Puffed-Up Christians

puffed up

Social Media is exhausting! Most of the time I scroll on by. Every now and then I stop and interject. It’s probably pointless, but I’ll never know. The other day I wasn’t feeling well, so curled up in my recliner with a blanket and that 2nd cup of coffee, I lingered on Facebook a little longer than usual. (Honestly, I should have gotten up and cleaned the toilets. It probably would have been more edifying.) A controversial topic was posted and what followed was rather disheartening. Seriously, do we really think that name-calling and bashing one another is appropriate as professing Christians? Does the bickering back and forth help the cause of Christ? Or, does standing for truth on Facebook make a difference. I’m not being condescending. I seriously want to know. We are called as Christians to speak truth. And even when done in love it sometimes inflames others, hence the “you’re arrogant” remarks. Other times, Christians are truly being arrogant.

Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Have you ever met one of those Christians? A better question…Have you ever been one?

Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and wanted to pass through the village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:52-56). However, the Samaritans would not receive Christ. Burned with anger, The Sons of Thunder asked, “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did?” In other words, just destroy them! How dare they spurn the Living Son of God! How dare they reject Him! They don’t deserve mercy. James and John should have checked their motive behind their “zeal” for God. Knowing their hearts, Jesus rebuked them. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Too many times I’ve seen professing Christians with that same arrogant, prideful, puffed-up “zeal”. If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit that I’ve had this same attitude at times.

It’s shameful.

It hurts the church.

It harms the cause of Christ.

But, this isn’t the only type of arrogant, prideful, puffed-up attitude that Christian’s sometimes carry. One particular church struggled with it. The Corinthian church was a mess.  They were rather worldly and known in the community for their divisions. Another known issue that had to be dealt with was the sexual immortality of one member. “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (1Co 5:1-2)

Church, you are puffed-up! You’re prideful. You’re arrogant.

I didn’t use to understand that. How could a church of professing Christians be arrogant about such a grievous sin? What’s there to be prideful about? Were they seriously puffed-up about this situation?

However, I’m starting to understand. The worldlier the churches are becoming along with faster access to information via the internet, it’s becoming clear. It looks like this.

We’re non-judgmental!

Who are we to speak out against their sin?

Everyone sins. At least we’re not hypocritical like some Christians!

And, in their pride and arrogance they proclaim to be tolerant and loving. The truth is that they are so puffed-up that they don’t even mourn over the sin in their brother’s life. The harder truth is that they don’t love him enough to speak hard truth to him. If they truly cared for his soul they would remind him of what God’s word says about adulterers. (And yes, Christians are commanded to make judgments, but that’s another post.)

Christians can be puffed-up with a holy, self-righteous indignation, or they can be puffed-up with a non-judgmental, too-tolerant attitude. Regardless of what end you stand on, extremes are usually dangerous.

By the way, do you think that social media has hindered or enhanced our ability to communicate with one another? Here’s my take.

Leave a comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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When Leaders Fall….and what we can learn from them

leaders The subject line read Another Homeschool Tragedy. As I opened the email my heart grieved. Similar to other stories reported over the past year, it contained scandalous news involving a local homeschool father/spiritual leader. A man has fallen into sin. Families are torn up. Lives are devastated. Ministries are tarnished. The testimony and integrity of Christians are questioned. And, the homeschool community faces shame and disgrace.

Opinions will always abound when scandals surface. Some will throw rocks at the accused. Others will call for grace. Some will claim that it was inevitable. Other will say they cannot believe it happened. But placing opinions aside, there are things we can learn when those in leadership fall. After all, did not God give us examples in His Word of men and women who fell into sin in order that we can learn from them?

Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted, 1 Corinthians 10:6.

No doubt there are just as many examples of people doing wrong than right in the Bible. Keeping this in mind, there are at least four principles we can learn when considering this subject. As the old adage goes, a wise man will learn from the mistakes of others; an ordinary person will learn from his own; a fool will learn from neither.

Do Not Believe Everything You Hear

The first principle is something that we should already understand. It is not wise to accept at face value everything we hear second hand. We should certainly not believe every word we read on the internet. In this information age of blogging, social media and online news, the internet is to gossip as fuel is to fire.

As a pastor, my husband counsels with many couples. Occasionally he will ask me to sit in on the sessions. Something that I have gained from this experience is that almost always there are three sides to every story – his, hers, and the right one. If this is true of face to face conversations, how much more should we be cautious of news traveling online?

Negative news loves to spread, especially when it involves Christian people. The world is looking for a reason to criticize our faith. This is why a standard of living is so meticulously laid out for the church in Titus 2. God’s children are to look and live differently than the world with three reasons mentioned specifically in this passage. The first reason is so that the Word of God will “not be blasphemed” (verse 5). Another is that those who are “of the contrary part my may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say,” (verse 8). And finally, so that others “may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things,” (verse 10). We are to live “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;” Titus 2:12. Unfortunately, Christians do not always do so.

Believers need to walk circumspectly. We also need to speak with caution and be careful with our accusations especially when it involves a spiritual leader. On the other hand, we do not want to be guilty of hiding or covering up sins to the determent of others. Often, people will downplay the reality of what is happening or ignore it all together in fear that Christianity will look bad. When leaders fall into sin there is a warning in Scripture toward both ends. “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear,” 1 Timothy 5:19-20. This is, of course, in context of a local assembly.

When we hear news of scandal it is good to remember to not believe everything we hear. Also, when people fall into sin, note that it rarely helps to take those sins and magnify them before the world. Unless you are directly involved in the situation, often the best response is none at all. Silence is never misquoted.

Let it Serve as a Reminder

Since the beginning of time pride has caused sin, ruin, and heartache for mankind. It was Satan’s pride that caused his fall (Isaiah 14:12-14). Eve was tempted with pride when the serpent tricked her into believing that she would become as a god, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Our Lord was tempted with pride in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-7). We are warned in I John 2:16 about the “pride of life”. Pride is such a stumbling block that one of the qualifications to be a pastor or elder is that he must not be a novice, “…lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil,” I Timothy 3:6.

How many times have we heard of a man preach or teach against the very sin that he ends up falling into? (Being transparent here, how many times have I lectured my children about sin in their life to only have the same sin rear its ugly head in my life.) Pride tells us that we are untouchable. Pride dismisses accountability. Pride elevates man and pushes God far away. So given the warning of pride, when we hear of leaders falling into sin let it serve as a reminder to remain humble ourselves. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” 1 Corinthians 10:12. The truth is that none of us are immune to sin. In fact, it is that very moment we begin to think that we are immune when we are at the highest risk of falling.

People are people; nothing more. It is pride that tries to make more of man than he is. But lest we forget, God is God and nothing less. When we grasp this concept the pride in our lives become detestable and we are left in humility before the One who discerns of the thoughts and intents of our heart.

Understand Healthy Emulation

Romans 12:3 warns, “to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” We fall into danger of temptation when man is elevated too high and no doubt this can become a problem. On the other hand, we see in scripture the concept of healthy emulation. God places people in our lives as examples to follow. Christians should imitate those of noble character. The Apostle Paul spoke to the church in Corinth saying, “wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me,” 1 Corinthians 4:16. To the Jewish believers he said to be, “followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” Hebrews 6:12. Speaking of pastors and elders, Paul wrote, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation,” Hebrews 13:7. We are to look to our leaders, consider their behavior, and follow their example. This is healthy emulation. The Apostle John gives the same instruction in his third epistle stating that we are not to follow after evil, but that which is good (3 John 1:11). In other words, imitate those who do good things.

There is a balance. Extreme tenets almost always lead to problems. I have known those who will put a man or ministry on a pedestal, but then jump to the other extreme (complete disregard for any man or any ministry) when that man falls. I believe that we can find that balance in the local assembly, which brings us to the next point.

Recognizing the Importance of the Local Assembly

The problem I see with online ministries and parachurch organizations is that while they do good works for the Kingdom, if we are not careful these organizations can easily become a surrogate for the local assembly. When the intimacy of the local assembly is replaced with a general or broad application, accountability is no longer possible. You see, the local assembly is not an organization, but an organism – a living body.

Consider Paul’s instructions to the Philippians. “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you,” Philippians 4:9. Paul had already told the Philippians in 3:17 to be followers of him, now he reminds them again. Do the things that you have not only learned, received and heard from me, but also those things that you have personally seen in me. Paul practiced what he preached and those in Philippi could verify his words because they had seen the way he lived. It is hard to follow someone solely based on their bio. This is why the local assembly is important for healthy emulation. We need to witness the walk of those we look to for examples.

I certainly do not want to discount all works and resources outside the local assembly. That would be foolish. Many ministries provide valid support for believers. Many organizations and leaders greatly influence others in the Christian community. I am thankful for the wealth of books and tools that are available for Christians and the homeschool community. These resources have personally brought value to my life over the years. I have written books to the Christian community as well as the homeschool community. But the bottom line is that while books can be a great resource, they are no substitute for the Word of God. And just as resources are no substitute for God’s Word, ministries or organizations should not be a substitute for the local assembly.

Thousands upon thousands of men and women are faithfully and silently serving the Lord. They are placed in our churches as examples to follow. There are spiritual leaders who set a good example to follow, families who are living out godly principals, and parents that are bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Look to the local fellowship for support. Personally know those who you follow. Be an example for others to follow. And welcome accountability that can only come from a local fellowship of believers.

News of scandal brings concern and uncertainty to our community. But like all things, good can come from it. When news travels remember to not believe everything you hear. Let it serve as a reminder to stay humble before the Lord. Understand the importance of healthy emulation and the need for the local assembly.

“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13.

Why Our Church Doesn’t Celebrate Easter

easterWith the Easter holiday just a few days away there is a lot of talk about the subject. But this Sunday we will not be celebrating “Easter” but rather the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Below are a few reasons as to why:

  •  Ignorance is NOT bliss. Read I Peter 1:14-21. As a Christian every word, action, and deed should be done for the glory of God. To celebrate is to observe, show happiness, or mark an occasion. At the least, do a study on the origins of “Easter” before deciding to observe it.
  • Words mean things. After a careful study, why would you even want to use the word “Easter”? What purpose does it serve to call your celebration by that word? Isn’t Resurrection Sunday a better, more accurate description of what we are celebrating? Which one points more people to God?
  • The Easter symbols of bunnies and eggs are distracting at best. Really, what does it have to do with Christ’s resurrection? I haven’t figured that out yet. However, these symbols have plenty to do with fertility and pagan ideas.
  • “It’s just for fun” is counterproductive. The world and Satan will always win when it comes to providing fun. The church is to be the “pillar and ground of the truth” not entertainment centers. An attempt to compete with the world in this area cheapens the Bride of Christ.
  • It is confusing to children. When we play around with the world’s ideas our children become unstable and unsure of what to believe in. The same thing happens when we tell children that Christmas is about the birth of Christ while playing the Santa game. Or when they get older we allow them to be indoctrinated with evolutionary teaching and then give them an hour a week in Sunday school to learn about the Genesis account of creation. Our children are confused and no wonder. We allow these things to affect them and then question why 80% leave the church by the end of high school.
  • What you draw people with is what you draw them to. A church can use an egg hunt to draw people in (or any worldly event for that matter), but when we draw them in with activities, promotions, and such we are drawing them to those things. When we use the pure, unadulterated Word of God to draw people in, it is Christ alone that they are drawn to. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” Colossians 3:2.
  • We are called to be holy. We are to be set apart and peculiar. I’m afraid many have forgotten this. It is hard to be set apart while being the same. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” 1 Peter 2:9-11.

We do as a church celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The resurrection is, in fact, the hinge-pin of all of Christianity. Without it there is no hope. Without it our faith is in vain. Without it our loved ones would be gone for good. Without it we would still be in our sins. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” 1 Corinthians 15:19. But thank God we are not most miserable. Because of the resurrection of our Lord there is hope! The grave has been conquered! Sin not longer reigns! And death has no sting! This Sunday we will celebrate Resurrection Sunday with the living Christ being glorified, and his death and resurrection being preached!

 

*note:   My 16 year old son’s comment to this article was, “Mom, That was great. I agree with everything you said, but I think you will make people mad with your words.” So in reply to “making people mad” let me just say that is certainly not my intent. I hold no judgment over anyone. How you choose to celebrate is between your conscience and God alone.

I write because there are so many misconceptions and fallacies regarding the church. Dear Christian, never forget that the world is watching us. They want to know if what we say we believe is real enough to make a difference in the way we live.

Too many have a form of godliness, but deny the power (2 Timothy 3:5). They are denying the power of the Word of God to work in their life (1 Thessalonians 2:13). They are denying the power of Christ to crucify the old man (Romans 6:6). They are denying the power of God to keep them from practicing a lifestyle of sin (1 John 3:9). They are denying the power of the Holy Ghost to teach them spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

The “New” Front Porch

My husband’s first church was in a little town in central Arkansas (population 202).  It was a quaint little town, stuck in the 50’s.  We knew all of our neighbors.  People waved as they drove past.  Those walking down the street would stop and talk to you.  We went to Crime Watch and played softball at the park.  I did aerobics at the community center and my husband was on the volunteer fire department.  Everyone in the town knew you and you knew everyone in the town.  People didn’t need an invitation to stop by for a visit.  My family loved living there and living in a “glass house” didn’t bother us.  We wanted our church to know that we were the same in our home as well as outside in the community.  Everyone had a front porch and we would often find them sitting on it.  In fact, my first Ladies Bible study was held on a front porch.  One mid-morning Tuesday a dozen ladies gathered up for a luncheon, sweet tea, and the Word of God.    Living there was a good experience for us.

Today we live in a far different atmosphere.  I do not know my neighbors.  In fact, since we’ve lived in town, we have had a hard time meeting even our next door neighbors.  People are busy.  Garage doors stay closed.  Blinds stay shut.  No one sits on their front porch because no one has a front porch.  Sometimes we hear our neighbors in their backyard, but even that is seldom.  Several months ago we tried to meet our new neighbors who just moved in.  My husband took over a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to welcome them into our neighborhood.  As it turned out, it was the cleaning people.  They enjoyed the cookies, I’m sure.

It is though people do not want to be known.  “I have my own life.  Leave me alone.  Don’t bother me.”

That is until they get online……..

You see, it’s not that people don’t necessarily want to get to know people.  It’s just that they don’t want to get to know them face to face.  They don’t want to sit on their front porch and visit with a neighbor over a cup of coffee.  That takes too much time.  It’s too much of an investment.  There is a risk associated with it.  It involves real people.

But, the “new” front porch is a different story.  This front porch can be anywhere.  It can be in your bedroom, the car, at work, during church service, at the doctor’s office, or on the playground.  In fact, on those rare occasions when we are actually visiting with someone face to face, we can still be sitting on our own “front porch” interacting with someone entirely different.  This new front porch has many names.  You might recognize it at Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting, or basically any type of social networking and virtual connections.  It really is a strange phenomenon.  There are people who will not take 3 seconds to look another person in the eyes when greeted.  Yet, these same people will tell the whole world all the happenings of their day.  We know what they ate for breakfast, where their spent their last dollar, what games they play online, what TV shows they are watching, the status of their ingrown toenail, and all their personal problems.  There are people who have 4,000 “friends” online, yet could not name 3 “real” friends who would be there if needed.  They will proudly announce to the world their private sins in the form of a status update, yet would never dream of confessing their faults to the church (James 5:16).

Indeed there is a façade associated with the “new” front porch, but is it more ominous than all of that?  My concern is toward the Christian community.  Has all of this online interaction become a surrogate church of sorts?  Let me explain.  Just today I was reading a post by a young mother who was pouring out her heart and begging for encouragement from others in this certain online group.  My heart immediately went out to her, but not necessarily because she was having family troubles.  I was sad for her because it appeared that she did not have anyone (other than an online Christian group) to talk to.  What a sad commentary for the local church.  Tell me, can someone typing ((hugs)) really replace a friends presence?

Like so much of technology there are pro’s and con’s associated it.  I like Facebook.  I love seeing pictures of my family and friends.  I like being able to seed messages and connect with those I know.  I enjoy being able to send a short text to someone.  It simplifies communicating.  Emails are great.  I would much rather type a letter to a friend than take the time to write one out on paper, it’s faster.  And Skype sure comes in handy when my husband and I travel.  We can still see the children, pray with them, and tell them goodnight “face to face.”  Technology should enhance communication; it should not replace it.

As with all of technology there is a fine line.  Do we embrace it or shut it off?  I think I will invited a friend over for a cup of coffee and sit outside on the deck to discuss it.  Some “real people” interaction sounds nice.  On second thought, I’m too busy for that today.  So, I think I’ll throw this up online.  If you want to sit on my “front porch” for a while leave a comment.

Blessings!

Exhorting One Another

“Listen to this,” I told my son, “according to this study 88% of children raised in evangelical Christian homes will leave the church by the age of 18.”

What do you think?”  I asked.  “Do you think you will ever be a part of this 88%?”

My son turns 16 next week.  He is just a few years shy of this age.  So I genuinely wanted to know his thoughts on the subject.

“I don’t know, Mom” he replied.  “But I do know that if I ever did get out of church that I would have you and Dad and my church family there to exhort, admonish, and encourage me to come back.”

I explained to my son that none of us are above falling into sin, or are we immune from straying from the fellowship.  But I assured him that should that happen in his life that he would always be loved and prayed for.

It was comforting to know that my teenage son had a clear understanding of part of the ministry of the local fellowship.  He understood that if he were to stray from God (and then the church as a result) that his brothers and sisters in Christ would be there to hold him accountable.

Regardless of what some will say today, exhortation is a biblical principle.

“Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren…” (2Co 9:5)

 “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” (1Th 4:1)

 “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” (1Th 5:14)

 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2Ti 4:2)

 “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” (Tit 2:15)

 It is detrimental to a person’s spiritual growth to be removed from the fellowship of the local church.  Yet, many enthusiastically walk away.  When this happens in a young person’s life and they fall into sin, it’s good to know that their parents will always be there.  But how much more powerful is it knowing that a whole group of others who love you is there as well – bearing your burdens, lifting you up in prayer, holding you accountable, admonishing you when you sin, and rebuking you in love.

A church that truly loves each other will exhort one another.  We do it because we love.  We do it because it pleases God.  We do it because if we don’t, sin will harden our hearts.

 “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13)

Exercises in Generalizations

There is something remarkably precious about the love and fellowship shared between brothers and sisters in Christ. Last night, our family was standing in the parking lot of our church talking with one of the men on our executive leadership team and his sweet wife.  We were doing some work around the church building, visiting, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company.   Then, as usual, we started talking about the church and doctrine.  In our church, doctrine is often discussed.  We love it, teach it, and hold to it.  My husband often reminds the congregation that we not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe it.  Yet, when you talk to a lot of Christian people today, doctrine seems to be irrelevant. Really, is it that important?   I will submit that of course it is; that is unless we want to be “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” Eph 4:14.  And yet, it seems like that is just the case.  People are carried about with every (and I mean every) wind of doctrine.

“I’ll believe this, this week.”

“That sounds good for next week.”

“Teach me something new under the sun, I’ll believe it too!”

My husband explains it like this.  Many pastors’ sermons are simply exercises in generalizations.  They do not know the Bible; therefore, they do not teach it to their flock.  Due to this, people are biblically illiterate.  Consequently, they will believe anything (or in some cases nothing at all).  So as a result, people will often shy away from sound doctrine, because it has gotten to the point of sounding foreign to the “average” church-goer.  Could it be that we have reached the time where “they will not endure sound doctrine,” 2 Timothy 4:3?

I am so thankful for all the pastors who hold fast to the faithful words that they, “may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers,” Titus 1:9.     And for the men of God that “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine,” Titus 2:1.  Keep it up!   The Lord is pleased.  There are many out there who are doing just this.  I am, of course, partial to one in particular.  I really love my husband’s preaching.  I have learned so much by the expository, verse by verse, teaching of God’s Word.  And, I’m thankful for the churches that have ears to hear and that truly want to follow God’s precious Word.  Our church is an example of one.   I love our church.  Each and every one of them!  Our people have a heart’s desire to know the Word of God and obey it.  We not only have unity, but our unity is built on the truth (sound doctrine) of God’s Word.

The Church Hurt Me!

Lately I have come across several online comments regarding the church in general.  Below are a few that I have recently read.

  • “I love Jesus; I just don’t like the church!”
  • “The church hurt me.”
  • “Church people are some of the cruelest people out there.”
  • “I turned my back on God because I was hurt by the church.”

I have been in church my entire life and I understand why people say these things.  I too have experienced mean, vicious, evil spirited people within the church.  I too have been hurt.   But not once did it make me want to cast off the church.  It fact, it has drawn me closer to Christ and His Word and it has given me a deeper love for the true church of God.  You see, we have a mistaken view that those that do such things are a part of the true church.  Most of the time, this is not the case.  They are simply pretenders, charlatans, and wolves in sheep clothing.  They are either unknowingly or in some cases intently seeking to destroy the reputation of the church.  And by the looks of things, they are doing a good job.

But, let us not forget that for every one negative account there are hundreds of positive ones.  For all the groups of non-believers who selfishly try to run the church, there are groups of true believers who have a heart’s desire to come together with their brothers and sisters in Christ to carry out the work of Kingdom.  For every one pastor who is foolish, ignorant, or just plain mean, there are thousands who are true servants of God, working tirelessly day and night, loving, serving, and ministering to people.  For every one hurtful word said, there are thousands of words spoken that have ministered grace unto the hearers.  For every false doctrine proclaimed by false teachers, there are still more who boldly proclaim the unequivocal truth from God’s Word.

Christ loves the church. (The true church, that is.) Christ established the church.  Christ died for the church. It is His Bride.  When we talk about the church in general, we are talking about the Bride of Christ.  We better be careful!  Quit being used by the enemy to destroy the reputation of the church.  Quit looking at self.  I know you’ve probably been hurt, but grow from it, move on, and lift your eyes and take notice of all the good that is in Christ’s true church.  And by all means, if you are in a church where Christ is not preeminent, that is not preaching the truth, not loving the brethren, not doing the work of the Kingdom, not edifying the believers, and does not look like the church should look like then find a true church where you can worship and serve.  True churches are out there.  I know, my husband is the pastor of one.  Sometimes it just takes a while to find one. But remember the words of Christ, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Matthew 16:18.

Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Six

Pragmatism

“How is your church doing?”  It is a common question asked among Christians.  I have found that what people usually want to know when asking this is, “How are the churches ABC’s (attendance, buildings, and cash flow)?”  Unfortunately, too often man will use these measures to gauge success.  But is attendance, or numbers, the most important criterion for success?  What about the building?  Does a beautiful multi-purpose church building have anything to do with success?  What about cash flow?  Is wealth really a factor?

Our answers to these questions need to be rooted in the Scriptures and I have yet to find in the Bible success defined by these factors.  For example, in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul does not instruct the young pastors to be concerned with numbers.  While numbers, in the proper perspective, can shed some light into the amount of lives that are being transformed, they do not on their own measure success.  And since the church is a “people and not a place” the building is irrelevant when measuring success.   And being rich is not always a sign of God’s blessing and approval as in Revelation 3:17.  (But, I have found that the purity of a church in doctrine and practice is vitally important to the Lord.)

Yet still, it seems as though this is what the world is looking for in a church – a large, vibrant, relevant church that appeals to the flesh.  Instead of asking whether or not the church preaches and teaches the truth or even where God wants me to worship and serve, the question more often is asked, “What will this church do for me?” or “Is this church big enough, beautiful enough and rich enough to meet all my needs?”   One pastor said, “Mega-churches are cooler, hipper, usually more exciting than other area churches, therefore they are natural gathering points for already-converted people who are looking for ‘something more’ – namely more program options, better worship, more services with fewer demands…”

And because this is such a common attitude we can quickly become pragmatic when we use man’s standards to define success instead of God’s Word.

What Is Pragmatism?

Prag`mat`ic – more concerned with practical results than with theories and principles

Pragmatism is the belief that worth is determined by practical consequences.  In other words, if a technique has a desired effect, it is good.  If it doesn’t work then it must be wrong.  In the pragmatic church the only question that matters is, “What will work to grow and prosper our church?”  John MacArthur often speaks out against the pragmatic movement so prevalent today.  In one sermon he said,

Some church leaders evidently think the four priorities of the early church—the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42) make a lame agenda for the church in this day and age. Churches are allowing drama, recreation, entertainment, self-help programs, and similar enterprises to eclipse the importance of traditional Sunday worship and fellowship. In fact, everything seems to be in fashion in the church today except biblical preaching. The new pragmatism sees preaching—particularly expository preaching—as pass‚. Plainly declaring the truth of God’s Word is regarded as offensive and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them pop-psychology and thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.

Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to counseling technique and church-growth theory. All these trends reflect the church’s growing commitment to pragmatism.[i]

So, let’s be committed to God’s Word.  Let’s measure success by His definition.  And let’s cast off pragmatic ideas about church growth and look to the truth found in Scripture.  And truth is certainly not tested by what works and what doesn’t work.

“These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”  (1Timothy 4:11-13)

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Five

Cultural Relevance

There is a lot of talk about the cultural relevant church, but just what does this mean?  I have heard it said that we must be culturally relevant if we want to reach the world and I have heard others oppose the notion.  I believe our biggest problem is taking terminology that is outside the Scriptures (cultural relevant) to describe mandates derived from the Scriptures. People get confused when this happens and the message becomes unclear.  So, let’s look at the definitions of cultural and relevant.

Cultural – relating to a culture or civilization

Relevant – having social significance, some bearing on or importance for real-world issues, present-day events, or the current state of society

One writer said, “It’s about being relevant and engaging culture. The church must be relevant and understand that we live in an ever-changing and ever evolving culture, if we want to reach people for Christ. The methods must change, but the message ‘the Word’ never changes.”

I can agree with most of this statement.  We most certainly live in an ever-changing culture and certain methods should change.  I do not know of any circuit riding preacher who is still traveling around on horseback preaching the gospel.  I like our current mode of transportation, thank you!  I’m also rather thankful for the internet.  Our church can broadcast the gospel all over the world with a few clicks of a button. To disregard our modern technology simply relates to loss opportunity in reaching out to the lost with the gospel.  So what is the problem and where is all the confusion?

It is interesting to note that those that promote cultural relevance always states that “the Word never changes.”  I have, however, found this to be untrue in some cases.  In an effort to have social significance some will cast off the Word for a more palatable substitute.  Sitting around talking about real life issues is not the same as teaching God’s Word and preaching the gospel of Christ.

Another problem arises when we confuse the function of the church with personal evangelism.  My husband often reminds us that the church is a people, not a place.  The Greek word for church is ekklesia which means a called assembly. The local church is a called out assembly of baptized believers who have coveted together to carry out the great commission.  Therefore, church is for the saved.  Let me say that again because I believe very few truly understand this.  Church is for the saved not the unregenerate world.  When we come together in the assembly, it is to worship God.  The lost cannot or will not do this.   When we come together in the assembly, it is to learn from God’s Word.  The lost do not even understand God’s Word.  “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14.    When we come together in the assembly, it is to love, exhort, and edify one another.  Without God’s love the lost cannot grasp the meaning of loving the brethren and all it encompasses.  And when we come together in the assembly it is to equip us for the work of the ministry. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12.

This is, however, not to say that the lost are unwelcome within the assembly.  We should make them feel welcome, but the function of the church is not to bring into the assembly as many lost people as we can find in hopes that they might get saved at the church.  If they come in, the purpose should be that they will watch true believers worship the True God, hear the preaching and teaching of the Word, and witness the love for the brethren within the church.  Should God draw them and stir their hearts so they get saved within the assembly, praise God.  But the churches function is not to be seeker sensitive.  We should not adapt the preaching and teaching to their pleasure.  (In fact, Jesus preached and taught counter-culturally and was crucified for it.  Why would we expect any less from the world?)  And while we desire to make them feel comfortable, the truth is that an unsaved man or woman will not be comfortable when the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed.  What we need to be sensitive to is God’s desires and His will for His church.  The church comes together to worship, learn from God’s Word, and love one another.  It is then that we go out into the world to reach and evangelize our neighbors and loved ones.  This is done on a personal level, one by one. Once the lost are saved, we should seek to bring them into the assembly so they too can worship God, learn from His Word, and love the brethren.

If the churches focus is always on being culturally relevant, the true “ministry of reconciliation” that we are given will quickly grow irrelevant.  When the center of attention is on the culture, often the purity of the church and the sanctification of believers are de-emphasized.  The problem with being cultural relevant is that too much attention is being given to making sinners feel comfortable, being seeker sensitive, and fitting in with the world.  Therefore, too little attention is given to repentance from sin, being sensitive to God’s Word, and confronting the culture.

The church is to be different from the world.  We are not to look like, act like, or live like the world.  We are to be holy, set apart, and peculiar.  I find that a focus on cultural relevance often ignores these truths.  Eric Davis states it plainly, “Christ was so relevant, not because he was methodologically trained in missional living, but because he was so holy. The most effective missional living is not crafting the most culturally relevant outreach technique, but in transformed people who are actually salt and light. Spiritual maturity through sanctification best equips God’s people for evangelism over cultural methodology.” [i]

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

The Decline of our Churches

My husband and I attended our National Mission’s Symposium last week.  The conference was sobering in that we were shown the stark reality of the state of our Baptist work.  Memberships and baptisms are diminishing.  Giving is down.   Disciples are not being reproduced; therefore, churches are not being reproduced.  And the work of the ministry has been relegated to a select few.  It appears that for far too long there has been a pragmatic view of what the church is and has become.  Unfortunately due to this, as a whole, we have moved from the New Testament model of the ekklesia to a more traditional approach of “church” that is less biblical but much more comfortable.  In this move, the preeminence of Christ and His Word is disregarded.  The preaching and teaching ministry becomes irrelevant.  And emotions, feelings, and personal preferences are elevated over absolute truth.

While the decline in numbers is startling, too often it is the only focus.  This can be very dangerous because it does lead to that pragmatic view.  We become more intentional in doing what works than what is right.  The success of a church should never be judged by numbers alone.  There are many large churches that are weak and unhealthy.   The characteristics of a weak congregation is one that is full of professing Christians who have a “form of godliness but deny the power thereof.”  What power are they denying?  They are denying the power of the Word of God to work in their life, (I Thessalonians 2:13).   They are denying the power of Christ to crucify the old man, (Romans 6:6).   They are denying the power of God to keep them from practicing a lifestyle of sin (I John 3:9). They are denying the power of the Holy Ghost to teach them spiritual things, (I Corinthians 2:10-13).  This is evident by their lifestyle.

What should be done?  We must first cast off the idea of easy-believism.  The wide spread teaching of this false doctrine is a major cause for a great deal of the “lukewarmness” we see today (Revelations 3:16).

Then we need to recognize that it is God that adds to His church.

“And I say also ….I will build my church,” Matthew 16:18.

“ the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” Act 2:47.

“And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,” Act 5:14.                    

“ and much people was added unto the Lord,” Act 11:24.

When the Word of God permeates the church and indwells in the hearts and minds of believers something amazing happens.  Believers begin to live transformed lives and all of a sudden the world takes notice.  However, when the world looks into a powerless church and sees no difference in them and their own life, the Word of God is blasphemed (Read Titus 2:1-10).

And it is imperative that we are mission minded.  The mission is clear.  We are to go, teach, baptize, and disciple (Matthew 28:19-20).  There was a great focus on reaching out and making disciples at our Missions Symposium.  I agree.  We need to do this.  But one of the greatest missed opportunities is often in our own homes.  The only way we are going to have strong churches is to have strong families.  The local assembly is a family of families. This discipleship falls to the Christian parents.  We have an awesome responsibility to disciple our own children, one on one, training them in the ways of the Lord. So many times the attitude is that it is the churches duty to disciple our children. I know this because I have talked with many parents who when complaining about the lack of spirituality in their children say, “I brought them to church every time the doors were open.”  Bringing children to church is not discipleship.

I love the fact that we are missionary focused.  I’m thrilled that we are concerned with church plants and reproducing disciples.  But I rarely see a focus on the families that make up a church.  Where is the teaching to parents on how to teach their own children the Bible?  Where is the teaching to fathers on how to spiritually lead their families? (When was the last time someone taught the father how to lead a time of worship with his family in what use to be called the family altar? Have we forgotten that we are to worship daily?  Sunday is just the day we have set aside for corporate worship.) Where is the teaching to women on their biblical role in the family?  It’s great that we have youth ministers that can reach our teens on their own level, but are we teaching them to turn their hearts to their fathers and mothers?  If we want to have a strong, healthy, biblical church we need to have strong, healthy, biblical families.