If We’re Not Offending People, Are We Being Faithful?
Occasionally people will ask me to clarify something I said in a sermon, an article, or some other teaching. This post relates to an excellent question I recently received about the emphasis at Christ Presbyterian Church on what we call “hospitable worship.”
When you make your services ‘hospitable’ to people who do not agree with Christian teaching, do you run the risk softening your commitment to biblical truth? Doesn’t the Bible say that Christians will be the ‘aroma of Christ’ to some, and the ‘stench of death’ to others?
This is a very important question! Of course the aroma of Christ is going to be the ‘stench of death’ to some. The Scriptures are quite clear about this. We should never try to offend people. But we should also expect it to happen on occasion.
I hope that at CPC we have been careful along the way to point this out. However, on this subject the question here is one of emphasis.
We really need to be asking: Who was drawn to Jesus, and who was repelled by him? Whatever the answer to this question is about Jesus, we want it to be the same answer when the question is asked about us.
First century religious leaders took offense at Jesus because ‘all sinners’ found him to be attractive. They wanted to be around him (Lk 15.1-2). This included people who were sexually broken, crooks, pagans, secular intellectuals, etc.
At our church, we measure faithfulness to Jesus, at least in part, by whether or not proud, doctrinaire religious people resist our message and humble, broken, spiritually receptive people are drawn to the same message.
Bible-believing, religious Pharisees applauded themselves for taking a “stand” for truth, as in the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18. Notice how many times he mentions himself, and how few times he mentions God:
Thank you, my God, that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers, tax collectors…’.
But in fact, it was often these more religious folks who, without seeing it, stood against the heart and purposes of God. The very people Jesus came to befriend, help, and save (the sick, the sinners) felt unsafe and marginalized in smug, doctrinaire religious people’s presence.
To the contrary, humble and tired “sinners” who went to Jesus begging for grace went home forgiven and liberated by the one who loved them and gave himself for them. (Zaccheus, the Luke 18 tax collector, the woman in Luke 7, etc.).
So if we are going to offend anyone, let’s hope it will be the proud, and only the proud, because these were the people who got offended at Jesus. If humbled or hurting people feel offended or excluded by us, or cast out, or ostracized, we should carefully examine, and rapidly correct, both our message and our methods. Otherwise said church will be running against Jesus instead of running alongside him.
One final thought. Christians and churches should never try to offend. The Bible says that as far as it depends on us, we should seek to be at peace with all people. Offending proud people is never a goal of faithfulness to the way of Jesus, only an at-times-inevitable byproduct.
This essay is based on ideas from Scott Sauls’ book, From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership.
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