A key element of the neo-evangelical movement and the mega-church movement it spawned is the idea that the message of the church must produce a positive response in its hearers, or it has failed. And when a message is ignored or rejected, it is the responsibility of the messenger (i.e., church or pastor) to formulate another message (or, at least, change the method of presentation) in order to provoke a positive response. And while it must be acknowledged that some messages are ignored or rejected because or their erroneous foundation and others because of their poor presentation, it is not the responsibility of the church, the pastor, or individual members to deliver a message that is palatable to its hearers. In fact, just the opposite is often the case: God’s message faithfully proclaimed often will provoke a negative response.
The bottom line is that the success of a ministry is not measured by the quality or quantity of the response but on its faithfulness to the written Word of God. Our human response to God’s Word is not uniform: hearers respond personally, individually, and one-at-a-time. God has always dealt with individuals. That having been said, it is equally true that general characteristics define an age. For example, the Protestant Reformation, led by Hus, Wycliffe, and especially Luther in 1521, defined an age of great positive response (but great, even violent opposition) to the Word of God. More recently in the U.S., Whitefield and Edwards were at the forefront of an age known as the Great Awakening when, starting in 1726, many souls were turned to the truth. Of course, many ages are characterized by their rebellion and unbelief. Israel’s period under the judges exemplifies such an age.
Regardless of the response, at no time did God direct his messengers to change their message in order to make it more palatable or to provoke a more favorable response. In fact, God’s commission to Ezekiel was this: “And thou shalt speak my words unto them [God’s people], whether they will hear or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious” (Ezek. 2:7; see also 2:5; 3:11, 27). Later in the giving of the commission, the Lord “encouraged” Ezekiel with the assurance that “the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me” (3:7). Not only was Ezekiel forbidden to make his message more pleasant or positive in order to elicit a more positive response, God identified the rejection of the message, not with a rejection of the messenger or his weakness of presentation, but with a rejection of God Himself. The clear implication of this is twofold: (1) The message of God’s Word must not be altered in order to obtain a more favorable response; (2) Anyone who changes the message, regardless of the seeming merit of his motives, is guilty of rebelling against the Lord. A positive response to the faithful preaching of God’s Word, glorifies God and blesses the messenger and saves his auditors. But a message shaped with the sole intent of producing a more positive response dishonors God, dishonors the messenger, and most likely will only confirm the hearers in their sin and rebellion.
A similar view pertains in the New Testament where Matthew gives instructions regarding how to handle problems among brethren. The offended brother is to go to the offender “and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained a brother” (18:15). That would be a positive response from any perspective. But what if he refuses to hear? Is the message to be softened or altered? No, a progression of broadening involvement is enjoined, which, if the offender refuses, results in his being treated “as an heathen man and a publican” (v. 17), in other words, someone to be avoided.
Clearly, God recognizes that the response to His message will not always (even often) be positive. But the responsibility of a pastor or saint is to faithfully declare the message, leaving the ultimate response to God. Faithfulness to the Word of God is the measure of success in a servant of God—not the nature of the response. We are in an age of apostasy (a falling away from the truth). The tenor of the age is rejection of God’s Word. Any temptation to alter the message in order to make it more palatable to sinners dishonors God and does a disservice to those in sin. May we faithfully plant the seed of truth and allow God to bring the increase according to His will. Changing the message may result in a bumper crop, but it will be a crop of weeds, not of wheat.
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