Since no one seeks after God, why do so many unconverted people come to church?
LAWSON: In a lot of churches, I think people are going to be entertained, or they are going to make relationships, or they are going out of religiosity. They are going not for God, but for what God would provide for them. They’re not after the Giver; they’re after the gifts. They are there for all the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean they’re seeking God. They are simply seeking common grace things, or they are seeking the gifts but have zero interest in the Giver.
CHARLES: I have many pastoral friends and colleagues. I get nervous about blanket criticisms of pastors and the church, but the truth of the matter is that there are too many churches that are intentionally designing their work to be attractive to the unbeliever. That means imitating the world.
I think a lot of it happens with pastors who sincerely want to reach people. In leaning over to reach the world, however, the church sometimes falls in so that there is no distinction about the unique life, mission, and nature of the church. We just slap “Christian” on whatever we are doing. It is a “least common denominator” style of ministry, which I think is growing more and more prevalent.
I’m old enough to see the change that has happened in the culture. There used to be a cultural respectability about going to church. My father would say on Sundays, “If going to church is right, then not going to church must be wrong,” and people would “amen” that. Today, there is no assumed “amen” to that because the premise that going to church is right is not assumed. There are creative ways that pastors and churches are trying to reach the world in which the local church is becoming an “old Adam improvement society” rather than presenting the gospel so that lost people would become new creations in Christ.
LAWSON: I’ll add one thing from 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is, to those who are perishing, foolishness.” I think those kinds of churches are spraying perfume on the cross so that it’s no longer foolishness to the unregenerate, unconverted mind. If our preaching is not foolishness to the unbeliever, then we’re not preaching the cross, because the cross is foolishness to the unbeliever. It’s the wisdom and power of God to those who are called, but utter foolishness to unbelievers.
That word “foolish” is mōria, which is related to mōros, from which we get the English word moron. It ought to make no sense to the unbelieving mind that God would send His only Son into this world to be born of a virgin, be born under the law, go to the cross, bear the sins of all those who would believe in Him, be buried, be raised from the dead, and then ascend to the right hand of God the Father, and that the eternal destiny of every single person who has ever lived depends upon whether or not they know this Nazarene carpenter. That ought to be foolishness to an unbeliever. Just the sheer virgin birth alone would be foolishness. The substitutionary cross would be foolishness.
So, instead of preaching a bloody cross, these churches will just have a series of sermons on how to have a happy vacation. As Adrian Rogers said years ago, “The problem with preachers today is that nobody wants to kill them anymore.” We just are like the captain of The Love Boat: “I just want to make sure everyone’s happy in this church.” That’s not our calling. There is an offense to the cross for the carnal mind. When someone who is carnal comes to church, there should be an offense, because you have to know the bad news before you can receive the good news.
This is a transcript of H.B. Charles Jr.’s and Steven Lawson’s answers given during our 2020 Dallas-Fort Worth Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.