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After all the Rick Warren posts, I needed a strong antidote.  So, I turned to John MacArthur for some restorative words.

As you would imagine, MacArthur is against the trendiness in modern preaching and the watering down of the Bible.  He has devoted over 40 years to his congregation and focuses on what Scripture says, not what we wish it said.  He makes every effort to ensure that his congregation understands what Holy Writ says and why

In ‘What’s Wrong with “User Friendly”?’ he explains what’s wrong with today’s churches (emphases mine throughout):

If you want to know how user-friendly a church has become, the emphasis, or de-emphasis, on biblical preaching is the yardstick. A church that buys into the new paradigm sidelines provocative and convicting sermons for music, skits, or videos — less confrontational mediums for conveying the message. Even when there is a sermon, it is frequently psychological and motivational rather than biblical. Above all, entertainment value and user-friendliness are paramount …

So the new rules may be summed like this: Be clever, informal, positive, brief, friendly, and never, never use the H-word.

Yet, the Gospel can appear unfriendly to unbelievers.  It is not meant to be otherwise:

The pastors and leaders in the church-growth movement certainly wouldn’t portray their own ministries in that way. In fact, they would probably laud their success in drawing people into the church without compromising the message. But they fail to understand that by decentralizing the Scripture and avoiding hard truths, they are compromising. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26, emphasis added). If the design is to make the seeker comfortable, isn’t that rather incompatible with the Bible’s own emphasis on sin, judgment, hell, and several other important topics?

The gospel message is a confrontational message. When you remove the confrontation-or soften, downplay, or bring it in through the back door-you have compromised the message. The modern pulpit is weak, not for a lack of witty messages, but because men fear to speak the hard truths of God’s Word powerfully and with conviction.

You know, St Paul was cranky for a reason.  He was confronting churches in territories and nations filled with idolatry and false preachers.  He felt duty-bound to travel all over Asia Minor and set the new Christians straight — tell them what to look out for and what to avoid.  And he told them how to behave and how to strengthen their faith in all sorts of ways which went against the worldly surroundings in which they lived.  Some of these churches did better than others.  They all had difficulty in confessing their faith and keeping to the straight and narrow.

Some of the early churches appeased the world, much like today’s.  MacArthur picks up on pastors and their responsibilities:

The church is certainly not suffering from an overabundance of forthright preachers; rather, it seems glutted with men pleasers (cf. Gal. 1:10). But, as it was in the early church, when men are faithful to preach God’s Word with boldness, God will give the increase. “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…then fear came upon every soul…and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 43, 47).

That’s how it is supposed to ‘work’.  But what do enquirers who know little or nothing of God or His Son experience today?

When a sinner wanders into the church and sits through skits, mimes, interpretive dances, and the like, and yet never hears a clear, convicting message about his dangerous and tenuous spiritual situation-that he is a depraved sinner headed for an eternal fire because he is a daily offense to a holy God-how can that be called successful? You could achieve the same level of success by sending a cancer patient to receive treatment from a group of children playing doctor. A sinner must understand the imminent danger he is in if he is ever to look to the Savior.

Yet, thus it ever was.  Even the great Baptist preacher and founder of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had this to say in 1879:

I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men, and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd. If he did not save them he felt that it was of no avail to interest them …

Now observe, brethren, if I, or you, or any of us, or all of us, shall have spent our lives merely in amusing men, or educating men, or moralizing men, when we shall come to give our account at the last great day we shall be in a very sorry condition, and we shall have but a very sorry record to render; for of what avail will it be to a man to be educated when he comes to be damned? Of what service will it be to him to have been amused when the trumpet sounds, and heaven and earth are shaking, and the pit opens wide her jaws of fire and swallows up the soul unsaved?

This is precisely what is so unnerving about today’s seeker-sensitive, new, emergent, evangelical, modern churches of whatever stripe.  Liturgists, praise bands, vulgar pastors, psychologically-oriented messages, New Age days out, pseudo-Buddhist contemplation and all the rest are designed with us — not God — in mind. 

MacArthur says:

The strategy focuses on attracting and keeping the unchurched. For what? To entertain them? To get them to attend church meetings regularly? Merely “churching” the unchurched accomplishes nothing of eternal value. That is where their strategy seems to end.

What’s worse is when seeker-focused churches baptize the masses with their watered-down gospel, assuring them that positive decisions, feelings, or affirmations about Christ equal genuine conversion. There are now multitudes who are not authentic Christians identifying with the church. The church is literally invaded with the world’s values, the world’s interests, and the world’s citizens.

How many of us and the people we sit next to in church will enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  It’s not for us to say, surely, yet there are times where we cannot help but wonder if we are living truly Christian lives.  Maybe we are too spiritually comfortable.  Perhaps our friends and family also feel too comfortable with their ways of life.  Just my thoughts based on what we’re getting from the pulpit.

In closing, MacArthur warns pastors:

As you set your strategy for church ministry, you dare not overlook the primary means of church growth: the straightforward, Christ-centered proclamation of the unadulterated Word of God. If you trade the Word for amusements or gimmicks, you will not only find that you have no effective means to reach people with the truth of Christ, but you will find yourself working against the Lord Himself

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