A quote that is most commonly attributed to Martin Luther (although highly debated) says, “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
Regardless if he said it or not, the fact remains, the church has a duty to share the gospel. Consequently, part of that duty is to have an awareness of what is actually happening in our culture and cities. The purpose of having a greater awareness is not just so we can carry on a cultured conversation with the elite. It’s to have a better understanding of what our neighbors are facing and the struggles they endure. I fear that some people around our churches have serious questions and struggles, but we haven’t taken the time to listen.
I can’t tell you how many times I have zealously and passionately entered into a conversation with someone, either to share the gospel or encourage a believer, but just spewed out a bunch of great, albeit irrelevant (at least for the matter at hand) doctrine. I have spoken to Christians in church where I have anticipated questions (that they weren’t even asking) and went on to answer them. I think sometimes I have even created questions that didn’t even need to be there. Maybe you can relate?
Spurgeon and Andy Stanley are both attributed with saying essentially the same thing. “All scripture is equally inspired, but not all is equally applicable.” I couldn’t agree more. That is not saying all scripture isn’t right and that it shouldn’t be taught and preached. It’s saying that we should know the people. We should care enough about those around us and their battles that we can enter into a meaningful and helpful conversation with them. All of it leading to the truth in the Bible and what God says. Jesus used this approach whenever He spoke to people. He used parables to speak to people that referred to the culture of the day. They could relate. They understood. The New Testament writers as well spoke on relevant topics that were being experienced in the church. They, of course, were writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but even that shows that God deems relevant issues as essential. For instance, many of the writers spoke on the heresy of Gnosticism.
I was listening to a podcast today about de-conversion stories from well-known ex-Christians. That seems to be happening more and more. But one of the things I found interesting was that Christian testimonies and ex-Christian de-conversion testimonies are very similar. Listen to how they are described as a four act structure. For a Christian, act one is your life before Jesus. Act two is the introduction to thoughts and feelings like there has to be more than this life. Act three is the moment you decide to follow Jesus and act four is your life after you trust Jesus. The de-conversion testimony is act one being your life as a committed Jesus follower. Act two is the introduction of doubts that weren’t welcomed by your religious community. Act three is the moment you decide to walk away from your faith. Act four is your life after you left Christianity.
Now, the stage in someone’s journey I am most concerned here is with act two of the de-conversion testimony: questions and doubts. I don’t want us to create more questions unnecessarily for people who are trying to find faith, or grow in it. At the same time, we can’t ignore what it is people are facing. I might have a well articulated exposition of the dating of the Exodus. But it’s possible that someone in my church is sitting out there who just that night almost pulled the trigger, because of major questions and depression. It’s possible someone is having a major crisis of faith wondering how they should feel about these growing feelings they are having and whether or not everyone in the church will reject them, or hate them.
Don’t misread what I am saying. We must preach the whole will of God. We all need it. It is essential for our growth and understanding. I simply say, do we know our people? Have we entered into a deep relationship with them as we see described to us in First Corinthians 12? There are many who are torn, battling, and wrestling with what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I wonder sometimes if we see people as a burden, or like Jesus did? “When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)