There was a time when we spoke of unsaved people as “lost and dying and on their way to hell” – a phrase that painted a vivid picture of the stakes of being outside of Christ. We spoke of unsaved people in this way for so long that such terminology became something of a cliché.
Today, it seems that many pastors and church members tend to shy away from terms like “lost,” “unsaved,” and “unbeliever.” Instead, we speak of the people we are trying to reach as “unchurched.”
I believe that this change in terminology betrays two mistaken beliefs:
1. First, it indicates that our people believe the goal of the church is to grow the church.
Evangelism becomes less about reaching the unsaved in order to see them get saved, and more about reaching unchurched people in order to get them churched (or even worse, reaching other-churched people in order to get them to our church). Outreach becomes little more than an attempt to sell people on the benefits of coming to church.
Church-focused outreach is easier than Christ-focused outreach. In many places in the South, church attendance is still woven into the fabric of the culture. Many unchurched people already assume that they should go to church. So our outreach merely reinforces the cultural assumption that church attendance is important.
Furthermore, we are more comfortable reaching out to people with a Christian background than we are witnessing to Muslims and Hindus. In our increasingly multi-cultural world, it is much easier to reach the nominally “Christian” who already share our assumptions than the foreigners who are moving into our neighborhoods.
2. Secondly, our shift in vocabulary indicates a lessening of the eternal stakes of salvation.
I am thankful for the Conservative Resurgence in our denomination that has brought a renewed emphasis on orthodox theology. But I wonder how much of that orthodox theology is truly believed by the people in our churches.
Do we truly believe that Jesus is the only way to God?
Do we truly believe that people outside of faith in Christ will perish eternally in hell?
Do we truly believe that people who claim to be Christians and yet show no fruits of repentance have a false assurance of salvation?
Do we truly believe that people of other faiths are “lost and dying and on their way to hell”?
If so, why do we lessen the stakes of evangelism by speaking in a way that emphasizes church attendance over salvation in Christ?
Of course, evangelism includes inviting people into our churches. But inviting people to church is not the goal; it is only one means whereby God may accomplish his mission of seeking and saving the lost.
So yes… we believe that people need what the church has to offer. But we are not called to sell others on the greatness of our church, but to proclaim the greatness of our Savior.
In the choppy waters of our postmodern, increasingly post-Christian society, staying on course is no easy task. Jesus told us the way is narrow. God commanded the Israelites: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”
If we need a course correction, let’s do it now.
Read it all here.