Twin Dangers—Seeker Sensitivity and Legalism

If you and I were hiking along a mountain trail and you were in front of me, and I suddenly yelled out, “Look out!” what would you do? I think you would likely stop dead in your tracks and look around. Then you might see that you were on the edge of a precipice, and that with one more step in the direction you were going, you would have fallen over the cliff to your destruction. So you would probably back away, look around, study the terrain, maybe look at a topographical map, and find a safe path and take that.

Well, I am going to yell, “Look out!” because many of you are standing on the edge of a precipice, and you don’t know it.

I don’t have to know you personally to know of the danger you may be in, because I know there are two trends in the church today that are as deadly as they are popular. In fact, they are growing in popularity. On the surface, these trends seem to be quite opposite to each other. You might even describe them as two cliffs going down from either side of a narrow mountain ridge. But, in fact, both of these trends appeal to the same aspect of human nature, and they are quite related. The two canyons that these cliffs go down to have one common origin. It is self-righteousness, one of the most basic of all human tendencies.

One of these trends is epitomized by something I read in an article in the January 18, 2000, Washington Post. The article is called “Believers in God, if Not Church.” The article tells about a married couple who, because they were disenchanted with all other churches, started their own church. No, let me say that again. They didn’t just start their own church—they started a new religion. And how did they go about doing this? Did they, by chance, consult the Bible? No, they didn’t do that because the Bible talks about things like sin and hell and they found that made them uncomfortable. They simply kept the parts of their more traditional background that they liked, chucked the rest, and added some things to boot. They got rid of hell because, they said, that was invented to scare you. They kept Jesus (or, at least, their idea of Jesus) “because Jesus is big on love.” They then went to a bookstore and consulted books by the Zen masters and New Age gurus and added what they happened to agree with. “We discovered God within,” said the wife. “That’s why we need God. Because we are God. God gives me the ability to create my own godliness.”

And there is the ultimate self-righteousness—creating ourselves into a god. Pretty strange stuff, you say. This isn’t something you would get caught up in, is it? Look out! You may be closer to that edge than you think. This couple is just on the weirder end of what is probably now the biggest trend in the Christian church. On that weirder end, it is sometimes called private spirituality. But when it is only a little less weird, it goes under the names “pop Christianity” and “seeker sensitivity.” Don Matzat, in an article on the Internet called “The Deformed Theology of Seeker Sensitivity”, tells us something about what this trend is like. He writes, “For those seduced by the concept of seeker sensitivity, Jesus can no longer be the suffering servant bearing the sins of fallen humanity to a bloody cross. Such a message is irrelevant. One highly successful seeker sensitive center in Chicago has chosen not to display a cross in their sanctuary. To this group’s way of thinking, Jesus is not primarily our Savior who died to forgive our sins; rather, he is our friend who helps us make it through the day.”

Is this beginning to sound familiar to you? It is the message of mega-churches, and aspiring mega-churches all over this continent, and, increasingly, the rest of the world.

Now notice what the apostle Paul said, beginning in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” What is the power of God? The message of the cross, the very message the seeker sensitive people say is irrelevant. That’s why the power of God is not in their message, and, I suppose, why they need to substitute for it psychology and twelve-step programs and seminars on co-dependency and anger addiction, and why, I suppose, they need such powerful amplifiers for their musical instruments, because the power of God isn’t there.

Oh, I care about seekers, too. I’m sensitive to their needs. But the Bible tells me what those needs really are, and they are not going to be solved by plugging someone into a bunch of seminars. I’m not going to tell a seeker, you’re okay. I’m not going to use worldly psychology and group dynamics to make that seeker feel good the way he is. If the Holy Spirit is working in that seeker, he will feel bad, so bad he’s going to get down on his knees and pray. He will know he’s a sinner whose just punishment is to suffer the wrath of God for eternity and that there’s nothing he can do about his sin on his own. But I’m going to tell him that his one hope is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who humbled Himself to be born as a man. I’ll tell him that Jesus came to this earth to take upon Himself the sins of all who will believe on Him as their Savior, and that He suffered a horrible, painful, bloody, humiliating death and God’s wrath on the cross to pay the full penalty for those sins. And I’ll also tell him that if he will in faith receive Jesus Christ as his Savior, that is, believe in Jesus alone as his Savior who has paid the penalty for his sinfulness, then God will completely forgive him. He will have peace with God and will enjoy eternal life with God forever. That’s what I will tell him, because that is really caring for a seeker’s needs.

Before I’m finished, I’m going to tell you why we use the name Word of His Grace. It has everything to do with the message of the Cross. But the message of the Cross is rejected by many churches because it does not attract enough people. It is foolishness to them. Better to tell people something that makes them feel good. That’s what brings in the crowds.

Copyright © 2007-2009 Peter Ditzel