Whatever Happened to the Message of The Cross?

The sign said, “Now serving Starbucks coffee!”

It was the late 90’s and the premium coffee craze was taking the country by storm. Everyone who liked coffee LOVED Starbucks or soon would. So it wasn’t surprising that some business would be utilizing the brand name to promote what they were doing. It made pretty good sense. It would not have fazed me a single bit if any other company was doing it. However, this massive sign was hung in front of a local evangelical Christian church. The message was crystal clear: “Come to our service on Sunday, we have free Starbucks coffee!”

With the arrival of the church growth movement and the seeker-sensitive ministry focus it birthed..
., we have seen an increase in local congregations trying to be more relevant to attract the non-believing culture. So we hear things like “Come to our service, we have a great band!” Or “Come to our church and make deep, lasting and meaningful relationships.” “Visit our service and gain practical wisdom for living a better life!”

You can’t really blame the leadership in these congregations for trying. They are attempting to attract people to their church, who wouldn’t normally attend church. They understand the great commission and are doing their best to try and fulfill it in their neighborhoods. Their hearts, I am sure, are in the right place. But what they are doing, is not working!

Despite all these efforts, church attendance in America is slowing dropping and is predicted to drop dramatically over the next 20 years. Is it any wonder? Why do we think our offer of free coffee, or a “great” band, meaningful relationships or practical advice for living successfully, is attractive to non-Christians? They can get all that at a local bar, Barnes and Noble  or on PBS! (Sidebar: Let us get over the band thing, for on any given weekend night in most communities across America, the band playing in the local bar blows away any worship  team a local church assembles. Our bands are not that big of a deal to non-Christians.”) Clearly, we are doing something wrong!
When you examine how the early Christians lived their lives and went about building the church, you will see an entirely different picture. In a span of 30-40 years after the death of Jesus, Christianity went from 11 disciples and 120 believers, to having changed the landscape of the entire Roman Empire. Churches were planted and were thriving everywhere! The message of Christianity, though despised by the masses, had made inroads all over the world. Without free coffee, without music, without TV, electricity, Internet, Facebook, cars, planes, or phones, masses of people were committing their lives to follow a crucified criminal. They were doing this despite the fact that some had been killed for following this way, others had been imprisoned still others had their property confiscated. They were despised by the unbelievers, and had absolutely nothing going for them. Or, so it would seem.

How did this happen? The answer is found in The Book of Acts, the history of the early church.

Taking a look at Acts 6:7 we see a clue: “So the word of God spread…” When Luke refers to the word of God here, he is not referring to the Bible as we know it today. The N.T. was still in the process of being written. No, what Luke was referring to was a specific word of God. An authoritative word. God has spoken many different things to his people over the years, but this “word”, is THE Word. If we could prioritize what God has said, this message would be on the top of the list. It is THE message. What, then, is that message?
Have you ever thought what the banner over the local house church might have read in the first century? I have. It would have said something like this: “Jesus Christ, salvation is found in no one else.” Or, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” “Jesus Christ, there is NO other name given to men by which we must be saved” “Jesus Christ, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name!” All these quotes are taken from the book of Acts.

This “message” is referenced many more times throughout Acts: “But many who heard the message believed (Acts 4:4); “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29)“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5:42) “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4) “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” (Acts 12:24) “The word of the Lord spread though the whole region” (Acts 13:49) There are many, many more references in the Book of Acts to this “Word.” It is described as “the word, the message” “The good news”, and “The Gospel.”

It is clear that the early church leadership and the early Christians were not selling coffee, promoting bands, or trying to attract others to follow Jesus by offering “Six Keys to Successful Living” seminars. No, they offered to anyone who would listen, the answer to the problem that plagues every human being. “Your sins can be forgiven, through faith in Jesus Christ. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men, the testimony given in its proper time.” (I Timothy 2:5-6) That is the message God has entrusted his church with. That is THE message the lost so desperately needs to hear!

Last week, I turned the corner and saw a small church building. It was your typical, small city church structure. Nothing about it stood out, except one thing: It had a massive cross displayed in front of it. The cross was two stories high, and towered over the one story building. I thought to myself , “that should be the theme of every song we sing in church, and it should be the theme of every sermon we here! It should be the theme of every spiritual conversation we have with non-Christians. The Cross is “THE Message”

Yet today, we try to soften the cross and its implications. We do not want to be seen as intolerant or close-minded. If people knew what we really believed, they wouldn’t come. But we know they need Jesus, so lets get them here with good coffee, food, great music and practical messages that will make them realize that Christianity isn’t so bad after all. Then, perhaps when they are ready, they will consider the gospel. This approach is not working because it doesn’t work.

News Flash! This Just In! The Message of The Cross is offensive! It is a stumbling block! People do trip over it. It offends our sensibilities. Yet, it is the truth and the only thing that can save us. The Cross is the message God has entrusted us with. It is the message that He uses to save lost sinners. Those who have been washed by it must proclaim it boldly, clearly and passionately. Our songs, and services must not hide the cross. Like the cross in front of that church building, Jesus, and his finished work must be front and center of everything we do in our churches and in our individual lives.

The early church did this, and they changed their world. We are not doing it, and our world is going to hell. But hey, we have great music, great coffee, and very practical messages. May God himself, get the church back on message!

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on November 9, 2010, in Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, The Cross, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this post! I love your blog! Where are you guys (the Church Up the Street) located?

  2. “They can get all that at a local bar, Barnes and Noble or on PBS! (Sidebar: Let us get over the band thing, for on any given weekend night in most communities across America, the band playing in the local bar blows away any worship team a local church assembles. Our bands are not that big of a deal to non-Christians.”) ”
    Absolutely spot on!
    Most of our entertainment is second rate at best compared to the world, and at least by going to the theater instead of a church performance, the sinner doesn’t have to sit through a lecture.
    Great article brother.

    • It looks like you and I have more than one thing in common! Having played guitar professionally, I believe I have earned the right to say this: Our church bands are not really that good. I don’t know why our current crop of leaders think that having a really tight band is going to make people realize they need Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against instruments in worship! I just don’t think God cares that much about it, and I know that unbelivers are not impressed. There is really only one thing that will impress the lost: Jesus Christ crucified. Lord, may we get back to your gospel and not our own version of it!

  3. Great post and site !! Thanks for taking the time & prayer.

    Btw- so true !!!
    “Then, perhaps when they are ready, they will consider the gospel. This approach is not working because it doesn’t work. ”

    I really think this would be a better approach:
    I Cor 14:24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, “falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you”.

  4. A form of godliness, but denying the power thereof………..the power of the cross.

    The only message the church has been giving is that ‘we are of the world!’. {Isn’t there a song somewhat of that nature? lol )

    Christians are leaving because of they are tired of the religioun, and no power, just political; and I’m one of them! Left years ago, but kept my walk with the Lord thru His Word and prayer, and have grown, but waiting for His church to seek Him fervently. There is a change coming with power! Truly, His message! :-)

    • A thought just came to mind: I think of how many times at work from those whom I knew at church, there only question to me was……”Where are you going to church?” Not how am I doing. And if they did ask that question, I would let them know, BUT, no response from them, because they did not know how to minister!! Still yet! That is one of the reasons why I left. I asked the Lord to teach me and train me to minister to His people and to the lost so that they be saved! And I’ve grown; but my time has not yet come, but it will.
      It seems what is important to church-goers is whether or not you go to church, not if one is doing well, and then praying with them and speaking a word with them [not head knowledge].
      Church isn’t our God, but it has become a god. It’s sad. But God will bring them forth when the time comes with His Word [message] when He sends His prophets to speak for Him to His people, and hopefully they will have an ear to hear what the Spirit of the Lord is speaking.
      I keep praying/interceeding.

  5. Are you kidding brother :-) today ??? If John the baptist would had preach in todays time you think TBN would invite him ??? Only maybe if hades frezzes. You think our brother Aposel Peter in our time would have a congregation like joel osteen ???? Or John the beloved would care to live in a mansion ??? These Brothrs would be UNWANTED TRUE MEN OF GOD !!! Make no mistake on that !

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