In a lot of criticism for the “Seeker-driven” churches, there’s usually mention of false assurances of salvation. What does that mean? Does it mean that despite repenting and confessing, Jesus Christ is the one and only true way to the Father, that people are still doomed to hell? … I’m so confused and honestly MORE than a little frightened.
Hey, thank you for this question.
First please know: God is not really in the business of scaring people into loving Him, so if any part of you is thinking, “I have to get this right or I’m doomed!” — then I don’t believe it’s coming from God. We can leave behind the fear, so says 1 John 4:18.
When we say the phrase seeker-sensitive, it was originally coined by Willow Creek Community Church, the huge megachurch in Chicago. About a decade ago, the leadership thought that creating a service around “seekers” — people curious about the church — would attract more mainstream crowds. The word “seeker” replaced sinner because it felt more friendly and welcoming.
There is a ton of anecdotal evidence that says the whole seeker-sensitive movement was a bad idea (Willow Creek has since mostly stopped services for seekers). I’m not so black-and-white on it. I think it was a decent idea to reach out to people who didn’t grow up in church. Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 says he became all things to all people, that he might save some. I believe adapting to seekers was born out of good intentions.
But as with any idea, the downside is that any church culture will always grow a subculture of bad ideas. All of them. Even the best ideas can be corrupted in human hands. Think of any movement in church history and this has always been true. If the Bible can be subverted for twisted agendas, then surely so can church culture.
Some pastors get scared of their youth group having sex, so BAM, you get fear-based scare tactics on dating that damages the youth. John Calvin expounds on God’s sovereignty and BAM, you get some arrogant Reformed Neo-Calvinists. I bet John Calvin would hardly recognize Calvinism today. If we’re criticizing seeker-ministries, we have to take that microscope on everything else.
Again, there is always going to be a cyst on the original intent of a decent idea, no matter how good it is, and that’s human nature: we’re bound to take things to extremes.
So certainly there are some shallow churchgoers out there who think they’re saved but could possibly have a “false assurance.”
But I feel like this is a misleading parameter too. At what point does the amount of our “assurance” make us saved? Is it an emotional thing? Intellectual? Mystical? Which doctrines does an eight year old need to know to be saved? Or a man on his deathbed? What really is assurance when Peter, Thomas, Martha, and John the Baptist all struggled with certainty?
Because the thing is — please hang with me here — I meet very few people who settle for “false assurance.” I think it’s just a straw-man caricature of the Western Christian American. I don’t meet a lot of churchgoers who think, “I’m just totally faking my attendance,” because then they would just stay home.
There are definitely exceptions, like cults and obvious hypocrites and the Prosperity Gospel. But most thoughtful people feel there’s more that God has to offer than “I-prayed-a-prayer.” The cognitive dissonance is too great to bear. No one wants to be fake, and any fake person at three a.m. watching the ceiling fan also hates himself. So people 1) dig deeper or 2) find a way to reject God. Having “false assurance” might be the process, but it can’t be the final condition.
Having said that, some people “get assurance” in all the wrong ways. They’ll do more church stuff, cuss less, quit Breaking Bad, and baptize their pets. It becomes exhausting, and they still fall back to their old sins anyway.
I’ll end by saying: Let’s please be thoughtful about the terms we use so frequently. I know that Jesus wants us to be certain on many things, but let’s clearly define “assurance” without panic or fear or reactionary subculture. I’m not willing to dismiss a seeker-sensitive church based on a few bad fruits, nor would I subscribe to it as the only right ideology. In our thoughtfulness, we can find the right estimation of what works, but even more than that, what best aligns with the unchanging truth of God.