Who Will Reach Out To Christians?

I was interested to read an editorial in the latest New Life. Bob Thomas argues for “A Need For Christian Inreach”. He refers of course to the fact that we have outreach for non-Christians, but it may be time for inreach to liberal Christians who deny the basics of biblical Christianity.

Let me quote part of this editorial: “There is a people group which desperately needs to hear and respond to the Gospel today. They have been innoculated against it and are consequently highly resistant to it. Their whole environment encourages them to resist it, as does their long heritage. Many attempts have been made to draw them to fullness of faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord, stretching right back to the Apostle Paul himself, but still they resist.

“They are, of course, the people we know as ‘Liberal Christians’. ‘Liberals’ take a high profile for themselves in the visible church but however high their profile might be, they are as lost and dead in their trespasses and sins as any rank atheist or any practitioner of any other religion may be.

“Having fallen for liberalism myself as a student at a liberal theological college, I know it from the inside, and having been restored long ago to Biblical faith and practice I have a burden for those who have also succumbed to the alluring but deceptive charms of this pale imitation of real Christianity.”

He continues, “The old school liberal would readily say: ‘I don’t believe in the miracles, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, a literal six-day creation, the Atonement …’ But in more recent years the liberals have taken to driving a wedge between the head and the heart. Thus, the liberal might have a sentimental kind of attachment to the events of Scripture with his heart, but with his mind he would allegorise them, looking upon them as stories perhaps a cut above Grimm’s fairy tales, but stories nevertheless, albeit with some kind of ‘spiritual’ message for us today.”

I of course share all of Bob’s sentiments here, but I simply want to take this one step further. I actually think we not only need to reach out to the theological liberals, but to those who claim to have a high view of Scripture. I refer to my fellow evangelicals, who would rightly shrink back from the liberal Christian’s agenda.

The question is, do we sometimes also reject the very gospel we claim to believe? That is, we have all the right words, the right theology, and the right doctrines, but our lives may not always reflect our beliefs. Just like the liberals that Bob spoke about, it is possible that we too have a division between head and heart, but the other way around.

If the liberals have mostly wrong head knowledge, while their hearts may be sort of in the right place to a certain extent, perhaps we have the right head space, but our hearts may be lagging behind. That is, we are fully orthodox in our creeds and beliefs, but we are often living no differently than the world is.

Many recent prophetic voices have spoken to this tragic anomaly. Let me cite a few choice quotes from A.W. Tozer:

“Evangelical Christianity, as we know it, is almost as far from God as liberalism is. Its nominal creed is biblical but its orientation is worldly. . . . The evangelical church is orientated around showmanship.”

“So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice.”

“Just as the Jews were in physical descent from Abraham and nobody challenged this, so the evangelicals are in creedal descent from the apostles. . . . The error is in assuming that, because we are in creedal descent, we are in spiritual succession.”

“We are so theologically correct and so internally dead, and that’s why we are where we are.”

“Never has there been more activity in religious circles and, I confidently believe, never has there been so little of God and so much of the flesh.”

“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”

“Many of us Christians have been extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications. We arrange things so that we can get on well enough without divine aid, while at the same time ostensibly seeking it. We boast in the Lord but watch carefully that we never get caught depending on Him.”

“The Holy Spirit is not necessary to the church; we have arranged it so that he is not required. He has been displaced by what we call ‘programming’ and by social activity.”

And now, a few gems from Leonard Ravenhill:

“If Bible knowledge could change the world, we would’ve changed it long ago.”

“I’m convinced that the greatest thing about those Puritan preachers is they lived in eternity six days a week and came down to earth on the seventh! Our preachers, today, are golfing on Saturday and ‘goofing’ (around) the other five days… It’s a profession to most of them when it should be an obsession with them!”

“The Church used to be a lifeboat rescuing the perishing. Now she is a cruise ship recruiting the promising.”

“We’ve reduced God to a minimum. Most of us are trying to get to heaven with minimum spirituality. If we looked after our business like we look after our soul, we’d be bankrupt years ago! The materialism has crept in and it’s blinded us! It has become a way of life.”

“These days we are spiritually so subnormal that to be just normal (according to the New Testament pattern) seems to make us abnormal.”

“I’m sick to death of the so-called Christianity of our day. What’s supernatural about it? When do people come out of the sanctuary awed and can’t speak for an hour because God has been in glory there? Dear God, as soon as they get out, they’re talking football, or sports or something, or there’s going to be a big sale downtown somewhere. We are not caught up into eternity!”

“The true man of God is heartsick, grieved at the worldliness of the Church…grieved at the toleration of sin in the Church, grieved at the prayerlessness in the Church. He is disturbed that the corporate prayer of the Church no longer pulls down the strongholds of the devil.”

“People say, ‘We want another Pentecost.’ I don’t believe them for a minute. Pentecost in the New Testament is tied in with persecution, poverty and prison!”

I think both these men are quite right. We are in desperate need of revival, and that revival must begin in our Bible-believing churches. Without a deep and penetrating move of God, most of our head knowledge and sound theology will do us little good.

Indeed, we all need to ask some hard questions of ourselves. In doing this, I do not mean to minimise for a moment what Bob said about the liberals. He is quite right, and they need to be reached. But perhaps many people who fill our Bible-believing evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches also need to be reached.

I, like Bob, am a hundred per cent in favour of sound doctrine and proper teaching. We greatly need it in many of our churches today. But at the same time we need holy lives, lives set apart for God, and ablaze with his Spirit. The New Testament everywhere insists upon these twin towers.

“Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16).

[1333 words]

11 Replies to “Who Will Reach Out To Christians?”

  1. The words of the Lord’s message to the Church at Ephesus (Rev 2) seem apt: doctrine great, but they have lost their first love!
    The church at Ephesus at that time was but a prototype of many to follow as, alas, was the Laodicean church. Yet both churches revived in the following decades and century or two before disappearing.
    Stephen White

  2. Thanks Bill,

    As an evangelical I appreciate these comments – they are challenging and true – bit to think about here really.

    Andrew Stagg

  3. Thanks Bill,

    After many years thinking and praying through the issues you have raised, I’ve come to the conclusion that too often the church organizations have focussed too often on the church organization. Christianity in some circles has effectively been redefined into a a religious club that can recite certain creeds promotes attendance of the club as a condition of salvation and has initiated all kinds of man-made rules as a criteria for identifying who is in or out. eg tithing, official membership, submission [ie never question any thing] unity at all costs,etc etc.
    Jesus said,’You must be born again’ Un- regenerate ‘christianity’ is the bane of the true church whether liberal, evangelical or pentecostal. The great revivals of the past it seems occured when godly preachers preached this glorious message of a supernatural change in the heart of man by a supernatural God able to do so. The whole concept of reaching out to the ‘un-churched’ manifest in so much church activity assumes that the churched are OK,as you have rightly pointed out that is not necessarily the case. Thanks for your insights.

    Glenn Christopherson

  4. Hi Bill,

    I think I would disagree with the idea that you can have your heart in the right place but your head in the wrong place. If someone’s head is full of nonsense then they will be dragged into all manner of evil as they follow the prodding of their heart because they are unable to think carefully about what they propose.

    The whole political left suffers from this disease of having their “heart in the right place” and how much suffering has resulted from that?

    I agree with you that you can have your head in the right place and fail to act on it, and that is a bad thing and just as much in need of repentance and straightening out, but I am not sure excuses should be made for people who “have their heart in the right place”. That sort of thinking has promoted endless evils.

    Jason Rennie

  5. Thanks Jason

    Yes I actually agree with you, and was aware that that sentence might be somewhat problematic. I did doubly seek to qualify it as you will note, but yes I agree that merely having good intentions is never enough. As I point out in the end of my article, both head and heart must be in the right place, with right beliefs and right living.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Wow yes, this “inreach” is certainly needed. I am in fact in the process of making an online form where people can go and test themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).
    I’ve made this because as I’ve talked to people on the street (and church) many of them say they’re Christian’s but you probe a little deeper (such as how much time do spend with God alone) and you quickly find out they want nothing to do with God.
    So I’m going to hand out little tracts with the website after church services. “How do you know you’re going to heaven”? It’s based on the tests in 1 John.
    The website is in beta stage at the moment, but if you want to check it out, it’s at http://1johnassurance.agapemedia.com.au/ with the username “betauser” and password “alphabeta” – constructive feedback appreciated.
    Nathan Keen

  7. To Nathan Keen, I took your little test and overall I think it is good it certainly makes you think, though a few questions there are not so easy to answer, as an example, in the Affiliation test one of the questions is: Do you meet up regularly with other Christians? I assumed you meant Church attendance exclusively and it is on this basis that I answered no, the reason being is that admittedly my church attendance definitely has room for improvement, but the answer assumes that I was wronged by other Christians and cannot forgive them which in my case could not be further from the truth. I love meeting with other Christians and have no current problems with any of the Christians I know or associate with. Plus I also work for a Christian organisation and I am always doing some sort of quasi pastoral work with my staff or others in the organisation that might have a problem or need praying for. I think one thing to watch out for here is to think that church attendance as we know it is the be all and end all of our commitment to God where I believe that if we are right with God then we will make sure we are ready to do his will in both our lives and the lives of those around us both Christian and non Christian. But having said that Nathan, keep up the good work mate and just add little refinements here and there as God directs you and I am sure that you will come up with a tool that will certainly benefit people by pointing them to 1 John. I will be certainly having another look at 1 John as a result of your site. Thanks again.
    Steve Davis

  8. Bill, I’m a former rock radio DJ from the 1960s & 70s. When I walk into most evangelical churches I visit in Brisbane, I might as well be rockin’ & rollin’. It’s not just the loud, distracting din of music, but I’m dumbfounded by the superficial lyrics of the songs we sing. I can’t find anything like “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise”, or “Crown Him with many crowns”.
    Christianity lite dominates our music and pulpits. In my view, the evangelical church is dumbing down theology and foundational teaching. We are reaping the results of shallow Christianity.
    Now I know that I run the risk of being called judgmental, but that’s how I see it. Theological liberalism/postmodernism is obvious, but evangelical lite is destroying our foundations and we don’t seem to care.
    Spencer Gear

  9. Bill,
    I need a little bit of education here: When I hear the term “evangelical” I think mainly of a focus on hardcore witnessing but recently I have seen the word mentioned in less than flattering terms. What exactly is an “evangelical”? Billy Graham for example has been described as an evangelist, so what would be the difference between someone like him and someone who is described by the term “evangelical”?
    Steve Davis

  10. Thanks Steve

    The two terms are distinct and should not be confused, although there is overlap. An evangelist is one who has a calling or perhaps full-time ministry of evangelising (proclaiming the gospel). Thus a person like Billy Graham is obviously an evangelist.

    But the term ‘evangelical’ has historical roots, taking us back to the Great Awakening, and the earlier revival movements of the Wesleys, Whitefield, Edwards, Finney, etc, on up to the present day. These people are conservative/orthodox in doctrine, and do believe in the importance of telling others about their need of salvation in Christ. Thus Graham is an evangelical evangelist.

    Not all evangelicals are evangelists. I am an evangelical Christian, but my ministry or gifting is more in teaching and apologetics than the work of an evangelist as such, although I do want people to hear and receive the gospel of course. And not all evangelists are evangelicals. One can speak of evangelists for the New Age for example, or Atheist evangelists who spread the word about atheism.

    Do you see some of the distinctions here? So when I or someone like Tozer speaks of evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians, it refers to the more conservative subgroups within Protestantism. Thus Baptists, Pentecostals, conservative Anglicans, etc can all be said to be evangelicals to a large extent. Many of the more liberal mainline Protestant denominations are not evangelical, because of both liberal theology and a lack of concern about reaching the lost.

    The word evangel is an old word (coming through Greek, French, and German sources at least) meaning good news or gospel. So we hear about St. John the Evangelist for example. But in the modern context we have the two main meanings as given above.

    Let me know if any of this helps!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Thanks Bill, yes you do make sense and I can see the distinction you are making, that being that the word “Evangelical” has been hijacked by liberal Christians and other groups such as the new age movement etc. I think the thing that threw me was Tozer’s comment below where he seems to use the word in only one sense, that being an open and shut comparison with liberalism as we can see it in some of todays churches.

    “Evangelical Christianity, as we know it, is almost as far from God as liberalism is. Its nominal creed is biblical but its orientation is worldly. . . . The evangelical church is orientated around showmanship.”

    I think it is very hard these days for some churches as for example the one I go to is very evangelical in the old sense in that it is a Christ centred, Biblical based church and our ministers are very focused on delivering the true word of God. However we do have what you might term a more modern type of service arrangement where a more “progressive” style of music is performed with a hymn being included more as the exception rather than the rule with the verses being repeated a number of times which personally I do not like and would prefer more hymns but I am careful to ensure that I do not judge my church wholly on this basis but instead look to the core of what my church stands for and when I see that and the type of people we have pastoring us, I am glad I belong to my church and not one of the ones that have completely fallen for the liberal line. I think however that we would be better off with more small churches than a few large ones as the bigger they are in a physical sense the smaller the chances they have of being able to effectively minister to their flock. Thanks again Bill!

    Steve Davis

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