Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lure Them In, pt. 4

Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Jesus used a fishing metaphor to describe evangelism.  In Matthew 4:19, He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  I've noticed that people then take that analogy and go further with it than what Jesus does.  They talk about "findin' good fishin' spots," "spots where they're bitin'."  They also talk about the lures that you need in order to catch the fish.  These are examples of reading something into the text.  There is no authority from Matthew 4:19 for applying these different points to evangelism.  The reason Jesus used a fishing analogy was because He was talking to fishermen and He wanted them to change professions---fishing for fish to fishing for men.  This was not a prompt or a cue for extrapolating all sorts of different practices out of the fishing analogy.

One modern fishing term, not found in Scripture, is the "lure."  The Bible does not teach luring people either into salvation or into the church, and yet this is now a primary method for this occurring.  It has made the practice of churches what 2 Peter 2:3 describes of apostates, that is, they "make merchandise of you."

My wife attended a soccer team meeting last night and she introduced herself to another woman, and this woman got very exciting in describing the church she was now attending, called "The Rock."  She chirped, "You walk in and it's just like a rock concert!"  This was the first thing she said to explain what her church was.  She was thrilled, saying this without guile and with total enthusiasm.  Then she said that she attended on "Saturday night so that she would not have to blow her Sundays."  She would never go to church on Sunday again after this.  My wife listened and then answered that she had heard about these kinds of churches---that's all---no actual criticism, but the woman could tell that my wife wasn't giving her approval.  So immediately the woman said, totally unrelated, "Oh, I haven't seen those bracelets in years" (an Italian charm bracelet my wife was wearing).  My wife answered, "Yeah, I still have mine."  She responded, "Oh, I still have mine too; I just never wear it."  She went for an immediate insult.

I expect that some of you reading would know that your church is nothing like what this woman was describing, but this is where we are at today in people's explanation for their satisfaction with church.  Many times their chief criteria could or should be categorized as worldly or fleshly lures.  One revivalist pastor I know instructs his people to get visitors into their amazing building, because that will be the thing that keeps them there.  The building is a church growth tool.  I think we all know this, that people have expectations of the building, so buildings are designed with this in mind.  Joining a church has similarities to a gym or club membership.  People also look to the youth program, the children's program, the choir, the activity groups, the technology, etc.

Not long ago a blog I read linked to a post in which the author laid out "10 ways to ensure I'll never revisit your church."  What this guy wrote really does represent what people see as successful for churches.  He said that we are exploring how to help people stick, and that these will guarantee that people won't come back.  The only one of the ten that virged on something biblical was 'sharing the gospel or challenging someone spiritually,' which still sounds nothing like how Scripture regulates a congregation of saints.  Sure, if an unsaved person were to visit, he or she should be approached with the gospel---not necessarily in the sermon---but by someone in the congregation who wants to find out about the visitor's spiritual condition.  And this was number 7.  The other nine were superficial, self-serving, and inane.  These shouldn't be strategies for church growth.


Today's conservative evangelicals and traditional fundamentalists have a lot in common.  There has actually been some crossover here.  I've read about evangelicals going fundamentalist and even more so fundamentalists have left to conservative evangelicalism.  You find the two "camps" spending more time together and expressing appreciation for one another.  Thankfully, these two groups are not so notorious in their strategies for luring people in.  They have been among those who have criticized those in the extreme forms of luring.  However, they also use lures.

Shouldn't I just leave the above two groups alone?  They're not so bad after all.  If we are going to get rid of the luring, the making merchandise of people, we should do it based on principle.  So if it is wrong to do, it is always wrong to do.  Doing it a little bit, a lesser extent than other evangelicals and revivalists, justifies what they do.  If we're going to criticize others for doing it, then it would seem that we would want to be sure that we ourselves are not doing it at all.  If we don't believe in it, why would we continue doing it ourselves?

Conservative evangelicals and traditional fundamentalists have some lures in common.  Not everyone of them overlap in every area, but there is some common ground.  One way that churches lure people in is through various groups in the church with their activities---youth group to singles group to young couples group.  The youth group has regular youth activities designed for youth, the singles group has regular singles activities designed for singles, and the young couples group has regular young couples activities designed for young couples.  I'm not talking about something spontaneous here in which people who know each in the church get together with one another---the church itself is planning the fun, the outings, the regular functions.  Neither am I talking about the church potluck in which the church gets together for a meal or an occastional special event.  I'm talking about a definite program to hold a carnal interest in the church.

People can have fun on their own without the church's help.  They need help with obeying the Bible and living for Christ.  You see nothing like this type of strategy in the New Testament.

What has been common in churches with youth groups is that when the kids get out of the youth group their attention wains, and they drop out.  Churches designed the singles group as a more mature version of the youth group.  The couples group customized this concept even more.  Church members can graduate between groups and then always have that particular interest or desire fed.

I've written a few other times about the type of acceptable conservative evangelical or fundamentalist lures (here and here).  The carnal methodology is seen in the lures especially to a youth culture, preying on their fleshly interests (about which I've also written here and here, among other places).  The churches have features of entertainment to which unsaved are invited for the purposes of evangelism.  This becomes their own church growth technique, something scaled down from what one would experience with Warren and Hybels, but a thin slice of the same thing offered occasionally.

Like its counterpart mainstream evangelicalism, conservative evangelicalism have remained quiet on cultural and social issues, essentially a failure to apply the exegesis of Scripture.  This has been a big part of the growth of evangelicalism and is now being imitated in traditional fundamentalism.  I recently read a post in an online journal that decried this trend.  Certain, especially older, traditional fundamentalists see a major slippage and are concerned.  Meanwhile their own groups are allowed to offer a barely watered down version of worldliness that undermines the concern.

These churches know if they say anything specific about certain cultural issues (dress, music, dating, etc.), they will either fail to attract new people or lose the people they have.   Certain well-known southern California conservative evangelicals picked up a lot of people from the Jesus movement of the sixties and then failed to differentitate biblical Christianity from it, even calling a true, biblical revival.   Christian rock traces to the Charismatic and the Jesus movements.  The conservative evangelicals did not expose this false practice, and were able to accept hundreds, even thousands, of new members out of it, leaving and allowing the horrible influence on Christianity.  This is still eating away at evangelicalism and now on fundamentalism.  Part of the church growth strategy of conservative evangelicals and now traditional fundamentalists is what they will not say in application of Scripture on cultural and social issues in order to lure and then keep their crowd of people.

People attending church today often look nothing different from someone going on a picnic or to a ballgame.  They dress in their shorts, their jeans, their best t-shirt.  Church has become about people.  This has been encouraged by the evangelicals and now fundamentalists, who say little to nothing about it.  The reverence and respect for God is disappearing and people often don't know Who He is anymore.

You might wonder why, when you are faithful to preach the gospel to a lost world, why so few are willing to listen.  One major reason is that they have been desensitized to God and the Bible and church by churches themselves.  Church isn't about God and the Bible to most.  It's about gratifying impulses of the flesh.  People's expectations of the Lord and of church have changed based upon our own influence.  We have trained the world to expect carnality as akin to true conversion through the means we have lured the world to church.


Larry said...

The other nine were superficial, self-serving, and inane.

Aren't these actually just acts of common decency, of respect and kindness towards people? It's hard to imagine we can argue with greeting people, recognizing them without embarrassing them, leaning on them hard for money (or at least appearing to), abusing the information they choose to give you (such as email addresses, etc.).

I don't understand how these are superficial, self-serving, or inane.

While I completely reject the concept of "luring them in," I think treating people with respect and common decency is a good thing.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

These were reasons he would never come back. This is where people are at today in their evaluation of a church---did the pastor come back and talk to me? did someone come out to the parking lot and be nice to me?

Someone will stay in a church if he believes the truth, if he is converted. Jesus said, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. This list is saying to someone---think about yourself, how you're being treated, whether the creature comforts are there. Someone said to Jesus I want to follow you and He said, Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head. He said that to His visitors. Expect to suffer. Count the cost. People are going to stay if they believe the truth. If they won't stay because you didn't greet them in the parking lot, a lot harder stuff is going to be coming than that. And that stuff is what Jesus preached, the stuff that would scare away the typical visitor today, because they are looking for the inanities that this guy has in his list. He himself wouldn't come back if he didn't get these. What if they were true Christians and a true church obviously doing the work of the Lord? Nope. Not coming back.

We actually fulfill all of his requirements, except two---we don't have people meeting visitors in the parking lot and I don't preach the gospel every sermon.

I'm actually sick of his kind of list. Sorry, Larry.

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with Larry. I did not see the list as "luring them in" as they were already inside the door. But it was a list about people returning to a church. If I am a first time visitor to a church and am looking for a church home where I can worship and serve, but am treated rudely, then I have to wonder what kind of Christians populate this building. In fact, we experienced this recently. We moved to a new area, and visited churches to find out more about them and whether or not we could be in agreement with their beliefs and practices. We found a church where the brochure seemed sound; all the right words and phrases were there. But in practice? Not so much. Their brochure stated that they were a church that strived to see people as Jesus saw people, a church that would spread the truth of the Gospel to all they encountered. Noble words. But there were maybe 15 people total in the congregation, and not one, not even the pastor, said hello. Truly, we doublted that they saw us as Jesus saw us. It seemed as if they didn't even see us at all. I think you make some very needed points, Kent, but I also think you are wrong to say the referenced list was wrong.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm guessing that the church you visited, anonymous, had several other issues besides lack of parking lot greeters and instant small group information if you weren't welcomed by one of their fifteen people.

Anonymous said...

", if an unsaved person were to visit, he or she should be approached with the gospel---not necessarily in the sermon---but by someone in the congregation who wants to find out about the visitor's spiritual condition. "

The sermon should always include the gospel. Christians need to hear it too. All preaching should lead people to Christ or else you're just lecturing.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello "Preach It" with one view on his profile.

I've heard only two people in my life say what you are saying, so it wouldn't surprise me if you were one of those people.

Paul wrote, "Preach the Word." All Scripture is profitable. However, not all Scripture is the gospel. Some of what someone should preach is not the gospel. The idea that it isn't preaching if it doesn't have the gospel is made up out of whole cloth. You have no basis for that from any Scripture, so its sheer eisogesis.

Joshua said...

[i]The idea that it isn't preaching if it doesn't have the gospel is made up out of whole cloth. You have no basis for that from any Scripture, so its sheer eisogesis.[/i]

Amen and amen to that.

Reminds me of the 11-14th these of the 95 Theses against New Calvinism:

11. Every Bible verse is not about Christ.
12. The Holy Spirit teaches the life application of God’s word and not salvation only.
13. The Holy Spirit sanctifies with all truth and not the gospel only.
14. History is also about the Father.

Earlier this year I sat through a "Christ Centred Preaching" lecture by Bryan Chappell where he pushed the new "every sermon must be about Christ" doctrine. Initially it sounded great to me, but something was amiss and I couldn't put my finger on it straight away.

Two questions other audience members asked let the cat out the bag.

Question 1: How do you make every sermon about Christ when you are expositing Proverbs and Ecclesiastes?

Answer: You have to really, really work hard and try to find stuff. Almost like Jesus and redemption isn't the actual thrust of those books... but they sure wanted it to be and with enough work it could be!

Question 2: How do we take what you've taught us and use it to counter those in our Bible college who keep pushing for application in preaching?

Answer: Just be patient and work with them to bring them around to "grace". He understood also that his "Christ-centred" preaching model was diametrically opposed to application in preaching.

It's a sham, and part of an attempt to conflate sanctification and justification to avoid having to do unpopular challenging of worldliness in the hearer. Every message can now be a feel good high minded thought about Jesus, rather than a declaration of the truth of God in the passage they just "exposited". And then this becomes "Godly preaching", and anyone else faithfully applying what each verse teaches becomes someone preaching "Sola Bootstrapa or the Deadly-be's".

Thank you for rebuking this doctrine Pastor. It takes something wonderful - the preaching of the gospel of Christ, and uses it as a cloak for something wicked - disobedience masquerading as faithfulness.


William Dudding said...

"Question 1: How do you make every sermon about Christ when you are expositing Proverbs and Ecclesiastes?
Answer: You have to really, really work hard and try to find stuff. Almost like Jesus and redemption isn't the actual thrust of those books... but they sure wanted it to be and with enough work it could be!"

Spurgeon once said a Christ-less sermon is an abomination.
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are the wisdom of God...guess Who embodies that? 1 Corinthians 1:24 Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
How can you not show people the wisdom of God in Christ in Proverbs and the pointless vanity of life without Christ in Ecclesiastes when He is the one who makes life, life: Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Spurgeon also said, that just like every road in England leads to London, so every road in scripture leads to Christ. You as the preacher need to get on that road from where ever you are in Scripture.

I don't even get what you mean in Question #2.

"It's a sham, and part of an attempt to conflate sanctification and justification to avoid having to do unpopular challenging of worldliness in the hearer."

The real "sham" is your chest-beating about being such a worldliness challenger. What's the point of preaching against worldliness if it's not to show the glory of Christ being more glorious than the world's 'flash in the pan' glory? What's the point of exposing worldly practices if it's not to expose the idolatry in people's hearts for worshiping someone or something other than Christ?

Kent Brandenburg said...


When someone has told me this, he/she has quoted Spurgeon, and probably your exact quote. I've got to differ with Spurgeon on this. I'm going to doubt that you preach like Spurgeon. His style is unique to anything I've ever heard, and I don't even recommend that people preach like him. He wasn't expositional, as you know. Did he exposit? Yes, but not as a norm.

The idea that you've got to preach the gospel in every sermon and if you don't, you've failed---do you really espouse that? Sure, we could do that, but is that something you know the Bible preaches.

There is an overarching theme of all of Scripture in Christ or an underlying theme, however, you want to describe it, the metanarrative, so to speak, but we're taking it too far when we say that we've failed if we don't preach that, when we actually do faithfully exegete a text.

I don't preach the gospel every sermon. Those who say I fail because of that are those with the burden of proof. I preach the Word. If I;m preaching on 1 Corinthians 7 on singleness and marriage, I don't fail if I don't bring in the gospel. Paul didn't bring in the gospel. If I preach on the tongue in James 3, I don't fail if I don't preach the gospel. James didn't preach the gospel there. If you choose to do that, more power to you, but I'm not convinced I've failed, or it's just a lecture, if I don't.

I agree with Joshua that there is something afoot in this modern emphasis. It is the hype of postmodern preaching on the very terms that Joshua is explaining. I think you should consider the context in which he's saying it.

William Dudding said...

When you say "gospel", it seems you mean something along the lines of the "plan of salvation": You're a sinner, Jesus died for you and rose again, repent of sin and believe in Jesus for salvation. If that's what you mean by not preaching the gospel in every sermon, I agree with you.

What I mean about preaching Christ in every sermon or preaching the gospel in every sermon is to say that there is always something in Scripture that has to do with a fallen condition of man that the Scripture addresses...whatever it has to say about it is going to be rooted in the character of God and the plan of God in redemption. If you preach on the tongue in James and rail against gossip, lying, slandering, etc...what's the point? To make people into nice moral people who don't gossip and slander? The point is to make them speak truth like God does. God has spoken to us in His Son in whom was found no guile in His mouth:
1 Peter 2:22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.

Well, how in the world are we going to have wholesome, holy tongues that speak truth in love like Christ did? Without the gospel being applied, you have nothing but moralism that breeds arrogant superiority which is the kind of stink that I get a wiff of in people who answer like Joshua who posted above.

Joshua said...

Pastor Dudding,

I first read the "Bread without Flour" sermon by Spurgeon a few years back. It challenged me and changed my preaching. It was a great encouragement and rebuke for someone who was getting away from the primary theme of the whole of Scripture - Jesus Christ. I have found since then I naturally finish sermons as Spurgeon did, with a gospel call, and that the text regularly requires no torturing to do this.

But you quoted Spurgeon, not Scripture. There is no Scripture that says every single sermon must be about Christ. It's an invention. I like sermons about Christ. I know that Christ is the central theme of the whole Bible, and the central theme of salvation. But that's a new doctrine.

I found out why this doctrine had come about when I listened to Chappell. Here it is in a nutshell:

Jesus Christ has done everything. The whole of the Christian life, just like salvation, is about faith in Jesus. Legalism is about works! Every message must be a salvation message about Jesus, and adding works to salvation is legalism! Therefore, every message should not be about works but about Jesus, and every verse should be dragged around to a "redemptive" framework.

Initially that sounded great to me. It wasn't until folks started asking the questions that I smelled a rat. Here's the distinction he blurred:

SALVATION is all about faith in Jesus Christ, with God doing all the work and adding human works being nothing but mere legalism. But not every message is supposed to be about salvation.

SANCTIFICATION is not divorced from Christ, but you are not sanctified by faith alone. Your works play a part, hence the many exhortations to works in the Scripture by the Apostles.

BUT, according to Chappell, every message had to be about Christ alone without works aka a salvation message, therefore you MUST NOT DO A MESSAGE ON SANCTIFICATION alone or else you're a legalist who just corrupted a gospel message with works.

And thus there was zero room for application. Any call to a specific work made you a legalist adding to faith in a gospel message, because every message had to be a gospel message. This was not explicitly stated, but question 2 let the cat out of the bag. The asker understood there was no room for serious application with this preaching method, and wanted Chappel to give him advice on helping others who were keen to apply to see the "error" of their ways.

This is an extremely convenient doctrine for New Evangelicals. Now they can be "faithful Gospel preachers" by twisting every text into a feel-good "Jesus is the answer" message. Does the verse give a direct to challenge sin and worldliness? Give it a quick mention (lecture style!) then scoot straight back to something sweet about Jesus and the Gospel! Every message a positive one - and every applying fundamentalist preacher a legalist.

You mistake me with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I did not say there is nothing in there that a preacher can link to Christ. But the primary thrust of those books is not the redemptive message of Christ. Chappell floundered on this question - asked innocently by someone else that desperately wanted to implement an "exposit the entire Bible and link every single last verse back to the redemption of Jesus" program of preaching.

He said "well it's not always immedidately clear" and "it does take a lot more work on the part of the preacher" and "yes that is definitely the most difficult section of Scripture to preach Christ from". He didn't get specific on how to do it, and he knew it was a problem.

Pastor Dudding, he struggled because those portions of Scripture don't line up with his new doctrine. I refer you again to These 11:

11. Every Bible verse is not about Christ.

If you wish to faithfully preach every Bible verse, then that must be accepted. The only alternative is twisting - torturing every verse until it yields up something about Christ - to fit a doctrine found nowhere in Scripture.


Joshua said...

Pastor Dudding,

Just quickly further to what I said, I do recommend you go and listen to Bryan Chappell if he is ever delivering the same lecture anywhere near you.

The man is good natured, is an excellent speaker and made many good points that would be useful and dramatically improve a good many sermons I have suffered under.

I spoke with him afterwards, and asked him about the list of instructions (abstain from things strangled etc) that went out from the Jerusalem council, and whether or not that constituted legalism, and he took the time to give me a good answer. I have no person ill will towards the man. I thoroughly enjoyed his explanation of the complete sufficiency of Christ in salvation, and the madness of adding works to it. I amen'd when he rebuked sermons with nothing more than "Daniel was a top bloke and you need to be a top bloke too".

In fact, if his whole lecture had been on "how to preach a Gospel message", there would have been no doubts to trouble my mind and I could recommend him heartily.

But he didn't stop there. Every. Single. Last. Sermon. Ever. Must. Be. A. Gospel. Sermon. And Jesus must be it's primary point. Everything must be driven towards a Gospel message, and woe betide the man who mingles any work with a gospel message - which is every, any and all messages. Thus, application meets the bin.

If you do ever get the chance to hear him, I'd be curious as to whether or not you find the same.


Joshua said...

Perhaps unwelcome levity, but my Dad told me this joke when I was a kid:

There once was a Sunday School teacher in Australian who wanted to teach the children about the wonder of God in creating the animals. So as we do here, she called all the children out the front during the "kids spot" section of church, and sat them all down in front of the congregation.

"Okay children" she said, "Tell me what I am. I have grey fur, a black nose, and funny little ears."

Dead silence greeted her. She tried again:

"Come on children, who knows? I have grey fur, I climb trees, I sleep all day.... I eat gum leaves.. and I have funny little ears"

Again dead silence greeted her. She tried one last time before finally a boy in the back row raised his hand:

"Miss... I know the answer is Jesus, but it sounds like a Koala!"

Sometimes a Koala is just a Koala, and a cigar is just a cigar, and a verse is just what it says. If the verse says that an unjust balance is an abomination to the Lord, it means He hates cheating in business. It's not about how 21st people can only be balanced if they accept Jesus.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I really do get the gospel-centered approach, but as Joshua says, I think it is a cover for disobedience, which ironically doesn't adorn the gospel.


I laughed. Out. Loud. At your Dad's story. Very good.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing, Will.

I can see a need for more see the whole and develop the parts of the whole in preaching. I do this in the OT especially. Listen to some of my sermons that get posted online at our church. Someone might even think I was one of these gospel-centered guys. It's not hard, as Will said, to talk about the gospel in NT sermons. James 3 is a test of faith, the faith in Christ, where Christ does produce something that looks like His tongue in the believer. I'm against moralism, like you. But the neos, on the other hand, decry all rules and standards and lines drawn as moralism, and can hardly make an application to Scripture because of their "epistemological humility." I'm just as afraid of the pendulum swing.

William Dudding said...

Ok, I think I get you and Joshua's point and it makes more sense now. Thanks for the clarification.
I'm all for application and even doing so with specifics as long as they can be seen to be a clear connection to the Scripture's teaching. If what Joshua said is really true that these guys want to just preach redemption as a way to not do the challenging work of naming sin, then I agree that it would be cowardice.

I guess I spent so much time on the right side of the pendulum swing, that I heard sermons that raised the level of application to the level of doctrine and if you disagreed with the application, you must have a problem with the Bible. Those kinds of sermons are delivered with such machismo bravado that the person in the pew is fearful to question it or even thoughtfully disagree with it. All I saw as a result was mostly moralism and not real sanctification.