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Monthly Archives: December 2012

NO , THAT’S NOT THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS

No, That’s Not the True Meaning of Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2012

by John MacArthur
The community where I live doesn’t make international headlines very often, but last week the managers of a local residential complex for seniors earned a large-print banner at the top of the Drudge Report. “Christmas Tree Banned: ‘Religious Symbol,’” the headline screamed.
Someone in the retirement center’s parent corporation decided Christmas decorations are sectarian emblems and banned them from all communal areas. Staff were directed to remove the central Christmas tree that residents had already decorated.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about that story is that it made headlines at all. Every year the Grinches of militant secularism complain about Christmas decorations in public places, and each Christmas seems to produce more stories like that than the last. Lawsuits and protests over decorations have become as much a holiday tradition as figgy pudding.
Of course, Christmas trees are not really religious symbols. There is no biblical, creedal, or ecclesiastical mandate to decorate trees—or to exchange gifts, for that matter. We don’t know the actual date of Christ’s birth, so even the December 25 date had no special significance to the church for at least three centuries after Christ. Those are traditions that Christians have observed for generations. Like breaking plates at a Greek wedding, such things are cultural customs, not religious rites.
There is certainly nothing sacred about Christmas decorations, and if you don’t believe me, take a drive through the typical American neighborhood at night during the holiday season. Yards and houses are blanketed with fake snow, bright lights, and fantasy figures—Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, Jack Frost, gingerbread men, elves, nutcrackers, Scrooge, Charlie Brown, and of course, the Grinch.
Indeed, Christmas in American popular culture is overgrown with folklore, feelings, and nostalgic icons that have nothing whatsoever to do with religious faith. Most popular Christmas traditions are less than 150 years old. One such tradition, dating back to Dickens’s time, is the sentimental exploration of the question “What is the true meaning of Christmas?”
The true-meaning-of-Christmas meme even has its own Wikipedia entry. According to the article there, “In pop culture usage, overt religious references are mostly avoided, and the ‘true meaning’ is taken to be a sort of introspective and benevolent attitude.”
The truth of that analysis is amply illustrated in a growing menagerie of popular Christmas movies. From the classic favorites (played repeatedly in 24-hour marathons) to the cheesy dramas shown wall-to-wall on cable TV each December, Hollywood force-feeds viewers a seriously skewed notion of Christmas. The Hallmark Channel alone is advertising 12 new Christmas movies this month. In one way or another, most of them offer some view on the true meaning of Christmas.
All of them get it wrong.
Frankly, if everything you knew about Christmas came from tree ornaments, house decorations, and Christmas movies, you might not have a clue the holiday ever had anything to do with the birth of Christ. The fact that people think of Christmas trees as religious symbols proves Christians have not made their message clear.
For believers, that surely ought to be a more urgent matter of concern than the so-called war on Christmas. Secularists who can’t stand the sight of a Christmas tree pose no real threat to the church or her mission. What ought to trouble us in a culture dotted with churches and filled with professing Christians is that we haven’t managed to break through the confusion and commercialization of the year’s biggest holiday and show the world what we’re actually celebrating.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. But it’s not just a poignant story about a baby born in a stable because his family was turned away from the inn. According to the New Testament, that baby is God in human flesh, voluntarily stepping down to live among humanity, as a servant, in order to take the burden of others’ guilt and pay the price for it by sacrificing his life for them:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).
“Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
He “appeared … to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). “He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). To echo the apostle Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15, emphasis added).
That’s what Christmas is truly all about, and December 25 is as good a day as any to set aside for a special celebration of it: “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, emphasis added). In other words, the “peace on earth, good will toward men” proclaimed by the angels is not merely about peace between nations and goodwill among men. It’s about peace with God and grace from Him to us in spite of our sin.
Even the name Jesus means “Savior”—“for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In other words, the very heart of the true meaning of Christmas is a promise of salvation—full and free redemption from the guilt and penalty of sin, “for all those who believe” (Romans 3:22). That is the “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Miss it, and you will have missed the true meaning of Christmas entirely. Lay hold of it, and you will not only gain eternal life; you can also enjoy a true peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

This article is from the December 11, 2012, edition of The Washington Times. © 2012

 
 

THE PEOPLE WHO MISSED CHRISTMAS : ROME AND NAZARETH


by John MacArthur
An entire nation missed Christmas. All of Rome could have shared in the Savior’s birth, but they missed it. That first Christmas was set in a Roman scene. Herod, for example, was the ruler appointed by Rome. And it was a decree by Caesar Augustus that set everything in motion (Luke 2:1).
Who was Caesar Augustus? He’s mentioned only once in Scripture, but he occupies an important place in the history of the Roman Empire. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar. His name was Octavian; “Augustus” was a title meaning “venerable.” He ruled Rome from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14.
Octavian was for the most part a benevolent ruler. He was responsible for the Pax Romana, the era of peace between all the different parts of the Roman Empire. He instituted numerous reforms designed to do away with the worst forms of corruption and keep peace throughout the empire. But Octavian took the title of Pontifex Maximus, which means “highest priest.” He also deified both Julius Caesar and himself, and had temples built for Caesar worship.
Octavian had come to power when Julius Caesar was assassinated. In his will, Julius Caesar left all his possessions, including the throne, to his grand-nephew. In the middle of his reign, Octavian ordered a worldwide census. That was the decree spoken of in Luke 2:1.
And so Jesus was born in the heyday of the Roman Empire. Yet nearly all of Rome missed Christmas. Roman soldiers must have been everywhere in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, overseeing the census, registering people, and keeping order. Yet they missed Jesus’ birth. Why? Idolatry. They had their own gods—they were even willing to let their emperor pretend to be God. Christ did not fit into their pantheon. No mythological god could coexist with Him. So the Romans totally ignored His birth. This newborn baby became just one more number in their census.
Paganism has a strong a grip on our world today, and millions miss Christmas because of it. I’m not talking only about the dark paganism of distant lands, where Christ is unknown and unheard of, and where Christmas is unheard of. Obviously, those people miss Christmas. But there is another, subtler form of idolatry even in our society. And millions miss Christmas because of it. Most people in North America don’t worship carved idols or follow demonic superstition like the Romans did, but they nevertheless worship false gods. Some people worship money. Others worship sex. I know people who worship cars, boats, houses, power, prestige, popularity, and fame. Those things represent the pagan gods of the 21st century: selfishness and materialism. If that is what you worship, you’ll miss Christmas.
Finally, and perhaps saddest of all, Nazareth missed Christmas. Nazareth was a crude, uncultured town, quite a distance from Bethlehem. The people of that region had a reputation for violence. Nathanael expressed the prevailing opinion of that little town: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Yet Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph, and the boyhood home of Jesus. Although he was born in Bethlehem, He grew up in Nazareth and lived His perfect life before all the people there. Yet they completely overlooked Him. Luke 4 describes the most important Sabbath day Nazareth ever had:

And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke4:16-21)

After years of living among those people, Jesus was revealing to the Nazarenes who He was. For the first time ever, He was telling them publicly that He was the Messiah. And what was their reaction?

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way. (Luke4:22-30)

The people who knew Jesus best—those with whom He had grown up and among whom He had lived—tried to kill Him! That’s what I call missing Christmas. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him,” John 1:11 says. The people of Nazareth, who knew Him better than anyone, had no idea who He really was. Mark 6:6 says even Jesus wondered at their unbelief.
What was their problem? Familiarity. They knew Him too well. They knew Him so well they couldn’t believe He was anyone special. Familiarity mixed with unbelief is a deadly thing. Whenever people tell me they grew up in Christianity but have rejected it, I cringe. Familiarity strangles conviction. Perhaps the most tragic sin of all is the unbelief of a person who has heard all the sermons, sat through all the Bible lessons, knows all the Christmas stories, but rejects Christ. There is no gospel, no good news, for such a person, because he already knows and rejects the only truth that can set him free. What a sad way to miss Christmas!
No one has to miss Christmas. Ignorant preoccupation, jealous fear, prideful indifference, religious ritual, false gods, and even contemptuous familiarity are only expressions of the one real reason people miss Christmas: unbelief.
If you truly love the Lord, you cannot allow those expressions of unbelief to take root in your heart. Don’t waste another year letting worldly materialism and selfish pursuits steal your affection. Discipline your heart and train your focus on the sacrifice Christ made on your behalf. Don’t lose sight of what and Whom you’re celebrating in the days ahead.
On the other hand, perhaps you’ve been missing Christmas altogether. You may get presents and eat a big dinner and decorate a tree, but you know in your heart that you are no different from the innkeeper, Herod, the religious leaders, the people of Jerusalem, the Romans, or the citizens of Nazareth. You are missing the reality of Christmas.
You don’t have to miss another one. Turn from your sin and unbelief and receive Christ as Lord and God. He will forgive your sin, change your life, and give you the greatest Christmas gift anyone can receive: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11-12).
Don’t miss Christmas this year!

(Adapted from The Miracle of Christmas.)

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in #BIBLE, #CHRISTIAN, #CHRISTMAS, #FAITH, #GOD, #JESUS

 

QUESTION : " COMPLEMENTARIANISM VS EGALITARIANISM , WHICH VIEW IS BIBLICALLY CORRECT ? "

Answer: Summarized by “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary roles. Summarized by “Christians for Biblical Equality,” egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church. With both positions claiming to be biblically based, it is crucially important to fully examine what exactly the Bible does say on the issue of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

Again, to summarize, on the one side are the egalitarians who believe there are no gender distinctions and that since we are all one in Christ, women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household. The opposing view is held by those who refer to themselves as complementarians. The complementarian view believes in the essential equality of men and women as persons (i.e., as human beings created in God’s image), but complementarians hold to gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in society, the church and the home.

An argument in favor of complementarianism can be made from 1 Timothy 2:9-15. The verse in particular that seems to argue against the egalitarian view is 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 14 where he writes, “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Paul makes the argument that women are not allowed to teach and/or exercise authority over men within the church setting. Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 seem to limit church leadership “offices” to men, as well.

Egalitarianism essentially makes its case based on Galatians 3:28. In that verse Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The egalitarian view argues that in Christ the gender distinctions that characterized fallen relationships have been removed. However, is this how Galatians 3:28 should be understood? Does the context warrant such an interpretation? It is abundantly clear that this interpretation does damage to the context of the verse. In Galatians, Paul is demonstrating the great truth of justification by faith alone and not by works (Galatians 2:16). In Galatians 3:15-29, Paul argues for justification on the differences between the law and the promise. Galatians 3:28 fits into Paul’s argument that all who are in Christ are Abraham’s offspring by faith and heirs to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The context of this passage makes it clear Paul is referring to salvation, not roles in the church. In other words, salvation is given freely to all without respect to external factors such as ethnicity, economic status, or gender. To stretch this context to also apply to gender roles in the church goes far beyond and outside of the argument Paul was making.

What is truly the crux of this argument, and what many egalitarians fail to understand, is that a difference in role does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and plan. Women are not inferior to men. Rather, God assigns different roles to men and women in the church and the home because that is how He designed us to function. The truth of differentiation and equality can be seen in the functional hierarchy within the Trinity (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. This functional submission does not imply an equivalent inferiority of essence; all three Persons are equally God, but they differ in their function. Likewise, men and women are equally human beings and equally share the image of God, but they have God-ordained roles and functions that mirror the functional hierarchy within the Trinity.

Recommended Resource: Women in Ministry: Four Views by Bonnidell & Robert Clouse, eds..

 

QUESTION : " WOMEN PASTORS/PREACHERS ? WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT WOMEN IN MINISTRY ? "

Answer: There is perhaps no more hotly debated issue in the church today than the issue of women serving as pastors/preachers. As a result, it is very important to not see this issue as men versus women. There are women who believe women should not serve as pastors and that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women, and there are men who believe women can serve as preachers and that there are no restrictions on women in ministry. This is not an issue of chauvinism or discrimination. It is an issue of biblical interpretation.

The Word of God proclaims, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). In the church, God assigns different roles to men and women. This is a result of the way mankind was created and the way in which sin entered the world (1 Timothy 2:13-14). God, through the apostle Paul, restricts women from serving in roles of teaching and/or having spiritual authority over men. This precludes women from serving as pastors over men, which definitely includes preaching to, teaching, and having spiritual authority.

There are many “objections” to this view of women in ministry. A common one is that Paul restricts women from teaching because in the first century, women were typically uneducated. However, 1 Timothy 2:11-14 nowhere mentions educational status. If education were a qualification for ministry, the majority of Jesus’ disciples would not have been qualified. A second common objection is that Paul only restricted the women of Ephesus from teaching (1 Timothy was written to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church in Ephesus). The city of Ephesus was known for its temple to Artemis, a false Greek/Roman goddess. Women were the authority in the worship of Artemis. However, the book of 1 Timothy nowhere mentions Artemis, nor does Paul mention Artemis worship as a reason for the restrictions in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

A third common objection is that Paul is only referring to husbands and wives, not men and women in general. The Greek words in the passage could refer to husbands and wives; however, the basic meaning of the words refers to men and women. Further, the same Greek words are used in verses 8-10. Are only husbands to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger and disputing (verse 8)? Are only wives to dress modestly, have good deeds, and worship God (verses 9-10)? Of course not. Verses 8-10 clearly refer to all men and women, not only husbands and wives. There is nothing in the context that would indicate a switch to husbands and wives in verses 11-14.

Yet another frequent objection to this interpretation of women in ministry is in relation to women who held positions of leadership in the Bible, specifically Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament. This objection fails to note some significant factors. First, Deborah was the only female judge among 13 male judges. Huldah was the only female prophet among dozens of male prophets mentioned in the Bible. Miriam’s only connection to leadership was being the sister of Moses and Aaron. The two most prominent women in the times of the Kings were Athaliah and Jezebel—hardly examples of godly female leadership. Most significantly, though, the authority of women in the Old Testament is not relevant to the issue. The book of 1 Timothy and the other Pastoral Epistles present a new paradigm for the church—the body of Christ—and that paradigm involves the authority structure for the church, not for the nation of Israel or any other Old Testament entity.

Similar arguments are made using Priscilla and Phoebe in the New Testament. In Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila are presented as faithful ministers for Christ. Priscilla’s name is mentioned first, perhaps indicating that she was more “prominent” in ministry than her husband. However, Priscilla is nowhere described as participating in a ministry activity that is in contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Priscilla and Aquila brought Apollos into their home and they both discipled him, explaining the Word of God to him more accurately (Acts 18:26).

In Romans 16:1, even if Phoebe is considered a “deaconess” instead of a “servant,” that does not indicate that Phoebe was a teacher in the church. “Able to teach” is given as a qualification for elders, but not deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9). Elders/bishops/deacons are described as the “husband of one wife,” “a man whose children believe,” and “men worthy of respect.” Clearly the indication is that these qualifications refer to men. In addition, in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9, masculine pronouns are used exclusively to refer to elders/bishops/deacons.

The structure of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 makes the “reason” perfectly clear. Verse 13 begins with “for” and gives the “cause” of Paul’s statement in verses 11-12. Why should women not teach or have authority over men? Because “Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived.” God created Adam first and then created Eve to be a “helper” for Adam. This order of creation has universal application in the family (Ephesians 5:22-33) and the church. The fact that Eve was deceived is also given as a reason for women not serving as pastors or having spiritual authority over men. This leads some to believe that women should not teach because they are more easily deceived. That concept is debatable, but if women are more easily deceived, why should they be allowed to teach children (who are easily deceived) and other women (who are supposedly more easily deceived)? That is not what the text says. Women are not to teach men or have spiritual authority over men because Eve was deceived. As a result, God has given men the primary teaching authority in the church.

Many women excel in gifts of hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, and helps. Much of the ministry of the local church depends on women. Women in the church are not restricted from public praying or prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5), only from having spiritual teaching authority over men. The Bible nowhere restricts women from exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Women, just as much as men, are called to minister to others, to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15).

God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers, or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function. Men are to set the example in spiritual leadership—in their lives and through their words. Women are to take a less authoritative role. Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5). The Bible also does not restrict women from teaching children. The only activity women are restricted from is teaching or having spiritual authority over men. This logically would preclude women from serving as pastors to men. This does not make women less important, by any means, but rather gives them a ministry focus more in agreement with God’s plan and His gifting of them.

Recommended Resource: Two Views on Women in Ministry, Revised by James R. Beck, ed..

 

QUESTION : " WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH ? "

Answer: Acts 2:42 could be considered a purpose statement for the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be 1) teaching biblical doctrine, 2) providing a place of fellowship for believers, 3) observing the Lord’s supper, and 4) praying.

The church is to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith. Ephesians 4:14 tells us, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and most importantly, love one another (1 John 3:11).

The church is to be a place where believers can observe the Lord’s Supper, remembering Christ’s death and shed blood on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The concept of “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42) also carries the idea of having meals together. This is another example of the church promoting fellowship. The final purpose of the church according to Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church is to be a place that promotes prayer, teaches prayer, and practices prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Another commission given to the church is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church is to both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel (1 Peter 3:15).

Some final purposes of the church are given in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate. The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world. This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship.

So, what is the purpose of the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. The church is God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if He were here physically on the earth. The church is to be “Christian,” “Christ-like,” and Christ-following.

Recommended Resource: Stop Dating the Church! Falling in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris.

 

QUESTION : " SHOULD A CHURCH BE SEEKER SENSITIVE ?"

Answer: In recent years a new movement within the evangelical church has come into vogue, commonly referred to as “seeker sensitive.” Generally, this movement has seen a great deal of growth. Many “seeker” churches are now mega-churches with well-known pastors who are riding a wave of popularity in the evangelical world. The seeker-sensitive movement claims millions of conversions, commands vast resources, continues to gain popularity, and seems to be attracting millions of un-churched people into its fold.

So, what is this movement all about? Where does it come from? And, most importantly, is it biblical? Basically, the seeker-sensitive church tries to reach out to the unsaved person by making the church experience as comfortable, inviting, and non-threatening to him as possible. The hope is that the person will believe in the gospel. The idea behind the concept is to get as many unsaved people through the door as possible, and the church leadership are willing to use nearly any means to accomplish that goal. Theatrics and musical entertainment are the norm in the church service to keep the unsaved person from getting bored as he does with traditional churches. State-of-the-art technology in lighting and sound are common components of the seeker-sensitive churches, especially the larger ones.

Expertly run nurseries, day care, adult day care, community programs such as ESL (English as a Second Language), and much more are common fixtures in the larger seeker churches. Short sermons (typically 20 minutes at most) are usually focused on self-improvement. Supporters of this movement will say that the single reason behind all the expense, state-of-the-art tech gear, and theatrics is to reach the unsaved with the gospel; however, rarely are sin, hell, or repentance spoken of, and Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to heaven is rarely mentioned. Such doctrines are considered “divisive.”

The seeker-sensitive church movement has pioneered a new method for founding churches involving demographics studies and community surveys that ask the unsaved what they want in a church. This is a kind of “if you build it they will come” mentality. The reasoning is that if you give the unsaved better entertainment than they can receive elsewhere, or “do church” in a non-threatening way, then they will come, and hopefully, they will accept the gospel. The mindset is to hook the un-churched person with great entertainment, give him a message he can digest, and provide second-to-none services. The focus of the seeker church then is not Christ-centered, but man-centered. The main purpose of the seeker church’s existence is to give people what they want or meet their felt needs.

Further, the seeker-friendly gospel presentation is based on the idea that if you will believe in Jesus, He will make your life better. Relationships with your wife or husband, coworkers, children, etc., will be better. The message the seeker church sometimes passes on to the unsaved person is that God is a great cosmic genie, and if you stroke Him the right way, you will get what you want. In other words, if you profess to believe in Jesus, God will give you a better life, better relationships and purpose in life. So, for all intents and purposes, the seeker-sensitive movement is a type of system based on giving unbelievers whatever they want. What too often happens in such a system is that people make a profession of faith, but when the circumstances of their lives don’t immediately change for their material good, they forsake Christ, believing He has failed them.

How are people responding to the “seeker” movement? Many people have responded and begun attending seeker-sensitive churches. Many people, indeed, have come to faith in Christ as a result of a seeker-sensitive church. But the bigger question is, “What does God have to say about all this?” Is it possible for a movement to be successful from a human perspective, but be unacceptable to God?

The basic premise in the seeker-sensitive movement is that there are many people out there who are seeking God and want to know Him, but the concept of the traditional church scares them away from faith in Christ. But is it true that people are truly seeking God? Actually, Scripture teaches the exact opposite! The apostle Paul tells us that “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). This means there is no such thing as an unbeliever who is truly seeking for God on his own. Furthermore, man is dead in his sin (Ephesians 2:1), and he can’t seek God because he doesn’t recognize his need for Him, which is why Paul says that there is no one who understands. Romans 1:20-23 teaches us that all unbelievers reject the true God. They then go on to form a god that is what they want (a god in their image or the image of something else). This is a god they can tame and control. Romans 1:18-20 says they knowingly suppress what they know about God through His creation and that they are subject to God’s wrath, another doctrine studiously avoided by the seeker churches.

God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in creation, but unbelievers take that clear knowledge and revelation God has graciously provided and flatly reject it. This leads to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20 that they are “without excuse.” What man finds when he seeks on his own is nothing more than a god of his own creation. Man does not seek for God; it is God who seeks for man. Jesus said that plainly in John 15:16, and John 6:44. The idea of thousands or even millions of unbelievers really searching for the true God is an utterly unbiblical notion. Thus, this movement is based on an unbiblical concept of the nature of the unsaved person, which is spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person does not seek God, nor can he. Therefore, there is no such thing as a seeking unbeliever. He does not understand the things of God until he is made alive by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Until the Father draws him (John 6:44) and the Spirit awakens the heart so he can believe and receive the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), an unsaved person cannot believe. Salvation is completely the act of God whereby He draws and empowers the dead sinner with what is necessary to believe (John 6:37, 39-40). What part do we play in the salvation of others? God has commanded that we are the instrumentality through which the gospel is proclaimed. We share the gospel, but it is not our responsibility to make people believe, or even to try to be persuasive or manipulate them into believing. God has given us the message of the gospel; we are to share it with gentleness and reverence, but we are to share it, offensive parts and all. Nobody believes the gospel because a speaker is persuasive. People believe because of the work of God in their hearts.

God has not been vague on what His church is to be like. He didn’t leave us guessing. He has given us direction on how men are to lead His church (Acts 6:1-6, 14:23; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Ephesians 4:11), the ordinances of the church (1 Corinthians 11; Matthew 28:19), and the worship in the church—it is to be on the “Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7), and is to consist of preaching and teaching, prayer, fellowship (Acts 2:42) and the taking of an offering (Colossians 3:16). Here, the seeker movement has missed the mark completely with its man-centered focus. When an unsaved person enters church, should our goal be to make him feel as comfortable as possible? When it comes to issues like our kindness, speaking respectfully, or even physical comfort, all who enter the church should be treated well. But the unsaved person should never feel “at home” in church, which is the body of Christ. The preaching and teaching of truth should make him feel very uncomfortable as he, hopefully, realizes the state of his soul, comes to know the existence of hell, and recognizes his need for the Savior. This discomfort is what brings people to Christ, and those who attempt to circumvent discomfort are not being loving. In fact, just the opposite is true. If we love someone, we want him to know the truth about sin, death, and salvation so we can help him avoid an eternity in hell. According to Paul, when an unbeliever enters the church and the Word of God is preached expositionally (taught directly from the Scriptures), he will be convicted and called into account for his sin. The secrets of his heart are disclosed as he confesses and repents of his sin; this leads him to humble himself and worship the God who has provided the sacrifice for his salvation.

If we apply the standards of the seeker-sensitive movement to evaluate Jesus’ ministry, we get some interesting results. At one time, Jesus was preaching to thousands, and He clearly offends nearly all of those who heard Him. They desert Him, and “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). The Greek words in this verse mean they left and never came back. Jesus warned us that, far from healing our relationships with others, Christians will experience rifts in their closest relationships because of Him (Matthew 10:34-37). It is true that once we are saved life is better because we are reconciled to God and have a right relationship with Him. This provides the deepest peace that can be known. However, the rest of our lives will almost certainly be more difficult than before. God has said that we will experience persecution (Matthew 10:25), the rest of the world will look upon us as fools (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), and we may even experience deep divisions in our own families all because of Christ (Luke 12:53). Jesus never intended for us to be popular with unbelievers, saying instead that He came to bring not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).

The basic philosophy, theology, purpose, and end of the seeker-sensitive movement are entirely man-centered. However, some would say that regardless of the purpose, motive, and outcome of the movement being wrong, we can’t argue with the principle of getting the unsaved through the doors to hear the gospel. Certainly, any exposure we can give the unsaved to the gospel is a great thing. However, the seeker-sensitive movement sometimes doesn’t have the real gospel. Rather, it is a shell of the truth; it is hollow and void of the truths of sin, hell, and the holiness of God.

How is the rest of the body of Christ to respond to the seeker-sensitive movement? We are to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We are to be all the more vigilant to model our churches after the instruction of Scripture. Eventually, this movement, like all others which have come and gone over the years, will run its course and fizzle out. The seeker movement is large and well accepted, but it will eventually give way to the next fad, and in some ways that has already happened with the Emerging Church movement. Oddities within the church come and go, but the biblical church, like her Lord, endures forever.

Recommended Resource: Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church by Gary McIntosh.

 

QUESTION : " WHAT IS EMERGING/EMERGENT CHURCH MOVEMENT ?"

Answer: The emerging, or emergent, church movement takes its name from the idea that as culture changes, a new church should emerge in response. In this case, it is a response by various church leaders to the current era of post-modernism. Although post-modernism began in the 1950s, the church didn’t really seek to conform to its tenets until the 1990s. Post-modernism can be thought of as a dissolution of “cold, hard fact” in favor of “warm, fuzzy subjectivity.” The emerging / emergent church movement can be thought of the same way.

The emerging / emergent church movement falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking—it is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward, feelings over truth. These are reactions to modernism and are thought to be necessary in order to actively engage contemporary culture. This movement is still fairly new, though, so there is not yet a standard method of “doing” church amongst the groups choosing to take a post-modern mindset. In fact, the emerging church rejects any standard methodology for doing anything. Therefore, there is a huge range of how far groups take a post-modernist approach to Christianity. Some groups go only a little way in order to impact their community for Christ, and remain biblically sound. Most groups, however, embrace post-modernist thinking, which eventually leads to a very liberal, loose translation of the Bible. This, in turn, lends to liberal doctrine and theology.

For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. Relativism opens up all kinds of problems, as it destroys the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, negating the belief that biblical truth can be absolute. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.

Another area where the emerging / emergent church movement has become anti-biblical is its focus on ecumenism. Unity among people coming from different religious backgrounds and diversity in the expression or corporate worship are strong focuses of the emergent church movement. Being ecumenical means that compromise is taking place, and this results in a watering down of Scripture in favor of not offending an apostate. This is in direct opposition to passages such as Revelation 2:14-17, Jesus’ letter to the church of Pergamum, in which the Church is warned against tolerating those who teach false doctrine.

False doctrine seems to abound within the emerging / emergent church movement, though, as stated previously, not within every group espousing emerging / emergent church beliefs. Because of this, care must be taken when deciding whether or not to become involved with an emergent church group. We all need to take heed of Matthew 7:15-20, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

While seeking new ways to witness to a changing culture is admirable, utilizing ways which compromise the Truth of the Gospel in any way is nothing more than promoting false doctrine and leading others away from Christ instead of to Him.

Recommended Resource: The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception by John MacArthur.