Are We Hurting Or Helping?
by Rick Shrader
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
and have tasted of the word of God, and the powers of the world to
come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance;
seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him
to an open shame.
A few months ago I wrote about the problem of true and false faith from Hebrews 11:13. I used the Latin words notitia, assensus and fiducia in explaining the components of faith, a method that has been used for centuries. There is another aspect of this problem which is explained in Hebrews 5 and 6 that is crucial in today’s churches and evangelism. Do we win the unbeliever who comes in among us for a while, by exposing him only to simple and shallow things of the gospel? Or do we win him by showing him believers who are involved in mature worship and who are progressing in doctrine and holiness?
I have been an advocate of the latter method which I think is clearly taught in the New Testament. I have also heard a surprising amount of criticism of that view from Bible believing people as well as ministers. Can there be any doubt that there has been a dumbing-down of Christianity and at the same time a super-selling of the gospel through any possible means no matter how shallow? We ought to ask, have the results been that of true conversions and a building up of the saints? Are God’s people more capable than ever of facing the real problems of the world? In short, has this current method succeeded?
While in Phoenix for a few days, I read the Saturday Religion page of the local paper, the Arizona Republic.1 On a single page, three things caught my eye. First was the amount of new ads for non-christian worship services like the “Self-Realization Fellowship, Paramahansa Yogananda, founder.” Second was a large article about a large Evangelical Lutheran Church of America which has grown by leaps and bounds due to a radical change in worship style. The pastor, Walt Kallestad, has written a book about which the article states, “In the 139-page book, Kallestad says that the same kind of enthusiasm and passion created by the American entertainment industry can and must be created by pastors if they are to deepen the faith of their congregations and attract new members.” The third thing of interest is an article about a George Barna poll. It opens by stating, “The Bible is being reduced to the status of an icon, with little practical value for many Americans, according to a researcher taking the religious pulse of the nation.”
Could it be that the reason for false belief is related to the lack of Bible knowledge which is related to churches offering entertainment to people rather than the Word of God? Years ago, J. Gresham Machen fought in vain to keep the Presbyterian Church, USA, from becoming what it is today. During that conflict he wrote: “The fundamental fault of the modern church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task–she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: “You people are very good,” he says, “you respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now we have in the Bible something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.” Such is modern preaching. It is heard every Sunday in thousands of pulpits. But it is entirely futile. Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance, and probably we shall be no more successful than He.”2 I think we are doing our own version of this in the 1990’s by entertaining people with a shallow Christianity in hopes that God will be accepted by them rather than they being accepted by God.
I think Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks to this problem. This is one of the most interesting contexts in the book. These verses tell us that when a lost person is presented with what he perceives to be Christianity, and rejects it, it will be “impossible” to bring him back to that place of conviction again because by his rejecting attitude he agrees that Christ ought to have been crucified (the recipients of this letter are warned five times, this is the third, not to leave this place of faith and go back to the old temple worship). No one truly ministering for Christ wants to see a lost person come to this point. But it may be that by our purposely making the gospel easy and presented in the shallowest way possible, we are doing just that!
This passage is a warning that begins at 5:11 and continues through 6:20. This parenthesis interrupts the extended teaching on the priesthood of Christ and the believers’ important relationship to Him. This vital subject is abruptly cut off when the writer has to admit, we have many things to say and hard to be uttered, seeing you are dull of hearing (5:11). The subject is taken up again at the end of 6:20 when Jesus is declared to be a priest after the order of Melchisedec and then chapter seven expounds further. After the writer stops at 5:11, he explains that at this time when the readers ought to be teachers and skilled in the Word of God, they are still babes on milk, needing to be taught themselves. This is a serious indictment because he realizes they have not grasped this important subject of Christ’s priesthood. Chapter six begins with therefore and for three verses laments the fact that these Christians have not progressed beyond the fundamental doctrines of faith, baptism, Christian service and a few points of prophecy. Now it is important to note that our passage in question (6:4-6) begins with For (gar). The reason for stating it here is because it has a natural connection with the problem of shallowness in these readers, and expresses a great concern for what effect this has on the non-believer when he comes in among them. Evidently, their needed use of milk and their continued emphasis on the basic fundamentals (rather than going on unto perfection) will be a cause for this convicted man to renounce Christ rather than to embrace Him.
When we read the rest of the chapter we find: Christian growth and fruit is always better and more effective than barrenness (7-8); the believers ought to work hard to produce growth that accompanies salvation (9-11); Abraham and the Saints had a strong assurance in the immutability of God (12-18); we have an anchor, steadfast and sure, when we continue to follow Jesus our High Priest on into the holy place (19-20). If, in fact, our generation of churches is inviting the non-christian into our assemblies but is refusing to traverse beyond the ABC’s of Christian teaching, according to this passage we are setting the stage for the non-believer to reject Christianity wholesale, and go back to things that seem more genuine.
To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer here may seem odd, but perhaps this famous quote illustrates how far Bible-believing ministries can slip: “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheap-jacks’ wares. . . Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness that frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”3
Peter warns us, For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them (2 Peter 2:21). Are we helping or hurting?Notes: 1. The Arizona Republic. Sat., Aug. 24, 1996. Sec. B. 2. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity And Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1977) 68. 3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier, 1959) 45-47.