A couple of days ago I commented on an e-mail sent by someone who claimed they were becoming Roman Catholic because of me. I mentioned that I have seen this kind of e-mail from various groups, and in the few times I have been able to press the person for meaningful interaction, I have always found the claim less than compelling. I mentioned some of the reasons then.
I did not, however, wish to leave the impression that such things should be unusual. In fact, I would like to upset a few apple carts with the following comments. Please read them all, and if you are going to misquote me, I can’t stop you–but I will be clear as to what I am saying.
When Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in his final meeting with them, he said these words:
“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. ” (Acts 20:26-27)
The true preacher of the Word seeks to have this as his ambition as well. God is not honored when men think so little of Him and so highly of themselves that they edit the content of the proclamation for the fear of the face of men and so that they may be considered “successful” in some worldly sense. It is a fearful thing to be unfaithful to the task of preaching “the whole counsel of God.”
Keeping this in mind, I would like to point out the fact that there are religious hypocrites in the church. There were even in the days of Paul, as he names some by name. But today one looks for the true believer as the oddity in evangelical churches filled with unregenerate men and women who have been fooled into thinking you can shake a man’s hand, say some magical words that are not joined with any kind of repentance or understanding of the gospel itself, and you have your “ticket punched” and you are on your way to heaven. The result is that any time you would dare to preach the soul-searching passages of Scripture that expose sin and hypocrisy and false faith you will hear the howl of the religious hypocrite from front row to back. Which is why you can observe major “ministries” today that are completely focused upon avoiding any form of offense of the natural man, just so long as they are there on Sunday morning and drop a little something in the plate to help you pay for your massive sports arena.
But even the best church will have false professors in its midst, men and women who, for various reasons, may well play the religion game quite well for an amazingly long time. Some do it for family reasons, some just because they were raised that way, some for acceptance–but in any case, they attend services, may even be involved in ministry, but their hearts are unchanged, their faith in word only.
Now, given these two things, there follows inevitably a set of conclusions that I have found are troubling to many. Here is where I ask you to listen carefully. Sound, complete, consistently biblical preaching will offend the natural man. Not an overly controversial statement, right? However, what do offended hypocrites do? What do unregenerate men who have been playing at religion do when the full-orbed preaching of the Word finally breaks through their hardened shell and hits them where it counts? What happens when their false attachment to the proclamation of the truth is broken for any number of reasons? Do they simply walk away and become pagans, non-religious people, living the ways of the world and the full expression of their unregenerate nature? Some do, surely. But not all. Instead, let me be bold:
There is the controversial statement, but it really should not be so controversial. A lost man is a lost man whether he is lost while sitting under the sound proclamation of the Word or lost while sitting in a pit of heresy. Unregenerate men will express their rebellion in many ways, and one natural way for such a rebel to show his disdain for God’s truth is that, having professed it for a season, he denies it, even seeking to be seen as a great “convert” to some other, often directly contradictory, religious faith. Do we not see this often in the history of the faith? Do we not see it today as well? The “Paul on the road to Damascus” syndrome has been documented often in converts to Rome, or Salt Lake City, or Brooklyn–just think of Gerry Matatics, for example, or Scott Hahn.
So the question I have to ask of many who stand behind pulpits today is this: is your preaching so wimpy it would never trouble a religious hypocrite, and never result in such a person fleeing its proclamation so as to run to man’s religions for refuge? Do you pull back on those elements of God’s truth that are the most offensive to the natural man because you do not wish to see that disdainful look, that annoyed shaking of the head? Do you really distrust the ministry of the Spirit to make the Word of Christ to come alive in the hearts and minds of Christ’s sheep, so that you do not need to worry about those who find offense at His truth? Or have you embraced the spirit of the age which places man’s fragile emotions upon the seat of prominence, and have bought into the idea that to be “loving” means to never give offense to anyone (well, except for God–it is fine to offend Him by thinking yourself so wise you can edit out what shouldn’t be in the gospel in our day)? Would your teaching and proclamation allow a religious hypocrite to remain safely and comfortably ensconced in the congregation for years on end, never offended, never convicted? Finally, if such a hypocrite does leave and make a show of embracing heresy just to spite you, do you sting with embarrassment, or rejoice that God’s Word continues to work in the hearts of men and women, some to His glory in their salvation, and some to His glory in their damnation? Think about it.