There is a trendy term these days to describe churches that are so friendly and welcoming to newcomers that they never get around to telling them the truth about sin, hell, and separation from God. It’s unpopular, ugly, and in-congruent with an emotionally fragile culture.
I grew up in the Bible-Belt and attended several different churches that unfortunately, instilled in me fractured theology that I would later struggle with in college through academic atheism. In one church, the approach to the unbeliever was to weaponize the Bible and stubbornly proclaim without ever listening. That church eventually disbanded over an argument about what color the carpet should be. They preached justice at people and God gave them what they asked for.
Another church on the opposite end of the spectrum took the approach of programming, production, and personality. Considered a mega-church, this place was extremely popular and welcoming. They used Sunday School curriculum that was basically just retelling famous Bible stories and attempting to attach a clever idea to a completely unrelated passage. The less they talked about Hell, God’s wrath, and all of the extremely difficult things Jesus said, the bigger the congregation got.
Unfortunately, these experiences created some bad habits and false mindsets that I am still trying to unlearn and correct. When I share the Gospel from a stage, I always have this moment for about 30 seconds in which I am standing under bright lights, and I can’t see the audience but I know they are there, and up until this point it’s been fun and games but it all leads up to this point—the moment that my love for strangers severed from God, becomes so overwhelming that I must tell them the awful, terrible, disgusting truth of their predicament.
I’m not a great speaker, in fact speaking in general still feels new to me. I spend so much time convincing myself that if I just speak smoother and more eloquently, if I just word the Gospel clever enough, it will make things more palatable.
When we think like this, it’s like a surgeon not wanting to cut the skin in order to save a dying heart.
We lie to ourselves and spin a tale of reaching people with love.
In the book of Mark, chapter 10, verse 21, Jesus meets a wealthy man that comes to him asking how to enter heaven. Jesus does not talk about opening his heart and accepting him. The Bible says Jesus looked at him, loved him, and THEN said: “You lack one thing, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
This was not a soft answer to the man’s question. This was honest and devastating, but the Bible says Jesus said those words after looking at him and loving him. The Bible says the man was disheartened by Jesus’ words, and left distraught.
People routinely dismissed, rejected, and countered the truth when it came out of Jesus’ mouth, so why do we think we can be more persuasive than Him by changing or omitting the truth?
The Gospel is both merciful and redemptive, and simultaneously just and condemning. It is good news to some, and an indictment to others.
We cannot fully understand the magnitude of God’s Holiness, the perfection of His Justice, the infinite circumference of His Love, or the depths of His Mercy, unless we first let our eyes adjust to the pitch-black, formless dark that we exist in every single second we are on the criminal end of God’s wrath.
Let us not yell from the street nor sing around the campfire before we look at people, and love them.
Let us take our 30 seconds in the lights, staring into the dark mass of strangers, and tell them the truth, hoping that the Holy Spirit will do all of the talking.