Unchurched and Church Clothes

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 9:22b-23

Lecrae has socked the world again with his recent release of the album Church Clothes Vol. 2. Much like the first volume, Lecrae takes a hard stand against hypocrisy on the modern western Church. The second volume is definitely more behavior oriented, instead of an “in your face” gospel message. Many have taken issue with this. However, I’m convinced that there is a strong biblical theology that runs underneath the entire album. What blesses me the most, in my opinion, is the way he juxtaposes the accepted customs of his listeners with ideas and stories of a healthier lifestyle, one found through God. Not an explicit gospel message (not intended either), but a gospel inspired one.

My point, however, was not to talk about the album’s content (whether or not it is biblically sound). But I want to is Lecrae’s technique or method of evangelism- that need to reach an “unchurched” audience. Many in the church have spoken critically about Lecrae’s album. They don’t like. I wondered why? Maybe because the beats were to close to secular rap? Maybe because the lyrics were too worldly? Lecrae should have used more Christanese. Maybe they don’t like it because he collaborated with “secular” artist on some tracks? I could go into another discussion about art, and how we can appreciate art expression as something created by a beautiful, loving, and artistic God, but I’ll save that for another blog. I had a dialogue with a brother in the faith a few days ago about it. He says, “I find his [Lecrae’s] new approach sinful and ineffective…” I couldn’t help but to pause and shake my head. In fact, I think Lecrae has it right!!! As I survey scripture, I see very similar “techniques” employed by the ultimate evangelist, Jesus Christ.

As we look at Luke 19, with the story of Zacchaeus, we see the same technique used from Jesus. Jesus, the God of all Glory, Holy in every way, decides to sit at the table of a very sinful man. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He also was a Jew. I’m not going to go into the details of the Roman tax system, but suffice it to say, it was corrupt. These tax collectors exploited the people for their money, and became very wealthy. To make matters worse, Zacchaeus was a Jew, who exploited other Jews. He was hated by his ethnic brothers and sisters. It was one thing for the Romans to exploit the Jews, but it was another for your own Jewish brother to exploit his people. The religious people thought that Zacchaeus was just a worthless sinner- to hell with him! In verse 5, Jesus calls Zacchaeus, who at this point is in a tree, and says that he must spend time with Zacchaeus and his family tonight. I want you feel the weight of what Jesus is doing. He knows that Zacchaeus is a sinner- he lives in a world where corruption reigns. Why does Jesus spend time with Zacchaeus? This was the question being asked in the grumbling crowd. Why is Jesus spending time with a “great sinner”? The answer is simple. In order for Jesus to share himself and his love with Zacchaeus and his family, he needed to be near him. He needed to enter into his world for a moment and influence Zacchaeus’ life. This is evangelism 101. Sharing Jesus is our primary goal, but we can only do that if we are near them; if we are granted access into their world.

Some might take offense at this saying “We don’t need to necessarily need to enter their home to influence. If we just preach the gospel, then they will hear and listen.” I think the Apostle Paul would answer this question with a “Yes, but…” The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), but God has chosen the Church to be the catalyst- to be the vehicle that delivers that gospel. Most unbelievers, as Lecrae has eloquently pointed out in 8 bars and a chorus, do not want to hear from the Church, because the church (notice the difference) has not been upfront or “real” about sin and grace. Why? I don’t know… maybe pride. We want to appear like we have it all together. If we had it all together, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. Unbelievers want to hear that sin and temptation is real, it doesn’t go away even after being saved! But God by his Spirit has given us the power to endure and overcome, and grace when we fail.

Paul was a real evangelist. Whatever he needed to do to win some over to saving faith, he was ready to do it. In 1 Cor. 9 he says, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak…” Lecrae is embodying this scripture. So why do we condemn his method?

In some ways, I think the church has become hypocritical. I’m a church boy. I grew up in the church, so I know what church looks like. I currently attend what would be considered the typical church experience. Men in suits and ties, and women in fancy dresses and hats. We sing the typical church song, and do the typical church liturgy. Now, there is not inherently wrong with that, but it makes me wonder why the “unchurched” folks who stumble in the doors don’t stay very long. We talk a lot about holiness, but we don’t really talk about sin as a reality in our lives. It is one thing to be holy, but when temptation has actually knocked down our door (it happens) what do we do? My food for thought is this: Have we really entered into their world? Have we really became, as Paul would say, “to those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law”? I don’t know what it is that drives them away from the church, but I know that they are listening to Lecrae. Lecrae is heading in a good direction. Our responsibility as his brothers and sisters in the faith is to pray for him. Pray for the album. Pray for the church, that it would embody evangelism as Jesus did so many years ago.

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