Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Goes Around...

Pyromaniacs quotes Charles Spurgeon in an appeal for mature Christians titled "Ripe Fruit," preached August 14, 1870: "We are assailed by all sorts of new doctrines. The old faith is attacked by so-called reformers, who would reform it all away. I expect to hear tidings of some new doctrine once a week. So often as the moon changes, some prophet or other is moved to propound a new theory, and believe me, he will contend more valiantly for his novelty than ever he did for the gospel."

Nothing changes much, does it?

The Acts Church

The "Acts" church is often spoke of and preached about, and emulated, because of the great success the early church had in adding thousands (even in one day) to the flock. The description used most often is Acts 2:42-47, where the community devoted themselves to these things- the apostles' teaching, the fellowship, communion, prayer, everything in common, meeting daily in the temple courts, and meeting in their homes, and praising God. And God- did miraculous signs and wonders and added to their numbers everyday.

Let's note that the scripture before and after this is a 3rd person narrative, complete with a timeline of events. It reads like a daily blog of what was happening. Peter did this; then this happened; one day Peter and John... ; while the beggar did this; Peter said this; etc. And right in the middle of this 'narrative' is this little picture of the church that is NOT in a timeline narrative. Most bibles put it in it's own paragraph. Some even indent it since the style completely changes for these 7 verses, before returning to the 3rd person narrative story line. The narrator (Luke) stops his narrative and gives us a snapshot of this ideal community of God. What I want to note now is what is NOT mentioned in these verses about an ideal church. (I'll be careful...)

Not said is: "and all the people planted their seed offerings", "they named it and claimed it", "they had their Best Life Now", "and the people picked out a needy ministry to serve in from the weekly bulletin", "and the worship team was excellent". Enough?

Now, these verses are a narrative. Luke switches from an actual timetable of events where he is talking about specific people, to talking about everyone together (They) and time is basically standing still as he is describing the church..."They devoted themselves...and God did this...". But if I may for a minute call it a 'poem', (in that we know there were some difficulties in the early church, troubles with the care of widows, not to mention all the Epistles written to correct people.) So Luke's poem allows us to see a vision of the perfect church. And what do we see?

The people were absolutely immersed in the Gospel. Drenched in it, slaves to it, filled to the point of running over, deeply committed to everything the Gospel called them to, bathed in it, saturated in it, and sold out to it. (And God did His thing, too.) And since this early time, people have tried to help God and add to what God is doing- more ministry, more worship teams, more books, more ways to pray, more tricks and promotions to "grow the flock". Are these things wrong? Not necessarily, when they are used as another way to drench us in the Gospel. But inventions by men are just simple powerless devices. God uses only the Gospel to attract, convict, justify, and transform. That's all He needs. We need to stay out of His way, and just obey and live the Gospel. God will do the rest. Francis Chan asks us if we can pray Proverbs 30:7-9 in this 2 minute video. It might rate us on all of the above.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Finite Wisdon

The conventional wisdom seems to be "Don't worry about other gospels, (prosperity, self-help, etc.) they won't affect the church, Christ's work will get done."  The more I think about this, the more I realize that it just isn't true. Christ was downright upset at what had become of His Father's temple and Law. Paul was really upset when people tried to change the gospel to suit their situations.

Having been involved quite deeply in music ministry, I know the pressure is put on you to provide a "good" service that will attract people, and please everyone. And it can easily be done, as long as you are willing to compromise the very Spirit that leads you. People don't want to admit on a weekly basis that their sinfulness, and everything about this life, would prevent them from even being in God's presence, were it not for the cross of Christ and the righteousness and worthiness Christ alone has earned us.

It's a joy to worship? Yes.  But what feeling of awe (fear) do we get when we come face to face with the most holy and perfect God, Creator of all things, and find that we are in need of Christ to even bear it?  It's not necessarily pleasant to face our own sinfulness and unworthiness. We know that God sees us white as snow, but if we see ourselves as white as snow, then who needs Christ? Never forgetting that it is only by His grace that we live, we can truly give thanks, and serve in our calling as His ambassador, knowing He will finish the work He began in us.

If we feel "good" at worship because it was good music and good teaching, and good friendships, then we have succeeded in making it a "good" Sunday. But what power is there in a good day that we have made? 

But if we worship with our eyes on the cross, and why we need it, He continues to sanctify us as we worship, we change because He changes us, and the power of the cross, God's power, makes it a good day, and we are a witness to that. 

If we begin to think that we are "good" and "sinning-less" people, mature Christians who rarely slip, then are we saying that we can usually give Christ His cross back? We don't need it anymore? We're walking the walk, not just talking the talk? Can we just have fun at worship, clap and shout for joy, and give thanks that our lives are getting better now, and avoid any thought of sin still being apart of our lives? That's a thought that is all about us, and how we see us, not all about God, and His holiness.

If we take our eyes off the cross, we loose the power of the cross in our lives, in our ministry, in our churches, and in the body of Christ.  Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified and concludes in 1 Cor 2:3-5 "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." It's all about the power in the gospel, Christ and Him crucified, and our witness to that. It's not a "slick" worship service and feeling good about a Christian walk. God's power will fill a church; man's wisdom will empty it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Christless Christianity

Dr. Michael Horton (Associate Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Editor of Modern Reformation Magazine, Pres. of Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, host of White Horse Inn radio broadcast) in his upcoming book Christless Christianity, based on his lecture series of the same name, proposes that worship in American churches has turned away from the biblical view of Christ led worship, and instead is focused on us, the congregation. He proposes that we go to a busy (even mega) church for a list of things we can do (ministry), that we go to give God what we think he wants, and our churches are focused on US, not God. We seek the the emotional experience of being near God through fancy worship groups, and believe that experience to be worship. Statistics show that despite all the hoopla over modern worship, it is a dismal failure in that attendance is down 35%. He relates the experience at Willow Creek church where in spite of their influential position in evangelical circles, they have admitted that all of their ministry and outreach programs to build up the church have largely been ineffectual, and that one in four members is thinking of leaving the church, for lack of "being fed".

In the postmodern era we live in, we have made worship point upwards. God is the audience. We are the worshipers. Our worship rises to Him. Dr Horton proposes that this is exactly the wrong direction that worship should flow. The Greek word for "worship" is "called-in". His proposal is that God has called us together each Sunday so He can shower us with His grace, so we can repent and be forgiven, so God can give to us great gifts, and great news. God wants to smother us with His gospel, and get it deeper and deeper into us as we mature. What good news! Through the encouragement of others, through the Lord's supper, through our prayer and worship, and through the preaching of the gospel, He regenerates us with His Spirit, and continues to sanctify us. Just as Jesus washed the feet of the 12 at the Last Supper, so he wants to serve us, even to this day, at our weekly gathering. Jesus came 2000 years ago to serve us, and he continues to serve us, even to this day, and at our worship services in particular. He doesn't want us to serve HIM on Sundays, HE wants to serve us. The ministry of God flows downword to us and out to the world through us.

Dr. Horton completely backs up his thinking with scripture, and for that reason I am inclined to agree with his proposal. My own experience tells me that the sheep are not getting fed at church. In fact, often the sheep are told if they are not growing, then it is their own fault for not being responsible for there own growth. Three times the Lord said, "Peter, feed my sheep". To paraphrase Dr Horton, "Jesus said, I'm gonna die for these sheep, all I want you to do is feed them until I come back for them!".

For more info on Dr. Horton
For Michel Horton Books
For White Horse Inn Radio Broadcast Info

Friday, May 22, 2009

Toast With That Milk?

Last week while talking to a group of my Christian friends, I mentioned that Joel Osteen was not preaching the gospel, and they nearly went ballistic on me. My assertion was that Osteen, TBN, Inspiration Network, 700 Club, have all turned away from a gospel of salvation, and people don't even notice. The conventional wisdom about Osteen seems to be that he is a great speaker, and he explains Christianity in a way that people can relate to it.

Yesterday Jared Wilson's blog reminded me that "a healthy dose of being criticized, even hated, is honorable if they're criticizing or hating you because of your Jesus-fixation and gospel stubbornness." Jesus, in Luke 6:22-26, tells me to rejoice that "I'm hated" for my Gospel stubbornness, and Paul admonishes us to be mature in faith and learn righteousness and the difference between good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14). If we are relating to Joel Osteen, aren't we still drinking milk, and in danger of falling away? 

Paul's list of what is "milk" is quite interesting! In Hebrews 6:1-2 he clearly calls instructions on baptism, repentance, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment things an immature Christian is still learning, and the elementary things of our faith. Where is Joel Osteen, and the rest of the postmodern church in this mix? Even MORE elementary! Before even saved, maybe? How can a mature Christian think J.O.'s message of "what to do so God will bless you" anything but a works based salvation. It's not about us, it's about how loving a God would care so much to want us back, and how He has already blessed us with everything we need in Christ Jesus.   


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ABC 20/20 Show Prompts "Donor Alert" has given TBN an "F" for transparency, and sent out a "Donor Alert" urging donors to reconsider giving to this cash-flush ministry, due to their dishonest reply to a 20/20 broadcast report. Get that story HERE. The majority of the ministries on TBN are also flagged and on "Alert" status. Some ministries, like Franklin Graham's "Samaritan's Purse," continue to get "A" ratings, but here's a few stats on TBN, based on the newest data available.

As of 2006, TBN had over 418 million in cash, receivables, and short term investments (savings investments), and long term investments of 444 million. Considering Paul Crouches shrewdness in growing the assets by nearly 100 million each year, it's safe to assume that they now, in 2009 easily have over 1 BILLION dollars in assets. When you consider their yearly operating expenses of only 141 million, one must wonder why they need enough "cash on hand" to operate for THREE YEARS, much less, all the long term investments. It's interesting to note that they have 2 mansions valued at over 10 million, plus over 30 other homes for their founder and CEO, Paul Crouch to live in. (I really don't mind the private jet. Any large operation has one.) To quote MinistryWatch, "Accordingly, donors need to be concerned that too much of TBN’s programming, with its unbalanced emphasis on personal prosperity as the goal of the Christian experience, may be leading an even greater number of unsaved people to reject Christianity as shallow and self-serving." And they continue, "We have little doubt TBN donors would be wise to prayerfully consider redirecting their gifts to one of the hundreds of ministries in the database that practice true transparency, pay their leaders appropriate compensation and attempt to turn all donations into good deeds quickly rather than build up huge cash reserves and spend lavishly on ministry leaders." Get the full story HERE. Scroll to the bottom of MW's page for the complete financial report, and their review, pro's and con's of the TBN ministry.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

But It Was Such A Good Book

Michael Horton, Editor-In-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine puts it very nicely in this article: Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study

Does anyone see how all this stuff is hurting our little ol' church?