"Watered-down" or "watered-down gospel" is a term used by some Christians to refer to much of what is currently being preached across the world but mostly in the U.S. "Watered-down" theology is not to be confused with John D. Caputo's term "weak theology," which is related to the approach of "deconstruction."
I started out in ministry before I was even saved at the young age of 15, and I have seen all types of churches, but I never saw as many watered-down churches as I do now. The Church is having an identity crisis. I am appalled at the number of churches that don't care about doctrine, dismissing it as unimportant and seminary is ridiculed and compared to a "cemetery." These churches are taking the focus off of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, and putting the focus on ourselves and programs, using our words and understanding rather than God's counter-cultural Message. They teach all about your life (aka your "heart" or your "experiences") and try to be “relevant” by talking about "me" all the time, but they are not following Christ and His Word, because we go to church to hear about Christ and His Word, not ourselves. They assume that you’ve already been converted, so you don’t really need the Gospel anymore. Therefore, instead of giving you Jesus Christ, these churches give you lots of supposedly “practical” advice, but basically a lot of “how to”’s to try to make you feel less guilty for being a second-rate Christian, if you even are a Christian. Sadly, we know from the Bible that few people are going to heaven (Mt. 7:1;, Luke 13:23) and "many" people will think they were Christians when they are not (Mt 7:21-23; Luke 13:26,27). These are the people in these churches who have never been genuinely converted, aren't growing, and don't have lasting fruit. Sadly they never genuinely "knew" Christ in a personal, intimate way (Matthew 7:21-23). They are false converts which our churches are full of. An excellent teaching on this is Ray Comfort's "True and False Conversion." You can listen to it by clicking the link.
The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John to seven real churches "which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place" (Rev. 1:1). These churches have specific characteristics, and many theologians believe they were not only real churches, but are symbolic of seven distinct periods of the Church (dispensationalism). You can find tables and charts of this by searching the Internet. The final period is Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) which is thought to be the end-time church. This is an evangelical church for it's candlestick is still in place (Rev. 1:20; 2:5) but it has become neutral and weak, "neither cold nor hot" (Rev. 3:15). The reason is apparently because it has become "rich, and increased with goods," comfortable in a culture which tends to equate material prosperity with success and God's favor, yet Christ calls it "poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). We know that the church It's interesting that Jesus begins His letter to the Laodicean church by identifying Himself as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation" (Rev. 3:14). He then states, "I know your deeds..." (Rev. 3:15a). This suggests that the church may have begun to doubt Jesus as faithful and true, and that He is in control of the creation which God created. He also knows everything and nothing is hidden from Him. Doctrinally, these are things that the Church seems to be struggling with, the sufficiency of Christ, the inerrancy of God's Word, and that God is in control over the creation which He made, not a random event that we evolved from. The letter to the church ends with a sad picture of Jesus standing at its door, seeking admission (Rev. 3:20), and concludes with "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:22).
An often overlooked verse is Matthew 5:19 which states, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Apparently the criterion for achieving "greatness" in God's world is to believe, obey and teach the complete Word of God in this life, not just the major doctrines and general principles. Those who undermine any part of God's Word, either in teaching or practice, will be the "least in the kingdom of heaven," if they are genuinely converted at all (Matthew 5:19-20).
Every verse in the bible is important, for "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bible refers in both the Old and New Testaments to basic teachings being like milk and solid food being for the mature. More information on this can be found on the page milk and meat, but this is related because we are clearly commanded to mature and grow. The book of Hebrews says, "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food ("strong meat" in KJV) is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (Hebrews 5:13-6:2). Unfortunately, much of the church is still feeding on milk, in fact, just the froth of the milk in their watered-down cappuccinos.
I am especially concerned by "Pastors" like Joel Osteen who have been little more than a motivation speaker to their audience. The problem is what the audience is hearing as much as what they are not hearing. It especially saddened me to hear his famous interview with Larry King. Here is part of that dialog as copied from the CNN transcript:
KING: Is it hard to lead a Christian life?
OSTEEN: I don't think it's that hard. To me it's fun. We have joy and happiness. Our family -- I don't feel like that at all. I'm not trying to follow a set of rules and stuff. I'm just living my life.
KING: But you have rules, don't you?
OSTEEN: We do have rules. But the main rule to me is to honor God with your life. To life a life of integrity. Not be selfish. You know, help others. But that's really the essence of the Christian faith.
KING: That we live in deeds?
OSTEEN: I don't know. What do you mean by that?
KING: Because we've had ministers on who said, your record don't count. You either believe in Christ or you don't. If you believe in Christ, you are, you are going to heaven. And if you don't no matter what you've done in your life, you ain't.
OSTEEN: Yeah, I don't know. There's probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you're a believer in God, you're going to have some good works. I think it's a cop-out to say I'm a Christian but I don't ever do anything ...
KING: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?
OSTEEN: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know ...
KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?
OSTEEN: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.
Joel had a wonderful opportunity to share the critical importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to a huge audience and instead, he continually said "I don't know" and appealed to the sincerity of people in India and said "I know they love God." It makes me wonder if he is a genuine Christian or just another false convert.
Amos 8:11 states, "'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign LORD, 'when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.'" I believe many of the churches in our country are in this kind of famine. Rather than teach the "whole counsel of God," they often teach topical messages with a lot of "filler" or "fluff." A lot of the messages lack substance and often are "to suit their own desires" (2 Tim 4:3) or "what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim 4:3).
In his excellent book, God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message, Ray Comfort addresses the watered-down gospel. It starts off with some stunning statistics which, whether or not they are representative, are shocking.
After my wife, her family, and I suffered authoritarian abuse at the church where we met, we decided to leave that church and began visiting other churches. A friend of my wife recommended one that we was attended, we visited, and ended up staying there for over three years. This church ended up being a social club which preached a watered-down message. They were very introverted and sheltered the church from outside ministries, churches, teachers, etc. I served for several years as an usher/greeter and in the childrens' ministry, and then eventually became a lay pastor, a host pastor, and was expected to help start and Pastor the Internet campus. However, one day, I saw an email the Sr. Pastor sent out to the prayer team which troubled me so I replied privately to him. My wife and I were very close with him. I expressed concern that the Pastor was pushing the prayer team to read a highly controversial book called The Prayer of Jabez, and as soon as I did, everything changed. I received a scathing reply with name-calling ("extremist," "grossly misguided," "judgmental," "extreme," "critical," "laughable," etc), yet he never asked why I felt that way. I had seen him be very defensive before but I couldn't believe what I was reading from a Senior Pastor to a close friend on what should have been a minor issue. The very next day, he felt "profoundly moved" to send out an email to the entire church, asking them to read and meditate on the book. He mentioned twice that he had done a whole sermon series on this and I was naturally more concerned. I decided to send him a 23-page list with over 100 reasons and examples of false teaching from this book (2 Tim. 2:25). In another scathing reply with twelve bullets, he complete dismissed me, said I had no authority to say anything, said I was arrogant and proud, and said he was going to discuss this with the other Pastors and have me meet with one of them. Sure enough, I met with one of them shortly after and was promptly removed from being a host pastor and told I was not going to be the Internet Pastor as anticipated, even though we hadn't even begun to plan that project. I asked how I was supposed to express a simple concern, which I also asked the Senior Pastor but received no answer, and was told when pressed that I was never a Pastor, it was only interim, and that I was in no position to make any recommendations. He began to explain how the Senior Pastor was like Moses (see Moses Model), and this just confirmed what my wife and I got ourselves into. There was a clear effort to teach seeker-friendly, watered-down topical messages, yet excluding many important topics (at least over the three years I attended). The church was basically a social club. The whole emphasis was not "to be and make disciples" as Jesus commanded us to do (which was ironically the "mission" of this church), but rather getting new people in. The Pastors made it clear in pastoral meetings that they wanted to fill up every one of the services and we brainstormed on ways to do this. My recommendations, such as worship services and prayer services, were shunned as not being good ideas and weren't even mentioned in forthcoming summaries of our ideas. I felt that we needed to strengthen what we already had but was told by three different Pastors that it was "their job to feed themselves." So much for feeding Christ's sheep (John 21:15-17, 1 Cor. 3:2, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, 4:2-3, Heb 5:12-6:3, 1 Pet. 2:2-3).SEEKER SENSITIVE
In an extremely popular book titled "The Purpose Driven Church," part of a series of books that followed the bestselling "Purpose Driven Life," the author Rick Warren states, "A worship service does not have to be shallow to be seeker sensitive. The message doesn't have to be compromised, just understandable. Making a service 'comfortable' for the unchurched doesn't mean changing your theology, it means changing the environment of the service...The message is not always comfortable; in fact, sometimes God's truth is very uncomfortable! Still we must teach 'the whole counsel of God.' Being seeker sensitive does not limit what you say, but it does affect how you say it. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the unchurched are not asking for a watered-down message - they expect to hear the Bible when they come to church."2 In the next two chapters, "Developing Mature Members" and "Turning Members Into Ministers," Warren emphasizes how out focus needs to be spiritual maturity. Paul said of his audience in 2 Cor. 13:9, "Our greatest wish and prayer is that you will become mature Christians." Likewise, that needs to be our focus as we fulfill the Great Commission, to "make disciples" (Matthew 28:19).CAFETERIA CHRISTIANITY
"Cafeteria Christianity" is a derogatory term used by some Christians, and others, to accuse other Christian individuals or denominations of selecting which Christian doctrines they will follow, and which they will not. However, the Bible says that Paul "...did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27 ESV), in Greek [πᾶσαν τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θεοῦ] and Paul also spoke of the message being "fully proclaimed" (2 Tim. 4:17). We cannot pick and choose.
Cafeteria-style means to pick-and-choose as in choosing what food to purchase from a cafeteria line. The term implies that an individual's professed religious belief is actually a proxy for their personal opinions rather than an acceptance of Christian doctrine. The selectivity implied may relate to the acceptance of Christian doctrines (such as the resurrection or the virgin birth of Jesus), or attitudes to moral and ethical issues (for example abortion, homosexuality, or idolatry) and is sometimes associated with discussions concerning the applicability of Old Testament laws to Christians and interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.
As previously mentioned, the church my wife and I last attended gave topical messages which never included much Scripture, and most of the Bible and important Biblical issues were never addressed. I agreed with the leadership that the main services were not the best time to go really deep into the Bible, but they didn't emphasize and provide adequate opportunities for studying the Bible or going deeper, and their small groups, touted as a time to go deeper, mostly just went over the sermon of the week without any additional teaching. They started a few "classes" during the week, but few attended and they were not really emphasized or encouraged. If you wanted to go deeper, be discipled, or learn the Bible, you essentially had to look outside of church, but since they sheltered the church from outside ministries, teachers, churches, etc, you were really on your own if you wanted to grow. This church is a formula for failure no matter how many people will ever attend. I pray for more people to speak out as I did at their failure.
I am deeply concerned by this because I see the danger. The Church cannot serve two masters, it will love one and hate the other. The Church needs to be separate and sanctified, which means "set apart."
Saint Basil the Great said, "When you are sick, you don't go to any physician, but the best. Neither should you listen to sermons at random. Seek the pastor who prepares conscientiously the best food for your souls."3
May you run from the church that preaches a watered-down message and run to one that preaches and teaches the "milk and meat" of the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). FOOTNOTES:
1. transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0506/20/lkl.01.html. Accessed June 8, 2010.
2. Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995, pg 244
3. Wurmbrand, Richard. The Midnight Bride. Living Sacrifice Book Company, Bartlesville, OK, 2009, pg 71
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