In church history, we fallen humans have had problems with balance.
In times past, church leaders have preached repentance so radically that people could not enjoy their salvation. At other times, grace has been so over-emphasized that repentance is a foreign concept. The latter is the problem in the modern church.
I have visited many churches of various denominations in my 20 years in ministry, and I have witnessed scores of people who attend church to apparently fulfill a perceived religious obligation and to appease their consciences but who exhibit no true passion for God, no humility of repentance, and thus no joy in their salvation.
Why does this problem exist in our churches today?
Judson Cornwall, in his book “Worship as Jesus Taught It,” sheds light on the answer.
“We now bring into our churches people who have no idea what it means to love and worship God, because the ‘sales route’ through which we brought them involved no personal encounter with God. We merely asked for a ‘united’ sinner’s prayer, handed them a Bible with a promise of forgiveness and added their name to the church roll,” Cornwall writes. “We sidestepped sin and crisis. We didn’t require repentance, restitution or reform. Is it little wonder, then, that so little true worship of God is found in our churches? If people have never met God, how can we expect them to worship him?”
I believe Cornwall’s analysis is dead-on.
Charles Colson, in his book “Loving God,” sheds additional light.
“Some evangelists see converts as trophies in a big game hunt and measure their success by numbers: Thus, they do not want to frighten off their prey,” Colson writes. “One Christian leader, asked why he never mentioned repentance, smiled and replied, ‘Get ’em first, let them see what Christianity is, and then they’ll see their need to repent.’ Tragically, this attitude pervades the church not only because we’re afraid the truth will frighten off newcomers, but because it also might drive a number of nodding regulars right out of their comfortable pews. Repentance can be a threatening message, and rightly so. The Gospel must first be the bad news of repentance BEFORE it can be the good news of redemption.”
Consider again the last sentence in Colson’s quote: “The Gospel must FIRST be the bad news of repentance BEFORE it can be the good news of redemption.”
This must be the process we as church leaders follow, lest we fill our churches with false converts. If people do not first experience the brokenness of repentance, they cannot truly experience the exhilaration of a life redeemed.
Jesus said it best when he declared to the Pharisee regarding the extravagant act of love shown by a notorious sinful woman, “I tell you, her sins — and they are many — have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47) Jesus also said, “Lest you repent, you will perish.”
People who have little or no concept of the repulsive nature of their sins and who have been given no opportunity to meet their sinful selves face-to-face will never develop a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus.
David Wilkerson, in “Hungry for More of Jesus,” writes:
“Some preachers protest that, far from dead, their churches are full of glorious praise and worship to God. Yet not all exuberant, emotion-stirring churches are necessarily full of life either.
“Worship from unclean lips is actually an abomination to God. Praise that flows from hearts full of adultery, lust or pride is a stench in God’s nostrils. Christian banners held high by (unrepentant) sin-stained hands are nothing more than arrogant flauntings of rebellion. Pastors of large churches have said to me, ‘You must come and see what God is doing. Thousands are coming. We’re packed out. Our worship is really something to behold!’
“I have gone to some of these churches with great expectations, but seldom have I experienced the actual presence of Jesus in these mass meetings. The congregations exhibit no true repentance. I believe that if a prophet stood up and exposed the divorce, adultery and fornication that existed in those churches, half the crowd would have walked out.”
When all is laid bare and judged, what will the final analysis be for church leaders who cared more about padding the numbers than they did leading people to the crisis of repentance so they could truly drink from the fountain of mercy?
Edinburgh’s Andy Robbins is pastor of Blessed Life Fellowship in Columbus. He can be reached at AndrewRobbinsMinistries.org.