Beware of Some Seeker-Sensitive Churches II

Title: Beware of Some Seeker-Sensitive Churches II

Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Acts 20:27

Time: June 5th, 2010

2 Timothy 4:1-5, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom; I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men 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. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” I open with this passage today because it directly pertains to the topic we’ve been dealing with over the last few weeks – beware of false influences within the church. I first talked about the dangers of the liberal church; those who don’t believe the historic Christian faith, nor practice the biblical Christian lifestyle, yet continue to use the signs and symbols of Christianity. I then talked about the dangers of the new emerging liberal church; those who so closely identify with the post-modern, relativistic culture of today that they change the faith in order to fit in with the world, rather than challenge the world to conform to the biblical faith. Today, I’d like to continue on with the theme I talked about last time – the dangers of some seeker-sensitive churches. Now not all seeker-sensitive evangelical churches, probably not even most of them, are dangerous spiritually; but some are dangerous because they compromise the doctrine and practices of historic, biblical Christianity. They do so subtly, almost imperceptibly. It’s not so much what they teach but what they don’t teach. They conveniently omit many of the more difficult or hard topics within the Christian faith. They rarely talk about sin, wrath, judgment, eternal punishment – or even repentance. Even though these topics are found throughout the Bible, they, along with other difficult topics, are simply neglected – or if they are spoken of they are given a positive or affirming twist that changes the whole meaning the Bible gives them. This is dangerous. I remember reading an article in the local newspaper signed by some local evangelical pastors who wanted to go on record as stating that they don’t believe God ever sends anyone to hell. I couldn’t believe it! These weren’t liberals,; they were evangelical pastors. Yet, in reacting against a more extreme fundamentalist group who decided to start street preaching in front of a Spiritualist meeting hall with warnings such as, “Repent, God sends all unbelievers to hell,” these evangelical pastors over-reacted by denying basic Christian theology, and doing so publicly in the paper. In an effort to distance themselves from a hard-line Christian group, these evangelicals actually denied the Bible’s teaching concerning eternal separation from God. This is the danger of being too “seeker-sensitive.” But let me unpack more of the passage I quoted above in an effort to explain the danger of an overly seeker-sensitive approach to church ministry.

First, the priority of the church is to preach the Word of God. 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom; I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” The Apostle Paul is instructing the young pastor Timothy to make sure above all things to preach and teach the Word of God. This is something that historic Christianity has always understood, especially Protestantism and especially since the Reformation, but even the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches would all agree that the Word of God must be taught and preached. But today there is a growing trend among seeker-sensitive churches to omit teaching the Word of God when it comes to more difficult or hard passages and doctrines. In an effort to be non-offensive and sensitive to visitors and others who haven’t made a firm commitment to the Christian faith, many seeker-sensitive pastors actually go to great efforts to shelter listeners from the tough topics of the Bible. But the Apostle Paul explicitly commands the preaching of God’s Word “in season and out.” Or in other words, when it’s popular or when it’s not. It’s funny how cultural tastes change. Things come and go rapidly in today’s society. What’s in today is out tomorrow. In respect to Christianity, there are some doctrines and practices of the Christian church that come into favor during certain times and then go out of favor during other times. Paul is saying that pastors and teachers must go right ahead and teach God’s Word whether it’s in or out of favor with society. But the temptation among seeker-sensitive pastors is to teach only those truths that are in favor at the time and omit those teachings that are out of favor. “It’s important that we not alienate our audience or offend our visitors – then they won’t come back again or be a part of the church.” Now sensitivity is a good thing, but being over sensitive is bad because it causes churches to compromise God’s Word. The task is to faithful to God by teaching all that he gives us in the revelation of the Bible; if we purposefully omit anything because we fear offending people we are taking sensitivity too far. That’s the mistake of some seeker-sensitive pastors. Now notice the Apostle Paul says to preach the Word of God by correcting, rebuking and encouraging people to believe and obey it. In other words, we are supposed to risk offending people by rebuking and correcting them when they are departing from God’s word; of course, when they believe and obey God’s Word we are too encourage them in that path. But the point is, if we are too seeker-sensitive we won’t rebuke or correct people from God’s Word, we won’t properly preach the Word of God according to Paul. If we only encourage people, if we only speak positive words and teachings from the Bible, we aren’t fully teaching and preaching the Word. Again, that’s another error of overly seeker-sensitive pastors – they tend to only present the positive, affirming side of God and God’s Word, and essentially omit or neglect everything else. That’s wrong.

Second, some seeker-sensitive pastors in an effort to not offend people distort God’s Word. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when men 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.” Another danger of excessive seeker-sensitivity is that it creates a church that doesn’t hear the complete Word of God. The Apostle Paul in another place says, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God,” Acts 20:27. He means that he hasn’t withheld teaching the difficult or hard truths along with the other truths that are easier to hear. But that’s exactly what some seeker-sensitive pastors do – they withhold talking about unpleasant subjects such as sin, judgment and eternal punishment. Some don’t talk about sexual immorality or get specific in teaching that pre-marital sex and adultery are wrong, or that homosexuality is a sin. In 2 Timothy 4 we even read that Christians begin to demand teachers and preachers who only tell them pleasant truths, so they begin recruiting only pastors who preach on positive topics. Now my question is, where do churches get pastors who will twist and distort the Bible to only come out affirming and positive, never negative or challenging? The answer is, churches get pastor who will “tickle their ears” because there are always preachers and teachers willing to accommodate to the wishes of the people in order to get and keep their pastor job. To put it in the most blunt way, there are always pastors willing to sell out God’s Word in order to get paid. A church search committee seeks a pastor who will teach the church people what the people want to hear and so they recruit those pastors who will accommodate this requirement. That’s the great danger in the seeker-sensitive movement – people pleasing. We all want people to come to Jesus and be saved. We all want people to visit the church and have a pleasant experience. We all want people to like what they hear and decide to stay and be part of the church. These are all good and natural desires. But the question is, to what degree are we willing to go to get this result? Are we willing to reinterpret the Bible so that it doesn’t offend anyone who may hear it? Are we willing to omit teaching about topics that might upset people? Are we willing to soften the Bible’s teachings on sin and judgment in order to keep the overall message positive? It seems more and more pastors are willing to so. Like in the case of the local evangelical pastors who signed the newspaper article dismissing God’s judgment and hell, many pastors today seem to feel that in order to grow the church they must hide the more unpleasant truths from people who might be offended. But the Apostle Paul says just the opposite. “Preach the Word – in season or out, whether popular or not, offensive or not.” Let’s make sure we never follow the excessive seeker-sensitive mentality in church.

Third, we must be willing to suffer for the truth of God. 2 Timothy 4:5, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” The fact is when we preach the Word of God, whether from this passage or that passage, we may face persecution, we may face rejection, we may offend, we may anger – people may reject us and our church. Paul tells young Timothy to “keep his head,” or in other words, to stay levelheaded about all these things, don’t get caught up with the crowd and depart from the path of truth. To preach and teach the Bible in today’s context requires courage; there is no guarantee we won’t have to pay a heavy price. It’s easy to see why many pastors would depart from God’s Word by picking and choosing only pleasant or positive teachings while omitting or neglecting the harder truths; it’s easy to understand why – it’s hard to go against the flow. The flow of things today is to affirm the self, to encourage people to pursue their own self-interests. People will flock to hear someone tell them they have all they need within themselves, or that they need to release the powers within them to achieve their dreams. These are the kind of things the secular motivational speakers and success leaders teach – and people eat it up because it feeds their own selfish egos and self-worth. But teach from the Bible that a person is a sinner who offends God by his selfish choices and lifestyle. Teach them that they need to confess and repent of their sins – and then define and name specific sins the Bible identifies – this is not the popular way to win friends and influence people! But this is what the Bible says to do, so we must do it whether it is the popular thing to do or not.

We must be willing to suffer the consequences of preaching God’s Word as opposed to what people always want to hear. When the local evangelical pastors all affirmed in their newspaper article that God never damns anyone to hell, they thought they were winning points with the public – and they were, but they were also losing status with God. They were pandering to the crowd in order to be popular in the community, but they were losing credibility before God because they were distorting and twisting God’s Word in the process. That is the great temptation of the seeker-sensitive church movement – distorting God’s Word in order to win favor with people. But we must have the courage to tell people from God’s Word what they might not want to hear, but really need to hear. We must be brave enough to teach the whole Word of God not just select parts that we know people will like to hear. We may not grow big churches, we may not build large impressive buildings packed full of people, we may not have the big budgets and get our names in the paper for our “success,” but if we can simply and faithfully teach and preach God’s Word, that is enough – it’s enough for people and it’s enough for God.

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