[Originally posted August 8, 2005]
“Separation” is one of those theological principles that has fallen out of favor in today’s inclusive-oriented culture. Advocates of separation are immediately branded as narrow-minded and intolerant and divisive and out of touch with both the Creator (the God who loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for their lives) and the world around them. Yet separation remains a fundamental principle of both the Old and New Testaments.
The Israelites were constantly exhorted to “come out from them and be separate.” Compromise with the world inevitably led to idolatry and corruption of the worship standards ordained by a holy God. But numerous captivities and deportations and other forms of discipline did not eradicate this deceitful form of compromise.
Those who have adapted their Christian forms and functions of worship to try to accommodate a “seeker mentality” and incorporate large groups of the unsaved into their Sunday morning services need to take a closer look at the fundamental principles of separation they are violating. When the Israelites were attempting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem in response to the God inspired edict of Cyrus king of Persia, the seeker service option was addressed head-on.
“When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, WE SEEK YOUR GOD and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” (Ezra 4:1-2)
Attacking the church from within has always been a favorite Satanic strategy. It is much easier to reduce the church to looking like the world than it is to wage war against a group that continues to operate on the basis of biblically based convictions. This suggestion for a seeker approach at working together was initiated by the enemies of God. In our day, things have degenerated to where the impetus for such a movement comes from some of the church’s most well known leaders. But the response from Zerubbabel and his fellow leaders was decisive:
“You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
Case closed . . . Enough said! There should be no need for debate on this very simple issue. 2 Corinthians 6 develops the same theme in greater detail:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
What then is the attraction among evangelicals today to pursue a “Seeker Service” methodology? I would like to suggest that there are a number of serious theological errors underlying such an approach:
1. A false assumption is made on the part of “free will” advocates who reject the Calvinistic doctrines of election and predestination that large numbers of the unsaved are truly seeking after God on their own initiative – objectively using their human reason to evaluate the merits of Christ’s claims.
Response: We need to embrace the sovereignty of God in this area of personal salvation. The issue is not fundamentally one of information or appealing to one’s fallen reason. The verdict of God is quite clear:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, NO ONE WHO SEEKS GOD. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The description continues in Romans 3 with even more graphic declarations.
2. Because Christians have been so ineffective in reaching out to the lost in the various contexts where they rub shoulders (the workplace, the neighborhood, etc.), the passion for evangelism has motivated some to transform the worship service into the venue to accomplish that task.
Response: Let’s not give up on the passion for evangelism; but let’s not sacrifice the objectives of our distinctive worship and our primary time for edification and fellowship. The NT presents the observation by unbelievers as the exception – and an exception that should have dramatic consequences:
“But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
How different is the reaction today, where hordes of unbelievers flock into accommodating seeker services and receive reassurance that they are not all that different from God’s children.
3. A form of “Bible-lite” is dispensed with the assumption that a minimalistic type of message (one that just centers on the very basics of the gospel message and then majors on the felt needs of man) will offend the fewest number and allow for the greatest overall impact.
Response: The large numbers that respond to this self-serving agenda (as opposed to a God-oriented diet of preaching the whole counsel of God – the Apostle Paul’s preference if I remember correctly from Acts 20) are somehow defined as a “high impact church.” That is a very interesting assessment – certainly not one that the Head of the Church would have made in view of his exhortations to the seven churches in the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation. What will the next generation of this “high impact” flock produce? They have so watered down the biblical message that they will be unable to pass the baton. They have sown the seeds for the church’s destruction. The argument is that other forums are provided in small groups, etc. where the deeper biblical truths are explored. But what they are modeling before the masses is what is actually being internalized – and that is a lowering of one’s regard for God’s inspired revelation.
4. A man-centered psychological needs-oriented approach has replaced God-centered theology. Marketing gurus have replaced theologians as the driving force in determining the direction of the church. Demographics and surveys are used to determine what a given constituency desires; then the worship service and outreach approach are adapted to accommodate those needs.
Response: Whatever happened to “Thus saith the Lord!” If the Scriptures are proclaimed expositionally in a spirit of grace and truth, they remain completely relevant for today’s audience. And more importantly, the systematic exposition in a verse-by-verse format must be the heart of a balanced spiritual diet. Otherwise the subjective bias of the preacher takes over as he wrestles each week before the Lord to try to determine what his congregation needs to hear each week. That’s how you end up with every other message being about how to be a good parent or how to eliminate worry and fear from your life, etc.
5. The importance of the once-a-week “experience of worship” has replaced the importance of our daily relationship with Christ. Everything has been elevated to the status of professional performance along the lines of our entertainment-driven culture. We must have the best singing, the most emotional worship and praise time, the most colorful and entertaining speakers, etc.
Response: The Apostle Paul majored in simplicity and sincerity.
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
6. Accountability has ultimately been replaced by providing a false sense of peace and comfort to those who do not have to worry about conviction of sin and God’s impending wrath. These large mega churches are convenient places for people to put a check mark in their box of spiritual commitment while losing themselves in the crowd and never coming under any sense of accountability.
Response: The one-another passages of the NT clearly instruct us regarding our mutual responsibilities. The fact that these churches have no concept of church discipline is just one clear indication that they have rejected the type of accountability that faithful shepherding should provide.
This type of church methodology can only flourish where there is an absence of persecution and very little cost associated with naming the name of Christ. Maybe that is one reason the Scriptures point to the value of suffering and of hard times.