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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Postcards from the Edge

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…
(2 Timothy 3:5)

My wife and I moved into a new house in a new neighborhood last November. Soon thereafter we received the first of several postcards from some of the local mega churches. Basically there were three different churches that sent them to us. One church talked about doctrinal distinctives but did so in a way that was a simple explanation, and stressed common interests to all Christians. The second was basically telling about the church and an invitation to come see them. The third, the biggest of the three, sent several cards, and they all focused on felt needs, and why they understood the problems people have about church, and promises that they weren’t like that. There was talk of coffee, laughter, friends, and fun, but no Jesus, no God, no Holy Spirit, and no Bible.

I realize that some may have differing opinions about “methodology”. I do not feel as though these postcards are a matter of methodology, but of mindset, and no amount of talking to the pastor or hearing his sermons or seeing his doctrinal statements would alleviate this. It isn’t even foremost a matter of what we do to “get them in” that I am concerned with. The fact is that this campaign speaks of the church without speaking of Christ and it is an affront to God. That is the problem, and it doesn’t matter at all if everything else were perfect. The Lord Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel are not out front, and that is wrong. It is sin. Period.

One of the reasons the church is so cold and dead and lifeless is because she has lost her love for God. Instead of replacing that with something fleshly to appeal to fleshly men, we need to get back to our first love – God – and knowing Him. Now, in light of all that has been written here, lets consider the postcards and their content.

The first postcard speaks of things that make life “rich, full, and rewarding”, things like “a warm cup of coffee, listening to great music, and laughing with friends”. It says we can now “add church to that list”. It says we need to experience this. What about the holiness of God, or the worship of Him, or the experience of repentance? I know, these things aren’t popular, and perhaps we really don’t need to go to these things directly, in your face style. I can agree to that. But we do need to mention our worship of God, and the experience of Christ. To compare a (supposed) worship service to a cup of coffee is ridiculous. Adding church “to the list”? Okay then its Jesus plus coffee. I am being serious here: if you cannot see the major problem with that then you are probably not in love with God like you may think you are.

Let me say it again: it doesn’t matter how nice the people are or what the preacher then goes on to do in said service – anyone can parrot the party line but not have it in the heart – many ministers say all the right things but they aren’t even saved. It is just like those you and I and everyone else knows that can say the verses and know the doctrines but their obedience is nowhere to be found. I will not judge this man’s heart, but what I am judging is the content, and lack thereof, of these cards, which points out the fruit. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and these postcards are the mouth of the church. That mouth does not confess Christ.

The second postcard then states that, “There are a lot of things in life that seem important – job, success, money. But when you look at the big picture, etc.”. They say that money and success aren’t so important, but yet they answered what was important in the first postcard, “a warm cup of coffee, listening to great music, laughing with friends”. No amount of “nourish your soul” (which is not defined) on the second card will change what they say it is nourished with on the first card, namely, fleshly things.

The only attempt to define what is nourishment in the second card is simply, “spiritual vitality, tons of children, and a relaxed, joyous atmosphere”. The first card gives us a more clear definition of what they are talking about, of course. They then use the third card to define it (what the church is about) even further, “warm feelings, gracious and real, and a loving community”. I would agree, these things can nourish our soul, but do nothing to feed our spirits, and certainly won’t result in the regeneration of dead men and women.

Consider the fact that if this church is truly concerned about bringing people to Christ and discipling them, if it is about glorifying God and expounding Scripture, worshipping in Spirit and in Truth, then these stealth tactics of the postcards are a lie.

The third card appeals to the youth and says, “Church – I don’t think so…” It states that they are place where “we could all admit what a struggle life is…imperfect people are welcome here…join us as we attempt to make the church the loving community we all long for”. Yes we are all imperfect, but just to commiserate together in our imperfect state is not enough. They define a problem, but their answer is to form a “loving community”. You can get that at the local bar, or the Kiwanis club, or at a Universalism church. This card mentions the fallen nature without presenting Christ and the forgiveness of sin as the basis of that loving community. That is bad news, not Good News.

For those out there looking for ways to make church more relevant, how about this idea? How about giving it depth and authenticity by focusing on something beyond mere human experience, by helping human beings to lift their eyes upward and see something greater than anything there is to offer here below? How about making church relevant by making it separate from the ordinary, a holy place, where, get this, God himself is exalted and expounded upon and worshiped. How about offering to the public, not just relevancy, but depth and authenticity through theology and application to the life of faith and worship?

Again, we received three cards: no Jesus, no God, no Holy Spirit, and no Bible.

This is just the beginning. It is and will be getting out of hand. They may have a great doctrinal statement, and the preachers may parrot out the party line, but this is only part of the equation. The postcards tell the story to those who haven’t yet visited the church, as to what it feels is important. Even when someone goes there, it usually will not matter what the doctrine is anyway, just the experience, after all, that is what the postcard said to do, right?

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At 12:32 PM, Blogger Craver VII said...

Split the believers into two groups—teachers and disciples. They will be held responsible for different things. Those who are called to teach should know that theology is not to be taken lightly. The rest of the disciples can and must be about the business of spreading the seed of the Word...anywhere, everywhere, all the time, regardless of skill or tenure. When we do it right, the congregation brings their neighbors and family to fill the pews, and the teachers teach sound doctrine. That is not to say that individuals from the main body can say anything they want, but that the teachers are held to a higher standard.

But that is not what happens. The pew warmers are consumers in a land where they are used to having the power of democracy. They vote with their feet. They have chosen to place the burden of filling the pews on the shoulders of the teachers, and now the teachers must do a cheap Finney-esque circus act or their customers will "shop" elsewhere.

It is a heart-breaking thing, that we do not understand unconditional election and irresistible grace, because if we did, we would not take it personally when people reject the message, and we would not take credit when the Holy Spirit regenerates them. Since coming to an understanding of “Reformed” theology, I have appreciated a new understanding of evangelism. For me, it is not about conversions, but about obedience, and honoring our Lord. Every time I share the good news, it is a victory, regardless of God’s sovereign election or the individual’s response.

Too many believers abdicate their role because they’re afraid of rejection, so they think it would be better if evangelism is left to the professionals, or those who have the “gift.” Meanwhile, not wanting to offend our family, coworkers and neighbors, we politely hold the door open for them to step into a Christ-less eternity.

I am not a pastor, but I have received the honor of speaking publicly a few times. Once, 50 people responded by saying they put their faith in Christ that day! But one other time, there were ZERO responses. For me, they both are the same. God said, “Go and tell,” and I obeyed.

But when they are being discipled, the teacher has the responsibility as well as authority to crack open the Bible and proclaim: “Thus saith the Lord…” It’s not a democracy; we don’t get to vote on it. God does not care about the philosophical or political flavor of the day. We must change for Him, according to what He has revealed in His Word, not vice-versa.

I’m ranting; sorry. The main thing is that when we talk about evangelism, it helps to split the people into two groups. One group is held to a higher standard, because they teach the flock. And yes, theology matters. But, the other group cannot be allowed to make excuses for being timid, but as long as we’re sucking air, we have a message to proclaim. And that responsibility falls to the brand new believers as well as the mature senior saints.

Whew! (wiping brow)

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Even So... said...

That comment rocked!

Thank you for the effort, it is very much appreciated...

At 11:13 PM, Blogger ThirstyDavid said...

You're absolutely right. It doesn't matter what they're doctrinal statement says. What you win them with is what you win them to.


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