The Concept Many Have of "Church"
The church is an important and indispensable part of the teaching of the New Testament (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Acts 2: 47, KJV.). To "be added to the Lord" is tantamount to being added to Jesus' church, where salvation is enjoyed (cp. Acts 2: 47, 5: 14, I Cor. 12: 13, Gal. 3: 26, 27, Eph. 1: 22, 23; 2 Tim. 2: 10). A number of commands given to the Christian depend on involvement in the local church for execution (Acts 20: 7; I Cor. 16: 1, 2; Eph. 5: 19; Heb. 10: 24-31).
There is a very professionally presented magazine today called Outreach that is designed to boost local church attendance. You choose one of their attractive "impact cards" and they will target mail them for you, as I understand their service. My interest in Outreach is from the standpoint of what appeals to people in America today, as is reflected in their appeals to the public at large (I am not endorsing, recommending, or in agreement with their appeals, in the subsequent cited cases). The appeals of Outreach are working, therefore, I know they offer what people want. Consider a few testimonials:
"All I can say is, praise God! It works! We have had between 50 and 100 visitors from our first Outreach marketing and three people came to Christ" (a Community Church in Overland Park, Ks). "Two years ago we had about 100 people coming to services. We now believe we have about 1, 300 people who call New Life their church family" (New Life Free Methodist Church). "Our three Outreach marketing mailings have helped our church grow from 70 to more than 160" (a Community Church in Cleveland, Oh). (To read more about the Community Church, click on "The Community Church Movement.")
What I want to do in this material is examine a few of their appeals and see what people today think about the church. At the conclusion of this article, I want to suggest a scriptural appeal for contrast and for your consideration (all quotations are taken from Outreach, Spring 2001 edition).
The casual appeal. One of the successful impact cards offered by Outreach reads as follows: "Do you remember being dragged to church as a child? Well, things are different now. For one thing, you've grown up, but church is different too - blue jeans, live band, real talk for real people ." Another cards reads, "Image is everything - or is it? (Name of church) doesn't think so. We care more about who you are than what you wear or where you've been ." (this card has a picture of a "cave man" with long wild looking hair). As an amateur sociologist and historian, I am observing the statement of the casual movement being no restraint and hanging loose. It blends well with the "God is one of the boys image." The Christian, though, is to reverently approach God (Heb. 12: 28).
Fun appeal to children. It is not uncommon today in many American families for the children to make many important decisions for the family. Hence, professional marketers are now appealing to children. One impact card reads: " Come enjoy games, crafts, music, drama and great Bible-based activities. The two week program also includes a trip to Chuck E. Cheese, a camp-out, and a musical/drama presentation starring YOUR KIDS!" And your parents can come to."
Beloved, Jesus discouraged those who personally followed him for the wrong reasons (cp. Jn. 6: 26, 27). Religion today often appeals to the selfish "me generation" by offering fun and games. When children are targeted, what kind of attitudes and concepts do you think they will have of "church" as adults? (Cp. Deut. 6: 6-9; Eph. 6: 4.)
The appeal to the "new church." It should now be obvious to the most undiscerning that religion is undergoing great change in America. The change, alas, is basically centered around the "me generation" philosophy of "give me, entertain me, and placate my every whim." Consider this popular impact card: "A new kind of church! If hard pews, boring sermons and rusty hymns have zapped your interest in church, then you've been waiting (your church's name supplied). You'll find electric music, sizzling drama, powerful messages and high-voltage programs for everyone. A new kind of church - shocking, isn't it?"
Such an appeal for a "new church" is radically different from the simple worship and mission of the First Century church, the church Jesus established (I Tim. 3: 15; Eph. 5: 19, Jn. 4: 24).
De-emphasis on human responsibility. It is understood that man can not of his own merit save himself (Tit. 3: 5). However, to access and appropriate God's saving grace, man must respond to the requirements of God and participate in God's will. This is what the Bible calls "salvation by grace through faith" (Eph. 2: 8). God supplies the grace and man renders the obedience (saving faith, Jas. 2: 14-26). Many growing religions today, however, play down man's responsibility. Consider the following impact card being used to increase the attendance in local churches: "If we could get to heaven by being good people, then Jesus wouldn't have needed to die. Now I'm not working my way to heaven and hoping for the best ." No, we cannot "work our way to heaven," but we must "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phili. 2: 12).
The unconditional acceptance appeal. "These Christians I met blew my mind ," reads another impact card. "They didn't even seem to notice the way I looked on the outside. I expected judgment, but what I got was acceptance. I know now they accept me because God accepts me. Don't get me wrong, I haven't traded in my tattoos for a tie or anything. But that doesn't really matter - I'm accepted just the way I am." (There is a picture of a guy with tattoos over his exposed body on the front of this impact card.) More and more, religion today is changing to fit society rather than requiring man to change to comply with God's requirements. Hence, we are witnessing a cheapening of religion and religious values.
The positive message appeal. Still another popular impact card being used with success today reads as follows: "You won't feel like you've been sentenced to prison when you visit ________. We are a church for people who have given up on the traditional church but not on God. You'll find energetic music, exciting dramas, great kids' and teen programs, and real-life messages. So get rid of that ball and chain and come see how much church has changed." (This impact card has a picture of a man in a prison suit with a ball and chain.) Another similar appealing card reads: If in the past the guilt-ridden, hypocritical church experience has sent you running, come check out _________. We're out to change the way you think about church. You'll find upbeat music, positive messages and genuine people .We won't 'scold' you, 'judge' you or 'pick-pocket' you ."
Too many have come to view the preacher as simply a public relations man whose job it is to make the audience feel good about themselves and the gospel as a pep talk. When people become weak and selfish, they want "smooth things" taught them and the people become "worthless" because they have no challenge to repent of their sins and improve their lives (Isa. 30: 10; Jere. 23: 16, 17). Biblical preaching involves "reprove," "rebuke," and "exhort" (2 Tim. 4: 2).
The appeal to fun and frolic. When many think of worship and religion today, they think in terms of "where is the party and the food?" "Its party time! Join us at North Park Church ., we are hosting a free BBQ and community carnival and, for the adults, a special concert. We'll close the day with a short celebration service featuring a message from an NFL Pro linebacker and a special puppet show for the kids. Please join us for this fun and exciting day ."
Concerned reader, the church belonging to Jesus has never engaged in the social, secular, and carnal gospel that is offered by these impact cards. Yes, this appeal is working because it is appealing to the carnal and base desires of the "unconverted." "Religion" is being lowered and dragged down and people are not being helped but encouraged in their selfishness. It is also apparent from the testimonies offered to show such appeals are working that the new Community Church religion that is based on unity in diversity is prospering. To help us to contrast what the biblical appeal is, please consider the following:
"You are cordially invited to hear the gospel preached in its ancient purity, simplicity, and relevancy. Come learn of sin and how to contact the sin forgiving blood of Jesus. The ___________seeks only to worship God in spirit and in truth and to engage in the acts of worship that please and adorn God. The music will be congregational, spiritual, and vocal only, just as it was rendered in the First Century Church. The atmosphere shall be God honoring and conducive to the reverent worship of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Following the service, there will be a question/answer period to allow you to question our teaching and further explore the teaching of God's authoritative book, the Bible. (2 Cor. 4: 2; Matt. 26: 28, Acts 2: 38, I Jn. 1: 6-10; Jn. 4: 24; Eph. 5: 19; Heb. 12: 28; Acts 17: 11.)"
Do you see the difference in the appeal? What is your view of the church? (You may read more about the church Jesus built by clicking on, "Jesus' Church")