Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Shifting Sand

The editor of Charisma magazine, J. Lee Grady, recently spoke to a group of Pentecostals about the shift he thinks needs to take place within Christianity. You will notice the “Barna-esque” call to dissolve the local church, the false cry of sacerdotalism, the confusion of so-called chauvinism, the carping about cash, and the clarion bell of dominionism, as well as a few straw men added on to make it seem as if he is building a cumulative case for what is wrong with contemporary Christianity. He is wrong; we will answer the points in the article individually. My comments will be in RED.

100 Years After Azusa Street: Where Are We Going?

3/14/06 – By J. Lee Grady

In April 1906 the Holy Spirit fell on a ragtag group of black, white, and Hispanic Christians who had gathered in the rundown Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. They sang with fervor, testified of God's sanctifying power and spoke in tongues in a day when such behavior was considered fanatical. This now-famous revival, led by an unknown black preacher named William Seymour, was a defining moment in the history of Christianity.

Pentecostalism has now spread to every continent and in some cases is fueling the most staggering church growth on the planet. Yet at the same time many sectors of the movement have become musty, stale and painfully irrelevant. Some of us are stuck in a time warp.

The cloud of God's presence does not stay in one place too long. He is always moving forward. He wants to reach every generation and He loves to open a bottle of new wine when it's time for a new season. Meanwhile those who prefer the altars of old-fashioned Pentecostalism have rejected the new wine and sometimes have persecuted those who drink it.

A couple of weeks ago I addressed a group of Pentecostal scholars who had gathered at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., to celebrate the miracle of Azusa and to envision the future of our movement. I told them bluntly: It is time for us to move on. We must kill our sacred cows, tear down the old monuments and have some funerals. As wonderful as the past was, we can't live there. God says to us: "'Behold, I will do a new thing'" (Is. 43:19, ASV).

Here are just a few of the "new things" God is doing:

In answering these assertions, a few questions must first be asked. Where is the biblical basis for any of these assumptions? Or is the bible just another “sacred cow” that we need to have a funeral for? Some of these points have a seed and the sound of truth to them, but the answer isn’t to swing the pendulum to the opposite side.

Let’s take these points one by one.

1. He's shifting us from buildings to the organic church. Almost all ministry encounters in the book of Acts took place outside of religious buildings. Yet we still hang on to the outdated idea that God wants to live inside a brick-and-mortar temple. He wants to dwell among His people! Many of the people we are called to reach will never go near our buildings (which, by the way, sit empty most of the week). We must take Christ to the marketplace through home churches, workplace Bible studies, campus ministries, street meetings and into cyberspace.

Answer: He already dwells among His people (Colossians 1:27). We already are taking Christ to the marketplace in these areas he states. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are to forsake the gathering of ourselves together in churches, yes buildings. Many people we are called to reach may never go near our buildings, but many people we are called to reach will never believe, either! We should be doing evangelism and discipleship outside the “four walls”, yes, but we should also not abandon the practice of corporate worship and hearing sound biblical exposition.

2. He's shifting us from pulpits to people. The believers at Azusa Street celebrated the fact that God can use anybody regardless of class or religious pedigree. But we quickly fell back into the old mind-set that requires a vast chasm between clergy and laity. Every member of the church is a minister. We must equip the saints for the work.

Answer: This is a misrepresentation. The focus has never been on the pulpit alone, nor has it ever been the primary focus. That the pulpit equips the people is an important feature, nonetheless. Mr. Grady seems to be confusing the work of the ministry and the equipping for that work, yet he states the very reason we need the pulpit, so as to equip believers. He answers his own questioning by showing why we do need the pulpit to be stronger, not less so.

3. He's shifting us from racism to reconciliation. As much as we talk about our heritage of racial integration, the truth is painful: We are still too separated. (And it's not just white folks who harbor racist attitudes.) Jesus is serious about having a church that reflects the rainbow colors of heaven. We must think multiculturally. And we must sit at the feet of ethnically diverse leaders including those from the developing world and adjust our outdated Western paradigms.

Answer: Who is arguing against this? This is a straw man par excellence.

4. He's shifting us from male-dominated to egalitarian. We must allow full participation of women in ministry, and make room for their leadership gifts. We will never reach modern American culture if we keep our chauvinistic mind-sets. And we will never fulfill the Great Commission if we don't empower and equip the female half of the church that has been marginalized and neglected.

Answer: Marginalized and neglected? I suggest that Mr. Grady take a look at the work done by Piper and Grudem, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This is a heavily debated topic, for sure, but to confidently assume that God Himself is shifting us sounds like shifting sand to me. Where are the verses? Where is the exegesis? How do you back up your statement that we will never fulfill the Great Commission, and that those who are complimentarian are simply “chauvinistic”? And what exactly does he mean by “reaching” the American culture? Where do we want to reach them, Mr. Grady, in their dead spirits or their “victimized” flesh?

5. He's shifting us from hidden sin to healthy holiness. We have congregations full of people who are not whole. A large percentage of Christians struggle continually with addictions, bitterness, life-crippling beliefs systems, wounds from dysfunctional families and even occultism. We must become bondage breakers. We need another holiness movement but this time it must focus on the heart rather than on a dress code, and it must lead people to an encounter with the Father's love rather than into paralyzing legalism.

Answer: Another straw man. Using this does not in any way strengthen his case about the other points.

6. He's shifting us from human ability to supernatural power. We Pentecostals claim to believe in miracles, but we have little to show for it. Has our faith dried up? God wants us to rediscover New Testament, book of Acts-style Christianity. And that won't happen until we rediscover book of Acts-style prayer.

Answer: The old tried and true “we need to get back to Acts” mantra. Of course we need supernatural power, even cessationists agree on that. Your definition of what this may look like might be different than many others, however. Of course this is debatable, but again, it is really just a straw man. It is very easy to trot out these “obvious” flaws, so as to have them soften us up for the more radical points, such as #’s 1,2,4,7, and 8.

7. He's shifting us from poverty to prosperity. I'm not talking about a message that tells every Christian to expect a Lexus in his garage, or that causes preachers to chase after watches, yachts and Botox injections. We must dispense with that foolishness. But we must also reject the Pentecostal poverty mentality of the past so that we can have the faith to fund world evangelism. God wants to give us billions of dollars to feed the poor, plant churches, build hospitals and transform nations.

Answer: Once again, Grady uses a casual swipe at obvious abuses as a vehicle to swing the pendulum in favor of his view. He creates yet another straw man with the phrase “poverty mentality”. How we get the money and steward that money is prime, and are the real questions.

8. He's shifting us from escapism to conquest. So many of us have viewed the future with pessimism. We've been wimps rather than warriors. We thought everything was getting worse, as if Jesus simply wants us to "hold on" until the rapture. God is calling us to adapt a triumphant view of history. The Bible says we win. We need to start acting like it.

Answer: Pure dominionism. This statement could have been made, and has been made in one form or another, by C. Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner, or even Rousas John Rushdoony, for that matter. It isn’t that we are pessimists, Mr. Grady, it is that we follow what the Bible says about the end times and man and his depravity. Yes we win, WHEN CHRIST COMES BACK. Amen.

(J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma and an award-winning journalist. He writes his Fire In My Bones column for Charisma Online twice a week.)

DISCLAIMER: Church of God and Faith News (my source) does not necessarily endorse or sanction all or any part of this news item.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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