Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the gospel is not all about you

as any pastor can tell you, the amount of weekly " preacher junk mail" can be staggering. i am convinced that catalogues full of merchandise guaranteed to "grow my church" that come to my church or my home address are the single largest cause of deforestation.

in a sad commentary on how much we are willing to compromise the gospel in order to get people in the pews, i present to you one such product.. meant to be mailed out close to easter to get the unchurched in to church on easter sunday.

even worse, here is the "suggested message" for the reverse side of the card:
discover a love that was all about you
the 'me' generation, myspace, ipods, internet
sites that instantly recognize your login and
preferences-in this day and age the focus
seems to be on self. and, sometimes we
question whether that is a good thing. but, on
easter long ago, even god made it all about you.
jesus came to earth out of a great love-for you.
join us this easter at (your church name)
as we make it all about you-in the very best of ways.

i am not at all opposed to missions and evangelism. how could i be? our lord commands it, and christian love compels it. i am not opposed to unbelievers coming to my church. i have visited many homes and written many letters in hopes that they would.

but i draw the line at compromising the gospel in order to convince someone to come to church. the church does not exist to make much of man, but to make much of the glory of god.

yes, i believe john 3:16, as well as the many, many other verses that speak of god's love for us are 100% true. the lord has a greater love for his children than we could ever imagine. but the cross was not first and foremost about me or you. it was and is about god.

you see, the gospel is not "jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life". the gospel is not "come to jesus and he will take away all of your troubles". you will not find those presentations of the gospel anywhere in scripture. we need to stop getting our theology from cheesey christian music lyrics and bumper stickers and get the gospel from the bible.

every person who has ever been born, has been born a sinner, an enemy of god and an object of god's wrath deserving of hell by virtue of their being a sinner. that is biblical fact. (rom. 3:10-12;6:23; john 3:36; eph. 2:3)

gospel means "good news". the good news is not that we were so lovable that god saved us from bad circumstances. the good news is that "... while we were yet sinners, christ died for us." (rom. 5:8) we deserved the wrath of god, but jesus went to the cross to appease that wrath, to endure the punishment, so that "whosoever would believe in him" would have eternal life. (rom. 3:21-25 ; john 3:16) jesus took on the consequences of sin, and his righteousness is credited to the believer.(1 peter 3:18)

so what happens when we tell the unbeliever that easter and the cross is all about them? they come to our church and find that we sing songs about, pray to, give money to, and (hopefully) preach about christ, *not* them. we have given them false advertisement. we promised to make much of them, then fell through on our end of the deal. then we scratch our heads and wonder why they don't come back.

yes, salvation is a sign of the love god has for us, but the cross is not about *us*. the cross makes much of god's justice and mercy and glory and grace. god gets the glory, and we get the benefit. the cross is about the wonder of an infinitely holy god providing salvation for unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but justice-hell.

so let us be honest about the gospel. by all means, we should evangelize. but the good news is not "its all about you".
the good news is that:

"though we are all sinners who deserve nothing but hell, christ has died so that if anyone will repent of their sins and believe that he is the lord of lords, who lived a perfect life, was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again, having satisfied the wrath of god for their sins and having his righteousness applied to them, then they can be saved". (rom. 5:18;10:9)

*that* is the gospel. it needs to be shared indiscrimmantly with everyone. it is a matter of life and death, and we dare not get it wrong.


Jane Betteridge said...

Stephen: "Amen" to your comments... for the most part. But, I think you've swung the pendulum a little too far in the other direction. My point here, is this:

"Jesus love ME, this I know
For the Bible tells ME so... "

The gospel is personal. Jesus died for you, but He also died for me. I think that was the point of the postcard... they were just trying to communicate God's love and intimate knowledge of each of us in more secular terms to get the attention of those who've been immersed in and bought into our narcissistic culture.

If you're familiar with marketing strategies, you know it's all about communicating "WIIFM" - that is, "What's in it for me?" That said, please don't be too hard on the folks who generated a marketing message for the local church's use with what I believe were probably the best of intentions.

Our outreach & evangelism team from church has our monthly meetings in a bar. On the surface, we could come under similar fire where compromise is concerned, yes? I encourage you to look deeper and always believe the best of folks who are part of your family. That's something I've not always been successful at, but I'm workin' on it!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - and especially for all the great scripture quotes. Good stuff!

stephen lee cavness said...

thanks for stopping by!

i don't disagree with you!

my point was not that christ didnt die for us or love us, but that by making the point of the cross (easter, the gospel, etc.) *us*,we do damage to the non-believer.

what i mean by that is this:
if we get people *into* the church by telling them it is all about them, what do we do to get them to stay if teh message we used to get them there is not the message we teach to the ones who are already there?
at some point we will have to say, if we are faithful to scripture, that the bible and the whole history of redemption is about god.
again, he does love us and demonstarted that in the most ultimate of ways. we get the benfit of his love... but it is all about his glory.

so rather than tell them one thing to get them in, and something else later to be more "accurate", why not be totally truthful up front?

the new testament accounts of the spread of the gospel never water down the gospel, never make it about the unbeliever, but rather about god, his mercy and love.
it wasnt about marketing strategies. the message was "repent because you are a sinner, and turn to christ because he is the savior". that doesnt necessairily boost the ego.

as for quoting jesus loves me, i dont disagree with the sentiment. as i said in the post , i acknowledge the wealth of scriptures that speak to jesus'/god's love for us.

i dont doubt that the marketing folks of this company have the best of intentions. but it is still the wrong message and one that should not be used and should be corrected. it is not unloving to correct or caution against such things, and it is not my intention to stir animosity, rather to cause us to think about the content of the gospel being the most important part of evangelism. if we get that wrong or send the wrong message, we set ourselves up for more struggles down the road, or worse, give false hope to someonewho isn't converted.

and for the record, i dont have a problem with your outreach team for having your meetings in a bar. i dont see that as the same thing at all. you are going to where the people are in order to share the gospel, i think that is great. the differene with that and the postcard is that they are doing damage to the content of the gospel.

i really appreciate your comments! i do want to address one more thing..
i *love* the church. i have given my life to the lord in service to his church. so i am not hostile towards the church at all. i love it! and that is why i want to warn it when the gospel message is compromised, even in the most seemingly innocent and insignificant ways.

i hope you'll come back here often! comments like yours always benefit me and anyone else who reads!

stephen lee cavness said...


while i do not think that my post and your comment are at odds, i have been thinking about your comments throughout the day and i appreciate them, as well as the spirit in which you made them.

i would like to offer you something that i think you may enjoy as a token of my appreciation for your visiting this site and participating. i have been thinking of offering free books occasionally on this site, and now seems like a good time to start.

feel free to email me at:
antiochbaptistc*at symbol*gmail.com

that is antioch baptist with a "c" on the end *at* symbol ( i am avoiding using it here to keep spammers away) gmail.com

sed me an address and i will send you a copy of an excellent book by mark dever called "the gospel and personal evangelism". i think your evangelism team may find it enjoyable as a resource and very useful!
thankls again,

RonK said...

Good stuff. MikeG just made a comment the other day about how much cheaper Lifeway resources would be if they saved money on mailers!