When it comes to the growth of seeker-sensitive churches, is it actually God Who is blessing, or might it instead be that the Lord is simply standing back and letting man have his own way? As pastor of a local church and one who has been directly involved with this issue, I would like to set forth what I see as the very inherent danger in following the unbiblical pragmatic ideas of the dubious Church Growth Movement.

A Little Background

Permit me to begin by mentioning that I have been in the field of apologetics, and involved in ministry to what the late Dr. Walter Martin called the “Kingdom of the Cults,” for the better part of 15 years. I also pastor Connecticut River Baptist Church, a small group of serious believers in Claremont, NH not too far from Keene State and Dartmouth colleges. In addition to my ministerial duties I work fulltime in Stevens High School, and up until the advent of Apprising Ministries I was also the head coach of its varsity football team.

I would also like you to know that I write from a position consistent with evangelicalism, with my theological belief system being what I see as a nice blend of the emphasis on the deeper life like A.W. Tozer, with the no nonsense approach to the Christian world view as shown by Dr. Martin. This would hardly place me in any “radical” fringe section of our Lord’s Church, nor thankfully, does it position me in the mainstream of it either. My point being, I am a Christian first, who for the time being just happens to work with the Southern Baptist denomination.

The Inherent Danger Of Using Man Power

Now, if one has become enamored with what’s become known in some sections of the Body of Christ as seeker-sensitive churches, they would no doubt be happy to see huge congregations like Willow Brook and Saddleback all thriving under the apparent blessing of God. However, it is time for a critical question to be asked: Is it actually God Who is blessing, or might it instead be, that the Lord is simply standing back and letting man have his own way? Scripture shows us how, with distressing regularity, time and time again, this has happened in the history of His having to deal with the prideful creatures we are.

In fact, in this particular case noted Bible teacher and pastor Ray Stedman was right on target when he pointed out just how important the Book of Acts is to correctly understand the Christian mission:

In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit now begins to fulfill the designed program of God. He begins to carry on his work through the…body of…Christ—the church… That work began [some 2000] years ago,…[the problem is the] church has suffered for many centuries from a very wrong idea. Much of the weakness of the church is due to the fact that somehow over the years, through the traditions of men, a wrong concept has developed within the body of Christ…one of the favorite tricks of the devil,…[is] to hold up before Christian people the end that God has in view, and then suggest to them that they go about doing it their own way—trying to fulfill God’s will in man’s way.

[And so] Christ is often pictured as waiting up in heaven, earnestly watching to see what is taking place down here, hoping somebody will get with it and carry out his program. The idea is that the church must somehow plan all the strategy,…[however–it] was never the intention of the Lord that the whole job of planning the strategy of reaching out to the ends of the earth and of mobilizing the resources should fall upon the Christian. When the church attempts the work on this basis, the Lord simply folds his arms and lets us go about our busy ways…while he stands by and quietly waits until we get over it. (Ray Stedman, The Acts of the Apostles: AN UNFINISHED STORY, The Blue Letter Bible, CD Rom, caps in original).

There Is A Way That Seems Right…

I am reminded of a time when I had a discussion with someone who called herself a “white” witch. Leaving aside that there is no such thing, she told me that she worshiped “the goddess” and that this deity would never ever hurt her. During this brief encounter she told me she was raised Roman Catholic, and as such, was familiar with the Bible. I asked her what the First Commandment was. She didn’t know, so I told her – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, KJV).

So I explained that to worship this “goddess” is a sin, and that is enough to warrant eternal death. Then I informed her, “The devil has blinded you already. And if he wants to, he could just give you the most wonderful life of riches and ease. But Jesus warns you, that on your present path, your life will end in Hell.” So, why would Satan even need to bother with her any more?

Do we not see? And, do we not remember Luke 4:5-8?

The devil led him [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ “

And the danger of that way that seems right lies on that broad road of religion, the very path it would appear, that so many of these user-friendly purpose driven and emergent churches have unwittingly stepped out upon. In his book Hard To Believe Dr. John MacArthur writes:

Listening to a seeker-sensitive evangelical preacher today, we’re likely to think it’s easy to be a Christian. Just say these little words, pray this little prayer, and poof! You’re in the club. According to the Bible, it doesn’t work that way. In Matthew 7:13 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonished His followers, “Enter by the narrow gate”… We can’t carry anything through it; we come through with nothing.

A wide religious gate also exists, and I am saddened to think so many preachers, and so many churches, are leading people through it. They’re saying, “You don’t have to do all that hard stuff to get into heaven. We’re open minded and inclusive, and we think everybody who wants to, should get saved.” (pp.12,13, emphasis added)

But the true message of the Gospel–and of following Christ–is self-denial and what Luther called “hatred of self” (95 Theses, no. 4), and no amount of fanciful, albeit well-intentioned, eisegesis by “inclusive” pastors is going to change this fact. And the man almost universally touted within the Christian Church as a “twentieth century prophet,” A.W. Tozer–writing in the 50’s–already saw this consumer oriented trend, which has loosely become known as the Church Growth Movement, coming into the Body of Christ. And the watchman warned:

Christians habitually weep and pray over beautiful truth, only to draw back from that same truth when it comes to the difficult job of putting it into practice! Actually, the average church simply does not dare to check its practices against biblical precepts. It tolerates things that are diametrically opposed to the will of God, and if the matter is pointed out to its leaders, they will defend its unscriptural practices with a casuistry equal to the verbal dodgings of the Roman moralists…

Since Christ makes His appeal directly to the will, are we justified in wondering whether or not these divided souls have ever made a true commitment to the Lord? Or whether they have been inwardly renewed? It does appear that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right!

Jesus Himself left a warning – I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead [Rev. 3:1b] (Renewed Day by Day, May 2, emphasis added).

But History Is Not So User-Friendly

If one goes back and carefully studies the teachings of the great men of God, who were so mightily used by the Lord, we quickly see that what is being taught in more and more of the Evangelical church today, simply does not line up with what has been preached from the Bible before us. Space allows just one quick example, but one that is particularly dear to my heart, because I was saved in Amherst, one of the towns where this man once labored for Christ.

History clearly shows that Jonathan Edwards was a man powerful in Christ, and the Lord used his biblically sound preaching as a catalyst during the First Great Awakening. Let us listen carefully to what Edwards said concerning the growth of a real New Testament church, and my prayer is that Rick Warren of the Purpose Driven Life is not too far gone yet to still hear the Spirit of the Lord. And may the Lord also grant that Brian McLaren and those in the Emergent Church movement will come to their senses before it’s too late. Because we must remember that Holy Scripture plainly teaches that it must be real Christians who fill up a true church. But according to Edwards, in his classic sermon Pressing Into The Kingdom of God, there is a solid reason why this purpose does not so easily emerge:

[It’s because] of the difficulty of getting into the kingdom of God. There are innumerable difficulties in the way; such as few conquer: most of them that try have not resolution, courage, earnestness, and constancy enough; but they fail, give up, and perish. The difficulties are too many and too great for them that do not violently press forward. They never get along, but stick by the way; are turned aside, or turned back, and ruined.

Matthew 7:14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Luke 13:24. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (http://www.biblebb.com/
files/edwards/JE-pressing.htm, emphasis added).

And so, we are left in a bit of a dilemma. While there is inescapable proof that pragmatic church growth methods do work in postmodern America, as this is essentially what the word means, I am afraid that in our zeal to win converts, we are now in danger of violating Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (NASB).

The great Bible scholar Matthew Henry, another man the Lord has undeniably used to great extent in His Church, shares his godly insight with us:

There is a philosophy which is a noble exercise of our reasonable faculties, and highly serviceable to religion, such a study of the works of God as leads us to the knowledge of God and confirms our faith in him. But there is a philosophy which is vain and deceitful, which is prejudicial to religion, and sets up the wisdom of man in competition with the wisdom of God, and while it pleases men’s fancies ruins their faith; as nice and curious speculations about things above us, or of no use and concern to us; or a care of words and terms of art, which have only an empty and often a cheating appearance of knowledge. (http://www.ccel.org/h/henry/mhc2/MHC51002.HTM, emphasis added)

The Broad Road To Apostasy

I write this as a humble appeal for you to investigate for yourself where many of these ideas currently floating around in the modern seeker sensitive Church Growth Movement actually came from. We must remember that Christ Jesus–the Master Teacher–Who quite obviously was not crucified for being popular–unequivocally stated: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit – Matthew 7:18.

So it would seem that we have good reason to return to seeking the will of God in the Bible as to how He would like us to grow His Church. And then, we must also heed the salient advice of God the Holy Spirit in 2 Thessalonians 5:21 to examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (NASB).

It was the aforementioned Dr. Martin, a widely respected defender of the historic orthodox Christian faith, who went on record in the mid 1980’s and emphatically stated: Anyone who does not know that the Church is in a rapidly accelerating apostasy, does not know their Bible. How about you; would you say that you know the Scriptures?

Dr. MacArthur–whom I quoted earlier–sounds like he is right in line with the Word of God, with Edwards, and with all the great men of God through the years, when he says that many of these seeker-sensitive churches:

Are herding unwitting people through the wide gate that leads to destruction. That’s not my opinion; that’s the Word of God. People are breezing through those wide, comfortable, inviting gates with all their baggage, their self-needs, their self-esteem, and their desire for fulfillment and self-satisfaction. And the horrible thing about it is the think they’re going to heaven. And somebody thinks he’s done them a big favor by coming up with a consumer-friendly gospel about which everybody feels good.

But that gospel is a false gospel, a treacherous lie. That easy-access gate doesn’t go to heaven. It says “Heaven,” but it ends up in hell.

“Because narrow is the gate,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:14, “and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I agree that we have a hard time finding it, especially today. You could go to church after church after church and never find it. It’s a very narrow gate.” (MacArthur, Hard, op. cit., pp.13,14).

A Different Message For A Different Time?

A fellow pastor, and a dear brother Christ once told me, that you can’t preach today like Whitefield and Edwards, it’s a whole different culture. Now, in his case, he wasn’t advocating changing the Gospel message, but so many today in the Purpose Driven Church and the Emergent Church Movement are doing just that in a hugely misguided attempt to placate the narcissistic arrogant American culture.

The absolute truth is, that the actual message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must once again become our priority–no matter what the cost! We who preach simply cannot change this message, and we cannot dumb it down to the culture in which we live. For as MacArthur has said: We can’t change the message; that message isn’t ours–it belongs to God.

And this is exactly what makes the “modern” Church Growth Movement so potentially dangerous. Because, to borrow the old phrase, “if it looks like the world–if it sounds like world–and if it acts like the world–then, by revelation from the Holy Spirit–it must be the world.”

It is my conviction in the Lord that we should very carefully consider the following passage of Scripture, and how it seems to relate to this very time, the postmodern era in which we now find ourselves. A time I might add, where there does appears to be an interesting similarity to the point of human history into which Christ first stepped, in that many will glibly say – “Jesus is coming in our lifetime.” Be that as it may, Holy Scripture does tell us about another arrival as well.

And while the ultimate fulfillment of these verses comes when the Church is no longer on the earth, this passage does indeed have a secondary application in this age of apostasy. Remember, the Bible does tell us – For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12, KJV).

We now consider 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.

Look once again at verse 9 – The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. Here we find good reason to be afraid. In this generation, you’d best be sure that you really do have a relationship with God through Christ–because these miracles, signs and wonders will look exactly the same as the true miracles, signs and wonders done by the original Apostles! As a matter of fact, the very same Greek words are used in Hebrews 2:4 regarding those done of the Holy Spirit in the first century!

Does this now give you cause to reconsider using consumer-friendly methods in a church, many of which originate with the business practices of the world? I believe it should! Remember, just because something appears to work–just because something looks good–it does not mean it is of God. And those who are so captivated by the quick and easy results of “hamburger-helper” teachings would do well to consider the following words from the Master Teacher Himself:

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:20-23).

The Truth Behind Deception

Now here’s the reason people will be deceived–verse 10–from the New King James Versionand with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. You see there–in the b part of the verse–because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. In the Age to come these people will be deceived–and people are currently being deceived–because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. These professing believers are going to find out the hard way that they didn’t love God’s truth enough–in the first place–to even be saved. Does that make sense now?

And no, you don’t hear this preached much these days–if at all–because frankly, it doesn’t “sell.” But if your life doesn’t start to change when you “get saved,” then you have very good reason to question whether you even got saved (see–2Corinthians 13:5). Because there is no such thing as: “I’ll accept Jesus as my Savior now, and then later on, I’ll make Him my Lord.” No, Jesus is Lord whether you accept Him or not!

So now the following should open up to you. Christ Jesus says –

And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:10-13).

Ask yourself a question; do you think Christ is coming soon? Do you realize that for over two thousand years now the Church has already been living in the end times? We have, 1 John 2:18 – Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. You need to understand that a passage of Scripture–with the Bible being a two-edged sword–oftentimes has an historical meaning, with a future application yet to come.

Can you see here: the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. Antichrists have already brought many deceptions, and these small lies are all going to lead to the big deception of the Antichrist. As a true minister of our Lord I must warn you that one thing is certain: This will be no era to remain in the romper room of Christianity (see–Hebrews 5:11–6:6).

A Lie–Have It Your Way

And now we look at verse 11 – For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie. Did you ever stop and think that the delusion and the lie here just might not be a specific one, but instead, is referring to the delusion and/or the lie that a person wants to believe. A kind of “lie du jour,” so to speak, which will eventually lead all of them into the delusion of the Antichrist. In other words, for some people, they will believe what could be the lie of the carnal excesses in much of these consumer-driven church growth ideas. Yet, for others, it might be getting caught up in the insidious ecumenical movement and being seduced by the deceivers of Rome into forgetting all about the Reformation.

Verse 11 reads this way in the New American Standard Version For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. As in all things that are false, not limiting this deluding influence to one specific lie. So, for those who are captivated by “positive” thoughts, for those who are under the sway of thinking that in this generation churches are all going to start working together and begin heeding the call to put away doctrinal differences–I’d give the following words from Jeremiah–one of Yahweh Elohim’s true prophets some serious prayer.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries [a] and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them…

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The LORD says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? (Jeremiah 14:14-15; 23:16-18).

A Word Of Caution

As I close this out, I remind you that three times in His Olivet Discourse, our Lord clearly warned us of false teachers, and false prophets and false Christs who would come. And Jesus did this within the context of His certain and literal Second Coming. You will recall that we saw that the Master said: “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:10-12, NASB, emphasis added).

If you look closely, this teaching by Christ Jesus–the Master Teacher–is actually diametrically opposed to so much of what is embraced by so many, in so many, of these seeker-sensitive churches. And you should know that much of this compromise with the world has already been dealt with long ago by the Holy Spirit, and within the very pages of the New Testament itself.

Consider this admonition from the inspired Apostle James – Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? (James 4:4-5. NKJV) This isn’t your prototypical consumer-friendly purpose driven life teaching, is it?

Do you honestly think that our Lord Jesus is going to have sympathy with those who simply will not take His Words seriously? I think not. To quote my mentor, Dr. Martin: “I risk my credibility when I state it as bluntly as this, but I’ve done my homework, and I stand by what I say.“ No–be forewarned, and come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17, KJV)–before it is too late.

Not to be an alarmist, but might I remind you that the Bible does say:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).

And could it be, that while we in the Evangelical camp have been busy congratulating ourselves on what a great job we are doing for Christ here in America, that we are inadvertently becoming yet another “ism” – complete with our own time-honored self-approved “traditions?” And, could it possibly be that Jesus really is standing back with his arms folded as He watches us–saying:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent (Revelation 3:16-19).

Stand Up For Jesus

As far as the inescapable fact that more and more sections of the Body of Christ are drifting into the biblical condemnation of the church of Laodicea–let us consider the following comment by Dr. H.A. Ironside, one of the greatest Bible teachers who ever lived. Here was a man who–with no formal training or ordination–pastored the 4,000 seat Moody Memorial church from 1930 to 1948. Dr. Ironside was telling the truth, and speaking by prophetic gift to our own tepid generation, when he said:

What is needed everywhere is a great revival of decided gospel preaching, pressing home on the consciences of men and women their lost condition, despite church membership, if they have not personally received the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word says, “Break up the fallow ground”; sow not among “thorns.” We often hear people say they would like to see more old-time conversions. Well, there must first be the old-time preaching of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the lost condition of all men by nature as well as practice, until the old-time conviction will seize upon the souls of Christless men and women, and then the old-time gospel will be hailed as the only relief” (H.A. Ironside’s Commentary on Revelation, chapter 3, CD Rom, copy on file, emphasis added).

There’s a great old hymn of the Church that many of us in the Body of Christ sing, but I can’t help but wonder: Do we truly hear anymore what these words are saying?

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, And Christ is Lord indeed.

But, the question remains: How can our Lord lead His army, if we just will not follow Him?