“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (II Timothy 4:3)
There is an overwhelming motive on the part of many church leaders to entertain the flock. The desire is for the congregant to have a positive experience, to leave the building with a smile, to build up the church’s brand, to keep the people stimulated, excited, uplifted, relevant, emotional, something new, better, electric, exhilarating, new music, new style, architecture, cutting edge, lingo, networking, media – don’t let them blink. Positive. Church was awesome. Electric guitars for organs, multi-media for hymn books, polos and jeans for suits and ties, padded chairs for wooden pews, band and stage lights for choir. State of the art.
It’s exhausting how far the modern church will go to make the flock feel comfortable and content. The zeal for comfort and relevance may seem a noble enterprise at first – since many changes are obviously cosmetic in nature, seek cultural relevancy, and may even serve a significant evangelical function. The danger in pursuing comfort and entertainment is that the church’s core message is anything but comforting. The Biblical narrative presents the sure message that human nature is fundamentally corrupted and faces certain judgment. The danger is that the spirit of comfort has infiltrated not only the pipe organs and clothing, but the message – the “foolish,” “scandalous,” “offensive,” and “terrifying” message of the cross.
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
The obvious alternative to presenting the scandal of the cross is to hide the shame. Typically, this new face of the gospel does not come in any open apostasy of core orthodox doctrine. Statements of faith remain largely intact for now, albeit in fine print. The entertainment model is largely expressed in what is lacking in its presentation. The “whole counsel of God” has been jettisoned for an “uplifting” message that fails to present the reality of the human condition and its subsequent remedy. It fails to present obedience, suffering and Lordship as non-negotiable tenants of the Christian faith.
“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.” Acts 20:26-27
The starting point of the gospel is that humankind is utterly lost and destitute. It is a race whose wicked nature is only matched by the vanity of its rebellion. The only terms for peace that the King of the universe offers mankind is the payment of his sins by the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus. Only by faith and repentance is mankind made a beneficiary of this payment. There are no other terms for peace. No one is ransomed except through this payment. Treason will be met with penalty.
It’s only upon the backdrop of humankind’s unqualified depravity and eternal punishment do we begin to appreciate the good news of pardon and reconciliation that God initiates with His nomadic herdsmen in Mesopotamia and culminates with the humble carpenter from Galilee.
The “problem” with the biblical story is that from a natural point of view it fails the “comfort test.” The biblical narrative must therefore be altered. Let’s talk about the amazing ways God wants to improve your life – make you happy, comfortable. You’re invited to the party. Come forward and say yes to Jesus. God loves you. God is good. All the time. Give to the poor. Serve. Share His love. Accept His love. Accept him. Follow His model. Make us more like Him. Give out free socks and bottled water. Wow. Isn’t He good. Blessings. Thanks for coming to church; we know it was a sacrifice to get out of bed, and besides there are so many other churches you could have chosen….We’re honored to have you. Smiles and make-up. Plastic smiles. Moral teaching. Perfectly combed hair. Wasn’t that awesome worship!?
The power and stain of sin and its curse cannot be atoned for by “you’re ok” messages or eloquent moral teaching. These are utterly powerless to remove the curse and penalty of sin. Comfort preaching only rubs the belly of the man of flesh. The conscience is not pricked. The man of dust remains intact and content. People who watch porn and smoke weed on Saturday night will be as happy as a lark in these spectacles on Sunday morning.
A partial gospel is in the end a false gospel, since like any other religion or philosophy it leads humans down the broad road of destruction. How can anyone ask for a pardon if they haven’t first been convinced of the justice of their condemnation? Men and women who have been truly redeemed from their corruption rejoice in this scandalous message, since its end is peace, power and freedom. To those who still trust in their own goodness, the scandal and offense stirs anger and resentment, since it shoots a dart that penetrates deep into the citadel of man’s pride.
“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” Jeremiah 5:31
The man or woman of God who has been chosen by God to herald this news must receive his reward from God alone. His allegiance must be to God alone. If he is looking for popularity and smiles his message is dead before he enters the house of God. His zeal and joy must be in pleasing His Lord, not on pleasing the crowd. For the true man or woman of God the road is lonely. Do not attempt to entertain the flock under your care. Comfort preaching will only leave the flock emaciated, destitute and sentenced to damnation. Preach the Word. Trust that God’s Word will heal and save. Trust the great physician to excise the tumor and heal the wound. Preach the Word. His Word.
“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep; the church will have clowns entertaining the goats!” Charles Spurgeon.