Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Far Should We Accommodate the Unsaved?

How far should we go to accommodate the unsaved? To what degree should we order our worship so they can feel comfortable? And if we do not, are we failing in carrying out Christ's mandate to reach the lost? Now Scripture does teach we are to reach out to those who need to know God (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:10). But it also says not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). You can be so concerned about about being defiled by the world that you are afraid to do what God commands you to do (Colossians 2:20-23; Luke 7:39; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). But you can also smooth the way into the church so much you multiply false converts (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 4:3,4; 1 John 2:19). How do we avoid these extremes?

Now I do not believe the basic issue is that of predestination (Ephesians 1:4-6). We are, whatever we hold on that, commanded to reach out to those who are lost and to do the job well (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:10). (Though a belief in predestination may help prevent a person from panicking and adopting some particular approach to evangelism out of desperation.) The question is, what does doing the job well involve?

We are commanded not to change the message (Galatians 1:6-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1,2; 15:1-11). It is one thing to try to communicate it in terms people can understand; it is another to make it over into something they will like. While holding to the truth, we need to reach out to others in love (Colossians 4:5,6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Galatians 6:10). But loving a person does not mean you do not tell them any hard truths. Suppose I am walking by a house at night and see there is a fire starting at one end. I knock on the bedroom window and those inside tell me to go away and leave them alone. Am I really being loving to listen to them and walk away and leave them? This is not genuine love.

But the application of these principles to practical situations can be difficult. It is clear we are not to disobey God's commandments in an effort to reach people (1 Samuel 15:22). But we need to ask if we are holding on to traditions that exclude people (Matthew 15:8,9), perhaps even with the intention of keeping out those we feel uncomfortable with. But the gospel is by its nature a confrontation (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and we cannot expect to slowly edge people into Christianity with no sense of boundaries crossed. Much less can we expect manipulation to do anything but make false converts (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5). And ultimately, we must remember it is God's power, not our clever methods, that does His work, and that is what we must trust in (1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2).

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