volume 13, number 24, June 12, 2014
Now when they heard this they were pierced to the heart, Acts 2:37.
Every relatively large city in the United States seems to have at least one mega church where ten thousand or more people attend every weekend. People of all kinds attend-rich and poor and middle class, educated and uneducated, of varied ethnicities. These churches certainly know how to reach into the world for members and attenders. They know how to put together remarkable programs for children and people of every age. They have vast sound systems and multi-media capability with very talented musicians and praise bands leading the vast hordes of people in worship. The pastors know how to communicate to the culture and connect very well with the felt needs of the people coming to hear from God.
What are we to think of these churches and their methodology? When King Ahab of Israel sought help from King Jehoshaphat of Judah in fighting Ramoth-gilead, Jehoshaphat said that before he agreed to go into battle with Ahab, he needed to hear from the Lord (2 Chronicles 16:1-7). So Ahab called four hundred of his prophets who all concurred, “Go up, for God will give Ramoth-gilead into your hand.” However Jehoshaphat wanted to know if a prophet of God was available to consult. Ahab was notoriously wicked. Could one really trust his prophets? Ahab said, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me but always evil. He is Micaiah, son of Imla.” Vile King Ahab loved hearing from his own prophets. They told him what he wanted to hear. He hated Micaiah because he spoke the truth.
How is it that unbelievers, some of whom are living in all manner of perversion and debauchery, can attend church week after week without the least sense of fear, sorrow, or conviction leading to sincere contrition, repentance, and conversion? The new paradigm seems to be, “Become part of us, join us, participate in what we are doing, and eventually you will want what you see and then you will experience Christ.” Is this the paradigm of Apostolic preaching? After His resurrection, Jesus said to His apostles, “It is written that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you, but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” (Luke 24:46-49). He also said to them, just prior to His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses,” (Acts 1:8). Paul said, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe . . . God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised. God has chosen the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God,” (1 Corinthians 1:18-29). He said to the Thessalonians, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake,” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Peter said, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death, but God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power . . . they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:23-24, 37). And how about Stephen? “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did,” (Acts 7:51).
Do these brief samples of apostolic authority and teaching resonate with what is largely heard in these mega-churches? Conviction of sin must proceed conversion. If there is no conviction of sin, an acknowledgement of one’s guilt before the Holy One, then why come to Jesus? What is the benefit? What is the need? An unbeliever coming to church ought sooner than later feel uncomfortable. Of course we should be welcoming to all who attend. Kindness and graciousness must always mark the life of any Christian. I hope that is obvious. And the preacher must surely lift up Jesus, His glorious person and work, with great clarity and joy. His preaching the good news of the gospel, however, must be proceeded by law, judgment, condemnation. The preacher must be penetrating as he applies the law of God to the conscience and heart of the unconverted sinner. The sinner must know he is in trouble with God. He ought to be extremely uncomfortable in church. We are glad he is there, but he must transact with the Holy One.
Because this kind of “hell fire” preaching is seldom heard, I fear, therefore, that many in these mega-churches have simply been inoculated with the gospel-that is, they have received a small dosage of it to ward off the greater gospel infection. If professing believers sitting in church week after week, moved by the entertaining music, enjoying the atmosphere of thousands of people gathering for worship, feel not the least tinge of guilt or discomfort with their lifestyles, then they have no reason for assurance that they belong to Christ. A person in church who professes to be a follower of Jesus, but who continues unrepentantly in sexual sin, idolatry, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, revelry, or ripping off people in business deals should know he is headed to hell, no matter what he thinks of his profession (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Because these preachers seldom bear down on the propitiating death of Jesus (He took the wrath of Almighty God upon Himself on our behalf) their message lacks depth, body, life. It is a truncated, mitigated gospel which is really no gospel at all. Immoral, impure, covetous people have no part in the inheritance of Christ. They ought not be deceived (Ephesians 5:1-5).
And why is this a problem? Besides the fact these people are still dead in their sins, having no hope and without God in this world unless they are truly converted; these churches give evangelicalism a bad name. People on the outside assume, then, that Christians, at best, are no better than they are. But Jesus said a good tree brings forth good fruit and a bad tree brings forth bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. A tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” (Matthew 7:15-21).