JUDY AND I ARE in southern Arizona enjoying the dessert sun. Last weekend we attended a Gospel Coalition/9Marks church in the local area. The people were sincere and kind. We were graciously and effectively greeted several times.
But the church exhibited an all-too-common problem. The church culture offended us, but there was nothing in the message that would have offended an unbeliever. God wants the local church to do the opposite. God wants the gospel to offend the pride of Believers and unbelievers, but he doesn't want the church culture to offend. In the case of this church, the result was predictable. There was no sense of gospel joy. The congregation was elderly. There were few young families. It was a dying church.
By church culture I mean its music, website, demographic, bulletin, PowerPoint slides, etc. Had I been a non-Christian visiting for the first time, I would have never gone back, and not because it lacked the "cool factor." I am sixty nine! So, what was so offensive?
First, the music. The songs were from a by-gone era. Old songs are not necessarily bad. Many are still relevant, but not these. The lyrics were saccharine, sweet, and sentimental. Of greatest concern, they had little to do with the biblical God or the gospel.
The musicians were not especially talented, but that was not a problem either. Many relevant worship teams are not especially talented. It was the choice of songs, and the lack of congregational engagement.
One of the songs was the the theme from the movie, The Shack. The congregation wasn't liberal, nor would they have agreed with the theology of The Shack, but by using this song the leadership implied empathy with the movie and its message. At best it was confusing.
The second offense was the PowerPoint slides. Faded out behind the lyrics was the iconic picture of Jesus, with long wavy hair and a robe falling to the floor. He was knocking on the door. The whole experience said irrelevant, never mind the second commandment prohibition of images.
The last offense was the preaching. It was not offensive, and it should have been. Good preaching makes God big and people small. It confronts us with our sin and God's awesome mercy. It reminds us of our unworthiness and God's grace. We leave humbled, hopeful, and longing to worship the God who is now bigger than when we walked in the door. In biblical language, the sermon fills us with the fear of God, and where the fear of God is there is joy.
But that is not what happened. The preacher was organized and articulate, and, I am sure, very sincere. But the content was morality. The text was Micah chapter six. "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8). The preacher exhorted us to try harder, to be moral. He missed an opportunity to remind us that God commands justice, mercy, and humility, but we can't do it consistently. We must look at Jesus! He did it, and now, because we believe the gospel, his perfections are imputed to us. Therefore, throw we can seek to obey. We can seek to do justice. We can love kindness, and walk humbly with God. And, when we fail, there is a river of mercy and grace flowing from the throne of God.
I longed for him to turn my attention from myself, and my failures, to Christ and his all sufficiency. I didn't want to leave discouraged by my inadequacy, but encouraged by God's grace trying even harder to lead a life pleasing to him.
So, how about you and your church? What offends, the gospel, or your culture? God wants it to be the former, and when it is, God's joy will permeate your congregation. People will spontaneously give. They will reach out to the lost in the pew next to them. Your church will gain a reputation for friendliness, joy, and cheerfulness.
That is how God wants us to offend, not with our culture, but with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.