I tried, I really did. For the last four years I have been trying to find a church that preaches conservative reformed theology while still offering contemporary worship.
Alas, it is all to no avail. It seems as if the two are mutually exclusive. I was very surprised to read somewhere that out of approximately 63 million “active” Christians in the USA, less than half-a-million are confessionally reformed. That is astounding, but also explains my experience.
The latest church we visited and stopped attending highlighted the core issue to me. Firstly, the church was recommended to us by someone, whose statement was that it was a nice church, there is “no pressure”. The pastor is a nice guy, very friendly, and even engaged lightly with me on doctrinal issues. The church building has the obligatory video games, cartoon painted walls and playground for the children, bookshop and video-equipped auditorium. Fairly typical of most churches we have visited, and in itself, not a stumbling block. (Although I do feel that video games and dodgeball has no place in Sunday school)
Then, the sermons…God’s word applied to your life. How to raise better kids, how to be truly happy, how to, how to, how to….All very nice, all very “no pressure”. How to fit God into the little boxes of your life. And all utterly foreign to the Biblical commands for preaching in the church.
Paul seemed to face similar problams back in the day:
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
1Co 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1Co 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1Co 1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
1Co 1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
1Co 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1Co 1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
1Co 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
1Co 1:24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Paul, in this letter to the church in Corinth, lays out the agenda for a Godly church, with supporting arguments. Firstly, he appeals for unity in the church. The same mind and judgment means intellectual agreement and emotional assent among those who are in the church.
Then, what are the objectives? I read many church websites with all sorts of plans, visions and “no-pressure” doctrinal statements. But the objectives here are simple, preach the gospel in such a way that the cross of Jesus retains its power. Destroy earthly wisdom, don’t worry about signs, concentrate on the power of the cross.
I am a student of systematic theology, and like to read and present the themes common through-out the Bible. The loving creation of man, the absolutely crippling effects of sin on the ability of man to even respond to God, and the ultimate sacrifice that God made are central to every part of the Bible. Everything in the Bible can be related back to one of those three themes. And that is the Gospel that Paul implores the church to preach.
1 Timothy gives a great rendering of what a church, and church leadership ideally should look like. It is worth reading the whole book, but I want to highlight this:
1Ti 4:7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
1Ti 4:8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
1Ti 4:9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
1Ti 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
1Ti 4:11 Command and teach these things.
In verse 7, the original greek word (bebelos) means “of men, public, ungodly”. This is contrasted with the godliness in v8, which holds value in every way. And then we are not left in the dark as to what Godly teaching is, it is the hope set on the living God, for He is the Savior of those who believe.
That is the instruction. Teach the Gospel. And as we see in the passage from Corinthians, there will be pressure. The wordly wisdom of unbelievers will feel pressure, the disputers will feel pressure. UnGodly lives will see nothing but a stumbling block. And in the letter to Timothy we read that it is hard work, it requires huge commitment.
Cultural relevance is exactly what Paul is instructing against. He knew that the Jews wanted signs, and Greeks debate and philosophy. Those were the cultural demands of the day. And Paul said no thanks.
Churches and their leaders have a huge responsibility. And that responsibility is not to relinquish pressure, but to exert it. To make non-believers feel uncomfortable and offended, because the Gospel is a stumbling block to their ways. Once people are acutely aware of their sin, their seperation from God, and His incredible sovereign gift, they are fertile ground for conversion. They can only get faith by hearing the Word, both externally and internally. It is the timeless truth.
And that truth is what people must hear in church.