In our efforts to reach people with the gospel, and make the message of Christ attractive, it is possible that we are in fact watering down the very gospel we are trying to share with people.
While we often mean well, in our zeal to offer seeker-sensitive services and friendly, low-key environments where we can bring our unsaved friends, we may in fact be turning our churches into less than the biblical model.
We have become very good at presenting attractive presentations of the message, but the message may be taking a beating as a result. As we focus on making churches relevant and appealing, we seem to be spending more time on entertainment and fun, than on the serious demands of the gospel.
Paul warned about this very matter when he spoke about how we are trying to avoid the offense of the gospel. In Gal. 5:11, he uses the phrase, “the scandal of the cross”, and in 1 Cor. 1:23 he speaks of Christ crucified as a “stumbling block”. The same Greek word is used in both occasions: skandalon. It means that which causes offence, arouses opposition or causes revulsion. It often implies that which is grossly offensive.
Now today when we think of something which is grossly offensive, we may think of pedophilia or the torture of children. Not many, I am afraid, would find the cross so offensive, at least not the way it is being packaged so often today. We have taken the offence out of the gospel in order to make it more palatable, more easily embraced, by our non-believing friends.
But is this wise? In our efforts to make the gospel message acceptable to people, we may be stealing it of its very heart and soul. The gospel message is offensive, certainly to the natural mind and heart. It goes against the grain in every sense. It demands death to self, renouncing our will, and crucifying our flesh. This is not a popular message today. Indeed, it was not a popular message when the earliest disciples proclaimed it.
What are the demands of the gospel? Jesus and the early apostles made things quite clear:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.” (Matt 16:24)
“Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mark 10:38-39)
“For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Ro 8:13)
Such passages could be multiplied at length. They all speak of dying to self, of renouncing self, of resisting our selfish nature. Yet what we mostly seem to hear in the church today is how we can feel good about ourselves, how we can be happy, fulfilled, self-satisfied. Much of the message being preached today is how to build up your self-esteem, how to have a better self-image, how to learn to love yourself. This all stands in marked contrast to the hard demands of the biblical gospel.
Of course we should try to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to people who may come to faith, but we dare not dilute the message, offering a Lite version of the gospel, instead of the real thing. We are told to proclaim the whole counsel of God, not just the bits that make us comfortable, or the bits we think the unsaved will like.
Perhaps it is time again for the Christian church to rediscover the scandal of the cross, and the rock of offense. If we don’t we will have nothing to offer to a world that desperately needs to hear the truth.