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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

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.

Happy Earth Day

Did you all get out to your local Earth Day celebrations and hug some trees?

Here’s a video which, I think, is part of a Discovery Channel documentary that may surprise you depending on how “in-touch” you are with the earth-worship movement. It certainly took me by surprise to see the level devotion in these people.

These people are good examples of what happens when someone abandons the worship of the One True God in exchange for worship of the creature. As Romans 1 puts it, they “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

BUT, before we affix labels to these people (such as “dirt-worshippers,” “wackos,” etc.), let’s remember that they are a local mission opportunity. These are eternal souls, and if we alienate them by disdainful rhetoric, we will lose possible open doors with them. Can you imagine a missionary in India publicly referring to the Hindus among whom he works as “wackos?” What kind of reception would he receive with them? When we speak of people like this we reveal that we are far more influenced in our worldview by Rush, Sean, and Glenn than by Christ.

An interesting side-note is that there IS a responsible stewardship of our planet, and man has made havoc with the natural balance that should be there. These people recognize that fact, but have obviously taken it to an unnatural worship of the very things they want to protect.

Blessings,

Tracy
The Colorado Springs Photographer

Does God Rock?

Can Christians use any kind of music to praise God?

Can Christians use any kind of music to praise God?

“…Alan Redpath put his finger on the spot in his book Blessings out of Buffetings: ‘The principle of the world is “self-glorification” and the principle of the Christian is “self-crucifixion”. The principle of the world is “exalt yourself” and the principle of the Christian is “crucify yourself.” The principle of men is greatness, bigness, pomp and show; the principle of the cross is death… There is never a breaking through of communcation of [Christ’s] life in your heart and through you to others in heavenly conviction and authority which will challenge or bless them unless at that point there has been a personal Calvary.’

Is it surely not difficult to apply these principles in the case of the Christian rock music performer? …the objective of evangelism is to focus on the gospel and the objective of praise and worship is to focus on God. When trying to convey a verbal message to someone, it is unnatural to back up the words by swaying, squirming, dancing, slinking or gyrating various parts of one’s anatomy. When these things are done on stage they are part of an act, part of a show — and showmanship of any sort on the part of a preacher or gospel musician is an abomination. Our sole duty is to point people to Christ…”
(quoted in “Can We Rock The Gospel?” by John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, available from Evangelical Press)

Thanks for reading!

-Tracy

Sean Penn and the gospel

Back from my days of being outside of God’s grace, I remember an actor named Sean Penn. It’s probably due to my being so ignorant of contemporary entertainment culture, but I honestly thought he had dropped into obscurity, so it was a surprise to have found, in this video, that he had recently won an Academy Award!

In addition to providing some interesting analysis of Penn’s comments at the awards, James White, of Alpha Omega Ministries, uses the opportunity to proclaim the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We must remember that the issue is not homosexuality. The battle cannot be waged against homosexuals or the political or cultural clout they currently hold. The battle is waged in the heavenlies against the spiritual strongholds of darkness. This means, practically, that it will do us no good to direct our battle against the particular sins, trying to reclaim the culture, rather the battle needs to be involved in preaching the gospel to lost people in order that God, in his mercy, may convert some of them. That is the essence of what we are called to do, not try to bring about change in the political sphere.

-Tracy

Their conscience is on your side

The basic concept of the evangelization methods used by Ray Comfort, of The Way Of The Master, is that the conscience of the person to whom you speak is on your side when you are presenting the gospel.

In this interesting video clip, Ray and Kirk talk to a law officer and get some insights into the physical behavior of a guilty person under interrogation. You may notice these same kinds of behaviors when you are confronting people about their sin and their need for a savior.

Remember, while John 3:16 contains an important element of the gospel, it is not the whole “picture.” Without the corollary truths of the following 4 verses, John 3:16 is meaningless.

“…he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”

-Tracy