CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Keeping the Masses Happy (While Keeping God Unhappy)

Dec 27, 2013

If your intention is to build up a big congregation, keep the masses happy, and keep the money rolling in, then there are a few things the aspiring mega-church pastor must never do. He must never rock the boat; step on anyone’s toes; offend anyone; dig too deep into Scripture and theology; or speak on any controversial issue of the day.

Sadly there are far too many pastors and church leaders who fully adhere to these unwritten rules. Their number one priority is to please people, to be liked by the crowds, and to keep everyone happy and docile. They will go to great lengths to avoid any and all controversies – even biblical ones.

Their business is to placate the crowds and amuse the masses. They are in the business of men-pleasing. Sure, they may not even be aware that this is in fact what they are doing. They may think they are being “peace-keepers” or working for “unity” or trying to just get along.

But when the truth of God is at stake, we must speak out, even at the risk of breaking fellowship, losing some unity, and offending some folks. As Martin Luther once put it, “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” Yet far too often truth is sacrificed in order to placate and appease the masses.

We had a very good example of this with a US pastor who was recently interviewed on network TV. Consider one report on this: “Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz has made it clear that he will not take a public stance on social issues like homosexuality because, as he said during media appearances this week, that is not the example Jesus Christ models in the Bible.

“When asked during an interview with Katie Couric on her self-titled daytime show if he felt that he had a moral imperative to speak publicly about ‘some of these more controversial issues,’ Lentz said, ‘No, because we try to be like Jesus.’

“He explained, ‘Very rarely did Jesus ever talk about morality or social issues. He was about the deeper things of the heart. Often people want to talk about behavior modification, and our church isn’t about that. … We’re about soul transformation. You start talking about some of the symptomatic stuff, that’s not what we’re about. We’re about talking to people about their heart and the condition of their soul, and some of that stuff out-works itself. But we’re not trying to change anybody because we can’t’.”

And in another interview he said more of the same: “Some media wants us to use our pulpit to have a soapbox for social issues. I don’t believe that’s our job. You go look at what Jesus did, he was always talking about the heart of an individual and the soul of a person, not these symptomatic societal problems. People hate that, because a lot of churches are about what they’re against. We’re about what we’re for.

“When it comes to people’s sexuality, I don’t want to use a public forum to talk about private things. Because how in the world could you have a dialogue? How in the world can I hear your story? How in the world can someone have a question?”

Now, those familiar with the original Australian Hillsong church, or with other mega-churches, such as Joel Osteen’s, would be entirely familiar with such responses. We hear such things all the time from these guys. It sounds a bit spiritual and pious, but in many respects it is just a lousy cop-out.

Does this pastor even read his New Testament? Or the Gospels? Or even the Sermon on the Mount? We have more moral issues crammed into these three chapters (Matthew 5-7) than most mega-church pastors preach in a lifetime. Jesus and the disciples were always speaking about moral issues.

I can’t believe this pastor is actually saying all this. And all this talk about “soul transformation” is of course just missing the mark big time. Of course Jesus is in the business of changing lives. But we are also to be salt and light, whether or not everyone first gets converted.

With his dodgy reasoning we should dispense with all traffic lights. Indeed, we should dispense with all laws altogether. After all, we can’t expect a non-Christian to not run a red light or murder his grandma. But of course we can talk morality – even to the unsaved.

God created the state, and moral laws, and gave us a conscience. Of course he expects us to be moral beings and to live responsibly. Expecting everyone to become a believer before we discuss moral issues is just plain foolish. And when God’s institutions of marriage and family are under attack, or those made in his image slaughtered in the millions, you sure do have a Christian obligation to speak out on these things.

And guess what? Killing babies and decimating marriage are not just “private things” as this pastor wrongly suggests. They are very public matters indeed which impact upon every single one of us. The homosexual assault on marriage affects us all, and is as public as you can get.

Also, this sort of unbiblical baloney has been heard far too many times before. Every time bold men and women of God stood for righteousness and biblical truth, the naysayers come out with the same old whining and weasel words. Wilberforce for example knew all about this:

But Wilby old boy, don’t you know you are not being Christ-like here? Don’t you know you are rocking the boat and offending people with all your abolition nonsense? Don’t you know that there are all sorts of fine and upstanding clergymen and church leaders who are slave owners?

Who are you to judge them? Who gave you the right to condemn them? You must learn to just quietly pray and read your Bible. It is just not appropriate for you to tackle moral issues and public affairs such as this. Don’t you know that this is not a good example of WWJD?

Your job is not to be the moral conscience of the nation. You are talking “about behavior modification, and our church isn’t about that. … We’re about soul transformation. You start talking about some of the symptomatic stuff, that’s not what we’re about.”

Can’t you just learn to keep your mouth shut and stop being such a rabble-rouser? Don’t you know you are turning people off to the gospel with all your focus on treating blacks as human beings? Don’t you know that Jesus was into relationships, and not about moral issues? So just ease up Wilby!

The really strange thing about all this is these hip, groovy and trendy pastors actually think they are being like Jesus here. They somehow think Jesus would never harm a fly, never cause division, never stir up the crowds, and never give any offence. Just what Bible are these guys reading from?

Do they just accept half of the gospel accounts and tear the other half out of their Bibles? Have they never read how Jesus carefully and deliberately formed a whip, and then used it in a most ungracious manner in the temple, flipping over tables and chasing out the money changers?

Do these folks even believe this story, and many others like it? Sure, it sounds nothing at all like what these men-pleasers are doing. Sure, it seems light years away from the namby-pamby, watered down men-pleasing gospel so often heard today.

Indeed, the really mind-boggling thing about all this is this: these guys in fact think they are being more like Jesus than Jesus was. They actually believe they are being more Christ-like than Christ was. They really seem to think they can improve upon the methods and words of Jesus. Go figure.

Sorry, but if I have to choose between the Jesus of the Gospels, and the wishy-washy, saccharine-coated mush of today’s mega-church preachers, I know who I will side with any day of the week. Let me finish with the words of some real men of God – men who were so unlike the spineless wonders occupying so many pulpits today:

“The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” A.W. Tozer

“The test of whether someone is teaching the cross rightly or wrongly is whether it is an offence to the natural man or not. If my preaching of this cross is not an offence to the natural man, I am misrepresenting it.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” George Whitefield

“A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, ‘I will never hear that man again,’ very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.” C.H. Spurgeon

“God’s obedient people will always offend the world, no matter how much we seek to be peacemakers and to walk in compassion and love. Our very lifestyles are a reproof to the ungodly.” Dr. Michael L. Brown

www.christianpost.com/news/pastor-carl-lentz-will-not-preach-on-sexuality-from-pulpit-refuses-to-ostracize-people-111211/

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27 Responses to Keeping the Masses Happy (While Keeping God Unhappy)

  • A great wake-up call above, you`ve nailed it again Bill, I pray this encourages ALL churches. I believe many Churches require this encouragement. Be loved for what is right, not liked for what is likable. Gods ethics given to us in Scripture and The Holy Spirit, rather than St. James Ethics classes or Utilitarianism.

  • Thanks Bill for reminding us that the Gospel does offend. May we not be ashamed of proclaiming it.

  • These “churches” might as well preach from any one of many psycho-pop books as they don’t seem to use the bible for anything except as a peripheral crutch to base their talks on.

    Jesus might be mentioned, but his teachings and his authority aren’t honoured.

  • hear, hear Sid Avery

  • We are called to feed sheep not amuse goats. By telling the ‘goats’ what they want to hear we are failing to do what Jesus commanded His disciples – feed His sheep. ‘Goats’ will waste our time by keeping us busy on entertaining, supporting, arguing and placating them. While we do this we are not kingdom building.

  • This is a message the church must hear. The church has decided that the ‘fear of God is (no longer) ‘the beginning of wisdom’. It has capitulated to the politically-correct ethos of the world. Isn’t love more than that?

  • I’ve heard of something similar called ‘two kingdoms theology’. Wilberforce would not have been welcomed, for sure. Similarly, the furphy “We can’t legislate morality,” although all law legislates morality; the only question is whose morality shall be legislated.

  • These men – Lentz, Osteen and countless others represent the institutional church and the dead hand of human tradition.
    Leaving aside the message that Lentz puts across (or rather does not) the article raises far bigger questions that need to be addressed and confronted, but very few seem prepared to raise them, let alone offering NT solutions.

    One such question is whether mega-churches are desirable, or even true churches at all in the NT sense of what the church is and how she should function?

    Secondly, it must be a truism that such churches can never be changed or reformed whilst their institutional structures remain, and which do violence to the simple New Testament pattern of the church and what ministry is all about.
    Where for example is the modern omnicompetent “pastor” role, much less “senior pastor” and other hierarchical practices which are commonplace in most churches?
    The pastor doctrine stands as a continuing barrier to the NT concept of mutual ministries by all believers when gathered – not simply that of one, namely the pastor.
    Where is there any call for “preaching” in churches (except in the purely evangelistic context of bring the Gospel to unbelievers)?
    There is nothing wrong with the occasional worship service, but where is the mandate to repeat this stereotyped meeting week in, week out, thereby excluding the primary objective for meeting – that is edification, teaching, mutual exhortation and other vital functions of the body of Christ as Paul sets out in 1 Corinthian 12-14 and many other NT passages?
    Many pay lip service to the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers”, and yet the practice and structure of church meetings is such as to exclude participation by individual members of the gathering. Why, given that the NT pattern for ministry is so clear?
    For this reason people like Lentz are given free rein, unchallenged, to propagate their views without the critical approval or disapproval of the rest of the body of Christ?
    Many such questions arise, and I have only touched on a few.

  • @Jonathan Sarfati: Did you also miss out on getting the memo that everyone except christians are allowed to bring their presuppositions into the public square in making comment on public policy? 🙂

    @Graham wood: Re megachurches, There is a question as to whether the pastor, as undershepherd, can truly claim that they are shepherding when they don’t know all of their flock, their struggles or where they are needing correction. You’d almost need a layer of pastors under the preaching pastor to ensure that individuals are shepherded. I’m wondering how Spurgeon may have managed this, as the tabernacle was fairly large.

  • Andrew. Thanks for your interesting comment about mega-churches and pastoral care. I fully agree, and moreover the very existence of mega-churches creates the problem.
    Its easy to generalise, but I think it is true to say that many such churches are not overly interested in pastoral care but very much in “power” and in the numbers game.
    You mention Spurgeon, and Bill also frequently quotes Dr Lloyd-Jones, both of whom pastored in large congregations. How could these and many others be justified in the light of what we know is a radically different NT pattern for gathering?
    My answer is that I don’t think they can, but that said, I also believe that both CHS and DMLJ were in unique situations. Both were multi-gifted as evangelists and teachers, and supremely important, both were rock solid on the content of the Gospel, and both strove to place Christ as central in all their preaching and teaching.
    This in my view is the great difference between these two particular men and their modern counterparts, many of whom seem to be either luke-warm on the Gospel, or not particularly gifted to minister at all. (My hearing of Lentz confirms more of a rant than a clear biblical or Gospel message)
    Both chose to minister inside church buildings and it could be argued that each was convinced that God gave to them
    great evangelistic opportunities – and they used them.
    Or rather, God used them, because they honoured Him, and God always uses or honours Spirit filled preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
    However, I would say that neither represent the norm for Christian gatherings, and it is instructive to note that the early church did not have a “mega-church” in Jerusalem after 3000 were saved, and thousands more later, as a result of the Apostle’s preaching !
    Not only for reasons of persecution by the Roman (and Jewish) authorities, but I think, in the providence of God for the time, primarily because believers met in homes – what we would now call ‘house churches’. But there is some NT evidence that possibly such groups met occasionally in larger meetings.
    As for modern church buildings, this is the sad story of borrowing from heathen culture – historically with the coming of Constantine (4th century) and was (and is) a tragic shift from the primitive simplicity that marked the practice of the early church.

    You say: “You’d almost need a layer of pastors under the preaching pastor to ensure that individuals are shepherded”. Spurgeon certainly was very conscious of the need for pastoral care for the many who were saved under his ministry and sought to encourage such care through a large number of more mature Christians – male and female.
    But a “layer of pastors”? I think not, because where mutual ministries operate as the NT itself encourages, including the charismatic gifts of the Spirit then such ministries are themselves pastoral. In other words it is not more “pastors” needed, but rather more Christians ministering to fellow believers.
    This is what one would expect as there are no less than 58 such references in the NT to “one another” in terms of mutual ministry!
    I would warmly recommend the small book due out about now on this very theme entitled “58-0 – How Christ leads through the One Anothers” (Ekklesia Press – Nebraska) – edited by Dr Jon Zens and myself.

  • I wonder how they can reconcile their stance with
    1 Cor 5:9-13.
    “…you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idoalter or a slandered, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”
    I agree with Andrew Morrison, in that I believe it is very hard for pastors of mega-chruches to shepherd if they don’t actually know the flock. It was for that very reason that we left a large church. There is no accountability and a large portion of those who called themselves “bothers” were leading lives full of sexual immorality, idolatry etc as per 1 Cor 5 and as per Eph 5. I know this to be true of 2 other major mega churches near us in Brisbane. You need only look at fb posts for many christians to determine what is going on in their lives.

    This is my story on this matter. All true examples. heleadsmesharon.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/why-i-left-facebook.html

  • Couldn’t disagree with you more. Carl Lentz is an inspiring pastor who does a huge amount for the people of New York city. He ministers to drug addicts, drug dealers and many others who need to know the grace of God. He works hard to minster to them and help them to know the love of Jesus. He is an inspirational pastor who we could all learn from.

  • Thanks Scott. I of course am simply going by his own public remarks. If he thinks standing up for the unborn or God’s institution of marriage from the pulpit is a waste of time, then he does not inspire me in the least.

  • There are so called ‘ preachers, teachers, moral crusaders’ who are against abortion, homosexual living, against euthanasia, yet where are the Bible based and disciplined people standing against
    living in adultery.
    The family unit, with a committed, faithful, honouring and obedient Father and Mother is the foundation for our society. Get the family base right and the rest of the generations have a base to live on.
    That means that those in the ministry, who perform ceremonies for adulterous civil relationships, are supporting immoral living.
    Get back to one man with one wife for LIFE and watch families love and grow and this intern will show in the daily living of those in ministry.
    Judith Bond

  • I thought I would paste a response from a so called Christian which shows exactly what you are talking about Bill.

    Copied text:
    “How much can I get away with and still technically be saved?” Once you accept Christ as your Savior you are permanently sealed in the Book of Life and nothing can take away our eternal security – murder, rape, homosexuality, ect – Judas Iscariot was saved and will be there! Understanding Bible Doctrine demands accuracy.
    End copied text:

    Now I have no idea where this person got this idea from, because my scriptures definitely do not say anything that agrees with the above.

    But if I understand this person correctly, then he thinks Christ really didn’t mean when he said “your sins are forgiven, go away and sin no more”, but rather, your sins are forgiven, now go and sin as much as you like and you will still be saved.

    There are going to be lot of so called “Christians” or better put cinos (Christian in name only) who are going to be in a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the not too distant future, spreading falsehoods such as the one above.

    Oh well, I just thought you and your readers might find this of interest of what Christianity is up against.

    All the best for Christmas and the new calendar year everyone.

    Neil Waldron.

  • Hi Neil
    This gets to the heart of antinomianism which you couldn’t hold to if you bothered with even a passing reading of the NT. If you hold to the doctrines of grace (the five points of calvinism), the perserverance of the saints would indicate that the elect can’t lose their salvation, but also that the elect show themselves by perservering until the end. There may be sin, and there may be falling away, but there isn’t a rejoicing in sin, or relishing the possibility of sinning without wearing the consequences.

    I haven’t seen someone as blatant in their antinomianism as that. Many live that way, though.

    That God withholds his wrath day after day with the world getting more and more depraved shows his patience. Either in waiting for the number of the saints to be filled, or in the cup of wrath to be completely filled.

  • What’s with all this “it’s not my job to approve of everything in people’s lives, that’s God’s job”? HELLO. I would have thought seeing you are the so-called SHEPHERD of 5000 people you would have read your Bible! We are His AMBASSADORS, REPRESENTATIVES on this Earth. Such a comment is as stupid as the Australian ambassador telling a foreign power ‘It’s not my place to have an opinion on this issue, I’m not Australia.’ Well my friend you are COMMISSIONED to represent the interests of Australia – what do you think you are there for? The free flights and catering? And to all the so-called pastors out there making such ridiculous UNSCRIPTURAL excuses – why exactly do you do what you do?? Enjoying the perks of ministry while avoiding all forms of persecution and hatred for the sake of His Name? Chickens.

  • Not all mega churches but definitely some are afraid to speak out on the issues that Jesus spoke out on. Let us pray for them to see that if we follow Jesus we must actually follow Jesus.

  • 2 Peter 3:5-14 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
    2 Peter 3:15-18 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

  • Isaiah 5:20-22
    Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

  • As a matter of fact I happened to be reading about Judas Iscariot this morning – this is where I am up to in my reading through of the Bible. Matthew 26:24, “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
    As the betrayal is just about to take place, Jesus calls Judas, “friend” (verse 50), revealing His last call to Judas to rethink his evil purpose. There is no implication that Jesus was to renege on His prophecy re Judas’ ultimate destiny.

  • Excellent! Just excellent! God gave us a teaching years ago by using my little boys in a cutlery shop. There was a suit of armor and they wanted to touch it. The owner said they could if they were careful. One of my guys went to the backside (literally) that was only covered by a velvet cloth. He lifted it to look underneath and, behind the cloth, there was a sign that said, “Shame on you!” I laughed and God said, “This represents many believers… they are christian streakers… they believe they have on the helmet of salvation but they are not wearing any other part of the armor. Their feet are not shod in the gospel, they do not wear the breastplate of righteousness because they are not being taught it is necessary. Shame on them. “Christians” without armor are not Christ-followers.” The point Hillsong and Osteen and others miss is that they are going for what they call “soul transformation”… no, it’s Christ-likeness, holiness and doing all to the glory OF God. The way this is done? Through the power and Word of God and discipleship training… all very much a part of the NT.

  • @ Neil Waldron – I too have found this attitude quite common.

    Jude v4 “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

  • I don’t think that i would call pastors hip who adorn their congregations with seeker friendly preaching. Hip means somehow they are “cool” as a matter of fact they are decidedly the opposite “uncool”
    Reading the Gospels it’s plain for all to see that Jesus took on the social issues of the time, and did so forcefully. When he did he caused people to feel uncomfortable because their unhealthy lifestyles were being reflected at them.
    Okay, seeker friendly churches may draw huge congregations but are they making disciples (Matthew 28:19 – Mark 16:20) i don’t think so.
    How will people grow in the Fruits of the Spirit if their not made to confront their issues, instead being buttered-up each Sunday with insipid, feel good, stay safe preaching.

  • Excellent. So very excellent. We call these people “make believers”. In our counseling ministry and in our church we strive to dig deep into the word to transform character to the glory of God… and, yes, you must deal with moral issues. Staggers me when people come in and say their life is a mess, they can’t correct the mess they’ve made, but we teach too much scripture and, by the way, they just don’t want to do what it says. It’s like someone’s marriage has cancer and we say, “Here take this pill to cure it,” and they look at us dumbfounded and say, “Uh, nope!” But the ones who grab onto God’s hand through His word… the transformations are miraculous, and I don’t use that term lightly. Thanks for speaking out!

  • In comparison with those imams who preached their demonic doctrine and believes with conviction, whether in mosque or in the public, our modern day’s mega-church pastors should each dig a hole on the ground and hide their face.

    Only if we are truly passionate with the Holy Bible and are convicted by it’s teaching through The Holy Spirit, we can then become a fanatic for Jesus, where we speak with the power that even move the mountains.

    Sadly, we could learn more from those arrogant demon-worshipers then our supposedly Christian’s ‘Bible-believer’ pastors from the church pulpit.

    Lord Jesus, please save our soul.

  • Katz got it while listening to a preacher and it resulted in a. Challenging Book called Spirit Of Truth.
    “No need to panick; this needn’t be taken seriously – remember it is only a sermon. I’ll provide a biblical message weekly and you provide for my personal security and well being. I wont push you and you dont push me, and we will get on famously.” This book is a little gem and I have had some I lent it to exclaim they wished they had never read it because it had made them accountable and opened their eyes up to what truth is. It involves far more than words though is not less than words.

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