With the rise of seeker-sensitive churches, how do we understand biblically "seeking" God?
SPROUL: In Acts 17, Paul at the Areopagus quotes some of the pagan poets and talks about people groping after God. They have the statue to the unknown god, and in one sense they’re seeking Him.
In the other sense, speaking didactically, the apostle spells out specifically what the natural human condition is. Quoting the psalm and adding to the fullness of it, the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that no one—that’s a universal negative—no one in their natural state seeks after God (Rom. 3:10-12).
Thomas Aquinas had to answer this question centuries ago: “Why is it that people all around us who are not believers in Christ or not Christians seem to be seeking after God, when the Apostle says so clearly that no man seeks after God?” Aquinas answered the question this way, which I think was a correct answer: “What we observe is people seeking things that only God can give them.”
From our perspective we know that the only way they’re ever going to feel relief from their guilt is if they come to Christ. We know that if they are ever going to find peace ultimately, it is going to be in Christ. We know that if they are ever going to find meaning and significance for their existence, it is only going to be in Christ. Without Christ, they are without hope. But they are looking all over the place for the things that only God can give them, that is, the benefits that God gives, while at the very same time they are fleeing with all of their strength and might from Him, from the being of God.
So if you want to have a seeker-sensitive church, then what that means biblically is that you organize and structure your worship, church, and program for Christians. Because the reason why churches exist in the first place is not for evangelism. They are for worship, for the gathering together of the saints to apply themselves to the study of the Word of God, to prayer, and to fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper. The whole church is responsible to do evangelism; but the purpose of the church itself, in terms of worship and the gathering together on the Lord’s Day, is not to do evangelism.
Now I use evangelism all the time in the congregation, because I’m well aware that there are people present who are not believers. So I preach the gospel to them. But if I tailor the program for the unbeliever, that’s totally antithetical to what the Word of God teaches.
This whole movement of seeker sensitivity is a pernicious distortion of what God commands and expects. Jim Boice used to say, “The church is trying to be the church and do the Lord’s work in the world’s way.” And it works, as far as people will come in droves if you entertain them and make them feel comfortable and all of that.
So to talk about seeker sensitivity as consciously designing worship for the unbeliever—that’s crazy.
MACARTHUR: Probably the most dramatic illustration of this is in the book of Acts. The church was born on the day of Pentecost. Three-thousand believers were added to the one hundred and twenty in the upper room, and they gave themselves to the apostles’ doctrine, the breaking of bread, prayers, and fellowship. That is the church, and the Lord added daily to the church those that were being saved.
They were doing many miracles—the healing of the lame man and other miracles—and that attracted the people. That was attracting the people to the church. You might say that is a good thing. But no, the Lord had to put a halt to that. The Lord Himself had to stop unbelievers from rushing into the miracle-producing church, so what He did was kill two people at the offering. He literally killed publicly Ananias and Sapphira.
Ananias that morning dropped dead because he lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money he actually gave off the sale of a piece of land. Three hours later when his wife shows up the young boys coming in from burying the husband pick her up and bury her. And it says in Acts 5, “None dared join himself to them” (Acts 5:13).
The Lord shut the door in the book of Acts on unbelievers rushing into the church for the signs and wonders by frightening them about the holiness of that place.
When the church recovers its transcendent understanding of worship, and when the church becomes devoted to the glory and honor of God and pursues holiness, it makes the statement that our Lord wants it to make to the world. And the Lord then will add to the church those that His sovereign will calls.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of John MacArthur’s and R.C Sproul’s answers given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.