Posts Tagged ‘Church’
I drive a truck for a living so I spend hours on the road and so I listen to podcasts to pass the time. Most of the time I listen to sound doctrinal preaching. However, for the fun of it, I will often download sermons from churches I either know I won’t agree with or sermons from seeker churches just to hear what they are up to.
Over the past year or so I have listened to hundreds of seeker churches. And I’m not lying when I type hundreds. From the mega seeker churches to seeker churches in my geographical area, I have listened to hundreds of sermons. I’m not expert on seeker churches but I have been able to gather my thoughts on them. So here goes.
Let me begin with the positives. While my negatives will be longer, I do find a few positives in here.
First, the desire to see sinners saved. While nearly all seeker churches will never call people “sinners,” the concept is still the same. They seem to want to see people come to faith in Christ. Again, I would question whether the people are hearing the law and the gospel to save sinners but they seem to truly want to see people saved. Now could it be they just want a crowd? Sure. I don’t know their hearts. Only God does. Their words and actions seem to imply they want people saved but it might just be a desire for more people to come to their seeker church.
Second, somewhat preaching of a Christian worldview. By this I mean the seeker churches at least will point to the Bible as our foundation for our worldview. Take sex for instance. This is a favorite topic among seeker churches and most will point to a biblical worldview on sex. I appreciate that. As a sinner myself, I need to hear what the Bible teaches about topic X. Without the Bible, I am prone to follow my flesh and that always leads to sin.
Third, the desire to be real. While this can be overdone in my estimation by seeker churches, most want people to know that they are just like you and I. These are not “holy” men and women but regular sinners who are in the fight for faith in their own lives. I appreciate that. While I’ll have a little to say that is critical about this below, for the most part I acknowledge that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23) and we all need Jesus and His grace. No one is perfect. None.
Fourth, in many cases I appreciate the desire to look like the community around them including interracial churches. God loves all people (John 3:16) and He sent His Son for all. Doesn’t matter the color of the person’s skin. Churches often are all white or all black or all brown or all yellow. While this is not necessarily sinful, it can be. I know of some churches that don’t want anyone but their “kind” with them. How sinful. The kingdom of God is made up of sinners who have been saved by Christ Jesus and this includes all races of people (Galatians 3:26-29; Revelation 1:5-6). Racism has no place in the kingdom. Seeker churches often seek to tear down the walls of racial divisions. I truly appreciate that.
Lastly, the love for children. Seeker churches seem to do a good job of building ministries focused on families and especially young children. I get it. Their target groups are mainly 20-30 year olds who have families. I’m out of that range now and my children are getting older but when I was in my 30’s, I remember thinking long and hard about churches that would help me pour into my children. Now I truly believe my job as a parent is to teach and raise my children in the fear of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4 and notice the emphasis on “fathers”). Seeker churches seem to know this and seek to build ministries designed to attract young families to their churches. It can be overdone here too but traditional churches can learn the value of trying to pour into the whole family.
The Critical Items
Now let’s turn to the critical items. There are many.
First, let’s talk about the preaching. I would rather label them “talks” after “Ted Talks” more than preaching. The preaching of seeker churches is just bad. All of them seem to want to be stand up comedians more than theologians and shepherds. The stories are usually focused on the speaker and all about them. The text of Scripture is never exegeted. I have listened to hundreds of sermons (yes hundreds) from seeker churches and not one has ever been expository nor has one ever dealt with their text in a contextual way. Not one. In fact, nearly every talk is topical and if they are teaching through a book, the chapter from the Bible is either never read nor is it dealt with. Doctrine is never preached. Now the seeker defense will be that A) they are not preaching to Christians but to the seekers. And B) they have community groups for doctrinal teaching. I find both answers lacking. 2 Timothy 4:2 says that the duty of elders is to preach the Word. The words of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:17) are worth reading (Acts 20:28-35). Seeker leaders seem to avoid doctrine as much as possible as I have yet to hear a sound doctrinal sermon yet. The talks also seem to me to always be on a beginner level. I think of Hebrews 5:11-14. Where is the growth? Where is the challenging of believers to go deeper in their knowledge of God and His Word (2 Peter 3:16-17)? Do people walk away from these talks understanding more about God, His Son, His salvation, and His Word? I think not.
Second, let me say a word of the elders of the church. The seeker leaders go out of their way to show how human they are. They want to be “real” to the people and especially to seekers. Yet this has become an annoyance to me. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is clear about elders in the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is tough and few disciples meet the qualifications there. I don’t. But I am not an elder nor do I claim to be. I am just a truck driver. That said, leaders in the church should be holy men of God. Not perfect. Not sinless. But holy nonetheless. The ESV uses the words “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). 1 Timothy 3:7 does mention that the elder must be “well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Outsiders are those who are lost, outside of the kingdom. Even sinners see that these elders are men of God. These are not men walking around “trying to be a real guy” but these are real Christians who love Jesus and while not perfect, they do desire to please the Lord. This act of “being a normal guy” has become old fast in the seeker leadership. And sadly, many of these guys along the way have fallen into sin. Just google fallen mega pastors and you’ll see the sad reality of that world. Ironically, in the desire to “just be a normal guy,” these guys become superstars and draw the attention of the devil.
Third, the lack of biblical discernment especially in regard to music. All of the seeker churches I have listened to try to have a kicking praise and worship band. Many include the smoke and lights. These praise bands are typically led by a 20 something who has skinny jeans on and they all wear cool clothes or just wear worn out jeans and a t-shirt. Now the dress to me is not the issue. God sees our hearts after all. That said, the cool praise bands often sing songs that are just poor in their doctrine if they have doctrine at all. Heck this song would qualify as a praise song today. The utter lack of doctrine in the seeker churches produces shallow, sappy songs that have little to do with the gospel or the glory of God. They sound good but that’s it. I can see why people are drawn to liturgical churches after being immersed in seeker churches. It is very sad.
Fourth, the lack of law and gospel. Most seeker churches either are heavy on the law (you need to do these ten things to help your marriage) or nothing at all. The gospel is always “pray Jesus into your heart” and nothing is typically said of repentance or even using the law to expose our sins (Romans 3:19-20). God’s law has a purpose (1 Timothy 1:8-11) and yet seeker churches avoid preaching the law to convict sinners or sanctify saints (the third use of the law). The Bible is balanced between law and gospel. Yet seeker churches are not balanced at all. In fact, I chance to say that they wouldn’t even know about law and gospel. The gospel should be preached at all times. I would argue every time the church meets because we are prone to wander. Martin Luther said, “Christians should preach the gospel every day to ourselves because everyday we are prone to forget it.” Without the hope of the gospel, all these “steps to a better you” are worthless. Without the hope of the gospel, we fall into despair and back into the flesh. “Ten steps” talks are not what we need all the time. We need the gospel consistently (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Without the gospel, we turn people into moralists which still leads them to hell.
I am no fan of seeker churches. I get what draws people to them (Isaiah 30:10-11). I remember the age-old quote, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” The gospel is not what is drawing these sinners.
My advice would be to flee these churches. I would much rather attend a Calvinistic church that preaches the Word of God than any seeker church. The pragmatism is simply too much for this old boy. I desperately need the gospel. I am lost without Christ. He is my only hope. He alone is my righteousness before a holy God (Philippians 3:9). I am undone without the grace of the Lord Jesus for this sinner. I need to hear more of Him less of me. I need to hear the gospel over and over and over again. My flesh hates the things of God but I must hear the gospel to remind my flesh to die (Romans 6:11-14). Further, I need the gospel because I am a sinner who needs God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:15).
“He is a heretic” is a common phrase thrown around by many who love theology. I have seen people named a heretic for simple disagreements over end times views. I myself have been called a heretic because I reject the teaching of the rapture of the Church. I have been called a heretic for rejecting Calvinism. I have been called a heretic once by a charismatic because I reject the “laughter movement” of the 1990’s. The term “heretic” is thrown around too much in my opinion.
And no doubt this has been true at times in Church history. The Anabaptists were severely persecuted by Martin Luther and the Reformers. Luther stands before the Diet of Worms and gives his famous stand for the Word of God only to turn around four years later and condemned the Anabaptists to death for their views on baptism. The Anabaptists were largely hated by the Reformers though the Reformers preached that we should test all things by the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21). What was the main “heresy” of the Anabaptists? Baptism of believers by immersion. The term “Anabaptist” was applied to them because the term means “two baptisms” because the Reformers stood with Roman Catholicism in agreeing with infant baptism and thus condemned the Anabaptists for re- baptizing adults whom the Reformers saw as already baptized because of their infant baptism.
In our day baptism is not so much the issue. Most Reformed who hold to infant baptism (and even some Arminians as Arminius held to infant baptism) reject that we should kill those who baptize by immersion. They also reject that those who hold to believer’s baptism would be heretics and vise versa. There is peace there in this debate.
Yet there are positions that some hold to be heretical that I don’t consider necessarily heretical. I might not agree but I don’t think that there are heretics nonetheless. I once did in some cases. Years ago I use to view myself as the orthodox believer and all others had to fall in line. Not so now. After dealing with my own sins, I see my need for God’s forgiveness and grace and I see that I fall terribly short in many ways. I need reforming myself and I praise God for His grace towards me (1 Timothy 1:15). I rejoice that perfect theology is not the standard for salvation. Who could be saved? The standard is you must know you’re a sinner and see your need for a Savior. That is me (Luke 19:10). “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17 KJV).
So what positions do I know see as non-heretical though I might not agree with them.
Calvinism – A few hold that Calvinism is heretical. I don’t. I see them as my brothers and sisters in the Lord and greatly love my Calvinists friends and family. Some of my favorite preachers and teachers and theologians are reformed.
Open Theism – Though I am not an open theist, I don’t believe that all open theists are heretics. They are wresting with the mystery of divine omniscience and how this works in a free world. By the way, Calvinism wrestles with the same issue though they go the opposite of the open theist.
Conditional Immortality – This is the position that rejects eternal conscience torment in hell. I know a few brothers who condemn brothers who reject eternal conscience torment in eternal hell as heretics but this should not be the case. Men such as Edward Fudge have wrestled with the texts and reject eternal conscience torment while maintaining salvation as a gracious gift from our eternal God.
Original Sin – I know brothers who reject the doctrine of original sin. Most Arminians reject the Calvinist teaching on original sin yet I know some who reject the teaching altogether and believe that babies are born sinless while born into a sinful world. While I can see how this teaching could lead to perfectionism teachings, I don’t believe these brothers are rejecting original sin because they have not searched the Scriptures. I am somewhere in-between on this teaching and aligned more with inheriting a sinful nature from Adam while not inheriting Adam’s sin.
Infant Baptism – I hold to believer’s (or better Christian) baptism by immersion but I don’t reject those who disagree with me as heretics. I know of godly Arminians who hold to infant baptism and love them as brothers. We all agree that salvation is based on the finished work of Jesus Christ and not in our works (Titus 3:5-7).
KJV Only – While I completely disagree with the KJV only camp, I know some godly men who preach the gospel while holding firmly to the KJV. By the way, I even know a Reformed brother who would qualify as a KJV only follower but he is not extreme and loves the Lord Jesus. The truth is that Jesus saves us by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-9) and not by our Bible translations. I was saved using the NIV. Others have been saved using the KJV. God saves us by the gospel (Romans 1:16-17) and not by our Bible translation though I do believe a good Bible translation is vital (for example the erroneous New World Translation of the JW’s though I read a testimony of a brother who was saved even by the NWT).
Soul Sleep – I know some brothers who hold to soul sleep. These are not Seventh-Day Adventists but actually Reformed brothers who hold to this view. While I am not sure on the doctrine, I don’t believe a person is a heretic for this view.
Perfectionism – I know a few brothers who hold that they don’t sin anymore. One guy boasted on Facebook that he had not sinned in like 22 years. While I think that this view is really stupid (yes just stupid), I praise God that He saves us from ourselves by His grace. I once held mildly to this view. I completely reject it now. That said, I don’t think that a person is completely a heretic because they teach this. I think the teaching leads to bondage and not freedom and puts too much emphasis on us and not on the work of Christ for our sins (Ephesians 1:7) but I don’t necessarily think these people are complete heretics who know nothing of God’s love.
Various End Times Views – These too many to tell. All seem to want to label the others are heretics. I am not there. I am a partial preterist but I don’t reject those who disagree. I reject dispensational theology but believe dispensationalists to be saved. I reject premillennialism but hold them to be brethren in Christ. Again, the standard for salvation is not our end times views but our confession of Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9-10).
Charismatics – Again, like the above, too many to label. While I do think some charismatic teaching is very bad (see the Prosperity Gospel for example) and there are many bad teachers in this bunch, I know many godly Pentecostals and charismatics who truly love Jesus and desire to glorify Him. Some of my heroes of the faith are Pentecostals who taught me how to pray and how to love and study the Bible. I have such great memories of godly Pentecostals teaching me how to witness, how to pray, how to worship, how to love God, how to think of Christ in all we do, etc. While some want to label many in this group heretics, be careful as there are many godly saints here.
Seeker Driven – I am not a seeker driven church guy. Never have been. Never will be. I have attended some seeker churches in the past and I think its a joke. That said, I don’t think that all seeker pastors are heretics and I’m sure that many of them do love souls and long to see people saved. I praise God for that. While I reject their model and often their tactics and will continue to preach against them, I don’t think they should just be labeled heretics. I think many of them are probably orthodox in their theology while holding to church practices I disagree with. I’m okay with that. Of course, I pray that many of these leaders will come out of this movement and preach the whole gospel but that beyond the point here. Again, Jesus saves sinners and not theology perfectionists.
I closing I pray that you extend me grace here. If you hold to these people above being heretics, perhaps you’ll throw me in there too. I pray not. I am nothing. I am a sinner who needs Jesus. I confess that need. Don’t follow me or you’ll end up in hell. Follow Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).
I listen to a few seeker churches on my iPhone while I drive my truck (I drive an eighteen wheeler for a living). During long hauls I can listen to two or three sermons depending on the drive. My wife says that I’m mad for listening to the seeker churches because they often make me cranky and I start ranting (as I’m doing here) about them. My problems with the seeker churches are too many to post here in a blog post. I could never willingly be a part of a seeker church for many reasons. Doctrine is the first and foremost. The utter lack of doctrine in seeker churches is disturbing to say the least.
I have been listening to one of the seeker churches for the entire year. Each week their sermons come to my iPhone. You got to love technology! I had a friend who started attending this church about 6 years ago. He still goes there. He once had a fire for the Lord, was a man of prayer and holiness, and loved to share the gospel with the lost. Those days are gone. He is a shell of his former self now that he attends this church. I place the blame at the feet of my friend but also at this church as well. They have convinced my friend that evangelism is easy as inviting “the unchurched” to his church. The church does the rest. The entire “weekend” is designed to attract the “unchurched” and they are specific that they want the “unchurched” to come and not feel like they are at church. I have often said that seeker churches remind me of cults in that they get you in before springing the trap and letting you know what they are about. In this case, get the “unchurched” coming to church and then wait for a few weeks before telling them they must “receive Christ into their hearts” if they want to go deeper. It’s like an Amway seminar. Only worst.
The rant here today is not about the seeker church I’ve been listening to this year but a new one I picked up just this week. I use to be friends with a youth pastor (when I was a youth pastor) and he always seemed to lean this seeker way. I remember once taking to him about how I wanted to build a youth ministry that revolved around prayer and the Word and he laughed and said that I would never have a large ministry if that was my formula. I followed him via social media after he moved away and watched him head down this seeker trail. He bought into the seeker pragmatism hook, line, and sinker. He begin to tweet a lot of seeker posts and I noticed his preaching was more and more becoming like seeker pastors I knew of. He ultimately started a church in the Charlotte, NC area and followed the likes of seeker gurus Perry Noble and Steven Furtick. Despite obvious doctrinal disagreements, this seeker pastor ignored that because “they are growing” and that was the bottom line.
He started his church and now he rolls out “series” sermons like Noble and Furtick complete with the works. The stage is focused on the series. The series is pushed though social media and social media is used during the talk. I sent a few of his talks to Fighting For The Faith and hope they will review them.
Here is my rant. Theology. The seeker churches ignore theology. I have listened to all the sermons from the one church this year and a few from this newer podcast and theology is utterly lacking. The twisting of Scripture is bad. For example, one of the seeker pastors preached on “Shake It Off” based on the Taylor Swift song (yes you read that right) and preached from Acts 28 where Paul “shook of the snake” and he in turn turned the snake into problems and other things that we just need to shake off. What a poor use of Scripture!
Numbers is the focus. That is the bottom line. I well remember emailing a seeker pastor back in the early 2000’s and he responded back with “I run 700 people on Sunday morning. How many do you run? E-mail me back when you get to that number and I might listen.” I was emailing him over his poor doctrinal preaching. His response: pragmatism.
I remember another preacher going to hear modalist T.D. Jakes. When I questioned him about this he responded by saying that Jakes’ church was huge and he could just feel the anointing on Jakes when he preached. Never mind that Jakes is a modalist (the Trinity doesn’t matter much). Never mind that Jakes is a false prosperity preacher. Never mind that doctrine seems to not matter at all to Jakes. Jakes’ church is big and that is enough. Pragmatism.
A crowd does not equal the blessing of God.
I pass the Kingdom Hall’s all the time while working and I can tell you that they are packed. It seems they are growing and I have my suspicions as to why. The Jehovah’s Witness are no doubt a cult. They are doctrinally wrong. Nothing more than modern day Arians. Yet they are growing because of the seeker churches in my estimation. Week after week the seeker churches are packed but doctrine is not to be found. In fact, doctrine is avoided at all costs. It amazes me that seeker preachers often will have to point out where a book in the Bible is. For example, when the above seeker pastor preached from Acts 28, he felt he had to point out where Acts is. Further, his “background” to Paul and Acts 28 was horrible. He felt he had to use “cool” language and to be funny throughout his talk to get people focused. But at the end of the day, he taught nothing. Nothing. He didn’t teach false doctrines. He taught nothing. And this is true of every seeker sermon I have heard. Let me repeat that: I have never heard a seeker sermon yet that has taught me anything. They are masters at saying nothing.
And thus cults grow. People do want doctrine. Contrary to what the seeker churches believe. Doctrine does matter to folks. In Acts 2:42 the first thing Luke records that the new disciples of Jesus did was to devote themselves to the apostles’ doctrine. First thing listed was not “worship” or “small groups” but doctrine. Cults come and fill the void. The reason seeker people leave to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses or other cults is because doctrine.
After the seeker churches go off, I turn on John MacArthur and a breath of fresh air comes in. MacArthur is the opposite of these seeker churches. He preaches doctrine. He preaches holiness. He preaches the Bible and seeks to exegete the text faithfully. Sometimes, for fun, I will listen to a seeker church and then pull up MacArthur preaching from the same text and its night and day difference.
Over the years I have been out witnessing only to run into a group of people from seeker churches. Sometimes they will ridicule me for preaching on the streets. Sometimes they talk to me and I try to reason with them about their “conversion” as 100% of them believe that “saying the sinner’s prayer” is how you get saved. They are often completely ignorant of church history or theology. They will say “I just love Jesus” but when I try to find out which Jesus they love, they don’t know. I can often point out that the Jesus they say they love is the Jesus of their own imaginations and not the Bible. Paul the Apostle warned about this in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:6-9.
Am I thankful for seeker churches? No I am not. I truly believe that persecution is soon coming to the Christians in the United States and this will probably end the seeker church as we know it. Most of the seeker churches will either close up or they will complete their compromising by abandoning true faith altogether in favor of the praises (and most important, the money) of men.
Sadly, many godly churches I know of feel the need to imitate these seeker churches. I remember when Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church led to the demise of denominational named churches. Now we just have “Calvary Church” or “Christian Life Church” to avoid the obvious doctrinal distinctive that are there. Now we have the cool fad among seeker churches to get the coolest name you can find for your church. Either way, doctrine does not matter. They would say only Jesus matters but they don’t even know if the Jesus they preach is the Jesus of the Bible.
I highly recommend you to read John MacArthur’s book Ashamed of the Gospel for a truly biblical look at the seeker church. I pray that many saints of God will love the gospel and love the truths of the Bible (Romans 1:16; 1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1).
When I was a boy, I was raised in the Assemblies of God. My family attended an AG church that was miles from us and we would wake up on Sunday mornings and drive over an hour to church. We did it twice on Sunday and then again on Wednesday evening. Eventually they planted an AG church on our side of town and we ceased driving that far.
In those days, our AG churches were clearly AG. Every AG church had the name “Assembly of God” somewhere in their name. Whether it was Airport Assembly of God, Trinity Assembly of God, Calvary Assembly of God, Northeast Christian Assembly of God, etc., the name “Assembly of God” was incorporated into the church. I remember the first AG church to not use “AG” in their name (Christian Outreach Center) and it was controversial to say the least. I remember hearing people say that COC was compromising and they were moving away from being Pentecostal.
Fast forward to today. In my city there are about 10 AG churches. Only two have the AG name. COC is gone but after COC, other churches begin to drop the AG name. This moved started in the late 1990’s when Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church was making its rounds among AG pastors. Soon they too were dropping the AG name in favor of “community church” names or just “Trinity Church.”
Now in fairness, I don’t think they all did this to be popular. Some would still gladly claim to be AG while not using AG in their names. Some were pragmatic and did see the “community church” movement and jumped in. I see it a different way and I’ll explain in this post.
First, in the late 1990’s there were two “moves” among the AG churches I was familiar with. There was the revival movement coming out from Brownsville Assembly in Pensacola, FL. Many thought Brownsville would drop the AG name or even leave the Assemblies of God altogether but they never did and still remain to this day in the AG with the name “Brownsville Assembly of God.” The Brownsville revival died out around 2002 and the other stream took over. This was the Rick Warren stream. Warren had even been invited to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the first non-Pentecostal speaker ever to the Assemblies of God. Warren did not know it but he became the chief of church growth to many in the AG churches. I still remember pastors at AG ministers meetings I would attend in those days all boasting about reading and implementing Warren’s purpose driven styles. Some AG pastors I knew were even following Warren’s preaching style to the point of wearing Hawaiian shirts like Warren did. They dropped preaching out of the King James Version in favor of the New Living Translation because of Warren.
Secondly, this led to churches uniting around methodology and not theology. When I was a boy, the Assemblies of God were clearly Pentecostal churches. Our church was very Pentecostal in the worship and in the preaching. I remember talking to my father about the Baptist or Presbyterian churches and he would tell me they were indeed Christians but they didn’t know much about the Holy Ghost. Pentecostal theology was vital. I still remember hearing a Pentecostal pastor preach, “I fear the day when we will be Pentecostal in theology but not experience.” At every turn, Pentecostal theology was taught and emphasized. When a person got saved at our church, they were baptized in water and they told to seek God for the Holy Ghost. The wording might be wrong but they clearly knew their theology even if you don’t agree.
Fast forward to today. Most AG churches I am familiar with no longer emphasize doctrine at all. In fact, doctrine is often avoided at all costs. I personally have had an AG pastor tell me that theology does not matter. He felt doctrine was not livable and so he wanted to preach “life application sermons” rather than theology to his church. Where does this come from? Rick Warren!
I had another AG pastor friend who was going to plant an AG church. What did he do? In the old days, the AG’s would set up a tent and have the preacher hold tent meetings. This would usually draw small crowds at first and the preacher would preach on the need of the people to be saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost. Those who came and got saved or baptized in the Spirit were then included in the new church plant. The preacher would work until the church could support him (most stayed bi-vocational their entire lives). Now AG church planters usually get some money from the District and plant the church. They will attend numerous church growth conferences to learn the latest gimmicks to church growth. Gone are the days of fasting and prayer (though they say they still pray). In my friends case, he traveled to all sorts of churches many of them non-AG to learn their gimmicks. At one point I asked him (after he traveled to a large seeker church in the West) why he would want to learn from them since they are theological different than the AG’s? He replied, “Because they are growing and we can learn from them.” The bottom line is this: growth is desire and whoever is growing is who we look to. Theology is not the issue. Prayer and preaching is not the issue. Pragmatism is.
Now my point here is not to boaster the Assemblies of God. I have no dog in the fight. I am simply observing the church world from the bleachers. I understand the desire of pastors to be full-time. I was there. I am thankful I am not now. The pressure to grow your church (and yes its viewed as “your” church) is immense. Rather than learning how to preach, how to pray, how to fast, how to evangelize, etc. the emphasis is on the latest gimmicks to get people in the door. My friend above who planted an AG church uses every gimmick you can imagine from dropping Easter eggs from helicopters (thanks to Steven Furtick for that gimmick) to offering free movie tickets to attendees to giving away a new car. All gimmicks designed to get people in the door. Once they are there, he preaches goofy sermon series’ designed to “get them hooked to church.” Sin, repentance, holiness, even AG doctrines such as the baptism in the Spirit are not emphasized. Their “worship”service is am emotional rollercoaster full of sappy love songs to Jesus and make you feel like your a 14 year old at a junior high school dance rather than church. And my friend has one goal: numbers. It’s all about the growth. His mentors are all seeker sensitive pastors and he idolizes men such as Perry Noble and Andy Stanley.
Go back 50 years and not one AG pastor would have listened to a Perry Noble or Andy Stanley. Why? Because they were not Pentecostals! Pentecostals only listened to Pentecostals in those days. The attitude was that Pentecostals have the baptism in the Holy Ghost and Baptists do not.
Some see all of this “unity” as good. I don’t. Again, I’m not arguing for Pentecostal theology. In many ways, my theology is more Wesleyan now than Pentecostal. I still love Pentecostal people and while I do see theological errors among them (mainly among those who claim Pentecostal such as those in the Word-Faith camp), I would not classify myself as Pentecostal. What I see taking place is not unity around the gospel. I see unity around methods. John MacArthur warned that churches today are uniting around methodology and not theology. I agree. The lines are not blurred between the distinctives of the Pentecostal movement and those in the Baptist churches. Yet it is not theological unity that is taking place. It is emotional experiences that are unifying them.
There is no doubt that Jesus prayed for unity of His body in John 17:22-23. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul the Apostle emphasized unity in theology. The people of God are unified who have been saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:14-21). Jesus is Head over His Church (Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus also knows those who are His own (John 10:27; 2 Timothy 2:19). Unity in the local church must be around theology. We must know what we believe and speak the same beliefs. Obviously, as sinful humans, we are not perfect in our understanding and we all need correction. This is why we need the church. The church helps us to know what we believe and maintain that belief through faithfulness and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). The elders of the church help us to obtain this unity by teaching us the Word of God (Ephesians 4:11-16). Doctrine does matter (1 Timothy 4:16).
The balance of all this is to have both sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and sound experiences. I don’t want to go to church to hear a theological lecture every time. We need a balance of sound doctrine with practical living. Notice this is how Paul taught in his epistles. He would teach theology and how to put it into practice. For example, Ephesians is six chapters. The first three chapters of Ephesians are theological in nature. The last three are application in nature. Our theology transforms our lives for better or for worst. This is why Paul would issue such a condemnation as in Galatians 1:6-9 over the issue of the gospel. Without sound doctrine, the gospel is lost. Salvation is gone. The Lordship of Jesus is robbed. Life is hopeless.
My friends, I urge you to pray for the Church of Jesus Christ. Pray for God to show us the need for sound doctrine. Pray for the Lord to us godly elders who are not leading for gain but for the love of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5). Peter the Apostle wrote in 1 Peter 4:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” I want all this for myself and the church of God.
May the Lord be glorified in and among His Church!
I recently did my own little project. I spoke to two very different pastors of traditional churches (traditional in the sense that they are not house churches). I asked them the same basic questions. I wanted to highlight their answers (which I have summarized here) and show the contrasts in their thinking. The first pastor I will call John and the second I will call Rob. John pastors a traditional Reformed church. Rob pastors a seeker sensitive church.
John, age is late 50’s, Reformed in his theology.
What books are you reading?
I’m reading several books by a few Puritans. Right now, I am reading Thomas Watson. I just finished a book on the humor of Charles Spurgeon which I found delightful.
What style is your preaching?
What are you preaching right now?
Through the Gospel of Mark.
How often do you preach on doctrine?
I try to deal with my text and include sound exegesis and doctrine in every sermon. Sometimes, depending on the text, doctrine comes up more. Sometimes not. I want the text to lead me.
Lastly, how much time you spend in prayer and study in a given week on average?
I would say 10 to 15 hours.
Rob, age is early 40’s, Baptist in his theology. Non-Calvinist.
What books are you reading?
Right now I am reading Mark Batterson. My favorite author is John Ortberg.
What style is your preaching?
Topical and series.
What are you preaching right now?
Actually we are working through the Gospel of John. (Side question I asked: Is this expository preaching through John? He said not in the technical sense but more focused on long sections).
How often do you preach on doctrine?
Um….I know doctrine is vital. Not downplaying it at all. We have a lot of seekers coming to church so I try to avoid anything that would lose them. We talk about doctrine a lot in our home groups.
Lastly, how much time to you spend in prayer and study in a given week on average?
I would say about 5 hours. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Just depends on how busy I am.
First, let me state that I am not trying to attack Rob though it will appear that way. I disagree with him and his church. I am not a Calvinist so I didn’t agree with John either but it shows me why Calvinists are seeing a resurgence and we Arminians are not at this point. I know of few Arminians preachers who actually preach Arminianism from the pulpit.
In this case, Rob is not an Arminian. He is a seeker sensitive church plant from the SBC. He would say that he is a non-Calvinist though he stated that he enjoys John Piper and David Platt. Rob, however, often reflects non-Calvinist churches. That are often shallow, lacking theological depth, and focused on getting results (in this case pragmatically) for the purpose of numbers.
John was very gracious. He is a scholar. He deeply loves the Lord (though I think Rob does too). Both men want to see Jesus glorified though I believe John is more God-centered in his approach. John, unlike Rob, seems to not care what the numbers say. John’s church is only about 35. Rob is running near 500. That said, the theological depth of the average person in John’s church is deep while Rob’s is seriously lacking. Even the music was noticeably different. John’s church sang deep theological hymns while Rob’s sang the latest praise songs from the popular praise singers.
One final point. What I found interesting in this short study was even the Bibles these men used. John preaches from the King James Version. Rob preaches from the New Living Translation. Yet John dealt with his text. Rob only skims it. John developed his points from the text and allowed the text to dictate him. Rob read the text and then only touched on points here and there from it. John preached with Christ and His gospel as the focus. Rob preached, it seemed to me, with the hearers as this focus.
My call to my fellow Arminians is learn from this. Preach doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). Let us not shy away from the Word of God. Furthermore, I pray for a revival of expository preaching among my fellow Arminians. This goes for house churches as well. God’s Word is the final authority and we must preach the Word with unction and to the glory of God. Care not for the attention of men but rather long for the glory of God to be exalted.
This past Resurrection Day, since my family has no church home right now, I visited a small Presbyterian church near my home. The church is called Covenant Free Presbyterian Church. I have always been impressed with the Free Presbyterian Church for their focus on the free offer of the gospel and for missions. Their preachers, while Reformed, often preach with passion. In fact, if I didn’t know otherwise, I would have thought I was in a Baptist church with their “amens” at the sermons and at the hymns. The praying was much like what I have heard in my Pentecostal upbringing.
The pastor preached from Matthew 28:1-10 and basically had two points: 1) come and see and 2) go and tell. He did a good job of working through the text and the gospel was clearly preached. He did not avoid theology nor did he spend his time giving personal illustrations from his life. He mentioned his wife and her hurt back once but otherwise he spent his time in the text. I appreciated that.
Sadly, so few Arminian or non-Calvinistic churches are focused on the text. I know of few Arminian expository preachers. While I was in the Assemblies of God, I knew of only two expository preachers. All the AG ministers I knew were topical at best. In my area, I know the Pentecostal churches and theology is not their focus. Methodology is. In fact, they will unite with anyone whom they feel matches their methodology. Most of them love the Perry Noble types. Some of them love Andy Stanley and long to be like him. Sadly, none of them are focused on men like John MacArthur.
What I long for is sound doctrine to be preached. I know some would say that a Calvinist church would not preach sound doctrine but I would disagree. I know I would not agree with all that a Calvinist preacher would preach or teach but it would not be a salvation issue. Further, I have sat in non-Calvinist churches many days and have not agreed with hardly anything that was preached because, sadly, nothing was being preached. Doctrine was avoided like the plague.
In the evening on the Lord’s day, I went back to the church to enjoy a fellowship meal. I had great talks with the brethren. I sat and talked with brothers who held onto their Calvinist study Bibles (Reformation Study Bible) and we just talked as brothers. I never brought up Arminianism versus Calvinism. It was not an issue. We were just Christians enjoying fellowship and food.
My point in all this is to show that our differences should not divide us. I know for some it does. I have had both Arminians and Calvinists who genuinely are concerned about the other group. For me, Jesus matters more. I know that Jesus saves sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) because He saved me. When Jesus saved me, I didn’t know anything about theology. I couldn’t have told you anything about Arminianism or Calvinism. I barely knew that there was a difference between Protestants and Catholics. For my first two years or so of my Christianity, theological debates were rare. I was witnessing to my friends, praying with my Christian friends, and reading from my NIV Bible. I had theological convictions such as the person and work of Jesus Christ, His resurrection, etc. but I could fellowship with other Christians if I knew that they had truly repented of their sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
Theology does matter. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love reading and studying theology. The study of God, wrote A.W. Tozer, is vital for what we believe shows in how we live (1 Timothy 4:16). Sound doctrine is vital (Titus 2:1). 2 Corinthians 13:5 even tells us to examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. “The faith” is found in the Word of God (Jude 3).
We must be careful, however, to not make theology our god and not the Lord God. Our theological studies should point us to Jesus and loving Him and obeying Him more (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6). Jesus is not merely found in a book. He is real. He is risen. He is alive. His Spirit dwells in us who have repented and believe the gospel. Our relationship with the Lord Jesus goes much deeper than merely reading a theology book. It goes much deeper than even just quoting Scripture. Scripture points us to the risen Savior who is alive (John 20:31). The Scriptures testify about the risen Jesus (John 5:39-40).
In closing, I enjoy fellowship with Christians. There is nothing like it in the world. I feel so comfortable around those who love the Lord Jesus, love His Word, and stand firm on the Word of God. Whether they be Arminians or Calvinists, I long to be around the saints of God who truly love and adore Him. My prayer is that more of this will take place. No doubt we have our theological differences but we are first and foremost children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29). May the Spirit of God unite our hearts to fear His name.
Thus ends my ramblings.
The Bible is clear that there are none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Our minds and hearts are warped with sin when we come to Christ and the work of God in sanctifying us is to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:29-30). Yet even after we come to Christ, we bring years of sin, years of filling our minds with wordiness and compromise. We also bring to the Lord all our culture, our thoughts, our upbringing, our traditions. All of this must be laid before the Lord and we take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25; 14:25-35).
Of course, not all of that is sinful. Our culture may or may not be sinful. Our traditions may or may not be sinful. We must take all of them and lay them before the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). The Word of God is the only infallible and inerrant guide in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We submit to the Word of God (John 8:31-32).
Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t bring our fallible presuppositions to the Bible. We all do. I appreciate those who come humbly to the Bible longing for the Holy Spirit to teach us as little children (Matthew 18:2-4). I acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about the Bible and there are parts I have yet to grasp. I suppose I never will. This doesn’t mean that I don’t study the Bible or don’t read difficult passages but I don’t build doctrines on passages that are not clear. Nor should you.
Furthermore, we can read a passage and bring different presuppositions to the text. Take the controversy of Romans 9. When Arminius begin to preach through the book of Romans, it was at Romans 7 that Arminius first differed with the Reformed pastors of his day. Arminius argued that Romans 7 was not a Christian. This was (and remains) not the view of the Calvinists. Arminius, who at the time was himself likely a Calvinist or at least was trained by Calvinists, was willing to disagree with the theologians of his day over the sake of truth. I happen to agree with much of what he wrote about Romans 7. That said, I know that neither myself nor Arminius are infallible. Arminius brought his presuppositions to the text and so did the Calvinists of his day.
Another text that is hotly debated is Romans 9. We Arminians read Romans 9 and we see the concept of corporate election all though it. We see God showing mercy to whom He desires to show mercy and hardening whom He wants to harden (Romans 9:18) but we don’t see this in the sense of individual unconditional election of people to salvation. Calvinists do. And why? Can we both be right? Could we both be wrong? We both read Romans 9 and we both seek to be faithful to the text but we read Romans 9 totally different ways.
We read Romans 7 or Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 or John 6 in different ways because we are fallible. Muslims point to the divisions in the Church as proof that Allah needed to send the final prophet to unite all people. Of course, Islam is not united. ISIS is proof of that. Atheists point to John 17:20-23 as a text that shows God did not answer Jesus’ prayer since the Church is not one. Other cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses harp on the same thing. Where is the unity? Where is the one true Church? Who is correct in their doctrine? Who is the one who is preaching the true gospel?
All this does is prove that men are sinful. That is all. We are fallible. We are fallen creatures made in the image of God but sinful nonetheless. Our thoughts are not infallible. Only the Bible is infallible.
The answer I believe is humility. I confess that I don’t know all things. I confess I could be wrong about Romans 9. That said, there are clear things taught in Scripture that I believe are essential and are vital to our salvation. Seeing election unto salvation in Romans 9 is not one of them. Seeing all the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 as operative today or not is not essential to salvation. Seeing the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not essential to salvation. Seeing the book of Revelation as futurist is not essential to salvation. The deity of Christ, His miracles, His teachings, His saving work on the cross, etc. are essential. Faith is essential (Hebrews 11:6). Repentance is essential (Acts 2:38).
My point here is not to be some postmodern in regards to Scripture. I believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible truth of God given to us to reveal His salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13). I am not claiming that humility is greatest virtue and we should not be dogmatic over theology. I believe theology is vital to our salvation (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 2:1). I believe that without sound exegesis, you could be preaching or hearing about the wrong Jesus (Matthew 24:23-25).
But I am arguing to humility toward our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with us over non-essentials. I am calling for love (John 13:34-35) and charity. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 is clear (NIV):
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
The Lord’s slave should reflect their Lord who is humble (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:5). Our Lord Jesus gave us the perfect example for us to follow in His steps (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21). Jesus Himself was not quarrelsome even with the Pharisees. Yes He rebuked them in Matthew 23 but He also warned them, loved them, and ultimately (here is my Arminianism coming out) died for them (Luke 23:34; John 11:49-52). Jesus was kind to all and He taught all who would hear Him. He handled His opponents with much grace (Matthew 22:23-46). Jesus always answered His opponents with Scripture. He didn’t make it a personal issue. Jesus wanted them to repent and come to the truth. Many of them did repent after His death and resurrection including a Jew named Saul of Tarsus.
While we are often willing to grant grace toward sinners, we are not willing to grant it toward our fellow disciples. This should not be. We should be humble and willing to love even that brother who disagrees with our end times view or our mode of baptism. We should be willing to preach the gospel with our Calvinists friends who disagree with us over many issues but who preach the same saving Jesus as we preach in Arminianism. Let us unite over the essentials, defend the gospel at all costs (1 Peter 3:15-16) but love each other over non-essentials and personal preferences (Romans 14:1-4).
And those are the thoughts of a slave of Christ. May Jesus be glorified (John 3:30).