emergent (Emerging) Church Movement, is that it avoids (or removes) the very foundation for the gospel itself. You see, if we aren't sinners, then Jesus didn't need to come and die for us to save us, in fact, we don't need saving, maybe we just need "remodeling." Jesus isn't our "remodeler" or our "workout coach" or our "best buddy", He is first and foremost our SAVIOR, and as sinners, that is our biggest need.

I will end with a humorous but sad illustration of the danger of this "seeker friendly" movement as it relates to the gospel. This is a hypothetical discussion at a strategy meeting in a local "seeker friendly" church.

Speaker 1:
"According to the Bible, the gospel is that we are sinners and deserve to be punished, but that God loves us and sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins so that we could receive the free gift of eternal life."

Speaker 2:
"What?! That'll never fly in today's culture. It's so, well, negative, and, um, harsh."

Speaker 3: "Yeah, gimme a break! That intolerant hellfire and brimstone business has no place in the modern church, it might've worked 2000 years ago, but now, come on, people don't need judgment crammed down their throat."

Speaker 1: "Well, what do you folks recommend?"

Speaker 4: "Let's focus on the positive, minimize the in business, why not in the church?!"

Speaker 1: "OK, gimme a sec to re-word this, ok, now, um, let's see. The gospel is that God loves us and sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we could receive the free gift of eternal life."

Speaker 5: "Nope, never work. That whole business about death and Jesus dying, too morbid. That's a bit uncivilized!"

Speaker 6: "I agree, nix the death stuff."

Speaker 1: "OK, no death. Hold on, ok, now, I'm just about there.Alright: the gospel is that God loves us and sent Jesus so that we could receive the free gift of eternal life."

Speaker 3: "I don't know, something still seems a bit negative. Oh, I know, it's that whole business about receiving the gift of eternal life. It sounds like we are reminding them that they DON'T have it."

Speaker 7: "But they don't have it, that is, if they aren't saved--that's what the Bible says."

Speaker 2: "Now that's exactly the kind of talk we don't need in our church, you'll run people off with that kind of dogmatic bible-babble."

Speaker 3: "Yeah, and we might want to leave off any reference to Jesus. That would offend a lot of orthodox Jews, and even most Muslims."

Speaker 1: "Ok, I think I've got it reworked now. How's this: The gospel is that God loves us."

Speaker 2: "Drop the word 'Gospel', too outdated, archaic, meaningless in today's culture."

Speaker 1: "Alrighty, then, how about...God loves us."

Speaker 5: "It's pretty close, but I'm worried about offending different seekers, like agnostics, or maybe some of our far eastern friends who don't really accept the concept of a personal god. It could cause them to not come back."

Speaker 2: "Great point, not sure how I missed that one."

Speaker 1: "Well, now let me see, take that out, and, uh, OK, here we go....LOVE."

Speaker 3: "Now that's a message worth spreading around!"

Speaker 6: (wiping tears away) "It''s beautiful!"

Speaker 4: "I'm gonna go put that our on digital road sign right now!"

Speaker 2: "Give it three months, we'll have to start a new building project to hold all the new people!"

Speaker 1: "Praise God, meeting adjourned."


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