“The names have been changed to comfort the guilty.” . . .redux

This was first posted about five years ago, and I thought it time to repost it, with a couple of small tweaks:

Some of us old geezers remember the popular television series "Dragnet", especially the lead-in phrase that ‘the upcoming story was true, but the names had been changed to protect the innocent’. There’s a twist to that theme that is extremely popular in evangelical (I use the term loosely) circles these days. It’s not about changing the names of people, however, but changing the names of essential elements of the Biblical Gospel message for which we are accountable, and that we are charged to faithfully proclaim.

If you haven’t yet figured out what ‘names’ I’m talking about yet, they are repent (in all it’s forms), and sin (and all direct references to it). When Jesus announced that the Kingdom was near, He told his listeners to ‘repent and believe’ (Mark 1:15). When the Apostle Paul found it necessary to remind believers in Corinth of the contents of the Gospel message, he told them that the Gospel IS that Christ died for our sins, and was raised, according to scripture (1 Cor 15:1-4). He also reminded believers in Galatia that different messages than that were ‘another gospel’ (Gal 1:8-9).

We don’t use those terms very much these days. We tell folks Jesus died for their pain, broken heart, in order to have an abundant life, and a number of other reasons, but we don’t lay the cards on the table and tell them that Christ died for their sins. We have all sorts of ways to ‘soften’ the message and ‘short-sheet’ the Holy Spirit.

We don’t tell them they need to repent and believe the Gospel, we tell them they can come to Jesus for spiritual Band-Aids to smooth out the raw ‘stuff’ of life. If we did use the ‘R’ word as we ought, we would have to explain why repentance was necessary and that would necessitate using the dreaded ‘S’ word.

People can’t/don’t ‘repent’ from a broken heart, painful experiences, or lives that aren’t as abundant as they would like them to be. Those are all things that can be understood as outside of oneself, and there is no need repent of that which you are not personally accountable. If we are somehow responsible for anything it’s a poor decision, bad judgment call, or personal misstep, but never in any way the result of ‘sin’. We don’t like to use that word.

So I have to ask myself – Why don’t we tell it like it is, – define the issue using scriptural terms and definitions? Here’s my short list of why we don’t use the ‘S’ word.

  1. It makes people feel uncomfortable in our ‘seeker friendly’ service.
  2. People know they are sinners already, so there’s no need.
  3. If I use the ‘S’ word he/she won’t like me any more.
  4. If he/she/they like me/our church service they will naturally like Jesus.
  5. People who feel guilty when they hear the ‘S’ word won’t drop a check in the offering plate or donate to our ministry.
  6. Talking about ‘sin’ would hinder the warm ‘relationship building’ phase of personal evangelism technique/method, without which we might  never have a chance to share Christ.
  7. Broken hearts, and all the other painful ‘stuff’ of life, resulted from the Adam’s sin (the Fall) so we can just talk about those things and see even more ‘decisions’ for Christ than making folks feel bad.
  8. We can always talk about sin after they have made a decision/prayed the prayer/said the right words and are already saved.
  9. We can just talk about sin being separated from God because of what Satan did in the Garden. We humans are just victims here.
  10. We’re ashamed of the Gospel.

As for me, I think the first 9 are the ways we soften/disguise the real reason, #10. I know that sounds harsh, but either we are  ashamed of the gospel, or we just don’t believe we need to talk about sin and repentance, in which case we don’t know what the Bible really says about the state of fallen men and the sovereignty of God in their salvation.

5 responses to ““The names have been changed to comfort the guilty.” . . .redux

  1. Brother, I believe it is not only that people are ashamed of the gospel but also that they don’t trust God to accomplish his purpose [assuming they even believe he has a purpose] through the means he has ordained. If we understand we are only servants whose task is to carry out our master’s mandate, we will be content to employ his prescribed methods and proclaim his prescribed message.

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  2. “As for me, I think the first 9 are the ways we soften/disguise the real reason, #10. I know that sounds harsh, but either we are ashamed of the gospel, or we just don’t believe we need to talk about sin and repentance,”

    Amen.
    Convicting but so true

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  3. I listened to a sermon Sunday morning in which a familiar note was struck. The Chaplain talked about attending a really legalistic church at one time that seemed to only preach about sin and set up all sorts of rules one must follow. He talked about a man was of the longhaired and unkempt sort who went to the altar and was told to get a haircut and come back to the altar. I am reminded that extremes on one end of the spectrum can lead to the extreme of minimizing the other end, and the need for Spirit led balance in presenting the gospel. Sin needs to have its proper place, and so does love and mercy. God is in control.

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