The Church is a Safe Place & Other Lies that Led Us to This Point

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Last week I wrote about The Nashville Statement and why it is a praiseworthy statement deserving our endorsement. I also acknowledged that progressive Christians have responded with their usual regressive tantrums. For this we also should be thankful, clarity has been brought as we see how individuals respond. You must either condemn the idol of the current sexual revolution, or you must worship it. There is no middle ground. This statement has brought that clarity to the forefront.

J. Gresham Machen in the early 1900s dealt with the rise of theological liberalism. Is his classic work, Christianity & Liberalism, Machen lays out how theological liberalism is not Christian in the slightest; rather it is a completely different religion. Like Machen, we face a movement that claims Christ, which uses many of the same terms as we do, and yet it is an entirely different religion. This is evident in the rebuttals issued against The Nashville Statement. Machen was correct when he wrote, “Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.” The Nashville Statement sheds light on how separated we really are from the so-called progressive Christians.

The question we should now ask is, “How did we get here? What led us to this point?” These types of changes and divisions only appear to happen overnight. In fact, they have been a long time coming.  The division between evangelicals and progressives is far deeper than whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Our differences lay in how we understand God, the work of Christ, the nature of mankind, and what the church is. Sadly, there is confusion even among evangelicals that is crippling our ability to respond to progressives. The difficulties stem from the reality many of us have already taken steps down the progressive path without even realizing it.

Below are three lies many in evangelicalism have accepted.  These lies (and many more) serve as part of the assumed foundation for the reasoning of progressives in accepting homosexuality and transgenderism:

Lie #1: The Church is a Safe Place

One objection raised against The Nashville Statement is that the church is to be a safe place—a place which accepts everyone as they are. The current statement is wrong because it makes church an unsafe place for homosexuals. To be clear, the church is a place of grace where forgiveness is extended through the blood of Christ and granted upon repentance. Yet nowhere in the New Testament will you find the church described as a safe place the way the term is used today. Surely all are welcome to come to church, but what they are to find there is teaching and preaching that calls for a change of life (repentance) and which challenges the values of our age. The gospel challenges us in our sin and calls us to holiness through faith in Christ. The church is inclusive in that all are welcome to come and repent.

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows that the church is not a safe place. In Ephesians 6 we are told how the church is to be prepared for spiritual warfare with Satan. In Revelation 2-3 we see how the church is threatened with persecution in this age. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the removal of sexual immoral people from the church. In the next chapter, he writes no one who practices sexual immorality (including homosexuality) will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In Galatians 5 Paul wishes that the false teachers troubling that church would castrate themselves (that’s certainly not safe). Finally, there is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. These two lied about their property sale and were both killed on site by God in the church. It is clear the church was not a safe place for those who persisted in hypocritical wickedness. So no, the church is not a safe place. It is a place where snowflakes melt either in the light of the glory of Christ or in the fire of God’s holiness.

So what is the church supposed to be? It is to be a holy place where God’s elect grow in faithfulness and conduct spiritual warfare through bringing all things under submission to Christ. It is not a place where it is safe for people to live and think any way they want. In fact, the New Testament warns us again and again that God will not tolerate such sinful behavior in the church. The safety of the church is not rooted in the modern understanding of self-affirmation and tolerance. Rather, the safety of the church is rooted in Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

Lie #2: Religion is to be Therapeutic

As relativism has pushed aside the idea of universal truth it has impacted the how people view religion. Religion once was seen as a pursuit of universal truth revealed to us by God, but now it is about helping individuals feel better about themselves. For progressives, Christianity is about making our lives in the now better. If this the main point, and not seeking truth and God, then why would anyone be excluded from it?

Christianity does not promise you your best life now. In fact, it promises suffering and calls its adherents to die to the self. At its heart, Christianity claims to be universal truth revealed to us by God through propositional truth claims found in Scripture. Christianity is not about offering you therapy. It won’t always make you feel better, sometimes it might make you feel worse.

But the Gospel offers forgiveness, restoration to God, and new life in Jesus.  Following Christ comes at a cost, the cost of leaving everything in repentance and faith. This is not about feelings, it is about the truth claims of the Gospel.

Lie #3: The Gospel is about Self-Fulfillment

In its pursuit of relevance, many churches have turned the gospel into a self-improvement model. Every Sunday across the country you will hear sermons on Five Ways to Raise Better Children, Three Ways to Fix Your Finances, Seven Tips for Better Communication, and Four Ways to Improve Your Marriage. What is at the center of such a message? Self-fulfillment. If this is the heart of Christianity, to be relevant in order to improve ourselves, then why would we require anyone to deny themselves and repent? Don’t repent, just seek the best you!  

The truth is the call of the gospel is self-denial, to pick up your cross and follow Christ. This requires repentance, a radical change of identity and direction. This only happens when the Holy Spirit regenerates an individual.  When the Spirit transforms someone, they leave behind their old life to follow Christ. But if being a Christian is really about seeking yourself, then anything goes.

The heart of the Christian faith is a crucified savior which is seen as both offensive and foolish to the world (1 Cor. 1.23). The cross is not safe, it is not about feeling better about ourselves, and it is certainly not about self-fulfillment. When we move the message of the cross from the center of our message; we will reap what we are getting today. If we lose the heart of God’s good news to mankind, then anything goes.