Seeker Sensitive Bait and Switch

This is a question that occurred to me after reading Rick Warren’s email to Saddleback, where he said:

We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists.

– Warren

I agree with his sentiments here. The question it raises for me, is when does the expectation for new Christian’s to ‘act like believers’ begin, and what does it look like? Sometimes God’s transforming work in people is visible immediately, but other times people may struggle with an issue for a long time, yet still believe.

What do churches define ‘acting like a believer’ to entail? Obviously something is expected of believers by Warren’s church, and many others. Is it a matter of demonstrating improving character traits over time, or is it a matter of conforming to the churches cultural expectations – such as tithing or attendance expectations? Some churches don’t seem to differentiate between the two.

Frequently churches do offer great acceptance to non-Christians who are struggling with issues. Once they become a Christian, does the attitude of acceptance change, and pressure begin? Can this be a kind of ‘bait and switch’ – offering unconditional love and acceptance but switching it for the conditional variety later? Is that how Jesus wanted us to do things?

Maybe that’s why we see some people reacting so angrily after being rejected by a church for sinful behaviour. If they experienced that wonderful acceptance and love to begin with, and responded in kind, then they experience rejection from people they grew to love, and will be upset or angry. It’s a bit like offering a kid a lolly, then snatching it from them and being outraged when they cry.

Those who emphasise repentance do at least let people know that there is a price to pay; perhaps that approach is more honest. But the seeker sensitive variety of church can still emphasise turning to Jesus, which in itself is a turning from darkness and sin towards light. Plus emphasising repentance does place pressure on people who may find themselves unable to live up to their repentance in some more obvious ways, and give up.

Knowing Jesus in my view entails walking with him through problems and issues, including these difficult ones, which aren’t necessarily resolved overnight. As we know more Light, we turn from more darkness, and mature over time. But on the way, we might not always look as though we are ‘acting like believers’.

Are we sometimes too impatient with God’s work in people when it doesn’t always take place overnight? Where should a line be drawn? Do some churches using a ‘bait and switch’ tactic, and is it OK?

5 thoughts on “Seeker Sensitive Bait and Switch

  1. I too agree with the sentiments expressed in that quote.

    A top down approach never touches peoples hearts. So they remain the same and when external coercion disappears, they go back to their old ways.

    The bottom line is, really, what is more honest?

    Tell people to repent before they believe or expect them to come to the right conclusion later on?

    The classic question is of course “What would Jesus do?”

    Well, he talked to the lowest of the low … Prostitutes, Tax Collectors (that is, protection racketeers who extorted their fellow Jews with roman military backing for more than the official tax rate and pocketed the difference), Samaritans and so on.

    But while we notice that, we don’t really notice what he said to them. “Go and Sin no more”. Lives were transformed because they first repented and turned away from the things the lord doesn’t like. Now, I am not saying they became perfect people or even that all they issues were sorted out. The older I get, the more I realise how pathetic a disciple I am. I am a poor excuse for a believer.

    However, I am not what I was when I started out on this journey. Thank God.

    What pleased Jesus more than anything else in the New Testament was when someone repented.

    Now, the problem is that Western churches think they’ve made it … material blessing or even ‘revival’ becomes a way of keeping score on how holy your church is. “Look how much we’ve been blessed! We must be doing something right!”

    That’s wrong. A more correct way of evaluating where you are with God would be … “Look how much we’ve been persecuted, even the church has been burned down … we must be doing something right to earn so much of God’s favour!”

    Which, of course, doesn’t make sense to us but is the message of much of the New Testament … at least in part because much of the new testament was written to a church suffering daily persecution.

    So, Jesus would go to the Gay club. He would go to the red light district, he would go to the abortion clinic, he would visit people on death row, he would go and talk to drug addicts and so on.

    But he would tell them about God, The Kingdom of God and Himself. Then He’d tell them to stop sinning against God. The church is in no position to tell people to repent. The church itself needs to repent.

    The biggest shock to me when I realised it was that when the early believers were baptised, they had to give proof of repentence before being allowed to go through baptism. Nowadays all we need to do is say we believe. Aslo, the new believers wanted to be baptised into God’s Kingdom. Now we just say belief is all that is required.

    While everyone mentions the dying thief on the cross and uses that as the yardstick of entry into the kingdom, the practice of the apostles was to get people baptised as part of the full “Peter Package”

    Repent to the Father, believe in the Son, be baptised in Water and receive the Holy Spirit. We need to do all that, not to tick boxes or play some kind of one-up-manship contest but just to do everything the Apostles did for new converts in the book of Acts. If they did all that to initiate new believers into God’s Kingdom, why don’t we?

    This is the primary reason why we have such problems in the church. Hit them with everything at the beginning … anything else is fundamentally dishonest and is plain unfair. We are very quick to criticise new religious movements that get new members through non-disclosure of aspects of the new movement. We must not use questionable tactics in evangelism which could exploit vulnerable people.

    Whoo … it’s warm here. Summer in the old country don’t you know. Think I’ll have a nice cup of tea now that I’ve got all that off my chest.

    Mmmmmmm. Tea.


  2. Read your link above Bull – and speaking of false teachers etc, I was reading through Matthew 7 last night, and Jesus teaching around these words struck me:

    ” 24″Therefore (V)everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.

    25″And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

    26″Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

    I know these words refer to all the teaching over the chapters prior to them. However, this includes what Jesus said immediately prior:

    “A Tree and Its Fruit
    15″Beware of the (L)false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are (M)ravenous wolves.

    16″You will (N)know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? ”

    So clearly if we are not careful of false teachers and prophets, we are building a house on the sand; when we are careful, our foundation is rock.

    OK, I know it seems obvious, but it amazes me how this warning is cast aside, or not mentioned when teaching on this sermon, and people seem to think its bad to doubt these men who lift themselves up yet have bad or suspect fruit to show for it. But then Jesus also said ‘the way is narrow that leads to life’, so maybe its just easier to go with the flow and listen to these teachers without being careful.

    Anyway, I know you know all that. I just never imagined that this sort of thing was part of ‘the narrow way’ in my younger days. Why would it be made difficult for people to be careful? I guess the answer is obvious really, but I still find it hard to believe.

  3. A couple of observations.

    I don’t think God made it difficult – as a broad generalisation I think Jesus is exactly right (of course He is) – it is easier to do what we want to do now instead do what is right over the long term. Easier to listen to those who tickle our ears. Who wants to be a Jeremiah?

    What do I want? What I want. And when do I want it?? NOW!!

    The other comment is that we all – churches and individuals – get things wrong. Think about Jesus comments, Paul’s letters to different churches, and the 7 churches in Revelation.

    We’re told be ye perfect, but that in real terms is an impossible standard for us.

    So we have that sound Christian doctrine – sanctification – the practical result of which we should see over a period of time – is fruit.

    Which brings us back to the passage RP referred to above.

    We shall know them by their fruit.

    And if you are like me and don’t think there is much to show for the time we have spent here – then Paul reminds us this is an endurance race and to keep on working at it in Christ.

    An obvious but not-so-obvious question – what is ‘fruit’?


  4. “We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists.”

    I find Warren at fault here. I raised my eyebrows when I read that comment too, which is why I am fairly comfortable that when one is baptised either
    a) they know they are forgiven and have accepted Christ as Lord,
    b) they have been born again,
    c) they have repented and started a new life in Christ or
    d) hopefully to my delight, all the above.

    But the key thing I wish to stress is that ‘acting’ doesn’t make us a Believer or not a Believer. Believing makes the difference between us being a Believer or not a non-Believer.

    The ‘fruits’ can naturally help us discern if a person will effect us for the better or for the worst. Thankfully the fruits of the Spirit should help develop the new believer first, so that we can see them develop in Christ-like maturity, (which is what I think he is trying to say, but when I first read it, I read something else completely).

    The way he said the above sounds sooo suspicious though.
    It was fairly oddly put by him. 😛

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