Still, we’re wanting to supplement individual outreach with corporate outreach more effectively than we have in the past. One idea I hope we can apply this year is a “Community Messiah Sing.” My intention is to schedule a time early in December in which we invite people from our community to gather at our church building (a) to sing popular portions of Handel’s Messiah together, unrehearsed and with no thought of a performance, (b) to have some refreshments, and (c) to hear a brief discussion of the history and theology of the great work, which will include a clear gospel presentation.
We need to work on the details and viability of it. Have you ever done something like this? Do you have suggestions that would help make it more effective? Or do you have other ideas for outreach via this sort of community event?
And I was against this? Am I the Scrooge? Was I one of those Philadelphia fans who booed Santa Claus? Am I William Safire's nattering nabob of negativity?
Was I against singing Handel's Messiah? Of course not. I'm not finding it unusual for discussions to break down in this way. It's easier to debate the strawman. Or in the end, that I'm opposing the invitation of unbelievers to a Scripture recitation. OK. I'd rather not play that game. I refuse to follow that yellow brick road with its fictional characters. There's enough for people to judge, so they will need to do that.
We should think about this, because a discussion about offering a community Messiah sing-a-long parallels with the question with which I titled this post. As long as the thing we are using to attract unbelievers to church isn't sinful, is it permissible? Is it wrong, does it violate God's Word, to use an attraction natural to unbelievers to compel an unbeliever to a church, to an assembly of believers? If the answer is "yes," then coffee, cappaccino, candy, soda pop, jumpers, parties, pizza, jet man, hockey, breakfast-lunch-supper, basketball, a rodeo, a zoo trip, a kite, a snow cone, a foot long hot dog, cotton candy, a dunking machine, a movie, water balloons, small toys, and even cash all are acceptable to attract an unbeliever to come visit. In principle, it is the same. None of these things are wrong or sinful. And since they are not wrong or sinful, then they are permissible to use to motivate an unbeliever to church perhaps to hear the gospel.
If that is true, then why do these evangelicals and many fundamentalists have a problem with the methodology of Jack Hyles? In principle, they are not practicing different than him and his movement of fundamentalism. Hyles would have made the same argument, and Schaap still would, that is, if there's nothing wrong with it, then it should be fine to use to attract people to church.
Music remains a big tool for churches to use to get unbelievers into their building. It isn't anything like that in the Bible, but it has become what churches use to motivate people to come to their church. Rick Warren himself in his Purpose Driven Church said music was the single biggest factor for the attraction of unbelievers, which is why he used pop as the music of choice. Some of you reading might say, "Well, I'd not ever use pop music in church." Great. But why music period? I do believe that the music program is often developed as an incentive for unbelievers---"come and hear our orchestra," "you'll really like our music," "our music is really good." That alone confuses people about what music is about. Should that matter? Should it matter that people don't know what church music is? That they think it is evangelistic? And then with that as a reason to come, it shouldn't be any wonder why church music is sliding downward.
In this case, it is Handel's Messiah. Handel's Messiah, however, will attract a certain segment of unbelievers. That's the whole point of this pastor's promotion, which the fundamentalists that read his blog just ate up. Mainly I was attacked for disagreeing. I got no support in the comment section for opposing what he was doing. I'm on the board of two orchestras, so I know the classical music crowd. Many unsaved people are still interested in classical music. Handel's Messiah is beautiful art, very well done classical music. Many like singing it because of the sheer artistic value. I've been in the choir for The Messiah 7 times. I've heard it performed 7 other times. The Messiah fans are the crowd that the pastor who wrote the above paragraph was targeting. The promotion was the sing-a-long, something that we know communities are interested in, because they come together in the hundreds in places like San Francisco, where there are very few believers, to participate. People love the music. Sacred music has a prominent place in music history. Most of the world's great symphonies still play some of the wonderful music without having any interest in Jesus Himself.
So the attraction isn't the recitation of Scripture, any more than a gigantic group gathered in downtown San Francisco for a free concert featuring an opera about Herod's murder of John the Baptist. I was there. People weren't interested in what John the Baptist preached. Should we explain what he did? Yes. Should we preach the Messiah of The Messiah? Yes. But should we invite unbelievers to come and sing The Messiah? No. They can't praise God. A church should see The Messiah as worship. They don't want unbelievers included in worship. I wouldn't ever invite an unbeliever to come and sing with us. I don't want him thinking he can worship. Ever.
"But if we invite unbelievers to sing-a-long, we'll have an opportunity to preach the gospel to them?" It might work in that way. However, it is not truthful for us to give them any impression that they should come to a church to sing a song of sacred worship. It spoils the worship. It also sees music as evangelistic, which it isn't anywhere in scripture. And as an important side note, it is entertainment to them. They think it is entertaining. We know that. Perhaps most of all, however, if we want to preach the gospel to them, then we should just preach the gospel to them. You may say, "Well, they're not interested." Exactly. In the end, if they did get saved, someone will say it was because of the promotion, because of the neat idea. No it wasn't. It was because of the gospel. But you can see how that man is glorified through these types of ideas. They aren't in scripture. We think of them. Our idea worked! The Greeks seek after wisdom. The Jews seek after signs. Classical music afficianados seek after Handel's Messiah.
One pastor named Larry, offered this commentary:
Though I have heard it argued against many times, I am still not sure what the problem is with attracting people to hear the gospel. What else will we do? How else will they hear if we don’t attract them? Repelling them won’t work, and ignoring them hasn’t had great results either. It seems to me that people think “attraction=sin.” Attraction simply means getting their attention. If you aren’t baiting and switching (promoting the pizza party and then ambushing them with Jesus), I am not sure there is any biblical injunction at stake here. If you are substituting corporate worship for attractional evangelism, then I think you have a problem. But in reality, any personal evangelism takes place based on some type of attraction, whether personal or topical or conversational.
To me the issue is what we attract them with and what we give up to do it. If we attract them with the Gospel, the relevance of the gospel to life, then I am not sure what the problem is. If we give up our corporate worship or teaching, then we have a problem.
But if you don’t attract them, then what will we do to speak to them?
I wrote this comment back to him:
How will they hear without attraction? Jesus doesn’t make attraction an issue. We go and cast seed. Whether people want it or not depends on the condition of their hearts—some stony, some thorny, some hard, some good soil. They won’t hear, not because we haven’t perfected the art of attraction, but because of the condition of their hearts. Nowhere that I know of does Scripture command us to attract unbelievers. We go and preach to them, mainly because they aren’t attracted. We’ve got to go to them, because they won’t come to us. We go into the highways and hedges to compel them, but it isn’t to compel them to come to church, but into the kingdom. What compels them? It isn’t natural attraction. It is supernatural power from the gospel.
Let’s just say that I go out into my community and I say that it’s about the Jesus of the Bible—He’s Lord, He’s God, He’s Savior—and that’s what our church is about. I find out that people aren’t interested in that, in Him, even though Jesus is greater than anything. Paul said everything else was “dung” (Philip 3). I might be able to attract an unbeliever with a lesser thing, but if what I am offering is all about Jesus, why would I want to do that? If they don’t want Jesus, do we work up to Him by starting with things that the unbeliever wants that are less than Jesus? This seems to be carnal weaponry that won’t glorify God. In the long run, it will fall too, even if it seems to be working in the short term.
I was softer on Larry than I actually was thinking about what he said. I happen to know that he has an M. Div. from a prestigious fundamentalist institution. What he said was very, very bad. Another interesting point is that these fundamentalists didn't even pick up on that. What he said sounded good to them, and several of them are even self-identifying Calvinists. I read a woeful lack of discernment there, maybe the old boys club where if you disagree too much you'll be on the outside looking in.
Larry ends by asking this question: "But if you don't attract them, then what will we (sic) do to speak to them?" This seems so obvious as to be absurd. You can't speak to unsaved people without attracting them? I've been in what many would consider the hardest territory in the U.S. evangelizing for over twenty years. If you want to talk to them, you just talk to them. If they don't want to listen, that means they aren't interested in the gospel. They've got to want to be interested in the gospel. It seems plain to me from reading Larry's question that evangelicals and fundamentalists have been duped by some serious deception about evangelism. They think that you've got to help the gospel along with natural attractions, or maybe we could just call it what Finney did: "new measures." Larry would probably say he's death on Finney, but his question was fully Finney.
The reason unbelievers won't listen isn't because they lack attraction. The gospel is attractive. It is the pearl of great price. If they don't want to trade their earthly treasures for it, then offering an earthly treasure as an incentive isn't right. Jesus answered why believers don't get the gospel in Luke 13:24. They won't strive to enter through the narrow gate. They won't agonize (the Greek word for "strive" is agonizomai). Jesus didn't try to make the gospel more attractive or attract people to it, however you want to say it. He just preached it.
Christian leaders today know that professing believers don't want to preach, so they want to make it easier, so they have what they call "corporate evangelism." That sounds like a great term, very technical, but what is it? It's just mumbo-jumbo, gobblygook. Now if they meant, everyone in the church preaching the gospel to every creature---that is corporate evangelism---that would be great. But what they mean is that everybody comes together at church and the church arranges some shindig that they think unbelievers will like, and they invite them to it. It is bait and switch. The unbelievers aren't coming to hear the gospel. They are not. What you do with this is produce faithless people. You don't build them up to live for the Lord. You give them an alternative that is easier for them to do that isn't spirit-controlled boldness.
I'll probably write a second one on this, because I think it is a good time to do it, so stay tuned.