Friday, May 25, 2007

Jason Janz begins process of planting a new church.

Brian McCrorie tells the story here. I've known Jason since we were both in high school. During our time together at Northland and The WILDS, I came to know him as a man with a real passion for souls. He's been a man I've been privileged to calla friend for a number of years and I look forward to seeing how God is going to work through him in this endeavour. You can checkout the Janz's webpage here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Missed opportunities

Tonight I was listening to a Christian radio station on the way home from work. While most Christian radio that I’ve hard is really lousy, we’ve got access to a couple of pretty good ones down here. This particular one includes programs from Northland, Bob Jones, and John MacArthur, as well as some great music.

At any rate, I was listening to a call in radio program on this station – I’ve heard it once or twice and have never been all that impressed. A non-Christian called and the host quickly picked up on this. His handling of the situation really bothered me and struck me as a missed opportunity. The caller expressed the fact that he didn’t believe the Bible to be true, so the host asked him what his “moral compass” was. Nearly every time the caller attempted to say something, the host interrupted him with these words, “Now caller, we’re going to have dialogue here….” Apparently the “dialogue” was going to be one way.

The caller didn’t understand what the host was asking with his “moral compass” question, but he kept attempting to answer. The host continually shot down his answers until he offered up an answer that included the words, “I guess…” The host latched onto these words and this is how the conversation ended:
Host: “Would you bank eternity on a guess?”
Caller: “Nothing lasts
Host: “Heaven does. And I know God exists because I spoke to Him
this morning. Let’s move on to our next caller.”

With that the unsaved caller was disconnected and the show went on. Here was a wonderful opportunity – an unsaved man calling a Christian talk show. Yet the host didn’t even make a solid attempt at sharing the Gospel message. Pretty sad, really….

Monday, May 14, 2007

All things work together for good?

What follows is the most personal offering I’ve ever put out in a public forum. It serves a purpose though, so here goes…

I never cease to be amazed at the fact that mankind has this nonsensical willingness to harm and destroy beauty. We see it every day, and we see it throughout history. Early in the Book of Genesis, we find Adam and Eve destroying a beautiful and perfect relationship with God by choosing to deliberately rebel against Him. Not long after, their oldest child chose to destroy one who was made in God’s own image. While the exact reason he chose to kill Able has been debated for centuries, all would agree that Cain’s choice to kill his brother had everything to do with selfishness and pride….sin.

I was reminded of this early Sunday evening. My wife had gotten clothes out for our 6-year-old daughter, and told her to get dressed for church. Our daughter said that she didn’t want to wear the blouse that Sonja had picked out for her and commenced throwing a fit. After a considerable amount of corrective action to change her rebellious attitude, our daughter finally saw things our way and went to her room to get dressed. When she came out, wearing the cute pink blouse that my wife had selected, we noticed that there was something wrong….Ashleigh, in her anger and final bit of rebellion regarding this issue, had taken scissors to the back of the blouse.

As I went to bed that night, I found myself reflecting on what had happened. Why had my daughter done this? Obviously, in Asheligh's case, the root of this response is her selfishness, pride, rebellion, and unregenerate nature – she’s a sinner in need of a Savior. In some cases, however, it seems like there is something beyond that in play.

When I was 7-years-old we moved out of state for a short time. My father was an out-of-control drunk, and he had gotten physically abusive to my mother, so she packed some things and took me and my little brother and sister to some friends in another state. While we were there, I was sexually abused by two different people. Now this sounds like a much more traumatic thing than it actually was for me. I haven’t thought about it for 15 or 20 years and I don’t think I’ve ever carried any “scars” from it. Other than my wife, I don’t believe I’ve ever told anybody about this. It was something that happened to me, and that was that. I understand that most people who have such experiences carry emotional scars for many years – some never get over it. I guess I’m just built differently, but that’s not the point of this article.

I find myself wondering what motivated the abusers – an adult male and a teenage girl. I remember the incidents as if they were happening to somebody else – like I was simply watching it happen rather then it happening to me. As I look back on it, I find myself confused about it all…what drove these people to destroy the innocence of a beautiful, young child?

I generally say that people are just plain wicked and nothing they do should surprise us. Often, however, I find myself struggling with the shear heinousness of what some people choose to do. In the realm of harming children – whether physically or sexually – I think there is an extreme form of depravity at play. Perhaps that doesn’t fit so neatly into all of our theological paradigms, but how else can it be explained? There is something beyond sinister – beyond sinful – beyond “depraved” that would drive a person to harm an innocent child. But again, this brings me back to the opening sentence of this article…it’s amazing to me that mankind consistently displays a deliberate wantonness to constantly destroy the beautiful.

It seems like the news is always full of gut-wrenching stories about crimes against the innocent. Over the last few years I’ve read countless stories regarding neglected, abandoned, molested, abused, and hated children. Each time I see these things, it makes my stomach hurt and tears begin to well up in my eyes. Each time I find myself asking, “Why?” Each time, I am reminded of just how hopeless, desperate, and wicked man is when separated from Christ.

I’ll be honest; my natural response when I read these stories is to say, “Hell isn’t punishment enough for these vile, wretched wastes of oxygen!” But that anger quickly subsides when I’m reminded that hell isn’t punishment enough for me, either. God saved me for His Own glory and for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. That He would love me so much is beyond anything I could ever comprehend. The fact that I would think that some men are so wicked that they deserve a more severe punishment than me smacks of pride and arrogance.

As I’ve reflected on these things over the last 24 hours, I find myself more motivated to reach the lost with the Gospel of Truth. The extreme wickedness of which an extremely wicked man is capable should never surprise us….it should simply remind us of what we are capable of if not for the constraints of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ.

If you feel compelled to comment on this article, please understand first what my heart is in sharing these things. First of all, I’m not after sympathy, nor am I simply trying to sound “noble” or “heroic”. These events transpired more than 25 years ago. While I remember feeling confused and almost guilty at the time, I don’t think I ever shed a single tear over these things – it was simply a brief part of my life that ended within months of it beginning. Many people go through much worse on a daily basis.

What I hope to get across is the desire I have to reach the lost and to help the hurting. Sometimes we get so caught up in ourselves that we forget that “ourselves” is not why we are here. God didn’t save me so that I could spend decades embittered about my childhood traumas. (I don’t mean to trivialize the very real anger and emotional damage that some people experience as a result of similar abuse – I just didn’t experience any of that.) God saved me for His Own Glory, and He has directed me to teach and evangelize the lost. If He so chooses to use some negative aspects of my background as a tool to that end, how then can I help but to praise Him for it? Friends, we serve a mighty, powerful, and sovereign God Who has promised to make all things work together for good! How wonderful to be able to rest in that promise!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Calvin for Kids

Last night our 3 year old son (Elijah Paul) was having trouble getting to sleep. He was extremely tired, but was fighting it pretty hard. My wife wasn't going to bed yet, but I was lying down to do a little reading so I asked Elijah if he'd like to hop in bed with me so I could read to him for a bit. He was pretty excited at that proposal and jumped in bed and snuggled right up next to me. He took a hard look at that book and, noticing that there were no pictures, said, "Hey, that's not a book!" I assured him that it was and began reading aloud to him these words:

"The citizens of Geneva were predisposed in favour of the Reformation by the struggle for political liberty which they maintained during the first three decades of the sixteenth century against their bishop and his ally, the Duke of Savoy. The constitution of Geneva was a curious combination of feudal and communal government....."

I figured that it would take no time at all for Elijah to fall asleep, but alas, 45 minutes later he was still cuddled up to me taking in every word. I finally closed the book and sent him to bed. The entire scene prompted my wife to say, "Well, he's definately his father's son!"

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Why I stayed in Fundamentalism.

I was once an active member in, what most would call, an abusive church. It was an "Independent, Fundamental, Bible-believing, Baptist Church". By the way, I still attend a church that describes itself thusly, but it's quite a bit different. This abusive church I attended met every single negative stereotype of which one could think. I heard things from the pulpit such as, "If a woman wears pants, she cannot be in fellowship with God", and, "If you use any Bible but the King James, you are not using a are being deceived by the devil with a liar's version that is straight from the pits of hell!", and of course, the ever-popular phrase used to guilt people into coming to every single "Church approved activity", "Your job didn't die on the cross for you; your family didn't die on the cross for you; Jesus died on the cross for you!". (That last one was a common phrase heard each time that someone missed a Wednesday evening service, or visitation, or a church picnic, etc). And of course, there was the standby message that was preached every time that somebody questioned the "man of God / God's anointed man" (the pastor)....the famous message about Korah withstanding Moses in the wilderness and God's immediate judgment on Korah and his followers. In this instance, the preacher is cast in the role of Moses and any who would dare question anything he says or does is Korah.

The pastor had set himself up as the "god" of the church, and the members of that church were somehow comfortable with it. The pastor had complete control of the finances. As a matter of fact, what finally sealed the pastor's fate was the revelation of impropriety with the money. Now there is another pastor there with the same carte blanche control over all aspects of the ministry - including the finances. Now, as ashamed as I am about this, I must reveal that I not only attended such a church, I was an Associate Pastor there.

As controlling and high-pressure an environment as this was, there was nobody who was made to stay there. Sure, if people left they might be talked about in a very mean way, but there was no brainwashing....people were there because they wanted to be there (myself included).

When I finally came to my senses, guess what I did? I left. I'll be honest, the experience brought me a great deal of grief. I saw the pastor bring in a "hit-man" (another preacher that unloaded on everybody with both barrels) the night that he announced his resignation. Nobody knew he was going to resign, but before he did he held an unofficial "vote of confidence". The folks who supported him were to stand up while the others remained seated. It was about a 50/50 split. The pastor told those who were standing to "mark those" who were sitting and then he read his letter of resignation. To this day, I'm not certain why that church didn't split.

When I left that church, I nearly left Fundamentalism for good. I'd previously been in an Evangelical church (SBC) as a Youth Pastor, and wasn't really interested in going that route again. I nearly went as far left as I could. I'll be honest, a place that didn't care how I dressed, what music I liked, what Bible version I used, whether or not I went to church regularly, how I felt about Calvinism, what kinds of words came out of my mouth, etc., was extremely appealing to me. The SBC church that I'd attended, while repudiating Warren's Purpose Driven model, was almost irreverent in their approach to worship. I certainly didn't want to go further left than that.

After much prayer, we chose to stay in Fundamentalism. I came to the realization that Fundamentalism wasn't the problem.....some self-proclaimed fundamentalists were. I found myself rediscovering historic Fundamentalism and moving further and further from the strand that has its roots in the Jack Hyles' end of the spectrum. I know many people who are still in that church - I love them. I pray that their eyes are opened and they leave. Ultimately, I pray for that particular brand of Fundamentalism to die a quick death. However, it thrives because people allow it to thrive.

I'm sharing this brief snippet of my personal experience to make a point. People get hurt...they have bad experiences. Many people are flat-out mistreated in these oppressive, deplorable places. Those people have some choices. They can:

  1. Stay because they like it. Some actually do like it, by the way. More power to them
  2. Stay and attempt to reform it. Lots of luck. Most of these places are generations deep into inbreeding and nepotism. How can you reform something that claims it can trace it's lineage back to the "First Baptist Church of Jerusalem - Jesus Christ, pastor". (I'm not making this up).
  3. Abandon it for worse error - albeit, less oppressive. This has been discussed ad nauseum at different places. If you're not already following the discussion, you can read some of it here, here (about 5 different threads worth of discussion), and here.
  4. Flee from it and join up with a Biblically-based church that embraces sound doctrinal and theological teaching.
I chose number 4 and have absolutely no regrets. We aren't hung up on non-issues like the Bible version debate, or whether or not women should wear pants, or "how long is too long" in regards to a man's hair. Instead there is a focus on doctrinal exegesis and educating members to avoid theological error. By the way, I've never been in a place that has such a striving for a common goal. There is a truer sense of family there than what I could have imagined possible in a church.

In short, I'm just trying to say that I'm thankful I stayed in Fundamentalism. As ugly an experience as my time in that extreme church turned out to be, I learned quite a bit through it all. Honestly, if I hadn't had that experience I'm not sure that I would have been as driven as I was to solidify biblical stances on the Bible version issue, soteriology, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics. I find myself somewhat thankful for the time I was involved with hysteric fundamentalism, but even more thankful that I'm out of that mess now!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What's wrong with the Emerging Church scene?

This certainly won't be an all-inclusive article on the fallacies of the Emerging Church Movement, but I hope to give a quick overview as to the problems inherent to this model - at least as I understand them. Obviously, this comes on the heels of the revelation that an up-and-coming "leader" in Fundamentalism has abandoned ship and headed over to the mother of the Emerging Church, Willow Creek Community Church pastored by Bill Hybels (for an overview of Bill Hybels and his philosophy, check out this article). As I've read discussions here and there about this "defection", I've noticed that a number of folks haven't really been introduced to what the the Church Growth Movement and the Emerging Church are all about. I hope to provide a sort of introduction to the whole subject in this article.

The Church Growth Movement has been described as having six basic pillars. They are:

  1. The preeminence of evangelism
  2. The necessity of numeric growth
  3. Targeted people-group evangelism
  4. The removal of extra-Biblical barriers to conversion
  5. An audience-centered style of communication
  6. A decentralized model of church organization

I jotted these 6 "pillars" down on a piece of notebook paper some years ago. Joe Zichterman references them in his audio offering, "Why I Joined Willow Creek Community Church" (found here), so I can only assume that these are the universally accepted "talking points" surrounding the Church Growth Movement. Those who embrace the Church-Marketing model view these things as positive attributes. I'll deal with the first 5 briefly.

The preeminence of evangelism.

In the Emerging Church paradigm there is a huge emphasis on the first half of the "Great Commission". This isn't all bad. As a matter of fact, it looks very good on the surface. However, the Great Commission is a call to go and teach - making disciples. The Emerging Church has it backwards. Rather than going into the world to make disciples, they have made the church appealing to the world. When Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, he decided to go out to the unchurched community and poll them. He wanted to find out what they wanted in a church...what would bring them in. It's not surprising that the answer was essentially an unintrusive, toothless, feel-good message. So, the "seeker-sensitive" church was born. You can go to church without being confronted with sin. What the Emerging Church calls evangelism is nothing more than "bringing them in"... to the church service. There isn't a focus on actual evangelism - confronting men with the Gospel. What you get instead is entertainment and "feel-good" sermons. If you're curious as to what a "feel-good" sermon is, you can read or listen to pretty much anything that Joel Osteen has put out.

The necessity of numeric growth.

Rick Warren has said, "Anything that is alive is growing. If it is not growing, it is dying". Again, this sounds good on the surface, but is it really the biblical model? Many equate numeric growth with spiritual success in a local church. As a matter of fact, even in certain segments of Fundamentalism this is true. As in all things, I think it's prudent to look at Christ for an example. His ministry on earth didn't exactly typify anything related to church growth. As a matter of fact, Christ seemed to do things that discouraged popularity and a large following. He often told those for whom He performed great miracles to keep silent about it. He told Peter, James, and John to keep quiet about His Transfiguration, and after the disciples made their proclamation that Christ was the Messiah, He challenged them to tell no man! These aren't great methodologies to employ if one has a desire to develop a huge ministry! Besides the example of Christ throughout the Gospels, we can look at many other examples throughout Scripture of men who were faithful preachers of the Word, but never had a large following - some weren't popular at all. Men such as the prophets of the Old Testament or Stephen in the New Testament. I'm not sure that you can find one example in all of Scripture that lends any support to the Rick Warren's statement referenced at the beginning of this section. However, there are many examples that could be used to prove otherwise.

Targeted people-group evangelism.

This is somewhat touched upon in my first point. Those who follow the Church Growth paradigm believe that each individual church is called to reach a specific segment of society. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 gives us a different picture, as does 1 Corinthians 3:6. The parable of the sower in Luke 8 provides a wonderful picture to Biblical evangelism and "planting". There doesn't seem to be any discrimination. Now, I'm not saying that we aren't all gifted to reach different people in differing stations of life. I grew up in poverty and in a broken home. As an individual I might be more naturally tooled to reach an individual that is currently in or grew up in the same situation than somebody who grew up in affluence with loving, godly parents. I can respond with more empathy and sympathy, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to plant a church targeting that specific group. As a matter of fact, I am uniquely gifted to fill a ministry in my local assembly. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul lays out some of the gifts that certain people within a local assembly of believers might have. These were given "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12)...not for targeting specific groups for the overall purpose of numeric growth.

The removal of extra-Biblical barriers to conversion.

Again, another good statement - at least on the surface. While we should allow the message of the Gospel to be the only point of offence, this philosophy of "no extra-Biblical barriers" tends to extend beyond just the realm of evangelism. There has been a great deal of harm done here due to lousy interpretation of passages like 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. What has happened is that standards of "personal holiness" have been abandoned. Folks will look like the world, dress like the world, talk like the world, and (in short) take on the entire stench of the world all in the name of reaching the world. However, the Word of God calls on us to "Come out from among them..." and " not conformed to this world, but be transformed...". The tragedy is that we end up with immature Christians never living transformed lives. The Gospel becomes more watered down and the lines between Christianity and worldliness become increasingly blurred. Is Christianity really supposed to be cool?

An audience-centered style of communication.

In essence, the Emerging Church has allowed the unregenerate to dictate what the "worship service" is going to look like. I would argue that this might be one of the largest mistakes made in the Church Growth Movement. They treat the church as a "hospital to the sinner"... it's not. The church is for the believer. The unregenerate shouldn't feel comfortable there....he should feel completely out of place. I'm completely supportive of using music and drama and the like to enhance the service, but the entire focus should be on the majesty, person, and work of the the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament Church met to teach, fellowship, pray, edify, and to hear the preaching of Scripture. In adopting a style of communication that is appealing to the masses, I think these churches completely ignore the examples given us in Scripture. Consider how Christ preached: He called on men to repent from their sins and to deny their selves. He called men to a life of sacrifice and to a focused relationship with Him. Not only that, but Christ was extremely confrontational in His preaching and teaching. Anybody who deliberately adopts a model whereby the services are tailor-made for the world really needs to thoroughly examine the earthly ministry of Christ as displayed in the Gospels.

Stuffy, sick, and achy...

I hate being sick.... I felt horrible yesterday, so I skipped church and was in bed and asleep by 7:30. At 6 this morning, I realized that I was doing worse than I was yesterday. My normal methodology for dealing with sickness is to take twice the regular adult dosage of NyQuil and then go to sleep. If I still feel sick when I wake up, I do it again. This continues until I wake up feeling better. It's not a regimen that any medical professional would recommend, but it works for me!

Regardless of whether or not my self-medication plan works this time, I intend on being back in the full swing of life tomorrow. Hopefully by then the headache has finally subsided. Today, however, the headache seems to be hovering right behind my left eyeball. I've got tell you, it's an interesting sensation. If it weren't for the pain, I might actually enjoy the double vision!