Responding To The Pop Gospel
POP GOES THE GOSPEL (Part X)
In the final chapter of this series, I want to address the issue, “How should we respond to the proliferation of the pop gospel in the modern church?” In other words, what can be done about it? What can I do if I am in a church where this kind of message is the norm?
EXHORTATION TO PASTORS
We who are preachers need to be reminded that we have been given a great responsibility. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That is an incredibly sobering thought. It reminds pastors that it is not your church, it is God’s! And he has placed you there to teach his people his message; not your message. Not a modified message. His message. Any Sunday when we stand in the pulpit (or at the lectern) to speak, we are called to speak God’s unadulterated gospel of truth and grace, trusting that it is “God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16), and resisting the temptation to change it or dress it up in order to make it more appealing. It is a temptation that needs to be resisted continually and vigorously, because our hearts are deceitful above all else and the temptation is great – the temptation to soft-sell the gospel in order to improve our results. Guard your heart. Immerse yourself in His Word. Be diligent in prayer. Seek the counsel and support of wise fellow preachers. Ask someone to occasionally evaluate your sermons. And in everything;
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)
EXHORTATION TO CHURCH MEMBERS
Are you a member of a church? You may not be a preacher, but you have a role to play in the preaching that takes place in your church.
Your first responsibility is to practice discernment. You are not meant to passively accept everything that is said from the pulpit and assume that it has been handed down directly from heaven. Preachers are fallible. We make mistakes. We don’t always get it right. You ought to have a Bible in front of you every Sunday morning so that you can check the Bible verses for yourself, reading the verses around them to make sure they have not been taken out of context or misquoted. You are meant to listen with a discerning ear, in order to sift truth from error, so that you will not be led astray.
In speaking about the need to discern between false and true prophets, Paul writes, “Test them all; hold on to what is good and reject every kind of evil” (1 Thess 5:21). Similarly, John writes, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn 4:1). You are called to be discerning!
Luke records that when the Apostle Paul preached in Berea, the believers did not accept his teaching unthinkingly, but continually evaluated it against the scriptures to ensure that he was speaking the truth: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11)
The Bible calls us all to emulate the Bereans. We are not meant to passively and unthinkingly accept everything that is preached in our church. Pastors and preachers are not infallible; they may sometimes err. The mature Christian is one who listens with an open Bible and a discerning mind. We are called to test everything against God’s Word, not in order to catch our pastor out, but to protect ourselves and our church from drifting into error.
Your second responsibility is to pray for the preacher! Are you guilty of whining and complaining about the preaching without actually praying for the preacher? Do you believe in the power of prayer? If you and others in your church have concerns about the preacher’s faithfulness to the gospel and to God’s Word, your first response should be to pray for God to work in his heart and to change him from within. (Excuse the gender specific language, but I am not going to write his/her all the way through!)
Your third responsibility is to speak to the preacher and voice your concerns. The modern preacher / pastor has, in many churches, been placed on a pedestal and removed from immediate accountability from his flock. People feel that it is not their right to question or criticise what is taught from the pulpit. It is your right. In fact, it is your responsibility. Your allegiance is to God and His Word, and this must take priority over your natural desire to not offend your pastor. If you have genuine concerns that your pastor’s preaching is not proclaiming the gospel completely or accurately, then you need to be willing to sit down with him, with an open Bible, and respectfully voice your concerns. If he is a true man of God, he will at least listen to your concerns and take them seriously. In fact, his response will tell you a lot about his true character.
A preacher who is consistently misrepresenting the gospel will almost certainly not change if he is never challenged. But if enough people speak up and voice a similar concern, at the very least it will cause him to be more circumspect as he prepares his messages, knowing that there are people who are listening carefully and who are concerned about the content. Even the most stubborn preacher cannot help but be influenced by the knowledge that his sermons are being carefully weighed and analysed in the light of the scriptures.
Of course, if all this fails, and the gospel continues to be compromised in your church, the question has to be asked, “Can I continue to sit under this teaching?” As a younger Christian I faced this exact issue in a church where the preacher had very little idea of the biblical gospel and served up a weekly, sloppy diet of love messages. After several people met with him, on several occasions, to discuss his content, with no resulting improvement, my fiancé (now my wife) and I decided that we had to leave. It was not an easy decision, because we had many good friends in that church. But we recognised that if we continued to subject ourselves to that kind of watered-down, sugar-coated gospel, it would inevitably affect us spiritually.
The self-centred, watered-down, sugar-coated pop gospel has become entrenched within the western church. It has resulted in churches filled with people who have little understanding of God’s Word and of the true message of the gospel. The pop gospel, by avoiding the unpleasant concepts of the seriousness of sin and the need for repentance, may well have attracted more people to sit in church pews, but their depth of commitment and the genuineness of their conversion must be seriously questioned. The slippery-tongued purveyors of false promises will one day be held to account for their distortion of the truth.
God is calling His church to return to the unadorned, pure proclamation of the true gospel. He is calling pastors and preachers to give up their infatuation with post-modern window dressing, and trust in the inherent power of the gospel to transform lives.
Prominent Bible teacher, John MacArthur, Jr. tells of an interesting experience he had in witnessing to an unbelieving Jewish doctor. MacArthur’s simple evangelistic ‘tactic’ was to give the man a copy of the Gospel of John. He stated, “The Bible is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Just open the door and let it out. It’ll take care of itself.” MacArthur then continued his story: “The next Friday I received a telephone call. The doctor wanted to see me again… He sat down on the couch, dropped the Bible beside him, and said, “I know who He is.” I said, “You do?” He said, “Yes I do.” I asked, “Who is He?” He replied, “I’ll tell you one thing – He’s not just a man.” I said, “Really? Who is He?” He said, “He is God!” … I asked, “You, a Jew, are telling me that Jesus Christ is God? How do you know that?” He said, “It’s clear. It’s right here in the Gospel of John.” (Our Sufficiency in Christ, Dallas: Word, 1991, p. 143.)
David Wells cuts to the heart of the matter when he writes, “Does the Church have the courage to become relevant by becoming biblical? Is it willing to break with the cultural habits of the time and propose something quite absurd, like recovering both the word and the meaning of sin? … Why should the postmodern world believe the Gospel when the Church appears so unsure of its truth that it dresses up that Gospel in the garments of modernity to heighten its interest? … We need the faith of the ages, not the reconstructions of a therapeutically driven and commercially inspired faith. And we need it, not least, because without it our postmodern world will become starved for the Word of God.” (“Losing Our Virtue”, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998; pp. 199, 207, 209.)
What about you? God calls each one of us to stand up for his truth in whatever location and whatever role he has placed us in. May God give you the strength to speak up for the truth, so that one day you will hear him say,
“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23)