By Bob Hiller –
This past weekend, SoCal Harvest church hosted their annual Harvest Crusade in Southern California. For those of you who don’t know, the Harvest Crusade is a massive Evangelical outreach event led by Pastor Greg Laurie. His church rents out a baseball stadium for three days, gets big-name Christian rock bands to play concerts, and packs the house with thousands upon thousands of people. Pastor Laurie preaches the Gospel and, as is the standard at such events, has an altar call at the end. In college, some buddies of mine and I attended it to observe and critique as all self-righteous pre-seminary students are wont to do. We were amazed to hear Laurie preach the Law and the Gospel. Folks were pointed to Jesus! Yes, I know, altar calls are a big problem. Yet, for all the issues I have with these “crusade” type events, I have to say, we heard Jesus preached. And for that, I think we can thank God.
To bring attention to the Harvest Crusade, Laurie put up billboards around Southern California. Apparently, the signs pictured him holding a Bible. This picture was quite off-putting to many, some of whom complained. Laurie writes in an op-ed piece for the LA Times,
A real estate company that owns one of the most popular malls in Southern California said it received multiple complaints from people who found the image of the Bible offensive, and at least one “serious threat.” The Bible disturbed people so much that one local business felt forced to remove the ads completely.
That’s right. People were so upset with a picture of the Bible that companies felt “forced” to take the ads down. Now, at first I thought, “This is absurd! Are we really to a point where just looking at the Bible in the hand of a preacher offends people? There is nothing offensive about that! This is just silly.” Laurie writes that the Bible, far from being offensive, is really a positive influence and the backbone which much of our culture holds dear. He says, “And yet, here we are, having to tiptoe around some who find it offensive.” Right. This is just lame. The Bible offensive? C’mon!
As I came to the end of the op-ed piece, I was feeling pretty frustrated with the “intolerance” towards the Bible. But then Laurie said something that gave me pause. He wrote why the Bible shouldn’t be offensive:
We believe the Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. It’s for people who do not want to be controlled by their passions; people who do not want so much pain in life; and people who want better relationships with others. The Bible is for people who want to know the purpose of this life and enter Heaven in the next one.
That’s fine, I guess, as far as it goes. But the reality is, that comment doesn’t go very far. The Bible is for those people, sure. But it is also for people who do want to be controlled by their passions. It is for people who may not want pain, but certainly cause it for others. It is for people who are actively breaking relationships, or believe they’ve found purpose apart from Christ, or have no desire for heaven whatsoever. It is absolutely for those people. In fact, it attacks them in their sin, calls them to repent, and tells them what eternity awaits them if they don’t! Then it struck me, “No, Greg Laurie. Actually, the Bible is quite offensive! It goes on the offense and attacks all sinners who oppose Christ and His Gospel!”
These past few weeks in our church, we’ve been working through John 6, where Jesus claims to be the bread of life. He’s talking to people who received the miraculous bread and fish at the feeding of the 5,000. The next day, they came to Him wanting more bread to eat. Instead, Jesus gave them Himself. He said that unless they ate His body and drank His blood they had no part with Him. When confusion and frustration arose over Jesus’ off-putting language, Jesus didn’t sweeten His words and try to make them more digestible (pardon the pun). He doubled down!
Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe…This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. John 6:61-65
Jesus didn’t try to explain that these words He spoke weren’t offensive. He made them more offensive! He didn’t present His teachings as a “love letter” written to meet the felt needs of His hearers. He didn’t even offer them bread to eat while He spoke! He said, “Are you offended? That’s because no one comes to me unless the Father draws them!” I mean, He goes to the doctrine of election? Jesus’ words are not only offensive; they drove people away!
I get where Laurie is coming from. He rightly believes that the Word of God gives life and saves people from their sins. Jesus is present in that Word with the only hope this world has. But let’s not make the Scriptures something they aren’t. They are Gospel, but they are also Law. And that Law aims, not merely to offend sinners, but to kill them in their self-righteousness, to attack their proud idols, to crush their securities. It goes on the offense to destroy anything that tries to keep the crucified Jesus from reigning. Sinners don’t want to hear that. People who are content in their sin and self-constructed righteousness don’t want to be told they are bound for hell unless Christ saves them and that the saving work of Christ is the only hope they have. Sinners don’t want to see their sin. It’s painful. It’s offensive.
But it is necessary. Because until Jesus attacks and destroys everything we worship besides Him, we won’t be able to hear the Words that do give life. Without the Law of God accusing and killing us, we’ll never be prepared for the Gospel to forgive and resurrect us.
I am always amazed by Jesus’ reaction to the disciples who leave in John 6. He turns to the apostles and says, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6: 67). Wait, I thought Jesus was here to grow the Church? How dare He not change His tone and disposition to at least keep His friends! It’s like He’s trying to be offensive. But Peter, who responds for the 12, is already been captivated by the Spirit. Jesus has already taken away their idols. But in return, He’s given them the only thing that can save them: His Word. So Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Offended or not, Peter was given the truth. Jesus alone gives life.
Will these words offend? Yes, Pastor Laurie, they will. But only because you need to be offended! So, be offended, but also repent and hear this: You have nowhere else to go for the words of eternal life! And what wonderful words Jesus has to say for you, “You are a sinner, but I forgive you!”