Monday, April 13, 2009

For the Time Will Come...

From the very instant of creation to this very moment, God’s redemptive narrative has been a steady, woven thread into the fabric of man’s existence, culminating on Pentecost with the miracle called the church. Founded upon Christ Himself, built upon the death and resurrection, and empowered by the Spirit of God the church continues until this very day. She is alive and she is God’s bride, but in the visible reflection of God’s church, which is all we can see, she is not well at all. And lest all the different camps say “amen” from their perspective which is aimed at the “others”, let us assess her plight with humility and introspection.

To avoid generalization is impossible since the visible church is a cavern of nuances and a confounding collection of incongruous doctrines as well as nebulous statements of faith. To further generalize, on one hand churches have strict doctrines which cannot be compromised and on the other hand are an array of expanded doctrines which have no core and some churches who avoid any statements of faith at all. And, may I add, everything in between.

Some camps are filled with angst and hatred, others with acceptance and tolerance, some with an overly expansive view of salvation, and still others with an extremely constricted view of God’s redemptive offer. Yes, the absolute assessment of the visible church must be left to God Himself, especially as it concerns who belongs to Him and who does not. We can take inventory of methods and Biblical teachings, but we must resist becoming the final arbiter of people’s standing before God. That must always be His and His alone.

I have made my feelings known as it concerns the self righteousness that is sometimes openly reflected in the “orthodox” crowd, as well as the visceral hatred they sometimes exhibit for sinners and saints alike. It is many times unchristian and leads to a clique type of entrenchment that gives way to common camp revelry concerning truth, almost like an inside joke. It strips away compassion and ignores the requirements of grace and humility. And in that atmosphere God’s Word is reduced to an instrument of destruction wielded by the arm of man rather than a lifeline of eternal rescue cast abroad by the power of God’s Spirit.

It is most unfortunate, though, that within that atmosphere some legitimate issues of truth are obscured by the unnecessary rhetoric that employs hyperbole, demeaning labels, and a disdain for people themselves. The enemy of our souls has his strategies in all camps and they are most effective when disguised as “instruments of God”. We must maintain a healthy and holy wariness of our motives and attitudes, and it must be ourselves that are first brought to the Spirit’s scalpel. When we ourselves remain unbroken, we may easily become unbridled vessels that break others with little or no redemption in our words and spirits. God resists the proud, even the pride of the most orthodox among us.

But having said that, and admitting I could have and will say more, I want to turn to the other general side of the visible church. This is all the different movements that have either neglected God’s Word or twisted it to form an ecclesiastical sculpture that neither resembles the Biblical Christ nor even strives to achieve His image. Sometimes they have good intentions and sometimes they are constructs of hedonism and merchandising. These tortured ecclesiastical models range from the health and wealth models all the way to the most aberrant emergent frameworks and everything in between. In my mind there are wide parameters between which evangelical churches can live and exist, but there are many today that have stepped outside what even fair minded believers can adopt as acceptable.

Some churches proudly proclaim that is doesn’t matter what you believe as it concerns salvation and your standing before God. They suggest the Scriptures and the truth they project are malleable and flexible according to the dictates of the era. These go beyond employing methodological conduits with which to convey these truths, these churches suggest a foundational reworking of truth itself by juxtaposing God’s Word against the current cultural practices and adjusting God’s Word to accommodate whatever behavior is at odds with the ancient scripts. Going further than just compassion, outreach, and extended redemption, many of these churches relieve the doctrinal tension by surrendering God’s truth to human behavior. Well intentioned though it may be, it creates an atmosphere which removes eternal redemption and replaces it with finite accommodation, and which can ultimately lead to spiritual death. It is tragic.

Now as we address some of these things we must be vigilant of our own complete standing by grace, and we must not succumb to an attitude of disgust that opens the floodgates to self righteousness and makes any hope of correction useless. Many times we have been guilty of viewing others as pawns in a spiritual game of Gettysburg that attacks the enemy with the carnal weapons of human swords and when the dust settles many lie wounded and dead while we congratulate ourselves in a work well done. Take a good, long look at the cross once more and see the challenge that lies ahead. How can we rescue the deceived that are drawing others into their deception while maintaining an attitude that painfully sacrifices our own motives and strategies? If you believe that can be done easily you are deceived as well. If you believe that will take much labor and will be very difficult you are still deceived.

To speak for God’s truth in the power of the cross is a human paradox, and if we cannot feel pain and our own unworthiness we have chosen a wrong path. If we are not drawn to tears, and even bouts of weeping, we are still speaking God’s truth in our own power. If we cannot feel desperate compassion for others, be they professing believers or not, we are just playing at God’s truth and not surrendering to the battle that can only be won on Mt. Humility. This is God’s battle, not ours, and we are His servants for Christ’s sake. We carry His truth, not ours, and must wield His Sword with love and wisdom, always attempting to slice the cords of deception while avoiding the throats of sinners.

I would like us to examine a specific example, although not alone and probably not the most grievous, of how far off good intentions can take us. One of the more well known expressions of an emergent church is one in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Solomon’s Porch. It is pastored by a man named Doug Pagitt who is an active participant in most things called emergent. The structure of the Sunday meetings is somewhat odd, but that is actually not what concerns me. What I would like to address, using Solomon’s Porch as an example, is the focus, the teaching, and the Biblical essence of this church and others like it.

Here is the video I am addressing.

And here are some direct quotes from that video:

” We just knew that the way we had done Christianity all of our lives was no longer a viable option anymore.”

“The issues Jesus would deal with today would be …racism, the environment, it would be globalization, and it would be feeding the masses….it would be these sorts of things.”

“I see the Bible changing…i do not see it stagnant and so for us, as a community of Christians to say, we need to believe this one thing and hold it tightly and make sure that it is never questioned?…That is a real waste of energy with all the things we could be doing in the world.”

“I have no agenda to go around and convince people of things they don’t want to be convinced of. That seems to be the least gracious, kind and loving thing you can do…is go and disturb someone who chooses not to be disturbed. I think places like ours are hope producing for people who are already disturbed and gives them another option.”

“There is no…like..statement of belief at this church or statement of not like a set in stone theology that everyone in this church has to adhere to.”

“I have heard that the kingdom of god is supposed to be like a party house so let’s do communion like a house party.”

The question is not the creativeness of the “way of Jesus” terminology, it’s what exactly does that mean? Does attempting to live your life like you think Jesus lived His actually provide you with redemption? Is salvation a process or is it an event? Is it a way of life that slowly but surely constructs redemption or is it a moment of regeneration ignited by faith, which then begins a process of living out the realities inherent in that event? That difference is not a parsing of words or semantical disputes that refuse to see the oneness of each description. No, this is the difference between salvation purely by faith and salvation by adjusting one’s life, usually defined by being nice and meeting the needs of others.

If indeed the way of Jesus, and not the redemptive work of Jesus, is salvation then the cross is purely an example of selflessness rather than the very core of redemption. If our lives can save, then His blood is simply the blood of a man and powerless to redeem. It seems that some have become disenchanted with the self righteous, doctrinal idolatry of many entrenched camps, and so they have misguidedly become doctrinally unhinged in an attempt to exhibit compassion for the earthly plight of so many. It is a noble endeavor; however it minimizes and almost ignores the very essence of gospel truth.

A man stands on one side of a great chasm and sees another man on the other side with a raging fire coming toward him. The man who is safe starts to call to the man and point him to the bridge, the only bridge that he himself took to safety. But before he directs him to this bridge the safe man sees the man in jeopardy has no shoes and he throws him his own shoes across the divide. With a feeling that he has demonstrated compassion, the safe man turns away and leaves the man without any instructions concerning the bridge. This a rough metaphorical narrative of what happens when the church replaces faith with works and raises humanitarian works as supreme at the expense of the gospel.

Many churches are attempting to meet the needs of westerners by offering a place of experience, a place where people can come and paint, interact, make things, and a host of activities most of which are not part of the gospel and God’s mission. You may visit the website of Solomon’s Porch and you will find a kind of community fair atmosphere with some religious verbiage mixed in. Many churches now hold dances and beer making workshops and other activities that are not usually considered part of a gathering of believers. The statement of faith at this church is called its dreams, and it is a list of very nebulous statements that lack any clear Christian mission, much less any gospel. The closest statement dealing with the Great Commission is this – “People who are not Christians become followers of God in the way of Jesus”.

Of course anyone who takes issue with that type of description are sometimes considered as nitpickers, however that expression lacks any mention of redemption through faith in the work of Jesus Christ both on the cross and in His resurrection. It is important to note that the New Testament was very specific, and the early apostles did not shy away from boldly proclaiming the gospel even among hostile Jews and ignorant Gentiles. I am not one who demands harshness or who refuses any methodology to reach the unsaved, however many churches are becoming so unclear, so nebulous, and so cultural in their verbiage that they can no longer be considered Biblical at all.

Now as you watched the video you saw people giving their opinions as to what a church should be. Some said beliefs are unimportant, one said communion should be a “house party” which the video shows as nothing more than a little cocktail party, and one woman said that if Jesus were here today He would be concerned with globalization and hunger and global warming and all the current issues. Although this church might be considered “cutting edge” emergent, it is being replicated throughout the country. No longer is the preaching of the Word held as central, and no longer is redemption by faith heralded as the only way to eternal life. The concern for people’s earthly needs is noble, and it would have been a wonderful movement if they had added that emphasis to the Christian message without tampering with the gospel itself, but as we can see that is not the case.

This kind of evangelical shift is seismic and cannot be dismissed as just methodology. Even one small step away from gospel centeredness is dangerous and can only lead to doctrinal mischief; however these types of churches seem to have moved completely away from the gospel. It is sad and tragic to see how the gospel has become irrelevant and uninteresting to this growing group of post modern communities. The mission now seems to be go and solve the world’s problems rather than go and preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Throughout church history Christians were persecuted and martyred for preaching the gospel of Christ, not for any humanitarian works they performed. The church used to preach “Come as you are” but some now preach “Come as you are and stay as you are”. The life changing gospel of Jesus Christ has given way to a community workshop/support group framework that views the Scriptures as good Christian literature and not the very Words of life. Most Christians know very little of the emergent movement, but it will continue to grow should Jesus tarry. It is God’s will that we as the body of Jesus Christ should go. We should, we must, be stirred from our stagnancy and lethargy, and surely our doctrinal entrenchments, however pure and right, must be given expressions through our very lives. But we must never downplay the fact that only through works-less faith can a sinner be born again into the family of God Himself.

I am shocked, saddened, embarrassed, angered, and emotionally affected in many ways when I see how the glory of the cross is being silenced by those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. I have no inside information concerning the salvation of anyone but myself, but I grieve to think that so many have been drawn to a Christian fad, a facsimile, and a powerless replica of what God intended for His people to be. We will never stem this tide by studying its many facets, or by becoming conversant with its errors, and certainly not by using demeaning invectives which make us fixated on the error of others and make us blind to our own Samsonesque weakness.

But it is also true we can never allow these trends to infiltrate the mainstream body of Christ. We must take up a sword in one hand with which to keep error at bay and a hammer in the other with which to build ourselves up in the faith. In must not go unnoticed that stripped of these types of doctrinal deviancies against which we appear much better, we would be exposed as the lukewarm people that we are, powerless as compared with other generations and comfortable to live well within this hedonistic western lifestyle. And let our words be of concern rather than caustic, and let our hearts be grieved rather than self righteous. We must resurrect our pathetic prayer closets until we bombard heaven beseeching our Great God to reign down His power upon us all. Our calling is not to be consumed with studying the enemy as he sows his tares, ours is to keep our eyes on Christ, hear His voice, and trim our sails to follow His direction.
Wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.

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