By now you have probably heard about the firestorm of controversy Victoria Osteen ignited by her statement that our obedience and worship are not really for God, but for ourselves. I am not a fan of the Osteens and I have not watched their telecast in years; but I believe they are good, decent people who want to reach as many people as possible with the Good News of Jesus.
But this is precisely where we have to be cautious; for in trying to make the Gospel palatable and likeable to contemporary culture, we run the risk of preaching a Gospel that is void of power. Paul emphasizes this in I Corinthians 1:17 where he says that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (NIV).
Paul seems to be saying that if we over-do it in trying to make the Gospel more snappy, hip, cool, and attractive to contemporary culture, we run the risk of preaching a gospel that has been emptied of its power. Could this be happening in American Christianity?
Purge the Message
Some years ago Sue (my wife) and I attended an intensive, week-long doctoral seminar on World Missions which was part of our doctoral work in the School of Divinity at Regent University. About forty pastors and Christian leaders attended this intense week-long, eight-hour per day seminar.
All week we discussed and heard lectures on “how-to” methods for bringing closure to the Great Commission. We heard lectures on the importance of “contextualizing” the Gospel, i.e., putting it in the context of a particular culture to make it more palatable and acceptable. We heard about, and discussed, various strategies and methodologies for funding missions and how to motivate others to be involved.
On Thursday at about 4 p.m., someone suggested that we pray. Sue put her head on the table at which we were sitting, feeling relieved that she could close her eyes and rest and no one would know the difference. God, however, had other plans. The Spirit of God hit her like a bolt of lightning and she began to weep and intercede in the Spirit.
It was an intense moment and out of that time of prayer, God spoke a clear message that has become a guiding principle for our lives and ministry. He said;
There is enough money and resources available to carry the Gospel Message to the whole world; and all week you have been preoccupied with strategies and methodologies for taking My Message to the world. However, I am concerned about the Message you are taking. I want to purge the Message.
God got our attention that day and made us realize that our focus had been misdirected. While we were preoccupied with strategies and methodologies for success in carrying the Message, God was concerned about the Message itself.
Paul Knew the Power of a Purged Message
Paul would probably not “make it” as a preacher in our celebrity-driven, North American Christian culture, where the packaging of the message seems to have precedence over the message itself. One ancient writer described Paul as an unattractive wiry little man, bow-legged, with a long hooked nose and bushy eyebrows that grew together across his forehead. By Paul’s own admission he was a poor speaker and in I Corinthians 4:11 he described himself as being, poorly clothed, beaten and homeless. Paul, however, had an edge because he knew he had a Message that was infused with Divine power.
Paul highlights the power of the Message by contrasting it with the weakness and frailty of the messenger, i.e., himself. For example, in I Corinthians 1:3, he reminds the Corinthians how when he first came to them, I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. The Greek word for “weakness” is astheneia and means to be frail, powerless and without strength. The word “fear” is a translation of the Greek word phobo from which we get “phobia” and means to be afraid, fearful, and struck with terror. The phrase “much trembling” is from the Greek word tromo from which we get “trauma” and means to shake and tremble with fear.
In other words, when Paul arrived in Corinth, he did not come across as a cool, hip, and with-it individual. He certainly did not fit the modern (distorted) concept of a great apostle or man of God about to take a city for God. He did not attract people to himself by his charming, charismatic personality. Neither did he wow them with great oratorical sermons. He sounds, by his own description, like an emotional basket case wracked with weakness, fear, and trauma.
The one thing Paul had going for him when he arrived in the immoral, idolatrous city of Corinth was that he knew he had a clear distinct Message from heaven. And he was determined to stay on message, for he reminded the Corinthians that when he arrived in that weakened state, he had determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
What was the result? He tells us himself that there was a mighty demonstration of God’s power in Corinth and a flourishing (if somewhat rowdy) church emerged in that city that prompted at least two letters from Paul and some scholars think as many as four.
The temptation is to modify and shape the message to fit the sensibilities and tastes of contemporary culture. This is a temptation we must avoid. If we have yielded to this temptation, we must allow the Lord to purge the message we are proclaiming. In Christianity, the Message is of paramount importance.
Jesus did not leave His followers with a method, a strategy or an organizational model to follow. He left them with a Message and promised the empowering of the Holy Spirit as they took His message to the world. Early Christianity conquered the ancient world, not with political or military might, but with a Message. In all our planning and strategizing to reach this generation with the Gospel, it is of utmost importance that we make sure that it is His Message that we are presenting.
I pray that every preacher, teacher, writer and blogger in America will bring the message they proclaim before God and allow Him to do any necessary purging. This is of utmost importance for the power to change lives is in the Message itself as Paul said in Roman 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Proclaiming a purged message is, I believe, a key for seeing another great Spiritual awakening in America.
Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, historian and Bible teacher. This article is derived in part from his latest book, PURSING POWER: How the Quest for Apostolic Authority & Control Has Divided and Damaged the Church, available from Amazon and his website at http://www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.