The Refusal of Christ to Conform to the Wishes of the People
by David W. Hall
You should be familiar with the name, Bill Hybels. He is one of the most influential Christian leaders of our time. We praise the Lord for what He has done through Bill Hybels. Hybels is also the step-father of one of the latest fads in western Christendom. Peter Jennings even had a special about him recently (3/16/95). Hybels is a pastor in the Chicago area, who has coined the term “seeker-friendly service.” A “seeker-friendly” church is one which attempts to tailor itself to the wishes of the latest results of some survey. The First Church of Contemporaneity or the Parish of the Eternally Current is ever changing, ever relevant; in fact, you might not even recognize it 10 years from now. Hybels’s church surveys what non-Christians want, and then after the polling is in, his staff changes the church accordingly. Oddly, few people ask if it is really a good idea to have a bevy of unsanctified people in reality making the decisions on how to change and structure the church. One might think that at least they should be professing Christians, if not mature leaders like the NT sets forth.
The absurdity of this may be seen in a comparison. Imagine an army, which takes a survey from the enemy and rearranges its divisions accordingly. Can’t you just see General Schwartzkopf doing that in the Gulf War. He calls up Saddam Hussein. Saddam won’t speak to him, but he is referred to a chief strategist. That Iraqi general tells him the following: “We appreciate your old fashioned approach, but we’d rather have a more civilized type of battle. We really don’t feel comfortable now that you’ve brought all those anti-scud Patriot batteries into the region. Moreover, your air superiority conveys an attitude of western imperialism and does not respect the multi-culturalism that is approved at all your own major universities. We think you should rule out the use of air power in this conflict. In addition, we really don’t feel comfortable with all those hi-tech computer-guided missiles. Please don’t use advanced weapons of any kind. We also ask you to avoid using anti-aircraft defensive weapons. That damages our self-image, as well as discourages us from developing our unique human potential which we believe is destined to “borrow” the wealth of Kuwait. We would feel better about ourselves, if we are not threatened by those who have more than we do. Finally, we ask you to give us 30 days before you call up any marines. Feel free to use Reservists over the age of 40, for the first 30 days. All we have is the Republican Guard; so please give us a while before you get your most vicious troops. Oh yea, don’t forget: No Neutron bombs.”
Now, that is fancifully absurd. Everyone except a pacifist would laugh at such idiocy. Imagine how General Schwartzkopf would react to a request from non-American forces to use only weaponry of the 18th century. Would he allow those who are not believers in his cause to define his mission and methods? Or would Chrysler allow Ford to define its mission or method? Or would a great sports team allow its opponents to tell it who it could or could not play? Absurd, yet the church at the end of this millennium is subjected to that latest, most defeatist fad.
Many churches in our day feel a type of desperation. They look at their record of losing huge percentages of their memberships. They believe deep down that Christianity on its own is not too effective; so they better prop it up. I believe at heart, that these friends do not trust in the power of Jesus or the Holy Spirit to do mighty things. This movement resorts to mechanics. They tiptoe through the evangelistic gardens, hoping that above all things, they do not possibly, maybe, or even potentially come close to offending some person. That is the first commandment of the Seeker-Friendly movement: Thou shalt not step on anyone’s toes. So they sublimate many aspects of Christianity, and present a diluted gospel. Christianity does have tough aspects, so they feel these must be disguised. Or there are some, who would not consciously admit it, but they might feel deep down that they haven’t seen the gospel convert enough people. In their minds, the Holy Spirit only works, if the audience is permitted to set the terms; or if the ambiance is right. So Christianity in our times, in many ways, is in the process of being conformed to the world and to our culture of success and instant gratification.
I hope by the end of this editorial, you’ll be able to see why that is so hideous, and how ardently Jesus himself was opposed to that. Jesus, not only did not permit such responses, He forcefully opposed them. Please keep in mind, that we are not talking about externals or what color the carpet is in the Nursery. We’re talking about the heart of the gospel. All kinds of outward diversity is permitted in the gospel and in the church. But much of what is presented as diversity today, is not external diversity.
Here’s my question to you, that I want you to think about. If we take Jesus Himself as our model (That’s what all Christians say they want to do.), and ask, of our model: When Jesus was spreading the gospel Himself on the earth, did He shape the gospel to meet the wants, the biases, the expectations, or wishes of the huge throngs of the people? Was that His method of operation, such that Bill Hybels and others are honoring the best of the work of Jesus? Or are Hybels and others not in line with His work? If we turn to the Scriptures for answers, this approach keeps the question from being one about “style” and makes it one of faithfulness.
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, let me call to your attention 4-5 examples of how Jesus stopped “seekers” in their tracks and confronted them:
a. John 6:15 - The People’s Wish for Politics
In the passage after Jesus fed the 5,000 do you remember what the people first wanted to do? Look back at Jn 6:14. The first thing that came to these folks’ mind was to coronate Jesus as king. Ask, Why? They correctly concluded that Jesus was the Messianic Prophet who was long-predicted to come into the world. Then they leap to v. 15 which says, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
Make sure you understand what was going on. First, these Jewish people had not had a king for 7 centuries. Why would they all of a sudden revert to the Monarchy? The answer is because they wanted to overthrow the Roman rule. It is often the wish of people to change governmental forms, when they do not like a present administration. Palestine was ruled at this time as if it were a distant colony of the Roman Empire. It wore the mask of self-determination, while behind the mask, the reality was that the Romans pulled the puppet strings. And Palestine had such great leaders as Herod, Pontius Pilate, and others.
The locals were always looking for opportunities for insurrection. About every 20 years, a major or minor revolution occurred. One result was that the Roman rulers became even more strict. Palestinians pined for a Messiah, a king who would liberate them. Jesus works this miracle, then, and what these people expect is that for His next miraculous task He should free Palestine. So they wanted to make Him King, and when they suggested this, they were met with, “no thank yous” from Jesus. Still they persisted, until it was totally clear to Jesus that, despite His “no thank yous” they would try to make Him King by force. They thought, if we inaugurate Him, how could He not be king. It was a “draft movement” to choose one of their own to be king.
They thought in terms of political liberation, and missed the real point. Now ask, did Jesus go along with them, and grant the wishes of the seekers in this instance? Did He conform Himself and His mission or methods to the desires of the following masses? Did He take a survey among unbelievers, or sponsor an opinion poll?
The clear and only answer is “NO.” Jesus did not. He assiduously refused to run for political office, or to allow Himself to be elevated to the role of civil Monarch. That was not Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. Had he been interested, certainly He would have been the best of rulers ever. He could have had a great country, but it only would have been a singular country. But Jesus had not agreed with the Father before the foundation of the world to be a super Monarch. Instead, He had covenanted to be the Lamb, the divine sacrifice for sins not only for one country, but for all nations. And He knew His mission and His method. On one occasion He put it this way: “For the Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom.”
For this reason, He rejected the people’s entreaties and would not allow them to make Him King, voluntarily or involuntarily. He did not conform himself to the notions of unbelievers. He even escaped so as to preclude this from happening. He energetically opposed this First Century Seeker-Friendly movement. So count this as one strike against the current proposal that we should follow Jesus in conforming to the world’s expectations.
b. John 6:26 - The People’s Wish for Food
Look at v. 26 for another. The next day after the 5,000 have been fed, the crowd finally catches up to Him on the other side. They ask Him, in v. 25, what appears to be an honest and reasonable question. But our Lord responds fairly harshly. The question is, “when did you get here?” The people didn’t understand how the miracle of walking on the water had occurred. One might expect that Jesus, who wanted to make converts, would have said something like, “I’m glad to see your interest, thanks for asking. Let me explain the miracle to you. I can see that you are all very interested in spiritual matters.” He had an opportunity to affirm the seekers.
However, that is not what He does, and here is strike #2 against the “seeker-driven” idea. These are seekers, but Jesus actually rebukes them as seekers after fleshly interests. He answers, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Did you catch that? Our Savior, whose methods are best, called a seeker’s spade a spade. He said, “You are not interested in miracles or spiritual things at all. I know your hearts, your motivations. I know why you rowed all the way over here. I know that what is really driving you right now is that you are trailing Me because I gave you an abundance of bread.” Sadly, many seekers are only self-seeking; not seeking the Lord or His glory.
Note, Jesus did not affirm these people. He did not compliment them for their interest. He was not too impressed with their “seeking.” Rather He recognized it as an expression of selfishness. These people thought they had found a way to have religion and all-you-can-eat buffets indefinitely. But Jesus differentiated between a carnal hunger and a spiritual hunger. He did not accept carnal seekers. He rebuked some folks.
In fact, He went on in the next vs. to state: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him, God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” So the people were to seek the Lord, not filling their hunger. Learn from this, that Jesus is not shaping His mission or methods to the masses, even if the unbelieving masses might be more favorably disposed to different methods. Jesus knew that once we did that, we would begin a strategic surrender, from which His church could not recover.
c. John 6:28 - The People’s Penchant for Activism
Drop down a few verses to see the next instance. Following this last comment, the people then ask how they can satisfy Him. The query is, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” You can hear from the outset that their question presupposes that God is a works-oriented God. They seem to think, or were perhaps raised to think, that God had a laundry list of works, and that if folks did those, they would be right with God.
Jesus again corrects that. Jesus did not normally accept false notions. When he heard such error, He confronted it and sought to have it changed. He does not say, “Good question. I really appreciate the insight it demonstrates.” Instead, he says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (v. 29).
Jesus corrects the error and focuses the answer in a radically different direction. He singles out one aspect of spiritual living, and trusts that all the rest will flow from that; and it does. Jesus answers by stating that the only thing that God required was for people to believe on the One sent by the Father.
There are two things in that answer that I want to bring out. First, He identifies Himself as the unique and only One sent by the Father who is worthy of our belief. He said to believe in the One. There is one and only one Savior not many alternatives. To the “seekers”, therefore, Jesus was saying that there were not multiple choices on this one.
Secondly, He is saying that the WORK of God was to BELIEVE. That may sound contradictory, but it is not. You see, here and elsewhere, Jesus had a particular understanding of “belief” which is somewhat different from the way we use that word.
We often speak of faith, or belief as acquiescing to information. It is far more than that. One of the most damaging blows to Christianity in our century has been the loss of the concept of faith. Most people think of faith as an information-statement. We frequently say, “I believe....,” but then don’t do anything about it. That is not belief as Jesus understood it. The biblical view of faith is that when one believes, one trusts, and one acts differently. Faith leads us to different choices and decisions, than unbelief would choose.
Jesus understood belief as a full-orbed lifestyle. When a person believed certain things, there was no disconnect with activity. The right actions normally flowed from the right beliefs. For Jesus, if one really believed in God, that would show itself in numerous small works, works in keeping with righteousness. However, one could not begin with the Religion of capital Work, and ever get to God.
People throughout history, and in many different ways, have crafted a religion of works. They strive to get to God by doing good things. They may even drive themselves into a tizzy thinking that the Kingdom Of God rests on their shoulders so significant are they. So they work all the harder. The Jews at the time of Jesus believed that people could be in right standing with God, if they worked right. People still believe that today.
But Jesus does not condone that religion. He says, first belief must be in a person’s heart, and that person could not insert that belief, regardless of all the effort they could manufacture. Rather, He said, the life which pleases Him begins with trust. All our trust relies on Jesus alone for salvation and provision. From there, we find that works of obedience flow from a grateful heart of love, not from a drudging heart of bondage.
But, let me return to the theme, with you noting this third episode where Jesus has corrected, not accepted, the seekers. Look at a 4th in this same passage.
d. John 6:30 The People’s Search for the Miraculous.
These people follow up with yet another question. They were persistent seekers, but it seems that the more they persist, the more Jesus confronts. Did he perhaps know something about them, that we don’t? Maybe their hearts? They ask in v. 30, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”. Possibly with this question, you can begin to see why Jesus was not overly thrilled with these seekers. Their true colors begin to peep through. What Jesus knew all along, is becoming clear: that these “seekers” were only seeking for what they could get out of it. They now cross-examine Jesus. Not satisfied with his earlier answers, they inquire if He perhaps would like to enter the bidding war for their affections. They want to see if He will work miracles which are great enough to reserve their allegiance. How gracious of these seekers. They want to see, once again if Jesus will conform to their wishes, to their ways, to their expectations for the Messiah. And the Lord of all Might and Right, will not.
Can you imagine the arrogance of asking Jesus to hop through the miracle hoops to see if He can win the contest. These “seekers” ask for miracles, and miracles greater than Moses, for this purpose: “that we may see it and believe you?” Ah, now the motivation is quite clear. They want Jesus to do things that EARN their belief. In short, they are testing God to see if He can meet their unredeemed expectations. The reversal of Creator-Creature relationships even in pursuit of the miraculous turns into a perverted demand on God. The seekers are hoping to have God accept them just as they are, while they want the Creator to jump through hoops of the creatures’ own choosing. That should be a warning about seeker-driven ministry, and what it really seeks.
Jesus knew better. He knew that seekers, if allowed to stay as they were, would not change, nor glorify any but themselves. Write it down as an inviolable principle of human behavior: if sinners are allowed to continue their sinful behavior, they will. And if there is no stronger force than their own will, they will continue. Jesus knew better than to turn the direction and focus of the church over to unbelievers.
He never granted miracles for the purpose of satisfying the hard of heart. In fact, when the hard of heart asked for miracles, Jesus routinely rebuked them. And He does so here in vss. 32-33. He corrects them, that it was not really Moses who gave those miracles, but that they were divinely given by the Father. He then asserts that He is the true bread given by the Father for the world.
At this, they come full circle, asking “From now on give us this bread.” And the conversation continues, with Jesus giving a lengthy clarification.
But note, when seekers ask for miracles, to have God stoop to prove Himself to those with steeled minds, Jesus does not validate that idea. He corrects it, and does not conform to the wishes of the seeker.
Now drop down a ways toward the end of this discourse. Skip ahead to v. 60.
e. John 6:60 - The People’s Dislike of Hard sayings
Jesus completes another speech and at v. 60 turns attention away from the seekers to the disciples. Note their reaction. After hearing this sermon, many of his disciples (remember there were more than 12) commented: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Now it is at this point, that modern seeker-sensitive leaders are in total retreat. Many leaders today would say, “Oh I don’t want to offend some of the listeners. I better tone it down.”
Ask honestly, is that what Jesus does? First note that v. 61 again shows us part of Jesus’ omniscience. He is aware that his disciples were “grumbling.” He is aware, and their grumbling is unacceptable. He asks, “Does this offend you?” He knew they were offended. Why doesn’t He therefore moderate, and pacify their offense? There can only be one answer: He cared more for the truth of God and the long-range progress of the gospel than the momentary offenses of human beings. Jesus, in contrast to some of the leaders of seeker-sensitivity, realized that some offenses were unavoidable. Some whose hearts were hard could not fail to be offended. But this fact, did not lead Him to moderate or change His methods, message, or mission.
Verse 66 even tells us that from this time, “many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” Now I want someone to point out where He regrets this, or asks them to do otherwise. Was Jesus surprised at this? No, He knew it would happen, and went ahead anyway. He was omniscient, remember. In fact, in v. 67, He even gave the 12 a chance to cancel their contracts. Indicating that He would not conform to the expectations or carnal wishes of the masses, Jesus offered to the 12, “Do you want to leave too?” He would have allowed that, but what He would not allow was the perversion of the gospel. Maybe His ministers today would be better off being Glory-Sensitive seeking to honor God and His prerogatives, than in being seeker-sensitive seeking to honor the sinful wishes of the masses.
The POINT is this: Not only seekers, but even disciples are not permitted to have the Lord conform to their wishes. God does not take on any consultants or advisers about His own mission and method. Isaiah knew that long ago, when he asked, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, who has been his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him and who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding?” (Is. 40:13-14)
I wish we’d take this more seriously. Much of current religion is a sustained search to do away with any notion of Difficulty. Effort or hard work is not appreciated among those who want the easiest things in life.
Jesus did not conform the gospel to the surrounding culture. Know Why? Because that culture, or any culture, would change. Political styles, heroes, standards of living, all sorts of social configurations would change from time to time. God in the flesh did not want the gospel to be so attached to some one culture that when that culture faded and passed on, as a result the gospel would be seen as just another part of that, and fade away with the deteriorating culture. The Church is more permanent than any fads. Preserve it!
That is one of the dangers of an ever changing church. It may be here one day, and gone tomorrow. I love a saying that is similar. “Those who marry the science of today, are widowers tomorrow.” Might we not adapt that to: Those who marry the church fads of today, are ecclesiastical widows tomorrow.
After all, when Christ calls us to follow Him, He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. The seeker-sensitive movement has no place for crosses, only comfort, entertainment, and ease. That, unfortunately, is not what Jesus taught. Frankly, this sinner wishes that it was. But Jesus was more concerned about our eternal destiny, than He was our temporary self-esteem. He didn’t mind if people were a little convicted of sin, if it brought them to their knees and led to conversion. He was far more interested in doing things the way God wanted them done, than in satisfying the cravings of the sinful flesh. And in all decisions, we should be more interested in pleasing God than in winning the fleeting favor of the masses.
Copyright © 1995 by PREMISE. All Rights Reserved.
Editor’s Page, PREMISE / Volume II, Number 4 / April 27, 1995 / Page 2
David W. Hall is a senior fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Paleo Orthodoxy and executive editor of PREMISE.
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