And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
1 Cor 2:1-5 (NASB77)
As my church continues to face a roller coaster of optimism and uncertainty I’ve been pressured to take my congregation in a variety of directions. This pressure is primarily aimed in the direction of seeker sensitive ministries, Cowboy Churches and even Biker Church praise and worship. Many have continued to ask me, “If it gets people saved why not do it?” or “If it will get people to attend for a while and help keep the church open, shouldn’t you compromise just this once?”
To make matters clear, I haven’t got a problem with good music or musicians, but the suggestion from outsiders is often that I need to shape my church to represent what they think the carnal interests of the community reflect. (Ironically, my small community is neither cowboy nor biker! It’s elderly farmers with a dash of retired underwear factory employees! I don‘t think underwear would make a good church plan do you?) So why do I struggle with Seeker oriented and “Fishing-Bait” style churches?
I. “Determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”
Paul presents a clear presentation of the job description ministers are to work by and “slick salesmanship” is simply not on the agenda. Rather than change to the whim of every fad and sub-cultural phenomena, Paul aims at the solitary theme of the cross.
It amazes me how often this sort of thinking is shunned by church leaders because it is viewed as irrelevant. “Solid preaching and bible reading? That won’t attract anyone.” I often hear from those pressuring me. Rather, they focus on felt needs, self esteem, and cultural fads. Unfortunately this direction is actually the opposite of relevance!!!
Consider what happens if these things were substituted for the cross in our pulpits:
Philosophy and Rhetoric - This was the craze desired by Greek audiences and they seldom listened to anyone seriously unless the speaker had decent oratory and rhetoric mixed into their speeches. Unfortunately, the masses of uneducated people were completely by passed by this style of speech. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for the WRONG view to triumph in public debates because they had better speaking and debating skills. This still occurs today when debates are held between two different skill levels. Feeding the audiences craze for such things can lead to further error and less discernment.
Political Reform - Pat Robertson anyone? This focus in the pulpit is a sham too! It may SEEM relevant unfortunately, it only seems to reach those who or on the underside and oppressed by the current party. This view would ignore those currently in a state of well being and prosperity. Moral reform may impact and apply to everyone, but it still strays farfrom the central truth people most needto hear.
Self Esteem Movement - Again we run into a problem don’t we? What good is contentment and happiness in this world to the detriment of the next? What about people that don’t need self esteem boosts (or those who have a little too much for that matter?)
I notice this problem with any view that tends to soften the cross for the sake of relevance. The plain fact is Seeker Churches always have to neglect one group in order to cater to their “target group.” (not to be confused with international missions)
Paul doesn’t have this problem at all because the cross is the only thing that is universally relevant! What is more relevant than a message that proclaims forgiveness from sins (in the death of Christ), a mediator for our current sins (in the resurrection of Christ), and as the promise of a righteous and fearful judgment for the unrepentant? That definitely covers all bases and applies to all people. That already provides a change of life style (impact the political climate of society by default), emotional healing, peace and fear.
Those who tend to think optimistic perkiness or self hatred define true spirituality are quickly confronted by the cross. Legalism also withers away. Nothing else has such a universal ability.
II. “Demonstration of the Spirit and Power”
Why is singular devotion to the simple and unadorned proclamation of the cross so important to Paul? Because the power of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through it. That’s one of the biggest problems in Southern Baptist life today! We have no real Pneumatology. Our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is never applied consistently to anything anymore (especially the salvation issue) and consequently, we fail to follow the same thought process as Paul. Notice Evangelism is not to be centered on persuasive and slick speech, nor is it the occurrences of miraculous events and healings. Rather, the power the Spirit demonstrates is that of regeneration, conviction and salvation. This isnot to say we should not labor for clarity and application for howthe listener should live out biblical truth, but it does discourage flavoring the Gospel like some people flavor their yogurt.
At the end of the message preached, those who respond can have nothing to credit except the conviction of the Spirit because nothing else was added to give it a gloss or beauty. Remembering that spiritually dead men cannot grasp the truth of the gospel apart from the work of the Spirit anyway, this would certainly make sense wouldn’t it? Even more so, what is more miraculous than the resurrection of spiritually dead men to life? Only the Word of God is said to be able to penetrate the hardness of man’s heart with such precision, and the Spirit works through this in the redemptive process. (i.e. faith comes by hearing)
I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons worship wars have been a somewhat modern debate has been because ministers of the past had a completely different mind set concerning these matters.
III. “That your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God”
This is another important issue raised by Paul. If we begin to embellish and sell the gospel to customers in a desirable packaging, then we receive some of the credit for the persons salvation. Here, Paul has our faith resting solely on the power of God and not the wisdom of men. Yet, what else can we call market driven and seeker churches but cleverly devised plans to penetrate men’s hearts by repackaging the message? I know they don’t intend to do anything wrong, but the glory of God is diminished and the power of the message is partially concealed. The Spirit doesn’t need assistance in that department. We should be reading, proclaiming and living out the Word, not repackaging it.
It’s almost ironic isn’t it? The IMB claims that North America is the only continent that has a decline in Christianity, yet where does seeker sensitive thought abound? Where is the power of their message? They penetrate the hardness of church members hearts (and they quickly leave the churches they have previously attended) unfortunately, they seem to have little impact on the unchurched community at large! (Check the stats, I’m not lying!)
I’m interested in ya’lls feed back. What do you think? Have I missed something? Communication is not always my best skill late in the evening, so let me know if there's anything you need clarification on!
Sorry for My Long Absence,