“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
I recently reconnected with a high school friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. He missed our last two reunions but we’re connected on social media and after reading several of my recent posts on Miafede he reached out for an opinion, one I candidly felt a bit unqualified to answer. Still, he asked so I wasn’t shy in responding.
My friend and his wife were struggling to find a church where they could both “fit in” and feel “comfortable.” He mentioned how “boring and stodgy” some churches were, or how “loud and edgy” others seemed. They tried the Unitarian route but that felt a bit too “new age.” He also shared how his wife had grown increasingly sensitive to the questions of politically correct tolerance and how “uncomfortable” she was in any church she felt was too judgmental.
A few months ago, they visited another church on the recommendation of a friend. It was perfect! Great music, beautiful campus setting, a super cool, not-quite-sure-how-old-he-is Senior Pastor who wore hip v-neck t-shirts, had a great haircut, and shied away from any touchy subjects like same-sex marriage, abortion and deep scriptural introspection.
Instead, this Senior Pastor masterfully interwove the Bible, the Quran, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism (don’t you love how the Zoroasters combine cosmogonic dualism and eschatological monotheism like the metaphysical bosses they are?), this-ism and that-ism (quoting the inimitable John Lennon) to create a beautiful tapestry of feel-good theology where every sermon somehow led to the inevitable conclusion that our old-fashioned Biblical notions of God are just too small and limited. And above it all, this church was just so … comfortable. My friend gave me his new church’s website and was curious what I thought.
Scripture doesn’t teach a comfortable Gospel
Honestly, I was surprised. I’d seen many comments from this Senior Pastor in recent months, outspoken and provocative opinions on what “real” Christians should be in this inclusive, post-modern age. His theology, while novel, was hardly scriptural. It felt like more of a “build my audience” social media strategy. But that’s just the industry I’m in coming out.
Repentance? What’s that? Change our behavior? Why would God want us to change? Narrow gates? Don’t you know all roads lead to Heaven? Treating others as we want to be treated? Yesterday’s news. Isn’t love for each other just as they are the only thing that matters? After all, enlightened 21st Century spiritual beings have rid themselves of judgmental attitudes and treat others as they want to be treated, not as we wanted to be treated. Apparently, this last bit is a real thing known as the Platinum Rule (click the link and look it up).
Comfortable church. I somehow missed that phrase the last time I searched scripture. But then, my Bibles – I have several – aren’t redacted with all conceivably-offensive passages removed or softened.
A growing trend in recent years has been for churches to design “worship experiences” and “conversations” to attract “Christians” and “Seekers” who reject traditional Christianity yet profess their spirituality. And yes, I overused air quotes for a reason. An increasing number of self-labeled post-modern Christians want a comfortable church, conforming to their personal beliefs about life. Just not the church Jesus built on the rock of Peter’s faith (Matthew 16:17-18).
Religious comfort for many is often about social classification – wealth, education, race, politics, gender, social justice, and race. We prefer to worship with people who look like us, share our views, demonstrate our values. We want to be comfortable in our moments of worship. Is this what Scripture actually teaches us?
True Believers surrender their slavery to the world
Let’s start with Jesus’ own words: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate … even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
Ouch. If I’m playing word association, those aren’t my first thoughts when someone says “Christian comfort.” Many contemporary preachers teach “peace and prosperity” theology or “revisionist” understandings of the Bible. “God is Love,” they exhort us, He doesn’t want His followers to suffer or be uncomfortable. God loves us just the way we are. One popular self-described “20-year ministry veteran” blogger went so far as to publish an article entitled 10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About the Bible. Basically, the writer could simply have left out the first two and the seventh words in that title.
When tempted by Satan’s promise of a comfortable life, Jesus responded with: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). Predicting his role as God in the flesh he proclaimed that “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). When asked about the path to the Kingdom he replied “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
Jesus promised many things, but a “comfortable faith” wasn’t on the list. The Gospel Jesus preached and lived was anything but comfortable. Even with the adulating crowds of his first two years and the thunderous reception he received entering Jerusalem during his final week, Jesus’ ministry was under constant attack and ridicule by the authorities and doubters. Ultimately, his reward wasn’t a mega seaside villa in Caesarea. He didn’t graduate from the synagogue to a lucrative career headlining 1st Century Talmudic conferences delivering lofty how-to lectures on living your best life now.
Rather, Jesus’ ministry taught the sober, uncomfortable truth that God’s way is different from ours. To follow Jesus likely meant persecution (John 15:20) and hatred from the world (John 15:18-19). There would be no inviting homes and get-away vacations (Matthew 8:18-22). Life would be buffeted by trial and storms (Luke 8:22-25). Ultimately, following Jesus might end in betrayal and death (Mark 13:12-13), just as Jesus’ own earthly life ended.
True followers of Christ don’t focus on comfortable sermons and vague spirituality. They don’t throw out inconvenient scriptural truth. They don’t shop for pastors or preachers who “tickle their ears,” hoarding “teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:3). True Believers surrender their slavery to the world and are simply in the world.
A True Church doesn’t conform to comfort or personal desires. It doesn’t sample and poll to determine the next sermon series. A True Church teaches that we have been “crucified with Christ” and no longer live our lives but experience Christ who lives within us as we “live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). A True Church is made up of people living by the teachings of the Word, not by repackaged, watered-down socially-acceptable facsimiles.
Pastor John MacArthur puts it this way: “Only if the church hides its message and ceases to be what God designed can it make an unbeliever comfortable.”
I told my friend I was happy he and his wife had found a church. I also cautioned him to heed what the Bible actually says. To study and read for himself. To write down what he hears in a sermon and test it against scripture. Not simply trust the words of a well-spoken Senior Pastor promising an interpretive Gospel that doesn’t exist.
There is a True Church here on earth. That Church has one role: to call Believers and prepare them for eternal life. The True Church is doing God’s genuine work, inviting His chosen to repentance and the Kingdom. With or without the skinny jeans, fitted v-neck T’s, revised theology for a modern ear, or pithy blogs.