What kind of Savior do you want?

83327-truth_in_loveOur songs of praise and worship often focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that He cannot do.

A possible danger in this emphasis is that (like the Palm Sunday crowd) we will connect these songs to a God who is primarily interested in delivering us from difficult circumstances rather than from the power of sin and death. 

This is the emphasis found in a therapeutic gospel promising that God will heal your damaged emotions and broken relationships. Certainly God is gracious to work in every area of our lives but the greatest display of His love and deliverance is what Christ did to free us from the curse of the Law and the power of death (Galatians 3:13; Romans 3:19-25; II Corinthians 5:17-21). 

Let’s not set people up with false expectations about the Christian life being one of boundless triumph over all obstacles. While it’s true that there’s nothing that God cannot do, we must honor His timing.

One day God will restore us to a place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” but this will not happen until “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And the possibility of such restoration is solely based on what God has done for us “when the set time had fully come,” and “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).

We live in the time of history when Jesus calls his followers to take up the cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s so easy in a fallen world to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances more than one who offers eternal deliverance from sin and death.

Loss of focus

Is it possible to become so consumed with wanting God to solve our temporal problems (a broken relationship or a physical limitation) that we no longer joyfully celebrate what God has done to remove our greatest enemy, sin and death? Don’t allow the temporary things of this life to diminish your grateful worship of the God who, “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).  

Steve Cornell

God will not be mocked

Many years ago, Reinhold Niebuhr warned against proclaiming, “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

His words have a sad prophetic feel to them as I look at the landscape not merely of mainline protestant denominations, but of popular evangelicalism.

The subtlety of how this often begins is captured in the following advice. 

“We shall do well to play down the picture of God or Christ as Judge. A range of alternative models, the healer, the therapist, the patient lover, the counselor, all seem more appropriate for bringing out the primary interest of divine judgment, namely, the restoration of the creature to integrity and the winning of his love, despite what he has done or made of himself in the past” (B. Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984], 215). 

I suspect that this counsel would be heard by many (even among evangelical leaders) as wise. But it’s actually very dangerous in that it risks a therapeutic gospel where a Savior from sin might feel unnecessary — or at least not the most pressing concern. 

Ultimately, we must see that this kind of counsel mocks God by proposing man-centered philosophy in the place of the word of God, the cross of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who faithfully proclaim a God of righteous judgment will increasingly find themselves on the outside if this counsel prevails. 

God’s servants in Old Testament times faced similar challenges:

  • II Chronicles 36:16 - “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.”
  • Ezekiel 8:17-18 - “Have you seen this, son of man?” he asked. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger? Therefore, I will respond in fury. I will neither pity nor spare them. And though they cry for mercy, I will not listen.” 

Let us heed the warning, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Let us also remind ourselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as taught by Jesus himself, “…when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (John 16:8-9).

The apostle Paul closed his message to the philosophers of Athens declaring that, “God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Salvation occurs in connection with a series of experiences that trace to judgment and guilt. Four sequential elements are involved - conviction, contrition, confession and conversion.

Steve Cornell

Questions for every church leader

Many church leaders look to mega-churches for guidance. The more notable of these Churches are Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community in Chicago, Illinois, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and Andy Stanley’ North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. Leaders are often drawn to these mega-churches out of fear that their own approaches to ministry are ineffective.

The fast and frightening pace of change in our culture causes many traditional churches to feel as if they’ve lost touch. When ministries are ineffective, leaders who care about the Church ask questions about how to better “do” Church. 

Unwilling to become stagnant or to accept status quo, these leaders pursue new models for their ministries. Since mega-churches give an appearance of success, leaders fill church vans and hit the highways in search of new more effective ways to do church.

The churches attracting these leaders are usually mega-churches with uniquely gifted mega-leaders. These mega-churches have some great ideas for effective ministry and the desire of their leaders to help other pastors do a better job is commendable. 

However, after years of offering conferences and seminars, these leaders have sensed a need to warn participants not to mimic their methods. Those who try to duplicate the ministry of  uniquely situated mega-churches are often disappointed with the outcomes. Though well-intentioned to revitalize their own churches, in many cases their efforts create more problems than they solve.

 Allow me to suggest a better plan that will save the gas money and costs of the conferences. Consider Jesus words in Matthew 16:18 and ask the questions below it. 

-

Jesus said, “I will build my Church….” Matthew 16:18

  • Did He do it?
  • Is He doing it today?
  • Does a pattern emerge as to how He built His Church?
  • Is there a plan that transcends time and place?
  • Is every Church today being built by Christ?
  • How do we know if Christ is building a Church?  
  • What should Church structure look like?
  • What should Church life look like?

Worth considering

There is a more serious concern possibly related to this pursuit of new ways to do Church. Is it an indication of much deeper identity crises? Although not always the case, often leaders who attend these conferences lack confidence in ministry because they lack a solid Scriptural understanding of the church. A superficial ecclesiology inevitably makes leadership susceptible to insecurity and faulty understandings of ministry.

Leaders must develop and teach a biblical theology of church. When God’s people are secure in their understanding of what scripture teaches about the church, they will be more flexible about changing methods.

Revisit important New Testament texts like Acts 20; Ephesians 2:14-22; 4:11-16; Hebrews 3:12-14;10:25-26; 13:17 and I Peter 5:1-4. An investigative study of these passages will save you the money spent on a trip to the mega-Church.

Helpful resources:

Steve Cornell

Did you encounter God in Church?

When one speaks on behalf of God, there should be a God-encounter.

This was expected for Church gatherings.

When God’s people assemble in His name. “…if the whole church comes together and ….an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (I Corinthians 14:23-25).

Nothing seeker-friendly about this kind of experience! Yet it is what we desperately need in our Churches.

When truth about God is declared it should jolt those who live outside of His truth. I don’t want such people walking out of Church saying, “That was pretty cool.” “It didn’t even feel like Church.”  

I want them to be reeling a little — jolted mentally, emotionally and volitionally as they encounter God. Imagine a seeker greeting the pastor at the door and saying, “Being in your Church today made me feel like I was a sinner. I felt a little judged. I felt like my anonymity was violated, like the secrets of my heart were exposed.”

Good!

If the seeker is “an unbeliever or someone who does not understand,” this is what should happen.

I delight to see this type of response week after week at our Church. I can almost read it in their faces. But this doesn’t make it easier to speak for God. The one who speaks is himself a sinner and must deal with the secrets of his own heart. I don’t want to make the mistake of Job’s three friends who were rebuked by God  ”because you have not spoken of me what is right” (Job 42:7,8). 

Misrepresenting God can happen in what is not said as well as what is said. 

Reflect on a distinction made centuries ago by St. Thomas Aquinas. 

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God.  People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”

According to the New Testament, people do not seek God unless His Spirit works in their hearts. Jesus told us what kind of inner work the Spirit would accomplish. He said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment — three unlikely themes for seeker-services. (see: John 16:8)

Steve Cornell

When the Church markets the gospel

“Does the gospel of the market-driven church redeem the lost or reinforce trends, deliver from sin or affirm the self, reconcile people to God or appeal to religious consumers?”

“Tailoring the gospel to fit the consumer distorts the gospel, discounts the work of the Holy Spirit and dehumanizes men and women made in the image of God.”

“It’s one thing to understand cultural trends and attitudes in order to discover appropriate starting points for reaching a culture with the gospel. It’s quite another thing to mold the gospel to fit the expectations, aspirations and dreams of those in it” (Douglas Webster, Selling Jesus).

“We must never confuse our desire for people to accept the Gospel,” warned the late Oswald Chambers, “with creating a Gospel that is acceptable to people.”

 

Sovereign Ecclesiastical Consumers

“A growing number of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual deal in town.”

“If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed.  Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” 

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation.  Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to jump ship when problems develop.” 

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth.  They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned …”  (Christianity Today, 3/11/91, In Search of the Visible Church, R. Paterson).    

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (I Corinthians 3:16-17, ESV).

“It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, pop-psychology, managerial techniques, relational good feelings, or what have you. But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or His gospel in it. This is one of the few texts in the NT where we are exposed both to an understanding of the nature of the local church (God’s temple indwelt by His Spirit) and where the warning of v. 17 makes it clear how important the local church is to God Himself.”        

“One of the desperate needs of the church is to recapture this vision of what it is by grace, and therefore also what God intends it to be. In most Protestant circles one tends to take the local church altogether too lightly. As the temple of God they are expected to live as His alternative both to the pagan temples and to the way of life that surrounds them. …. So sacred to God is His temple that those who would destroy it (as they were doing by their quarrels and worldly wisdom) will themselves be destroyed by God (3:17)”  (Pp. 145, 149, I Corinthians, N.I.C.N.T., Gordon Fee).  

Note the close connection between a commitment to Christ and to His church (Mt. 16:18; 25:40; Lk. 10:2; Acts 2:47, 9:4; I Cor. 3;6; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 6:10).   

Steve Cornell                                                                                                                                                                    

Are we really seeking God?

 

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives” (Thomas Aquinas).

  • “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid …. so I hid” (Genesis 3:9-10).
  • “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).
  •  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
  •  “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
Steve Cornell 

Good words for pastors and others

 

“I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, ‘You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.’ My hope arises from the freeness of sovereign grace, and not from the freedom of the will.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Jesus said:

 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44).

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65).

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).

A sober truth:

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).

Two different human actions

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives” (Thomas Aquinas).

As sinners, we flee; As Redeemer, God loves and pursues sinners. 

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son” (Romans 5:8-10).

A final thought:

“We must always remember that the Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace” (D. A. Carson)

 

Looking for the best way to do Church

Many church leaders run for guidance to mega-churches like Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community in Chicago, Illinois and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The draw to mega-church conferences for these leaders is often a fear that their own approaches to ministry are not effectively reaching a postmodern world.

The fast and frightening pace of change in our culture easily causes traditional churches to feel as if they’ve lost touch — and many have. When their ministries are not effective, leaders who care ask questions about how to better “do” Church. Unwilling to become stagnant or to accept status quo, these leaders pursue new models for their ministries. And, since mega-churches give an appearance of success, leaders fill church vans and hit the highways in search of new ways to do church.

The churches attracting these leaders are, almost without exception, mega-churches with uniquely gifted mega-leaders. The desire on the part of these mega-churches to help leaders do a better job is praiseworthy. The mega-churches also have some great ideas for effective ministry. However, after years of offering leadership conferences and seminars, these Churches have sensed a need to warn participants not to mimic their methods. Those who try to duplicate the ministry of these churches are often disappointed. Their well-intentioned desire to revitalize their own churches is a good thing, but in many cases their efforts create more problems than they solve.

The reasons for this dilemma are important.

First, when these leaders return to their churches (energized by new ideas), they are in danger of forcing change. But an established church is easily threatened by new ways of doing ministry. Forcing new structures on churches promotes instability and uncertainty.

Secondly, those who attend the seminars often make the mistake of duplicating the product without the process. Leaders are wise to patiently evaluate their unique ministry communities before implementing new methods. Most of the mega-church leaders consciously developed a strategy in relation to their specific communities. Effective and long-term change, especially in more traditional churches, cannot be rushed. Leaders must prayerfully and thoughtfully evaluate new ideas and methods first to see if they align with the plan of the Master Builder of the Church, Jesus Christ, and secondly, in relation to their individual churches and communities.

Thirdly, when a leader hastily tries to change methods, Church members often interpret his efforts as an attack on their faith. Though often misguided, it is common for people to closely connect their faith with the traditions and methods of their churches. Leaders must help their congregations distinguish the unchanging faith from the methods used to communicate it. When this is accomplished, it is easier to convince people of more effective ways to do the work of ministry.

Finally, and most importantly, uncritical acceptance of mega-church methods is never wise. The leaders who attend these seminars would be wise to read some thoughtful critique of the movement before bringing the package home. Os Guinness’ book Dining With The Devil would be a good place to start. Douglas Webster’s Selling Jesus is equally valuable. All who desire to be effective in ministry must face the question of how to be relevant without compromising the demands of the gospel.

There is nothing wrong with new methods as long as Church leadership does not employ methods that put them at odds with the one who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Remember, we are calling people to follow Jesus, and he never hesitated to make known the demands of following him in the context of costly sacrifice. We must be careful not to mislead people into thinking that they can follow Jesus on their own terms.

It’s a good thing to be willing to innovate for the sake of the gospel but a word of caution is needed.

“when sociological reality is taken as the given to which church strategy and tactics must adjust, the church is in danger of becoming market-driven in an attempt to create a particularly attractive religious boutique to which all (or all within an identifiable market niche) are welcome and within which a variety of goods and services must be offered for personal choice.” (Joseph D. Small)

A Deeper Concern:

There is a more serious concern related the pursuit of new ways to do Church. Is it possible that this trend is an indicator of a much deeper identity crisis? Though it is not always the case, often leaders who attend these conferences lack confidence in ministry because they lack a solid Scriptural understanding of the church. A superficial ecclesiology inevitably makes leadership susceptible to insecurity and faulty understandings of ministry. Leaders must develop and teach a biblical theology of church. When God’s people are secure in their understanding of what scripture teaches about the church, they will be more flexible about changing methods. Revisit important NT texts like Acts 20; Ephesians 2:14-22; 4:11-16; Hebrews 3:12-14; 10:25-26; 13:17 and I Peter 5:1-4. An investigative study of these passages will save you the money spent on a trip to the mega-Church.

Steve Cornell

See Also:

Overview of Church leadership

Local Church Mission Statement 

 

Do people seek God?

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.” (Thomas Aquinas)

  • “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid …. so I hid” (Genesis 3:9-10).
  • “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).
  • “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
  •  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
  •  “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).

 “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18-21).

Steve Cornell