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.