The Tragedy Of The Entertaining Church

Powerful Word“Show people that Christians are just like  everyone else.”

“If we have non-threatening activities like movie nights, people will get comfortable enough with us that they’ll want to come to church.”

“Unless we have games and refreshments, kids won’t come to youth group.”

I heard all these comments, and more, from a church I used to attend, usually in connection with evangelism and church growth strategies.  We want to attract people to the Lord, not scare them away from Him, the leadership of the church reasoned. For a while, they even made sense. Why not make visitors comfortable before hitting them with the Bible?

Sometimes the promoters of such ideas supported them with 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Never mind that this passage, in context, refers to restricting one’s Christian liberties to avoid offending people with anything but the Gospel. But in his next epistle to that same church, Paul made it clear that presenting the Gospel would, in fact, offend those who would not receive salvation.

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ~~2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV)

Churches, including youth groups, act deceptively when they advertise themselves as being cool, hip and in touch with the world, only to slip Jesus in there when they can do it inconspicuously. They know that a blatant bait-and-switch will expose them, so they have to continue making Scripture palatable. Sermons include stand-up comedy, movie clips and props rather than verse-by-verse exposition of the text, knowing that the folks they attract through entertainment require continuing entertainment in order to keep them coming.

Contrast that mindset with Paul’s command to Timothy.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~~2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

God’s church can, and should, be overflowing with joy. Fellowship halls should ring with laughter, and youth groups should include extra activities outside of Bible Study hours. As someone known for practical jokes, I’m hardly adverse to having fun at appropriate moments.

But when we use fun as an evangelism tool, and especially when we blur the lines between Christians and the world, we tend to obscure the Gospel. After all, the call to repentance can’t be slipped in between funny stories or during a game of Pictionary if we expect non-Christians to take their sin seriously.

Churches must preach the Word, even if so doing makes people uncomfortable. In fact, we want people to feel uncomfortable about their sin in hopes that they will then desire the Savior. Preaching a compromised gospel that elevates human comfort over the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ may fill churches, but it won’t save souls.

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A Fun Little Song With Truth We Can Celebrate

It was a fun little song. It amuses me that, 47 years later, I still  remember both the lyrics and the upbeat tune. Especially since I really didn’t understand exactly what it meant.

Being good Charismatics, we predictably sang this ditty almost every time someone decided to lay hands on me for healing. After all, we assured ourselves,  we were merely claiming God’s promise in Romans 8:11. In our understanding, that fragment of Scripture taught that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed physical healing in this present life.

But looking at this verse in context, we see an entirely different meaning, and a meaning that gives us a correct way to apply Christ’s resurrection to ourselves. Let’s read this verse in its immediate context first, and then we’ll talk about how it fits into the apostle Paul’s overall argument.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~~Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)

Even here, we can plainly see that Paul is talking about personal holiness rather than physical healing. He contends that the same Holy Spirit Who affected Christ’s resurrection gives us Christ’s very righteousness, thereby empowering us to live in obedience to God’s law instead of following the dictates of our sinful inclinations.

You might wonder why Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead. To answer that question, we need to go back to Romans 6, where the apostle discusses our baptism as a way of identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~~Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

As the Spirit raised Christ literally, so He raises us figuratively in our present life to resist sin and to walk in righteousness. Going back to Romans 8:1-11, then, we understand that the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead gives us Christ’s life in order that we can live in Christ’s righteousness. Through the Lord’s resurrection, we have new lives, liberating us from the tyranny of sin.

Certainly His resurrection also carries the assurance of our physical resurrection at Christ’s return, as we’ll discuss in subsequent blog posts. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that the benefits of Christ’s resurrection are limited to their implications in our present life. But also appreciate the wonderful truth that His resurrection allows us to enjoy a new life, even now, that permits us to experience His righteousness.

That little song based on Romans 8:11 is still fun to sing. Its proper context makes it even more fun as we celebrate the victory over sin that we enjoy because the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us!

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Saturday Sampler: February 18 — February 24

pretty sampler

Whether you’re a busy mom or a career woman with a demanding schedule, Bible study is probably difficult for you. Abbey Wedgeworth of Unlocking the Bible offers a workable solution with The 3-5 Method: Studying God’s Word When You’re Busy and Tired. I think you’ll like her approach.

Writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Cameron Cole explains Why Youth Ministry in 2018 Needs a Reformation by reminding us of the Five Solas. His insight encourages me to hope that other youth directors will latch on to his ideas and lead teenagers to solid understandings of the Gospel.

What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ? Writing on behalf of Ligonier, Sinclair Ferguson extricates the concept of abiding in Christ from the mysticism that so many evangelicals attach to it. Praise God for this simple, Biblical explanation of this frequently misunderstood idea.

SharaC has an interesting essay in Into the Foolishness of God for those of us who keep thinking life should be perfect. Picking The Weeds recalibrates our expectations gently, but firmly.

Over on Study – Grow – Know, Fred Deruvo writes an intriguing study on Colossians 1:16 called Behold Your God: The Only Creator. His study is the second installment of a series on Colossians 1:15-20, where is one of my very favorite passages in the Bible. See how Deruvo applies this verse to Christian living.

I just knew I could count on Leslie A to write something in Growing 4 Life worth sharing in Sampler. Her Learn to Discern: What is the Best Way to Share What I Am Learning? certainly doesn’t disappoint! I needed to read this piece five years ago. Thankfully, she’s written it now, and I can continue learning godly ways to communicate the truth.

Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women has a beautiful heart for pastors. Her post, A Word Fitly Spoken: 11 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor, supplies several easy ideas for letting our pastors know how deeply we appreciate their ministry. Why don’t you try one out tomorrow?

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Facets Of Redemption

The hymn I’ve selected today has a simple melody, but a deep and profound theology of Christ’s redemptive work. I love the way it takes us through the various ramifications of salvation while keeping our attention squarely on the Lord!

As I listened to this hymn in preparation to post it, I thought of a beautiful diamond with all its intriguing facets. It reminded me that salvation involves so much more than sparing us from the torments of hell (although that alone would be wonderful). The more we see the different facets of redemption, the more we want to sing of our glorious Redeemer.

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White, Brown And Muddy Waters

Questions

Are you waiting for me to come out with an article about James White interviewing Michael Brown? If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have partially formed opinions on the matter, and that one or two of those opinions have a certain amount of  validity. You’ll also know that some Tweets from other ladies have forced me to reconsider some of my positions.

I’m trying to listen to all sides of this issue, mostly because John and I really like James White and want to believe his critics are categorically wrong 100% of this time. Maybe that’s idolizing Dr. White. Maybe, however, it’s because Dr. White  seems (at least to me — I’m not speaking for John here) to have a “you’re either with me or against me” mentality. At any rate, the whole situation leaves me struggling with whether or not I have very developed discernment.

Michael Brown, from my studies of him, shouldn’t be trusted. He may be genuinely saved, just as I believe I was genuinely saved when I was a Charismatic, but he tends to say what people want to hear in any given situation. As learned as he is in some areas (such as Hebrew texts), his claims of not researching Benny Hinn or Bill Johnson make me wonder if he’s qualified to defend Charismatic teaching. In a nutshell,  I don’t think Dr. Brown has a great deal of credibility.  (See this article by an Assemblies Of God pastor.)

My confusion is less about Michael Brown’s credibility than it is about James White’s willingness to partner with him. And on this point, waters are a great deal muddier than anyone wants to admit.

On the one hand, public personalities need to be very careful. Suppose, for example, that I found a Tweet by Beth Moore that, taken in isolation, actually communicated a Biblical principle (hey, it could happen). Suppose further that her Tweet reinforced something I felt strongly about. Even though I’d have right motives in retweeting Mrs. Moore’s words, people might mistake my retweet as tacit endorsement of Beth Moore. Particularly if they hadn’t read my many blog posts pointing out her false teaching!

Similarly, not everyone has watched the debates between James White and Michael Brown. Frankly, I haven’t, though I know they’ve debated several times. People who don’t realize that these men have debated might mistakenly assume that White is now giving Brown a pass on some very troubling issues. Indeed, people who are intent on destroying James White have been using Michael Brown as a weapon to undermine White’s ministry. For that reason I believe White would do well not to partner with Brown in an upcoming debate they plan (they’ll be debating as a team against two other men). I think their collaboration, at this moment in time, could cause a lot of people to stumble in a lot of ways.

On the other hand, it isn’t good to implicitly demand that James White declare Michael Brown a heretic, as some “discernment bloggers” are doing. Yes, Michael Brown teaches some serious error, but only the Lord really knows whether or not he’s genuinely saved. James White considers him a brother just as I consider friends from my Charismatic church back in California to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

What gives anyone the right to discredit James White on the basis of his friendship with Michael Brown? Perhaps White could be more circumspect in how he publicly conducts their friendship, but the mere fact that they’re friends shouldn’t mean that we should distrust his commitment to Reformed Theology.

Round and round the thoughts swirl in my head, causing me to doubt my discernment abilities. I want to keep listening. I also want to pray for Michael Brown to come out of Charismatic deception, and for James White to exercise more wisdom. May they both silence White’s critics.

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New Year’s Resolutions Remind Us

2018 ResolutionsLast year at about this time, I wrote a post explaining my reasons for not making New Year’s resolutions. In it, I made the point that repentance should be a daily practice for Christians rather than annual resolutions that we can’t keep anyway.  I still believe that’s the more Biblical attitude.

I find the concept of New Year’s resolutions sort of interesting, though. Despite the fact that most resolutions concern themselves with superfluous matters with little eternal significance, the whole idea indicates a deep-down sense that we don’t quite live the way we should. We almost acknowledge that we have sin in our lives.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~~Romans 3:23 (ESV)

We may even quote that verse in a self-justifying manner that implies we’re no more sinful than anybody else. Sure, we have a few character flaws, but doesn’t everybody? And our little New Year’s resolutions, even if we break them by January 20th (which we probably will), surely demonstrate a willingness to own up to our shortcomings.

Of course, by mid-January, life has resumed its dull rhythms, and we’ve all but forgotten those resolutions. We’ve also forgotten that we have flaws (really sins, though we’d prefer not to use such terminology) that require correction.

But perhaps the problem goes even deeper. If we’ve actually sinned, it follows that we’ve violated God’s standards. That premise leads to the idea of His authority to judge us. And if He does show us the mercy of forgiveness, He has a claim on us. Either way, He has us in His debt, and we don’t like it. New Year’s resolutions are much more comfortable than coming to Him as sinners in need of repentance.

Making New Year’s resolutions can be fun, so please enjoy your Christian liberty to make them as part of celebrating the holiday. But don’t use them as a substitute for dealing seriously with sin. The Lord will show mercy as we repent and trust Him to change us. Let’s resolve to live in repentance throughout the coming year.

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Welch Revivals, Bondage And Actual Obedience To The Lord

Bible Mask MedievalFor years, John and I have been getting DVDs from Netflix. For reasons that would distract from the point of this blog post, we’ll be closing our account soon, so we’re watching the last few movies on our queue.

A few nights ago, we watched a documentary about Evan Roberts, an evangelist during the Welch revivals in the early 1900s. I knew very little about either Roberts or the Welch revivals,  but I thought the movie might be interesting. And okay, I hoped to glimpse places I’d seen during my three months in Wales.

The movie definitely brought back memories (including memories of Wales), but not exactly the memories of lush green hills dotted with sheep or ruins of medieval castles that I’d anticipated. Instead, watching Roberts agony as he sought God through one spiritual experience after another while he burdened himself with the legalism of fearing to step outside of God’s  will reminded me of the Bible college I attended in Wales. And of Charismatic teaching in general.

I’d never really seen the connection between legalism and the dependence on spiritual experiences until I watched that movie, but the relationship struck me powerfully. Certainly we see it in 21st Century evangelicals (even those who don’t consider themselves to be Charismatics) as they urge us to expect personal revelation from God and warn us against “stepping out of God’s will.” I remembered the desperation to receive personal guidance, which caused me to wrench fragments of Scripture out of context, and pleading with God to speak to me lest I make a mistake and foil His plan.

What a sad way to go through life!

And what an affront to the sovereignty of God, as well as to His love! Yes, the Lord commands our obedience, but He calls us to obey what He clearly commands in His Word, not impressions or voices in our head telling us whom to marry or what job to accept. God’s principles outline what characteristics to look for in a husband. Marry whomever you please, as long as he possesses those characteristics and proposes to you. Take the job as long as the employer doesn’t ask you to violate Scripture. Don’t agonize unnecessarily, straining for some  mystical experience to offer confirmation.

People like Evan Roberts may appear quite spiritual, but their gnosticism never allows them to walk in the Spirit. Consider Paul’s words to the Colossians:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ~~Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)

Although I don’t recommend the documentary (which is why I won’t give the title), I’m glad I watched it because it clarified some of the dangers in Charismatic teaching. I certainly praise God for mercifully rescuing me from that bondage.

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