Thursday, January 26, 2006

Revolution?

Tod Bolsinger has been commenting at his blog about the book Revolution by George Barna. Revolution describes the large number of Christians who don’t consider the local Church essential to Christianity. Like Tod, I consider this a very bad trend in Christianity. Unlike Tod, I am one of the Christians who have been dropping out of the local Church. I hate not being a member of a local Church almost as much as I hate being a member of a Local Church.

I think Biblical Christianity consists of “fitting in” and “standing out”. The two go together and are inseparable. When either the “fitting in” or the “standing out” are overemphasized at the expense of the other, the body of Christ is weakened. However, I can completely understand why strong Christians are leaving the local Church and going it alone out of discouragement and frustration.

From my perspective, part of the problem is the over controlling nature and the under performing example of many Pastors. Tod seems to be the exception, not the rule. He has the mentality and spirit of a true shepherd. When Pastors don’t have what it takes to lead by example, the local Church becomes just another social organization. Most of us have unlimited resources for proper exegesis. We can’t benefit as much from a Pastor who can explain a passage as we can benefit from a Pastor who lives a passage. Most Churches choose a Pastor based on the former and not the latter.

Update: Steve also makes some excellent points regarding this trend. He is right; other believers and I do need to be members of a local Church.

10 comments:

Zane said...

Barna's "Revolution" will be discussed this Friday night (2-3-06) on the nationwide Moody Broadcasting Network. "Open Line" is a call-in show which is aired at 8-8:55 pm CT. The phone number is 312-329-4460.

For station and time of broadcast information see http://openlineradio.org.

The programs are archived for download/podcast if you're unable to tune in.

House Church Network

Hammertime said...

David,
I appreciate your honesty in admitting you are a local church drop out. I must admit, that you gave me the impression that you were an active attender of a PCUSA church.

PCUSA, similar to its fellow liberal 'mainline' denominations, is hemorraging members. I am not surprised that you, who look for more in your faith than a social gospel, have dropped out.

I recommend you look for a church that teaches the true doctrine of grace, and of a grace that costs.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I haven’t dropped out completely. I do still attend a PCUSA Church and make donations when I attend. I like the PCUSA service. It isn’t just preaching and music. There is time for personal prayer, confession, and reflection. Every service includes Communion. The Senior Pastor had a life before the pastorate and all three associate Pastors are mature, articulate, and gifted beyond their age. It is a Church that gives me some hope, but it still has many of the shortcomings of doing Church the way it has always been done and the way the majority are comfortable doing it. My wife takes our girls to a non-denomination church with a good children’s program. Her church is more seeker sensitive. As much as I agree with the seeker sensitive concept, I just can’t take the music and preaching.

Of course I want to be a member of a Church committed to Biblical principles and one that teaches the Word of God with a strong emphasis on sacrificial behavior, but I really have never been in a Church where the Pastor didn’t believe he or she was teaching the word of God. Some Pastors are really confused in their understanding and teaching, but most just let personal beliefs get in the way of an accurate message, and a few are really diligent in their preparation and presentation. At this point I have heard enough preaching. I would like to see more doing from Christians in Church and by doing I don’t mean a picnic and Rick Warren video.

Hammertime said...

David,
You said:

"I really have never been in a Church where the Pastor didn’t believe he or she was teaching the word of God. Some Pastors are really confused in their understanding and teaching, but most just let personal beliefs get in the way of an accurate message, and a few are really diligent in their preparation and presentation."

So...does mean that you think that a Pastor cannot teach what the word of God is, or that the ones you know have let their personal beliefs in the way of teaching what the word of God says?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I guess theoretically, a Pastor could speak 100% God’s word. I do not have the ability to judge with complete accuracy though. John MacArthur is my idea of a teacher who is diligent in teaching the Bible, just the Bible, and nothing but the Bible. I still don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but I do think he is the best at what he does. He may teach a few concepts that are debatable, but I have never heard him teach a principle that is wrong.

I think everyone is influenced, motivated, and affected by their own personal passions and preferences. Some Pastors work harder than others at flushing their own bias, but it is rare to listen to a sermon where a Pastor doesn’t make a claim than can easily be refuted by conflicting evidence.

Hammertime said...

David,
I don't have a problem with any of those things - meaning I don't disagree with the premises. What I disagree with is your conclusion (well, perceived conclusion) that, since you can't find Charles Spurgeon in your part of the state, you'll sometimes show up to a church whose official policies defend state funded abortion stronger than they do Scripture. One thing is certain - there is no PCUSA church that would invite John MacArthur to preach there.

How can we recognize that we are sinful creatures, even in our regenerate state, yet expect our leaders to be perfect? You say, "I want to be a member of a Church committed to Biblical principles and one that teaches the Word of God with a strong emphasis on sacrificial behavior", but you are not satisfied with finding that, because you are not getting something out of the worship service?

I know I am being a bit confrontational here, but I think it is important enough to be so. We have much in common, one of those being preferring clarity over agreement. Thus, I challenge you - what are you really looking for, if what you said you wanted wasn't it? How do you compare what you are looking for with what you are supposed to be looking for?

I have been active in Catholic, Fundamentalist, Gospel, and SBC churches in my life. They all did worship much differently. However, I was blessed in each type of worship. Each has something I prefer over the others. However, worship is never supposed to be about what I like, which is why (initially to Mrs. Hammer's distaste) I never let worship style influence our church decisions.

Finally, I must disagree with this statement:

"At this point I have heard enough preaching."

No, sir, you have not - nor have I, nor has any man. We can never get enough. After all, if St. Paul has not yet attained unto perfection, how can we?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Again Hammer,

Don’t worry about being confrontational with me. It’s what I need, expect, and even enjoy from you. You have made a few good challenges and a few wrong assumptions. I will try to address them:

” One thing is certain - there is no PCUSA church that would invite John MacArthur to preach there.”

I’m not sure this is true. There is a fight within the PCUSA over political positions. At a National level, the liberal positions have at least temporarily prevailed. At local levels there are some more conservative PCUSA Churches. The Church I attend is one of them. I like the diversity in PCUSA, but I am bothered by the official positions of the National organization. In fact, I take an opposite view on almost all of their official political positions. It is a dissonance that I have to live with in order to attend a Church where Christ at least seems present.

” How can we recognize that we are sinful creatures, even in our regenerate state, yet expect our leaders to be perfect?”

We can’t expect our leaders to be perfect. We can expect them to study and prepare before they speak. We can expect them to have a plan of action. We can expect them to set the standard in a Church. We can expect them to raise decent children. We can expect them to listen to different points of view. We can expect them to be men and women of good character. We can expect them to be humble. We can expect them to be sacrificial. We can expect them to be knowledgeable. We can expect them to be holy. We can expect them to be honest. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be leaders.

” but you are not satisfied with finding that, because you are not getting something out of the worship service?”

It’s really not about me, Hammer. If it was just me it wouldn’t be a problem. The people in most Churches are no different than the people out of most Churches. I know there are exceptions, but I don’t think the service format, the denomination, or preaching style is what determines the difference. People grow when they are challenged and confronted, like how you challenge and confront me. Believers who challenge and confront leadership and slackers don’t last long in most Churches. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is.

” what are you really looking for”

The visible Body of Christ. People with a purpose. A picnic, a Rick Warren video, and a relationship seminar is not a purpose and it is not the Body of Christ.

” Finally, I must disagree with this statement:

"At this point I have heard enough preaching."

No, sir, you have not - nor have I, nor has any man. We can never get enough. After all, if St. Paul has not yet attained unto perfection, how can we?”


Yes, I have heard enough. Lack of knowledge is not a problem for most believers. It’s not a problem for most non-believers either. Lack of evidence of faith is a problem. A very big problem.

David M. Smith said...

Hammer,

Mark Roberts is a PCUSA Pastor. He is another best of the best on my list of Bible teachers.

Hammertime said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, David. My blog has had the same delay. (and, this response turned out LONG)

I must retract my false assumptions, specifically about the PCUSA. I based my assumptions upon two things - the policies of the national leadership and my experience in a PCUSA church. My experience matched the policies, so I assumed that was fairly universal. It is good to learn that I was wrong!

"We can’t expect our leaders to be perfect. We can expect them to study and prepare before they speak. We can expect them to have a plan of action. We can expect them to set the standard in a Church. We can expect them to raise decent children. We can expect them to listen to different points of view. We can expect them to be men and women of good character. We can expect them to be humble. We can expect them to be sacrificial. We can expect them to be knowledgeable. We can expect them to be holy. We can expect them to be honest. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be leaders."

I agree 100%. I feel you have caricatured the mass of pastors based upon your experiences - which seems similar to what I did with PCUSA local churches. I encourage you to reconsider the notion that the only way you can "attend a Church where Christ at least seems present" is to select a church that is part of an organization that holds official policies you disagree with.

That said, I want to assure you that I am not encouraging you to leave that church, or even the denomination. There is much to be said for seeking reform within your denomination. Also, philosophically, you may be correct that you cannot find a true church (true to Christ and the principles you seek the church to have) within the radius you are willing to travel. Thus, I give you my prayers of blessing for your church membership.

In response to my question, "What are you really looking for?", you replied in two areas. Thereafter you said, "The visible Body of Christ. People with a purpose. A picnic, a Rick Warren video, and a relationship seminar is not a purpose and it is not the Body of Christ." You also mentioned that The people in most Churches are no different than the people out of most Churches.

It is in these two statements that I would like to further conduct our discussion.

First, I think you know me well enough to know that neither Rick Warren, nor picnics, nor relationship seminars fall anywhere into my view of a church of Christians. I'm not sure why you've repeated it - if you checked out my "Evangelical Casualties" posts, you've seen that I am identifying exactly what that sort of thing creates.

Second, in my opinion, you have identified the message of the kingdom of God. "The people in most Churches are no different than the people out of most Churches" is often a true statement. However, the visible body of Christ you seek consists of such. We (imperial we, probably neither you nor I) love to talk about the "model of the NT church", yet a quick overview of the epistles shows churches full of people just like the people outside of them.

The grace of God covers even these our brothers and sisters. However, God is not pleased that we remain like those outside of Christ. As you said, "I don’t think the service format, the denomination, or preaching style is what determines the difference. People grow when they are challenged and confronted."

I would take it a step further - people grow only when they not only are challenged and confronted, but when they act upon the challenge and confrontation. Like you identified in your above post about Pastor Roberts, you don't want to rethink your position on some issues. It isn't the consideration of being wrong that you won't do - it is changing of views and accompanying action that we don't like.

Here is an example. The pastor gives a great sermon on prayer, and most of the congregation feels guilty that they don't pray more. However, how many take the action to pray more? It would be safe to say less than 1% will, because of that challenge, change their behavior - even if they are convinced that they should pray more. However, the elect remain the elect, even if they don't change their behavior that day.

All of that also said, I would guess we agree - and so, I turn to you as a man of God, and ask: Although it isn't all about you, what about you?

The primary means of Christian growth are exercising spiritual disciplines. When a brother says he "has heard enough preaching" and is honest enough to admit that he does not attend regularly, the following statements tend to be true:

He is not reading the scriptures daily, with accompanying study, memorization, meditation upon the word, and focused life application.

He is not praying daily (family meals and bedtime prayers aside), in a scheduled, planned manner with depth and consistency, and his prayers seldom reach beyond his personal sphere of reach.

He does not practice a time of solitude and silence.

He does not conduct a family worship time.

He does not fast.

He does not conduct regular learning, in spiritual reading. (This is the least reliable, as learning has appeal outside of spirituality).

He does not maintain a spiritual journal.

He does not personally witness to non-Christians, and more specifically, does not pray for the opportunity daily (and thus would be presented with those opportunities more often).


Where do I get these things? Observation of myself and others. I see it in my brothers in the church, in my wife, and my fellow seminarians. More honestly, I saw it in myself until about a year ago.

Would those postulates be true for you? If most of them would, I would present that the first thing you should do is discipline yourself to attend worship regularly.

...and the actions you seek in the life of believers? They can be done by those who are outside of Christ and are merely do-gooders. However, those who embrace the spiritual disciplines and cast themselves in the path of grace are compelled to the service that both you and I believe true Christians should do.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Great thoughts, great comments, and great challenges for me. Thanks!

I have formed my views of most Churches based on my experiences and what I have read and heard from others. I know from experience that I can’t automatically believe the opinions of other people and I also can’t automatically assume my anecdotal experiences represent universal truths, but I do need to reconcile my experiences with the views of others. Like everyone else, I am susceptible to views that match my experiences and suspicious of views that conflict with my experiences. Therefore I seek counter views from people I trust. You are becoming a trusted and important source of accountability for me. Thanks again.

I know for a fact there are excellent Churches, Pastors, and Christians. I doubt I could be a believer at all if I wasn’t certain there are many who are faithfully serving Christ. I hope I don’t and didn’t give the impression I believe all Churches are worthless because I do believe Church is essential. The reality though is that I have high standards and geographical limitations. If it were just me, I would move. My girls are in a great school though, which keeps me planted where I am. Also, I think I like the diversity within the PCUSA more than I would like a Church full of people I always agree with.

I may disagree with you a little on the relative importance of everything on your list, and I may disagree with you a little on whether or not Spiritual disciplines can be practiced without being a member of a Church , but I am certain the Body of Christ does not exist without the Church and I am certain I need to be part of the Body of Christ in order for the Church and I to conform to the will of Christ.