For he [King Ahaz] sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus which smote him, and he said, because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, therefore will I sacrifice to them that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.—2 Chronicles 28:23
It seems as if we are surrounded with appeals to do the work of God in a new and “better” way. If only we will cancel our evening services, abandon our confrontational soulwinning, throw out our standards, soften our preaching, replace godly music with sensual music, and avoid politically incorrect subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, and submission on the part of a wife to her husband, then we will begin to see our churches grow.
As if that is not enough, we must also remove religious symbols such as a cross, which might make someone uncomfortable. We must change the design and decor of our buildings so that they do not appear to be a church, and we must go out of our way to create an atmosphere in which a worldly person will feel at home (now correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the atmosphere in which worldly people feel at home is a worldly atmosphere). If the church must become like the world to reach the world, then it need not exist! Here is a brief look at what seems to be behind much of the contemporary church-building methodology and philosophy.
There is a change from preaching to teaching. Preaching by definition must call a person to a decision. It is by its very nature confrontational and personal. Teaching could be satisfied with imparting truth, but preaching challenges the listener to apply the truth in their daily life.
There is a change from declaration to discussion. Where once the preacher would stand in the pulpit and thunder, “Thus saith the Lord,” now small groups must meet and each individual will share their opinion. Instead of the preacher being the messenger of God, each individual now deserves equal time to share their insights and interpretations.
There is a change from recruiting an army to gathering a crowd. Much of today’s church growth material cautions that people are not “commitment-oriented” and we must be careful not to expect too much of them or they will not come back. While I wish to reach a large crowd, it is for the purpose of winning people to Christ and recruiting an army to serve Him. There is no point in reaching a crowd simply to have a crowd. The point of having a crowd is to win people to Christ and then involve them in His service.
There is a change from drawing people to Christ to putting on a show. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up . . . , will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). However, at many of the contemporary churches the invitation is all but eliminated. A large once-fundamental church in the Detroit area recently had 3,000 people attend a concert. There was no gospel invitation given. It was a great show. But it was not used to draw people into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Why are people doing this? Why are men who once took a sound, fundamental stand moving so far from the Bible? I believe there are three main reasons:
A desire for souls. I must in fairness say that there are many good men who love the Lord and have come to believe that they must exchange Bible methods for a contemporary “megachurch” philosophy in order to reach men for Christ. The sad truth is that, in my observation, these men have done less to win people to Christ after their changes than before. Of course, how many souls are reached is not the main issue. Obedience to the Word of God is the main issue.
There is a desire for success. It is not wrong to want to succeed. Our church has attendance campaigns, sets attendance goals and uses various promotions to reach people for Christ. However, success is not merely reaching a crowd, having a particular attendance or meeting a certain budget. Success for the Christian is doing the will of God.
A desire for status. After a while, some get tired of going outside the camp and carrying the reproach of our Saviour. After a while, some grow weary of the sidelong glances, the whispered comments when they walk into a room and the condescending—if not hostile—way in which they are treated by much of society. “Surely,” they think, “as long as we keep winning people to Christ, there can be nothing wrong with modifying our methods and our message so as to be more palatable to the people with whom we must live.” All too often a church which has gladly taken a stand for the Lord Jesus early in its ministry achieves a certain size and influence in the community where it wants to be well thought-of and is willing to trim its message and dip its sails to do so.
Pagan methods build pagan people. While it may have appeared to Ahaz that the gods of Damascus helped them, they wouldn’t do anything for Ahaz. Ahaz belonged to Jehovah. His hope, his help, his salvation were only in Him. To believe that we can employ worldly methods and build Christian people is as foolish as to believe that we can build healthy athletes on a steady diet of French fries, Big Macs and milkshakes.
Soft preaching produces soft Christians. A Charismatic evangelist that held healing crusades came with a local Charismatic pastor to visit in my office years ago. Our crowds were larger than theirs, and they wanted to get some “Baptist methods” to build their attendance. I did not give them any. When they asked the reason for the success of our church, I told them there was strong preaching, particularly on Sunday night. I explained that I tried to preach clearly, plainly, and firmly everything that I believed to the Sunday night crowd so that they would become well-trained, strong soldiers in God’s army. It was clear to me my message was not connecting. (I didn’t intend it to! I gave them no ideas from our Sunday school programs at all. I wasn’t interested in helping them build a crowd to hear error.)
Pragmatism must always be bounded by principle. I do not agree with those who suggest that it is always wrong to be pragmatic. To be pragmatic simply means to use what works. If people would not ride buses but would ride vans, I would probably sell our buses and buy vans. If more people would come to Sunday school at 9:30 than at 10:00, I would likely change the time from 10:00 to 9:30. If having our offering at the beginning of the service instead of at the middle or the end would increase people’s gifts, I would rapidly change my schedule. We ought to try to find the best biblical method of reaching people for Christ. What we cannot do is use that which violates Scripture in order to build a crowd. I suppose one could build a substantial crowd by showing “R” rated movies for free. Would anyone suggest, though, that this would actually honor the Lord and help us change people’s lives?
Bible methods cannot be improved. There is no better method of communicating God’s truth than by preaching. It has pleased God by “the foolishness of preaching” to spread the gospel, to build believers, and to warn the world. God’s Word is equally clear that we have to preach the gospel to every creature. No mailing campaign, no media blitz, no “silent testimony” can substitute for our responsibility to give the gospel to everyone we possibly can.
The real problem with our churches is not with our programs, it is with our power. It is not in our planning, it is in our praying. It is not in our presentations, it is in our preaching. If we stay in the book, stay on our knees and stay after souls, we will continue to see God’s blessing. If we insist on following the methods of the ungodly and the compromisers, they will be the ruin of us.