Archive for the 'The contemporary church' Category

Is the house church a better alternative?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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Frank Viola & George Barna
(courtesy ‘Beyond Evangelical‘)

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(courtesy TOUCH)

By Spencer D Gear

Some people are growing tired of the traditional church – even the evangelical church. It doesn’t matter how contemporary or traditional it may be, there is something wrong with how the church functions. How do I know? Take a read of what happened with the first century church. These are some samples:

designRed-small  According to the Book of Acts, church gatherings were held in people’s houses. See: Acts 2:42; 5:42; 20:20.

designRed-small We know that there were church gatherings in the houses of John’s mother (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:40), Priscilla and Aquilla (Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19), Gaius (Rom 16:23), Nympha (Col 4:15), and Philemon (Philem 2).

designRed-small  How to better care for one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12; Gal 5:22; 6:2; Phil 2:4; 1 Thess 5:11; 1 John 4:7-10; 2 Pet 1:5-7);

designRed-small  Everyone is a minister (1 Cor 14:26). All Bible references above are from the New Living Translation.

You do not need to be a genius

You do not need to be a whiz kid to know that the above emphasis is not what is happening in the contemporary church. It may be a:

Image result for traditional church public domain(public domain)

golden foward button Traditional church;

golden foward button Contemporary church;

golden foward button Seeker-sensitive church;

golden foward button Millennials[1] and church.

golden foward button Crawling and barking like a dog. See the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube.

Something is going wrong that is causing the church to not function like the first century church. Have you ever stopped to compare the function of a 21st century pastor with a pastor in the first century church? What causes the distinct difference? ‘What has gone wrong with my church?’ is the very question asked in an article in Perspective magazine. But that was back in 1999. It is no better in 2015.

Expositions on the house church

There is a way to get back on track through a return to the church in the house, open fellowship, and all believers encouraged to minister when the group gathers.

There are four authors I’d recommend, the most structured being a former Southern Baptist, Ralph Neighbour, who has written extensively on the cell church movement. He has been active in cell church planting and helping traditional churches transition to the cell church. See his book, Where Do We Go From Here? This is the best material I’ve read for a more organised cell church. His organisation is TOUCH Ministries International.  You can interact with Ralph on this website.

Some more radical house church leaders are:

snowflake-red-smallGene Edwards, How To Meet. Sargent, GA: Message Ministry. See: ‘Gene Edwards – The Organic Church‘;

snowflake-red-small Frank Viola. His blog is called, ‘Beyond Evangelical‘.

snowflake-red-small Jon Zens, ‘Building Up the Body – One Man or One Another?

snowflake-red-small Why don’t you take a listen to the YouTube video, ‘The Cell Church – a Revolution in Ministry‘?

Some of my brief articles

I sit in my traditional church week after week and am not allowed to function in my gifts because of the non-interactive, traditional format. I’ve written a little on this topic on ‘Truth Challenge’, my homepage. Here are a few articles (there will be some overlap) and each has a bibliography at the end of the article or in the endnotes.

There’s considerable criticisms of Gene Edwards’ approach on the Internet. You can search for them.

In my region, an evangelical friend has been to a local house church where there was no structure and people were not very committed. They would not show up on time. The other one I visited is the one I wrote about in ‘Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church‘.

Husband and wife united in purpose

I would love to start a house church in our house but the house is too small. My wife loves the Lord deeply but she is not ready to leave the traditional church where she plays piano in the musical team. Even though I’m not a TULIP Calvinist, we attend a local evangelical – and very traditional – Presbyterian church where there is outstanding expository preaching. Sadly, the every-member ministry gifts are suppressed.

I live in tension between what I would like to do according to the biblical mandate and what is currently available in my region.

Notes


[1] Millennials were born after 1980.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Marketing the church

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

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(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I read my local free weekly newspaper-magazine, The Messenger (North Lakes, Qld., Australia), 16 November 2013. At page 3, there was a full-page advertisement for a local North Lakes church, Axis Church, with the theme, ‘We do LIFE together’.[1]

This theme was with the backdrop of a smiling middle-aged man (the church’s Facebook page says it is a photo of Pastor Greg Luckey), holding a plate that contains food (it seems). The pastor’s image dominated the advertising. Contact details and service times for the church were at the foot of the advertisement.

What does this theme in advertising mean for this local church in North Lakes, Qld? What message is it meant to convey in relation to the church’s message for the general public? Which other media are being used by this church and other churches in the region to promote their activities? I am writing as a Christian living in North Lakes who generally quickly browses that newspaper-magazine. Advertising is meant to catch my attention with a message. I’m a former radio and TV advertising copywriter (and DJ, interviewer and newsreader).

Three thoughts went through my mind as I read this advertisement. I am responding as a committed evangelical Christian to this church’s ad:

(1) I was encouraged to see a local church with an evangelical reputation promoting itself through a local, secular newspaper. It was a full page advt and not some almost unseen advt in the ‘Community Notice Board’ at the rear of the magazine. Big money would have been spent to get an advt that size. That church was meaning to grab people’s attention. I ask: What kind of attention?

(2) The theme of the advertisement greatly disappointed me because of what seemed like a superficial message being communicated, ‘We do LIFE together’. That’s a bland, self evident statement.

(3) Could this be an example of what the apostle Paul spoke about: ‘Become all things to all people that by all means you might win some’ (1 Cor 9:22)?

This promotional advertisement was for a Wesleyan Methodist Church, called Axis Church, not too far from where I live.

Could you imagine the apostle Paul, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, or John Stott promoting their churches with such an innocuous theme as this?

The content of advertising for businesses is critical. It needs to be accurate to represent the product that is being sold. It doesn’t matter whether it is advertising of a supermarket, department store, car dealership or government. The advertising needs to accurately represent the product being sold.

Church advertising should also have a face that accurately portrays the ‘product’ being ‘sold’ by the church. ‘We do LIFE together’ is hardly profound with its call to the Gospel and to follow Christ. What would A W Tozer have thought of such a downgrade[2] of biblical content? This is an advertisement for a church and not a gymnasium.

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A W Tozer (courtesy Wikipedia)

A. W. Tozer on the battleground

In an article A W Tozer wrote on ‘this world: playground or battleground?’ his ideas were not far from my thinking. His perspective was that ‘our attitude towards things is likely in the long run to be more important than the things themselves’ (Tozer 1989:3). While his immediate context was the early days of Christianity in what became the USA, his comments have contemporary application in the 21st century.

He wrote of when Christianity had a dominant influence on thinking and ‘men and women conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin, and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other’. Tozer explained that ‘by their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility’. Therefore, people had to choose which side they belonged to. There was no neutral position. For Christians, ‘it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if they chose to come out on God’s side, they could expect open war with God’s enemies. The fight would be real here below. People looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them’ (Tozer 1989:3-4).

Tozer explained that the sermons and songs of those days often had an appropriate martial quality to them as they were homesick for something better. ‘Christian soldiers thought of home and rest and reunion, and their voices grew plaintive as they sang of battle ended and victory won’. They reached this kind of thinking as dealing with the enemy’s guns and dreaming of the end of hostilities, war coming to an end, and the heavenly Father welcoming them home. ‘They never forgot what kind of world they lived in – it was a battleground, and many were wounded and slain’. Tozer found this to be a scriptural way of expressing the battle with figures and metaphors that are throughout Scripture. His language is that ‘it is still a solid Bible doctrine that tremendous spiritual forces are present in the world. Humanity, because of its spiritual nature, is caught in the middle. The evil powers are bent upon destroying us, while Christ is present to save us through the power of the gospel’ (Tozer 1989:4-5).

His analysis was that to obtain deliverance from these, ‘we must come out on God’s side in faith and obedience’. That is what the founding Christian fathers of the USA nation believed ‘and that, we believe, is what the Bible teaches’ (Tozer 1989:5).

Tozer exclaimed: ‘How different today. The fact remains the same but the interpretation has changed completely. People think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full’ (1989:5). He continued:

The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun – Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The ‘worship’ growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself – a sort of sanctified night club without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks….

A right view of God and the world to come requires that we have a right view of the world in which we live and of our relationship to it. So much depends upon this that we cannot afford to be careless about it (Tozer 1989:5-6).

In another editorial, Tozer wrote about our motives in what we do:

THE BIG QUESTION AT LAST WILL not be so much, ‘What did you do?’ but ‘Why did you do it?’ In moral acts, motive is everything. Of course it is important to do the right thing, but it is still more important to do the right thing for a right reason. Intention is a large part of the action, whether done by good or bad people….

We should carefully consider our motives. Some day soon they will be there to bless us or curse us. And from them there will be no appeal, for the Judge knows the thoughts and intents of the heart (Tozer 1989:38-39).[3]

This was from one of Tozer’s editorials in the Alliance Weekly (now known as Alliance Life), ‘This world: Playground or battleground?’ It was originally published on January 23 1952 (see Tozer 1964:2). Tozer died in 1963 at the age of 66.

What would he say of the church in the 21st century with its Gospel lite and topical, contemporary soft-sell messages from evangelical pulpits, rock bands to entertain the people of God, and singing songs that are not meant for congregational singing for a general audience, but are rock music for a modern-day performance.

For further exposition of what I see as a downgrade in the evangelical churches, see my articles:

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B. Now to that advertisement

These are some of my thoughts about this advertising as an evangelical Christian living in a country that is very secular and has little time for God and his son, Jesus Christ, in the public arena:

clip_image007There was not a word in the advertisement about Jesus and his birth, death and resurrection. And this was at a time when we were only 5.5 weeks away from the celebration of the greatest event in human history – God becoming man at the first Christmas. The incarnation of the Son of God! There could be no crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ without his becoming a human being (the God-man) at the first Christmas.

clip_image007[1] What on earth was this advertising theme meant to communicate about the meaning of Jesus’ coming to earth that eventually led to his crucifixion and resurrection? Perhaps that was not what was on the minds of that church’s leadership team that authorised the ad.

clip_image007[2]Is this a seeker-sensitive approach to entice secular people into a friendly church that has meals together, under the theme, ‘We do LIFE together’? This is hardly a profound theme about the most momentous intervention in human history – God becoming man as an infant in a manger!

clip_image007[3]There is absolutely nothing in this advertisement about Mary being pregnant with the son of God, Jesus: ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:22 ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image007[4]What would the apostle Paul think of this kind of theme? It was he who wrote to the Galatian Christian church with this thunderous meaning of the incarnation: ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Galatians 4:4-5).

clip_image007[5]Isaiah 7:14 prophesied this event: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’. ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God is with us’. So Christmas time is the season to celebrate the birth of Immanuel, to affirm that ‘God is with us’ through the person of the God-man, whom we celebrate at Christmas time.

But this church in North Lakes, Qld., had the marketing expertise to miss this proclamation, ‘God is with us’ and replace it with, ‘We do LIFE together’. It is true that the Church of the Lord Jesus is a wonderful place of fellowship, but doing life together is hardly a focus on the excellent church fellowship that can exist in some churches.

clip_image007[6]What is it going to take to get a prominent, growing church in this burgeoning northern suburb of Brisbane to get back to core Christian teaching about the Christ who came at the first Christmas – in its public advertising?

clip_image007[7]This is the apostle Paul’s view of the Gospel and what ought to be proclaimed: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16).

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Shouldn’t that be what is promoted by a local evangelical church, especially at Christmas time when there is so much hoopla about Santa Claus, gifts, Christmas cards, smells and bells? Or does that not have a marketing appeal to secular people?

C. Advertising with honest clout

(courtesy Google, public domain)

A significant issue is: What should decide the content of our church’s advertising? I put it to you that that soft-sell, like, ‘We do LIFE together’, should be abandoned for something that points to the incarnation, and especially to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. This needs to be stated in terms that do not camouflage the content of the incarnation and the passion-resurrection of Jesus.

‘We do LIFE together’ is hardly a way to announce the Gospel that is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’.

I can hear the opponents: You are being too harsh! Don’t you understand that it was the apostle Paul said, ‘To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings’ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)?

I’m in no way opposed to putting some contemporary emphasis on the advertising to gain secular people’s attention. After all, this local advertising was in a secular, weekly, free newspaper distributed in my suburb. However, we must not disguise the true content of the Gospel and the truth of the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas time.

What is the reason for the church’s existence? To agree with secular people that ‘we live life together’. That’s hardly a profound statement. Jesus was clear as to the reason for the church’s existence in his command to his disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

There are three essential elements to this Jesus’ kind of church:

  1. Go and make disciples.
  2. Baptize[4] them.
  3. Teach them.

Here is my suggested series of advertising in the lead-up to Christmas, each run as half-page coloured ads in a local paper (also appearing online on the church’s website). The identification of the church, with service times, at the base of the advertisement is appropriate for this promotion to get to the truth of Christmas or the Gospel. But such a promotion was not in the advertisement to which I refer – as this reader understood the ad. My suggested theme could be:

Truth at Christmas

clip_image009 Truth suffers at Christmas time – there is more!

clip_image009[1] Santa the cover-up – truth is needed at Christmas!

clip_image009[2] Christmas and God’s colossal event – there is more!

clip_image009[3] The baby in the manger means “God with us”

clip_image009[4] Jesus became the God-man at the first Christmas. Why?

clip_image009[5] The baby in the manger clip_image011 the cross and resurrection of Jesus clip_image012 getting you and Australia out of this God-damned mess

clip_image009[6] Jesus changes lives for the best. Phone or visit us to discuss

D. Am I being too harsh about this theme?

Two weeks prior to the above advertisement, this was the theme that Axis Church promoted in a full-page ad in which a man and a woman were hugging each other, with the theme at the top of the page: ‘A Warm WELCOME HOME’ (The Messenger, 2 November 2013, p. 9).

The church’s website indicates that in October-November 2013, there was an 8-week series (presumably a sermon series), ‘LET’S BE the CHURCH’. Of this series, it was stated:

Join us as we launch a powerful new series and take a close look at the characteristics of the very first Church that gathered.  This will be an 8 week series entitled, “Let’s Be The Church”, and will open up the book of Acts 2:42-48 in a way you have never seen before. After this series you will be convinced that the local Church fully alive in the power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what this world desperately needs.  And you will discover practical ways that you can be a special part of God’s great redemptive plan for the world through the Church.

A similar message is on its Facebook page: ‘This 8 week series will convince you that the local Church fully alive in the power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what our world desperately needs. Discover practical ways that you can be a unique part of God’s great redemptive plan for the world’.

There are many preachers on the Internet who have preached on, ‘Let’s be the church’. See:

There’s even a theme, Let’s be the church – together; Let’s be Christ centered’ (sounds like an Axis Church theme). I did note that

  • Clontarf Beach Baptist Church, Qld, not too far from Axis Church, North Lakes, has an identical theme for its youth: ‘Come and meet some awesome guys and girls as we do life together. Meeting Fridays 7-9pm’ (emphasis added).
  • Forest Lake Baptist Church in Queensland also has a similar theme in promoting its small groups, known as ‘life groups – information. It states: ‘The main thing that happens at a life group is that we do life together!’ (emphasis added)
  • Cells-church Consultants International has the theme, ‘Small Groups are where we do life together!’; so many churches have ‘life groups’.
  • And this YouTube video gives an example of what a couple understands by ‘we do life together’.
  • We do life together’ is a daily devotional online.
  • Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, Calgary AB, Canada, has the motto, ‘We do life together’.
  • Use your favourite search engine to explore how many churches around the world are using ‘we do life together’ as a theme for various aspects of their ministries.

Here are some emphases from the Axis Church’s website, including the church’s list of values:

  • ‘At Axis Church everything revolves around Jesus. He is the Axis upon which our lives revolve.’ [I did not pick that up in the two ads mentioned above.]
  • ‘The world we live in seems like it’s spinning out of control. Life speeds up each day, and many spend their life spinning aimlessly. It begs the question, “What is at the center[5] [sic] of it all for you?” Is it the abundant life of God? Or does it turn up empty in the end, leaving you dizzy and without true meaning?’
  • ‘At Axis Church, Jesus is the centre of it all. He holds it all together perfectly and in balance. The Bible says in Galatians 2:20, “It’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me”’.
  • ‘When we invite Jesus to take his place at the very center [sic] of our lives, everything revolves around his forgiveness, love and purpose – no longer spinning aimlessly. It’s not that life is without it’s [sic] challenges, but now God becomes the Axis upon which we build our lives. It’s this truth that redeems us from the inside out, changing our hearts, transforming our families and communities, and shaping our world’.
  • ‘Axis Church is a safe place to discover God in an authentic way, and experience his love in a powerful way. We have experienced a truly powerful movement of God’s healing and love in North Lakes, Brisbane’.
  • ‘We look forward to welcoming you into the middle of a movement of God’s great love’.

There are some strong statements in this set of values with which I heartily agree:

  • In the church, everything revolves around Jesus.
  • Jesus is the centre of it all.
  • For Christians, Christ lives in us.
  • When Jesus is at the church’s centre, everything revolves around forgiveness, love and purpose. Jesus gives aim (direction) in life.

Perhaps this advertising series in the local newspaper is designed to focus on the fellowship that people need in our conflicted society. However, the absence of the public proclamation of Jesus is inadequate, particularly when it states on its website that one of its values is: ‘‘At Axis Church, Jesus is the centre of it all. He holds it all together perfectly and in balance’. He was not ‘the centre of it all’ in this advertisement.

I met a friend in a local store, who attends this church, and he said that the advertisement was meant to communicate the fellowship among people who attend this church. If that is so, I would have thought that a focus on breaking down the hostility between sinner and Christ was the first step. Fellowship with one another as Christians comes after reconciliation of sinners with God.

E. ‘This little church went to market’

(courtesy Google public domain)

 

What I read about this local church reminded me of the warning and challenge that Gary Gilley gave in his book, This little church went to market: Is the modern church reaching out or selling out? (2005). This book is available in pdf from The Berean Call HERE. See a review of this book HERE.

Part of Gilley’s concern is expressed in these words,

The most successful arm of the evangelical church in recent years, in terms of growth, money and prestige, has been the market-driven (seeker-sensitive, new-paradigm, user-friendly) church. Because of this success these churches are being mimicked all over the country, and indeed, the world. But is this church fully dressed? Is she outfitted in the biblically prescribed robes of evangelism, edification, worship and instruction? Or, is she wrapped in rags composed of empty human philosophy stitched together with bits and pieces of truth? If the latter is true, why have so few seemed to notice?…

Growing churches are creating an atmosphere, an environment of fun. So fun has replaced holiness as the church’s goal. Having a good time has become the criterion of an excellent, growing church, since fun and entertainment is [sic] what consumers want. Yet Bible references encouraging churches to become havens of fun are, as one may suspect, lacking. John MacArthur observes, ‘Many Christians have the misconception that to win the world to Christ we must first win the world’s favor. If we can get the world to like us, they will embrace our Savior. That is the philosophy behind the user-friendly church movement’[6]….

History tells us that it would not be many years after the liberals of early 1900s ‘won’ their war against the Fundamentalists that their churches went into a decline from which they have not yet recovered. It did not take people long to realize that if the church was not offering anything significantly different from what the world offered then apparently the church was unnecessary. The liberal church marginalized itself through compromise with modernism. It ceased to be a light and became a reflection of the secular philosophies of the times.

The new paradigm church of today is following the same pattern. Flushed with success she is rushing headlong down the slope of secularism. It will only be a matter of time before it is realized that this modern church having lost its message, having compromised the faith, having mistaken numerical success for the blessing of God, will implode, for there will be nothing left to sustain it. The fallout will undoubtedly harm many but hopefully God will raise a stronger church, a church serious about truth, a church that is more concerned about feeding the sheep than entertaining the goats, a church that knows the difference between worship and amusement, a church willing to be despised by the world for the sake of the cross — a church not ashamed of the true gospel, for it will know that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Gilley 2005:13, 19, 116-117).

F. Become all things to all people

The Barna Research organisation in the USA (September 28, 2011) has found that ‘nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15’. This is research from the USA.

Read its articles:

Could these statistics be influencing the seeker-sensitive, rap music, topical message, Bible-lite churches?

Also, could I be in error and over-reacting? Is it possible that I have misinterpreted the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, ‘To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (ESV, emphasis added).

I sent the introductory portion of this article to a friend and he replied that he could find half a dozen biblical verses in as many minutes to support exactly what that advertisement pictures. He provided no verses, but could he have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 9:22 as the advertisement could seem to comply with what Paul is teaching? Is that so?

What does this verse mean in context of 1 Corinthians 9?

1. Who are the weak? He is probably returning to the argument he was presenting up to 1 Cor 9:1 and now continues. In chapter 8 Paul was probably dealing with those with whom there was a conflict in Corinth – the Jews. He seems to be ‘reflecting on his differing conduct in Jewish and Gentile settings, the central issue being questions of Jewish law’ (Gordon Fee 1987:427).[8] The social setting issues of chapter 9 included:

(a) To win his fellow Jews (9:20);

(b) Specifically, those under the law (9:20);

(c) To those ‘outside the law’ (9:21);

2. The ‘weak’ are mentioned in 1 Cor 8:7-13 as those who were former idolaters with weak consciences who were eating food offered to idols. Paul would not eat food offered to idols so it would not make his brother in Christ stumble (8:13). He would refrain from eating.

3. In 4:8-13, Paul spoke of apostles who were ‘weak’. Even earlier in the epistle he wrote of the Christians: ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1:27-29). So,

4. ‘To the weak, I became week’ probably refers ‘to a more purely sociological category than a socio-religious one’ (Fee 1987:431). But I can’t be dogmatic. Fee’s comment is insightful: ‘Whereas he is intransigent [uncompromising] on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioral (e.g., 1:18-25; 5;1-15, etc.), that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count’ (Fee 1987:431, emphasis added).

5. So becoming ‘all things to all people’ meant that Paul was adapting to different Jewish and Gentile situations, but never contrary to God’s commands. He did this to win people to Christ.

How can this be applied to the advertisement in my local paper? Jesus and Paul could have contact with prostitutes, tax collectors, Pharisees, idolaters, and other prominent sinners, but Jesus and Paul would not compromise with these to ‘win them’. In his comments on 1 Cor 9:22, Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, warned: ‘The danger is always present that we may either yield too much to love, which then ceases to be love, or that we may forget something of wisdom, which then lands us in folly’ (Lenski 1937:381).

‘We do LIFE together’ sounds too much like a flattering approach to the world’s standards to try to gain a hearing. It is missing the point of dealing with the alienation from God that needs to be solved before ‘LIFE together’ in fellowship with God and one another is possible. To me, a better approach would be: ‘We all suffer from the same misery – sin. Come to Axis Church to hear the Jesus’ solution’. ‘We do LIFE together’ is too safe to hit the Gospel mark upfront. However, ‘we do LIFE together’, sounds politically correct, which is a way of admitting conformity to the world’s marketing standards.

Now we are back to Tozer’s challenge: Will we present the truthful issues in a transparent, accurate way? This world is a battleground, not a playground. And we dare not disguise that challenge when we present the public face of the church to a very secular society in Australia.

G. Conclusion

The core message that a local church gives in its advertising is critical to understand the nature of what that church represents. The public, advertised theme from an evangelical church, ‘We do LIFE together’, is hardly earth-shattering in its content. Where is the reconciliation of sinners to God through Jesus Christ’s forgiveness? This is advertising a couple months before Christmas. Where is the reason for the baby in the manger? The Church could say, ‘That was not the reason for this theme’, but a Christmas theme contrary to the world’s standards should be presented.

The market-driven church is ‘flushed with success’ and it is ‘rushing headlong down the slope of secularism. It will only be a matter of time before it is realized that this modern church having lost its message, having compromised the faith, having mistaken numerical success for the blessing of God, will implode, for there will be nothing left to sustain it’ (Gilley 2005:116-117).

Bill hybels photo.jpg

Bill Hybels admits seeker-sensitive failure

Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, one of the gurus of the seeker-sensitive, market-driven church, has admitted, ‘We made a mistake’, with their kind of seeker-sensitive emphasis that has been exported around the world. This is how he put it:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for….

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own (Willow Creek repents? Out of Ur, October 18, 2007).

Greg Hawkins, an executive pastor of Willow Creek, admitted:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet (Willow Creek repents? Out of Ur, October 18, 2007).

You can read more of these admissions in Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church (2009). You may be interested in Matt Branaugh’s assessment of ‘Reveal’, in Christianity Today, ‘Willow Creek’s “Huge Shift”’ (15 May 2008). Bradley Wright (a sociologist) has his evaluation of the ‘Reveal’ research in, ‘A review of “Reveal: Where are You?” by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson’.

See Gary Gilley’s assessment of the Willow Creek ‘reveal’ assessment and ‘huge shift’ in ‘Willow Creek’s big adventure (December 2007). Part of his conclusion is:

Having discerned that the old way of the seeker movement failed to produce the spiritual product they desired, Willow is fast-forwarding to the newest wave that now promises what they did 30 years ago – ‘authentic, Acts 2 communities of faith.’[9] This, however, is an even more tragic step, for while the seeker movement has gone astray in many areas in their attempt to change the way we ‘do’ church, the majority within the movement at least gave lip-service to the fundamentals of the faith. The emergent church, however, seeks not to change how we ‘do’ church but to change the church itself by challenging the non-negotiable doctrines of the faith. Combining the emergent deconstructive philosophy with Willow Creek’s influence and money could prove to be a powerful force for destruction. What may be written on this next ‘clean sheet of paper’ in the future is far more concerning than the one that is being thrown away today.

Is the seeker-sensitive, market driven church really getting it yet? Has it woken up to what Bill Hybels stated, ‘We made a mistake…. We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become “self feeders”’? Is that really biblical anyway? What about ‘making disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:19)? Is that talking about becoming ‘self feeders’ or of churches demonstrating that their mission should be dominated by discipling Christians? That cannot be done without Paul’s exhortation to Timothy,

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[10] 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 4:1-4).

Scripture informs the church what it is to do. But the seeker-sensitive, approach wants to be informed by research and Scripture. Is this saying that Scripture alone is inadequate in determining how to develop a healthy, disciple-making church? It should be noted that research is valuable in helping churches discern whether they are being successful in making Christian disciples. See the article, ’12 reasons why your church doesn’t produce spiritual growth’, by Tony Morgan.

The Willow Creek assessment surely should cause any seeker-sensitive church to rethink its market-driven strategy in drawing people into the church. ‘We do LIFE together’ is a country mile from an overt statement like Paul’s: ‘‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom 1:16).

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1987. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Gilley, G E 2005. This little church went to market: The church in the age of entertainment (online), rev edn.[11] Darlington, England: Evangelical Press. Available from The Berean Call at:https://www.thebereancall.org/sites/2011.thebereancall.org/files/This%20Little%20Church%20Went%20to%20Market%20%28final%20edition%20–Word%29_0.pdf (Accessed 16 November 2013).

Hawkins, G & Parkinson, C 2009. Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church. South Barrington, IL; Willow Creek Association.

Lenski, R C H 1937/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[12]

MacArthur, Jr., J F 1994. Reckless faith: When the church loses its will to discern. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Tozer, A W 1964. This world: Playground or battleground. Alliance Weekly, January 23, 1952, in The Alliance Witness, March 16 1964, 2. Available at: http://www.cmalliance.org/resources/archives/alifepdf/AW-1964-03-18.pdf#search=%22Playground%20or%20battleground%22 (Accessed 18 November 2013).

Tozer, A W 1989. H Verploegh (ed), This world: Playground or battleground? Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications. Also available online at: http://www.neve-family.com/books/tozer/world/index.html (Accessed 18 November 2013).

Notes


[1] Available at: http://www.northlakesmessenger.com.au/mags/2013/Nov16.pdf (Accessed 24 November 2013).

[2] ‘Downgrade’ is the language that C H Spurgeon used in ‘The down-grade controversy’ in the late 19th century. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/dwngrd.htm (Accessed 19 November 2013). For Spurgeon, he was addressing false doctrine in his era. In 1887, he wrote: ‘We have had enough of The Down-Grade for ourselves when we have looked down upon it. What havoc false doctrine is making no tongue can tell. Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaptation for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart’. I am not using downgrade in this sense of false doctrine, but as the compromise used by the seeker-sensitive approach, which tends to give a marketing face to the 21st century approach to the Gospel and Christian doctrine.

[3] This is taken from a Tozer editorial in Alliance Witness, ‘Motive is all-important), which is the title of this chapter in Tozer (1989:38).

[4] The Anglicised (Australian) spelling is ‘baptise’.

[5] ‘Center’ is the USA spelling, but the Australian spelling is ‘centre’. This set of values is not consistent in its spelling of centre, using both American and Australian spelling in the one online document.

[6] Here he references MacArthur (1994:52).

[7] ‘The millennial generation is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002’. See: ‘Who are the millenials?’ at: http://www.cpcc.edu/millennial (Accessed 2 December 2013).

[8] This was Fee’s comment on 1 Cor 9:20.

[9] Here he referred to an earlier edition of:  http://www.willowcreek.org.au/aboutus (Accessed 19 November 2013). The earlier edition is not available now online.

[10] Or healthy.

[11] This was first published in 2002 (Gilley 2005:4).

[12] This is a limited edition printed in 2001 by Hendrickson Publishers, licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

When Christian thinking becomes fuzzy

Friday, October 25th, 2013

roberta-and-jim

(photographs of Pastor Jim Cymbala and Roberta Langella, courtesy Pulpit & Pen)

 By Spencer D Gear

When I point the finger at fuzzy thinking, I also recognise that I’m a fellow traveller. I can be guilty of illogical thinking at times. When that happens, I appreciate those who care enough about me to point this out. In writing this article, I’m in no way making out that I’m a superior Christian who does not make mistakes or engage in fuzzy thinking at times.

When I use the term ‘fuzzy thinking’, I am referring to fuzzy logic – including the use of logical fallacies, the inability to think clearly, and the ability to read incorrect meaning into a person’s writing and speaking. This too often manifests itself in use of logical fallacies without admitting one uses them; accusation of false meaning to what a person states; and this may get to the point of speaking falsehood about a person.

Are any of you tired of the church being run by CEOs and the promise of growth in the church through following a church growth paradigm? What about that rock band on stage that entertains the group while most of them remain silent and do not enter into the singing what are supposed to be congregational songs?

I had an experience like this in the last 12 months with a local church and its evangelical pastor (well, the denomination has a reputation for being evangelical) when I emailed him to ask if I could attend one of the mid-week groups of his church and would he provide an address. He told me that the group would be way too contemporary for me. I have never met this pastor personally and have never spoken to him. My wife and I had visited his church once when we moved to this region and it was obvious that the person we met as we left the meeting had conveyed our feedback to the pastor. The pastor was in the service but was not the preacher. There was no reading of the Scriptures and their making the service contemporary seemed to be foremost on the mind of those leading the service

What is God’s view?

Bill Muehlenberg

Bill Muehlenberg (courtesy CultureWatch)

I was so impressed by this penetrating insight by Bill Muehlenberg:Dysfunctional Churches Mean Dysfunctional Societies‘, that I sent a group email to my Christian friends. A couple of them responded (which doesn’t happen all that often when I forward a group email link). One brother in Christ said he would share this message with his church.

My friend, Mike, gave feedback to me about that message and provided a link to a powerful message by Jim Cymbala that deals with getting the church back to the fundamentals and addressing the dysfunctional in our churches. I must admit that the name of Jim Cymbala did not ring a bell with me. He’s not one of my known and favourite Christian authors. I have never read any of his books or heard any of his sermons. I have since learned that he has written a number of books published by Zondervan. These are listed on his church’s website at The Brooklyn Tabernacle

Please be assured that I will sit up and take more notice when the name, Jim Cymbala is mentioned after hearing this sermon. His heart seems to be beating with Holy Spirit motivation. However, I will be a critical realist in my assessment of what he says and writes. I can’t buy into his comments about preaching from the Old Testament. Mike’s comment about this is valid when he said that the online DVD of Jim’s sermon was good but he was not in harmony with him when he spoke about refraining from preaching from the Old Testament. Mike said that it all points to Christ, but in the context of Cymbala’s sermon, he can let that slide. Why? It was because ‘he was more taking aim at preachers who simply don’t preach Christ and the cross at all’.

I urge you to take a listen to a message that knocked me off the wall of my comfortable Christianity. Has Jim Cymbala from Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York city, hit the mark or not? Here’s the link to that message: General Council: Jim Cymbala.

I pray that the Lord will use this message to get to our hearts. Some of you may disagree with points of his Pentecostal theology, but his content reminded me so much of the prophetic insight of the late A W Tozer (1897-1963).

Accusation of double talk

I was to experience some fuzzy Christian thinking as a result of forwarding the link to Jim Cymbala’s sermon. This is how it unfolded.

When I sent the Cymbala link to a pastor friend, his reply was that it was ‘great stuff’ until Cymbala ‘referred admiringly to George Wood, who has formed a liaison with Mormons’. He asked if I knew this. His emphasis was that ‘Jim didn’t mention that [about George Wood’s Mormon association] although he rightly preached about the only name’ as proclaimed by Saul who became ‘Paul, the Apostle’, in the chapter Jim C preached from – Acts 13. Dr George O Wood[1] is the General Superintendent of the USA Assemblies of God (A/G-USA).

He went on to accuse Jim Cymbala of using ‘double talk in the Church’. This pastor was careful to use the qualification, ‘in my opinion’. Whenever a person uses these words, I look for solid evidence to back that opinion. It did not come as this pastor displayed some of his fuzzy thinking.

He regards Cymbala has having a ‘perceived successful past’ and that what Cymbala said in this message ‘is obnoxious in the eyes and ears of the Lord’. The pastor gave this proviso: ‘That in my opinion is the biggest hindrance to the move of God for which we all crave. May the Lord deliver us’. This ‘perceived successful past’ language is a put down of Cymbala and what has happened through his ministry at the Brooklyn Tabernacle in downtown New York City. The Brooklyn Tabernacle website provided this information about Cymbala:

In the early 1970s Pastor Cymbala took over the leadership of The Brooklyn Tabernacle on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn. The small, struggling congregation numbered less than twenty people and met in a small, run-down building surrounded by the physical and moral blight of the inner city. No money was available for adequate salaries during most weeks in those early years, so Pastor Cymbala and Carol took second jobs and struggled to make ends meet both in the church and at home.

Nevertheless, this was where they felt God had placed them, and they soon realized that it was a unique opportunity to see the power of the gospel of Christ in action by loving and ministering to all colors and kinds of people. Most were poor and many wrestled with the typical inner-city problems of drug or alcohol abuse and the pain of disintegrating families. At the time, the New York City area, with its challenging social problems and urban decay, was kind of a “forgotten mission field.” Most church buildings were nearly vacant on Sundays since their once-strong congregations (and their denominations) had long before fled to suburbia. But Pastor Cymbala and Carol believed that this was the very spot where God’s love could meet the most desperate of human needs. Right away they realized the necessity of real prayer to secure God’s grace and power in their ministry. The Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting, though very small at the start, became a central feature in the life of the church and has remained so to this day.

Realizing the limited impact that any one church can have in a large metropolis like New York, the leadership of the Brooklyn Tabernacle began to plant churches in other needy areas of the city. As they trained pastors and sent them out with small groups of workers from the congregation, a replication of the work in downtown Brooklyn was begun. At the same time, The Brooklyn Tabernacle began to look beyond its own locale to plant missionary stations that have grown and evolved in impoverished places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Over the years, other works have been established by the grace of God in Israel, Guyana, and the Philippines. The leadership for most of these ministries has been raised up by God from the congregation, which itself represents so many parts of the world. These missions have experienced a demonstration of the far-reaching power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today Pastor Cymbala oversees a congregation of several thousand people. Many of the inner- city problems are still there, but so is the congregation’s dependency upon the grace of God, who has raised up workers to direct outreach to children, women, men, youth, seniors, the homeless and people in shelters, among others (The Brooklyn Tabernacle).

So my pastor friend was displaying fuzzy Christian thinking with his statement that Jim Cymbala had a ‘perceived successful past’. This is misrepresentation through use of a logical fallacy of biased sample. One could arrive at a conclusion of ‘perceived successful past’ by ignoring or distorting the evidence.

How should I respond to this agitated brother in Christ who is a long-term friend? I have preached in his church.

Fuzzy thinking and judgmental attitude

I replied that I thought he was being way too harsh on Jim Cymbala. The fact that he mentioned George Wood in a sermon does not in any way indicate that Cymbala agrees with what George Wood said and did with the Mormons. With his making that kind of association, I told him that he had committed a genetic logical fallacy. Because Cymbala mentioned Wood does not make Cymbala’s exposition false or improper. A genetic logical fallacy ‘is a line of “reasoning” in which a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself. It is also a line of reasoning in which the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence for the claim or thing’ (Nizkor Project 1991-2012).

I asked: Are you going to invalidate Albert Mohler’s ministry as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary  because he also addressed the Mormon Brigham Young University? See:A clear and present danger‘. I asked him not to associate me with promotion of double-speak. When my wife and I were living in the USA, I was invited to speak (we both sang and played – piano and guitar) at a Mormon break-away group, The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was very clear on where I stood on the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone.

I told that Christian minister that I do not endorse what George Wood did, but that does not make a devil of ‘double-speak’ out of Jim Cymbala because he mentioned George Wood who was in the meeting where Cymbala spoke.

It is my view that Cymbala was spot on with his emphasis from Acts 13:1-4. I think that Jim hit the mark, a message that many contemporary evangelical churches need to hear.

How would you expect my pastor friend to reply?

‘There is no other name’

The pastor said that it was not only that Jim Cymbala mentioned George Wood but also that he did it in ‘in the immediate context of his commending the early Christians for standing for the uniqueness of salvation through Jesus – “there is no other name”’. He claimed that I missed the point because Wood has ‘forged a link with Mormons. Yes A/G-USA [Assemblies of God USA] has gone that far and you can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’.

He did clarify that his reference to ‘double speak’ was to Jim C and George W and not to me and my preaching at a break-away Mormon group.

How should I reply?

Misrepresenting my views

I told him that I do not appreciate it when he misrepresents what I said to him. This is what I wrote: ‘I do not endorse what George Wood did, but that does not make a devil of “double-speak” out of Jim Cymbala because he mentioned George Wood who was in the meeting where Cymbala spoke’.

His statement to me was, ‘Also you have missed the point. GW has now forged a link with Mormons. Yes A/G-USA has gone that far and you can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’.

At no point have I ever said that I justify what the Assemblies of God – USA did. I exhorted him to please not misrepresent my view and invent what I did not say. He can stand his ground. That is his business. But misrepresenting my views is reprehensible.

Jim Cymbala was not engaged in double-speak in his exposition of Acts 13:1-4 and its application to the contemporary church. By this pastor’s saying that ‘Jim Cymbala referred admiringly to George Wood’, it says absolutely nothing about Jim C supporting George W’s position on the Mormons. As I said previously, that is his use of a genetic logical fallacy, which promotes illogic and prevents us having a rational conversation on this topic.

The pastor’s response to my calling him for misrepresenting my view and his use of a logical fallacy was that ‘by arguing about words we will get nowhere. The issue as far as I am concerned is JC [Jim Cymbala] and his impassioned appeal to return to fundamental Christianity with the spectre of GW’s [George Wood’s] treachery hanging over the entire scene. I am sorry that you deduced some attack on yourself by my words. That certainly was not my intention’.

My response was that I did not say that he attacked me. I said that he misrepresented what I said (he lied about what I stated) and that’s what he did. I asked him to repent of this sin towards me and acknowledge the sin he had committed?

We are not arguing about words. I am discussing his illogic in his use of a genetic logical fallacy in his associating Jim Cymbala with George Wood’s ‘liaison’ with Mormons. What Jim said had nothing to do with endorsing George Wood on Mormonism. I asked him: ‘Don’t you understand the danger in conversation when you use logical fallacies? I urge you to gain an understanding on how you did this. I have provided you with a link to the nature of a genetic logical fallacy (see above)’.

His reply demonstrated that he did not understand the seriousness of what he did in misrepresenting = lying about what I said. This person is a long-term friend with whom I’ve had many times of wonderful fellowship in the Lord and disagreement over certain issues. This was another one of the latter. He stated that he did not want to continue the conversation ‘in which you attribute to me an accusation about lies is descending to a level that I don’t want to pursue in the interests of mutual respect and friendship’.

Now he said that he would not continue the conversation, but what did he do? He came back with ‘obviously we both feel disappointed and I’m sorry I raised the matter with you’. Then he went on to accuse me of misrepresenting him ‘in not accepting or inter-relating with my point’. I have no idea what he means by this because I have rejected his point of Jim Cymbala supporting what George Wood is doing with the Mormons. I have been inter-relating with him if that means I am in email conversation with him. However, I have no idea what he is driving at when he accuses me of not inter-relating with his point. If I disagree with his point, does that mean I am not relating with him. That is a misunderstanding of the meaning ofrelatein the English language.

He stated that he feels no need to repent and that he is sorry that I feel the way I do. It has nothing to do with how I ‘feel’. It has everything to do with what he wrote in his email and what he sated about my views. He wrote: ‘Also you have missed the point. GW has now forged a link with Mormons. Yes A/G-USA has gone that far and you can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’.

That is where he was lying about me. I never, ever justified anything to do with George Wood and Jim Cymbala’s ‘liaison’ with Mormonism. I did not justify it. I did not try hard to justify it. I NEVER justified it. That’s where he lied about me. Why can’t he own up to his sin against me on this occasion?

Slipping and sliding Christian

How do you think he replied to my charge that he lied to me when he said, ‘you can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’? His reply was that his comment ‘was intended as a generic comment and was not directed against you. To the extent that you saw it that way, I do sincerely apologise. I think taking it in the context most would agree that I was not implying that you were trying to justify GW or JC in their respective views on Mormonism, whatever they may happen to be. I trust this puts the matter to rest. I will not respond further unless something new comes up’.

I find his labelling it as a ‘generic comment’ to be his rationalisation – trying to squirm out of admitting what he did. Why? I doubt his explanation because of the way he was addressing me in the email. When he wrote ‘you’, he was referring to me as he was writing to me. These are his exact words: ”Also you have missed the point. GW has now forged a link with Mormons. Yes A/G-USA has gone that far and you can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’ (emphasis added). The personal pronoun, ‘you’, is used three times in these two sentences. The meaning comes from the first use of ‘you’ which states, ‘Also you have missed the point’.  Who has missed the point? I have missed the point he is trying to make. He is not making the point to some generic you that he claims. The two uses of ‘you’ that immediately follow are based on the meaning of the first ‘you’. The first ‘you’ is definitely referring directly to me: ‘You have missed the point’. So the other meanings of ‘you’ are also addressed to me. Therefore, this brother in Christ is engaged in slipping and sliding about the meaning of what he said, i.e. he was rationalising his lying behaviour about what he said to me.

I cannot agree that he was using it in the generic sense as the context of those two sentences demonstrate. My view is that he was engaged in fuzzy Christian thinking. He is trying to wriggle out of his lying about me by rationalising. I could be wrong in this understanding, but the context of the three uses of ‘you’ is dictated by the first meaning. And that was definitely directed at me, ‘You have missed the point’.

It doesn’t put it to rest for me because I see it as a classic example of a Christian who is rationalising to cover up his sin against me. He was addressing me directly and when he said, ‘You can’t justify it no matter how hard you try’, he was addressing me in the singular in an email. It was ‘you’ singular to whom he was speaking but he wants to get off the hook by saying that it was intended as ‘a generic comment’. I am not convinced. It was a specific comment to me but he is not at the point of acknowledging it as lying to me. I’ll have to leave it rest with him and the Lord. I have made no further contact via email with him.

This, as I see it, is fuzzy thinking where he is a slipping-and-sliding Christian who is into avoidance. He is not being transparently honest with me. I did my best to convince him, but he was not moved. He gave me his made-up spiel of filtered reasoning, saying it was a generic meaning. It seems as though it was designed to get him off the hook, but I don’t buy it. Fuzzy thinking is what I call it.

What do the Scriptures say about doing things this way? Does it have anything to indicate how people need to deal with those who lie? Both Old and New Testaments are clear about lying being forbidden and what happens to liars:

arrow-small Proverbs 19:9, ‘A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish’ (ESV).

arrow-small Proverbs 12:22, ‘Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight’.

arrow-small Psalm 101:7 ‘No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes’.

arrow-small Colossians 3:9-10 ‘Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’.

arrow-small  John 2:4 ‘Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him’.

arrow-small Ephesians 4:25 ‘Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another’.

The Scripture is very clear that the false witness, liar, and deceitful person should not be found among Christians. Therefore, my interaction with the Christian pastor who seems to be lying about what I said, is to leave him with the Lord. I am not the final judge. I can only make my assessment with what he said in context. And it certainly seemed to be dishonesty through the words he delivered.

Another side to Jim Cymbala

There’s another perspective on the Jim Cymbala story that I became aware of when I was advised by Steve Langella on 9 March 2017 through the ‘Contact Form’ on this website. Steve’s story of his sister, Roberta Langella, and Jim Cymbala are quite alarming, in my view, and are explained in these two articles:

Flower7The Story Behind the Story – Roberta Langella and Pastor Jim Cymbala – Part 1’ (October 16, 2016), and

Flower7In Roberta’s Own Words – The Story Behind the Story of Jim Cymbala and Roberta Langella – Part 2’ (October 28, 2016).

Flower7 See also Seth Dunn’s article in Pulpit & Pen, ‘Jim Cymbala and the Ghost of Testimonies Past’ (October 28, 2016).

It is my view that this tragedy should not be swept under the carpet.

Being cobelligerent or joining a false anti-Christ religion

I said to my friend that he claimed that George Wood had ‘a liaison with a false anti-Christ religion’ in his association with Mormons. I mentioned that I thought that it would do him good to read what Francis Schaeffer meant by becoming cobelligerents with people who have similar values in certain organisations. I do this when I support Cherish Life, an anti-abortion group that used to be called Right to Life. Although many Roman Catholics are associated with this group, we give common support in opposing the abortion holocaust in Australia / Queensland.

See Daniel Strange’s article, ‘Co-belligerence and common grace: Can the enemy of my enemy be my friend?’ (September 2005).

What is the abortion situation in Australia? These were 2009 figures:

How many abortions occur in Australia?

Life Network Australia – Monday, July 13, 2009

clip_image001 Abortion crosses in a field

An estimated 80,000 – 90,000 surgical abortions are performed in Australia each year.This equates to approximately 250 per day, or one abortion for every 2.8 live births. One in three Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime.

An accurate number can not be calculated using the current systems of statistical collection. 5 An analysis of the available data has been prepared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

There are no statistics available for the number of chemical abortions in Australia. The ‘morning after pill’, Postinor-2 is available over the counter and accounts for an unknown number of early abortions. A combination of drugs, Methotrexate and Misoprostal, is also widely used to induce abortion before 7 weeks gestation. This is done as a general consult by doctors and the number is not recorded.

For anyone or any group that stands against this holocaust, I will join with them to oppose such slaughter as a cobelligerent.

What is a cobelligerent?

The Australian Macquarie Dictionary defines the noun, cobelligerent, as ‘a nation, state, or individual that cooperates with, but is not bound by a formal alliance to, another in carrying on war’. As an adjective, it is ‘relating to such a cooperation’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:422-423).

Francis Schaeffer.jpg

Francis Schaeffer (courtesy Wikipedia)

The late Francis Schaeffer defined a cobelligerent this way: ‘A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice’ (Schaeffer 1980:68).

 Theopedia provided this explanation:

Co-belligerence, strictly speaking, is waging a war in cooperation with another against a common enemy without a formal alliance. The term co-belligerence indicates remoteness and differences between the co-belligerent parties although jointly pursuing a common objective. In Christianity, it refers to an alliance between denominations, which are normally opposed on doctrinal grounds, for a common social goal.

According to one author, it can be defined as a cultural philosophy that warrants questionable alliances in order to make social impact and change against the moral slippage that plagues our nation — these alliances created and fostered “on the basis of one thing and one thing only – the cause at hand.”[2] A case in point would be conservative evangelicals allying with the Roman Catholic Church in joint efforts to oppose abortion.

Some Christians have issues with a cobelligerence perspective. See Steven J Camp’s article, THE NEW DOWNGRADE…12 dangers of Evangelical Co-Belligerence related to the Manhattan Declaration. There are dangers in being a cobelligerent, but these are reduced when one focusses on why one is joining with another group with which there may be major differences on other occasions. This is not a proclamation of salvation through Christ alone and a promotion of Trinitarian Christianity. It is generally associated with cooperating with others on moral and national issues for which they have a common opponent. Steven J Camp, based on this article, lists 12 dangers of cobelligerence. These are:

1. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence do so outside the authority of Scripture and therefore cannot affirm Sola Scriptura in its practice.

2. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence do so without “preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” For the sake of cultural unity the offence of the cross is purposely removed.

3. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence adopt a secular view of being salt and light—applying that reality to anyone who rallies with them on the social cause which their moral conscience agrees.

4. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence do so in support of a moral imperative derived from works righteousness thinking God is pleased and society redeemed with the veneer of pseudo-spirituality.

5. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence do so to the purposed exclusion and amputation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in their social causality.

6. DANGER: People who champion co-belligerence must yoke themselves with nonbelievers; they do so in direct disobedience to God’s Word forfeiting His favor and invoking His judgment.

7.DANGER: People who champion cobelligerence lose sight of eternity in those because of temporary social moorings and therefore become calloused and hardened against the very ones that need the gospel. They therefore cannot fulfill the Great Commission for they have elevated worldly concerns above another eternals soul.

8. DANGER: People who champion cobelligerence live as political agitators fighting for morality against the very authorities that the Lord has sovereignly placed in power.

9. DANGER: People who champion cobelligerence fight to protect religious rights, violate the Scriptures in John 18:36 where our Lord said, “if my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would be fighting.” But His kingdom is not of this world—all our rights lie only in Christ.

10. DANGER: People who champion evangelical co-belligerence seldom get around to sharing the gospel with their opponents; the societal concerns on cultural or political issues have overshadowed and robbed them of seeing their opponents as sinners in need of Christ (cp, Luke 14:21ff).

11. DANGER: People who champion evangelical co-belligerence dumb-down the body of Christ to the status of a political action committee for the purpose of flexing our religious muscle to sway candidates, issues, morals, elections and party platforms to line up with our social-moral values. This violates the standard of Scripture as to the purpose and function of God’s church: “which is the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

12. DANGER: People who champion evangelical co-belligerence will never win the culture wars, though they might improve them some. But they will have failed miserably by sacrificing the gospel message, sound doctrine, theology, the church, and the biblical duties that the Lord has called us to all along “for a piece of political pie” with the reward of temporary fame, increased fortune and the still unrealized fantasy of a moral Christianized world without Christ and His truth at the core.

These dangers are minimised, in my underst nding, when one acknowledges the real purpose of cobelligerence as defined by Francis Schaeffer: ‘A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice’ (Schaeffer 1980:68).

As a cobelligerent, a person is not joining with people to evangelise them with the Gospel of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We are joining others for a common cause in dealing with vital cultural issues of public justice in our society.

Dr George O Wood

General Superintendent

What about George Wood and the Mormons?

What is the truth about what George Wood has been doing in his meeting with the Mormon leadership and speaking to students at Brigham Young University? There is an organisation called TruthKeepers that was concerned over George Wood’s association with the Mormons. C H Fisher of TruthKeepers opposed George Wood and his association with the Mormons. In September 2013, Fisher wrote:

AoG General Superintendent George Wood Validates Mormonism

Posted on September 25, 2013 by C.H. Fisher

Assemblies of God “CEO” George Wood recently addressed Mormon students and faculty. After reading the article about his speech I am convinced that he did more to validate Mormonism than he did to identify it as outside of Christianity. One of the most chilling statements in the article (Assembly of God CEO addresses BYU students) is, “Wood showed that God is playing a role in all religions and that Christians are more united than they sometimes think.” It is as if Wood doesn’t recognize Mormonism as a cult. But surely he must know the truth. How long will it be before Mormon evangelists are preaching in A0G churches? How can the AoG stop that from occurring since Wood has set a precedent? The part about “God playing a role” in all religions reveals his ecumenical agenda. It is the same agenda as the heretical and diabolical Emergent Church Movement, i.e., the merger of all religions into one under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. What about the next time men in white shirts and black pants, riding bicycles two by two, knock on an AoG adherent’s door? Wood had better hope and pray a weak soul does not answer, especially one who knows that Wood has cast his favor on Mormonism. He will be held accountable for their lives on the Day of Judgment.

It is time for AoG ministers and members to accept the fact that their movement has been infiltrated and seized by emergent heretics that are intent on converting it into the largest New Age denomination in the world. George Wood is obviously a Rick-Warren-style heretic, the friendly face of evil, a beguiling most effective tactic of Satan. Some people may protest my calling George Wood a heretic. I do not do so pejoratively, but as a logical conclusion of his actions and words. I defend my remark by pointing to the fact that we should not be swayed by outward appearances, clever words, or people’s positions. It is tempting to become enamored by the sheep’s clothing, and fail to recognize the evil within. We should also be careful not to be desensitized by the last day’s wickedness that is suffocating our world today. It is obvious to any Spirit-filled believer that Wood is not acting under the auspices of the Holy Spirit. If he is not being led by God, there is only one other entity that could be leading him.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14 NKVJ)

When will AoG ministers and members take a bold stand? It costs something to stand, and the price can be very heavy. Ministers could be charged by the hierarchy for insurrection and excommunicated. Members might lose their membership. However, those are small prices compared to what the persecuted church is paying in other parts of the world. Complaining about the issue on forums and blogs will not solve the problem. I know people stuck in the apostate Episcopal Church that have been complaining about the degradation for decades, but have done nothing about it. They will complain until the day they die and evil will march onward unmolested, gobbling up souls as it goes. If professing Christians cannot even stop one man from perverting their Movement, how are they going to fare in the really dark days of unprecedented evil dominion? If they compromise now, how far will they compromise then to avoid discomfort and inconveniences?

God must be dealing with many individuals about this, but they are ignoring Him. They would never willingly attend a satanic meeting, but they would allow heretics speak at their meetings, to invade their organization, to dominate them, and to represent them. They did not act when Wood invited heretical Rick Warren to speak at the General Council. Therefore, Wood was not hindered from inviting a pagan to speak at the most recent General Council. Again, there was no measurable resistance. Therefore, he is emboldened to speak favorably at a Mormon meeting. When the next outrage occurs, will they express shock and voice complaints until the shock wears off? Will they then mumble until the next outrage occurs only to react in the same way? Everyone appears to be whistling past the graveyard, hoping it will all blow over and things will return to normal. That is not going to happen. It is a spiritual cancer that cannot be wished or ignored away.

Lack of organized resistance allows and in fact emboldens evil people to commit more evil as they grow in power. Whether it is a nation, organization, or a small group, lack of action is the fodder that evil grows in. Cattle may complain about the treatment they are receiving, but will do little of nothing about it. They outnumber their handlers, but allow themselves to be controlled and harvested. Imagine the same number of lions being herded by a few people into a pen for slaughter. I am reminded of an old adage. “The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Another one that is equally relevant is, “No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” I do not know the source of these quotes, but I recognize the heart.

This was George Wood’s response that was published on the TruthKeepers website of 26 September 2013:

George Wood Explains his Involvement with the LDS

Posted on September 26, 2013 by C.H. Fisher

It was my privilege and opportunity to speak with students last week at Brigham Young University on my faith and family. For those who may have questions regarding my appearance at BYU and meetings with some in the LDS leadership, let me provide some context.

In the greater Salt Lake City area there is an evangelical association called Standing Together. It’s comprised of approximately 100 evangelical churches that in recent years have been reaching out in friendship to LDS leaders and members. Our Assemblies of God pastors and churches in Salt Lake City are involved in Standing Together. Such contacts have produced an openness not previously experienced. Just two weeks before me, Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Theological Seminary in Charlotte, spoke at BYU. Two weeks after me, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, will speak at BYU. And, it is my understanding that Ravi Zacharias has been invited to return to preach at the Mormon Tabernacle early next year. He has done so previously.

Two years ago the National Association of Evangelicals held a meeting in Salt Lake City. At that time, Standing Together arranged a meeting with approximately 125 or so of us in the governor’s mansion for an address by a top LDS leader, Dr. Jeffrey Holland. That resulted in a conversation and friendship between him and me that ultimately led to my being invited to speak at BYU and also have opportunity to meet with several LDS leaders and a few members of the BYU Law School and Religious Education faculties regarding common concerns: religious liberty, how to work effectively to resist the cultural and secular pressures to push persons of faith out of the public square, the increasing coarseness within secular culture and the pressure that exerts on youth; as well as issues related to abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and end of life concerns.

I was invited to speak to BYU students on the subject of Faith and Family. There were no restrictions on what I could say. One of the key leaders, knowing my personal testimony, requested that I speak on this subject. Students were not required to attend and gave up their lunch hour to do so. About 400 students crammed into every seat in the auditorium, and the overflow room – twice the size of the auditorium – also filled up with students. For 45 minutes, I spoke freely about how the Pentecostal Movement came to be, how the Assemblies of God arose out of that Movement, how my parents became AG missionaries, miracles in my family including my Dad (through the intercessory prayer of my mother) who was spared from poisoning by Tibetans on the mission field and my sister being healed of near blindness when she was 18. I told how during a revival at Central Bible College she had a vision of Christ on the cross, reached to take blood from the cross to apply to her eyes, but in actual reality took her glasses off and flung them across the platform. When she came out of the vision, she had perfect sight. I talked freely about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues. I went on then to share my experience of faith, and ended by noting that faith is not subjective but is based on the objective reality of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The students listened in rapt attention and when I was finished, gave a prolonged ovation. I leave the results to the Lord.

I’m providing for you a quote from one of our AG pastors, Ray Smith, pastor of Salt Lake Christian Center. He was in the audience at BYU.
———
Dr. Wood,
Thank you so much for your lecture that I was privileged to attend. Your message obviously led by the Holy Spirit was exceptional. I cannot help but intercede for the hundreds of students that were able to hear you talk in their language (Story, Family and Faith) as if you were talking to a group of CBC students. Telling your story of your search for truth and the markers of faith that influence your decisions is, (in my opinion) exactly what they needed to hear. Theology with a personal narrative is so compelling to LDS students. I know that we will see fruit in eternity from your willingness to go out of the box and into the marketplace of the Mormon faith.
———-
The Executive Leadership Team and the Executive Presbytery have been kept fully informed and have approved my willingness to establish these contacts and relationships. I do not pretend to know what the Holy Spirit might be doing within the LDS leadership, but I do believe the Spirit opened this door.

There is much more I could say, but those who trust my leadership will know that I would not have opened this door except the Spirit and our leaders “bade me go.” For those who do not trust my leadership, probably nothing I say will suffice and I simply leave that to the Lord.

There was a release from BYU [Brigham Young University] that some are quoting and I close with reference to that. On the whole the release summarized well my visit, closing with this quote from me, “The whole aspect of the Christian faith, and my personal faith, rests upon whether or not Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.”

There are two brief references in the BYU release that require my clarification.

First, there was no interfaith discussion with the students. The leadership of BYU placed no restrictions on my message to the students and I freely shared about my faith and family. I did have private discussions with several in LDS leadership regarding the differences that separate us doctrinally; but also we discussed where we could work together within the public square on religious liberty and issues of morality.

Second, the BYU release quoted me as saying that “God is playing a role in all religions and that Christians are more united than they sometimes think.” While I do believe that the Holy Spirit is seeking to draw all persons to Jesus, I did not state what was attributed to me, but I do believe that there is common ground on issues facing our country and culture that we can stand united on. If evangelicals, Roman Catholics, LDS and others can stand together on issues of marriage as between a man and woman, right to life, and religious freedom – our country and culture will be better for it.

Finally, I must say that all within the LDS community treated me with utmost kindness and respect. One of their senior leaders said to me, “America needs the Assemblies of God.” I believe that was said most sincerely. I love and pray for the friends I have made within the LDS community over these past two years. I live, pray, and witness in expectation that we will live to see the prophecy of Pentecost fulfilled, that in these last days the Spirit will be poured out on all.

Thank you for your patience and prayers. I trust this explanation is helpful to you. Blessings!

You can read C H Fisher’s response to George Wood’s address at:My Response to George Wood’s Explanation of Involvement with the LDS‘. This is Fisher’s conclusion re George Wood, the Assemblies of God (USA), and the Mormons:

I believe that it is obvious the Holy Spirit was not involved in this event. After two years of involvement with Mormons, Dr. Wood has made some dear friends, bonded with LDS leaders, won their respect, and incited them to believe that they have achieved one of their major goals, acceptance by mainstream Christianity. One could hobnob with a group of atheists in the same manner, speak at their conference, and leave them with the same impression. It all adds up to one thing, i.e., there was no conviction by the Holy Spirit at that meeting. However, Dr. Wood claims that he was led by the Holy Spirit. I find it difficult to believe that a group of people immersed in great darkness, deceived and most likely possessed by demons, would feel comfortable, accepted by, and a kinship with the Holy Spirit. I also doubt that the Holy Spirit would pass up an opportunity to convict such a group of their lostness and bondage. Conviction is the primary work of the Holy Spirit.

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment: (John 16:8 NKJV)

Although sinners may feel a Christian’s love, acceptance, and compassion for them, they will also feel conviction. I do not believe that it is possible to be anointed by the Holy Spirit without sinners being convicted. Further, I do not believe it is possible for a Spirit-filled believer to speak to a group of deceived and delusional sinners without his or her words being anointed unless the believer has somehow quenched the Holy Spirit. If ones agenda is to gain respect, cause people to feel comfortable and accepted, and to establish a bond of friendship and communion, there will be no conviction in that one’s words. In fact, that agenda is carried out by thousands of Christian preachers every Sunday morning. Some of them, such as Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, and other pastors of mega churches, are masters of speaking without a hint of conviction. They convert a great number of followers, not of Christ, but of them. Accolades from sinners after one speaks are the hallmark of a dead message, enticing words of man’s wisdom, lacking the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power.

Dr. Wood apparently believes that he was led by the Holy Spirit to spend two years with an Emergent group currying the favor of the LDS. But remember, this is the same Dr. Wood that invited a New Age guru, Ruth Haley Barton, to speak at the General Council. He is the same AoG leader that promotes Spiritual Formation and its deadly heresy Contemplative Prayer. It is the same Dr. Wood that supports Emergent heretic Rick Warren. This is the Dr. Wood that engineered and ensconced into the AoG an ecumenical agreement with the Roman Catholic Church. Now he joins with an ecumenical/interfaith group to socialize with and give validity to Mormonism. In my opinion, Dr. Wood is in lockstep with the Emergent Church Movement and will continue to carrying out what he believes is God’s agenda to turn the AoG into the largest New Age denomination in the world. His clever response will be sufficient for individuals that need only the skin of a reason to continue supporting him. For the ones that discern by the Holy Spirit, it falls well short of an adequate explanation.

I have asked my pastor friend to provide me with documentation to support his claim from George Wood and the Assemblies of God – USA that  ‘George Wood, who has formed a liaison with Mormons…. GW has now forged a link with Mormons. Yes A/G-USA has gone that far’.

I asked: Has this link denied the Trinitarian faith and the uniqueness of salvation through Christ alone? Has this link with the Mormons denied the deity of Jesus Christ and supported the view that we can become gods (Mormon doctrine)? What evidence does he have that George Wood and the Assemblies of God – USA have denied the fundamentals of the evangelical faith in their ‘liaison’ (his word) with the Mormons?

He has made some strong allegations against George Wood and the USA A/G and their connection with the Mormons. I have asked him to provide me with documentation of this from George Wood and the USA that confirms their denial of fundamentals of the evangelical faith?

A Mormon interview with George Wood

The Mormon publication, Deseret News, published this interview on 24 September 2013,George Wood, head of the Assemblies of God: Flexibility fosters growth’. Was there any emphasis on the fundamentals of the evangelical/Pentecostal faith in this interview? It needs to be remembered that this is the published interview that would need to be consistent with Deseret News policy and LDS doctrine. I could not find any published emphasis on the evangelical fundaments that were significantly different from LDS teaching. These are a few grabs from that interview:

6pointblue-small ‘My parents were pioneer missionaries in China (where he was born in 1943) and Tibet. It has given me a great love for missions and for reaching people who don’t know the Lord’.

6pointblue-small ‘While across the world our doctrine is the same, we have developed a very flexible structure in terms of how the church organizes itself…. We are also very flexible in style of worship’.

6pointblue-small ‘In the U.S. one-third of our people are under the age of 25. Worldwide it is the same. One of the reasons is, while we have stayed true to our understanding of apostolic doctrine, we have been extremely flexible in terms of our structures and worship style and creative in our ways to reach people.

We place a great deal of focus on discipleship and personal experience through … the baptism of the Holy Spirit, where we encourage personal prayer and the laying on of hands from which we expect young people to receive the gift of the spirit evidenced through praying in a language they did not learn, or speaking in tongues’.

There is no firm statement here of salvation through faith in Christ alone, affirmation of the Trinitarian faith and the deity of Christ. It amounts to speculation if we want to assume why there are not such statements. It may be because (1) The context of the interview was not to deal with fundamentals of the faith; (2) George Wood did not make such statements, or (3) George Wood made such statements but those which would conflict with Mormon doctrine were excluded from the published interview. There could be a number of other reasons.

In summary

In promoting an outstanding sermon by Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle online, I got into an unexpected discussion with a pastoral friend who wanted to associate Jim Cambala’s message with an endorsement of General Superintendant George Wood’s (AoG USA) association with Mormons. In opposing Cymbala and Wood, my friend used a genetic logical fallacy, accused me of agreeing with such a view (then backed off, saying the ‘you’ had a generic meaning). He engaged in some fuzzy Christian thinking, in my estimation, in his interaction with me. This short article is designed to demonstrate how Christians ought to quit their fuzzy thinking and get back to transparent communication. I can be guilty of such as well and need to be called to account if I do that.

Sadly, there’s a negative side to Cymbala’s situation with the suicide of Roberta Langella.

Works consulted

Schaeffer F 1980. Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race?’ Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H Revell.

The Macquarie dictionary 3rd ed 1997. Delbridge, A; Bernard, J R L; Blair, D; Butler, S; Peters, P & Yallop, C (eds). Sydney, NSW: The Macquarie Library, Macquarie University, Australia.

The Nizkor Project 1991 – 2012. Fallacy: Genetic fallacy (online). Available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/genetic-fallacy.html (Accessed 25 October 2013).

Notes:


[1] This article states that:

The son of missionary parents to China and Tibet, Dr. Wood holds a doctoral degree in pastoral theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and a juris doctorate from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. He did his undergraduate work at Evangel College in Springfield, MO and served the college in several capacities, including being director of spiritual life and student life from 1965-71. Dr. Wood was ordained with the Southern Missouri District in 1967 (‘General Superintendent Dr. George O Wood’, Accessed 25 October 2013).

[2] Steve Camp, ‘The Great Divide’.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 March 2017.

Seeker-sensitive dumb-down

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Church Sucks flyer

(Photo: Screen Grab via KVAL  Courtesy The Christian Post)

By Spencer D Gear

What will some pastors do to attract people to their churches? Why don’t you take a read of what this pastor is doing in Oregon? See: ‘‘Pastor’ Says ‘Church S*cks’ for Focusing on Sin“.  The article begins:

EUGENE – A minister in Oregon has a launched a sermon series entitled ‘Church S*cks,’ and is announcing seeker-friendly changes to his Sunday services, as a way to attract people who dislike church.

Tony Crank, who leads One Love Church in Eugene, claims that churches talk too much about sin, and are not welcoming enough to visitors.

Is your church up to these kinds of antics? What will you do to make sure that your church is protected from this seeker-sensitive nonsense and biblical downgrade? What will this kind of church do to biblical Christianity?

I was alerted to this situation by Bill Muehlenberg’s article, Relevant’ Churches and Apostate Pastors. Could you believe that there is a website titled, churchsucks.org. Some reading this may get angry with me for daring to mention it and they may consider that this short article gives this kind of profane activity some extra publicity. Please be assured that my purpose is primarily to alert God’s people to some of the theological nonsense that is going under the church banner these days. Please be warned. This approach to church has some of the signs, as I see it, of apostasy.

I sent a reply online to the newspaper cited above:

This is a sure way to dumb down the church and send biblical theology out of the window. When will this pastor read the New Testament and get his message from the Scriptures. Application of the message to the general populace, for sure! But this is a recipe for making this church another secularized club and place of entertainment. There is no good news without the bad news – of sin.

We have this warning in the Scriptures, ‘Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction’ (2 Thess 2:3 ESV). Matt Slick has written an article to address these kinds of issues: ‘Apostasy in the Christian church’.

To address some of the issues related to this seeker-sensitive church mentality, see my articles:

# Something’s gone wrong with the contemporary evangelical church? (A review of Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness).

# Is theology important?

# Is liberal theology heresy?

# Worldliness in church music

# What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

How bad is the downgrade in your evangelical church?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Image result for downgrade clip art public domain
(publicdomainhut.com)

By Spencer D Gear

‘I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups’.

A pastor’s response

What is a downgrade? Dictionary.com provides these definitions:

down·grade

[doun-greyd]Show IPA noun, adjective, adverb, verb, down·grad·ed, down·grad·ing.

noun

1. a downward slope, especially of a road.

adjective, adverb

2. downhill.

verb (used with object)

3. to assign to a lower status with a smaller salary.

4. to minimize the importance of; denigrate: She tried to downgrade the findings of the investigation.

5. to assign a lower security classification to (information, a document, etc.).

Idiom

6. on the downgrade, in a decline toward an inferior state or position: His career has been on the downgrade.

Downgrade in content at church

It has been particularly applied to the downgrade theological controversy, particularly in England. C H Spurgeon was particularly involved in what was happening in England. Erroll Hulse wrote in, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy’, that

he last five years of Spurgeon’s life, 1887-1892 were troubled and saddened by the Downgrade Controversy. Spurgeon carried an enormous workload. He possessed neither the time nor the energy to pursue and remedy the widespread doctrinal decline in the B U (Baptist Union)….

The Downgrade controversy broke out when Spurgeon observed aggressive promotion of the ‘new thought’ and blatant denials of evangelical belief affecting the Baptist denomination. Calvinism, which had been the theology of both Congregationalists and Baptists, had faded away. It remained embedded in their confessional statements and in the trust deeds of hundreds of churches but not in the hearts and minds of the ministers and people. The old truths were not being attacked. They were simply ignored….

An essential part of orthodox doctrine is the truth that the impenitent will be subjected to the eternal punishment of God. With the lack of clarity this truth was undermined in three ways: 1. The teaching of conditional immortality, 2. The idea of a future probation, and 3. The universal salvation of all creation.

What is evangelical Christianity?

Here it is stated, accurately, that they are ‘the people of the Book: To know the only true God, honor and obey him, and to make him known’. It’s important to realise that ‘the original meaning of the word evangelical applied to Protestant true believers, distinguishing them from Protestant liberals and traditionalists. It had nothing to do with a specific denomination’. However, ‘it is sad to say that ‘today the word “evangelical” is losing its original meaning and does not necessarily refer to a true believer who holds to the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures’.

However, I’m using the term ‘evangelical’ to mean born-again believers who are committed to the authority of Scriptures (inerrant in the originals) who who want to know the one and only Almighty God, honour Him, obey Him, and make Him known through proclamation of the Gospel and discipleship. These evangelicals will build Christ-honouring churches where the teaching of Scripture (preferably expositionally with illustration and application) is a central tenet of church practice.

I would consider that the following are core doctrines of the evangelical faith in which a born-again Christian should believe:[1]

The downgrade in Australia

This is a personal reflection. Here I reveal how pervasive this downgrade is within evangelical Christianity in Australia in 2011-2012. Even though I knew it was there when living in regional Queensland (visit one of the local seeker-sensitive churches and that becomes self-evident), I became acutely aware of it in mid 2011. My wife and I moved from a regional area to a northern Brisbane suburb to be nearer our children. Our married daughter has a significant disability and needs support and assistance as her husband works full time and I am now retired from employment.[2]

This is what we found when we went searching for an evangelical church that believed what I’ve briefly mentioned above.

Finding an evangelical church

Settling into a new area comes with its own challenges. We were praying that a church family would help us settle more easily into city life. However, finding an evangelical church in this region that does not preach and sing Bible-lite – Christianity on the downhill march – has been extremely difficult. We visited 8 churches before we came to one (North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie) that has Bible content in the hymns and preaching. However, the services are very conservative, tending towards dry traditionalism – but that’s another story. At least it is better than what we experienced elsewhere.

Highlighting this problem was a comment I received from a fellow who went to theological college with us in the early 1970s. We met up with him at a recent funeral of a dear friend. He asked where we went to church. When I mentioned a Presbyterian Church, his response was immediate, ‘You go to a church where at least they read the Bible’. What a statement about where the evangelical church is going in this region! He and his wife attend an evangelical church where the Bible is often not even opened in the service. My assessment is that it won’t remain evangelical for very long. Spurgeon’s experience is not new and the downgrade situation is happening right before our eyes. What can we do to stop it? I was hoping that I would become a voice for maturity in a local church’s house fellowship. But that won’t happen with the pastor’s refusal to give me the names of the two home group leaders and their contact details.

Please remember that these were churches whose reputation was that of being ‘evangelical’. These were not those who promote open theological liberalism.

At one of the churches we visited in our suburb, the songs and preaching (not by the pastor) were so contemporary-lite that I mentioned it to a person in a discussion we had as we were leaving the service. Since then I have emailed the pastor to see if we could join a home group in our suburb as we live in this suburb but worship in another. Here is most of the response I received (23 August 2012) in an email:

“I do remember you attending, and so I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups. And so if our Sunday worship service was not helpful to you in your journey with Christ, to be honest I don’t imagine our home groups would be either. Its great to see you proactively seeking fellowship outside of a Sunday and I encourage you to find yourself a group in which both yourself and [your wife] are comfortable

Blessings and peace!!”.

I did not speak to the pastor so how could he remember our attending? Somebody has blown the whistle to him about the content of our conversation at the close of the service. But this is an evangelical church in a denomination with a national reputation but the downgrade of biblical Christianity is so pervasive that it is invading the whole church milieu, including the home groups. It was rock music (I’m a former rock DJ) and the music was unsingable for me, a very average singer. The content of the lyrics could be described as nothing more than trite. They were unmemorable and, difficult to sing, and the biblical content was minimal.

However, this is the kind of church content we were exposed to, in 7 different churches in a row. They represent 2 evangelical denominations in and surrounding our suburb in northern Brisbane.

The sadness in the response of the local pastor is that his contemporary philosophy seems to have blinded him from seeing the reality of the content of the songs, the remainder of the service, and the content of the sermon. In that church service, which had music and songs that were akin to a rock concert, the songs were so unmemorable and unsingable that I can’t remember one of them. But I do remember that the Scriptures were not read in that service, not even to go with the sermon.

I expect A. W. Tozer would have a biblical heartache

Could you imagine what a person like A. W. Tozer would think of what is happening in churches of today? He died in 1963 and in his prophetic message he addressed the issues of his day, but it is just as applicable today.

clip_image002

Photo of A. W. Tozer, courtesy Wikipedia

In his introduction to The Best of A. W. Tozer, Warren W. Wiersbe (The Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois) wrote:

I once heard Dr. Tozer at an Evangelical Press Association conference taking to task editors who practiced what he called “super-market journalism-two columns of advertising and one aisle of reading material.” He was an exacting writer and was as hard on himself as he was on others….

What is there about A. W. Tozer’s writings that gets hold of us and will not let us go? Tozer did not enjoy the privilege of a university or seminary training, or even a Bible School education for that matter; yet he has left us a shelf of books that will be mined for their spiritual wealth until the Lord returns.

For one thing, A. W. Tozer wrote with conviction. He was not interested in tickling the ears of the shallow Athenian Christians who were looking for some new thing. Tozer redug the old wells and called us back to the old paths, and he passionately believed and practiced the truths that he taught. He once told a friend of mine, “I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!” The popular crowds do not rush to hear a man whose convictions make them uncomfortable.

Tozer was a mystic-an evangelical mystic-in an age that is pragmatic and materialistic. He still calls us to see that real world of the spiritual that lies beyond the physical world that so ensnares us. He begs us to please God and forget the crowd. He implores us to worship God that we might become more like Him. How desperately we need that message today!

A. W. Tozer had the gift of taking a spiritual truth and holding it up to the light so that, like a diamond, every facet was seen and admired. He was not lost in homiletical swamps; the wind of the Spirit blew and dead bones came to life. His essays are like fine cameos whose value is not determined by their size. His preaching was characterized by an intensity-spiritual intensity-that penetrated one’s heart and helped him to see God. Happy is the Christian who has a Tozer book handy when his soul is parched and he feeIs God is far away.

This leads to what I think is the greatest contribution A. W. Tozer makes in his writings: he so excites you about truth that you forget Tozer and reach for your Bible. He himself often said that the best book is the one that makes you want to put it down and think for yourself. Rarely do I read Tozer without reaching for my notebook to jot down some truth that later can be developed into a message. Tozer is like a prism that gathers the light and then reveals its beauty.[3]

What can be done?

These biblical teachings apply to today’s church:

1. Jesus warned us, ‘At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people’ (Matt 24:10-11 NIV). Some will want to make this apply only to the time of the Fall of Jerusalem, but it has broader application, as he was teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives in this context: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you’ (24:4 NIV). We have similar warnings in 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3-4 and Titus 1:10-16 (see an article HERE).

2. We must speak up against false teachers, as 1 Tim. 4:6 states, ‘If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed’ (NIV).

3. When churches reduce or downplay the content of Scripture in sermons and songs, they are engaging in a downgrade of biblical content. While this may not be specifically promoting false teaching, it is like calling a diseased pineapple a true, genuine pineapple that is suitable for human consumption. Diseased pineapples are sick pineapples. Thus, sick, Bible-lite churches are diseased churches and they need to be called back to their biblical base in all of life.

4. Bill Hybels has admitted what his seeker-sensitive approach has done to the churches that have adopted his philosophy. Hybels stated in 2007 that his experiment had become a failure:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.[4]

Michael Craven’s comment on the Willow Creek survey of its people was:

The shortcoming of this approach is made apparent in the fact that the “most dissatisfied” group within the church, according to the survey, was those considered to be the most spiritually mature. Their chief complaints? “They desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see more in-depth Bible teaching”—the very things that the seeker-sensitive model diminishes.[5]

But, has this confession made any difference to Bill Hybels? Is he repentant of his past seeker-sensitive mistakes? Not at all! This report stated:

It is no new thing that Willow Creek wishes to “transform the planet.” They are part of the emerging spirituality that includes Rick Warren and many other major Christian leaders who believe the church will usher in the kingdom of God on earth before Christ returns. This dominionist, kingdom-now theology is literally permeating the lecture halls of many Christian seminaries and churches, and mysticism is the propeller that keeps its momentum. If Willow Creek hopes to transform the planet, they won’t be able to get rid of the focus on the mystical (i.e., contemplative). Their new Fall 2007 Catalog gives a clear picture of where their heart lies, with resources offered by New Age proponent Rob Bell, contemplative author Keri Wyatt Kent, and the Ancient Future Conference with emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch as well as resources by Ruth Haley Barton and John Ortberg. Time will tell what Willow Creek intends to do about strengthening its focus on “spiritual practices” and “transform[ing] the planet.”[6]

Southern Baptist, James T Draper wrote in 2006,

The desire to be overly seeker-sensitive is pulling us away from proclaiming the hard truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is an offense! A righteous man was nailed to a cross. There was a beating involved, and blood shed. We must not water that down. We cannot compromise the reality of the Gospel under the guise of relevancy. Relevancy is earned when churches – Christians – acting as the hands of Christ, touch the wounded hearts and souls of those around them. When Christians act like Jesus, bear the burdens of others like Jesus, suffer with others like Jesus, then we will be more effective in verbally sharing the pointed truths of the Gospel with them like Jesus. What’s more, the lost will drink in the message like a thirsty man wandering in a desert drinks in cool, clean water.[7]

5. The key is that concerned Christians cannot continue to sit silent in the pews and let the dumbing down of biblical Christianity to continue in their churches. You need to speak up, based on 1 Timothy 4:6. To be able to do this in a strong, courteous way and remain strong in your Christian walk, you need at least one other Christian to pray with you before, during and after this action. You will become a target of the enemy of your soul, so be prepared: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)

Notes:


[1] Some of these were suggested on the ‘People of the Book’ website, available at: http://www.thepeopleofthebook.org/MeaningOfEvangelical.html (Accessed 24 August 2012). However, I’ve reframed the points – mainly!

[2] I became a full-time student, working on a PhD in New Testament, in 2011 as a means to sharpen the ‘iron’ of my mind and to be of help in a local church or teaching institution.

[3] The Best of A. W. Tozer (online). Available at: http://www.churchinmarlboro.org/christdigest/Classical%20Writings/A-W-Tozer-Best-of-a-W-Tozer.pdf (Accessed 24 August 2012). It was not stated which edition of ‘The Best of A. W. Tozer’ is intended. However, the Wikipedia article on Tozer stated that three volumes of ‘The Best of….’ Series have been published. These were in 1979, 1991 and 1995. Amazon.com’s online edition of the book indicates this quote is from Vol. 1 of the ‘Best of’ Series.

[4] Bob Burney 2007. A shocking “confession” from Willow Creek Community Church, Crosswalk.com, 30 October. Available at: http://www.crosswalk.com/11558438/ (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[5] S. Michael Craven 2007, Willow Creek’s confession, Christian Foundations, available at: http://www.christianity.com/11560219/ (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[6] Willow Creek and the new contemplative/emerging spirituality, Lighthouse Trails Research Project, available at: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/willowcreek.htm (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[7] James T. Draper Jr. 2006. Will Southern Baptists keep their eyes on the ball? Baptist Banner, 19(3), March. Available at: http://www.baptistbanner.org/Subarchive_3/306%20Will%20Southern%20Baptists%20keep%20their%20eyes%20on%20the%20ball.htm (Accessed 24 August 2012).
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Froth and bubble churches

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Martyn Lloyd-Jones.png
D Martyn Lloyd Jones (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

How would you respond to this comment by Bill Muehlenberg of Culture Watch?

I must confess that I would easily trade 50 of today’s sermons for just one sermon by a great expositor such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of last century. His deep and rich treasure chests make most sermons today look like mere tap water. So much preaching today leaves me cold I must say. But I just love to soak up some of the older great preachers, whether a Spurgeon, or a Boice, or a Stott, or so many others.[1]

image

My reply is that Lloyd-Jones was an exceptional expositor. Not many preachers will achieve that gifted standard. However, the desire to be an expositor is far from the thinking of most preachers I hear in Australia today. The ‘fluff’ from the pulpit goes with the shallowness in some of the rock ‘n roll lyrics of the songs that are sung. The focus on God Himself, the glory of Christ and the cross, salvation through Christ alone, is minimised. Go along to your local contemporary church and take a listen to the content of what is sung. If you know your biblical theology, you could find the content extremely disappointing – even superficial.

I find many of the tunes unsingable[2] for a very ordinary singer like me in the congregation! Then there is the added problem that many of the lyrics do not promote profound worship of our Almighty God, Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They do not present the solid theology of an earlier day when we could sing hymns like:

And Can It Be

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Refrain

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.[3]

image

Charles Wesley

At the time of writing this article, it is 8 months since my wife and I moved to Brisbane and the only expositor of Scriptures we have found is in a Presbyterian Church, but the preacher is as dry as dust to listen to, along with a service of traditional hymns led by someone who is not gifted in music. The preacher doesn’t know how to grab the attention of God’s people, illustrate and apply the message.

I’m of the view that we have a crisis in the pulpit. We visited a local Baptist church a couple of weeks ago and when a retired pastor in the congregation met us as we left the service, he said that this new church plant had to ‘meet the culture’. My response was that it was accommodating to the culture. He did admit that the lyrics of the songs they sing are ‘shallow’. Imagine that from an older man and retired pastor who is supporting this church that offers ‘shallow’ worship songs. We had to stand for the first 15 minutes of the service as a person with a guitar led us in singing these trifling lyrics. However, I have to admit that one of the songs did include the words of Hebrews 4:12, repeated over and over with unsingable music. The verse states:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (NIV).

Another church we visited

In trying to seek out another church alternative to the dry as dust Presbyterian Church we have been attending, my wife and I visited an evangelical church of a well-known denomination in Australia, in one of the northern suburbs of Brisbane on 25 March 2012. I had emailed the pastor with these questions (after finding the church’s webpage online). Before attending the church, I emailed the pastor with these questions:

  1. Is your worship contemporary? Does it include some of the grand old hymns of the faith? Is there any opportunity for interaction of the gifts of the Spirit when the church gathers or in mid-week groups? Is your church charismatic, cessationist, or ??? His response was that it was a ‘modern contemporary church’ (his influence) in music with the occasional hymn, but not sung ‘in a traditional way’.  They were not against the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit, but they ‘have not experienced that publicly’.
  2. Do you have any mid-week groups that incorporate an interactive Bible study? They have KYB (Know Your Bible) group and one for young adults, but that is an ‘area that we need to work on’.
  3. Do you promote any preferred version of the Bible? (i.e. are you KJVers or NKJVers). I read the NIV, ESV and NLT. He uses the ESV for preaching but also uses NIV, NLT and CEV for his own study. He didn’t push any particular version but encouraged people to move away from a Bible paraphrase.
  4. What would be the representation of age groups in your church? Does it have a youth focus? Since I have just retired, I’m asking whether oldies are welcome and would fit in. They had the range from 80s to newborns and he has ‘a great relationship with all’. Older folks are considered when organising a service but they understand that new and young people are attending ‘who may not connect with some things of old’. They want to be a ‘welcoming community’. The pastor felt very well supported and loved by the older folks – even though he is ‘not a typical looking minister’. He has tattoos and piercings. A lot of young children are at the church but the youth group ‘is small but alive’.
  5. What evangelism do you do in your community? He claimed this was ‘the heart of the church’ as they reach out to the wider community with a tutoring programme for young people and conducting soccer at a local State School. Families come to the church through these outreaches. The youth group is mainly from outside the church.
  6. Do you have any ministry to the social needs of the community? He considered that the tutoring programme was meeting a social need; A.A was using the building and they are connected with the denomination’s care programme.[4]

What did we find when we visited this church? Discovering the front door of the building was not obvious from the parking lot at the rear of the church. There was nobody to greet new people at the door. We received a church bulletin that was handed to us. We arrived about 8 minutes before the start of the service, so there were few people sitting in the pews.

The pastor came to introduce himself to us. He had about 5 studs in piercings in his face, but the tattoos were covered by a daggy white T-shirt that could not camouflage the rolls of fat around his belly. He wore long, untidy jeans that were tattered at the bottom as they dragged on the floor around his shoes. He played the lead rhythm guitar in the band. I thought that he was dressed for ministering to the drug addicts in the streets of Fortitude Valley in downtown Brisbane (I have previously worked with the down-and-outs in that region). See, ‘Body piercings and tattoos: A slip into secularism

The pastor was one of two rhythm guitarists in the worship band that also included a very loud drummer (who at least could keep the beat in time), a bass guitar and a singer.

As expected, the lyrics of the songs that were sung, as we stood for the first 10 minutes, were shallow, trifling, me-centred, fluff that were led by a singer who did not have a strong voice. There was no lead instrument like a keyboard or piano to give us the melody lines – I need a melody line for congregational singing. Not one of the songs sung was known to my wife and me (we have been evangelical Christians for about 50 years), so we were not able to sing any of them. We noticed that a good number of people also were not singing the songs.

The church bulletin told us that the church giving was $360 per week worse than this time last year. I wonder why! There is more to come.

Around the Lord’s Supper, The Message paraphrased Bible was read of Phil. 2:5-11. There was no focus on why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or the relevant passages from Scripture. While there was an isolated verse of Scripture read here and there in the service, there was no reading of the Scriptures as a group of verses as part of worship. No Scripture was read for the sermon.

As for the sermon, it was an ad lib ramble on ‘Hearing God’ as the pastor referred very little to notes and spoke of God speaking to Samuel whose response was, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears’, and Moses at the burning bush. He said that last week he dealt with seeing God as with Job and Joseph’s multi-coloured coat. This was the second in a series on ‘sensing God’. The series includes seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching God. The sermon was a shocker by a pastor who doesn’t have a clue about or desire to exegete a text so that he can expound the meaning of Scripture.

When the service was over, my wife and I left the building (even though it was said that there would be morning tea, but no directions were given as to where it was held). There was not a single person in the foyer to greet people and speak with them as they left the church building. The guitars and drummer were still playing as we left. Who knows why this was, as there was no melody line. To be honest, we were glad to be out after such a shocking experience that was supposed to be worship of our almighty God and edification by preaching of the Word of God.

My wife’s comment as we left the building was, “They seemed like a bunch of lemmings”, speaking of the people in the congregation who appeared to  be mindlessly following what was done up front. A lemming is an Arctic rodent, but it also is ‘a member of any large group following an unthinking course towards mass destruction’ (dictionary.com). The online slang dictionary says lemming means ‘a person who blindly follows others’. That’s what the group of about 60 people seemed to be doing yesterday. They were blindly following that rock-a-billy fluff, all in the name of a contemporary, evangelical church’s worship and preaching.

We will never return to that church. I’m convinced the elders and pastor have a lot to answer before God (how dare I be so judgmental)! I left grieving over what is happening to the evangelical church. So far we have visited 9 churches in our region since coming to the northern suburbs of Brisbane 8 months ago and the only one that we have visited that preaches from the biblical text is one where the pastor preaches expositionally but the atmosphere is as dry as dust in a very staid brand of Christianity. Do I have to put up with the Presbyterian anti-Arminian, anti-Pentecostal, hyper Calvinism to get something that is reasonable worship and teaching?

I am anguished over what is happening here in the northern Brisbane suburbs with the dumbing down of the evangelical church with froth and bubble Christianity, with little to no teaching of basic Christian doctrine from the pulpit. These churches are sick spiritually with their violation of Ephesians 4:11-16, where it is stated that Christian people can be ‘tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming’ (4:14) when the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are not functioning properly in the church.

Paul exhorted the Thessalonians: ‘Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good’ (1 Thess. 5:19-21, emphasis added).

How does this contemporary kind of evangelical church compare with the church after Christ’s resurrection?

The early church

The church of the first few centuries of the Christian church ‘met the culture’ and influenced the Roman Empire. How was this done? Paul the apostle, in writing to the Romans, about 25-35 years after Christ’s resurrection,[5] stated this of the Roman Christian church, ‘Your faith is being reported all over the world’ (Rom. 1:8).[6] Evangelical commentator, Leon Morris, states that ‘world is largely a Pauline and Johannine term in the New Testament.[7] In Romans the word normally means the world at large, as here, or else the inhabitants of the world’.[8]

Eminent Yale University church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, wrote:

When we come to the era in which Christianity began,… the roots from which it sprang appeared to promise no very great future for the faith… It is one of the commonplaces of history that in its first three centuries Christianity met persistent and often severe persecution, persecution which rose to a crescendo early in the fourth century, but that it spread in spite of opposition and was even strengthened by it…. So radical are the claims of the Gospel, so sweeping are its demands on the faithful, so uncompromising does it render those who yield themselves fully to it, that opposition and even persecution are to be expected…. Constantine came out more and more pronouncedly in favour of Christianity. Whether he was a Christian from political motives only or from sincere religious conviction has been hotly debated…. Under this prolonged patronage by the Emperors the Christian communities grew rapidly…. Christianity gave to the Graeco-Roman world what so many were craving from a religion…. Whence came these qualities which won for Christianity its astounding victory? Careful and honest investigation can give but one answer, Jesus. It was faith in Jesus and his resurrection which gave birth to the Christian fellowship and which continued to be its inspiration and its common tie…. In this victory of Christianity was also something of defeat. The victory had been accompanied by compromise, compromise with the world which had crucified Jesus, compromise often made so half-consciously or unconsciously that it was all the more serious a peril to the Gospel.[9]

It was the Gospel of the power of God to salvation through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 1:16) that won the Roman Empire. But what do we get in many of today’s contemporary churches – even evangelical churches?

I’m tired of the froth and bubble from the singers and the fluffy, light content preaching. We are in desperate need of a Holy Spirit revival that gets us back to faithful preaching of the Scriptures – from the text – and not some “story” that doesn’t relate to the text. We urgently need a debunking of the CEO pastoral role, a return to shepherding the sheep, and a renewed opportunity for every member of the body of Christ to function when the church gathers. That sure would be radical Christianity!

I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to change as this contemporary approach seems to be coming from the training colleges and is dominating the churches of most evangelical denominations in my part of the world (South-East Queensland, Australia). It will need to be sent by the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

There is one exception that I have encountered in a region where I have lived in S. E. Queensland and that is Fraser Coast Baptist Church, Hervey Bay (Qld., Australia), where there is excellent expository preaching by the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot (but not by the other preachers in the church), along with the singing of traditional hymns. By the way, the church building is so full that additional seats are in the foyer to accommodate the congregation. However, the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of ministry does not take place in this church, which my wife and I attended until we moved from the region.

A fundamental fault [10]

In response to Bill Muehlenberg’s article and my comment, Graham Wood from the UK replied:

I fully sympathise with your description of what you meet by way of a church meeting in Brisbane. It is typical of what can be found in the great majority, almost without exception right throughout ‘western churches’ – UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere. [I am] leaving aside Dr DMLJ[11] for a moment as somewhat special and unique in his gifts and ministry. I suggest that there is a fundamental and basic fault line running through all of these churches, namely that they are closed systems which exalt and institutionalise things which God has not sanctioned and which cut us off from the source of real spiritual growth, namely one another.

These are churches which have largely abandoned the New Testament criteria for meeting together which is for mutual edification.

Radical and revolutionary as it may sound our meetings are not to perpetuate the practice of a “worship service” (not found in the NT), or of a ‘sermon’, or the role of a monologue by a ‘preacher/pastor’ week by week, or of a passive non participatory ‘audience’, in complete neglect of the NT clear teaching about the functioning of the priesthood of ALL believers in an open meetings as given us in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The early church meeting was the God-created environment that produced spiritual growth, both corporately and individually (Eph. 4:11-16). We grow into spiritual maturity (and blessing) when we allow the many varied parts of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) to actually function and to minister Christ to us. (1 Cor. 12:7) As somebody rightly asked: ‘How is [it] that in many people can hear good preaching all their lives and yet not know who or what God is?

I am not against preaching in its rightful context as primarily an evangelistic activity (not to be confused with teaching) aimed at the unconverted and outside the Christian gathering.

Inside the church, with preaching directed at Christians it is merely a tradition, a one way monologue, and which is the greatest single barrier to a church functioning with mutual ministries as intended.

Please explain why we totally ignore the NT pattern and substitute instead the closed ‘system’ which has minimum benefit, and minimum corporate edification which Paul teaches is the object of our meeting? (the word ‘edify’ occurs 8 times in 1 Cor. 14 – all in the context of ‘body ministry’) Much more could be said, but I believe this identifies a major element of error in the majority of our churches.[12]

Which is the better way?

I’m of the view that a radical church will get back to faithful teaching of the Scriptures (‘Preach the word of God’), but especially to this kind of functioning church:

1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

The New Living Translation provides this version of the meaning of the text:

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you (1 Cor. 14:26 NLT).

In our contemporary ‘froth and bubble’ churches, there is a close down of the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of ministry, not only in the large gatherings (which make such function very difficult), but also this every-member ministry of the gifts often doesn’t happen in the home groups of the local church either.

From the pulpit, my experience is that there is more of an interest in:

(1) Preaching that is topical and that does not involve itself with an exegesis and exposition of the biblical text. (I as a preacher know that exegesis and preparation of expository messages involves a lot of hard work) ;

(2) Preachers who think that it is better to tell stories or parables than deal with the content of the text.

(3) Hype and excitement rather than faithfulness to the biblical text.

(4) Excluding or minimising the theological content of the text.

See my article, ‘Can the sermon be redeemed?

We have an interesting example of an admission of failure from one of the leading churches in the world that has promoted the seeker-sensitive kind of church. Take a read of

Willow Creek’s[13] admission: ‘We made a mistake’

Leadership Journal’s, Out of Ur in 2007 made this assessment of what was happening at the Willow Creek Community Church led by Bill Hybels:

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing”….

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confessed:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.[14]

I have a deep ache for a return to the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of functioning church where every Christian is regarded as a minister who is available for the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit when the church gathers. See my article, “I have a heartache for the church”.

See my article, “Is theology important?

Notes:

[1] Bill Muehlenberg 2012, Culture Watch, ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 1:18’, 20 March. Available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/comment-page-1/#comment-262957 (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[2] The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online) defines unsingable as ‘not fitted for singing’. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unsingable (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[3] Lyrics and other details available at: http://songsandhymns.org/hymns/lyrics/and-can-it-be (Accessed 23 March 2012). Charles Wesley, one of the founders of British Methodism, wrote the hymn in 1738. The music was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825 and the tune is known as ‘Sagina’. These details are from the Center for Church Music, Grand Haven MI.

[4] I have deliberately left out the details here so as not to identify the specific name of this church.

[5] Leon Morris (1988:6-7) – bibliographical reference in next endnote – stated that dating the Book of Romans ‘with any precision is something of a problem’, but he places the date in about A.D. 55, but admits that there are ‘many uncertainties’.

[6] Douglas Moo considers that ‘a measure of hyperbole is undoubtedly present in the phrase “in all the world”; but it must be remembered that Paul is thinking of fellow Christians and thus of places where the gospel had already been preached’ (Moo, D 1996. The epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 57.

[7] At this point Morris notes that ‘kosmos occurs 185 times in the New Testament, of which 78 are in John, 24 in the Johannine epistles, and 47 in Paul (nine in Romans). Outside these two writers the most in any one book is eight in Matthew’ (Morris 1988:57 n 108).

[8] Morris, L 1988. The epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company / Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, p.57.

[9] Latourette, K S 1975. A history of Christianity, vol 1 to A.D. 1500 (rev ed). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, pp. 6, 81, 92, 107, 108.

[10] Graham Wood, 22 March 2012, Culture Watch, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/ (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[11] This is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

[12] Graham Wood, 22 March 2012, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/20/martyn-lloyd-jones-on-romans-118/comment-page-1/#comment-262957 (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[13] Willow Creek Community Church is in South Barrington, IL, USA. South Barrington is a wealthy suburb of Chicago. This article in Wikipedia on ‘South Barrington, Illinois’ states that ‘the village is known throughout the area for its extreme affluence, and is on the list of the 100 wealthiest towns in the nation’. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Barrington,_Illinois (Accessed 23 March 2012).

[14] ‘Willow Creek Repents’, Leadership Journal: Out of Ur, October 18, 2007, available at: http://www.outofur.com/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html (Accessed 23 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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