Ooh! I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.
That you will, dearie, and no mistake. If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.
Then he isn’t safe?
Some time ago, I was talking to a youth pastor at a large church in the Seattle area. He was telling me how he wanted his youth group to be more of a safe place for the youth to come. He wanted his groups to be, as he put it, “seeker-safe”. I want to take a closer look at this.
The idea of an inclusive Gospel is completely Biblical. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) God’s desire is that no one should perish, but for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 2nd Peter 3:9) It reminds me of a Christian comedian from the 80’s, Mike Warnke (By the way, I’ve never liked the labeling of artists as “Christian” or “Secular”. If you’re a Christian, everything you do should give glory to God. I liked one singer’s response when talk-show host asked him if he’s now a Christian singer. He replied, “I’m a Christian everything”. But I digress.) A kid came up to Mike after a show and asked him if he had to give up smoking dope to become a Christian and Mike said no. Which, of course, shocked everyone. So the kid says “I don’t understand” and Mike replies “let me put it to you this way, do you have to get cleaned up to take a bath?”
Therefore, as The Church, we are mandated to include and love everyone (Jesus did say “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” So you’ve got your neighbors and your enemies. Yep, that’s pretty much everyone). We don’t judge them for their sin. (God help us if we were judged for ours. Judgement is reserved for the Holy Spirit, who convicts, not condemns, us of our sin.) But God’s love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) So we include them as Jesus did.
Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being inclusive. Check out the parable of the banquet. Jesus talks about a king who prepares a wedding banquet and invites all the best people, but they all blow him off. So what does the king do?
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:8-10)
One of the biggest, and most consistent, complaints of the pharisees is that Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out with the wrong crowd:
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17)
Then what’s the problem with a seeker-sensitive, or seeker-safe church? Nothing, per se, but inclusion isn’t the same as acceptance. And this is where we get into trouble. Acceptance says this is a safe place for you to believe whatever you want and we will just integrate it so you feel accepted. Contrast that with inclusion, which says you are welcome here, regardless of what you believe or who you are, but that doesn’t mean that we will agree or condone what you believe. You will be challenged by the truth of the gospel, which has the power to change and redeem lives.
You see, trying to be safe leads to acceptance, I’m not going to challenge you. I’m just going to accept it. Because we don’t want to offend you. But, acceptance leads to compromise and compromise is the problem. When we try to make a place accepting, we validate and condone sin and bad teaching, all in the name of making someone feel accepted. Making them feel safe.
There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are telling the children about Aslan. Lucy asks a very simple question: “Then he isn’t safe?” Mr. Beaver’s response is one of the most profound statements ever written about encountering Jesus:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The gospel of Jesus isn’t safe. It will welcome you, but it will challenge you. When you encounter Jesus, He will dive into every part of your life. He will upend the apple cart and spill your life all over the place. But then, He picks it all back up and puts it back together infinitely better than it was before. He makes you a new creature. He transforms your cold, stone heart into a heart of flesh. He changes everything. There’s an old, Christian saying: God is more concerned about your character than He is about your comfort.
No, the gospel isn’t safe, but it’s good.
You see, people might be attracted to a church just because it’s “seeker sensitive” and it makes them feel good, but without the absolute, uncompromised gospel of Jesus, it’s just a social gathering, a place to hang out. But when you include Jesus, when you reflect Jesus, people will be attracted to Jesus, and the love of Jesus, the goodness of Jesus, will transform their lives.