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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Salad Bar Sanctuaries

Go Easy on the Doctrine!

The teaching of sound doctrine has fallen on evil times. Doctrine is considered too heavy and not sufficiently practical to be featured in the preaching of today. Besides, doctrine is divisive and militates against the cry for greater evangelical unity.

One prominent megachurch pastor tells us that we should concentrate on people's needs rather than on what he calls "theocentric" truth:

For the church to address the unchurched with a theocentric attitude is to write failure in mission . . . The unconverted will, I submit, take notice when I demonstrate genuine concern about their needs and honestly care about their human hurts.

For decades now we have watched the church in Western Europe and in America decline in power, membership, and influence. I believe that this decline is the result of our placing theocentric communications above the meeting of deeper emotional and spiritual needs of humanity.5

This startling statement demands the restructuring of Christian theology, a move from a God-centered (theocentric) approach to a man-centered (anthropocentric) approach. This is a very serious error that strikes at the very heart of orthodox and biblical theology. Was God's primary purpose in revealing Himself to man to bring honor to Himself or to bring comfort to man? Is the Bible a theocentric book, or is it an anthropocentric book? Although God's revelation in His Son and in His Word brings blessing and comfort to members of the human race, the primary purpose of revelation is not human blessing but divine glory.

The Bottom Line Is Sales

"We must stop reducing the God of the universe to something we can sell to people."6 To this statement many pastors will say a hearty "Amen." Nevertheless, apparent success has a subtle way of convincing people that the methods employed are perfectly acceptable. But, as one has pointed out, "The nagging question arises: Is our reliance on church growth techniques or on the surprising work of the Holy Spirit?"7 The whole concept of "church marketing" emphasizes slick sales techniques rather than dependence upon God's power. Forgotten is the principle set forth by the Apostle Paul: "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (I Cor. 2:4). One man, who himself was a very successful pastor, calls attention to the seriousness of the problem that we face today.

Os Guiness warns that the two most powerful cultural forces that have been accepted uncritically by the church are the managerial and therapeutic movements. The danger is to address church renewal through managerial technique . . . . A "user-friendly" church, if by that we mean catering to the cultural and selfish goals of contemporary fashion, is an unfaithful church. There may be a lot of people in the seats, but have they been confronted with the serious issues raised by the gospel (sin and grace) and the calls to discipleship?8

The question every pastor must honestly face is this: Am I building a church that is honoring God and is according to the pattern set forth in His Word? Pastors must be careful how they build. This is the main point of I Corinthians 3:5-17. While this passage is often applied to the lives of individual believers, its main thrust is aimed toward pastors and church planters. Paul is telling us how to build a church, not how to build a life. As a "wise masterbuilder," Paul laid the foundation for the church at Corinth. Others built upon that foundation, and all who labored as leaders of that church (and any other) must eventually give account to God for what they built. "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (I Cor. 3:13). That is, the quality of the local church will be tested on that great day when all workers and their work are reviewed. It is possible to build a large church that in men's eyes may be eminently successful but that may not pass the final examination of the Lord of the church. The phrase "of what sort it is" emphasizes quality and not quantity. We cannot make the gospel acceptable to a lost world, nor is that task our responsibility." An analysis of what people like and are accustomed to as a model for what the church should give them tends to minimize the head-on conflict that the gospel always has with the world."9

One fails to find the "marketing concept" approved in Scripture. The apostles and early Christians simply preached the gospel in the power of the Spirit and God did the rest. "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

The Entertainment Factor

That we live in an entertainment-mad age is self-evident. People want a "thrill a minute." "The early Christians met to worship, pray, fellowship, and be edified—and scattered to evangelize unbelievers. Many today believe that church meetings should entertain unbelievers for the purpose of creating a good experience that will make Christ more palatable to them . . . . They say the church must adopt new methods and innovative programs to grab people on the level where they live."10

A perusal of the New Testament will reveal an absence of attention to the entertainment factor in the worship and evangelization ministries of the church. Emphasis is focused upon what people need, not what they want. Michael Horton put his finger on our problem when he wrote,

By the end of the twentieth century we have become God's demanding little brats. In church, we must be entertained. Our emotions must be charged . . . . We must have the best the world has to offer . . . . We must be offered amusing programs . . . . The preaching must be filled with clever anecdotes and colorful illustrations, with nothing more than passing references to doctrine: "I want to know what this means for me and my daily experience."11

An article in the Wall Street Journal featured the Second Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, a leading example of a megachurch. Persons attending that church will "catch a Broadway-style show with a religious message . . . . They offer as much in the way of activities and entertainment as they do religion."12 The church is successful, claims the article, because it has stripped away "old hymns and . . . denominational dogma."13 In place of these items "teenagers sway and clap at 'Solid Rock.'"14 The church, we are told, "is primarily designed for a generation unversed in theology, essentially nonsectarian and unsentimental about the old neighborhood church. As churchgoers, they are pragmatic and pressed for time, and they care passionately about . . . dazzling entertainment."15 The church offers exercise bikes, jacuzzis, and in-house cinema. They once featured a wrestling match with church employees in order to draw a Sunday night crowd.

The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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