Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just a Bible Church

I heard it again the other day. "We don't want to be a 'Christian Church'; we just want to be a Bible Church."

Pardon me! What exactly do you mean?

I guess itmeans we don't want to be in the "Christian Church" denomination; we want to be "independent" and just be a Bible Church.

Pardon me! Don't you know that the Bible Church movement is every bit as much a denomination as those congregations generally recognized as part of the Restoration Movement?

I get a bit testy when I hear drivel like that! It's sort of saying that those churches associated with the Restoration Movement are now a denomination. (I don't want to get into an argument over what constitutes a denomination at this point. Even Alexander Campbell talked about "our denomination" at times.) Maybe its saying that the churches of the Restoration Movement have a specific theology that sets them apart from others where the "Bible Churches" don't!

Well, that's probably true to an extent. Bible Churches, like most "non-denominational" churches are simply part of the typical mish-mash of evangelical churches "out there". Most if not all of them preach the typical evangelical core message that we used to identify with Baptists. In other words it is the typical faith only message that the Restoration Movement largely rejected in the early 1830s. What it is is a populist message that is easy for people to swallow. It is an easily marketable message because it identifies with what people hear parrotted by the most "popular" writers and speakers of our day -- you know, the ones we invite to speak at the North American Christian Convention! Pardon the sarcasm!

It offends me to have someone suggest that any attempt to "preach the whole counsel of God as it is written" is divisive, denominational, and sectarian while preaching the "politically correct" message is right on!

I've had students say stupid things like I started this message with and I expect it from someone who hasn't really studied or understood what our movement is all about. When I hear it from "big guys" who are in their late 50s or 60s it makes me want to ... well, regurgitate!

Listen, folks!

We have a biblical name ... Christian Church, Church of Christ ... although there are many others, we kinda settled on one of those.

We have a biblical structure ... elders and deacons lead local congregations (except where prophet preachers have taken over) and we do not have any extra-congregational structure to dictate our beliefs or practices.

We teach only what the Bible teaches ... or at least we should.

We use biblical terminology for biblical things.

We observe the Lord's Supper weekly just as did the early church; we baptize just as the early church baptized and we hold forth the same message the early church proclaimed.

That's more than I can say for the Bible Churches. I have no quarrel with these churches when the preach the Bible. I don't quibble with them when they immerse. It's when they tell people that obeying all the commands of Scripture is optional and unrelated to salvation ... that's when I get upset.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ever Feel Like You're in Limbo?

For longer than I care to remember I've tried to establish in my own mind where I belong. Some may think I belong in a safe padded room. If that's you, you might be right! So far, though, I've avoided the "men in white coats."

No, I'm talking about where I fit in the Restoration Movement.

One reader suggested some time ago that I must oppose the whole mega church thing. That's just not true! In fact I admire those leaders who, without compromise, work with God to build great churches. Over the years I've visited a lot of mega churches both in the Restoration Movement and otherwise. I'm an advocate of the philosophy of the "Purpose Driven Church" model because, in my opinion, it is balanced and doesn't require any sacrifice of convictions. Outside the movement I've studied and visited Overlake Christian Church, Southeast Christian Church, Saddleback Church, Northcoast Community Church, Willowcreek Community Church, and served on the staff at Christ's Church of the Valley. Some of my closest friends are on the staffs of Southeast Christian Church, Southland Christian Church, First Church of Christ in Burlington, KY, as well as several others in the Ohio Valley region. I've had the opportunity to get to know some of the truly big men in the brotherhood and know them to be men of character possessing a sincere desire to reach the lost. I enjoy worship when part of a crowd of hundreds or thousands. It is exciting, stimulating, and encouraging!

Why then am I often so hard on some of the goings on in these churches (and others, too)? It is because I know that many look to these congregations for inspiration and methodology. That's always the way it is. Smaller churches look to larger influential churches simply because they are successful. It is also because I care about strong biblical teaching and get concerned about the drift of our churches into populism and pragmatism without regard for sound doctrine.

The latter concern throws me into another camp -- an ultraconservative camp. It is the camp of the absolutist, the legalist, and the traditionalist. Over the years I've fought two of the three without losing sight of the reality of absolute truth. I hate the brooding suspicion even though it sometimes overtakes me. That's why I complain about some who refuse to "tell it like it is," who think that by preaching a "self help" message they are communicating the Gospel, and are failing to let people know that Christianity is more than just solutions to every day problems. It is, after all, a belief system with tenets that must be believed and obeyed. At the same time, I'm just as uneasy with those who would pass judgment on others, withdraw from fellowship, or draw lines where Scripture never draws them.

So at times I feel like I am in limbo. I love the brotherhood! I have friends all across the spectrum of thought and theology in the Restoration Movement. I know these people. In many cases, I know their hearts and they want to please God. It is just that they -- and all of us -- are misguided and mistaken at times.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things that Matter

Paul Williams' column in the Christian Standard for October 14, 2007 hit on a theme I've talked about a lot in this blog. If you haven't read his article, let me summarize his comments for you. If I miss Paul's point, I trust he will forgive me.

Williams told about visiting an influential Christian church where in a message he linked baptism with death and resurrection. Several asked him why he did so since it seemed to make it sound like baptism has something to do with salvation. Williams remarked that it wasn't his decision to do so, it was the Apostle Paul who did so in Romans 6. The usual challenges followed. After the interchange Williams noted, "The pendulum has swung." He then went on to trace the history of the pendulum swing. He noted that one young minister said he didn't preach about controversial subjects like baptism (my emphasis) or Hell. Then Williams basically said what I tell my Restoration History students each term: You have no right to preach anything but what the Bible teaches. God may do what He wishes, but we have no right not to draw lines where Jesus drew lines. Or as Williams put it, "There are terms to the New Covenant, and it is our responsibility to preach them."

Paul, what took you so long? The pendulum began swinging back in the 1980s. John Greenlee's several articles in the Christian Standard warned about the encroachment of evangelicalism and the compromise of biblical standards. In articles such as "Nose Under the Tent," "Silence at Yorktown," and "Tremors" he foresaw the rejection of clear New Testament thinking. Some of us recognized the pendulum swing for most of those years intervening. Thank goodness we only have one mega church (that I know of) that blatantly states "baptism is the first thing you do after being saved."

There is a ray of hope for us who only desire faithfulness to the Word. Williams points to Christ's Church of the Valley in the Philadelphia area as a congregation that does not compromise on the "tough stuff." I checked out the web site (see http://www.moviechurch.com/about-us/baptism/) to see the church does make a clear link between conversion and baptism. I might phrase it in stronger terms but I can't argue with it. In addition, the site focuses on biblical language rather than human terminology. Isn't that part of the genius of our movement? Oh, by the way, CCV - Philadelphia is, according to Williams, "one of the fastest-growing new churches in the nation." CCV - Philadelphia is a lot more sound biblically and doctrinally than CCV - Peoria, AZ which states that faith, repentance, and baptism have something to do with salvation and they hide that in a statement of faith no one sees except those on staff and in all the time I was there I never heard one message that dealt with any controversial biblical doctrine.

A few years ago Joe Carson Smith, retired minister of Camelback Christian Church in Scottsdale, AZ, started a group called "The Remnant." I suppose it was born out of the sense that only a few remained faithful to the plea and principles of the Restoration Movement. I never joined the group and I doubt I'd ever join any group like that, but I can certainly identify with the feelings that gave it birth. When I read Williams' column and found the CCV - Philadelphia web site it renewed my hope that maybe ... just maybe ... there are (pardon if I mix my metaphors) more than 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sappy Sentimental Symbolism

I got Victor Knowles newsletter today. Victor has long been a promoter of Christian unity. He is a warm irenic individual who practices what he preaches. That's a bit strange, too, since Victor graduated from Midwestern School of Evangelism. MSE is a school that once sent out a host of narrow divisive and sectarian men who divided many churches in Iowa and Nebraska. Knowles has come a long way!

The latest "Knowlesletter" tells about the final "Restoration Forum" held September 4-5 in Joplin, Missouri. Over the years these forums did much to get those in the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ talking to those in non-instrumental churches of Christ. Those forums and some personal friendships formed along the way probably had a lot to do with the spirit of the North American Christian Convention a couple of years ago.

I'm really glad these heirs of the Restoration Movement are, on some levels at least, talking to one another and even more at times. Sadly, though, I fear these steps forward are limited to a few "big names" in both segments of the brotherhood. You hear a great deal about Rick Atchley, Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, Doug Foster, and a few others on the acapella side. Rob Russell is the one "biggie" often linked to these unity efforts. That's not to say there aren't others. What is interesting is that some of those among the non-instrumentals are seen as apostates by others in their movement. Max Lucado, for example, leads a congregation in San Antonio that, for all intents and purposes, practices Open Membership.

What caught my eye in Knowles' article was the sappy symbolism of 531 people signing "A Pact for Peace." What a gesture! Why that's just about as meaningful as leaders of the North American Christian Convention exchanging Bibles as a show of unity. You could tell how meaningful the latter was when Rick Atchley made a joke of his exchange with Dave Stone in his message at the convention. It's all "touchy feely" sentimentalism; it is style over substance.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am all for reuniting the warring segments of the Restoration Movement. I just don't think it is going to happen because 531 people signed a document prodded by emotionalism and sentimentalism. Unity is generally not going to result from such things. It happens when one individual accepts another individual in spite of their differences. It happens when individuals form relationships and receive one another as Christ received them.

Besides, there are some "brethren" out there I can't and won't unite with. Disciples who deny the deity of Jesus, the authority of the Word of God, and who think Jehovah, Buddha, Allah, and Siva are all names for the same deity. I can't and won't unite with those whose legalism judges my every action and who reject me because I don't measure up to their invented standards.

Unity comes when individuals seek unity and go across barriers to do it. Carl Ketcherside did that! James DeForest Murch did it, too. So did Bill Lown. I could probably name 100 more if I set my mind to it. Then there are those who "talk a good fight" when it comes to promoting unity and fail miserably to accomplish it. Leroy Garrett does that. He writes about unity -- a unity based on compromise -- but snubs those who disagree with him or who might be critical of something he wrote. Others do it too but in reality they're only interested in building up their own little "kingdoms" here and there.

We are living in an era where "style means a lot more than substance." We're into "experiencing God" (whatever that means) and getting all excited by the music. We measure someone's relationship with the Lord by their emotion rather than their obedience to God's Word. We're back where we were in 1803.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Multi-campus Mega Churches

It is amazing to me how little we learn from history. Of course, to learn anything from history you have to know something about it. In our day of historical ignorance it is no wonder we make the same mistakes again and again. Contemporary churches are doing it again! Conditions are developing that can result in a full blown ecclesiastical system. Once that system comes into being it soon becomes controlling and tyrannical.

I’m talking about the development of multiple campus churches. Multiple campus congregations are as old as the second century church. The developing of an ecclesiastical structure was not intended then but it was an unintended consequence of forces put into play as early as AD 107.

The pressures of false teaching and Roman persecution led to the development of the monarchical bishop. Leadership in the first century local church consisted of bishops/elders and deacons. In those early years bishop and elder were synonymous terms. Recognizing the need for a more responsive leadership, the early church started elevating one of the bishop/elders to a position of greater authority. By the early second century Ignatius of Antioch advised congregations to appoint one elder as bishop. It was a common sense response to the slow decision making of a plurality of elders. When necessary the bishop quickly determined how a church would respond to false teaching or persecution.

As the second century progressed, the bishop supposedly guaranteed orthodox teaching and practice. The second century church soon accepted the idea that without a bishop there could be no communion or baptism.

As congregations grew in the major cities churches established satellite assemblies in the suburbs. Each week the bishop blessed the elements of the Lord’s Supper and members of his family (elders) carried the sanctified elements to these satellites. Remember, no bishop no Lord’s Supper! Elders (presbyters in Greek) became identified with specific satellite congregations. They developed into the priesthood. The bishop of the original congregation became the authoritative leader for all of the congregations in his city. Over time the suburban congregations became large enough to reach outside into the countryside where they planted others. The progression started again. The “down town” bishop was now the leader of a region.

Bishops in larger and more important cities eventually exercised tremendous influence on bishops in smaller communities. Bishops in five major Roman cities were soon recognized as Metropolitan Bishops. Appeals from bishops of smaller areas appealed to the bishops of Rome, Carthage, Antioch in Syria, Jerusalem, and Alexandria for advise and direction. All bishops were theoretically equal but the “big boys” still exercised considerable clout. Development continued until Innocent III had full papal power in AD 600 even though he rejected the title Pope. The rest is, as they say, history.

Today congregations of all manner of denominational and non-denominational stripes are establishing satellite churches. Perimeter Church was one of the first I heard about. In the Restoration Movement one of the first was the church in Naperville, Illinois. Many of our mega churches and near mega churches are now establishing satellite churches. Among them are Rivertree Christian Church, Massillon, OH; Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, AZ; and Central Christian Church in Mesa, AZ. These churches invest millions of dollars in facilities for these satellite congregations. The satellites contribute to one central treasury and one eldership oversees the work of them all. Since the elderships of our mega churches generally make the “big decisions” (five percent of all decisions) that means effective leadership for these congregations is directed by the “Senior Minister” of the organizing congregation. All that remains is for them to adopt the title bishop.

I don’t think anyone intends for all of this to eventually end up in an ecclesiastical system. Mark my words, it will. It may take some time but eventually the result will be indistinguishable from the ecclesiastical system of Roman Catholicism, Episcopalianism, or Methodism. It may not happen with first generation leaders or even second generation leadership. After all, it took 600 years for Catholicism to develop.

At some point a core of leaders will arise in these satellite congregations to challenge the leaders of the originating body. Conflict will deepen until there are fissures and ultimately schism. At this point, who will own the facilities? Will there be freedom to follow Scripture according to the dictates of their own hearts or must they adhere to the “creed” of the originating church?

These are legitimate questions and the issues are real. The New Testament Church was always local. The Restoration Movement has always understood the church, wherever it is located, to be one body in Christ. We consistently understood, however, that the church exists as separate congregations each with its own leadership.[1] We have avoided intrusion into the life of other congregations. No matter how we protest, a satellite church soon becomes its own congregation. We long heard that multiple services result in multiple congregations in the same location. If that is true, it is even more likely for a second assembly located in another part of a city. When there are different services in a single location there is shared programming for children, youth, and other demographic groups. A satellite congregation will establish its own programming but it is not certain it will share the same demographics as the originating congregation.

Leaders in many of our mega churches are egotistical enough to believe their formula for success works everywhere. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I know the establishment of multiple satellites comes from a desire to reach people for Christ. I don’t fault their motives. I do, however, fault their long term thinking. Few stop to think through possible consequences. Even those who do can’t foresee all the potential problems. Furthermore, fallen humanity is not in a position to foresee all the possible consequences. Wouldn’t we be wise to learn from the lessons of the past and avoid making the same mistakes again and again?

Just something to think about!

[1] Thomas Campbell, “Declaration and Address.” See Propositions 1 and 2.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Campbell and Abortion and Homosexuality

A reader of this blog asked where I thought Alexander Campbell would stand on two contemporary "hot buttons" -- abortion and homosexuality. My first response to the question is, of course, "I really don't know."

To be consistent, however, I think Campbell would take much the same tack he did with the slavery question. For the Christian, both abortion and homosexuality represent sinful actions and behaviors. Current law permits, with certain restrictions, abortion in all states in the Union. The states, by law, currently have a hodge podge of legislation regarding homosexuals. Some states have tried to permit homosexuals to marry while others allow various types of domestic partner relations. Variations of all sorts of legislation affecting homosexuals can be found in the states. It is interesting that American attitudes toward abortion are hardening in that more and more reject abortion as a means of birth control. At the same time, however, the media and activist groups are changing attitudes about homosexual behavior. This is true among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Campbell believed slavery was wrong not just because it fostered inequality among humans but because it was harmful to the country. I think he would see abortion and homosexuality the same way although the Bible is far more explicit in its view of the sanctity of life and sinfulness of homosexual behavior. I believe he would agree that abortion and homosexual behavior are reprehensible and need to be addressed in the church. Further, I think he would hold that the church should discipline its members when they abort a baby or are found to be involved in homosexual behavior. I do not think, however, he would be as inconsistent as the contemporary church is for the contemporary church condemns individuals who have had an abortion and those who practice homosexuality while refusing to condemn those who commit adultery or engage in other sinful behaviors.

The Millennial Harbinger did not promote the reform movements of the early 1800s. He rejected any effort to unite himself with the Temperance Movement. Although pacifist in his stance, Campbell did not join the Peace Movement. While he did not argue for women's rights, he acknowledged time after time the contribution of women to the success of the Restoration Movement. At least up to 1845 (that's as far as I've gotten in my reading of the Harbinger) Campbell has said nothing about other reform efforts. The reason he refused to align himself with such reform efforts is simple: these reform movements didn't make people Christian -- only the Gospel in its simplicity and purity brought people to Christ.

I think it is interesting that although abortion and homosexuality were rampant in the first century, there were no demonstrations, no beatings of abortionists or homosexuals, no burning of the places of business of those who sold the drugs that induced abortions. Christian people brought others to Christ and something happened to those who came to Jesus! They reformed from the inside out! They became new creatures in Christ. It took time, but eventually Christian principles guided a growing majority in the Roman Empire and ultimately Europe. Those who formed the Constitution of the United States held firmly to biblical principles. Even though they may not have accepted everything the Bible taught about God or Christ, they recognized biblical principles as superior. At the same time, they refused to establish any religious body -- specifically a church or denomination -- as the official church of the nation.

For well over a score of years Christians have worked politically to return the country to the original value system. The effort meets with limited success and in some cases tremendous resistance. Our Restoration forefathers recognized the political structures as corrupt because men's hearts are corrupt. Some leaders refused to participate in the political process even refusing to vote. Others expressed their principles in the ballot box.

Christians must come to grips with the role of the church as opposed to the role of the government. We live in a country where (supposedly) we citizens are the government. The government's role is to maintain the peace and execute justice through law and, when necessary, force. The role of the church is to seek the world's redemption not through law or force but through love and the communication of God's grace. We should never get those two roles confused. As much as I sympathize and agree with pro-life Christians and their stand, I must reject those who murdered abortion doctors and destroyed property. I must reject their methods as inappropriate. Of all people it was Rush Limbaugh who said that the way to deal with the abortion (and homosexuality) issues is to change hearts!

Christ's church needs to do three things. First, it needs to preach the whole counsel of God and win people to Christ and then expect believers to accept and obey it. Second, it needs to quit expecting unbelievers to act like believers, think like believers, and respond like believers. Third, it needs to discipline its members and hold them accountable to God's Word.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Role of the Church in America

The Constitution's First Amendment states that the government will make no law respecting the establishment of religion. That is, the Constitution prohibits the recognition of any religious group as the nation's official religion. Most of the nation's forefathers understood this to mean that no Christian denomination would be named the state church. Thomas Jefferson, however, looked forward to the day when those holding any belief system could freely practice their faith.

Much has been made of the supposed "separation of church and state" called for in the Constitution. The Constitution says nothing of the sort. Jefferson referred to a "wall of separation" in his writings to the Danbury Baptist Association. He told the Baptists there was a "wall of separation between the church and state." In the context of the document, Jefferson was reassuring the Baptists the government was not to involve itself in church affairs.

Having said that, it must also be noted that the Constitution of the United States does not provide for a theocracy -- the amalgamation of faith and politics. As I understand it, the Federal Government was supposed to be a democratic republic. I would put the emphasis on republic! It was not specifically a Christian government; it was in a sense a secular government. It could only be a Christian government as long as Christian values prevailed and those elected to high office lived by and made decisions according to those values. Furthermore, it meant they represented their voters' values as well. In the early years of our republic Christianity formed the majority worldview and value system. Although church membership wasn't particularly high (only about 5% in 1800), there were few who rejected the Christian gospel let alone the biblical value system. That's exactly why James Madison said our nation would only be good as long as its people were good. A moral government depends on a moral population.

The only way to guarantee a Christian nation is to have a population that is overwhelmingly Christian. Church membership is higher now than at any time in our nation's history. With apologies to the Danes, there is something rotten in Denmark! It is obvious that the Christian population is, at best, nominal. Christian faith is so privatized that it means whatever the individual wants it to mean. Churches no longer hold to biblical standards. Rare is the congregation that holds its members accountable to biblical standards or lovingly disciplines its members. The fact is, there is so little shepherding taking place that the lifestyles of most church members is unknown to the leadership. Such methodology is said to be "grace based" but in reality it is sheer disobedience.

In an effort to shore up the nation's moral values, evangelical Christians have tried to use worldly tactics to influence legislation. In many cases churches are turning into political action groups determined to influence legislation deemed Christian. In other cases Christians turned to demonstrations and violence to air their grievances. There are congregations under close examination by the Internal Revenue Service for using their "pulpit" for political ends.

I think it is time to re-evaluate our methods. As I continue my reading in the Millennial Harbinger it became clear to me that it is inappropriate for churches to involves themselves in politics. As national stress over slavery grew in the nineteenth century, Alexander Campbell refused to take a side. To Campbell the issue was a political. Campbell held the Bible regulated but did not forbid slavery. Americans could be abolitionists or secessionists but both views were political opinions and should not intrude into the church. To preach either view was not preaching the Gospel and fellowship was not determined by opinions.

Here's the crux of the issue. If we hope to restore America's greatness and rebuild its moral fiber, we must preach the Gospel. In our contemporary determination to be relevant we are forgetting to preach and teach the Gospel. The Gospel message is always relevant! When Jesus commissioned his disciples to go he noted two components they were to accomplishment. First, they were to preach the gospel and immerse those who believed it. Second, they were to teach them to observe all things he commanded. The command to teach is really a command to disciple. To disciple another is to help the believer live his life as Jesus would live it. When one truly becomes a disciple it is only a matter of time until they begin to think and act like Jesus. When an overwhelming majority are following Christ it will affect the nation.

As I have said so often before, we are doing well at winning people to Christ (translated: building big churches) but we are not doing well at producing disciples. Discipleship requires both knowing and doing the truth.

The church's role is to produce disciples devoted to Christ and who put biblical teachings into practice. If we really want a Christian nation, it is time to refocus on preaching the Gospel and then teaching those who believe how it impacts their daily life.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box

After a visit to my home church in Sutherland, Iowa earlier this month, I'm convinced smaller congregations need to think "outside the box."

Sutherland is the small town where I graduated from high school with 35 others back in 1961. It was the typical Iowa farming community of about 600 or 800. Consolidation of schools was just beginning back then so the community had its own grade, junior high, and high schools. Today it has none of those! The grade school/junior high is now a senior adult center with exercise rooms, a nice swimming pool, and other amenities for the seniors who predominate in the area. The high school is now the site of a firm manufacturing stained glass.

Back in the "old days," First Church of Christ had about 125 faithful Christians meeting each week. Today there are 80 on a good Sunday. They have not lost their outreach consciousness nor are they content to float along to their demise. The worship building looks better than it ever has with a lot of upgrades such as an elevator, new paint, and a completely redone basement. Within the last year or so, the congregation committed themselves to building a new gymnasium where kids can play basketball and other indoor games. Without the schools, there were no places for the community's children to play. First Church of Christ spent over $300,000 with no help from the government or any outside sources. They are just now beginning to reap the benefits in the eyes of the rest of the community.

In addition to that, First Church partnered with a congregation in nearby Primghar (the only Primghar in the world, I might add) to provide a full-time youth minister. The two churches pay the salary and they combined their youth activities so they could make a significant dent in southern O'Brien County. The churches are looking for other ways they can work together to carry out their God-given mission. Such cooperation hasn't required either congregation to surrender their autonomy or their identities but it sure has increased their effectiveness.

It strikes me that in this day of high tech communication and ease of travel, there are many other smaller congregations that need to consider ideas that might seem "outside the box." As I write this, I am serving as interim minister for a congregation in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is a smaller congregation, but they have an active eldership willing to minister to the needs of their flock. That's what elders should do! Because of the electronic communications media at their disposal, they are able to communicate with each other and with me as often as necessary.

I think there are lots of ways yet to be discovered where smaller congregations can work together to accomplish great work for God. What it takes, though, is an unselfish spirit and a congregation filled with humble people who have a mind to be servants in God's Kingdom. All too often smaller congregations hesitate to work with others because they fear losing their identity. In the process, they find it difficult to continue and in time they die.

Just as God wants all kinds of people in his Kingdom, I think he wants all kinds of churches to exist. I'm glad to see Standard Publishing offering workshops for smaller churches, but I suspect that in most cases those workshops will prod such congregations to become larger churches. A smaller church, when it really accomplishes God's work will grow but it may never become a "large church" let alone a "mega church." Maybe it shouldn't even aspire to! Just as every part of the body is important, even though some parts don't seem to contribute much or get much attention, so every congregation of believers is important. A smaller church is just as important to the Kingdom's overall health as a mega church. Sometimes we lose sight of the tree because of the forest, so to speak!

Mega churches and larger churches are often effective at evangelism -- winning souls. They are not all that effective in grounding those won in Scripture's essential truths. Sometimes smaller churches aren't either, but they could be. Maybe, just maybe, some of those smaller congregations survive because they continue to ground at least some believers in Word and doctrine. I learned a long time ago, it isn't the many I had in class that made the difference; it was the one student "who got it" and went out and did it that did! It isn't the multiplied thousands who make up the mega church who make a difference nor is it the tens and hundreds of smaller churches. In both cases, it is the few who live out their faith that make the difference!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Facts and Experience

Arthur Ferguson's Land of Lincoln presented another metaphor for the contemporary church's condition. He told about convincing his family to take the "Lincoln Heritage Tour" through Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. His parents took him on such a trip in the 1960s and it made an indelible impression on his mind about the Great Emancipator. He wanted his children to have the same experience. Of course, he had to do a lot of bargaining with them to accomplish his goal.

When Ferguson's family toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) in Springfield, he noted the kids had a great time. They participated in most of the interactive activities and came away judging the whole thing a fun experience. Back in the car, Ferguson's wife remarked something like this, "Do you realize there was not one fact presented in the whole museum?" There was a room dedicated to Lincoln's marriage, the war years, an interactive exhibit on Lincoln's law practice and more. It was fun! But there was no timeline, no dates, no information about the Civil War, or particular information about the individuals portrayed. No real facts. The ALPLM's designers worked to create "an experience" but did little to tell the visitor about Lincoln. Visitor's walked away feeling good because of an enjoyable experience but they really didn't know any more about the man than they did before.

I fear the same thing happens in many churches today. So much stress is placed on creating an atmosphere where one can "experience God" that there is little effort to create an atmosphere where you can get to "know God." To really know someone, you not only have to experience their presence, you have to spend time with them, learn about them, and find out what makes them tick. That's not to say there aren't Bible lessons (sermons, topical studies, and so on). Most of these are designed to help nice people learn how to be nice. In Children's and Youth Service, all in facilities designed to be Disneyesque, we teach them to obey parents (that's good), to serve others (that's good), but we don't really teach them much about Jesus (that would be even better). In worship services, adults hear messages on how to live a victorious life (that's good), become successful parents or business leaders (that's good), become good stewards (that's good especially if you have debt service on a multimillion dollar plant), but you don't hear much about who Jesus is and what he has really done for us. We don't hear about his substitutionary death, his resurrection (except on Easter -- maybe), and we certainly don't hear about Jesus' role in dealing with sin and salvation. In some churches you might hear a lot about the Second Coming (that's good) but that's really not Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that you don't have to earn your salvation because Jesus took your punishment for you.

The problem is you can attend a worship service designed to give you an experiencd with God and you can walk away never knowing how to become a Christian. You can go home having enjoyed the music, the sermon or the lessons, but never have heard any substantial truth about Jesus.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Disneyland Jesus

My son gave me a copy of Arthur Ferguson's Land of Lincoln for my birthday this summer. It makes for some interesting reading as Ferguson delves into contemporary presentations and perceptions of the "Great Emancipator." He points out how contemporary history reinterprets Lincoln making him a mere mortal with feet of clay.

I think we all knew that. After all, Christians know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:27).

I grew up with a Lincoln who overcame poverty and numerous setbacks to become one of our nation's greatest leaders. I learned he was determined in defeat and generous in victory. My mother, a school teacher, always emphasized that Lincoln permitted the defeated Confederate soldiers to keep a mule and their weapons as they returned to their farms in the South. He was the man whose leadership freed the southern blacks from the tyranny of slavery. In most ways the Lincoln Memorial typified the man -- solid and larger than life.

Today history and historians seem to downplay Lincoln's determined leadership, his integrity and character, to present the "real" Lincoln. It is rare to find much written about his greatness. Ferguson points out that the dioramas portraying great moments in Lincoln's life were removed from the Chicago Historical Society. Instead, the Illinois Historical Society decided to build a presidential library and museum dedicated to Lincoln in Springfield, IL. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is filled with special galleries, theater spectaculars, and says it gives you an opportunity to experience the days of Lincoln.

To put all this together, the ALPLM committee hired BRC Imagination Arts to design the museum. Bob Rogers, who Ferguson says heads up BRC, designed some of Disneys wondrous displays for Disneyland, Disneyworld, and Epcot. His goal for the Lincoln Museum was to provide "an experience" for the visitor. There was little concern on his part for verbalizing the facts behind the presentations. In fact, he wanted little or nothing in print. It was enough to put the visitor in the middle of the events even though the presentation may have little resemblance to the actual events. Everything was "historically accurate," but little of it related to Lincoln's importance as his leadership shaped a nation. Rogers designed everything to appeal to the "seventh grade mind" and to "emotions." Ferguson asked Rogers if that didn't result in "dumbing down" Lincoln? Rogers replied that today's seventh graders were really sharp and to aim at them was to hit everyone. About emotion he said, “Get their hearts and their heads will follow.” He went on to say, “You lead with the emotions rather than the intellect. And remember, it’s not just any emotion—the emotion they feel is the one we want them to feel. With Lincoln, we are hooking them into a specific cascade of emotions. Then, if they want to follow up, they can find the intellectual part, read a wall plaque or buy a book or whatever.” (pg. 102)

Take note of Rogers' statements. The Lincoln presented in the ALPLM isn't the "real" Lincoln, it is the Lincoln Bob Rogers wants the visitor to accept. The emotion Rogers wants the visitor to feel isn't their own reaction to Lincoln the man; it is the feeling he wants the visitor to feel. It is manipulation taken to the n-th degree! And, according to Ferguson, the Lincoln one comes away with from the ALPLM isn't the great man; it is the hen pecked husband who couldn't control his children and who was hated, villified, and ultimately assassinated. Everyone who goes to the ALPLM has "fun" and they have a wonderful "experience" but they really don't learn much about Abraham Lincoln.

I read all of this with some concern. Many of our church leaders are reading Andy Stanley's books on Visioneering. Visioneering derives from Disney's methodology just like Bob Rogers and BRC Imagination Arts. Church leaders read The Disney Way to learn the secrets of the success of Disney's theme parks and other ventures. When building new buildings, churches hire designers once employed at Disney to create a children's wonderland where kids can "have fun" and a great "experience." I'm not downplaying the lessons that churches can learn from such things but quite often the emphasis gets misplaced. When there is more emphasis placed on "making everyone's dreams come true" than the Gospel something is wrong. When the emphasis is on management rather than mission things are "out of kilter." When the emphasis is on making people confortable the Gospel, which usually makes people uncomfortable, is being short changed. What is worse, the Jesus portrayed in such situations is an unreal plastic Jesus who makes life meaningful and solves problems rather than the beaten bleeding ugly Jesus hanging on the cross paying for my sins and your sins.

I fear all this emphasis on emotion, or feelings, or experience is getting the cart before the horse. Listen to what's being said today. "People come to church to experience Jesus." "They want to have an experience." "Church attenders want to go away moved and feeling like they've come into contact with Christ." So, we carefully plan, rehearse, and develop services to do exactly what Bob Rogers did at ALPLM: we manipulate the hearers and participants to have an experience that is unreal and one we design for them. Hear me: it is one thing to desire to do things with excellence; it is another to manipulate people toward meaningless decisions built on the foundation of a Jesus who never existed instead of the one who trudged Palestine's dusy roads. It is one thing to "take up a cross to follow Jesus" and quite another to experience the dusty roads in an artificially created setting. I say this gets the cart before the horse because a real experience with Jesus comes after acknowledging him as Lord and becoming his disciple.

The Gospel has never changed! It doesn't take an experience with Jesus or an encounter with Jesus. We're not saved by feelings! We're saved because we believe the biblical testimony about who Jesus is and, as a result, are willing to entrust ourselves to him in obedience.

Think about it!

Monday, June 25, 2007

On the Gospel

For the past 20 years or so the watchwords among those seeking "church growth" has been "meeting needs." Expressed more acurately it is "meeting felt needs." The result is a consumer mentality that suggests to individuals they should find a church that "meets their needs." One story making the rounds is about a family who began attending a large church. When they were invited to the membership class their response was, "Oh, we're Catholics. You have a wonderful youth program and when our kids are out of high school we'll go back to the Catholic Church." Such an attitude reflects no concern for truth but only a consumer mentality.

In the effort to "meet needs" churches confuse pop psychology with the gospel. Teaching individuals how to build successful families is not the gospel. Teaching biblical principles of stewardship is not gospel. Presenting messages about the second coming and the sequence of events preceding it is not gospel. Preaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the "leading of the Holy Spirit" is not gospel. The Gospel is preaching Christ and him crucified!

Am I opposed to preaching and teaching about those things? No! The fact is, these things and a lot more are the results of believing the Gospel and responding to Christ. In other words, Christians need to learn there are biblical principles relating to building a Christ-centered family. Christians need to know Christ is coming again. Christians need to know, too, there are principles guiding the use of resources. The fact is, though, that although unbelievers can successfully apply many of these principles, they will not directly result in meeting their real need which is redemption through the shed blood of Christ.

It is thought that if you meet the need it will open the door for a presentation of the Gospel. I've been a part of churches of all sizes for years now and my question is, "When is the gospel presented? Where is the proof that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God?" That biblical principles contribute to building a good family is no motivation for acknowledging Christ as the Son of God. It often appears the principles of Mormonism contribute to the building of a solid family. If Mormon principles work as well as biblical principles what reason is there to reject Mormonism for Christ? For all of its faults, Islam promotes family solidarity. What reason is there to reject Islam for Christ if both contribute to building a successful family or financial stability or whatever? My point is that when another ideology is thought to work as well or better than biblical truth there is no motivation to acknowledge Jesus as the way, the truth, and the light. He becomes simply another way that a consumer may try.

Many congregations today assume that seekers are already believers who simply need to "join" a church. There are exceptions, of course. Lee Strobel is perhaps the best known. It is clear, however, that someone took the time to teach him about Jesus. His journalistic mind led him to do his own research about the "case for Christ" and his commitment deepened. He is an exception that proves the rule.

We act as if the majority of Americans know who Jesus is. This is a false assumption. It is strange that even Rick Warren tells people that Christ is not Jesus' last name. Many there are who have heard of Jesus, but few who accept him as the uniquely born Son of God. Few preachers spend much time preaching Christ and Him crucified in the New Testament as did the New Testament Church. Many churches adapt Saddleback's "base path" series of membership classes. I've studied these 100 classes (membership) from churches as diverse as Saddleback, Cherry Lane Christian Church in Idaho, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, First Christian in Canton, and Christ's Church of the Valley in Arizona, and, I confess, I've written a few myself. All of them, even mine, assume the attender knows Christ and is seeking church memb ership. The classes highlight the differences between various churches, how to become a member, how the church does its work, what is vision and goals are, but there is little, if anything, about who Jesus is and why he is Lord and Savior.

In 1843 the teachings of William Miller were exciting the nation. Christians of most denominations, including Walter Scott in the Restoration Movedment, got caught up in the fervor of expecting Christ to return in 1843. Remarking on this, Alexander Campbell questioned Miller's understanding but he went on to say that such preaching was really no motivation for turning to Christ. He wrote that the Gospel had not changed from the moment it was first presented on Pentecost to the present. Preaching to frighten men to respond was not preaching "good news." The good news -- the Gospel -- is still the same as it was in the first century!

In this day when false teachers and worldly skeptics cloud the truth about Jesus, there needs to be a clear voice sounding out the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The so-called Jesus Seminar presents a human Jesus who did much good but who was only a man. The DaVinci Code confused thousands of nominal believers and the biblically illiterate who became convinced Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. There is a resurgence of Gnosticism promoted by Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, both of whom are influential writers and university professors. Not long ago we were told about the discovery of the tomb of Jesus complete with his bones and those of Mary Magdalene. We can no longer assume that someone seeking to unite with a church believes the truth about Jesus. He must be preached. He must be taught!

I'm not opposed to preaching to meet felt needs. Let's just recognize that the greatest need is not always felt. Any person's greatest need is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. The rest of it is encompassed in the "observing of all things" commanded by Christ in the Great Commission. After all, what real motivation is there for the non-Christian to live by biblical principles except pragmatism? Such people are carnal Christians who are "in it" only because it works not because it is true or right.

Think about it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ministry and the Mega Church

Fox News aired an interesting segment Sunday, June 10, about mega churches and ministry. A new book contends mega churches cannot minister to individual needs as well as smaller churches. Let me address that.

First, successful ministry to individuals and families in the smaller church depends greatly on that church's personality. Many small churches never become large because they are not open to meeting a variety of needs and especially the needs of those who are not long term members. Smaller churches -- congregations from 20-400 or more -- often remain small precisely because they are a "closed culture." They see themselves as friendly and concerned and they are: with those they already know!

Second, the mega church becomes large because of a number of factors including individual and family ministry. It is not, as some suppose, merely because they entertain or "put on a show." I know my saying that may surprise some since I've been highly critical of mega churches in some of my previous blogs. Mark my words, the churches depending on "fluff" won't last! Those who successfully "grow smaller as they grow larger" will continue to grow.

Third, too many identify successful ministry to families and individuals with the direct action or ministry of the senior minister. Part of the dynamics that keep smaller or mid-size churches static is the fact that as a congregation grows the senior minister can't be directly involved in every member's lives or meet every member's needs. That doesn't mean he doesn't care and, in my opinion, it doesn't mean he refuses to do ministry (although some do). In a larger church, successful ministry to individuals and families is accomplished through a smaller group. That smaller group may be a Bible School Class, a special needs group of which there can be a huge variety, or even the traditional small group of 8-12 individuals who meet regularly for fellowship, care giving, and Bible study.

Fourth, my criticism of any congregation -- mega church, mid-sized church, or smaller church -- is not related to its size. It is related to several factors including the failure to balance the winning and teaching aspects of disciple making, a tendency to get out of balance on feeling and fact, the tendency to "dumb down" or compromise truth, the failure to recognize the nature of the Christian worldview leading to thinking you can Christianize a worldly perspective by merely changing its descriptive language, a tendency to become a corporate structure with "profit" as the bottom line, and the abandonment of the Restoration Plea, which I believe still has merit and purpose when understood. All of those critiques do not fit every mega church and mega churches, like any church, must be seen as its own entity.

Can mega churches accomplish real ministry? Of course! Do they always do so? No, but neither do smaller churches.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Response to Phenehas

Phenehas took the time to write a lengthy response to "Unity, Our Polar Star." It is worthy of a response. We are not far apart in our thinking, but without interaction there is bound to be some misunderstanding.

1. Special role for evangelists and a special call to ministry. Phenehas suggests God has a special role for those called evangelists or preachers. He also contends they are specially called to ministry. First, let me state unequivocally that role or function does not place anyone in a special or favored position. The preacher, evangelist, pastor or whatever you choose to call him does not stand as God's chosen prophet in the same sense as Jeremiah, Daniel, or Isaiah. He may be a prophet in the sense that he speaks God's Word, but today's prophet has no directly given insight into God's will and may be utterly wrong at times.

Second, spiritual gifting is not equivalent to the concept of a "special call." When a person becomes a Christian, God gives them spiritual gifts. Over the years I have administered various versions of "spiritual gift tests" and found them helpful at times. At best, however, they are human deductions regarding the purpose and nature of spiritual gifts. When I speak of a "special call" to ministry, I speak of those who claim God revealed to them through an experience of some sort -- whether mystical or neo-orthodox encounter -- that they are called to ministry. I repudiate this kind of call as sheer subjectivism.

Third, I stand by my statement that when a person becomes a Christian they are called to ministry. God gifts them for ministry. Nonetheless, there is no "special role" in ministry. When Paul discusses spiritual gifts, he compares the gifts to the parts of the human body. In so doing, he says it is the "weaker" parts of the body that are "indispensable" (1 Corinthians 12:22). All too often the "specially called" clergyman has mistaken tyranny for leadership and seeks special recognition and deference because of his "calling."

2. The work of the Holy Spirit. Phenehas remarks, "Who cares what Campbell taught?" I guess I do, but no more than the average preacher who looks to Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or some other guru. Campbell lived and wrote in an era when subjective feelings ruled in churches. One could not be a member of the average American congregation in 1800 unless you could report an experience with God proving you were among the elect. Such an experience occurred because of the direct action of the Holy Spirit prior to hearing the Gospel. The same type of Holy Spirit direct action was given as evidence of a "call to ministry."

How can one be certain they have received a "call to ministry?" Is a desire to preach a special call? Is the encouragement to preach by brothers and sisters in Christ a special call? Over my years of ministry I have seen too many who claimed a "special call" rip the body of Christ to shreds, fall to immorality, and use people instead of loving people. It seems to me that "whom God calls" he would not permit to "fall into sin." Oh, wait! That's Calvinism!! It is, however, the next logical step in the progression.

3. Mega churches and contracts (covenants). Phenehas says, "Most mega churches I know do not have a membership contract." Oh, let's see! Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria, AZ, has a membership covenant. It is signed after Class 100 and prior to baptism. Saddleback has a membership covenant. It, too, is signed after Class 100. I know that's just two, but every mega church I know about has a membership covenant. It isn't publicized much, but it is presented in the series of classes leading to membership.

4. Mega churches and membership. Phenehas says most mega churches don't have membership. I'm not sure where he gets his information. Christ's Church of the Valley does -- there are about 3,000 members among the 11,000 who gather each week. Saddleback does, and Rick Warren boasts about how many are baptized to become members of that Southern Baptist Church. Willowcreek does and their members meet on Thursday evenings. Southeast Christian Church does! Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY, has members. I don't know of one Christian Church that doesn't have members.

5. On creeds. I'm for "Statements of Faith." The more complete the "Statement of Faith" the better it is, but there is only one question asked when one submits to Christ, "What think you of Christ, whose Son is he?" Furthermore, I didn't say that one had to believe baptism is for the remission of sins. It is! Acts 2:38 is still in my New Testament. I think those who preach, especially if they have a "special call from God," ought to preach the "whole counsel of God" including "baptism for the remission of sins." What others do with it is between them and God! I don't disfellowship or separate from those who differ with me, but I do reserve the right to teach and to be taught.

6. Bob Russell and baptism. I count Bob Russell as an aquaintance. He and I are the same age and graduated from high school in the same year. I have heard him preach, listened to his tapes, and even preached his sermons. I would agree he has never "watered down" teaching on immersion. (By the way, Phenehas, emersion means "coming out of" not "going down into.") I don't have a serious problem with baptism "as part of the process." It clearly is! At the same time, I think others have considered this an opportunity to de-emphasize the nature and purpose of immersion.

7. Problem with mega-churches. Phenehas charges me with pettiness and having a problem with mega-churches. On the contrary. I worked with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, and helped bring it back to mega church status. After doing so, the basis for consideration as a mega church was reconsidered and Canton is now considered an "emerging mega church." I was also on the staff at Christ's Church of the Valley. I have very close friends and colleagues on the staffs of Southland Christian Church, Southeast Christian Church, and other large and growing congregations. I know the hearts of those friends and know they care about the lost and making disciples.

Most of the same problems I'm addressing are found in smaller churches, too. The fact is, that when a church gets larger its successes and blessings become more visible, but so do its faults. It is easier to research the mega church, but in most cases all of the problems of the smaller church are evident in the larger church. Those problems, however, get swallowed up in the sheer numbers present. For example, if 300 people were to get restive at one of our mega churches they could or would (and probably should) leave and their departure would have little effect on the rest. In a church of 500 we would have another opportunity "to start a new church." The attitudes I criticize are just "writ large" in the mega church, but they are also found in those who would sacrifice truth to become something they won't.

Let me give you some examples:
  • Where do we see leaders acting as CEO's?
  • Where do we see "management" rather than "shepherding"?
  • Where do we see "elders as advisors" rather than "shepherds of the flock"?
  • Where do we see "pastors" rather than "preachers" or "ministers"?

Answer: In the larger church (not necessarily the mega church).

To close this meandering response, it strikes me that my friend Phenehas has little sense of history. He thinks his ideas are all his own and new to boot. The problem with that is that all of us have our biases, our perspectives, our world views, our blinders. An awareness of history helps us know who we are.

Phenehas called upon me to "stop quoting Campbell and start following the Bible. Our only guide should be the Bible." I agree heartily. But Paul said, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ." I may follow Campbell (to a degree), but only where I think he accurately expresses biblical truth. I will throw away my Christian-Baptists, Millennial Harbingers and other documents when my brethren dispense with Bill Hybles, Rick Warren, Leonard Sweet, Tony Compolo, all their commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and all other books in their libraries and just take the Bible and the Bible alone!

I do appreciate what Phenehas has written. I invite him to continue to interact and even consider submitting articles to this blog. If he is so interested, I need to have some information so I can open it to his work. I do, however, reserve the right to disagree and to respond to any article or comment.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Step that Needs Taking -- Now!

I don't intend to venture into the realm of politics often, but I feel a need to comment on the recent warnings from our Islamist enemies. A California traitor issued warnings that Al Qaida intends to hit seven American cities in the near future. A Newsmax headline identifies an individual who is responsible for detonating nuclear devices in several American cities. Strange as it may seem to some, the threat of nuclear detonations on American soil is not new to me.

When the 9/11 disaster occurred I was in the church building in Canton. As soon as it became obvious terrorists had taken down those two buildings I noted to my colleagues that I thought we were lucky. I was a tragedy that so many thousands died, but had it been a nuclear device the casualty list could have been in the tens of thousands. Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears portrays a terrorist attack during a Super Bowl played in Denver. The movie version moved the attack to Maryland but it heightened awareness of the damage and casualties a small yield nuclear device could bring.

The United States remains vulnerable to this kind of attack. Some theorize suitcase nuclear devices are already placed. Those responsible for protecting this nation may have plans to counter or retaliate in the event of such a national disaster. Perhaps it is best we not know what strategies are in place. At the same time, those who would use these devices against this country need to know what will happen should they attack.

It is not unique to me, but we need to announce to the Islamic world that nuclear ballistic missiles are targeted at as many as 10 major population centers in those nations that fund or sponsor terror. If a nuclear device detonates in an American city, the terrorists should know that the attack will result in a retaliatory strike against those cities. Included in those cities should be the city of Mecca with its holy shrine. You can be sure one of the cities slated for a strike in the United States will be Washington, D.C. with its seat of government and memorials to the great leaders of the past.

To some this may sound extreme, but it is essentially the same strategy employed during the Cold War. The policy, called MAD, successfully kept the Soviet Union and the United States from launching an attack. MAD (mutually assured destruction) was a reality and both nations knew it. If one launched an attack the other would launch an attack of such a magnitude that it assured the mutual destruction of both nations. Islamists, who have no respect for innocent life, need to know such an attack on the soil of this nation will result in the destruction of their economic, social, governmental, and religious structures.

No one in their right mind wants war especially a war of this magnitude. You may wonder about the ethical problems such a proposal suggests. Keep in mind that Paul says it is the responsibility of the government to protect the good and punish the evil doer (Romans 13). Deterrence is sometimes the only way to accomplish the former while promising the latter. As long as our leaders believe the whole "religion of peace" propaganda we are in desperate danger. Islamists will not be satisfied until, in their own words, the star and crescent flies over every world capital and sharia rules in every land.

Christians and churches must also take seriously the challenge of evangelizing the Muslim world. As Muslim nations line up behind Islamist radicals such efforts will become increasingly difficult, but it needs to be done.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Just some general thoughts

We've been in our beautiful new home in Palm Springs, CA, for nearly two months now. It is time for just a few personal observations.

First, it has been an interesting transition. In some ways it is a venture in faith. We moved before our home in Sun City sold. It still hasn't sold. Existing homes in many locations around the country are moving very slowly in a soft market. Everyone wants a bargain! We're still debating on whether we'll try renting and keep it a while as an investment property or continue to try and sell it. We're learning to trust and we're re-learning patience. We may take the house off the market for a time and relist it later. We're just not sure.

Second, God continues to provide. The relocation and issue with the house is just one part of the whole. We relocated to southern California not knowing what kind of income we'd have or exactly how we'd get along. Our son is investing heavily in our home so that is a big help. In fact, we couldn't do it if he weren't doing this. At the same time, doors keep opening. I'm continuing my online teaching with the Consortium. I was hired by one of our Christian Colleges to develop and teach two online courses and I'm waiting to hear from a second school about teaching three online courses for them. In addition, I was recently added to the Mentor Panel for the Londen Institute. My wife signed on with AccounTemps here at was recently assigned to a job in a nearby community at very good wages. While the job is only temporary, it helps immensely.

On another note, I was trying to find out how to get permissions to use clips from the video "Wrestling With God," the story of Alexander Campbell, and my efforts connected me to Jerry Jackson who owns the rights. He is wanting to see the video utilized in education but I'm really the first to ask about using it in eLearning courses with substantial clips. He recently phoned me and we have agreed to brainstorm ways the video could be used. He is already arranging through Warner Brothers to have the video converted to a DVD format. That in itself will make it easier to select and format clips.

Third, the change in circumstances has given me more time for communicating with my students, preparing material for use online, and writing. It still isn't what I hope it will be (I'm still trying to organize our garage), but we are beginning to develop a routine and every step in that direction means life gets simpler.

Fourth, we really are enjoying the opportunity to be near our grandchildren. We get to see our grandson play little league baseball. We get to see our grand daughter grow and develop (she's just 2). Our two other grandchildren who live in the St. Louis area spend designated times with their dad and, for the first time, we get to see them when they come.

Neither of us know how the future is going to work out. But we know the One in whom "all things work together for good."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Unity, Our Polar Star?

Whoever wrote "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" included a statement indicating that the presbytery's members should "sink into union with the body of Christ at large." Some segments of the Restoration Movement are well on the way to attaining that goal. There is little left to distinguishing many of "our" mega churches with the principles of the Restoration Movement. They are becoming identical with the contemporary evangelical church. You want evidence? Well, okay!

1. Insistence on the use of titles elevating and distinguishing "the clergy." Barton W. Stone and his followers had a more elevated view of the ministry than the Disciples. (I use the term Disciple in the same way Alexander Campbell used it. I am not using it in the way the Disciples of Christ denomination uses it.) The Kentucky Christians believed only ordained clergy could baptize or preside at the Lord's Supper. Campbell held to the "priesthood of all believers" insisting anyone could preach, baptize, or preside at the table. That difference created tension in the Kentucky congregations where the two movements first united. It took some time before Campbell's view won out. As it did, the use of unscriptural titles such as Doctor or Reverend or Pastor disappeared replaced by Elder, Bishop, or, in the case of aged leaders such as Thomas Campbell, Father. The term Father, however, never carried with it the Roman Catholic concept inherent in it. Today "our" churches are almost universally using the title Pastor to denote the clergy and it is done without concern for the biblical meaning of the term. The poimene in Scripture simply denotes one elder in a plurality of elders. Furthermore, the use of the title Doctor is also emphasized. I don't mind the use of that term for someone who has an "earned doctorate" when used in academic circles. There it applies to academic achievements. It is interesting, though, that most of those I've known over the years who have earned Ph.D. or D.Min. degrees haven't flaunted their degrees. Contemporary preachers, however, flaunt those degrees for the prestige they provide and the measure of separation from the average member that comes with it.

2. The insistence on a supernatural call to the ministry. While early leaders in the Restoration Movement certainly believed in the activity of the Holy Spirit, few, if any, held to the idea that God specially called individuals to ministry. Some who did hold that view left it in the dust when they bailed out of their Calvinist denominations. In the last score of years, however, there is a resurgence of the idea of a special call. I grew up in Christ being taught that "a call to ministry" involved the individual seeing a need and moving to meet it. There was no special call. This was an evangelical idea tied to Calvinism's idea of the direct impact of the Holy Spirit.

Alexander Campbell rightly taught, in my view, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word for salvation and sanctification. Campbell never taught that the Holy Spirit did not work in other ways, but he always worked through Scripture to bring a person to faith. Calvinism taught that man, without the direct action of the Holy Spirit, was incapable of belief. It took regeneration and a special "gift of faith" to lead to conversion. The Holy Spirit's call through Scripture to become a disciple was a call to ministry. God calls all believers to ministry. There is no special supernatural call to ministry.

It is my conviction that God gifts his people in various ways. God gifts some to teach and some to proclaim (gift of prophecy). But all Christians are called to ministry.

It is sheer evangelical subjectivism that claims a special call to ministry. Leaders in the movement are back to using "the special call" as another way to position themselves as a special clergy.

3. The use of creeds for the purpose of maintaining unity. These creeds aren't called creeds any more, they are called Statements of Faith. Thomas Campbell said creeds were sometimes useful. In fact, he said, the more complete they are the better they are. The genius of the Restoration Movement, however, was the idea that individuals could exist in community with a diversity of ideas or views as long as they were united on the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture. Today, however, most of our mega churches have a written Statement of Faith and they are used "to make sure everyone is on the same page."

The purpose of creeds, whether the Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, or even the Westminster Confession of Faith was to assure that all orthodox Christians "were on the same page." What those creeds actually did was create division with those who disagreed with part or all of the creedal statements. There was only one creed in the first century church: I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That's it! There was room for discussion, for debate, and speculation was not made an issue. Take the case of Aylette Raines, or example. Raines held the view that in time God would save the entire human race. He was a Universalist. He wasn't liberal nor did he deny Scripture or the lordship of Christ. He simply thought God would save all men. This upset a lot of those in the movement, but the Campbells defended him. Eventually Raines surrendered his speculation on this. Or, take the case of Barton W. Stone. Stone was, from start to finish, an Arian in his view of Christ. He and Campbell debated the nature of Christ in their journals but Stone eventually gave up his public speculation while privately retaining his views.

Most mega churches, and others, too, require members to sign a membership covenant. I see some value to this, particularly in our day when lawsuits are so prevalent, but there is an inherent danger in such statements. Perhaps if we required biblical morality and practiced biblical discipline such statements would be unnecessary. Why do more than Scripture requires? Hold to the biblical standard, let members know they will be held to the biblical standard, and then do it!

4. The deemphasis of the Lord's Supper. The Christian Standard recently reported that congregations are no longer emphasizing the centrality of the Lord's Supper in worship. Following the lead of Willowcreek Community Church, the Lord's Day gathering has become an evangelistic outreach rather than a time of worship. It may still be called worship, but it isn't! How can you expect unbelieving "seekers" to worship what they don't believe or understand? You can't! Okay, so some of those who come together on the Lord's Day are believers, but they are seeking a church home. Then why relegate the Lord's Supper to a place of unimportance? Let's admt it, those who come from the world out of curiosity can't and don't worship. They may sing the words and listen to the preaching, but that isn't worship! Worship isn't a "service" any way. Worship occurs in the heart and is dedicated to glorifying God. I believe the Lord's Supper is part of that process. By the way, I think that's why the eary church observed the Lord's Supper daily and that's why the Roman Catholic Church continues that tradition its daily Mass.

Some of you may wonder why I've made such an issue out of this. Central Christian Church in Henderson, Nevada, is just one mega church that has relegated the Lord's Supper to something secondary and unimportant. Oh, if you believe it is important, you can still observe the Supper in another room after a service. That makes the gathering in the main auditorium less offensive to the seeker (the unbeliever). Technically it is still there, but it isn't in the service. If there is nothing special about the Lord's Supper, then why bother? Observe it monthly or quarterly or annually and make sure only believers partake by quizzing them prior to the observance and give them a token to present so an unbeliever isn't mistakenly served!

If you attend a gathering at Central Christian Church, then, there is nothing that indicates it is anything by an average evangelical church. A large one, to be sure, but it is indistinguishable from Willowcreek (maybe that's why Gene Appel could go there), Saddleback, or Ginghamsburg.

5. The rejection of baptism for the remission of sins. The Republican Methodists and the New England Christians never quite bought into the idea that baptism was for the remission of sins. The Republican Methodists -- later the Christian Church -- remained sprinklers. William Guirey challenged that view but O'Kelly drove him out. The New England Christians immersed. After all, both Smith and Jones came out of a Baptist heritage. While they immersed, however, they never got the idea it was for the remission of sins. The Kentucky Christians didn't get it either for a while. Stone and others continued the Presbyterian "anxious seat" for some time even after they began practicing immersion. The Campbells didn't start out teaching this biblical doctrine either. In fact, it wasn't until the MacCalla debate that Campbell enunciated the biblical statement found in Acts 2:38 that "baptism was unto the remission of sins." After the union of the Kentucky Christians and Disciples the Kentucky Christians began preaching this thanks to the work of John Rogers and B.F. Hall. That baptism was for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit was normal until the beginning of the 1980s.

In the 1980s, one of "our" congregations was well on its way to attaining mega church status. Southeast Christian Church had moved from one structure on Hikes Lane to its second building just a few blocks away. Coincidental with that move, the Southern Baptist Convention was undergoing controversy over the issue of biblical inerrancy. Southern Baptists by the thousands left their Baptist Churches in Louisville and throughout the country. Southeast Christian Church experienced an influx of new members from the Baptist churches in Louiville. Bob Russell, believing he needed to do some teaching on "our views," designed a series of sermons for that purpose. He spoke about avoiding denominationalism, the doctrine of once saved always saved, and the plan of salvation. Rather than teaching that baptism was unto the remission of sins, Russell approached the subject more as Campbell did in "The Lunenburg Letter" correspondence in the Millennial Harbinger. He emphasized that baptism provided the assurance of salvation avoiding the idea that it was the time of formal salvation. He used an analogy of a wedding. He asked, when is one married? Is a couple married when the become engaged, when they express their vows, when they exchange rings, when the minister proclaims them husband and wife, or in the marriage bed. Russell said that we normally don't worry about it, we simply rejoice with the couple in their marriage. So it ought to be with salvation. Does it occur when a person believes, repents, confesses, or is baptized? It doesn't matter. We rejoice in the new birth of an individual.

From that time on, baptism became "part of the process of salvation." Because the process concept is innocuous and isn't offensive, preachers adopted it as their approach to the baptism question. The Statement of Faith at Christ's Church of the Valley simply includes baptism as part of the process and "has something to do with salvation." I did a survey after last year's listing of "our" mega churches in the Christian Standard and that is the approach of a majority of the mega churhes listed.

Frankly, I don't have a problem with the statement that baptism is part of a process. It is! But I do object to the tendency to avoid teaching that baptism is unto the remission of sins. No matter what the evangelical world thinks, Acts 2:38 is still found in Scripture. It is so inconvenient to try to explain the difference between real and formal washing away of sins. It is also inconvenient to have to explain that we don't know what God intends to do with the pious unimmersed. I have an opinion about it, but I simply don't know because Scripture doesn't say. Just because something is inconvenient, however, is no reason not to teach the fullness of biblical truth!

6. The development of the corporate leadership model. Restoration Movement churches traditionally followed the American legislative model with two houses -- elders and deacons. Alexander Campbell defended this organizational structure primarily because he as an immigrant was enamored with the government's bicameral legislative model. Thus, early restorationists opted for a congregational, almost republican structure, with elected representatives. Campbell's myopia caused him to forget the church is a kingdom, not a representative democracy. It is a kingdom with delegated responsibility to elders with servants or ministers known as deacons. Over the years, this has taken a variety of expressions until the elders and deacons, and sometimes trustees, combined to form a board. The church board finalized decisions.

While some congregations today have returned to elder leadership, they have done so with the elders constituted as a virtual advisory board rather than the overseers or superintendents God's Word requires. The minister has become the congregational equivalent of the Chief Executive Officer. This, too, is unscriptural and has gone a long way toward separating the "clergy" and "laity."

Nearly every evangelical denomination has moved in this direction. Francis A. Schaeffer taught in the mid-1970s that for a church to be a biblical church it needed to be an elder led congregation. He is right. The idea, however, that the elders are merely advisors who make five percent of the decisions and leave the other 95 percent to the "clergy" is simply not biblical.

Over the last 20 years or so, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have "merged into the church at large" more than ever before. They have done so, however, by giving up major portions of the goals of the Restoration Movement. It has come by compromise rather than conviction. No longer do our leaders speak of "doing Bible things in Bible ways," or "using Bible terms to describe Bible things." As a result, we are now "speaking the language of Ashdod."

Campbell had no vision of all the denominations melting into one super church. In fact, he envisioned the opposite. He thought the denominations would meander on their merry way in their sectarian and unscriptural directions maintained by their creeds and their clergy.

By the time Pardee Butler roamed Kansas, however, he believed that in time all the denominations would indeed melt together. Butler was a second generation evangelist and abolitionist in Kansas.

The melting (or melding) process is well underway, but it is at the price of compromising a heritage that called for unity based on biblical authority. Biblical authority is today sacrifice for evangelical acceptance. And, quite frankly, that is a shame!

Monday, February 19, 2007

After Three Years

After more than three years of this blog, it is time to take stock and answer some questions. It amazes me how many stumble across these babblings. Some respond. A few ask for clarification or to seek permission to use something I've written. Others chastise me for my "legalism" or my "old fogey" ideas. All in all, it's been interesting.

To those who think I'm old, perhaps I am. Some cultures, you know, value the wisdom that often accompanies age. To those who think new ideas and thoughts are "with it" and more current, I want to remind you that "the newer the truer" is rarely so. Is the corporate structure of today's mega church more faithful to God's Word than the simple oversight of New Testament elders in the first century? I doubt it! Some think today's Christians must identify with their culture, but when does identification surpass understanding to accommodation?

I think most of the responses I've gotten came over the several entries I wrote concerning baptism. My position in those entries is clear: baptism is immersion in water for the remission of sins. I believe two things happen at the time of baptism. First, baptism in water is a clear and precise picture of one's faith in Christ who died, was buried, and who rose again. In baptism, the believer identifies with Christ, is united to Christ, and it is the time when one's sins are formally remitted. Second, concurrent with water baptism is the "baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit who accomplishes the cleansing of the individual not the water.

Having said this, let me respond to some questions submitted some time ago by a Royce Ogle, an occasional reader of this site.

1. In your understanding of the doctrine of salvation must one have faith in baptism as well as faith in Christ? Faith is always directed to Christ. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Because a person trusts Jesus to do what he says, it is always proper to demonstrate that confidence by doing what he tells you to do. The "doing" is an indication of the depth of one's faith in Christ.

2. Is baptism faith? According to the Apostle Paul, faith is "being fully persuaded that God had (has) power to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:21). In Romans 4, Abraham trusted God to the extent he was willing to go into his wife so to conceive a son even though he and she were both past the age of child bearing. Hebrews 11:1 provides us with a description of faith. In the verses that follow, one can easily see that faith always produces an obedient result.

3. Is baptism mechanical? Or, to ask another way; Is every person who is immersed saved? The answer to this question should be fairly obvious. One is not saved by baptism (strictly speaking), one is saved at baptism. It is faith that saves. Therefore, if one is immersed but is devoid of faith it is an invalid act. The same can be said of repentance which is also a response of faith (see Acts 2:38) or confession (Romans 10:8, 9).

4. Why have so many coC folks been immersed more than once? If baptism saves why do it more than once? I have ministered for more than 40 years and have only seen a handful baptized more than once. On occasion, those immersed at a very young age came to question the nature of their response. Some think they responded only because others did so and they "joined the crowd." Others have the erroneous idea that sin separates them from God and thus they need rebaptism. In most cases, I refused to baptize someone a second time. On rare occasions, however, I have done so only because it provided comfort. By the way, I do not save "baptism saves you," Peter does (see 1 Peter 3:20-22).

5. If I adopt the historical view of baptism as taught by Restoration churches must I not conclude that everyone else who believes otherwise is lost? Of course not. The clear teaching of Scripture is that God holds people accountable for what they know or understand. Although it took hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church gradually adopted sprinkling or pouring in place of immersion. Tradition and Canon Law took precedence over Scripture. What will God do with all of those who were never immersed? I do not know! The
Bible does not tell us.
My opinion is that God takes the intent for the act. After all, salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). In other words, in my opinion, the person who trusts Jesus but mistakenly responds through no fault of his own, is right with God. On the other hand, those who understand what the Scripture says but rejects it or refuses to obey are another case.

6. Just to stir our thinking... If when you get to heaven you discover God loved sinners more than you and I and wanted to save sinners more than you and I want them saved, and in fact did save everyone who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, would it be ok with you and me? Whatever God chooses to do is fine with me! In fact, in some ways I hope God goes far beyond my understanding. I think I expressed that in another way in question 5 as well. I fully expect to see some in heaven I don't expect to be there and I also expect not see see some I expect to be there.

I guess what bothers me about the current state of affairs in the Restoration Movement is the tendency of many to become "baptismal agnostics." In spite of Scriptures clear teaching that remission of sins occurs at baptism (Acts 2:38), that one puts on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3:25, 26), that baptism saves (1 Peter 3:20-22), that baptism is a transition point between spiritual death and spiritual life (Romans 6, Colossians 2:11, 12), that sins are washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16), and that baptism is a part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), there are those who say, "We aren't sure about the place of baptism!" In a rush to avoid the denominational accusation that we are "water regenerationists," we are no longer willing to give a biblical answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" What's worse, many of those graduating from our Bible Colleges no longer know the answer to that question either.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Substance vs Style

Maybe we're turning the corner -- maybe not!

The most recent issue of Leadership Journal featured a few interesting snippets showing that the days where style outranks substance may be ending. In an article titled, "Youth Ministry Gets Serious," Sam O'Neal pointed out that research shows many of today's teens want substance rather than entertainment and shallow teaching. According to O'Neal, the emphasis on "Jesus Light" left teens unable to differentiate between gospel and the pop-culture box they received it in. In addition, Time magazine reported some churches are now focusing more on teaching. Good! It is about time. The article gave two examples of youth groups that grew numerically and spiritually because they emphasized strong biblical teaching including doses of doctrine and adult mentoring.

I wonder if the fact that youth ministry in the late twentieth century existed by presenting "Jesus Light" has any relationship to the lack of spiritual hunger or depth in today's younger baby boomer or older Gen-x crowd. Hmmm!

The same Leadership issue also contained feedback from Tony Morgan's blog (www.TonyMorganLive.com). Stuart Briscoe, now 75 years of age, said, "We don't need to make truth relevant. We need to show and explain and apply it in all its Spirit-empowered relevance and see transformation happen." Briscoe also pointed to Europe and our own nation's founding documents. Nearly every European village and city is filled with chapels, cathedrals, or churches but they are empty. The present generation has nearly abandoned the American founding documents by trying to reinterpret them to make them relevant. Briscoe wrote, "Those who built the cathedrals and wrote the founding documents were not seeking to be 'relevant'; they were showing the relevance of an unchanging truth to those who needed to know it." Truth is always relevant! But I think we've so reinterpreted the truth to make it acceptable that it is no longer relevant. Further, once it becomes irrelevant it dies.

Now lest you think this is simply the meandering cogitations of a couple of old fogeys who no longer know what is happening or going on, as some of my readers sometimes do, I want to remind you that Briscoe has been a "with it" observer and participant in churches for 55 years. Furthermore, Leadership cited a reader 50 years Briscoe's junior (that makes him 25 for those of you educated in the new math) saying, "Stuart said (more eloquently than I ever could) pretty much what I have been thinking. Then the writer asked, "[Is there] anything a church has done before some company in the marketplace has done it?"

In a sidebar in an article entitled, "We Aren't About the Weekends," Bob Roberts had this to say, "I'm unlearning ... the assumption that 'Christian' is defined primarily as acknowledging a moment of conversion. Becoming a follower of Jesus depends on what happens after that."

Having said all of that, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Christians need to get past "style" and focus on "substance." When I say substance, I don't mean simply the learning of facts and information. There is some of that, to be sure. Christians need an understanding of doctrine, biblical history, and Scripture's moral teaching. Accumulating those things in one's overheated brain means nothing, however, if the individual is unable to use or apply them. If knowledge is accumulated for the sake of knowledge, that's wrong! But doing just for the sake of doing is just as wrong! Why? Because it is uninformed and ends up being a shotgun approach. James wrote, "Faith without works is dead." I can say, "Knowledge without application is dead!" I've been judged as "too academic" because I believe Christians should learn more than "the milk of the Word." But I believer greater understanding should lead to greater action!

Think about it!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Demotion of Doctrine?

Bill Pyle ministers in Los Angeles working in the inner city. I’ve met Bill and found him to be astute and interesting. Each month he publishes “Heartbeat,” a four-page newsletter filled with insights and newsy topics. I’ve found his perspective on today’s church and the trends affecting it to be most enlightening. I haven’t asked Bill for permission, but I want to share an essay from his most recent issue, Issue 208, January 2007.


If its dead, we know what killed it: the old cliché, “Doctrine divides, love unites.” Hat supposed verity surfaces every time people of god will disagree on some biblical doctrine. It is axiomatic for those willing to unite on the least common denominators, but not for truth seekers. Truth seekers believe love of truth can also unite. They believe unity that discounts or disregards truth is no unity at all. Union perhaps, but not unity.

Biblical doctrine is harsh, and if the goal of today’s church is to remove all the biblical barbs that might impede church growth, then biblical doctrine is a problem. And if you’ve noticed on church websites, many churches’ doctrinal statements are either

· Brief
· Vague
· Slippery, or
· Non-existent.

One has to be a detective to find out what the church believes about original sin, predestination, repentance, the Lord’s Supper, or baptism.

Once we discovered grace, the question arose: Is perfect behavior necessary for salvation? The answer is obvious, since we never reach perfect behavior. But that doesn’t mean Christian behavior, godly obedience, is unnecessary. Unless we believe “once saved always saved,” we understand that our ungodly living or willful disobedience puts our salvation in jeopardy. Many passages make this clear, as we shall see.

But then, another question arose: To be saved must our doctrinal understanding be perfect? Of course, the answer again is no. But this doesn’t mean doctrine is unimportant, nor that incorrect doctrine is inconsequential, as we shall see in the passages cited later in this place.

We seem to have given up large pieces of ground with regard to acceptable behavior for Christians; so much so that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian. Now what will we do with the demotion of biblical doctrine to a place of relative unimportance in the modern church culture?

How bad is it, really? If one is scrupulous about doctrine, he is seen as picky at best or prickly at worst. Picture this. A seeker attends a seeker-sensitive church, and at the door afterwards engages the pastor with questions about free will. Many pastors give a brief answer, some will give a vague or slippery answer, and some will say we don’t hold a position on that doctrine. It is just not pastorally correct today to discourage a seeker with an answer that would sound dogmatic.

Let us say it unequivocally: the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace in no way conflicts with other Bible doctrines, nor does it depreciate them. There is no “hierarchy of doctrines” in Scripture. Either we submit to all Bible doctrines, or we reject them all, and opt for a feelings-based faith. We need not even refer to Scripture for guidance in understanding and living out the doctrine of love. (Yes, there is a biblical doctrine of love.)
What did the Bible writers say about the importance of their teachings? Did they consider them opinions? Points for debate? Relatively unimportant? Hear from them:
  • “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9, KJV).
  • “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 29:29, 30).
  • “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17).
  • “We are not as many, which corrupt the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17, KJV).
  • “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:6-8).
  • “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 1:3).
  • “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves… Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1, 3b).

Correct understanding and teaching of God’s commands has always been required of God’s leaders. The purveyors of false doctrine in the Old Testament, the prophets and priests, the very teachers God had set among his people, were excoriated in many passages like this one: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, no from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you’” (Jeremiah 23:16, 17).
What will we do with those passages (and a dozen more we might have cited)? First, they make us realize that doctrine matters. Second, they drive us to admit that there is false doctrine among us, and it must be confronted and condemned. To do any less is to make a mockery of the 19 New Testament books that are primarily doctrine (teaching).

If doctrine is being demoted in the interests of church growth, unity, peace, or any other seemingly worthwhile reason, we need to commit ourselves to preaching all the gospel and teaching all the Word.

So writes Bill Pyle. He is right! I’ve seen it firsthand and know that those who “demote” doctrine do so thinking they are practicing the principles of the Restoration Movement summed up in the adage, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things love.” I believe that adage is an excellent guiding principle, but I do not believe it limits the search for truth. Besides, every one of us has our own list of essentials. It used to be that the essentials could be summed up as belief in Jesus and whatever it takes to unite an individual to him. Alexander Campbell said it this way, “The belief of one essential fact – that Jesus is Lord – and obedience to one essential act – baptism resulting from trust in Jesus. For many, the essential element is “belief in Jesus.” Obedience to Christ in all things is relegated to the non-essential. But can belief without obedience to biblical commands save you? James tells us demons believe! Jesus linked love for him with obedience to him. If that is so—and it is—we neglect a search for truth at our own risk. For, you see, truth not apprehended and lived out is not truth.