Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Attendance and the Proclamation of Truth

“People are far more interested in what works than what's true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no ‘here's the difference it will make’ tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus' day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you. Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren't more like you in that regard. But that's the way it is. It's pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won't make an iota of difference in this world...culture is like the wind. You can't stop it. You shouldn't spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that...Jesus did...”
- Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Zondervan, 2012)

Consider Paul’s teaching on the proclamation of truth in love in the gathered Church:
  • “If I have the gift of prophecy...but do not have love, I am with the never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away...” (1 Corinthians 13:2,4,6,8).
  • “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:1,3,4).
  • “...if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:24-26).

The goal isn’t to make people comfortable, or to give them what they want. The goal is a Spirit-empowered explanation and application of Scripture alone (a definition of biblical prophecy), motivated by a cross-inspired love that recognizes our sin and God’s absolute holiness (1 John 4:1-21). We have been gracefully loved by God through Christ, and so love others with the Spirit of truth (John 4:23,24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:6) by proclaiming the saving truth to them.

The problem with “playing to” people’s desire to be happy is that people think being their own god and being worshiped as that god will make them happy (Genesis 3:1-6; 1 John 2:15-17). This is the primordial sin of every human being, and I’ve never seen any evidence to counter that scriptural conviction. Another problem: lost people do not love the truth. If I do not speak truth since no one else is on a “truth quest,” I have left them in their truth-hating pit. It’s a very large pit; its capacity can more than handle very large congregations that people love to attend. “...those who perish...did not receive the love of the truth so as to be order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10,12). Catering to their desire for happiness is problematic, since their desire is radically misplaced through their hatred (or apathy) of the truth. They must be saved through proclamation of the truth before their desires can even begin to be corrected. The reason catering to a desire for happiness cannot work is that wickedness (and rebellion against truth) makes them happy. There is a way of happiness that man seeks, for it seems right, but it’ll lead them to an eternity apart from God every time (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

I always tell our congregation that if we don’t speak the truth, no one will. It’s why we exist as the Church. “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14,15).

If we want to get even more basic than this, the proclamation of truth is why Jesus came (not primarily to “love” apart from this proclamation, as most contemporary pop preachers would have us believe): “...the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth...grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ...Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me...when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.’ ...Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’” (John 1:14,17; 14:6; 16:13; 18:37).

I reject the proposal that a commitment to truth means we will become “a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community.” The proclamation of truth, when done in the power of the Holy Spirit, will be loving. The risen and exalted Christ “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). In fact, I reject the idea that a body that does not live for the truth can be truly loving – since true love is revealed in propositions of truth counter-intuitive to our truth-hating natures (Romans 5:1-10; 1 John 4:8-10)!

Be commissioned, Church: “These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:16,19). Preach the truth, love the truth.

Remember the God Who has created you, Church: “You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth...I trust in the LORD. I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 31:5-7). Be the Church the God of truth loves to attend.

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