Blame it on the Church

12 03 2010

And it is happening again, just like it did twenty something years ago. Once again the new generation has found the way to fix church. Back then I felt something was not right, just as I do today. Last time I tried to tell others what was off, but the new way seemed to be working so very few wanted to hear. I’ve come to realize that if individuals don’t see it for themselves there is really nothing I can do. It is all in God’s plan.

Anyway, the new way is working, again.

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Why Churches Die

19 11 2008

 

I received the following email… 

 

Why Churches Die is the title of a book recently written by Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Ergun Caner, dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The subtitle of the book is “Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ.”

The chapter titles of the book use medical terms to describe behavior among members that can cause problems within a church. As an example, the excerpt given here is from Chapter 11,  “Anorexia and Bulimia: Eating Disorders of the Word of God.”

In writing under the header, “The Contemporary Church and Young Saints,” Ergun Caner and Mac Brunson analyzed a problem that has troubled many pastors and churches. —Robert Ashcraft (The author of this post via email.)

For twenty years, since the second “Jesus Revolution” movement of the mid-1980s, our churches have fed them a steady diet of “lite” sermons. As our churches exploded in growth and we became focused on trends and movements, one of the first “traditions” to be jettisoned was the clichéd long and winding sermon. Our pulpits began to confuse relevance with truth. We began to expound sermons on “Fifteen Reasons to Get Up Tomorrow” and “Thirty Ways to Get Over a Headache.”

            We decided that people needed truth in small doses, and we left the heavier and deeper truths for small groups, cell groups, and Discipleship Training. The problem is that the Christian audience in general developed an aversion to the most profound and deep truths of Scripture.

In addition, the worship experience also exploded on our culture. Hundreds of thousands of young Christians have attended thousands of concerts and meetings, and their praises have reached the heavens. Truly, Christian music and worship have entered the mainstream, and bands have become our new heroes. Sadly, many of these bands are so talented that the last component they consider is the lyrics. They find a Christian songwriter, a good beat, and three chords, and the next thing you know, they are headlining.

Tragically, as these youth look up to these bands as their spiritual mentors, many of the bands are starved for the Word of God as well. They are so busy traveling and playing, they rarely have time to attend church, much less get deeper in their biblical knowledge and wisdom. Thus, the milk-fed musicians are writing milk-fed songs, and feeding spiritually lactose-intolerant youth.

Please take note that these are not the words of two elderly curmudgeons, whining that things are “not the way they used to be!” Both authors not only speak in youth conferences and events, but Ergun commits ten weeks a year to youth camps and events. We have a passionate commitment to youth and college-age Christians and have spoken at state fairs and amusement parks, as well as civic auditoriums. We share the stage with the very people and the very culture we are discussing.

You see, it is not the musicians’ fault either. They are also victims of a culture that demands results, releases, and success. The Christian carousel is spinning faster and faster, and yet not getting anywhere. If we are not careful, we will become casualties of our own popularity. The Christian culture’s fame will become our poison. We will encounter an entire generation of Christian leaders who have developed spiritual anorexia and bulimia.

Hebrews: Lactose-Intolerant Babes in Christ

All the spiritual eating disorders begin in a small manner. The development of an allergic reaction to the milk of the Word takes time, and only after time does it become noticeable. Christians who should be strong and vibrant become stunted in their spiritual growth, and the cause is clear. They have neglected the steady diet of the Bible.

After quoting Hebrews 5:11-14, the authors made the following pointed observations:

        * They had much to learn but could not.

        * Their predicament was difficult to explain because they were slow to understand.

        * By this time, many of them should be discipling other Christians, but instead they themselves needed someone to walk them through the basics in the Bible.

        * They could not handle the deeper and more profound issues of Christianity. Instead, they needed the basic “milk” which was easily digested and simple in formula.

        * “Milk-fed Christians” are unable to handle the doctrines and profundity of God, because they are spiritual infants.

        * “Solid food,” the true meat of the Word, is only for mature Christians.

        * “Solid food” is for those who have developed spiritual wisdom and discernment, knowing right and wrong without having it fed to them in the passive sense.

The resolution of these theological problems was almost impossible, however, because they first needed to get the basics settled… Intense study was beyond them, because for Christians to get deeper they must mature in their walk. One of the marks of Christian maturity is the ability to distinguish between truth and error, as well as biblical truths and unbiblical deceptions.

Some Christian students enter our Christian universities and seminaries, and immediately they have a difficult time in classes, because their understanding of the essential and fundamental elements of Christianity is flawed. They have only an experiential understanding of Christ. We are not doubting their salvation; we are lamenting their lack of maturity.

Neither are we blaming the pastors or churches completely. The blame for our predicament is spread evenly throughout the contemporary Christian world. Churches make demands on the pastors to “go easy,” because they cannot handle the “meat.” Pastors notice that churches grow when they preach less intensive, less demanding sermons. Offerings go up when we keep everyone happy. We hear of church growth methods that make a sustainable play for discipleship, but only for a radically small percentage of the body. We begin to form the assumption that maturity in Christ and His Word is not for everyone.

We are deadly wrong.

The consequences of Christian immaturity are dire. Every year in every church, we receive reports of new members (and sometimes older members) being carried away into a cult. Our churches begin to fight over issues that are clearly settled in the Word of God, simply because the members (and sometimes the leaders) do not know the Bible. Thus, they act on feeling and experience. Churches adopt unbiblical standards and doctrines, and no one is the wiser, because they have never discovered the truths in serious and systematic Bible study.

As this pattern continues, the problem becomes even more pandemic. These spiritually immature, milk-fed Christians rise to positions of leadership. The church, confusing man’s talents for God’s gifting, sees certain attributes in these people that would make them effective leaders. But without a foundation in the Bible, these new leaders begin teaching, and they can take their classes and their students only as far and as deep as they themselves are. Thus, the milk-fed teachers try to bring their converts to their level, but even that shallow depth is too much. The second generation of shallow Christians becomes lactose-intolerant. They cannot even handle the very basic issues.

Something has to fill their need. Something has to satiate their hunger and thirst for righteousness. Where truth, doctrine, and Scripture cannot fill, experience enters. The generation of superficial Christians then begins to measure their Christianity, not by what they believe but by how they feel.

This is a profound error. Measuring your Christianity by your experience can lead to a myriad of related ailments. Without a true biblical marker and measurement, one is easily deceived into measuring by the amount of tears one cries or the sharpness of the tingle that transverses your spine.   

This condition is made worse when we realize that our culture measures truth by the same standards. Think about it, These days, it is rare to find anyone use the phrase, “I Believe.” Rational thought is scorned in the marketplace. Instead, it has been replaced with the phrase, “I feel.” The person speaking develops a serious look on his face. He attempts to look genuine as he feeds you his rational for his position. Regardless of how ungodly his belief system is, he will attempt to convince you of its authenticity because of his sincerity,

Therefore, sincerity becomes the measuring standard for truth. Unfortunately, people can be both sincere and sincerely wrong. Hitler was sincere. That did not make him right.

Enter the worship dilemma. Musicians, many of whom are actually very mature Christians, discover that a generation of lactose-intolerant Christian youth cannot and will not imbibe deep theological and biblical truths in their music. Though the artists attempt to discipline the youth with weighty teachings, these truths go right over their heads. Instead sensory-measuring youth seek sensory-satisfying worship. Does the song make me cry? Does the melody make me jump up and down? Is it a catchy tune? Then it will become a big hit, whether or not the words make sense.

Currently a popular Christian group of singers has had great success at crossing over into both the Southern Gospel and Contemporary Christian markets. Their concerts sell out, and their albums are best sellers. Unfortunately, all the members of this group come from a Christian sect that has cultic tendencies such as teaching that their sect alone is going to heaven. Still, the people will say, “Stop talking about it. Those types of discussions divide and separate. We need to be united.”  

The symptoms of spiritual infancy (and being “milk-fed”) are the same for physical infancy. They cannot feed themselves but are wholly dependent on others for nourishment. They can take the “milk” only in small doses. Perhaps most telling, they cry when their needs are not met, because of their total self-centeredness. How can they even consider others when they themselves have a need for constant attention?

Mac Brunson & Ergun Caner, Why Churches Die, pp. 173-180  





Not Just A Building

16 09 2008

          The Bible teaches that God is to be glorified in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages (Ephesians 3:21). That is the great and high purpose of every true church. It also raises the question of exactly how a church brings God glory. Of course it is important to understand that a church is not the building in which it meets but the congregation itself.

          On the other hand, the building is the product of its congregation and represents the loving sacrifices of generations of believers. At least that is the case at my church.

          The church building represents other things as well. Without doubt it represents the importance of worship. It is true that a church may assemble any place large enough to accommodate its size. Any store front, barn, house, or even an open field may make do. And certainly these (and other places) have been used to hold church services. But there is nothing more natural for worshippers of God than the desire to build something special for Him. In fact, the desire to honor God by building a house of worship motivated David and Solomon to build the temple.

          So the next time you go to church take a moment to appreciate the building. It is not the church, but it is not just a building either.      





Conditional Acceptance

9 09 2008

          Every Christian is to radiate one great quality… love. We are to love God, our neighbors as ourselves, fellow believers, and even our enemies. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

          There is a problem, however, in understanding what it really means to love biblically. Surely the best examples of love are to be found in Jesus and God. The Bible says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

          If God is love (and He is) then everything He does is consistent with love (biblical love). That means God’s judgment and stance against sin and unrighteousness is a loving stance. Think about that for a moment. It is just on this point that many people get confused.

          There is a tendency to equate love with unconditional acceptance these days. In other words, some think that to love means to totally accept a person regardless of what they are or do. But that is not biblical love. That is a worldly twisting of biblical love into a monstrous embrace of paganism. That is surely not what believers are called to do.

          God loves everyone, but He doesn’t accept everyone just as they are. In fact, the Bible is quite clear, if people stay just as they are they will die in their sins and go to hell.

          Turn it round this way, if love meant accepting everyone just as they are then Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross because everyone was already totally and unconditionally accepted by God. Clearly this was not the case.

         In a way, to teach that love means “unconditional acceptance” is to imply that God is less than loving. 





Proper Judging

1 09 2008

           

          One of Jesus’ most well known statements is found in Matthew chapter seven: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). What did Jesus mean when He said to judge not?

          Some believe He meant that judging in any form or fashion is always wrong. What is judging? It is expressing a verdict, decision, or opinion based on some process of evaluation. Think of an umpire in baseball. He first must learn the rules of baseball and then carefully observe and impartially judge the game according to them. The umpire is not to make up his own rules or show partiality.

          What Jesus condemns is not all judging but unjust, hypocritical judging (see Matthew 7:5). Unlike the umpire, we are all “in the game” so to speak. The rules are given in the Bible. All Christians are responsible to abide by them. All of us are to be loving, kind, honest, forgiving, and godly. There are no exceptions. What we are not to do is make up our own rules or show partiality between people.

          The Apostle Paul scolded (judged) an entire group of Christians because they did not openly condemn (judge) a sinful situation in their midst. The Corinthian church was not judging and Paul promptly denounced them for it and rendered judgment against the sinning individuals they were tolerating (1 Corinthians chapter 5).

                 

      





Rabid Contextualism

4 08 2008

Dr. Walt Scalen, assistant professor of government at Steven F. Austin State University in Texas, is exactly right when he observes that “somehow the ‘we are changing the methods not the message’ slogan has so resonated with many Christians anxious to see progress in evangelism and growth in numbers that caution has been thrown to the wind. Assuming that all cultural forms are neutral, almost anything is now ‘worship,’ and virtually any outreach method is appropriate for ‘fishers of men.’

One of the little examined assumptions of the rabid contextualism that is driving many ‘progressive’ evangelical Christians to adopt every conceivable cultural form as a means of evangelism is that cultural forms are considered to be largely neutral. For example, heavy metal music is associated with a relatively well defined youth sub culture. To reach this group, it is assumed that the Gospel message can be carried by such cultural forms as skulls and other death symbols and yet the message remains intact, unscathed and unchanged. Thus, the magic bullet of the New Christianity: the methods change, but the message doesn’t. This idea is wildly popular, repeated ad infinitum on a daily basis by the millions who consider it an unquestioned and absolute edict. From ‘Jesus Mosques’ to reach Moslems to ‘Jesus Meditation’ to reach mystics, there are no limits to which so-called ‘European Christianity’ must be reshaped to fit every conceivable cultural form.”

The entire article may be read here.





Jesus Started It!

28 07 2008

          Have you ever wondered exactly when the church began? Many believe it started on the Day of Pentecost (as recorded in the second chapter of the book of Acts) when the Holy Spirit dramatically fell upon the assembled disciples (Acts 2:1-4). A few see it starting much later in Acts (some in chapter nine, some in chapter thirteen, and still others in chapter twenty-eight). All of these views would place the beginning of the church sometime after Christ’s departure to heaven.

          The word “church” is the translation of “ekklesia,” a compound Greek word (from ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling”) that literally means a called out assembly.

          We believe that Jesus – not Peter, Paul, nor any other person or group – established His church during His personal ministry when He called out individuals to assemble under His direction. Thus we believe the church began with the first called out ones (Matthew 4:18-23).

          This newborn church witnessed, preached, baptized converts, ministered to the needy, observed the Lord’s Supper, and even discussed how to handle problems in the church (Matthew 18:15-17).  

          Before He went away, Jesus comforted His church with a promise that He would pray to the Father who would send them the Holy Spirit, who would be with them and in them forever (John 14:15-17). He also charged them to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued (empowered) from on high and then they were to begin their mandated mission to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

          After Christ’s ascension but before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the church even had a business meeting and selected Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26).  

          The church is the most blessed institution on the earth, the only one built by the Lord Jesus Christ, the only one He promised to bless, and the only one He said the gates of hell would never be able to prevail against (Matthew 16:18).