Making People Uncomfortable

22 Apr

I wonder sometimes if, in our efforts to make Lord’s Day service more comfortable to those outside the church, we have actually thrown out elements that could serve as means of provoking questions and curiosity within unbelievers.

Let me explain…

On several occasions, recently, I have heard people arguing for churches to have more evangelistic services (nevermind the oxymoron present here, as I should think that the Gospel is presented in every service), and to find ways to make services more comfortable for visitors (presumably unbelievers).  And what are some proposed ways of accomplishing this?  Shorter sermons (perhaps even interactive dialogues, and surely with more practical info/tips), more upbeat/popular music, foregoing communion and/or baptisms as well as corporate and responsive prayer.  In addition to these, things such as attire, building aesthetics, and other stylistic elements could be added to the list.

And while I am more than willing to uphold the adage, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” I think we should consider how the various aspects of our services point to the Gospel, reflect the beauty of salvation, and may provoke questions and curiosity in people who have experienced such things.

An example would be communion.  I’ve oft heard it argued that communion can lead unbelievers to feel excluded and alienated.  The question that we should ask is: Should it make them feel otherwise?  Communion serves as a representation of the love and fellowship of believers as they gather together to receive the grace of God in remembering and celebrating Christ’s atoning work on their behalf, and enjoying a foretaste of the feast to come in the Kingdom.  This should provoke a level of discomfort in unbelievers because not only are they being excluded from the other people, but also because they are alienated from the Lord God.  It may also provoke unbelievers to ask questions about communion, the nature of it, and what it represents, opening up avenues for directly proclaiming the Gospel that is implicitly revealed in this act.

Similarly, the way we view God’s Word, and its preaching, in our service also points to the sufficiency of Scripture, its power to work in the lives of both believers and unbelievers, and provides a talking point with unbelievers: What did you think of what the pastor had to say?

Other examples could be mentioned, but I think these suffice to make my point.

One may make the objection that we should eliminate all hindrances to unbelievers hearing the Gospel, but what if each of these elements serve the purpose of presenting the Gospel to unbelievers?  I will not take the time here to discuss how the various elements of a service can reflect the Gospel, but I believe they can and should do so.

Another objection may be that if unbelievers do not feel comfortable, they may not come back.  We may miss our opportunity to share the Gospel message with them.  And while I can see the sincere desire to see unbelievers come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel represented by this objection, I think it fails to adequately account for the sovereignty of God, and the work of ministry that believers are called to outside the walls of the local church gathering place.

In the end, I’m not advocating a staunch defense of traditionalism or inflexibility.  I merely wonder if, in wanting to make unbelievers comfortable, and the arena for Gospel proclamation more palatable, we jettison things that could prove helpful in evangelism and the conversion of people living apart from Christ.  It may be worth further consideration…

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