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“Contextualization” and the Corruption of the Church

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | Comments (12)

by John MacArthur

It should be clear that modern church marketers cannot look to the apostle Paul for approval of their methodology or claim him as the father of their philosophy. Although he ministered to the vilest pagans throughout the Roman world, Paul never adapted the church to secular society’s tastes. He would not think of altering either the message or the nature of the church. Each of the churches he founded had its own unique personality and set of problems, but Paul’s teaching, his strategy, and above all his message remained the same throughout his ministry. His means of ministry was always preaching—the straightforward proclamation of biblical truth.

By contrast, the “contextualization” of the gospel today has infected the church with the spirit of the age. It has opened the church’s doors wide for worldliness, shallowness, and in some cases a crass, party atmosphere. The world now sets the agenda for the church.

This is demonstrated clearly in a book by James Davison Hunter, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. Hunter surveyed students in evangelical colleges and seminaries, and concluded that evangelical Christianity has changed dramatically in the past three decades. He found that young evangelicals have become significantly more tolerant of activities once viewed as worldly or immoral—including smoking, using marijuana, attending R-rated movies, and premarital sex. Hunter wrote,

The symbolic boundaries which previously defined moral propriety for conservative Protestantism have lost a measure of clarity. Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from “worldly conduct” have been challenged if not altogether undermined. Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning.… The traditional meaning of worldliness has indeed lost its relevance for the coming generation of Evangelicals. (Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, 63)

What Hunter noted among evangelical students is a reflection of what has happened to the entire evangelical church. Many professing Christians appear to care far more about the world’s opinion than about God’s. Churches are so engrossed in trying to please non-Christians that many have forgotten their first duty is to please God (2 Cor. 5:9). The church has been so over-contextualized that it has become corrupted by the world.

John MacArthur


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#2  Posted by Larry Chesser  |  Thursday, September 22, 2011at 1:29 PM

As a minister of the gospel I, too, have noticed the shift in our churches away from true holiness living. We, the church, are called "out from among the world" as Jesus told us, "we are in the world but not of the world. It is important that we do not confuse holiness, or being set apart, with being self-righteous. I am a child of God but I have no room at all to boast in myself; rather, I gladly boast in Christ and I boast of Him to those who do not know Him! I tell them how He will loves them and will welcome them into the family of God if they, too, will repent of their sins, confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, take up their cross daily, and follow after Him. Of course, that is a quick synopsis of what we do; but the main point is that we have the privilege of representing Christ in this troubled world and, as such, we have a grave responsibility to represent Him truthfully, as He really is: a Holy God of love and mercy who will soon appear as the God of judgment.

#3  Posted by Elisabeth Robinson  |  Thursday, September 22, 2011at 4:30 PM

This is so true! I have heard a profession Christian pastor of a very large congregation state that the Bible is "inspired by God, but not infallible" in order to justify a choice that he had made in his own life. The congregation clapped, which made me feel even more sickened.

#4  Posted by Kevin Greene  |  Thursday, September 22, 2011at 5:20 PM

" I WILL NOT BE MOVED"

#5  Posted by Dominic Bonasio  |  Thursday, September 22, 2011at 6:43 PM

Amen!

#6  Posted by Pam Eckler  |  Friday, September 23, 2011at 4:47 AM

we just left a church after being there for 18 years---the pastor changed the whole church around music, lights, has a resturant where you buy a breakfast. the pastor is 66yrs old and dresses like my teenage grandson- gimmicks are used now in the church to bring people in and not the Holy Spirit---we are in the last days----

#7  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Friday, September 23, 2011at 10:17 AM

I agree. Amen.

#8  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Friday, September 23, 2011at 1:13 PM

“Many professing Christians appear to care far more about the world’s opinion than about God’s.”

No truer words were ever spoken. The world has lost all reverence for God, and that word reverence is fast becoming antiquated, as is the notion that nothing is truly sacred. We have forgotten what the word holy means, it means to be set apart, kept separate from the common (along with its other obvious meaning-absolute purity), and so we have no basis on which to form correct judgments.

The profane and the holy seem to be coalescing in our churches, into some odd/strange mixture, which is neither truly profane, nor truly holy. It is so watery. So it leaves many people hard pressed to delineate between what is profane and what is holy. And the more people who lack Biblical wisdom in our churches, the more the tables are stacked against holiness ever gaining a strong foothold.

That is why holiness and the character of God should be stressed over and over again, and shoulder-to-shoulder along with that, is the purity of His Word.

Wonderful article!

#9  Posted by Trent Biller  |  Friday, September 23, 2011at 2:25 PM

John Newton

"So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs."

(from "John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace" pg 203)

#10  Posted by David Johnson  |  Saturday, September 24, 2011at 9:18 AM

Amen to this article! Here is a sound word of counsel from A. W. Pink - taken from his book Spiritual Growth. He quotes these two texts:"He that walks with wise men shall be wise" (Pro 13:20); "I am a companion of all that fear thee and of them that keep thy precepts" (Ps. 119:63) and advises the young Christian in this way...

"O young Christian, your "companions," those with whom you most closely associate, exert a powerful influence upon you for either good or evil. Far better that you should tread a lonely path with Christ, than that you offend Him by cultivating friendship with religious worldlings. He that lives in a mill, the flour will stick upon his clothes. Man receives insensible taint from the comp;any he keeps. He that lives in a shop of perfumes and is often handling them carries away some of their fragancy: so by converse with the godly we are made lime them (A Puritan)."

Pink went on to say the aim of Christian is to follow the wise even though such men are very scarce these evils days (apparently more true today then it was in Pink's day).

#11  Posted by Terry Maher  |  Saturday, September 24, 2011at 6:46 PM

I'm leaving a church with a super star pastor who "preaches" without a pulpit, dresses in blue jeans and wears a shirt that looks like he's going to take out the garbage or mow the yard.

Throw in a couple of jokes, a large video screen, a "christian" rock band for a choir and the place is packed out every Sunday. My kids of course love it but as the Dad and the spiritual head of the home it's time to move on. We are indeed in the last days. The church of the tares.

#12  Posted by Steve Nuhn  |  Sunday, September 25, 2011at 11:51 AM

I just got home from church where we heard a sermon on forgiveness. The pastor used a power point with a bunch of Lego figures to illustrate what he was teaching. (no joke, the little plastic building blocks). Would this be considered contextualization? While not being in a position of leadership, what can I do in a situation like this? Is it wrong to question this stuff in our churches? I hesitate to speak up and question because I've also been forbidden from teaching a class or leading a bible study in my church because I have expressed belief in election and predestination.

Thank you for the topic.

#14  Posted by Steve Mateuszow  |  Monday, September 26, 2011at 11:56 AM

Thanks for addressing this John. Your ministry has been a blessing for my wife and I over the last year. My wife and I had both received Jesus as Lord and Savior in a very charismatic church. In addition to teachings that are common in these churches, (like seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and aberrant teachings like being slain in the spirit), the church also got heavily into mysticism and the pastor introduced a book that spoke favorably of the desert fathers, Roman Catholic mystics and contemplative prayer. The church also became more and more concerned with appealing to non Christians (having pizza and movie nights with secular movies) and less and less concerned with teaching the word of God. After this book was introduced, I decided that I needed to share my concerns with the pastor. My wife and I were immediately ostracized and told that we were being intolerant and trying to cause division in the church. I had wrestled with this for quite some time in light of Hebrews 13:17. I questioned my decision on leaving the church, but I now believe that God graciously took my family out of the church and we are now part of a reformed church that is committed to expositional preaching. For months your ministry has helped us to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Blessings Steve and Lisa