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Pandering to "Itching Ears?"

Posted by James P. McGarvey , 09 June 2011 · 960 views

In his second letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul commended the believers for their faithfulness in the face of persecution. He went on to say, "...God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

Those are strong words. Paul points out that God's holiness demands justice for those mistreated because they follow Christ, just as His holiness demands justice in the punishment of those who reject Him.

I wonder if the American church is hesitant to proclaim God's judgment because it has experienced little persecution and suffering for its confession. Even a casual reading of the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul lead one to conclude that in his day embracing the Gospel often led to persecution and suffering. It was part of his theology. He advised Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV) His words echo that of Jesus himself. "‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.'” (John 15:18-20 ESV)

Is the American church so comfortable with "easy believism" (I say I follow Christ but without the cost of following Christ), that it has an aversion to hearing about God's judgment of those who reject Christ. The "judgment" message hits too close to home. Could some preachers feel uncomfortable proclaiming God's judgment of those who reject Christ for the same reason that they choose to proclaim a watered down gospel to gain "followers" of Christ.

The danger of "easy believism" is that it leads to presumption (I "say" I am a Christian without the evidence of being a Christian – the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration). Both presumption and unbelief are deceptive. They are equally dangerous. It is interesting that after his words regarding persecution (cited above), Paul went on to say, "…evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:13 ESV)

We would do well to heed Paul's warning to Timothy. "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)How prevalent is this modus operandi in the American church? Are we pandering to "itching ears?" It is pretty obvious today that a "watered down" gospel draws an audience - sometimes a big audience. But in light of Paul's theology, the question we must answer is, "Does that end justify the means?