“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18.17)
It seems Christians have a hard time trusting the wisdom of this proverb. Maybe you have experienced this: you hear a brother or sister accuse your pastor of something, and it colors how you view your pastor after that. You have not even heard your pastor’s side of it. He is automatically forced to be on the defense.
Of course the accusations may be true. But we should stop to think also, “of course, the accusations may be off base, misinformed, or completely false.” If you are ever in this situation, and you think, “why would such and such make up a false accusation like that?” you should also think, “If I can believe that my pastor could possibly have done something so bad, I can also believe the accuser could possibly have evil motives for accusing.”
Such seems to possibly be the case with C.J. Mahaney. I heard from a friend of C.J. that he has been cleared four times by a non-Christian Maryland judge. In the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of all his friends, Mahaney is innocent of covering up any kind of sexual abuse. Yet, many have chosen to believe the one who made accusations, like in this interview with Tullian Tchividian. I have since heard that Tullian issued an apology, which is a blessing to me to hear (though I have yet to see that apology online anywhere, if anyone knows of it, please send it my way) (I will also say that whatever criminals were convicted and sentenced in this case is also a good thing, that some level of justice has been carried out). But you see my point: that often an accusation is made that colors the perspective of others pretty much forever.
I would just caution Christians to trust the wisdom of this entire proverb: notice who is stating the case first, understand that it may only seem right, notice any responses to cross-examination, or even if there is any cross-examining going on, and that defending oneself is necessary sometimes because of wrongful accusations. And remember that once in a while, the godliest men and women on earth do not care to defend themselves– even when they are free to– as they ponder on the One who faced the ultimate wrongful accusations and never defended Himself, for our sake.
Of course we know why churches do it. They want to reach more people. We all want to reach more people. But there are several reasons why our worship services should not be tailored to “reach” anybody:
- We should tailor it to God, and God alone.
- Unbelievers do not want to worship God. If people who are dead in their trespasses and sins are comfortable attending your worship service, I wonder if worship is really happening (I am speaking of those who are obviously not interested in repentance).
- By tailoring your service to any Christian based on mere preferences, you automatically exclude someone else’s preferences
- The automatic response to the last point is usually: “Well, you’re gonna be tailoring it to someone’s preferences no matter what.” To which I say: “No. Just tailor it to God’s preferences. Period. And always make that clear.”
- It should be the gospel that draws people in. Not music. Not culture. Not arts. Not communication style. Gospel.
- Should a worship service be where we expect to meet most non-Christians? You should invite non-Christians to your worship service. You should expect God to save non-Christians through the Lord’s Day preaching. But it is only by God’s mercy that you meet a non-Christian for the first time at one of your worship services. And to tailor the worship of God to someone who may know nothing about our God just sounds kind of silly when you say it out loud.
- Related to that, I now have this fear that those who have “missional” worship gatherings are the least missional of all. If you make your worship service EXACTLY how you think God prescribes worship to be (which would be extremely foreign to the world), it solves two issues: one, we worship God on God’s terms. Two, it forces us to be missional, to actually go out and meet non-Christians and try and introduce them to Jesus before they ever step into our worship service.
We should expect the only people to show up on Sundays are believers and true seekers, those who are beginning to be drawn by the Holy Spirit. And we should expect that for both groups the gospel is what interests them, not contemporary music, not a large number of people their age, not their ethnic culture, not the cultural relevance. Gospel.
Killing children in the womb is wickedness. Physically beating women is cowardly. Racism is completely anti-gospel. These social injustices must be stopped! And by God’s grace, one day they will be.
It is very much in line with the gospel to stand firm against these injustices. However, there is a danger in Christians focusing on fighting these things in the hopes of transforming the culture. There is a danger in centralizing the rescuing of orphans and widows and the needy in their distress. The danger is twofold:
- You could rescue the downtrodden temporarily, but still let them go to hell. It is a tricky thing to preach the gospel to victims of crimes. But preach, you must. The good news for an orphan is that God can be their Father. But the only way God becomes their Father is if they repent. There must be a clear Law-Gospel presentation to even the most hurting human. It cannot merely be a hope and healing “conversion.” There is healing from hurt in the gospel, but that healing only comes through the humility of acknowledging our sin and trusting in the sinless Savior. After you comfort someone with tears, make it clear that their bigger problem is rebellion against Holy God.
- You could cut the gospel in half. We should love the unlovable, adopt orphans, rescue the unborn, and fight for equality among all skin colors. But if your Christianity has the flavor of only pursuing the victims of injustice, you might make it seem like Jesus does not save abortion doctors, wife-beaters, racists, and pimps. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Any sinner can be saved.
Please do not focus on trying to fix societal structures. I doubt the Apostle Paul would be tweeting about Baltimore every single day. Preach. The. Gospel. Let us be resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.