Modern man has elevated choice to a virtue, and he delights in being selective about everything, be it where he lives, what career he pursues, and what he eats. The cafeteria is a perfect example of what modern man loves: the ability to pick some things while leaving other things behind.
Regrettably we have taken the cafeteria approach to religion as well. Non-believers will dabble in religion, taking the bits they like out of Buddhism, or the New Age Movement, or Christianity, and they end up with a syncretistic hodgepodge.
And even more regrettably, plenty of professing Christians do exactly the same: they come to their faith, and especially to their Bible, in the same cafeteria fashion. They move along with tray in hand, taking those bits which are appealing, and leaving behind those bits which are not to their liking.
Not only do individual Christians do this all the time, but so do church leaders, pastors and entire churches and denominations. We have become experts in completely ignoring those bits of Scripture which we find difficult, offensive, or hitting too close to the bone.
So we act as if these portions of Scripture simply don’t exist. This is all the more appalling when we consider evangelicals who claim to be lovers of Scripture and so keen on everything Jesus said and did. Evangelicals can be just as selective as anyone else when it comes to picking and choosing those portions of Scripture that they will run with and emphasise.
They do the very opposite of what Paul declared was his standard operating procedure, as stated in Acts 20:27: “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (NIV). Or as the ESV puts it, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God”.
He did not just highlight the “good” bits or those bits which people wanted to hear. He gave them the entire gospel teaching, warts and all. He did not care if he offended people, or turned people off, or alienated people, or saw people turn their backs on him.
Proclaiming truth was always his top priority, regardless of how people responded. He did not pick and choose, cafeteria style, his message. Instead he proclaimed all of God’s truth. And so should we. But the sad truth is, there are many parts of Scripture – and even the gospels – that you will seldom hear about from our pulpits.
Entire hunks of the four gospels are almost never mentioned in too many of our churches. Many of the words of Jesus are just too hard, so we simply ignore them and sweep them under the carpet. Consider just one glaring example of all this: the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant as found in Matthew 18:21-35.
So when was the last time you heard that passage preached on in your church? The last four verses are especially hard core: “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Wow, those are some heavy duty words. But I suspect they are not preached on too often in most churches. In our attempt to make Jesus into our image, one who never hurt a fly, one who never offended anyone, and one who embraced everyone and everything, these verses just do not fit in.
We have far too much cheap grace being preached, far too much easy-believism being proclaimed, and far too much hypergrace being pushed. We think a person can make an emotional response to a humanistic gospel appeal, and that is it – they do not have to worry about obedience or radical discipleship from then on.
Now I realise a big theological can of worms can be opened here. How do we understand the nature of salvation? Can we lose our salvation? While I don’t want a major fight about all these issues, let me offer my simple take on this, which I believe properly reflects the biblical data.
We are saved by grace through faith. It is not of our works. That is the initial step in salvation which we refer to as justification. But that is only the beginning, and sanctification is the ongoing path of the disciple. We demonstrate our saving faith by being obedient to the commands of God, and by walking in increasing holiness and purity.
Sure, the Holy Spirit who takes up residence in the believer makes all this possible, but we are called to cooperate with God in all this. There are many hundreds of imperatives (commands) found in the New Testament which we are expected to obey.
Consider the one under discussion here. It is pretty clear: if we are unwilling to forgive others, we demonstrate that we have not really been forgiven. This is also spelled out in other passages, such as these:
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Mark 11:25 “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
All this is not about “works” on our part to earn our salvation, but proof that we are saved, that we are forgiven. A refusal to forgive others shows that we are not forgiven by God. But this is another very hard teaching of Jesus – one we prefer to ignore or forget about.
How many people are in our churches every Sunday who are full of unforgiveness and bitterness against others? Yet they think that they can cling to this, and still be assured of God’s complete acceptance and forgiveness. Um, no, the Word of God clearly teaches otherwise.
As John makes so very obvious: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Again, we just ignore these hard sayings, or seek to explain them away. But they mean what they say, and we should take such warnings seriously. But all we hear about from most pulpits today is how much God loves us and accepts us, no matter what.
We conveniently ignore tough passages like Matthew 18:35: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” With our cafeteria approach to faith and Scripture, we have transformed our heavenly Father into a jolly Santa who only gives us goodies, or a celestial butler who exists only to serve us.
That is not the God of the Bible, but a god of our own imagination. It is time we got rid of our false gods and fleshly theology, and started heeding fully the Word of God, accepting all that is found there – certainly in the four gospels. There is simply no place for cafeteria Christianity.