There is an epidemic in Evangelical Churches. And this epidemic has caused far more serious problems and destroyed far more people than the COVID-19 pandemic. And, I fear, it is an epidemic for which the Lord Jesus will one day call us to account. It is the epidemic of niceness.
What is wrong with being nice? Isn’t it good to be nice? Well, superficially, yes. Obviously, if by being nice, you mean not being horrible to people. Then yes, being nice is a good thing. But our churches are riddled with the problem of people thinking they’re being nice when they’re actually killing people.
There is a supposed niceness in the church that is dragging people to Hell. In fact, it is the kind of niceness that would rather not talk about Hell at all. Certainly, if it does, nobody we know or like is ever actually going there. Sin must be minimised at all costs; nobody ought to confronted with any of that. It is the kind of niceness that simply refuses to ever say to somebody they are not a believer. No amount of unrepentant sin, no gospel misunderstanding, no lack of a clear testimony is ever quite enough for us to say, ‘you are not a believer and, unless you repent, you are heading for a lost eternity’. And because we refuse to say that people might be heading for Hell, out of niceness, we are actually helping to ensure that is exactly where they end up. It’s like we can see the train coming, and the person standing on the tracks, but because we think they might be upset if we shout, we decide to play along and tell them they’re definitely fine.
Of course, nobody ever quite views it that way. If somebody came along and admitted, point blank, they hate Jesus and want nothing to do with him, they don’t believe and they definitely aren’t Christian, we might admit they aren’t saved then. We still might avoid mentioning Hell or sin – we want to win them, after all, and that might “put them off” – but we would quietly admit that person isn’t a believer under those circumstances. We still won’t help them get any closer to becoming one by refusing to tell them their unbelief and godless behaviour is a problem, with a punishment awaiting it in a real place from a holy God. If we won’t tell them how to be saved, or what they need to be saved from, they haven’t got much hope of obtaining salvation. But at least some of us would be prepared to recognise the reality of the matter, even if we wouldn’t say it. This person knows where they stand and we know it too. The Lord may hold us accountable for our cowardice in saying nothing, but at least we’re not giving false comfort and lying to people about their spiritual state here.
The far bigger issue is for those who do profess to be believers. Only, when you ask them what they believe, it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the gospel. Their testimony is either wrapped up entirely in their church experience – with literally no mention of Jesus to be found – or they trust in their good deeds, with zero understanding of grace. Some may be able to articulate some gospel basics, but their lives bear absolutely no change whatsoever. They are continuing on in the same old sin, unrepentantly doing so even whilst challenged on it by some brave soul who is almost certainly castigated for daring to be “unkind” when they do so. But none of this matters. They have said they believe and so they must. It is the nice thing to tell them.
For this reason, our churches are chocabloc full of people who we are allowing to play church whilst being comforted in their unbelief. Those who dare to say such people are probably not believers are considered unkind and unloving. Apparently it is kinder to let people believe they aren’t heading to a lost eternity and make sure they remain “in church” than it is to actually move them any closer to a belief in Christ that actually saves and accept that some will not want to stay if you do not affirm everything they say and do. I really do think the Lord will hold so many of us to account for nicing people all the way Hell.
But we just don’t reckon with this enough. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people being allowed to join in with the all the aspects of church life as though they were a believer, even when it is clear they are not. They evidently think they are and nobody seemed to think it a good idea to make sure that they are at least told the truth! I have lost count of the number of times I have been called unkind or unloving for telling an asylum seeker that they haven’t understood the gospel so can’t be a believer yet, without any acknowledgement that should they be returned home in their current state, probably to be killed by the government they are fleeing, we are also sending them back without any credible hope in Christ. I have lost count of the number of times people have said it would be unkind to remove somebody in some of the most egregious unrepentant sin without any consideration that they are evidencing they weren’t in the church to begin with. I have lost count of the number of times it is deemed unkind not to let people serve who are unbelievers because “they might not stay” as if allowing them to stay and pretend at being Christians is somehow serving them better.
In truth, I think it owes very little to being nice at all. Clearly it isn’t nice to affirm and encourage them in what is obviously damaging. It’s like the family of heroin addicts who keep buying them gear. Being “nice” like that isn’t helping anyone, it is killing them. But what we call being nice – and it obviously isn’t very nice – is actually just cowardice. We pretend we are doing it for the good of others – and we make out like those who want to actually share the gospel are being hard and mean – when in truth we are just serving ourselves. It is far easier to affirm everyone in everything they want to do, let them get on with it, tell them what they want to hear, because that makes my life easier. We are cowards, worried what people will think of us. We don’t trust the Lord and his gospel, so we smooth out the bits we consider to have rough edges as though we know better than Jesus. We are ultimately more scared of people not liking us. Or, worse yet, actually having to get involved in someone’s life to help them move one iota closer to the kingdom. Far easier just to say they’re believers, play nice and help them trundle along with their dangerous fantasy.
You tell me which of us will be more embarrassed on the Day of the Lord? The one of us who told somebody they weren’t a believer and pleaded with them to actually trust Christ, or the one looking on their friend being ushered into a lost eternity who told them that they were fine and on their way to glory for definites? Which one of us will look the nicer then? We have an epidemic of nicing people out of the kingdom, and keeping them there to face a lost eternity, because we would rather let them play church than actually help them to become a genuine part of the church.