Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Cringe Factor

We are told if we want to win people to Christ we must avoid the cringe factor.  That is, we must avoid doing anything that makes people cringe, particularly in our church services.  There is certainly some legitimate application of this.  There are things, such as introducing visitors in the open service, that may have made sense in their original context but are guaranteed to make the modern unbeliever uncomfortable.  There are, however, things which might make an unbeliever uncomfortable (such as administering the sacraments) that we are commanded to do (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Also, it is helpful to try to do things well.  However, it must be noted that the local Christian congregation, with its often limited resources and talent, cannot compete with the professional media as to quality.  I do not want to justify sloppiness in doing the work of God.  We are called upon to offer God our best (Malachi 1:6-14).  But we cannot beat the world at its own game and are not called to (Romans 12:1,2).  Perhaps the best remedy for this is to make it clear we are not intending to compete on the same grounds. If we give people the impression the main thing we are doing is putting on a show, they will judge it that way. If we make it clear our goal is to worship God and deliver His message, they may look at it differently.

But one of the most basic concerns is the content of the message.  Now I am in favor of explaining the message so people can understand it.  In our current secular culture, phrases like "born again," "accept Christ," and "justification by faith" will be commonly misunderstood by people outside the Christian church if we do not explain them. But there are things in the Christian message that are bound to make unbelievers uncomfortable.  There are things in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) that, if they do not make you squirm in your seat, you have not understood.  We are told we are sinners who are under the wrath of God (Romans 3:23; 1:18; Isaiah 64:6).  That to be delivered from this we must give up trying to please God by our own good works and trust in the work of another (Romans 4:4,5; Galatians 2:21; 1 Peter  2:24,25). Further, once we have done this, we are not our own, but should live for the one who delivered us (1 Corinthians 6:20; Titus 2:11-14; Romans 12:1,2).  Very few unbelievers are going to be comfortable with this. And when we get to God's specific commands, all of us are liable to find something we do not want to do.  But we are told the whole Word of God is from Him and is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16,17).  And it is the part of God's representatives to declare His truth without watering it down (2 Timothy 4:1-5; Ezekiel 14:1-5; 3:16-21).  We can avoid unnecessarily alienating people, but we cannot alter the message.

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