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Biblical Evaluation of ‘church’ in America – Pt. 2

Eerily reminiscent of a movie I saw when I was a teenager, the “worship” band at a local contemporary, seeker-friendly, culture-relevant church hits the stage.

In the last post, I acknowledged that there’s really nothing more I can add to the volumes of critiques written about the phenomena known as the contemporary church in America. Having been recently challenged, however, to evaluate a local gathering of a seeker-friendly, culture-relevant youth group in terms of an adherence to biblical standards, I’m writing this series of articles in the hopes that, as the title of this blog suggests, those who are thirsty for God, the truth, and His way of salvation and holy living, may be similarly challenged to weigh their involvement in such groups according to the standards of the Bible.

It is also my intent to try to avoid any arguments that may provide a young person the opportunity to claim that I don’t like his youth group simply because of my age and any perceived generation gap. The goal will be to earnestly evaluate any group or meeting based entirely on whether or not it can be said of it that it honors God because it meets and acts in ways endorsed, prescribed, and/or dictated by the Bible, which is our entire rule of life.

The Mother Ship in the 70's film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Where does one begin? There are several aspects of such a meeting that should be examined individually, perhaps, but certain aspects overshadow others. By itself, the preaching at this youth group had some very good points. The young man who is the pastor jumped right in by saying that his was not a “drive-by” message. By that, I presume that he meant that what he was going to say should be taken simply as a spiritual “fix-it-and-make-it-feel-better” kind of therapy talk, but would deal with a transcendent topic, “Who God Is.” This subject, the person of God, should inform every other area of our lives, and in fact, God, because of who He is, demands and deserves control of your life. The content and delivery of the sermon, however, will have to wait for an upcoming post so as not to make these posts huge.

We’ll have to begin with the medium in which the whole experience occurred, for in our culture especially, the medium IS the message. What do I mean by, “The medium IS the message?” Essentially, it is that whatever medium is used to deliver any message becomes the foundation of the message itself. For example, imagine you were in the middle of Iran and witnessed someone like Kenneth Copeland or Benny Hinn show up to conduct a “crusade.” You would see them arrive in their personal,

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

multi-million dollar, private jet, be shuttled to the arena in their hired limosine, and take to the stage dressed in their $3000 suits. Now, to make the picture really complete, imagine that before the sermon, there was a testimony time and the speaker, giving her testimony of how Jesus is her savior and Lord, was none other than Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California who blew her opportunity to become Miss America because of her politically-incorrect answer at last year’s top beauty pageant.

Why have I conjured up such a ridiculous scenario? Well, before I get to the biblical evaluation of such meetings, I have to first establish that the format and the container of any message will convey something important about the message. In such a situation, it wouldn’t matter at all what the message was. Miss Prejean and the preacher could preach a very sound message, but the container of that message would convey something entirely different to the Iranian audience. In fact, it would actually be worse if they connected the preaching of God’s word to the container I have presented in my hypothetical situation because it would further ingrain into the minds of the hearers that Christianity is immoral, covetous, sensuous, and wicked. If the message were doctrinally sound, would they perceive such a thing by the words spoken? No, it would be gained from the way it was presented.

Unfortunately, our culture is really in the driver’s seat right now when it comes to dictating how the church’s messages are delivered, and, as Henry Van Til said, “Culture is religion externalized and made explicit.” What does that mean? It means, simply, that that which man worships in his heart is made evident by the things he values and does. A culture is the ideas, customs, arts, and skills of any people which are transferred and communicated to the next generation.

We’ll examine the medium used to deliver the message to the contemporary, seeker-friendly, culture-relevant church and see if it aligns more closely with our culture or with scripture in Part 3.

Thanks for reading.

-Tracy

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Biblical Evaluation of “church” in America, pt. 1

Dozens of authors and bloggers have already weighed in their opinions on “what’s wrong with the American church,” and it really seems that any further additions will be superfluous. Last week, however, I happened to see this video parody, and it made me curious.

25 years ago, I began attending a local church which, at the time, had about 150 people. Today, it is a full-blown megachurch, boasting 14,000 members (though in actuality, those numbers probably take into account anyone who has ever been there, not those who currently attend – IMO).

Since it’s been about 16 years since I attended this church, and I have since been in very small, and very conservative  assemblies, I thought I would check out their “young people’s group” on Friday night. Even though I felt like I could have probably scripted the entire meeting just from having attended there for 9 years, and from seeing  the volumes of videos on the Internet, there were 2 reasons compelling me to attend. One reason was for my own personal amusement. I wanted to see how closely this group’s meeting aligned with the parody video I referenced above. The other reason was to be able to speak intelligently to any young person, especially my own 6 children, about what I think is good and what is wrong with such a meeting. Or, to put it more correctly, what I see that is biblical, and what I see that is not biblical. It didn’t seem right to be confronted by someone saying, “Oh, well you’ve never been there, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Wrong. Been there.

Admittedly, I have not been there consistently, and I don’t plan to be a regular attender, so there is the potential that what I observed could be “out of context,” but, I’m pretty confident that what happened there last Friday was representative of a typical Friday night’s meeting. All in all, though, I hope to engage young people on a scriptural basis. Hopefully, there may be some young people out there who are willing to sift through scripture to see if their meeting lines up with what pleases God and with what He has established as a pattern for us in our worship and service of Him. This should, in theory, avoid the accusation, “You don’t like it because you’re old,” or “It’s not part of your generation, so you won’t be able to relate.” Since the Word of God transcends generations, and concepts of young and old, we should be able to evaluate a meeting like this, or any other meeting, for that matter, even a very small, very conservative one.

To be continued in “Biblical Evaluation of ‘church’ in America, Part 2.”

Thanks for reading.

-Tracy

The New Calvinism… I don’t like it

One of the neo-Calvinist preachers wearing his appropriately-themed pulpit attire

One of the neo-Calvinist preachers wearing his appropriately-themed pulpit attire

The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London was once the pastoral home of C. H. Spurgeon, one of the last in the line of exceptional English preachers/pastors. Spurgeon published a periodical called The Sword & The Trowel. Today, that publication is once again carried on by those at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and it appears that they are striving to retain some of the spirit and zeal of their famous predecesor, Mr. Spurgeon.

Though I would not categorize myself as a Calvinist, I do consider this to be a worthwhile article. There are many who do not accept the label of Calvinist because we do not adhere to many of the other tenets of Calvin’s teachings, however those things which are typically considered to be the Doctrines of Grace are believed to be scriptural, and therefore, we usually get labeled as Calvinists.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Master’s article.

When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.

But now, it appears, there is a new Calvinism, with new Calvinists, which has swept the old objectives aside…

You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.

I could not agree more with Dr. Masters and hope that this new “breed” of Calvinists soon pass away in the graveyard of “relevance.”

You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.

Final thoughts on Miss California

From “The Lawman Chronicles

One woman dances in a “gentlemen’s club,” in a seedy part of town. Another woman is a model and participates in “beauty” pageants on the world’s stages. Both disrobe for money. Yet many Christians would say the former needs Christ while, at the same time, they prop up the latter as a Christian role model. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in that?

-Tracy

Fireproof – thoughts

After hearing about this movie for months, and hearing about how great it is, I finally broke down and watched it last night. I will say up front that it was an entertaining film and absolutely had a “feel-good” message that is easy to want to identify with. I must say, however, that I’m glad that I didn’t buy it or rent it.

You can view the whole movie online at YouTube in 10 minute segments beginning here.

Several decades ago, A. W. Tozer wrote a little piece called, “The Menance of the Religious Movie.”

Within the last few years a new method has been invented for imparting spiritual knowledge; or, to be more accurate, it is not new at all, but is an adaptation of a gadget of some years standing, one which by its origin and background belongs not to the Church but to the world. Some within the fold of the Church have thrown their mantle over it, have “blessed it with a text” and are now trying to show that it is the very gift of God for our day. But, however eloquent the sales talk, it is an unauthorized addition nevertheless, and was never a part of the pattern shown us on the mount.

I refer, of course, to the religious movie.

Fireproof fits many of the descriptions contained within Tozer’s message: bad acting, unprofessional cinemagraphic techniques, simplistic storyline, and, worst of all, a weak gospel presentation. By a weak gospel presentation I mean that the presentation of Christ and His work became simply a means for Caleb to salvage his marriage. In the producers’ last movie, Facing the Giants, the message of God’s redemptive plan seems to been made a method to win football games, gain self-confidence, resolve fertility problems, and improve material “blessings.”

It was note-worthy that the name of Christ was not mentioned at all in Fireproof. Additionally, Caleb’s Christian walk seemed represented solely by reading the “Love Dare” book. We never see him turning to the Bible for help, nor do we see him in the proper Christian context of a scripturally-sound local assembly as he tries to get established in his faith. Everything seems to revolve around the Love Dare book, and how that will help him save his marriage.

Lastly, true to Hollywood-esque stories, everything was resolved for him, and he lived happily ever after, and the whole process only took 43 days. That presents an unrealistic view of how things will proceed if you “accept” Christ.

Questions I would have for the producers of Fireproof, and Kirk Cameron.

  1. Why was there no real gospel presentation to the Caleb Holt character?
  2. Where was any mention of Jesus Christ (the only name given under heaven whereby we may be saved?)
  3. Where was the influence of the scriptures in Caleb’s life?
  4. Why leave the impression that all will be well in life if you just give your life to God?
  5. When Caleb supposedly got “saved,” why was it referred to in the movie as being “in”? Caleb asked Mike about his faith, and said, “I’m in.”
    Where was any mention of being born-again or conversion or salvation? What does being “in” mean?

Imagine a possible real-life scenario with me.
Caleb gets “saved” by the presentation that says he knows he needs to get his life straightened out and salvage his marriage, so he needs to ask God’s forgiveness for the bad things he’s done.

He continues to try to do the things in the “Love Dare” book, but his wife continues to reject him. She tells him, “I want to make this very clear. I don’t love you.”

He finishes the 40 days of Love Dare, and at the end of it, heads to the courthouse where the divorce is made final. His ex-wife has taken the house, the cars, and the court has imposed a hefty alimony payment upon Caleb. Caleb struggles to make the alimony payments and lives the rest of his life trying to make ends meet. Caleb struggles with depression because “God let him down,” and he gives up on this “Christian stuff” after a couple of years.

Why was he set up to fail in his Christian walk, and how can I invent such a scenario? First, he was set up to fail because his situation was made the motivator for becoming a Christian. Curiously, Kirk Cameron, in his work with The Way of the Master even preaches against this very type of gospel presentation because of the failure it inevitably produces.

Second, how can I imagine sucha a scenario happening? Because I have seen it happen. I personally know people who have “received” such a gospel, and then when persecution or trials or troubles arise, as they always do, they question why God would let such a thing happen to them and the insincerity of their profession is revealed and they fall away. A friend of mine from high school went through something similar. When I knew him in school, he led a wicked life, but then he had an experience with something that led him to believe that he was a Christian. He even then got a job at Focus on the Family. But soon after, he became disillusioned with his Christian life, left his wife and children, then went deeply back into his life of sin. He recently committed suicide.

My purpose in writing is not to bash Fireproof. I admit, it was entertaining, and I did like the message of saving marriages. Again, however, as Mr. Tozer says, The religious movie embodies the mischievous notion that religion is, or can be made, a form of entertainment.”

Tracy

p.s. Did anyone else catch the subtle idea of the main characters’ names? Caleb is a derivative of a Hebrew word for “dog,” while the name of his wife was Katherine, and her nickname was “Kat.”