Saturday, May 13, 2017


Many Christians measure success in terms of numbers – the size of the church, the number of “conversions,” and the size of the offering. We go to mega-church conferences to learn the secrets of the success of the mega-church pastors. We read church-growth gurus, convinced that they have the answers.

However, God measures success differently. According to external measures, the Church at Laodicea was a success story. It seemed to have it all of the signs of success and God’s favor – prosperity and lacking nothing. However, God saw them differently:

·       “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16; ESV)

Laodicea was “lukewarm,” but isn’t that better than being cold or antagonistic to the Christian faith? No! Laodicea had been convinced that they were totally okay and were proud of it:

·       For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

Instead of soberly examining themselves (1 Cor. 11:28-32), the Laodiceans had lapsed into denial. They were satisfied with their own garments of righteousness, while they were really naked and pitiable. Laodicea had a false hope and a false righteousness. It would have been better for them to remain cold, having no hope at all, than to believe in their own coverings. Better to realize that there were enemies of God than to think that they were His friends, when they really weren’t.

In contrast, Jesus taught that we are blessed when we realize our moral destitution:

·       “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:3-6)

Oddly, this is what it means to be “hot for God” – to realize our nakedness and come to Christ to be clothed with His garments. It is also like the tax-collector who came to the Temple:

·       “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13)

He went forth forgiven, while the lukewarm Pharisee did not:

·       “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” (Luke 18:11-12)

The Pharisee had been in denial about his true status before God and remained in his sins. Are the seeker-sensitive churches also in denial? Have they left their “first love” (Rev. 2:4)? Are they seeking God first, or is their first love something else, like expanding or maintaining their church membership by preaching a popular message?

What does it mean to seek God first? The Church at Philadelphia was the one church praised without any hesitation. Why? God was pleased with this church “because you have kept my word” (Revelation 3:10).

Our love for God is always measured by our faithfulness to His Word.

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

Are the mega-churches, of which many are seeker-sensitive, faithful to the preaching of the whole counsel of God?  They might be able to demonstrate growth in numbers and giving, but are they also hastening after Laodicea?

The pastor at one Reformed seeker-sensitive church asked a congregant to give his testimony but warned him against mentioning that he had repented of gay sex.

Members of this same church had celebrated the passage of the Supreme Court’s approval of same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, this lukewarm church still preaches the central Gospel message – that Christ died of our sins.

However, there are many taboo subjects at the seeker-sensitive churches – eternal damnation, sexual and other sins that might drive the “seekers” away, repentance, depravity, creationism, and a multitude of things that have become politically incorrect, like even advocating for Christian refugees.

Professor Douglas Groothuis, Denver Theological Seminary, observed:

·       In order to reach an entertainment-oriented culture, many churches are adopting an approach that dishonors the gravity, depth, and substance of biblical truth. This is sadly evident in many sermons. One megachurch pastor advises that seeker-sensitive pastors preach for no more than 20 minutes on topics taken from the self-help section of the bookstore. These messages must be “light and informal.” Instead of offering an antidote to the superficial and mind-numbing distractions of a culture that is addicted to amusement, preachers sometimes resemble talk-show hosts more than impassioned orators of a holy God (1 Pet. 4:11). The banter of mirth often obscures the glory of the gospel. This criticism does not apply equally to all seeker-sensitive churches, but the trend cuts deep and wide.

Is God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) their first consideration? Perhaps not! But aren’t they bringing many to the Lord?

It is hard to determine if they coming to the Lord because of the Gospel, or are they coming to something else based upon the preaching of a non-offensive gospel? We cannot see the heart. God had sent the faithful Prophet Samuel to the household of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint for Israel a new king. However, God had to reprimand Samuel:

·       When they came, he [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

It is hard for us to judge a man’s heart. We only see superficially, according to mere appearances. It is therefore difficult to us to weigh the fruits of a church as God would. Perhaps the church is harvesting serpents instead of fish? Perhaps it is bringing into the midst of sheep hungry wolves?

Well, is the seeker-sensitive church being faithful to the Word of God? This is the supreme test of faithfulness. We fail to honor God if we neglect those doctrines that are unpopular. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8, responded to Satan:

·       “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Consequently, we are not free to discard any of the teachings of Scripture, as Paul also affirmed:

·       Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:26-28)

Had Paul neglected the unpopular doctrines, he would have been guilty of the consequences. He added that the shepherd has a great responsibility for his flock, but how does he fulfill this responsibility of love? When we obey and preach the Word, we love the flock:

·       By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)

Loving our brethren is inseparable from fidelity to Scripture. When we think that we can love the flock apart from some of its unpopular teachings, we are fooling ourselves to the detriment of the flock, and their blood is on our hands. We are also distancing ourselves from the faith we claim to possess.

One friend commented that her pastor abandoned the seeker-sensitive model after noticing that his people were not growing. Initially, he lost some attendees but felt that the tradeoff was worth it. My friend added:

·       When the Holy Spirit convicts someone of sin, it brings relief - not condemnation. That's because you finally gain understanding about what's gone wrong in your life, and have an idea of how to fix it. True seekers of God want answers to life's problems - and only the truth gives you that.

But aren’t we instructed to be seeker-sensitive? Didn’t Paul instruct us to be a “Jew to the Jew” so that we might sin some (1 Cor. 9:19-23)? Of course, but this was never intended as permanent operational procedure. The door that is at first opened to greet the new seeker must, at some point, be closed to the old life.

Instead, our goal must be a transparent and faithful presentation of Scripture:

·       But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

We do not have the liberty to “tamper with God’s word,” setting aside “distasteful” or politically incorrect teachings. This does not reflect a love of God but a lukewarm-ness, which our Lord detests.

But how are we to reach this hardened unchurched generation? Paul had described the darkened condition of society in the last days – lovers of themselves:

·       treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:4-5)

Certainly, such people would require a special seeker-sensitive initiative, right? Instead, Paul advised Timothy:

·       preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)

If we truly believe that the Gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16-17), we should do no less.

God was not finished with the Church at Laodicea and called them to repent:

·       Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:19-20)

Sometimes, love requires a rebuke to the lukewarm in hope that they repent.

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