When I was in High School, I went to a big church that was exceptionally good at events. Like many of the big, evangelical churches in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, we began to see that while we were successfully drawing in people (namely, students), we were failing to truly introduce them to Jesus, and discipleship was not happening. Thus, many youth and adults who once attended church for the entertainment factor have fallen away. The church was large enough that we put on our own summer camp. Hundreds of students, a big stage, a cool band, a dynamic speaker, you know…the cool stuff. Students would make an emotional decision to follow Jesus, but then continue living worldly lives with no accountability or training. While I was in High School, we began the transition away from events and to cell groups. Remember those? The first small groups. Unfortunately, they were still age-segregated and thus we had students teaching students. As it proved later, non-Christians teaching non-Christians about the Bible.
At the time, my faith was extremely academic. I loved the Bible, I loved theology, I loved to study. Seeing a youth group full of people who did not know Jesus, but pretended to, I grew frustrated with the Church and developed a circle of friends from high school who were the philosophical type. We took the world religions classes, we would discuss Nietzsche, the meaning of life, and sit up drinking coffee at Perkins until 2:00 am. I was the only professing Christian in the core group, but we all had a respect for one another and would listen attentively and critically to push one another to think more deeply. We were those kids.
The day I arrived home from my sophomore year of college, I received news that one of these friends had been killed in the war. My world was shaken, and my faith rocked. Jesus hung out with the sinners, right? I was hanging out and preaching the Gospel to nonbelievers. I wanted him to believe. I had prayed for him. I wrote him letters on while he was fighting for our country. How could his salvation not be what God wanted?
Throughout the next year as I wrestled with the eternal facets of the faith and the implications thereof, God helped me to fall in love with the Church. In short He said, I love and died for my bride. You are called to do the same. Not only that, He showed me that philosophy is vain, if we are not being transformed into the image of Christ or winning others to the faith.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
– Col 2.8
For us, the meaning of life and whether or not the physical world truly existed was an interesting mental exercise. Sure, I kept the ten commandments as best I could, I didn’t smoke or drink or sleep around, but theology and the Bible was so interesting to me that it engaged my mind without engaging my affections. I wanted to see how all the pieces fit together, but was not falling more in love with Jesus in response. We were thinkers. We were philosophers. We were “seekers”.
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
– 2 Tim 3.1-7
Many churches in those days developed programs, and some even turned their entire focus to seekers. “Seeker Sensitive” became the new hot word which some despised and some embraced as gospel truth. We no longer used “church-ese” language, so that outsiders can understand. We keep our preaching simple to engage a potential visitors, and our focus is on those who might show up and not know what is going on.
While that mentality is completely unbiblical, it also proved to be unfruitful. Why? Because many “seekers” are those academics who enjoy the mental discipline of examining theories and worldviews, but will never take a stand and choose one. They are “always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of truth”. And most seekers do not show up to church on their own. If they do, they enjoy the simplistic preaching and people are not growing. It is the same problem as the event-driven church: no disciples are made.
Paul warned us that this day was coming. It has been happening throughout history. William Wilberforce fought against it in the early 19th century. Ryle and Spurgeon fought against it at the end of the 19th Century. Jonathan Edwards and the puritans fought against it during the birth and growth of modern philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries…academic philosophers questioning the nature of reality but never encountering Jesus in a life-transforming way.
Paul teaches us not to rearrange our churches to cater to seekers. Quite the opposite, in fact, he warns us to avoid such people.
Now, I know that sounds harsh. God is love, and He would reject no one, and if we are supposed to be like Him, we should love everyone and not reject anyone either. Right? There are people that we are commanded to avoid and disassociate with, and they are those who have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reject it or continue in sin, rejecting God’s teaching on their sin.
“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.“
– Matt 10.14
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
– Matt 18.15-17
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
– 1 Cor 5.1-5
“Avoid such men as these.”
– 2 Tim 3.5
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us…If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.”
2 Thess 3.5, 14
We are too afraid to offend anyone these days, that we will not call a spade a spade. We are too afraid to stand up against sin that we allow it in the camp and it destroys us from the inside out. The early church took sin extremely seriously because they were running for their lives and depending on one another for accountability and livelihoods. Church was serious. Now, church is like a big club that we want everyone to join, and showing up on Sunday mornings is enough for us. The early church also understood their guilt before a righteous God and the due penalty for that guilt, thus they took their personal holiness seriously, learning to live holy and righteous lives through the power of the Holy Spirit and dying to the flesh. Nowadays we trivialize sin and believe that God will forgive us no matter what we do, because God is love.
Paul gives us the clearest instruction for how we are to respond:
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
– 1 Cor 5.9-15
A person who claims to be a believer yet continues is sin is dangerous and we are disassociate with them. Period. A person who hears the Gospel and rejects it is not of us, and we are to move on, and take no offense. We do not cater to seekers who are always learning but unable to come to knowledge. We do not cater to nonbelievers who might stumble in our doors. We go out and proclaim the Gospel where people are, and then welcome them in to begin the process of maturation and growth.
Do you have the knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do you interact with Him on a daily basis and abide in Him? Do you rely on Him for strength and sustenance? Doe the Holy Spirit guide you and convict you of sin? Or are you just an academic seeker? Do you entertain the various philosophies out there to expand your mind?
Avoid the temptation. God has given us clear truth and answers to the questions we have. Let’s find the answers and be satisfied, not continually seeking, and not continually engaging those who hear the truth but do not receive it. Let us keep precious our pearls and not throw them before swine. It is a sensitive balance that we do not write off unbelievers, we pray for them, we engage them, but we must beware to invest too much time in one who will never learn and thus not have the opportunity to reap the harvest that is ready. Let us pray for wisdom, discernment and guidance. Let us trust God.