**DISCLAIMER** This is an occasional series in which I offer some heartfelt cries to pastors in regards to issues that I see that are crippling the work of the gospel and the effectiveness of the church. These are areas that are particularly close to my heart. These articles are not intended to be academic treatises, but rather a reflection of current concerns that I am dealing with.
I couldn’t sleep last night. It was a difficult night of tossing and turning until almost 3am before I finally drifted off to sleep. I occasionally have nights like this, and when I do I try to read. As a general rule I try to read a few newspapers each day (Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the St. Joseph News-Press) to make sure that I am current with the climate of our culture. I grabbed my laptop, turned it on and turned to the sites for these papers. As I was perusing the Post website I noticed an article by Melissa Etheridge, the rock star, who has become even more well known for her lesbian lifestyle and activism for homosexual couples to have the right to adopt. I read the article that she wrote about her “Awakening at Easter” and my heart broke. In the article Etheridge details a typical midwestern upbringing in which she attended church with her parents only about 45 minutes from where I live here in St. Joseph. Unfortunately, however, as she spoke about their times at church during the Easter holiday she doesn’t speak of a pastor who clarified the risen Savior and the purpose of His resurrection instead, in her own words, what she heard was:
“Jesus was crucified on the cross and put into the tomb and rose from the dead three days later, now go find some eggs that a bunny left in the yard.”
I sat back, after I read her quote, and I struggled with frustration and sorrow. To think that her experience in celebration of the risen Savior was devalued to some lesson about Jesus and the Easter bunny is truly disheartening. To be honest, it could certainly be true that as a young child she simply missed the point, but unfortunately I would not be surprised if this depiction were accurate, understanding the state of the modern church.
It is vital that we pastors lead churches that communicate in modern, effective ways the truth of the Gospel. I believe in the importance of contextualization and the need for understandable application. If, however, in an effort to make the message understandable we somehow lose the message itself than we have nothing of value to offer those who are listening.
It may be encouraging and convenient to encourage our people with thoughts that they should believe in themselves and that they should know that God wants them to triumph. It certainly may be convenient, but the problem is that it is not biblical. Instead of teaching our people that convenient message, we should teach our people to believe in God, rather than themselves, and the fact that He can triumph for us, rather than our ability to triumph for Him. Instead of getting people to our churches with a good time and throwing Jesus at them in some fashion, Jesus must become the center of all that we do. Our hope for our culture is not a large number of people who believe in the power of what they can do but rather a group of people who are broken by what they cannot do and are dependent upon God for what He can do.
It is frustrating to me to hear Etheridge’s personal testimony of the unfaithfulness of her church. It is even more frustrating when I turn on my own tv and see the pastors who are misleading their own people just as successfully by teaching them that God wants them to prosper and to be happy and that God would never allow them to suffer. It is a ridiculous perversion of the gospel. The kind of theology that exalts those values will cause our people to scratch their head in wonder when they see that God can’t even maintain His own standard with His Son, whom scripture tells us was “slain before the foundation of the earth.” So much for prosperity, comfort and ease I guess?
No, we do not need to make our people comfortable, happy and thankful for how easy their faith is. We must challenge them, encourage them and attack every thought that would exalt man over God. So, in this short plea, Pastor please hear me beg you not to lose the gospel! Contextualize the message, make ready the application and by all means prepare to communicate His word creatively, but please, please don’t lose the gospel. The lives of your people depend on it.