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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How'd We Get Here?

Like all things on my blog, this is entirely experimental. I've been thinking a lot about the condition of the Church (at least in America) lately. Semper Reformanda was a cry of the Reformers, knowing the church would always need to be called back to obedience to God's design.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting with other pastors when the discussion of women elders came up. After the meeting, I mentioned to one pastor that churches that allowed women elders 40 years ago are now the churches debating homosexuality. These two seemingly unrelated issues really are intertwined. If you see no distinction between man and woman, it is only a matter of time, or generations, before a group sees no reason to call homosexual relationships sinful. This pastor had never thought of that connection before. (An idea that hardly originated with me. I have heard this point validated from several different sources.)

However, it did get me wondering. Are some of the issues I've been thinking through lately related? Could there be a thread winding through each topic?

Join me in the game

Here's my proposal. I'm going to offer some different issues I think may be tied together. Since I am young, and lack the perspective time provides, I am not placing dates on these issues. You may either supply dates, change the order, question my conclusions, offer other related issues, or ridicule this entire process. I'd love participation (again, this is simply a theory...help me tweak it). If you are gun shy about commenting, email me, and I will post your comments under a pseudonym.
    1. Gospel Hermeneutic Lost
Rather than seeing the redemption meta-narrative in the Word of God, we began to handle the Bible as a series of short stories, not necessarily related to one another. The cross ceased to be our center for preaching, and instead we began to preach more about life issues.
    2. Evangelism Services
Since the gospel was not clearly heard each week at church, we then felt it necessary to hold special services occasionally for evangelistic reasons. There is nothing wrong with an evangelistic meeting, however these meetings can bring two unfortunate side effects: a) The gospel is only preached at this time, and not from the pulpit every week. b) Because, the gospel is seen as something only the unsaved needs, and no longer to be focused on by the believer.
    3. Special Meetings Must be Justified
Of course, these do not have to be special Evangelistic Meetings only, an occasional evangelistic sermon (perhaps on a "Friend Day" or other outreached focused morning) may require the same response. The speaker is finished preaching the gospel and must now validate that it was a worthy endeavor through response. Therefore, the speaker begins to call for a decision time, right at the conclusion of the message.
    4. Altar Calls Becomes Holy
This probably still belongs under #3, but I don't want the points to get too long, and it is another development. Somewhere along the line, the public, often emotionally driven, Finney-esqe altar call became an idol of worship. Thoughts become adopted: Pastors who do not do altar calls are not serious about the lost or evangelism. Only pastors who preach with altar calls are truly confronting the culture and unashamed of the gospel. Salvation can be assured of by participation in an altar call. "I was there when you went down the aisle, sure you are saved!"
    5. Message is Adjusted
Nothing is more embarrassing than giving an altar call and having no response. Perhaps the gospel call is just too difficult. Therefore, we divorce repentance from faith (something Scripture never does) and simply call people to add Jesus to their life. We hope to ease them into seeing Christ as Lord, almost as if it will sneak up on them someday. We lower the bar to simply feeling bad about your sin and not wanting to be punished. When we do this, responses to altar calls swell again.
    6. Permanence becomes a Problem
The church can celebrate "decisions made" and pat itself on the back for its outreach endeavors. However, a problem arises when we look for long-term effects. Many people who make decisions lack any markable difference in their life. We are either left to assume they did not truly convert (a humbling confession for a church that has celebrated their decision) or we must construct a theological system that explains this phenomenon not articulated in Scripture.
    7. Discipleship becomes a Program
Desperate to stop the "falling away" process, discipleship becomes a class or a temporary mentorship. The emphasis of discipleship is trying to get the person to "stick." The church blames themselves for a lack of follow up if a person makes a decision, yet does not follow through. In general, the entire doctrine of preservation of the saints is ignored, and discipleship curriculum becomes the cure.
    8. Carnal Christianity is Defended
To further validate this perspective, the church begins to support the view that a person can be a legitimate convert, yet have no fashion of conforming to Christ. (Do not get me wrong, we are not saved by works, however, God sanctifies those whom He justifies.) Contrary to James, our faith and our actions are segregated. We then allow for views suggesting disciples and converts are two completely different things. Some even (like Z Hodges) claim that a person can currrently be an atheist, as long as they made a decision at one time in their life, and still be a Christian.
    9. Church Discipline goes out the Window
The church looks at the process commanded by Jesus and Paul and considers it to be antiquated. Why should we care how a person acts as long as they are deemed a convert? When a person questions their salvation, why would we call them to the cross, when we can simply remind them of the decision they made? Church discipline starts to look like a bunch of overly-righteous-holier-than-thou people who just want to nitpick and condemn. As long as the person raised their hand, why worry about it?
    10. Church Du Jour
The church is no longer a collection of believers committed to one another, but becomes a spiritual gas station. It's the place I go to get filled back up. Find the same feeling at a lower price (require less of you but get the same emotional high)? Why not start going there? Run into a conflict with someone? What's the big deal with going to the place down the street? The draw to a church is no longer based on a person's committment to Christ, but instead is based on the churches ability to wow or please them.
    11. Legalism
Regardless of conservative or liberal origin, legalism becomes the kneejerk reaction. The conservative begins to isolate those who do not fit their means, focussing inward and ignoring the grace found in the gospel. The liberal becomes so passionate about the actions that should accompany belief that they applaud anyone with those actions, regardless of belief system. Both parties ignore the gospel, instead pleading with people to act differently than they do now.

Summary

Is it possible, that at the heart of all of these problems, is really an abandonment of the pure gospel message? We no longer preach that the cross was about justification from my sin. We ignore that Christ took on my sin and offers me His righteousness. We no longer call people to this through repentance and faith, but adopt a "try Jesus" perspective. With this change we embrace carnality, diminish the role of the church and become legalists. Could the effects of the far liberal and far conservative branches come from the same root? What do you think?

6 Comments:

  • At 12:50 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    Oh, this is GREAT. Count me in. I am beginning to process right now.

     
  • At 2:51 PM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    This is a great outline as to what has happened. The only thing I would add is that even though discipleship became a program - and I agree with that - I think the lack of real discipleship is a real problem in the church.

    I can only speak from my own personal experience as a youth. I longed to have some older man in the church that would disciple me (other than my father). I even went to the pastor and some other men and asked and no one was willing. I think it priceless to have that influence in the church for young men to be growing through the process of discipleship. I am blessed now to have you and breformed now - that I use as men to help disciple and sharpen me - and with that discpleship has come a great time of gowth.

     
  • At 3:26 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    we absolutely have a gap where the older (men to men, women to women) should be training the younger. not sure where this began to fall apart.

    possibly it was discipleship was taken hostage as a glue to stick converts to the church, rather than a student becoming like their teacher.

    by the way...you've taught me quite a bit too.

     
  • At 9:08 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    There's a lot here to process. Quite insightful.

     
  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger ~~anna~~ said…

    This was very ineresting to read. I don't have anything to add really....but I did read it to Bob yesterday afternoon, he was very appreciative of your comments. said that he would like to do more thinking and processing on this...perhaps he'll share his thoughts with you in the future.(would you like them in Spanish?)...

     
  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i have enough trouble with english!

     

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