Orginally published on Thursday, December 28, 2006 at 9:01 AM
by Todd Rhoades
In what I find to be an unbelieve and despicable move, one website is now promoting a template that people can use to protest the direction of their church. Believe it or not, the title of the document reads, "A Statement of Concern: To the Leadership of Insert Church Name". Here's the opening paragraph: "Over the past few years, our church has strayed from complete reliance on the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit, and now in emphasizing modern church-growth methods, preaches a watered-down version of the gospel."
Oh… there is so much to write about on this one; but I’ll let you come up with your own commentary. Here are just a couple of my first thoughts though, just to get you started:
1. How do they know the problem in my church or your church? Have they ever attended? Do they know me or my pastor?
2. They must be psychic. They’ve (without ever being there or even knowing my church name) have been able to isolate that the problem has happened ‘over the past few years’. Remarkable.
3. “Modern church growth methods” and preaching a ‘watered-down’ version of the gospel? Sounds like somebody has a soapbox; or a complex (one or the other).
4. To anyone from any church who reads this and is disillusioned with their own church, isn’t this just stirring up dissention and conflict? (I know, the writers of this letter would say that the church leadership has already done this; and they are just pointing out the sins of their leaders).
Am I the only one that finds this infuriating? (just wondering).
Here’s the rest of the template that you’ll probably be receiving in the next few days from someone in your church:
I. The Main Concern
Over the past few years, our church has strayed from complete reliance on the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit, and now in emphasizing modern church-growth methods, preaches a watered-down version of the gospel.
II. Half a Gospel
Our church now presents only half of the gospel in its Sunday church services. The gospel preached here is a sincere attempt to reach the lost, but is unfortunately a message that only highlights grace and faith in Christ, and leaves out any mention of hell or judgment. This presentation weakens the essentials of repentance and personal holiness. Biblical words such as “hell,” “condemnation,” “judgment,” and “sin” are avoided and are commonly unmentioned. Typically, these words are exchanged for inoffensive phrases such as “seeker” instead of “sinner.”
In its pursuit of assimilating the latest church growth methods, our church now presents a modern “seeker sensitive” version of the gospel. This softened version of the gospel is meant to be more comfortable to the ears of visitors in hopes of getting them to stay. No doubt that the true gospel is for sinners. However, the “seeker sensitive” version typically advocates a therapeutic message that convinces “seekers” to simply accept Christ. While the act of receiving Christ should be emphasized, there must first be laid the foundation of judgment and repentance. Presenting a gospel without reference to sin, judgment, and holiness is only half the gospel.
A. The Importance of Judgment
The reason for preaching the reality of judgment is obvious—because it’s real and it’s eminent. While the mention of hell and judgment may offend listeners and even turn some completely away, it must still be preached. Just as alarming words are meant to wake a sleeping family from a burning house, so are these words meant to awaken the lost.
The judgment of hell awaits all who have failed to keep the perfect law of God. Since all of humanity is utterly and completely sinful, and all have broken the law of God, all people deserve hell. It is only because of God’s sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ that those who repent and put their faith in Him can enter heaven. A sinner must understand that they have sinned, not only against others, but primarily against a holy God. Failure to mention judgment, whether intentional or unintentional, is in danger of painting a picture of an unjust God. Since God is perfectly good, he must punish liars, thieves, adulterers, murders, and so on. It is only because God brought punishment upon Jesus on the cross that he can allow repentant believers into his kingdom.
Failure to mention judgment and hell also rob grace of its meaning. What worth is the concept of grace unless it means unmerited deliverance from punishment? The full message of grace will not make sense to an unbeliever until the dire consequence of hell is made known to him. Just like the situation of a doctor and a patient—the patient will not appreciate the cure until he is told in detail, the severity of the disease.
B. The Importance of Repentance
In order for a sinner to come to God, they must repent and put their faith in Christ. Full repentance must be preached and is critical to the process of salvation. In order for a sinner to put their whole faith in Christ, they have to repent—that is confess, renounce, and turn from sin altogether. Faith without repentance is not complete faith. One cannot be a bondservant of Christ while still enslaved to the bondage of sin.
Often, the reason repentance is left out or diminished is because it is deemed as offensive and insensitive to new church visitors. Whenever the disposition and attitude of the sinner are protected in such a manner, the pride of man is exalted above the Lord’s call to humility. Failure to fully emphasize repentance, denies the Biblical doctrine of the depravity of humanity. Humanity’s pride is thus catered to, and as a result, the holiness of God is not glorified.
C. The Misunderstanding of the Message of Grace
When judgment and repentance are negated, the full message of grace is diminished. In place of the full grace message, what is promoted is the idea of Jesus as a life-enhancer. A common phrase within this presentation is “Come to Jesus, because God has a wonderful plan for your life.” While God does have wonderful plan for your life on His terms, this does not mean protection from persecution, tribulation and strife. In fact, Jesus mentioned that we should expect and will experience hardship. When a sinner accepts the gospel on the grounds that they will receive lasting happiness, they will become confused later on when they face difficulty.
Another common phrase is that “Jesus will give you peace and joy.” While this is true, peace and joy are spiritual fruit rooted in the hope of eternal salvation. Therefore, by leaving out judgment and eternity, peace and joy as incentives are not sufficient within themselves in reaching the lost. The fact of the matter is, that Jesus is not a mere life-enhancer but a life-saver.
By preaching the reality of judgment and hell, the sinner is awakened to his coming end. By then presenting the cross, the love of God is magnified. It is the warning of condemnation that drives the sinner to the cross. By presenting these truths, the gospel therefore makes sense to the unbeliever and the message is infinitely more meaningful.
D. The Importance of Holiness
Typically preached at our church are life affirming, motivational messages. While encouragement is important, the messages presented focus almost entirely on self. Such messages are only based lightly on Scripture and rely too much on secular self-help principles. Sermons often allude only to a few Scripture references whenever it is convenient to the message.
According to Scripture, the Lord has called us to a life of holiness —which does not necessarily include personal happiness or satisfaction. Holiness is an act of complete surrender when one is wholly devoted to God. When one surrenders their will to God, they have made a conscious decision to die to their own desires and conform to the complete will of God—even if this means persecution, tribulation and strife. Such a person is consumed only by the desires of God. In doing so, they also put others before themselves. They are then able to love the Lord God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as themselves.
This brings us full circle to repentance. The person who desires to live a holy life continues to put their faith in Christ and also die completely to sin in repentance. Holiness is in keeping with repentance.
III. The Result
A. Half Christians
A gospel void of repentance and holiness is only half of the gospel. There cannot be full repentance without the forewarning of judgment. There cannot be holiness without complete repentance. A gospel not mentioning judgment or hell, robs grace of its full meaning. What you have left is a message that must resort to a false perception of grace that emphasizes Jesus as a mere life enhancement. In turn, without repentance or a true call to holiness, what is produced are Christians who are still self-centered and entangled in the world. Half a gospel produces half Christians.
B. Lack of Spiritual Growth
This half gospel is one that our church preaches in a sincere attempt to reach the lost. Although it would make sense to make the gospel more accessible, this does not mean the essential truths should be altered in order to make it more acceptable. The fact of the matter is, that there will always be people that will reject the gospel. Jesus never promised results, he only commanded that the gospel be preached. This softened form of evangelism is a part of the drive to increase church attendance. In hopes of retaining visitors, such a gospel is presented. This overflows and affects the church members. If messages are consistently tailored to visitors, regular attendees and church members are disenfranchised. The opportunity to grow deeper in faith is not made available. The Life Groups do not offer further nourishment for growth because the lessons are still primarily based on the sermon. When the mission of the church is focused primarily on visitors, there results a lack of practical, as well as spiritual fruit. Visitors then continue to come to church expecting much and offering little servanthood in return.
C. What Must Be Done
Our Church must return to the Bible as its sole source of teaching, preaching, and direction. This does not mean alluding to a few Scripture references in a sermon whenever convenient. Sermons should be Holy Spirit led and solely based in Scripture. The Bible advocates reliance on the Holy Spirit as essential. Likewise, the Holy Spirit will always advocate the full teaching of the Scripture as essential.
In keeping with the authority of Scripture, our pastor must also proclaim the entirely of the gospel including the reality of hell, judgment, the need for repentance as well as faith, and the call to holiness. It is for the glory of God that the gospel be preached in its fullness—the gospel initiated by the Law, foretold by the prophets, made possible in Christ, and proclaimed by the Apostles and the martyrs. Forever and ever may the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be glorified. Amen.
FOR DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts?
About the Author: Todd Rhoades is the Managing Editor and Publisher of MondayMorningInsight.com (MMI as most of us know it). Besides spending a good amount of time maintaining this website, Todd is on the staff of Leadership Network, helping large churches to better connect, innovate, and multiply what they do best. Todd was also the founder of ChurchStaffing.com, until he sold the site in 2005. Todd lives with his wife, Dawn, and four children in Bryan, OH. He can be reached at .
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