My traditional, conservative church rightly warns against the rising tide of liberalism in evangelical churches and reminds us that we must believe something to be saved. Across town, there is a left-leaning church (determined by the fact that “Yes, We Can” bumper stickers outnumber the Christian fish symbol on cars in the parking lot) that rightly speaks about the dangers of legalism, hypocrisy, and the need for Christians to put their beliefs into practice with acts of sacrificial love. Both churches are preaching to the choir.
Recently it occurred to me that churches are like political parties in that each has a distinct base. There is a certain type of person with a distinctive set of beliefs that attends each church. Even its visitors tend to look the same. And if I was a pastor, I think it would be part of my job to regularly offend this person.
C.S. Lewis reportedly said “remember the resistant material” (I heard this from Os Guinness, and though I haven’t found where Lewis said it, the statement is so good that I’m going to assume he did). Lewis’ point was that there is some aspect of the gospel that will offend every person and culture. Our job as ministers of the Word is to determine what part of the gospel offends our culture and then preach that part. If we proclaim only the part of the gospel that our culture already agrees with, then we are being redundant, merely cultural Christians who are not yet proclaiming a transcendent Word from God.
So here are two questions which each pastor and teacher should regularly ask themselves:
1. When was the last time I was offended by the Word of God? How long has it been since I heard a Word from the Lord which convicted me that I was a sinner and needed to change? If it’s been awhile, we may be trying to control the voice of God, only seeing in Scripture what we already believe.
2. Think of the person in your congregation who represents your base. How long has it been since you delivered a Word from God that challenged this person? Has he heard anything in the last month that would make him uncomfortable? If not, then despite your orthodox theology, you may be a cultural Christian, saying only what your base wants to hear rather than what they need—a transcendent Word from the living God.
Anyone can talk about the sins of the other side, but to target yourself and your base, that requires courage and faithfulness. God didn’t call us to preach the Word in general, but to preach the Word to this particular person in this particular congregation. Let them hear it.