Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Great Commandment, Pragmatism, and Seeker Sensitivity

What is the most important commandment in the Bible?

·       Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

It even seems that if we get the first one right, the second one will fall into place:

·       This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)

This means that when we love God and follow His commands, we love “the children of God” at the same time. Consequently, if we want to love others, we cannot do it without first seeking to please God.

This principle also pertains to loving the church and our community. This idea might seem entirely uncontroversial, but it is not. Today, there are many completing ideas about how to build the church and to serve our world. For example, In “This Little Church Went to Market,” Pastor Gary Gilley notes that marketing considerations have trumped the first great commandment:

·       [People are] into spirituality, not religion….Behind this shift is the [church’s] search for an experiential faith, a religion of the heart, not the head. It’s a religious expression that downplays doctrine and dogma, and revels in direct experience of the divine–whether it’s called the ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘cosmic consciousness’ or the ‘true self.’ It is practical and personal, more about stress reduction than salvation, more therapeutic than theological. It’s about feeling good, not being good. It’s as much about the body as the soul….Some marketing gurus have begun calling it ‘the experience industry.’ (pp. 20-21)

There is nothing the matter with marketing. However, when marketing and pragmatic concerns marginalize the first great commandment, we are treading on unholy ground. Jesus illustrated this principle with the Pharisees who elevated had their traditions to the level of Scripture:

·       “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9)

The seeker sensitive churches seem to be more concerned about results – numbers and building their church – than in loving God by keeping His commandments. This concern can take many forms. Not teaching doctrines that might cause offense and drive seekers away is almost ubiquitous among them. In contrast, Paul claimed that he was innocent of the blood of all men because he didn’t shrink back from God’s entire counsel (Acts 20:26).

By pandering to the culture instead of faithfulness to God, the seeker sensitive church will not preach on many topics, like sexual sins, creationism, and even the persecuted church. They also tend to be ashamed of any show of favoritism towards other Christians, even Christian refugees who face genocide. Fearing the charge of “favoritism,” seekers sensitives hide their prophetic voice. Instead of serving as the light, they have embraced the prevailing, popular culture.  As one expert put it:

·       The church must show society that it does not favor Christian causes. This will merely further the polarization and heighten the tension between the church and its surrounding culture. (Rough paraphrase)

However, by embracing the culture, we have lost our prophetic voice.

Instead, we are directed to show mercy first to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). Jesus also indicated that loving the brethren was especially important to Him:

·       “’When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:39-40)

In contrast to Jesus’ priorities, seeker sensitive churches pay little attention to the extermination of Christians. Even prayer is seldom offered up on their behalf.

Instead, a disproportionate number of sermons are devoted to maintaining the community of believers, sometimes in ways that stretch the Word of God beyond its limits. For example, one seeker sensitive plant of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC wrote in the front of their Sunday bulletin:

·       “Prayer requires community. Prayer is not possible outside of, apart from, or in spite of the praying community… The assumption that prayer is what we do when we are alone – the solitary soul before God – is an egregious, and distressingly persistent, error.” (quoting Eugene H. Peterson)

Sadly, no one informed Jesus that His solitary mountainside walks to pray by Himself “is not possible” to do, and that His conduct represented “an egregious, and distressingly persistent, error.”

Why would this purportedly biblical church print such unbiblical nonsense? I can only guess that keeping their members in church, the only place that their prayers would matter, trumps biblical doctrine.

The life of Daniel and his friends illustrates the very opposite of seeker sensitivity. No, they weren’t trying to form a church, but they were concerned about their witness as Jews. However, it seems that Daniel hadn’t taken any seminar on influencing the culture. Instead, he rejected the generous Babylonian provisions of food in favor of vegetables in order to honor the Word of God. This could have brought upon him and his friends the contempt of the king. However, they were willing to risk it so as not to offend God. And God blessed them with great wisdom, and, ironically, the king was favorably impressed (Dan. 1:20).

Later, Daniel was able to not only interpret the king’s dream but also to tell him precisely what he had dreamed. As a result:

·       The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery." (Daniel 2:47)

What a testimony! As a result Daniel’s faithfulness:

·       The king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel's request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. (Daniel 2:48-49)

But didn’t Daniel realize that having his friends appointed would incur the jealousy of the other officials? And it did! The king had made a great statue of gold before which everyone was required to bow. Some officials reported to the king that the three Hebrew friends failed to do so. He was furious and had the three brought before him. He then gave them another chance to bow and worship the statue.

If they would simply do this, they would not only win their own lives but would spare their Jewish brethren from the possibility of persecution. Furthermore, worshipping the statue would demonstrate to the Babylonians that the Jews were loyal citizens and that becoming a Jew would be something they’d be able to do without great cost to themselves. However, they rejected the idea of seeker sensitivity regarding the Babylonians who might have been contemplating Judaism.

Besides, they could have prayed secretly to Yahweh as they bowed before the statue. However, they wanted to remain faithful in every way. Instead, they proclaimed:

·       "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

Evidently, this stance pleased God, who miraculously rescued them from the furnace. Their witness also glorified their God before the King:

·       Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way." (Daniel 3:28-29)

There is no greater witness than our faithfulness before God. All of our politically correct thinking pales before the God who will act on behalf of those who trust in Him. Nevertheless, it is true that some will die as martyrs. But Jesus warned that once we put our hand to His plow, we cannot turn back. We cannot compromise for the sake of expediency or cultural acceptance.

The king then gave the three promotions. He recognized men of conviction.

Many years later under King Darius the Mede, Daniel had to undergo a similar trial. The king had appointed Daniel as one of his three administrators over his kingdom. However, Daniel excelled and incurred the jealousy of the others. Therefore, they persuaded to king to issue an unbreakable edict that no one would be allowed to worship another god besides Darius for the month. Daniel could have demonstrated his loyalty and gratefulness to the king by complying. This might have been sensitive thing to do for evangelism by demonstrating that the people could become Jews and remain loyal citizens at the same time.

However, as his enemies anticipated, Daniel continued in prayer to his God. They were then able to betray him to the king, who had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions. Miraculously God rescued him. The impression on Darius was profound:

·       Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: "May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." (Daniel 6:25-27)

Such a witness cannot be the result of seeker sensitivity or a calculated church growth analysis. Instead, this is the fruit of a man who will humble himself to trust in Christ alone!

How did God regard Daniel? Did He regard Him as a rigid legalist who lacked the sensitivity to weigh the obvious costs? Not at all!

·       While I [Daniel] was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill-- while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, "Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. (Daniel 9:20-23)

What greater commendation could anyone receive! Let us trust in the One who promised that hell and death would not prevail against His Church. The One who has promised to give us an everlasting kingdom!

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