BIBLE & LIFE

Bible Teaching Newsletter

of Biblical Doctrine & New Testament Assembly Life

Volume 3, No 1 January 1, 1996


All Things to All Men?

by David Dunlap

"... I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).

         Paul's heart desire was to win the lost for Christ The lost, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, were all to be reached for Christ. Eternal punishment and the Lake of Fire were living realities. By means of horseback journey, sea-going vessel, or sandaled foot, they must have the good news preached unto them. Earlier he writes concerning his driving passion for the unsaved, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). Yet the message must not be compromised. Paul had renounced the hidden things of dishonesty and the handling of the scriptures in an unprincipled manner. The message must be declared with integrity. Truth was not a commodity to be negotiated. Bible truth must be proclaimed! He set forth his position clearly saying, "Am I seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). In another place he speaks of the persecution he bore for the "offense of the cross" (Gal. 5:11).

         Yet, today some in the evangelical church are calling for a shaping of the gospel message to make it more palatable to the unsaved. They chide the church leaders, stating that the unsaved will remain unsaved unless we reshape the gospel to meet their personal needs. This method is called contextualization. This technique for reaching the lost was rejected by Bible-based Christians 70 years ago, when the modernist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick urged its use in Christian churches. Writing in 1928, he scolded godly men of the book, "Preachers who pick out texts from the Bible and then proceed to give their historic settings, their logical meaning in the context, their place in the theology of the writer, are grossly misusing the Bible. Let them not end but start with thinking of the audience's vital needs, and then let the whole sermon be organized around their endeavor to meet those needs. This is all good sense and good psychology." (1) Today, a growing number of evangelical leaders are urging the use of this same technique, albeit redressed in evangelical terminology. George Barna, an evangelical marketing professional, writes concerning the preaching of Paul, "Paul provided what I feel is perhaps the single most insightful perspective on marketing communications, the principle we call contextualizaion. Paul was willing to shape his communication according to their needs in order to recieve the response he sought." After all, Barna explains using the Corinthian letter, did not the apostle write, "I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some"? Barna, further states that this is the biblical mandate for re-marketing the gospel message to meet the needs of the 1990's. Yet the question must be asked: Was that the thrust of Paul's message? Is he suggesting that we should accomodate the gospel to the personal needs of the unsaved? Most serious Bible students would not entertain such a specious interpretation for even a moment. What then was Paul's aim? Succinctly stated, Paul's desire was to become a slave of all to win some for Christ. There was never a thought of re-framing the gospel to make it more appealing. He was not advocating a better marketing plan. Not for a moment. He was setting forth the principle of self-denial and sacrifice befitting all the servants of Christ. Paul was willing rather to give up everything he owned and sacrifice the rights and status he possessed, if that would further the matchless and saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in a lost world In examining more closely 1 Cor. 9:19-22 we notice how this truth is carefully unfolded.

         Paul begins by touching on the truth of Christian liberty. He has been expounding this theme since chapter 8 and will continue until chapter 10. But now, in chapter 9 he states, "For though I am free from all men..." (v.19). We are not under law but grace. We are not bound to Jewish religious ritual nor Gentile pagan tradition. Grace liberates us from all this and empowers us to live godly lives. Yet Paul points out a paradox - although we are free from all men, yet we are slaves to all. "Yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more" (v. 19). Grace empowers us in Christ to sacrifice all, to endure all, to set ourselves in subjection to all, to become bond-slaves to win the unsaved to Christ. Was Paul setting forth a marketing plan for the gospel? No. He was calling for self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of proclaiming the unsoiled truth to those who do not know Christ.

         This principle is developed further in the ensuing verses. He says, "unto the Jews I became as a Jew..." (v.20). Paul describes the denial of his personal liberty in seeking to win those of the nation of Israel. Though he was not under the law, he adopted their customs, ceremonial law, and traditions so as not to give offense to the gospel, in order to win some to Christ. Yet he would never stoop to compromising the truth of the gospel. Concerning the Gentiles he writes, "...to them that are without law, as without law..." (v. 21). Paul is not saying that he in any way engaged in an immoral lifestyle to win the godless gentiles; in no way. Rather, that he set aside all his Jewish traditions, ceremonies, and culture in order to avoid producing a distraction and thereby, a hindrance to the message of the gospel. To the weak brother, "I became as weak..." (v.22). For the weaker Christians, Paul adjusted his behavior so as not to offend. He chose rather to yield in love, than to distract and stumble those weak in the faith. Why all the protracted effort in self-denial and sacrifice? So that through Christ-centered sacrificial devotion to be "all things to all men" he might win some! Compromise the truth? Market the gospel? Accomodate the word of God? Never! Those who seek to reach the unsaved through the use of amusements and gimmicks will find that they have no effective means of reaching the lost with the truth of Christ. The primary means of reaching the lost in our day, as in every day, is the unabashed, faithful setting forth of the truth of the gospel.

(1) Harry Emerson Fosdick, What is the Matter with Preaching, Harpers Magazine, July, 1928, p.1
(2) George Barna, Marketing the Church, (Colorado Springs, Colo.:NavPress, 1988), p.33



"Gimme That Showtime Religion"

by John MacArthur

         Can the church fight apathy and materialism by feeding people's appetite for entertainment? Evidently many in the church believe the answer is yes, as church after church jumps on the show-business bandwagon. It is a troubling trend that is luring many otherwise orthodox churches away from biblical priorities.

         Church buildings are being constructed like theatres. Instead of a pulpit, the focus is a stage. Some feature massive platforms that revolve or rise and fall, with colored lights and huge sound boards. Church leaders are giving way to media specialists, programming consultants, stage directors, special effects experts, and choreographers.

         The idea is to give the audience what they want. Tailor the church service to whatever will draw a crowd. As a result church leaders are more like politicians than sherpherds, looking to appeal to the public rather than leading and building the flock God gave them. The congregration is served a slick professional show, where drama, pop music, and maybe a soft-sell sermon constitute the preaching service. But the emphasis isn't on preaching but entertainment.

         Underlying this trend is the notion that the church must sell the gospel to unbelievers. Churches thus compete for the consumer on the same level as Frosted Flakes or Miller Lite. More and more churches are relying on marketing strategy to sell the church. That philosophy is the result of bad theology. It assumes that if you package the gospel right, people will get saved. Its goal is an instantaneous decision rather than a radical change of heart.

         Moreover this whole Madision Avenue corruption of Christianity presumes that church services are primarily for recruiting unbelievers. Many have abandoned worship as such. Others have relegated preaching and prayer to some small group setting on a weeknight. Acts 2:42 shows us the pattern the early church followed when they met: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles's teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." The early churches prioritites clearly were worship and edification; it scattered to evangelize the world. Our Lord commissioned His disciples for evangelism in this way: "Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt 28: 19). Christ makes it clear that the church is not to wait for or invite the world to corm to its meetings, but to go to the world. That is a responsibility for every believer.

         Don't be quick to embrace the trends of the high-tech superchurches. And don't sneer at conventional worship and preaching. We don't need clever approaches to get people saved (1 Cor. 1:21). We simply need to get back to preaching the truth and planting the seed. If we're faithful to that, the soil God has prepared will bear fruit.

Taken from - Gimme That Showtime Religion, Masterpiece, September/October, 1990,2


The Perils of Compromise

by C. H. Macintosh

         It is often urged, "We must present truth in such an aspect as will attract," when what is really meant is this, that truth is to be made a kind of variable, elastic thing, which can be turned into any shape, or stretched to any length, to suit the tastes of those who would desire to put it out of the world altogether. Truth, however, cannot be thus treated; it can never be made to reduce itself to the level of this world. It will speak distinctly, if its voice be not stifled. The attempt to accommodate truth to those who are of the world can only end in complete failure. There can be no accommodation.Let it stand upon its own heavenly height; let saints stand fully and firmly with it; let us invite sinners up to it; but let us not descend to the low and groveling pursuits and habits of the world, and thus rob truth, so far as in us lies, of all its edge and power. We may think to commend truth to the minds of worldly people by an effort to conform to their ways; but, so far from commending it, we in reality expose it to secret contempt and scorn. The man who conforms to the world will be an enemy of Christ, and an enemy of the people of God. It cannot be otherwise.

         May we with the Lord's help, endeavor to shake off the world's influence, and purge ourselves from its ways. We have no idea how insidiously it creeps in upon us. The enemy at first weans us from the simple Christian habits, and by degrees we drop into the current of the world's thoughts. Oh, that we may, with more holy jealously and tenderness of conscience, watch against the approach of evil. We can never refute, with spiritual coolness, the world's arguments and suggestions, while we are breathing its atmosphere, or accepting it compliments. We must keep outside and independent of it, and thus we shall fInd ourselves in a better position to reject its proposals, and triumph over its allurements.

Taken from- Miscellaneous Writings, Jehoshaphat, Loizeaux Brothers, New York, 1898, vol. 1,14

 


 

"The apostle was ready to yield at every side where Christ was not concerned. He was free, but free to be a bondman of any and everyone, in order that he might gain, not ends of his own, but the most possible for Christ."

William Kelley, Notes on Corinthians, Morrish, 1878

 


 

"Verses 20-22 have often been interpreted in the sense of allowing evangelists to do almost anything they please in their zeal to reach souls. What Paul means is that he became a servant in every legitimate way to many folds, thereby by all means to save some."

John Heading, the Epistle to the Corinthians

 


 

"We don't need clever approaches to get people saved. We simply need to get back to preaching the truth and planting the seed."

 


 

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