“Faithfulness is Success”

Below are some more provocative quotes from Evangelical Pastor Matt Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel. Though I differ with him at times (basically regarding the historic theological differences between the Reformed and Lutherans) his commentary and candor on the state of the evangelical church is profoundly insightful. The critiques he offers are (fascinatingly) the same ones that confessional Lutherans have been making for a number of years. They speak for themselves and I offer them as part of the growing number of non-Lutheran pastors, church planters, and theologians calling for the church return to her historic mission and ministry, (alongside of those Lutheran voices that have been calling for the same thing.)

One notable critique, interestingly enough, is when Chandler takes a look at the prophet Isaiah and notes that for God “faithfulness” (not numeric growth) constitutes success. A host of other insights are offered as well. I note the chapter of each quote as my Kindle edition does not provide the pages.

As always, my aim is to promote candid and thoughtful dialogue about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran “who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  

From Chapter 4:

God’s commissioning of Isaiah is a torpedo into the way ministry is appraised in the church today. God is saying, “Isaiah, you’re going to proclaim faithfully, but they’re going to reject continually. And I’m at work in that.” Now, if Isaiah was a minister within today’s evangelicalism, he’d be considered an utter failure. Jeremiah would be an utter failure. Moses didn’t get to enter the Promised Land. John the Baptist didn’t get to see the ministry of Jesus. On and on we could go. We would not view the ministry of these men as successful. One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of heaven. And yet God sees things differently. We always have to be a little bit wary of the idea that numeric growth and enthusiastic response are always signs of success. The Bible isn’t going to support that. Faithfulness is success; obedience is success.

You can find a whole bunch of verses about God’s moving and gathering large groups of people, which means if there’s numeric growth and much enthusiasm, we can’t say that it’s not a work of God or that God isn’t moving. I’m just saying that I guarantee you there’s some old dude in some town that most of us have never heard of faithfully preaching to nine people every week, and when we get to glory, we’ll be awed at his house. We’ll be awed at the reward God has for him. In the end, we have this idea being uncovered in Isaiah that God hardens hearts, that people hear the gospel successfully proclaimed and end up not loving God but hardened toward the things of God.

We are never, ever, ever going to make Christianity so cool that everybody wants it. That is a fool’s errand. It is chasing the wind. We can’t repaint the faith. It doesn’t need our help anyway. Every effort to remake the Christian faith leads to wickedness. Every effort to adjust the gospel so it appears more appealing, more palatable, is foolishness.

The spiritual power in the gospel is denied when we augment or adjust the gospel into no gospel at all. When we doubt the message alone is the power of God for salvation, we start adding or subtracting, trusting our own powers of persuasion or presentation. We end up agreeing with God that preaching is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21) but disagree that it is required anyway. This is a colossal fail. Only the unadjusted gospel is the empowered gospel. And this message of the finished work of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the securing of eternal life is carried by the Spirit like a smart bomb into the hearts of those the Spirit has given eyes to see and ears to hear.

From Chapter 10

It is important that pastors and all believers in Jesus Christ know and understand that we will never make the gospel so attractive that everyone wants to submit to it. According to the Scriptures, the message will be the stench of death to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:16). So it doesn’t matter how you dress, what technology you use in your services, or what creative props you’ve got on your stage—if you’re preaching the biblical gospel, there will be those who want nothing to do with it. A lot of what I see and read in books that specifically target young evangelicals reflects the idea that if we would simply create a comfortable experience and not harp on secondary issues, somehow more people will trust in and follow Jesus Christ. So we lop off large swaths of the Bible because it won’t appeal to our target demographic.

If we will just look at history, seeing the philosophy and work of Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel Movement that occurred in the late 1800s, what we’ll see happening is the stunning disappearance of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross over a period of time. Historically, the way it works is that little concessions are made on what people would call “secondary issues.” The idea is to compromise on some things and hope to meet in the middle at the central thing. But those who hate the true gospel and love themselves always insist that the atoning work of Christ is a secondary issue. This is how the doctrine of penal substitution has come to be considered a secondary issue and why many have wanted to pull it off the table altogether. So when guys who emphasize the gospel on the ground get nervous about terms such as missional and cautious about the idea of a church being for the city, it’s usually with good reason, because history shows us where this trajectory often goes.

It’s not just historical cautionary tales that cause some anxiety about the missional push. There are plenty of causes for concern in present movements. The drift into Christlessness happens to this day. When we stay in the air too long, we can mistake a sketchy “redemption of all things” for the whole story. The reality is that we can create a utopian idea in our minds of God’s cosmic purposes that bears little or no resemblance to how the Bible actually says the gospel affects cultures and systems. The slippery slope from this perspective is to fudge on biblical concepts and promote other ideas that better fit our modern notions of what a redeemed culture looks like… We tweak verses and say that we stand under the authority of Scripture, but we end up with conclusions that are different from how Scripture has been interpreted or defined for the last two thousand years. What has happened? God’s entire design has been deemed outdated or unequipped for the needs of our day. Culture rather than God now dictates mission, and this is how culture becomes an idol.

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