If you were to survey the evangelical landscape and compare it to the teachings of Jesus, you would become quickly aware that something is terribly amiss. The mainstream church, particularly in the UK, appears to have lost its effectiveness for reaching the unsaved. Vast numbers of churches seem to be resorting to modern business models and secular marketing tactics instead of relying on the clear teachings and examples set by Jesus Christ. We are now encouraged to be “seeker-sensitive” and “seeker-friendly” as we witness to the unsaved, which is very difficult without re-defining the message.
Programs (such as Alpha and the “Purpose Driven” movement) have become tools used to introduce people to Christianity as though we are trying to sell them a product in the supermarket. This “program-based” form of witnessing can be effective, but very often the “uncomfortable” and “offensive” parts of the message of salvation are omitted. Ironically and critically, it is these very parts which define salvation for mankind.
Furthermore, people are being invited to churches where entertainment and experience are high on the agenda. The reverence, devotion and respect for Christ that should be displayed has been replaced by the trivialising (or denying altogether) our need of repentance through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Church services are increasingly arranged to focus on “self” instead of Christ! It is as though we have become so over-sensitive and wrapped up in ourselves that we cannot handle the issue of sin and instead we are seduced into an experiential relationship with Christ based on entertainment, ritual or experience. There are many examples in the UK where congregations are pampered with food and drink during “worship” and are “entertained” with a string of concert-like performances and sermons that focus on self-esteem, life-coaching or other self-centred ideas. This is not to mention the increase of “prosperity” teaching where the focus is primarily our seeking our own blessings and where the content of prayers and sermons often revolves around making our comfortable lives even more comfortable!
This phenomenon is very persuasive in our current cultural climate but the following verses of warning should cause us to be extremely alert as to whether we are being taught the true gospel:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:8-9 NIV)
Being “seeker-friendly” is not necessarily being “friendly” at all! If you believe you are going to heaven when you have in fact misunderstood the gospel, you are in a worse position than if you knew you did not believe in the first place. Worse still, thinking you are saved, when you are not, can lead to you being “inoculated” against the true gospel. This is no laughing matter – salvation ONLY comes through repentance for our own sinful condition before God and trusting in the atoning work of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus repeatedly warned that the gospel message would be badly received and He could not have made it any clearer that believers would suffer persecution, mocking and even death for their faith. He did not we MIGHT suffer, He said we WILL suffer – and those that do hold fast to the teachings of Scripture often DO suffer, even in our “tolerant” society!
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, [Philippians 1:29 NIV]
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13 NIV)
The phrase “what would Jesus do?” has been a popular slogan in recent years and used as a guide to decision-making in evangelical circles and this is clearly a good way to approach everyday situations. But, in order to find out what Jesus would do, it is vital to use the Bible to find out what Jesus DID do! Every believer is commissioned to be an ambassador on Christ’s behalf and the best way to learn how to spread the gospel message is by using the example of Christ Himself.
So, what DID Jesus do? Was He “seeker-friendly”?
Naturally, we should be “Christlike” in our witness, but Jesus was always very uncompromising on the problem of sin, the reality of judgment and our eternal destiny in either heaven or hell. Why, then, should we shy away from this approach?!
It is important to remember that Jesus was perfect in every way and because of this, our own attempts will always fall short of His example. Our presentation of the gospel will often be clumsy and inadequate. However, the message of salvation is actually very simple. Who in their right mind would choose to spend an eternity in hell because the delivery of the message that could save them was not slick or articulate enough? If unknown to you, you were in a house that was burning down, would you choose to stay in the house just because the person telling you urgently to get out quickly did not speak with elaborate well-constructed sentences? Of course, not! The message to do with our eternal destiny is far more serious than that – therefore start sharing without waiting until the delivery is polished enough!
Jesus spoke abundantly about the reality of both heaven and hell. He never encouraged sinful behaviour and continually warned of a coming judgment. There were many very specific warnings concerning the coming wrath of God and many subtle, but equally vivid and terrifying warnings in the use of parables.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5 NIV)
In many encounters with people, Jesus remarks were at best blunt and most likely would be deemed offensive and intolerant by our cultural standards – He certainly was not “seeker-sensitive”! However, it is clear that Jesus’ motivation was a sincere and deep love for His people – this should also be our only motivation. The gospel message should never be redefined and must not be compromised, but our delivery of this often unpopular message should always be humble and loving.
We should obviously never attempt to offend – however, this will at times be unavoidable as Jesus told us it will. Believers will rarely be thanked for pointing out that all are guilty of rebellion in God’s eyes and in need of a Saviour to remedy the situation. This is especially true in our modern world where morals are relative and it is bad etiquette to risk damaging the “self-esteem” of others. However, we need to try to counter this by honestly and genuinely seeking to draw people to Christ because He is our only hope of salvation. The only way anyone will ever feel the need for salvation is when they understand their own condition. Just because the issue of sin and judgment is very counter-cultural, we do not have a licence to alter or re-write the message of Jesus.
Any attempt to dilute, re-package or redefine the issue of sin is NOT the gospel. The gospel message is very clear and simple – it does not need to re-packaged or re-defined. The problem of sin is just as real today as it was 2000 years ago. One of the most sobering passages in the whole Bible appears in Matthew:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
The “emerging church”
There is currently a movement known as the “emerging” church which has grown in recent years. The rationale behind the movement is that as culture changes, the Church should “emerge” in response and move with the times. To a degree, this is true and the gospel should be applied in different cultural contexts, but this is often no the case. In practice, this usually results in the emphasis on experience over doctrine, feelings over truth, subjectivity versus objectivity and interpreting the Bible allegorically instead of taking Jesus teachings literally. This approach is very dangerous and congregations are vulnerable and susceptible to false doctrine as the “meat” of the message of salvation can easily be lost. Repentance is the FIRST step to a relationship with Christ – without this, the message is lost completely.
We fear that there are many people sitting in church each week who believe they are going to heaven because they believe a false gospel. What a tragedy it would be if people are sitting comfortably through church life oblivious to the fact that eternal punishment may await them. What are disgrace it would be if, INSIDE the church, the true gospel message of repentance has been diluted and re-defined to a point where there really is no repentance, therefore no salvation? Worse of all, what a scandal it would be if the church that is supposed to glorify Christ has instead become some entertainment factory for the masses and Christ Himself finds He is locked out? There is a vivid allusion to this in the letter to the church in Laodicea:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20 NIV)
Jesus wants to be invited to church, but He will NEVER force Himself in…
Over the centuries, Satan has repeatedly attacked followers of Jesus with persecution and martyrdom – it is possible that we are not seeing this in the Western world (yet) because the false gospel that is often preached cannot save souls anyway? Why persecute a church that is leading people to hell?
Scripture warns that one of the characteristics of the last days will be a society and church bereft of the truth of the gospel. It would be a logical tactic of Satan to plant leaders (referred to as “tares” in Matt 13:24-40) within the church to lead people to a false and worthless gospel message:
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24 NIV)
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3 NIV)
What, then, can we do?
Great discernment is needed at present – we are living in times where the gospel is being subtly changed. This may appear to be with good and noble intentions and but it is ultimately foolish. We urge church leaders to return to the simplicity of the true gospel and to all who do not know Jesus Christ to consider the eternal consequences of their own response to the Lord and Saviour of mankind.
Scripture has to be the ONLY test of the gospel. We live in an age where we have unlimited access to the truth of Scripture – in past centuries, many faithful believers have lost their lives securing this privilege for us and yet ironically we also live at a time where the truth of Scripture and the simplicity of the gospel is under relentless attack. Many Christians cannot be bothered to study the Bible themselves and instead rely on the easy option of listening to an entertaining sermon each Sunday. This lazy attitude could be a recipe for disaster. One very disturbing fact is that many attacks on the authority of the Bible often comes from those INSIDE the church. There are many clergies up and down the country who deny the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ or other features of Bible teaching. In fact, those who hold fast to the clear teaching of Scripture and treat the text of the Bible seriously often receive the most ridicule by others WITHIN the church!
Please, be on your guard – it is bewildering to see church leaders adding their own “interpretation” to the gospel message across many denominations.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31 NIV)
Social action IS part of the mandate of the church. However, the highest priority should be to draw people to repentance. Repentance then LEADS to social action naturally. The “social” gospel that is being preached by emerging churches omits repentance, therefore social action becomes a useless “works-based” message that cannot save.
A firm move away from teaching self-centred attitudes is also desperately needed by the Church. We live in a “name it and claim it” culture where we are encouraged to improve our self-confidence, self-esteem, self-pity, self-love, etc! THIS IS NOT TAUGHT ANYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE. It cannot save, Jesus taught that we should “crucify” ourselves in order to follow him.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)
Believers need to teach and display a humble reverence and healthy fear of God – after all, we will all appear before Him one day to give account for how we used the gifts He gave us. Never trivialise the immense cost of our salvation. We should come to God each day with tears of relief and gratitude instead of a sense of triumphalism – Jesus defeated sin and death ON OUR BEHALF, we did not! We should always use Jesus life as a benchmark for our own conduct. However, this should ALWAYS follow repentance – not happen instead of it!
We conclude with the most chilling warning contained in Scripture:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:18-21 NIV)
For the sake of your own eternity – please make sure you understand the true gospel message. If the church you attend is teaching a different gospel why not consider approaching the leadership to discuss it. It may be possible to change the church from within. A godly leadership WILL listen and search the Scriptures. If the gospel presented in your church “adds to” or “takes away from” from Scripture, beware – God’s Words should never be taken in vain! See our page How to be saved for a clear presentation of the gospel of salvation.