I mentioned this sermon a number of weeks ago here . Recently, I stumbled across a video clip of it. Herein you find a profound ontological distortion of a Biblical understanding of the trice holy Triune God of the Bible. Here in this tortured eisegesis of Exodus 3:14 you find a god defined perhaps exclusively a responder to felt needs, needs that quite frankly can often be met be met without Christ. Herein you find some truth mixed with an element of error and end up with a human-crafted god; you find idolatry.
I remember listening to a sermon at a mega-church I used to go to wherein they placed a quote on the overhead screens that went something like this: “God is honored to pursue us.” There is nothing in me, in us, that God would be honored to pursue us. Such thinking, without intent, represents a diminishing of God, the sovereign Creator, by an errant proclamation of exaltation of the fallen creature by the Creator. Ask yourself this: did the first martyr, Steven, die for this message of a god who lets us define him by our temporal desires? Did Paul die for this human-centered proclamation of ‘I AM what ever you need me to be?’ Was Peter crucified upside-down for a Christ that allows you to define Him by a “fill in the blank’ survey of felt needs? Do you pick up your cross to die daily for this lite version of the heretical prosperity gospel? It should come as no surprise to know that Steven Furtick embraces the message of Joel Osteen and holds him in high regard. Apparently, too, Steven Furtick, one who speaks at conferences on church growth, seems to be conflicted and confused in his thinking about Bereans .
(Addendum of 1-17-10: Listened to a recent sermon by Furtick, and he seems seems to be moving in a very positive, less human-centric direction.)
I will probably refrain from blogging for awhile. I even toyed with the idea of deleting this blog, but decided not to do so, at least for the time being. I increasingly think myself to be utterly unqualified to speak on weighty things. I also do not want to entertain any narcissism,and blogging, for me, can provide a temptingly fertile soil for such. You see, I am a not very good Christian. I am at times self-righteous and and prone to be an idolater. I am often foolish in speech and action and prone to be self-absorbed. I often beat myself up over my sin and shortcomings. But I am redeemed by my Saviour, Christ Jesus. In the end, that is all I got. That is absolutely all I got to cling to, and I have to preach that to myself daily. All I have is the fact that I can stand before my Maker because my Redeemer took upon Himself my sin. He lived a sinless and obedient life for me and took my sins upon Himself on the cross. He rose again, in time and space, in history, and defeated death. Simul Iustus et Peccator (simultaneously sinner and saint) , I am not living my best life now. That comes later. What I am learning, thought, is that I have a great High Priest who intercedes for me. I was dead in my trespasses, but my Redeemer breathed life into me, brought me to faith, to belief, to a trust that He is sufficient. When I am weak, He is magnified. If Christ uses the weak and foolish to confound the strong and wise of the world, then I hope I am His man.
Here are a few thoughts with which to give either the closing punctuation this blog or at least a pause:
- Are we more weighed down by the sins done to us than by the sins we have done to others, or for more importantly, against God? Do we truly ponder the gravity of of our rebellion, even as redeemed saints, in light of a holy, sovereign and righteous God? Without a heart broken and contrite over one’s sin, piety can be hollow and may be followed and fueled by a cold, self-righteous moralism. Each and every one of us is to varying degree a recovering Pharisee with a propensity towards self-pity, self-righteousness, and self-agrandization.
- No matter how bad we think our circumstances, in light of our innate fallen nature, we deserve no better. Why do we Christians complain about our supervisor at work, about our job, our financial worries, our relational issues, our health when each breath is a gift? To do so is to proclaim to God, “I deserve better than what you have given me!” And I am guilty. The lines do not always fall into pleasant places, and God is still sovereign, good, holy, righteous, and merciful. Our Redeemer knows we are made of but dust and our life is but a vapor. He knows, in His absolute sovereignty, how we feel and what we are going through. The Triune God uses trials mold us as a potter’s hand molds a lump of clay. And He gives us good gifts and joy, too.
- Sometimes we have truly been wronged by others and the consequences linger for longer that we think necessary or fair. And sometimes our thoughts linger over such longer than necessary. Grace does not abound in those places.
- When we long for righteousness, when we groan over sin, both ours and that of others, and I hope that is something no saint ever grows beyond experiencing, we know that He is near to a broken and contrite heart. The Messiah, the Word through Whom all things hold together, intercedes for us to the Father. He does not break the bent reed nor extinguish the smoldering wick.
- The one who is forgiven much, loves much.
- I do not think people often meet the Jesus they most profoundly need when all they are presented with is a Redeemer who’s overarching goal seems to be meeting all our felt needs and making sure we are happy and make good decisions.. Sadly, many are satisfied with that misrepresentation of Jesus who has a ‘wonderful plan for your life’. Sadly, I think this is the Jesus presented in many American churches.
- Expanding on that previous bullet point, I just recently listened to three sermons from rather influential pastors. Two of the sermons were on tapping into some inferred, innate leadership ability that resides in all of us. In a nutshell, the sermons go thusly: because we all know Jesus was a great leader, great insight into leadership principles can be gleaned from examining His methods. We need to discover and apply those leadership lessons to our lives as our lives intersect with others.
- (Warning: engaging rant mode) Without exception, in each of the sermons, the pastor spent most of his time elaborating on personal anecdotes and experience as well as referencing secular books on leadership principles. Without exception, and like most every thematic sermon on felt needs, each pastor started off with a pet project and with good intention and then twisted and distorted whatever Scripture was used out of its intended use and context. I am no genius, but I do know how to read. I see when context is ignored. What I see in each of these sermons is a grand adventure in missing the point of the text and jumping off onto pet projects of felt needs, of reducing the grand narrative of the Bible, the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption through Christ, into a self-help manual.
- Here, too, is a portion of a sermon I listened to from on of the guys who gave the leadership seminar/sermon:
Your God is so great that when Moses asked Him in Exodus 3:14 what’s Your name and who shall I tell the Israelites who sent me, God could not confine Himself to a particular description so he announced His presence by saying “I AM who I AM.” I love that! You can’t box Me in. I AM who I AM. The old King James versions says, I AM that I AM. I think that a good interpretation of that statement into into a modern translation would be…”What ever you need, thats what I AM.” “I AM that. That’s what I am.”
This section of the sermon goes on a bit about how God is there to meet your financial, emotional, and relational needs and then concludes thusly:
“He is. He simply is so maybe we should just say today…God is…. fill in the blank. What do you need. Thats what He is.“
Now, the rest of the sermon was not completely without merit or without Gospel implications, but to say the that God’s ontological disclosure of I AM who I AM means ‘I AM whatever you need me to be’ tends to reduce God to a servant to our felt needs, a God who seems to exist to make us feel good, to make us happy. God is not as concerned about our happiness as much as we are. He is more concerned about our sanctification. I think broad swaths of the church makes much of God making much over us almost as much as they make much of God. Whew…..
I would really love to hear these guys try to exegete the book of Jeremiah. If they did, it would probably end up being a sermon on finances. leadership, sex, or marriage Yea, I know I am being a bit cynical, but the only time I heard hard things from these guys is when they preach their ubiquitous messages on tithing, and even then, the message usually ends up massaging a felt need, a desire for financial blessing. Also, what stood out in stark relief for me is how much these guys talk about themselves on stage. Perhaps more than half of each sermon consisted of humorous stories of their childhood or some personal anecdote that was somehow used in sometimes tenuous ways to segue into the theme of the speech. And if they are not talking about their life experience, they often talk about their church and its history. I remember listening to a pastor state that he was going to preach on a passage of Scripture from the Sermon on the Mount, but God told him to preach on the history of his church instead. That was not God, but ego, speaking to the pastor and instructing him that His word is to be trumped by a narrative on the pastors empire.
Without conscious intent, what happens in a purpose driven and market driven church is it ends up personality driven. They often reduce the objective truth of Gospel to a personal, subjective narrative of some nebulous ‘life change.’ And you know what, these pastors seem like truly nice guys. I believe treat their friends and family well. They are kind to animals and pay their taxes. They are well-intentioned. And sometimes God uses such men in spite of their error.
And I am finished listening to bad sermons. I do not know why I subject myself to such other than to practice discernment. I guess too, I am more deeply nourished by and thankful for sermons of substance after having imbibed sugary sermons that in the end do not satisfy.
“The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them…providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church…the need is for Biblical doctrine, so understood and felt that it sets men aflame.”
- CH Spurgeon
Any commentary or elaboration on the quote would be superfluous.
I return briefly to the predominate theme that I often pursued on this blog, and I will allow to go dormant again.
I listen, when time allows, to sermons from different churches, different pastors. Many are quite edifying and Christ exalting. Others, I sadly find less so. I come away with some overarching observations, some quite disturbing, based not so much on any one individual sermon, but more on an overarching methodology that gives birth to some common themes.
I recently listened to a substantial portion of a sermon by Perry Noble wherein he stated repeatedly that “God is trying…” and that “God tries….” In the context of this particular sermon, this rhetoric was used to describe God’s ‘attempts’ to get peoples attention, specifically Herod’s in the case of the aforementioned sermon, so as to draw them to Himself. I appreciate and applaud the evangelical zeal found in the sermon (even though the pastor did not correctly interpret the text and read his own ideas into it), but I have extreme reservations over a pastor, or anyone for that matter, saying ‘God tries’ .
My reservations are not a case of putting too fine a point on peripheral or merely illustrative rhetoric. When we talk about our Redeemer, about God almighty, we need to be careful and accurate about the words we use out of reverence to a Holy God. We need to thoughtfully weigh our words and thoughts about God in light of Biblical revelation, especially when one is an under-shepherd charged, along with the elders in the church, with guarding and feeding the flock, the body of Christ.
What then is the problem with saying “God tries?” To try infers potential of failure. To say that God tries is to infer potential of failure in God almighty, that His will may be thwarted. If such were true, then His will could be stunted and I can have no absolute confidence in that God. That truncated God, a God who tries, (and apparently failed in Herod’s case in the context of the sermon) is not the sovereign God of Biblical revelation.
Again, I make specific reference to a particular sermon, but I have heard this same rhetoric, this – I hope unintended – reference to a limited God, on other occasions and by various individuals. Where does this conceit come from, this idea that God is somehow limited by our choices? It goes back to a humanistic theology, a strain of Christianity that permeates much of the landscape of American ecclesiology. Beyond the errant inferred limitations placed on God, I find sometimes a subtle redefinition of the Gospel. Before I continue, I want to make something perfectly clear. I am not calling into question motivations or authenticity of faith of any particular personality. I am not going to bash any particular individual. However, I will not shy away from bringing the hammer down on what I strongly believe is theologically dangerous methodology.
What of this subtle distortion of the Gospel I mentioned? It is a distortion that comes on the heels of a confusion between felt needs and true spiritual need. It is a blurring of two aspects, the simple proclamation of the faith delivered by the apostles, repent and believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the perceived benefits of salvation which is the meeting of the felt need for significance, the felt need for purpose, the felt need for happiness. I could go on, but I think the point is clear that there are many felt needs we all would want to write in on the sign-up sheet for salvation. The danger in pandering to felt needs is this: our felt needs are not necessarily reflective of our true need before a holy and righteous God. We may, based upon certain evangelical exhortations, approach God and request transformation so that our felt needs for self-esteem, security, and significance are met, for example, but quite miss the real need for forgiveness of sin. So many evangelical calls offer forgiveness along with the thinly veiled and inferred promise that God will fix all your problems and meet all the felt needs of an unregenerate heart, but often what is missing is a clearly defined call to repentance.
What also I find at times offered is a devalued grace, a devalued Gospel. A friend told me of an evangelical outreach to which he was invited to participate. This outreach was aimed at sharing the Gospel with disadvantaged kids. It involved taking these kids hunting and then sharing the Gospel with them afterwords. I appreciate and applaud the hearts desire to share the Gospel. However, one of the things these kids were told was that Christianity was the easiest club in the world to join. Further, I have heard on numerous occasions that I need to try Jesus because He is the best deal going . I have heard Christ offered as a sixty day challenge. The lost, the unregenerate, are apparently invited to try this Gospel thing out, kick the tires and take it around the block a few times. If it doesn’t work for you, you can drop it off where you found it. The Gospel has been reduced to a product that is marketed to consumers. I have read time and time again people in ministry, church planters and pastors, affirm that the church has the best product in the world, but we just are not marketing it as effectively as Disney markets their product. Quite frankly and without regard to the good intent of those who engage it, that methodology, that reduction of the Gospel to a product to be marketed, to a pill freely dispensed, makes me want to vomit. What is missing from these bold, creative evangelical marketing ploys and vision casting is a robust theology of the Cross. The cost of the Cross is rarely given it’s due. Showing clips from The Passion of the Christ or Braveheart from huge screens suspended over an enthralled audience is not a replacement for faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of repent and believe. What kind of Gospel are people being drawn to when the church feels it needs to compete with Hollywood to make the Cross attractive? The Cross is not, nor has ever been, a pill easy to swallow. But you know what, God in His mercy and grace, and in spite of well-intentioned, but often confused methodologies, will draw the lost, the unregenerate to Himself and redeem them by His blood that all glory, all honor, and all praise be to Him. Christ will build His church.
…..on leadership, relevance, and the contemporary American church
- I am all for good leadership, both within and outside the church (and I know the following will be misunderstood or considered unreasonably judgmental by by some), but in reading the blogs of more than a few church planters, pastors, and church “CEOs” of ‘relevant’, attractional churches, I perceive something of a leadership ‘fetish’. Sometimes, I will mentally remove any mention or implication of the the Gospel from the blogs and posts of some of these church leaders, and, sadly, very little is changed in the content their published thoughts. Sometimes, all I find among the ubiquitous calls to engage boundless creativity, bold leadership, and cultural relevance is the occasional exhortation to ‘make Jesus famous.’ Many church leaders publish a ‘what I am reading’ list, and it honestly grieves me that most of the titles being read seem to be secular, trendy, ‘flavor of the day’ books on on leadership principles, business practices, and marketing strategies. It would be refreshing, given we are talking about the reading habits of pastors, to see a bit of John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, or Spurgeon, an occasional systematic theology put into the mix. When something of a spiritual nature is listed, it is often a title of questionable theology like The Shack, or Wild at Heart. Too, is there perhaps a bit, a hint, of self-aggrandizement, of unrighteous pride in self and methods, in this hyper-focus on leadership skills? As an aside, I recall reading a post on a web log of a pastor/CEO (his claimed title) of a church I once attended wherein he briefly comments on and unpacks some passages from Romans through, and I quote, ‘the eyes of a leader’. Nice to see something from Romans on his web log, but are the ‘eyes of a leader’ the correct lens through which to filter the inspired words of Paul to the church at Rome? Perhaps the eyes of a repentant sinner, humbled by the Cross, would be a more correct lens. Nothing wrong with leadership per se, but in engaging biblical leadership, it must be affirmed that the church is not a business. Our benchmarks and measurables are not those of the world; faithfulness is not a quantifiable commodity. The Gospel is not a product to be marketed. The first will be last and the last will be first. Christ is not dependent on our skills, but we are dependent on His sufficiency in all things.
- Related to the above bullet point (and I have addressed this subject ad nausea before), I find so many church planters, pastors, and leaders stating that it is their job to lead the flock rather than ‘feed’ the flock. Also stated by some of these leaders is that a leader should not have to feed his staff. In all honesty, my heart is broken and grieves over this unbiblical redefinition of the role of an under-shepherd. The flock needs, I need, a pastor, not a vision caster! The pastors first responsibility is to the flock, not the world. His mandate is to prepare the flock to go into the world, to ‘lead’ his flock into Christ-likeness. I recently spent some time on another post on this subject of pastoral responsibility (or lack thereof) and ‘sheep feeding’, but had second thoughts about publishing it. I opted to keep it private. Still struggling with a polemic attitude and perhaps a hyper-focus on my part regarding this subject.
- Relevance, the clarion call of many a ‘contemporary’ church……… This is, in a very broad sense, what the mainline denominations engaged in accommodating the Gospel to the modernists of the previous century or so. Where are those churches now? They abandoned orthodoxy and engaged apostasy and are in death throes. Today, those who seek cultural relevancy are often unwittingly abandoning orthopraxy (and orthodoxy at times, too) to make the church ‘experience’ more palatable to (post-) modern tastes; all to often, many churches, in the quest for relevancy, unwittingly engage strange fire. Corporate worship becomes horizontally focused rather than vertical. Though I do not know enough about him to make any kind of overarching endorsement, I do like this quote by Dean William Inge of St Paul’s Cathedral in London: “Those churches who marry the spirit of the age become the widow of the next.” So many churches will find themselves chasing after wind in their pursuit of relevance, and what they do manage to grasp will eventually turn to dust. Only the Word will remain. Build on that foundation alone. Could have ended here, but one last thought on relevance experienced…….Out of curiosity, I recently listened to a bit (thirty minutes of part one) of a sermon series, from an evangelical community church, titled ‘Theologgins for Your Noggins’ (HT: Pyromanics) wherein the pastor exegeted (more truthfully, as one Pyro commenter stated, engaged in eisegesis of Horton Hears a Who or whatever it was) the works of Dr. Suess for spiritual truths. I am sure the pastor and leadership of the church are nice, agreeable people who act from good motives, but I do not have words to describe the anger (especially during minutes 15.30-21.30) that washed over me as I listened to Dr Suess being mined from the stage/pulpit for spiritual insight. Ultimately, what we find in such stunts is a lack of confidence it the power of the Word faithfully expounded. What we also sometimes find, too, is the bride admiring herself in the mirror and exalting her creativity and relevance while the Bridegroom waits in the adjacent room.
I saw a sign in someones yard today that declared: “Elect Jesus As Your Lord!” Now, I do not in any way shape or form infer anything ill about the character of the person who displayed this sign in their yard. I know nothing about the family that lives in the house that sits behind this sign, nor do I infer that nothing ‘good’ ever comes from such faddish displays of faith.
However, does not this sign, albeit without intention, portray a Jesus that seems a bit weak and needy? Is He awaiting a majority vote before He acts? Is the mighty Lion of Judah, is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords restrained by some political process? Is He not the absolute Lord of salvation, of the created order; is He not a mighty Redeemer? He elected me that all glory should go to Him; I do not elect Him that any glory should go to me.
I think of a sermon I listened to a number of months ago at a moderately sized community church wherein the well-intentioned pastor, after having two members of the church ride their large, loud motorcycles through the poorly ventilated church to park them in front of the stage to make some point, perfumed by carbon monoxide, about God’s timing, declared that Jesus is a ‘gentleman’ who would never force His will on anyone. Is that a biblical understanding of the sovereignty and power of Jesus?
I saw a tee shirt for sale at a large book retailer a few weeks ago. The front of the shirt was a ripoff of the Staples Easy Button. “Jesus” replaced the “Easy” on the button. Wasn’t easy for Jesus.
It seems I have taken a somewhat contrarian path over the last few posts, and I am going to be quite repetitive on a few points with this one. That all being said, I cannot ignore my compulsion to speak and warn against what I feel is a dangerous strain of shallow ecclesiology; I am jealous over the church of Christ. I am jealous over the Gospel.
I recently ran across a post by a pastor and church planter from Canton, Georgia. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have listened to him speak as a guest pastor at a church I once attended. Also, I have listened to a sermon or two by this pastor. Too, I gather that his church was mentored to a degree by my former church.
His post revolves around the theft of a church trailer that contained things critical to the functioning of the pastor’s church. There is no denying that this theft is a horrible thing. Let me state some things clearly and perhaps digress and ramble a bit before I continue with my thoughts on the aforementioned post.
It is not my intent to hurt, but to warn. Also, I do not intend to infer the attitude exhibited by the referenced post is universal amongst the seeker sensitive church movement; it is just that his church is one of the more extreme manifestations, and this church is not without influence. That being said…..
The Gospel is simple, but it is not shallow. The call of much of the church growth movement, though, is to decry the deeper things of the faith. Over and over and over, I hear these pastors state that it is not their job to feed the flock, but to create self-feeders. To a small extent, there is an element of truth to that exhortation in that we are all to feast on the infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God, the canon of scripture. However, I have heard enough of these calls to ‘self-feed’ to know that there is more lurking behind this call than to encourage the flock to read the Bible for themselves. There is, first and foremost, a shallow, feel-good legalism. ‘Rather than go deeper, get out there and do things’ is the false dichotomy offered by more than a few of these seeker-sensitive church leaders. There is also an element of arrogant disdain these pastors hold for those who cry to their pastors for more food. I think, too, there is perhaps a laziness or inability on the part of many of these pastors to do the hard work and study required to preach the deeper things of Christ. Rather, there is a desire to be edgy, to be hip, to be relevant, to make the church more appealing to the world. The competition to the church is perceived to be Hollywood and Las Vegas. The thought is that the church needs to do the things Hollywood and Las Vegas does in terms of promoting the message of the Gospel. Much more could be said, but ultimately what this attitude represents is a contempt for the power of the Word faithfully exposited.
Alright, back to the pastors post. Again, the church trailer was stolen. Not good. Here are some quotes from the pastors blog regarding the theft:
- First let me say, God loves you. Second let me say we forgive you. We really don’t want to forgive you, but God says we should so we do. Third of all I want you to know that I think you are scum bags. I think you are lowlife degenerates who need a good butt kicking. Matter of fact I feel so strongly about the fact that you need a good butt kicking that I am volunteering to do it. I hope you believe in God because you should get on your knees and cry out to Him like never before because if we find you, I can promise we will kick the crap out of you. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be over quickly, and it will be very painful. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but I feel pretty strongly that is what you need.
- We are probably the only church you have ever heard of that will honestly break your legs once you are found.
- Get that trailer out of the county QUICK. As soon as I hit publish on this blog post a church of about 1000 crazy people will know that our black, children’s trailer has been stolen and I can promise they will be on the lookout for it. You would much rather me find you then one of them.
A lovely image the pastor paints…..better that the pastor beats the mess out of the sinner before his crazy church of 1000 gets hold of the thief. Try to harmonize the pastor’s desire for vengeance with the Sermon on the Mount if you dare. The pastor’s attitude seems to be more aligned with radical Islam. I find irony, too, in this pastors often stated disdain for ‘Pharisees’ and ‘religious’ people found in his rhetoric.
Unlike much of the errant neo-liberalism and overly generous ‘orthodoxy’ of the Emergent Church, the seeker sensitives proclaim an orthodoxy in their mission and belief statements. Where they sometimes err is in their ecclesiology. They are orthodox in their beliefs, but they engage in heteropraxy, in errant practice. The bitter fruits are sometimes shallowness and arrogance. In the post by Gary Lamb, we find such fruit. What we find is a theft that transcends the stealing of property from a church. What we find stolen from the church of Christ, if such a thing were possible, is the blessedness of a humble, broken, and contrite heart. What we find stolen by this church, if such a thing were possible, is the sense that but for the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of Christ, you and I are condemned sinners, no less so than the trailer thief, fully deserving the wrath of God. Rather, we find a ‘lets go break the legs of sinners’ attitude. One has to ask this pastor and his church of 1000, which of you will cast the first stone that breaks the legs of the thief when you finally run him down?
In closure and to further cement my concern, here is a response from another blog to Gary’s post:
- “I follow these guys a lot and think they are doing an incredible work for Jesus! It’s nice to see they have a little bite to their bark! Click below to read what happened…”
The heart grieves and mourns for a large swath of the American church. Alright, rant mode off………
A number of posts ago, I indicated that I would, at some point in the future, post some thoughts on altar calls in specific, on contemporary evangelical methodology in general. Now is a good time as any to begin.
I find it interesting how relatively late in church history that it became, for the most part, the de facto contemporary evangelical methodology. Here, a little knowledge of church history illuminates. As far as I have been able to determine, and I am not a scholar, seminarian, or student of church history, the altar call methodology was not widely instituted until the early and mid eighteen-hundreds. Charles Finney, with his ‘new measures’ is most directly responsible for contemporary evangelical methodology. It is somehow ironic that his legacy and influence reverberates ever so strongly and much of the laity has never heard of him.
I think an abbreviated history of Finney and his new measures is perhaps in order. Finney, a lawyer who came to faith on October 10th in the 1821 after years of unbelief, became a Presbyterian minister. Part of the process of becoming ordained involved professing adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later admitted that he was almost totally ignorant of what the document taught. [Charles Finney, The Memoirs of Charles Finney: The Complete Restored Text (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1989), 53-54]
Finney also rejects Calvinism, perhaps as a response to what may be called an errant strain of Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism that he had been exposed to and perhaps by which, ironically, he was led to a profession of faith in Christ. It, too, must be understood that the great revivals, the Great Awakening, had been through preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, staunchly Calvinists in their understanding of grace. Finney also entertained ideas errant and dangerous. Essentially, from what I gather, he denied the scope of the Fall and taught what seems to be a justification by works. He appears to constantly downplay God’s sovereign role in salvation. His theology turns the eyes of the heart from God to a focus on a seemingly ‘not-so-fallen’ humanity. Finney essentially denied the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Therein we find egregious harm and error, the seeds of which seem to be in full bloom in this age and time. While evangelicals would reject Finney’s errant theology if they were aware of it, they heartily embrace his evangelical methodology.
What Finney popularized in his aforementioned ‘new measures’ was the precursor and close cousin to the altar call, the ‘anxious bench’ and ‘mourner’s bench’. What Finney taught was that revival could be ‘worked up’ through psychological and emotional inducements. Revival did not need to be altogether prayed down as much as worked up.
Going back to altar calls, which are just one expression of an overarching methodology of psychological and emotional manipulation, those who have been in conservative evangelical churches, be they mega or small, be they Baptist or charismatic, be they traditional or contemporary, have often been exposed to calls to come forward to the altar. Many have responded to altar calls, sometimes more than once. Some have come to a redeeming faith in Christ through altar calls. Often, those who give altar calls present the Gospel message completely and without compromise.
What many altar calls and variants thereof do, however, is often introduce non-biblical language, non-biblical conditions, and non-biblical calls to salvation. What some altar calls do, also, is offer an easy grace, a salvation seemingly without cost, without an inferred need for repentance. What altar calls may sometimes do is give those who respond a false sense of security because they were actually never presented with the Gospel and therefor never actually came into a redeeming relationship with Christ. Also, many studies and statistics have shown that only a very small percentage, mostly in the single digits, of those who respond to altar calls during crusades and revivals actually remain actively involved in the faith for more than a year. They simply seem to drop out of sight and fall back into their ‘pre-decision’ lifestyles. We must remember that the biblical call to evangelize, the Great Commission, is to make disciples, not just converts, real or otherwise.
Following are a few examples of misleading evangelical methods. Many calls to the altar proclaim that Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life if one would just respond to the call, raise your hand, or say a prayer. Well, Jesus may not have a wonderful plan for your life as many would count wonderful. Such is never promised in the canon of Scripture. His plan for you may be quite difficult and not without cost. The Messiah’s calls to discipleship were not easy calls. What would the martyr Steven say about Christ offering you ‘your best life now?’ Would such an inducement work in the Sudan? Would such and inducement work in China? We are not called to press an ‘easy button’ for redemption. Sadly, I have actually seen, on more than one occasion and at more than one location Jesus being referred to as the ‘easy button’ to salvation.
I have heard other calls to salvation go thusly: “If you cannot remember the moment you were saved, now is the time to ‘nail it down.’” Such is not a biblical call to salvation. The only times that I recall the New Testament calling one’s salvation into question is the lack of observable growth, of spiritual fruit, over the long term in ones life. What is introduced in the context of the call to ‘nail it down’ is a false, unbiblical condition for salvation. To emotionally manipulate someone into making a decision based on doubts about the veracity of or inability to recall an earlier decision bought about by emotional manipulation is both ironic and unbiblical. If you have repented of sin and trust in the grace and redeeming work of Christ alone for salvation, you have it ‘nailed down’ and will persist in His grip whether or not you remember the point in time you first came to trust in Christ.
I have heard other calls to salvation infer that if one does not respond to this particular call, you may never get another chance to ‘decide’ for Christ, that this particular ‘move of God’ must be acted upon now for you may never get another opportunity. What is inferred in this manipulative scheme is that there is a time stamp on the grace of God. If you do not come forward now or raise your hand or say a prayer, you may never be wooed by the Holy Spirit again. At best, this is unbiblical. The call to grace and redemption through Christ only expires when one departs this tent of flesh.
I could go on with more examples of unbiblical and emotionally manipulative methods that I have personally witnessed, but my point is clear. Too, I am absolutely not inferring any ill will is intended by those who use such methods. I am not intending to cast doubt on their love and commitment to Christ. The use of such methods is more born out of perhaps ignorance and perhaps out of a denominational tradition. Without regard to intent, what is happening, though, is that the Gospel is all too often presented in an often unbiblical way, much like the hard pitch of a used car salesman. Do people sometimes come to redemption, to a saving knowledge of Christ through such methods? Sometimes, perhaps more than one would expect, this methodology produces fruit. God can and does sometimes use the one drop of truth in an ocean of error. Sometimes one may run around holding a metal rod during a thunder storm and not get struck by lightening. Does this mean that doing such is a good idea?
More recently, perhaps in the last couple of decades, we have seen the nature of the church being inverted and redefined in some quarters of western Christendom. Rather than going out into the world to make disciples, Christ’s call to the Great Commission and the nature and constituency of the church had been turned upside down. Now, congregates are now often being instructed to bring the world into a recalibrated church so that a charismatic (not using the word in the theological and Pentecostal sense, but referring to a commanding personality) pastor can present what is hopefully a faithful call to the Gospel. Bring in your ‘unchurched’ friends and family and we’ll get them saved is the inferred contract. (Note with absolute confidence that I am definitely not saying that is wrong to invite the unsaved to church.) Inducements are introduced to the church to make it more attractive to the ‘unchurched.’ Topical and often entertaining sermons that cater to one’s felt needs replaces sound expository preaching. Give away everything from IPods to motorcycles during the service to draw people through the doors. There is actually a church that gave away an Orange County Choppers custom motorcycle to induce people to come to church. The question is this: Is the clarion call of the word of God, faithfully proclaimed, not enough? Did the apostle Paul deem it necessary to give away camels and tents to bait people to the Gospel? The apostles fished with nets.
Why is it that many advisers to church planters (and sometimes the pastors, themselves) appear, as evidenced by their websites, to be more instructors on marketing and product placement than proclaimers of the Gospel? What has happened with the best of intentions is that more and more churches, modeled more on secular business and leadership practices than on biblical mandates are becoming more and more consumer driven. If a service conflicts with the Super Bowl, then the church will reschedule so that attendance does not decline. Increasing numbers of churches are opening up coffee shops in the church to draw in the crowds. Churches put up fountains that dispense chocolate and give massages to moms on Mothers Day to draw people into church. What ends up being engaged, again with the best of intentions, is a ‘bait and switch’ evangelical methodology that plays to our self-indulgence. Can such a church survive without creative and witty video introductions to topical sermons that constantly draw on popular culture references? Can it survive with a less than professional band? Can it present a message of hope and reconciliation with God through Christ without framing everything between a pastor’s personal and often humorous anecdotes? Does such a church depend too much on human creativity and effort and perhaps not enough on the power of His word? When all that is peripheral is stripped away, what is such a church left with? I remember running across this quote from another blog: “What you draw people with is what you draw them to.” How do I reconcile Christ’s call to die to self in the face of chocolate fountains and easy buttons in church?
Perhaps I am way off base, but much of contemporary evangelical and ecclesiastical methodology, in all its applaudable zeal, seems at times, unintentionally, to treat Jesus as a means to an end rather than an altogether and absolutely wonderful end in and of Himself. It as if Jesus is a prescription being dispensed a sick world. It is as if I have a fatal, systemic infection and am given a wonder drug, an antibiotic, and I am being told that all I have to do is take this drug and I will be healed. I may not develop an all encompassing love for this drug; I may love not being sick more than I love the drug. I may become more enamored with and focused on the one who gave me this drug than the drug itself.
I have stated, perhaps ad nausea, what I believe to be wrong with much of American evangelical methodology. What then do I propose is correct? I believe it is this: In the times the Gospel is preached in the New Testament where we have details of what is said, there is not one single example where anyone is told that the circumstances of their life will necessarily improve when they become disciples of Christ. What is recorded, though, is an absolute focus on and exaltation of Christ. We see the apostles going out into the world proving Christ from scripture. We see the condemnation of sin, the call to repentance, and proclamation of the absolute falleness of humanity. Solely proclaimed is faith in the atoning work of grace through Christ to restore rebellious humanity to the Savior. Such leads to a selfless life focused on Christ.
Again, as stated in a previous post, we must remember that Christ, incomprehensibly loved by the Father and Holy Spirit and sharing an incomprehensible unity within their Trinitarian relationship, condescended to take on human flesh and then looked down both barrels of Father God’s holy and incomprehensible and righteous fury over our sin; He faced Father God’s white-hot anger that should have been directed at His redeemed ones. He, the all mighty Creator of all, was beaten and scourged by the created. He was nailed to that horrific Roman torture and death machine, the cross, naked and shamed. He then gloriously defeated death by physically rising from the tomb. Why did He do this? He did it that we, His flock, may be, through His grace alone, clothed in His righteousness, that He may be glorified forever.
First, part of me feels as if I should apologize for this post; I recently seem to be beating this subject, the errant attitudes of the seeker-sensitive church, to death. Also, perhaps it would appear that I go in search for quotes like the one that will soon follow so that I may rant against them, but I honestly do not. They seem, at times, to fall in my lap.
That being said, and as mentioned in an earlier post, I have no desire to place myself in the position of being a ‘watch-blogger,’ but when I do stumble across something I honestly believe to be egregiously wrong, I react; I operate under a certain compulsion. The following quote – from the blog of the pastor of a small seeker-sensitive church near where I live – honestly makes me angry; it evokes fury within me. Let me say, too, that at the beginning of my quest to find a church home, I visited this church from which the forthcoming quote originates. It is a stereotypical seeker-sensitive church. In fact, it is a 1/24th scale version of the large mega-church that I left for reasons mentioned in an earlier post. The church operates under the best of intentions. Following is the quote from the pastor’s blog:
- “The mission is not to feed – but to train. There’s a difference. Too many spiritual couch potatoes have been sitting around churches complaining they’re hungry. Folks it’s a pretty sad day when the pastor has to part the mustache to bottle feed Christians that have been going to church most of their life!”
Where does this idea come from? Why does it seem to be gaining such momentum? Is there a memo being passed around at all these ubiquitous church growth leadership conferences? How can a pastor, the one charged to feed and nourish, hold his flock in such utter contempt? Even more interesting and disturbing is the fact that much of the flock sit and nod their heads in agreement. Is there no longer any discernment in the church?
Too, true couch potatoes, spiritual or otherwise, have no problem feeding themselves. They perhaps feed themselves on junk food, more often than not. I speak from personal experience. One part of the role of pastor is to provide food that strengthens, food that nourishes, among other things, the ability of a Christ-follower to discern truth from error.
One last, perhaps peripheral, word, then the rant mode is turned off. The quest for creativity in ‘doing church’ has become an idol worshiped at the alter of the ‘seeker-sensitive/church growth movement. I could hold forth on this issue, ad nausea, for hours, but not today.
What follows is a selection of troubling thoughts I’ve come across from ‘blogs’ of church leaders/planters, a couple of whom are becoming quite influential. As for the first quote, while I respect, encourage, and applaud those who have a heart for the Great Commission, we must not loose sight of the nature and constituency of the Church as defined by the New Testament.
Too, I would propose that the common theme running through the following statements – perhaps unintended, and even denied, by those being quoted – is one of human-centricity, of a reliance on the passion and sufficiency of human efforts in growing the Kingdom. The unintentional fall-out is, unfortunately, often an arrogance regarding methods and results.
As an aside, I must admit I am somewhat uncomfortable with this post and do not have any intention of consciously turning my blog into a ‘watchblog’ or a ‘discernment’ blog. Such posts will probably be quite rare. That being said, here are the aforementioned quotes:
- ‘If I have to chose to make a decision that will cause a non-christian to leave or a christian to leave, I will always chose in favor of the non-christian (short of sinning). If a christian leave[sic], I know they will find another church for their family. If the non-christian leaves, I don’t know that they will give church and God another chance.’
- “I’ve heard it…you have too…”Christians” saying, “I just want to be fed!” It blows my mind! This would be equal to you and I going to an all you can eat restaurant and crying because no one would bring us any food. Food is all around in this environment…but if the person is lazy and self centered, wanting to be waited on hand and foot, then they could possibly starve to death when food is merely a few feet away. ” (Emphasis mine. Why the quote around “Christians?” Also, this issue of feeding is not always that the pastor’s sheep are “lazy and self-centered.” Unfortunately, some restaurants seem to have a menu rich with dairy products and desserts, but seem to be adverse to serving meals that sustain.”)
- “What people say: “I just want some deeper teaching.” Alternate version: “I want the meat.” Alternate version #2: “I need to be fed.” What that usually means (is) Don’t preach practical stuff to me. I would actually have to do something about it.”
- “It’s important to learn from churches bigger and smaller then you. Churches that are smaller have to be even more creative, because their success depends on it ” (emphasis mine)
- “Do WHATEVER It Takes To Grow…and SHUT UP About How Much It Cost! If I hear/see one more pastor/church planter complain about how much a conference cost and/or say they can’t afford something I am going to punch them…in the throat! The Bible says in Proverbs 4:6-8 that we need to get wisdom-NO MATTER WHAT IT COSTS US!”
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”