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By Pastor Bruce Sikes
I recently had a young lady ask me where I went to church. She said that she needed to find a new one because her church had “gotten weird”. I asked, “How so?” She said that her pastor had announced that she was a lesbian, getting “married” and reorganizing the church. I told her “Yes, You DO need to find a new church!” I gladly gave her information about mine.
I didn’t quiz her too deeply about all the sordid details concerning her “church” because this young lady was still very new to the Christian experience. It did, however, quickly bring two things to mind. To begin with, the fact that she had attended there in the first place shows just how vulnerable spiritually and scripturally immature people are to false and corrupted ministers and churches. This is clearly demonstrated in her case because she only very recently obtained a Bible. (I know because I gave it to her:) These false teachers and their worldly churches lure in seekers promising them a loving church environment of tolerance, all-inclusiveness, and non-judgmentalism. Once there, they are spoon-fed small doses of selective Scriptures to lull them into a peaceful sense of spiritual well being whereby the only sins condemned are self righteousness, discrimination, and judging others. Interestingly, these are same narrowly defined, misapplied criticisms being used by the world to attack the Church. I’ll expand on this a little more in just a moment.
The good news in all this is that although the young woman was in the most embryonic stages of her faith, she still recognized sin and deception in the church and ran from it! Even though she couldn’t fully explain it, she still knew something was wrong. This profoundly demonstrates that spiritual discernment is not based on biblical knowledge but on recognizing and responding to the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit. As believers, we need both the Word of God and the Spirit of God. God’s Word declares the truth and the Spirit of God confirms it. If we fail to actively pursue them both with equal vigor, and instead simply rely on others to interpret truth for us, we will fall prey to deception. There will be no one else to blame but ourselves, not corrupted ministers, not apostate churches, not spiritually weak family and friends, not even the devil. God provides us everything we need to maintain a strong and mature relationship with Him, His Word and His Spirit. All we need to do is look in His Word and listen to what His Spirit tells us.
The question then becomes, “How is it a spiritually and scripturally immature young woman was able to recognize and respond to God-given discernment, while many other longtime Christians still remain in churches where there is false teaching, where sin is overlooked, and the Word of God is twisted and compromised?
For us, making a decision to wipe the dust off our feet and move on would have been an obvious choice for us in the story of the young lady’s church. In fact, even if we had attended her church in the first place, I’m sure the spiritual red flags alone preceding her pastor’s announcement would have ensured our departure long ago!
However, what about churches where, while no big sin affirming announcements are heard from the pulpit, the subtle drip, drip of the Gospel being watered down is constantly present? What can be even more telling sometimes is not what is said from the pulpit, but what is not said. It’s the absence of any “hard teachings” of the Bible and scriptural preaching that addresses the controversial topics which are faced by the people in the pews each day in our modern society. It seems so many pastors these days avoid such topics by reason that speaking of such things would make people feel uncomfortable or judged and might drive them away. As a result, many churches have drifted into a so-called seeker friendly approach to ministry, one which endeavors to create a forgiving environment of tolerance and love towards all sinners, repentant or unrepentant.
On the surface that all sounds very nice and indeed, Jesus very clearly said, “to love your enemies and do good for them.” (Luke 6:27) However, He didn’t say to get in bed with them. You can love someone and do good for them without holding hands with them as they continue to sin. As has been said before, "Tolerance of wrong is not right." Yes, we do tolerate the sinner, just as the Lord exhibits great patience with us, but we cannot and must not tolerate the sin. How do we tolerate sin? By not speaking against it, by avoiding it and downplaying it’s consequences. A major function of the minister of God is to address the sin issues of the day. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Bible is replete with example after example of preachers speaking against the major societal sins of their time. There is nothing new about this, except perhaps the lack of courage by many modern day pastors to follow in the biblical footsteps of the apostles and prophets.
A non-Christian told me a few months ago that they were raising their teenager without any religious doctrines so that when he was old enough he could decide for himself what he wanted to believe. I’m afraid this is what we are doing in our seeker friendly churches. Instead of creating seeker friendly environments, we are creating sinner friendly environments. We are giving them just enough religion to make them feel good about themselves, but not enough to save them from their sins. Unwittingly, many pastors today have restricted and compromised their preaching of the Word in an effort to adopt the seeker-friendly church model for growth and “success”. The passion and fire have disappeared from their preaching and the edge is gone on their sword.
Yet with a word, with The Word, on any given Sunday, such a pastor can completely turn his preaching and entire personal ministry around. Not only will he renew himself as he steps back into the footsteps of the holy men of God in scripture, he can change the entire direction of the church.
Oh how I covet to hear such a story! I pray for one. As I write this, I pray the Lord touches the heart of such a pastor. I pray God gives him the courage to stand in his pulpit and say, “I have gotten away from God’s Word in my teaching and preaching. Our church has strayed from the narrow path of Biblical truth. I ask my church and my God to forgive me. I will return to preaching the full Word of God, and I ask you to join me, no matter the cost.”
Yes, I am foolish enough to believe it can happen! I have sincere hope because I know the Lord can give us great courage and cause tremendous change in the lives of pastors and churches. I am one such example!
Could such a change be costly? Yes. Could it cost the pastor friction and trouble with his own church leadership? Yes. Could it cost him relationships and criticism from other pastors and churches? Yes. Could it cost the pastor and his church members? Yes.
It cost Jesus everything. Jesus did not avoid the “hard teachings” even though it drove people away. The Bible says many disciples deserted Jesus as a result of His hard teachings.
"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”...From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." (John 6:60-66)
What’s more, Jesus heard people grumbling at His teaching and knew that He had offended them. In verse 61 it says, “Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?”
For us, the real question is, “Why are we so worried about offending others by teaching the full Word of God, even the hard things?” Do we think that we are now kinder, gentler and more sensitive that Jesus? Do we believe that the sinful nature of man has somehow changed in our time and become more delicate? Ironically, there is a call in the land today for the learned, experienced and mature churchmen to regain the enthusiasm and courage like that of a new born believer to plainly speak the truth of Scripture and zealously turn souls away from sin and to God.
Years ago I pastored an inner city church that had many people who were former drug and alcohol abusers, including some who were still struggling with abuse. It should be no surprise that I frequently preached about drug and alcohol abuse, along with theft, violence, and all the sin-related issues associated with them. What I didn’t do was say, “God loves you. God bless you. Hope you liked the music. See you next week!”
There were times when the service was over that some people left in a hurry while others didn’t return the following Sunday. More often than not, however, I would have people come up to me and say, “I didn’t want to hear that, but that’s what I needed to hear! It made me look at my sins and know I need to change. Thank you!”
Preaching, teaching, and sharing the whole Word of God, even the “hard” things, can place us in awkward and uncomfortable social and work situations, but that is the nature of living a fallen world. It’s part of the spiritual tension that exists between believers and unbelievers. That tension exists because of the witness of God’s Word and it operates as a lynch pin between guilt and conviction, which leads to repentance and salvation. When we try to eliminate that tension because it makes us uncomfortable, then someone and something suffers. That someone who suffers is the seeker, the sinner who remains unchallenged and unrepentant in his or her sin. The believer also suffers when his goal and priority in life is to constantly avoid awkward situations and to always “feel comfortable”.
Jesus sought neither.
The Gospel suffers when we limit it’s sharing to suit our own personal comfort zones and also when edit it to fit into the comfort zones of those who do not believe. The truth is God’s work is done in the un-comfort zone as we share the unvarnished truth of God’s Word and help lead others out of sin.
Finishing as we began, the story of the young lady who was seeking a new church cuts both ways. It clearly shows us how important it is for every believer to read and regularly study the Bible for themselves and to exercise God’s gift of spiritual discernment at all times and in all situations. Failing to do both will open us to the subtlety of the devil’s logic and the acceptance of sin and false teaching. As leaders and ministers of God, her story shows us the great importance and responsibility we have to preach and teach the whole Bible and to address head-on the tough issues in our society which are affecting both God’s people and the lost. It is difficult and hard work to do, but we do it so they might be spared from the destructiveness of sin and saved from the horrors of hell.
Remnant of God, it is our solemn obligation and our blessed privilege to preach the Word. Preach the Word. No compromises. Preach the Word until it costs you something, then preach it more.
For Christ and His Remnant,