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 wouldn’t have fazed me at all if any other company was doing it. But 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 it birthed, we’ve seen an increase in local congregations trying to be more relevant to attract the non-believing culture. 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’re attempting to attract people 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 are in the right place. But what they’re doing isn’t working!
Despite these efforts, church attendance in America is 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: can we get over the band thing? On any given weekend night 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’re doing something wrong!
When you examine how the early Christians lived their lives and went about building the church, you 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, despised by the masses, had made inroads all over the world. Without free coffee, without music, without TV, electricity, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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. 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! When they come to our churches, do they hear it?
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”.
Today, we try to soften the cross and its implications. We don’t want to be seen as intolerant. 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 Christianity isn’t so bad after all. Then, perhaps when they’re ready, they’ll consider the gospel.
This approach isn’t 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. The Cross is the message God has entrusted us with. It’s the message He uses to save the lost. Those who have been washed by it must proclaim it boldly, clearly and passionately. Our songs, and services mustn’t hide it. Like the cross in front of that church building, Jesus, and his finished work must be front and center of everything we do.
The early church did this, and they changed their world. We’re 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!
This was the very first post I ever wrote on this blog. Check out the most popular one next. “George Barna: Even Christians Are Leaving the Church”
Subscribe to this blog and get new updated when here is a new post. Click on the “Subscribe” box just below the comment section.
Posted on November 9, 2010, in Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, The Cross, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model and tagged Christ, christianity, church, cross, easter, faith, family, God, Gospel, inspiration, Jesus, Life, news, Passion of the Christ, religion, seeker-sensitive. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.