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A Special Presentation of ConcernedMembers.com by special permission of The Spiritual Sword which is published by the Getwell Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee.
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THE COMMUNITY CHURCH MOVEMENT
Posted by permission of
THE SPIRITUAL SWORD
(Volume 32, October 2000, No. 1)
EDITORIAL -------------------------------------- Alan E. Highers
A Survey of the Community Church Movement
Willow Creek/Saddleback Models ------------------ Jimmy Ferguson
History and Development of a Community Church ------ Mike Hixson
Book Review: The Purpose Driven Church ------- Winford Claiborne
The Church Growth Movement --------------------- William Woodson
Contemporary Worship – How Far? --------------------- David Sain
The Market-Driven Approach ------------------------- Dan Winkler
Book Review: Ashamed of the Gospel -------------- David R. Pharr
The Influence of Modern Trends on the Church ----- Wayne Jackson
A Critique of the Community Church Movement -------- Gary McDade
An Informed Brotherhood --------------------------------- Editor
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A Survey of the Community Church Movement
For the past several years it has been clear that some are not satisfied with the New Testament church. There has been a concentrated effort to make changes in doctrine, practice, and worship and to make the church more acceptable to the world. Those who have spearheaded these efforts generally have been designated as “change agents” because change is their goal. As with politicians who are seeking to replace the established order, the theme of some in the church is, “It is time for a change!” Not all change agents are in agreement on all points, but there are those among them who want to change the role of women in worship, music in worship, the style and emphasis of preaching, the attitude toward the Bible as authority, the place of baptism for the remission of sins, the distinct nature of the church, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The rationale for these proposed changes is that we must have them in order to grow. We are told that contemporary society and our own young people are bored with the worship, bored with doctrine, bored with preaching, and bored with the church. The solution for this crisis is to discover the needs of the people we are trying to reach and then to adjust our teaching and practice to accommodate those needs. Perhaps the most obvious changes relate to public worship where a new style of praise is promulgated, (sometimes, but not always, including instrumental music). These changes, which are making headway in many congregations, are not always open and obvious. Sometimes they are subtle and gradual. There are undoubtedly many fine people who are still identified with “change agent congregations” who do not recognize the changes that have transpired or the inexorable direction in which the church is heading.
Give Us a King
One of the most familiar stories in the Bible relates to Israel’s rejection of the government God had chosen for them. God place judges over Israel, but they wanted a king to be “like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:5). Samuel was displeased with the change sought by the people, but God said “they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:7). God told Samuel to warn the people of the consequences of their actions and the difficulties that would arise under the reign of a king. “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:19-20). They refused to heed the warnings given by Samuel because their desire was to be like other nations.
Even today, there are those who, in effect, are crying out, “Give us a king that we may be like the nations around us.” It is sad but true that some do not want to be different in contending that baptism is essential to salvation, that instrumental music in worship is unauthorized, that women are not to exercise dominion over men in the assembly, or that we are bound by the authority of the scriptures (Col. 3:17). They want to be like the nations around us.
The Options Faced by Change Agents
The change agents must make a decision as to how they will manifest their dissatisfaction with the church.
(1) They can leave as some did in earlier years. Two men, William P. Reedy and Carl Etter, along with their wives, left the church in the 1940’s and joined the Congregational Church. The reasons given by them are similar to the criticisms we hear today. G. C. Brewer, one of the most powerful and knowledgeable preachers in the church, wrote a reply to Reedy and Etter entitled As Touching Those Who Were Once Enlightened. It was published by the Gospel Advocate and widely circulated for many years. Others who became dissatisfied and left the church are found in Voices of Concern, a book published almost thirty-five years ago (St. Louis: mission Messenger, 1966). At one time this seemed to be the chosen course of those who could not support what we believe and teach.
(2) They could stay and work from within. This might be styled the “termite option.” Instead of leaving, as once was the case, most now choose to stay and work from within. This methodology has proved to be very successful. Some have been able to change entire congregations. Even when a congregation is not subverted and overcome, a substantial minority can be developed as a source of friction and conflict within the congregation or as the nucleus of a new and different work.
(3) The third option, which seems to be growing in popularity, is to separate and form what is usually styled “a community church.” Such bodies have been described as “loosely affiliated with the Church of Christ.”1 The founders and members of these churches generally maintain ties with churches of Christ but tend to conceal these connections from the community and from the target audience they are seeking to influence.2 Because the community church movement is relatively new to churches of Christ, many brethren are not aware of what it involves.3
Characteristics of the Community Church Movement
The community church movement is not unique to churches of Christ. In fact, it has grown out of a denominational background. The chief models are the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and the Saddleback Community Church in California. The textbook for the movement is The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Community Church.
· Contemporary music and what might be called “upbeat worship.”
· Eliminating or diminishing the name “church of Christ.”
· Casual emphasis in worship, both in style and dress.
· Different kind of leadership model than “authoritarian” elders.
· Praise teams and entertainment orientation in worship.
· A greater emphasis on “self,” including one’s own feelings and emotions.
· De-emphasis on doctrine and the restoration plea.
· Less contact and fellowship with mainline churches of Christ.
· Division of existing congregations in order to implement the “community” model.
· A market-driven program, i.e., striving to provide what people want or what they are seeking.
Not all advocates of community churches would agree with my analysis, but these are some of the attributes that I perceive.4
The various elements of the community church movement, as outlined above, are discussed in this issue of THE SPIRITUAL SWORD. Read closely, study carefully, and be informed. The ultimate question facing churches of Christ is whether we will retain our commitment to be patterned after the church revealed in the New Testament, or whether we will be transformed and molded by the standards of this world.
1 This description was applied by the Memphis Commercial Appeal to the Cordova Community Church in an article dated April 30, 1998.
2 One is reminded of the covert tactics of Seventh-day Adventists who often come to town, advertise meetings dealing with prophetic subjects such as the mark of the beast, but rarely mention their SDA connections. Herbert W. Armstrong, a noted radio speaker during his lifetime, seldom mentioned his sabbatarian background in his radio addresses.
3 This issue of THE SPIRITUAL SWORD is designed to identify the origin, background, and characteristics of the community church movement.
4 See inserts relating to community churches in The Christian Chronicle, March 2000 and April 2000, where several of these characteristics are enumerated.
The Willow Creek/Saddleback Models
There has, in recent years, arisen a movement in the church which seeks to abandon the ideals of the New Testament church. Many of our brethren are no longer content to walk in the old paths (Jer. 6:16). Just as the Israelites of old desired a king to be like all the nations (I Sam. 8:5), many of our brethren desire to be like the other religious groups around us. In so doing, many congregations have lost their distinctiveness and no longer teach and uphold sound doctrine.
Many congregations have large memberships, and many would perceive that such are strong churches due to their large numbers. However, numbers are not the only way to measure the strength or spiritual health of a church. If such were the case, one would have to conclude that those denominational churches with hundreds or even thousands of members meet with God’s approval.
Many church leaders have gone to some of these large denominational churches such as Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, or Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, to learn techniques of church growth. As a result, the community church movement is a rapidly growing movement.
Let us examine two of these community churches to see what some of our brethren have learned which has led to much of the digression which exists today.
Saddleback Valley Community Church is located on Saddleback Parkway in Lake Forest, California. Saddleback Church is autonomous, yet “recognizing the benefits of cooperation with other churches in world missions, this Church voluntarily affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention in its national, state and local expressions.”1
Saddleback Church began in 1980 when Rick Warren (founding pastor) and his family moved from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas to just south of Los Angeles to begin the church. The church now has 16,000 in weekend worship services and lists 11,200 on the active membership roll.2
Qualifications for Membership
There are four qualifications a person must meet in order to become a member of Saddleback Church: (1) A personal commitment of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation; (2) baptism by immersion as a testimony of salvation; (3) completion of the Church’s membership class; and (4) a commitment to abide by the membership covenant. One will notice that more is required to become a member of Saddleback Church than is required to become a member of the New Testament church. On Pentecost, inquirers were instructed, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
“The officers of the Church shall be a Senior Pastor, an Executive Pastor and Chief Financial Officer. The Senior Pastor shall serve as the President of the Church and shall act as moderator of the Church. The Executive Pastor shall serve as Vice President of the Church and shall act as moderator in the absence of the Senior Pastor. The Chief Financial Officer shall serve as both the Secretary and Treasurer of the Church and shall act as moderator in the absence of both the Senior Pastor and the Executive Pastor.”4
When asked, “What is Saddleback’s philosophy of worship?” Rick Warren stated:
The style of music you choose in your service will be one of the most critical and controversial decisions you make in the life of your church. It may be the most influential decision in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach. When selecting the style of music that is going to be used during your service, it must be remembered that the Bible does not dictate a “correct” kind of music. This is because God wants his church to grow in every culture, and he made people with the capacity to express themselves in many different musical ways. As long as your worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), each local body is free to adopt whichever style of music best reaches the surrounding community.5
Apparently, Mr. Warren does not know the meaning of John 4:24. To worship God “in spirit” means that our worship must be from the heart, i.e., in sincerity. To worship him “in truth” means to worship according to truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The truth does, in fact dictate a “correct” type of music. Paul writes, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). According to the scriptures, the correct type of music is vocal music, i.e., singing.
Willow Creek Community Church
The Willow Creek Community Church had its beginning in the early 1970s, when a dynamic youth ministry was created at South Park Church in Park Ridge. Using contemporary music, drama, and “Bible teaching” that was relevant to the lives of high school students, the services grew from a handful of teenagers to 1,000 students a night. No one was more surprised by the response than the young leaders of the ministry, including a recent college graduate named Bill Hybels (founding pastor). Renting a Palatine movie theater (from which the name Willow Creek was taken), they launched the church on October 12, 1975 with an initial crowd of one hundred twenty-five. In three years, attendance grew to two thousand people. The church is located near Chicago and today has a combined weekend attendance of between sixteen and seventeen thousand.6
It is said that Willow Creek does not have “conventional” worship. The choir is replaced with a pop singer, and the organ by a 10-piece rock band. The music ranges from “rock to jazz to country to classical.”7
Some of our brethren are more interested in what appeals to the masses even in the area of music in worship. Some argue that instrumental music is not a “salvation issue.” They should remember, however, that obedience is. As noted earlier, the Lord has specified the type of music he wants in worship to him (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
Monthly Observance of Lord’s Supper
In the “New Community Series” worship service which meets on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, “you’ll benefit from in-dept Bible teaching, you’ll connect with God through music, prayer, and reflection, and you’ll participate in our monthly observance of Communion.”8
The New Testament teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a weekly observance and a part of the worship on the first day of the week – not monthly. (See Acts 20:7.)
Use of Drama and Entertainment
In an effort to attract the world, Willow Creek offers “Weekend Services” with two services on Saturday (afternoon and evening), and two services on Sunday morning using “drama, multi-media, contemporary music, and a message that connects with people’s lives” so that,
[p]eople who haven’t attended church or for some reason have quit going to church, are often surprised at how meaningful these services are to them. In fact, they’re specifically designed for those who are checking out what it really means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.9
At Willow Creek, Hybels gives people what they want – “a contemporary church in an atmosphere of glitz and entertainment, while preaching a feeling-oriented gospel of codependency / recovery, self-love, and unconditional acceptance, where unbelievers could, thereby “be comfortable in God’s presence.”10
One can easily see from the evidence cited that many of our brethren have gone to the wrong source to learn of church growth.
Hybels has apparently convinced himself that God is behind his work as the following statement in his own words shows: “At Willow Creek, we feel that God has given us a plan, but it doesn’t necessarily have to apply to every church. In fact, we believe that this may be one of the few churches that God, manifesting a sense of humor if you will, has decided to say, ‘Look, I’m going to give them a little different kind of plan over here.’”11
The use of drama and other forms of entertainment in the worship assembly is certainly another practice which finds no authority in the New Testament (Col. 3:17).
Caters to the World
When Bill Hybels decided to plant a church, he took survey teams throughout the community asking those who admitted to being unsaved why they did not regularly attend a church. According to Hybels, the survey revealed that people “(1) didn’t like being begged for money; (2) didn’t think that the church was relevant to their lives; and (4) always left church feeling guilty (the Christian message was too negative with sin, etc.).”12
Hybels’ solution was to “program our Sunday morning service to non-believers, and program our service to believers on another day or evening.” By this means, Hybels hoped that the newcomers would “feel welcome, unthreatened, and entertained.”13
It is apparent that Hybels is more interested in pleasing people than the Lord. Using Hybels’ approach, how can you attract the masses? By entertaining them and giving them, a positive message which will not let them leave feeling guilty.
Willow Creek has had women elders since its founding, but in the past year it has made the reason for its position explicit among its leaders and has demanded a level of agreement from the staff and prospective church members. In January of 1996, John Ortberg, one of Willow Creek’s teaching elders, taught a two-hour class, in which he said that the staff needed to share the convictions of the church; and they had a year to do so. In a document written by a female elder entitles, “Elders’ Response to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Membership at Willow Creek,” volunteer membership coaches are told, “We ask that participating members at Willow Creek minimally be able to affirm and joyfully sit under the teaching of women teachers … that they can joyfully submit to the leadership of women in various leadership positions at Willow Creek.”15
The Holy Spirit revealed the qualifications of elders in the Lord’s church. Note that the elder is to be “the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). This is another area where the Willow Creek Community Church disregards the teaching of God’s word.
One can easily see from the evidence cited that many of our brethren have gone to the wrong source to learn of church growth. One can see from changes which have taken place regarding the use of entertainment, accepting denominational baptism, innovations into the worship, and women elevated to positions of leadership, that in learning from denominations, some congregations have become just like them.
Which church should we help to grow? It is the church which was built and purchased by Christ (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). The true church does not seek to please men, but God (Gal. 1:10). Reader friend, if you want to know how to make the church grow, don’t go to a man-made religious body which shall be rooted up in the last day (Matt. 15:13); go to the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
1 “Bylaws,” Saddleback Valley Community Church, available from http://www.saddleback.com/?article=/admin/bylaws.htm, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
2 “Purposedriven Church,” Saddleback Valley Community Church, available from http://www.purposedriven.com/, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
3 “Bylaws,” 1.
5 “Frequently Asked Questions,” Saddleback Valley Community Church, available from http://www.purposedriven.com/pdc/faqs/music-faq.html, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
6 “Frequently Asked Questions” Willow Creek Community Church, available from http://www.willowcreek.org/WCCC/faqs.thm, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
7 “Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church,” Way of Life Literature’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service: 1, available from http://www.dsinclair.com/-dcloud/fbns/hybels.htm, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
8 “Services,” Willow Creek Community Church; available from http://www.willowcreek.org/WCCC/services.htm, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
9 “Services,” 2.
11 “Hybels,” 2.
12 “Services,” 3.
14 “Willow Creek and Female Pastors” available from http://www.dsinclair.com/-dcloud/fbns/fbns464.html, Internet; accessed August 3, 2000.
Jimmy Ferguson is minister for the Stage Road church in Memphis, TN.
History and Development of a Community Church
The Scriptures are a revelation of the mind of God, setting forth in clear detail the one body known as the church (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-6). The church that is revealed in the Bible exists in accordance with God’s eternal will (Eph. 3:9-11). This divine institution originated in Jerusalem, and is the one true church that men and women must be a member of to go to heaven (Isa. 2:2-3; Acts 2:1-47; Eph. 5:23). The one true church has a s its pattern or guide the Bible, and is governed by the authoritative words of Jesus Christ (I Tim. 3:15; II Pet. 1:3-4; Matt. 28:18; 17:5; Col. 3:17).
It is evident that many sincere and honest people in the religious world do not grasp the significance of the one true church of the Bible. They do not comprehend the importance of submitting to the new birth in order to enter the kingdom (John 3:3,5; I Cor. 12:13). They fail to ascertain the prescribed order of worship outlined in the New Testament (John 4:24; Acts 2:42; 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2; Eph. 5:19; II Tim. 4:1-2). There is also a lack of understanding regarding the simple organization of the church (I Tim. 3:15; Phil 1:1). And they fail to understand the importance of wearing a scriptural name (Rom. 16:16).
Emergence of the Community Church
In recent years, many of our own members have not been taught the basic fundamentals of the faith, which would include the distinctive nature of the New Testament church. Thus, there has been an open embrace of the latest fads and trends in the denominational world. One example is the employment of the community church concept, popularized by Rick Warren and the Saddleback Community Church, along with the Willow Creek model, located in suburban Chicago.
From Memphis to Chattanooga, TN, the community church movement is being felt. Many of these ventures have been the result of members whose roots have been in the church of Christ. In Chattanooga, an article appeared in The Chattanooga Free Press entitled, “Morty Lloyd’s Chattanooga Church.” Morty states,
I grew up in the Church of Christ and attended a Church of Christ College, but about five years ago, a group of Christians who were meeting at a home at the time felt the need to start a non-denominational fellowship that was contemporary in worship and whose sole focus was Jesus.1
The group is composed “of people (50 members) who came from Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Church of God and a number of other denominations.”2
In Hendersonville, located just outside of Nashville, there is the Hendersonville Community Church, where Doug Varnado serves as the preacher. He was recently forced out as a faculty member at David Lipscomb University when the community church where he serves began employing on a periodic basis recorded instrumental music in the worship assembly. Ray Waddle reported in The Nashville Tennessean, “They said it’s unimportant if the church adds instrumental music on occasion. More important, they said, is a faith community that shows compassion for people seeking God at the end of the 20th century.”3
The city of Memphis is currently being permeated with community churches. Gary McDade, in a well-researched manuscript entitled “The Community Church,” which will soon be in tract form, states:
The presence of the community church in Memphis is directly attributable to two institutions: The Harding Graduate School of Religion and the Highland Street Church of Christ. Mission: Memphis, a quarterly newsletter for the Memphis Church Planting Ministry which is sponsored by Highland Street Church of Christ, in the winter of 1997 told of its beginning:
“In the spring of 1994, a group of leaders from Highland Street church of Christ studied the need to establish new churches in Memphis. The result of the two and a half year investigation was the forming of the Memphis Church Planting Ministry (MCPM) whose purpose is to reach the spiritually lost in Memphis by forming new, reproducing congregations.”4
A recent Highland Street bulletin article written by Anthony Wood states, “God has blessed our efforts to show love and be faithful in the city, Memphis Urban ministry now has six full-time and one half-time urban ministers and five apprentices serving people in the city.”5 The back page of the bulletin chronicles the statistics of the Downtown Church, Raleigh Community Church, and the Frayser Mission Church.6
Closely allied to the community churches that are being planted is the Downtown Church, noted in Highland Street’s bulletin. This work is the result of the efforts of Dr. Everett Huffard, the Dean of Harding Graduate School. Brother McDade notes, “The Downtown Church has borrowed from denominationalism by employing the use of a praise team to replace the song leader, the clapping of hands during the singing, the presence of icons in worship, and testimonials from the congregation.”7
Examining the Cordova Community Church
For the duration of this article, attention will focus on the emergence of the Cordova Community Church. They had their first worship service Easter 1998, in Harding Academy’s building. At this writing, there are plans for the group to move to another facility.
The Commercial Appeal states, “Cordova Community Church describes itself as a self-governing, Bible-believing and teaching church, loosely affiliated with the church of Christ.”8 This work is the result of efforts by John Mark Hicks, professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion, and Gary Ealy, a former minister at Brownsville Road and Highland Street in Memphis. They are described in the article as “co-founders.”9
We can only wonder how these brethren can be “loosely affiliated with the church of Christ” and remain true to the teachings of Christ? Expressions of concern are also rendered regarding Harding Academy and Harding Graduate School’s ties to the community church. Both of these institutions were founded by brethren and continue to garner support from individual members and congregations. Do these two institutions deem themselves “loosely affiliated with the church of Christ”? Will the leaders of these two institutions please acknowledge to faithful brethren where their allegiance lies? For the record, Ralph Lawrence, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Harding Academy stated in a letter addressed to Aaron C. Ivey, December 14, 1998, “At this time, we do not know anything they are doing that is not consistent with the teachings of the Bible.”10 Furthermore, Gary McDade and I invited Brethren Ralph Lawrence and Everett Huffard, Dean at Harding Graduate School, to meet on the polemic platform and discuss issues pertinent to the community church movement. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they have yet to respond to our invitation sent registered mail.
Gary Ealy and John Mark Hicks published “A Theological And Strategic Statement For A New Church Planting,” October 5, 1997, outlining their objectives and mission. The list the goals of the Cordova Community Church as follows:
(1) Evangelism of the 1955-1982 generation in the Bear Creek Basin.
(2) Contemporary, Dynamic Worship Assemblies.
(3) Cell Church Structure For Maturing Christians.
(4) Strengthening Christian Families.
(5) Use Of Resources for the Poor and Disadvantaged in Memphis.
(6) Promotion of New Church Plants in Memphis/Shelby County.11
With regard to their goals, a couple of observations are offered. First of all, their worship will be “Contemporary” and “Dynamic.” Gary Ealy states, “We think a contemporary, informal worship style, and our focus on relationship building will probably attract more of the younger generation.”12 Question, where in God’s word do we find authority to allow the world to dictate what is appealing in worship” (John 4:24; Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:17)?
Secondly, they will be employing the “Cell Church Strategy.” Brethren Ealy and Hicks indicate there are “three levels” of the cell church strategy.13 Patsy Fralich Keith writes in The Commercial Appeal concerning the cell group strategy employed by the Cordova Community Church. She records,
The main goal is, simply, to continue with the cell group ministry, expanding to include more groups as needed. The church presently has several house churches, or cell groups, meeting in Cordova, one in the Mt. Pisgah area, one in Collierville and one in East Memphis. Plans include a house church in Bartlett.14
Steve Dye, the “new minister” at Cordova Community Church, states, “This method of doing church is the best way to reach people with the good news of God.”15 Keith also writes, “The ministry team also envisions planting other churches using the same format around the city.”16 The pattern being employed regarding “cell groups” is not in the Bible, rather it is merely the imitation of what Rick Warren suggests in his book, The Purpose Driven Church. He is the community churches “master teacher.” Note also the intent of these brethren to permeate the city of Memphis with their community church format.
The “Theological And Strategic Statement For A New Church Planting” raises other questions worth of consideration. Number one, they state,
God has revealed his pattern for his people in Scripture. This pattern is theological and christological in character. It is not a blueprint of specific details but a call to image God in this world through imitating the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as the people of God.17
None of us would argue that we are to imitate God as revealed in the Bible. However, can we dismiss the “specific details” of the pattern and remain pleasing to God (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; II John 9-11; II Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:1, I Tim. 4:16)? Nadab and Abihu ignored the “specific details” of the pattern and were punished by death (Lev. 10:1-2). Or what about Uzzah? He failed to comply with the “specific details” of the pattern and faced swift and decisive punishment (II Sam. 6:4-7).
Take note of the fact that these brethren do not believe the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship is a salvation issue.
Number two, they write, “There is one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us as a deposit of our inheritance, empowers our ministry, and transforms our character by producing his fruit within us.”18 It would be interesting to hear how the Holy Spirit empowers their ministry. The Bible indicates the Holy Spirit strengthens our ministry through the word of God (Acts 20:28; Eph. 6:17).
Number three, they state,
The Holy Spirit works powerfully in the lives of believers to produce fruit and while he no longer distributes miraculous gifts to believers in the post-apostolic period (e.g., investing the gift of healing in specific individuals), he is not thereby limited from acting in miraculous ways according to God’s good pleasure.19
It would be quite interesting to see how these brethren would prove from the scriptures that God is still performing miracles. The miraculous was confined to the apostolic age for the purpose of confirming the Word (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:1-4). With completed revelation, there is no need for miracles (I Cor. 13:8-10).
Number four, they aver,
The musical worship of this new church plant is a capella (without instrumental music), not because we believe it should divide the body of Christ as a matter of salvation or because it is a fundamental gospel issue (as in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) but because we believe it is more consistent with the historic practice of the early church and more appropriately embodies the theological principle of worshipping God in the Spirit out of a renewed heart (Eph. 5:18-19).20
Take note of the fact that these brethren do not believe the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship is a salvation issue. Bear in mind that John Mark Hicks is a professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He is responsible for supposedly training “our” preachers! Is it any wonder the church is facing difficult times? It is also noteworthy that the Hendersonville Community Church did not have a problem with instrumental music in worship. And is it not ironic that their preacher is a former instructor at David Lipscomb University? Let it be clearly understood that faithful brethren reject mechanical instruments in worship because it is a violation of the “specific details” of the pattern (Matt. 28:18; 17:5; Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:19; I Cor. 4:6).
Exhortations to the Church of Christ
It should be evident that there is an insidious movement at work by some in the church. Their efforts threaten the distinctive nature of the church Christ purchased with his blood (Acts 20:28). Faithful members of the body of Christ must maintain allegiance to the pattern revealed in the Bible. Paul counseled Timothy, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1:13). We must with “purpose of heart…cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). Our preaching and teaching must be rooted in the Scriptures. The apostle Peter said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Pet. 4:11). Furthermore, we must stand foursquare on the gospel and defend the beautiful bride of Christ, come what may (Phil. 1:17; Jude 3).
Let a warning also go forth that those who are promulgating the community church movement have made clear and distinct departures from “the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Jer. 6:16).
1 Jim Ashley, “Morty Lloyd’s Chattanooga Church,” (Chattanooga Free Press, 15 Nov. 1997).
3 Ray Waddle, “Minister’s Church Uses Instruments, School Unhappy” (The Tennessean internet site, 1999).
4 Gary McDade, “The Community Church,” Manuscript 2000, p.9.
5 The Acts of Highland Street, Vol. 20, Num. 27 (Memphis: Highland Street church of Christ, 2000), p. 101.
6 Ibid, p. 104.
7 Gary McDade, :The Community Church,” Manuscript 2000, pp. 10-11.
8 Patsy Fralich Keith, “Cordova Community Church Opens,” (The Commercial Appeal, 30 April, 1998).
10 Personal Letter To A. C. Ivey from Ralph Lawrence, Chairman Of The Board at Harding Academy, 14 Dec. 1998.
11 Gary Ealy and John Mark Hicks, “A Theological And Strategic Statement For A New Church Planting,” Manuscript 5 Oct. 1997, p.1.
12 Patsy Fralich Keith, “Cordova Community Church Opens” (The Commercial Appeal, 30 April 1998).
13 Gary Ealy and John Mark Hicks, “A Theological And Strategic Statement For A New Church Planting,” Manuscript, p.3.
14 Patsy Fralich Keith, Ministry Based On Cell Groups” (The Commercial Appeal, 4 March 1999).
17 Gary Ealy and John Mark Hicks, “A Theological And Strategic Statement For A New Church Planting,” Manuscript, p.4.
18 Ibid, p.5.
19 Ibid, p.6.
20 Ibid, pp. 6-7.
Mike Hixson preaches for the Macon Road church in Memphis, TN.
Book Review: The Purpose Driven Church
Sir Francis Bacon’s essay, “Of Studies,” was written in 1597 and is as meaningful today as it was over four hundred years ago. Among his wise observations are these: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church, cannot easily be classified in Bacon’s schema.1 There is much in Rick Warren’s book that has considerable merit. But because of his denominational bias and because he seems to have more interest in building a big church rather than in building a biblical church, one must read his book with great discernment.
Rick Warren: The Man
One of America’s most famous and most influential Baptist preachers, W. A. Criswell, “pastor emeritus” of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, calls Rick Warren his son in the ministry. He informs his readers that Warren received his education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth.2 After he had completed his education, he did mission work in Japan. Then he moved to Southern California where he started the Saddleback Valley Community Church in his living room. He has written three other books: Dynamic Bible Study Methods, Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions and Power to Change Your Life. He claims to have conducted seminars and workshops for more than 22,000 “pastors” and church leaders from sixty denominations and from forty-two countries.3 He spends much of his time in helping other churches grow like the Saddleback Church has grown. Some of our own preachers and other church leaders have attended Rick Warren’s seminars and are attempting to copy his methods of church growth.
The Saddleback Valley Community Church
Rick Warren’s book was copyrighted in 1995. At the time the book was written, the Saddleback church had grown from two families to over 10,000 members in just fifteen years and was still growing rapidly. Church grown “experts: have studied the growth of Saddleback Church and use it as a model for other churches. Warren says that over “one hundred doctoral theses have been written on the growth of the Saddleback Church. We’ve been dissected, scrutinized, analyzed, and summarized by minds far better than mine.”4 W. A. Criswell says that the “Saddleback Church has grown without compromising the mission or the doctrine of a New Testament Church.”5 A thorough examination of Warren’s book will show otherwise. There are a number of serious doctrinal errors in the book.
Rick Warren’s Book
The book, The Purpose Driven Church, offers some valuable suggestions for both the work and worship of the church. A few observations from the book will have to suffice. “Any church that is not obeying the Great Commission is failing in its purpose, no matter what else it does.”6 Warren invented a powerful slogan: “A Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a Great Church.”7 “If your faith has not changed your lifestyle, your faith is not worth much.”8 How can he harmonize this statement with his endorsement of the doctrine of faith only? “A barrier to spiritual growth for many is not lack of commitment, but over-commitment to the wrong things.”9 “The problem is not that our culture believes nothing, but that it believes everything. Syncretism, not skepticism, is our greatest enemy.”10 I am not sure the few grains of truth in the book are worth the chaff one has to wade through to get them.
But because of his denominational bias and because he seems to have more interest in building a big church rather than in building a biblical church, one must read his book with great discernment.
I have no idea how many copies of Rick Warren’s book have been sold, but the endorsements on the dust cover and on the inside of the book will likely make it a best seller, if it is not already. Some of America’s most respected evangelicals have given their wholehearted endorsement of the book. Archibald Hart, Dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, says the book is full of “ideas that are so practical and down-to-earth that any pastor who fails to correct his perspective on the church should probably leave the ministry.”11 What a tragedy that the apostles did not have access to Rick Warren’s book! Robert Schuller of the famous Crystal Cathedral in California is praying “that every pastor will read this book, believe it, be prepared to stand corrected by it, and change to match its sound, scriptural wisdom. Rick Warren is the one all of us should listen to and learn from.”12 There are other rave reviews by Jim Henry, President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Elmer Towns, Dean of the School of Religion, Liberty University, James Draper, president of the Baptist Sunday School Board, Jerry Falwell and many others. These commendations let us know just how confused the evangelical world is.
Preachers and all other public speakers should be careful in the quotations they use in sermons or in their books. Warren quotes these words from Sir Francis Bacon: “Reading makes a broad man but writing makes an exact man.” There is a problem with Warren’s use of Bacon’s essay. Bacon wrote: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”13 Warren says that “true worship employs both your right brain and your left brain.”14 Brain specialists have discarded the idea of right brain and left brain. They no longer believe such distinctions can be made. Warren urges preachers to use humor in their sermons. He then affirms that “it is more than a coincidence that humor and humility come from the same root word.”15 That simply is not true. The word “humility” comes from the Latin word humilis meaning low. “Humor” is derived from the Latin humor meaning damp, moist. In order to make a point about the understanding leaders should have, Rick Warren quotes these words from the Psalms: “God made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the people of Israel” (Psa. 103:7). He then adds: “The people of Israel got to see what God did, but Moses got to understand why God did it. This is the difference between knowledge and perspective.”16 Does Rick Warren not know about Hebrew parallelism? Joseph Addison Alexander explains: “The parallelism between Moses and the Children of Israel shows that the latter were represented by the former.”17 If Warren were correct, would that not promote the “clergy” and “laity” distinction? Warren says the idea of two classes of Christians – clergy and laity – “is the creation of Roman Catholic tradition.”18 But his book both explicitly and implicitly endorses the concepts of clergy and laity.
Like most denominational people, Rick Warren uses unscriptural language. He thinks most churches do fairly well in getting people to first base – committed to membership – and even to second base – committed to maturity. “People will receive Christ, be baptized, and join the church (that’s getting them to first base).”19 The scriptures know nothing about joining the church. When we obey the gospel, we are added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47). It would be just as appropriate to speak of a child’s joining his family. The child is born into his earthly family just as we are born into the family of God.
Rick Warren apparently does not belong to the charismatic movement, but he does embrace some modern miracles. He tells of driving 350 miles to hear W. A. Criswell speak at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco. “As I listened to this great man of God speak, God spoke personally to me and made it clear that he was calling me to be a pastor.” After the service, Criswell looked at Rick Warren and said, “Young man, I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you.”20 While he was doing research on where to establish a church, he claims to have heard God speak plainly to him. “That’s where I want you to plan a church.”21 But if he had felt that Kay (his wife) was reluctant to move, that would have been taken as a warning light from God.22 How could he feel any reluctance if God actually spoke to him? I am not questioning Rick Warren’s sincerity, but God did not speak to him. I do not doubt he thought God spoke to him, but God does not speak directly to men today. His revelation to man is complete (II Pet. 1:3; II Tim. 3:16-17). And why would he call a man who was going to teach error?
Many preachers use the word “miracle” when they actually mean spectacular. Warren tells of a man who came to their services and donated a check for $1,000. He calls that a miracle.23 Rick Warren tells of enjoying a “pity party” when the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Hey, Rick, who are you doing this for anyway?”24 The “hey Rick” does not sound like the wording the Holy Spirit used in addressing the great prophets and preachers of Old and New Testament times. Does the Holy Spirit stoop to that kind of popular speech? Or has Rick Warren put words in the Holy Spirit’s mouth?
Rick Warren developed an acronym – SHAPE – to explain the five elements of ministry – spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experiences. He writes of spiritual gifts as if they were available to modern men.25 He argues that “the Bible clearly teaches that God gives each believer certain spiritual gifts to be used in ministry.” He expresses some concern that the spiritual gifts are overemphasized in many religious groups.26 He shows a lack of discernment in speaking of spiritual gifts and of ordinary gifts which God has bestowed on his children.
Leadership at Saddleback Valley Church
Since Rick Warren and his wife established the Saddleback Valley Church, he gives the reader the impression that he owns the church. He tells of driving to his condo and meeting a man by the name of Don. He asked if Don attended church anywhere. When he said he did not, Rick Warren said to him, “You’re my first member.” He does not indicate whether Don even claimed to be a Christian.27 Over and over, he uses expressions such as, “I require,”28 “I want,”29 “I added staff to assist me,”30 “I’m having to add younger staff,”31 and “I told the whole congregation, ‘I release you to visit those in prison, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and shelter the homeless – and you don’t even have to tell me.’”32
Rick Warren probably uses the word “pastor” hundreds of times in his book. Space will allow the listing of just a few of these. “My greatest source of learning … has been watching what God has done in the church I pastor.”33 “The pastor of a church sets the tone and atmosphere of the congregation.”34 “For a number of reasons I believe the pastor should teach this class (Saddleback’s membership class), or at least a portion of it. The opportunity to see that pastor’s vision for the church, feel his love for the members, hear his personal commitment to care, feed, and lead them is very important to new members.”35 Members of the Saddleback Valley Community Church must sign “a Saddleback Membership covenant.” The Covenant reads in part: “I will serve the ministry of my church … by being equipped to serve my pastors.”36
Has Rick Warren ever studied the Bible’s use of the word “pastor”? The word “pastor” comes from the Greek poimen and refers to the elders of the church – never to preachers, unless the preacher is also an elder like the apostle Peter (I Pet. 5:1). The word should be translated “shepherd.” The verb form (poimaino) would be better rendered “shepherd.” “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (I Pet. 5:2). A one-man pastorate gives the man too much power. He is tempted to make rules where God has not made them. He faces the temptation of becoming a Diotrephes (III John 9-10). But even if the “pastor: is benevolent, committed and capable, the one-man pastorate is not scriptural.
The one-man pastorate has led Rick Warren to speak as if he were on Mount Sinai. Dozens of examples can be found in his book. He discusses what he calls “the Nehemiah principle.” He demands: “Vision and purpose must be restated every twenty-six days to keep the church moving in the right direction.”37 He encourages preachers to use series of sermons. He then pontificates: “The best length for a series is four to eight weeks.”38 At Rick Warren’s instigation, the Saddleback Church has four requirements: “(1) a personal profession of Christ as Lord and Savior, (2) baptism by immersion as a public symbol of one’s faith, (3) completion of the membership class, and (4) a signed commitment to abide by Saddleback’s membership covenent.”39
Warren mentions baptism a number of times, but misunderstands and misapplies the Bible’s teaching on the topic. He calls baptism “a symbol of salvation” and “a symbol of fellowship.”40 He also refers to baptism as “a public statement of faith in Christ.”41 The Saddleback Church asks people “to commit to Christ, then to baptism, then to membership, then to habits for maturity, then to ministry, and finally to fulfilling their life mission.”42 In none of his references to baptism does Rick Warren tell us what the scriptures teach. Could he not have at least quoted Ananias’ command to Saul: “Arise, and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16)? Does Ananias’ command refer to symbolism?
There are dozens and dozens of other criticisms of Rick Warren’s book, but space will not allow all of them to be examined in depth. Discerning critics will object to his recommendation of the so-called “sinner’s prayer,”43 using women in the public worship of the church,44 preaching to “felt needs,”45 constant use of the Living Bible,46 deciding which books are “core books,”47 using mechanical instruments of music,48 and using a name that does not give glory to God’s Son.
Although the book makes some excellent points, it really is a very dangerous book.
1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).
2 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, p. 11.
3 Ibid., p. 21.; 4 Ibid.; 5 Ibid., p. 11; 6 Ibid., p. 64; 7 Ibid., p. 103; 8 Ibid., p. 337; 9 Ibid., p. 345; 10 Ibid., p 353.
11 Inside dust cover.
13 Ibid., p. 100 “Of Studies”
14 Ibid., p. 241; 15 Ibid., p. 272; 16 Ibid., p. 362.
17 Joseph Addison Alexander, Psalms: Translated and Explained (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975, Reprint), p. 416.
18 Ibid., p. 391; 19 Ibid., p. 145; 20 Ibid., pp. 25-26; 21 Ibid., p. 24; 23 Ibid., p. 201; 24 Ibid., p. 277; 25 Ibid., pp. 369-371; 26 Ibid., p. 371; 27 Ibid., p. 37; 28 Ibid., p. 57; 29 Ibid., p. 91; 30 Ibid., p. 140; 31 Ibid., p. 177; 32 Ibid., p. 386; 33 Ibid., p. 18; 34 Ibid., p. 212; 35 Ibid., p. 316; 36 Ibid., pp. 321-322; 37 Ibid., p. 111; 38 Ibid., p. 300; 39 Ibid., p. 320; 40 Ibid., p. 105; 41 Ibid., p. 303; 42 Ibid., p. 346; 43 Ibid., pp. 303-304; 44 Ibid., p. 355; 45 Ibid., pp. 227, 295; 46 Ibid., p. 297; 47 Ibid., p. 352; 48 Ibid., pp. 279-284; 49 Ibid., p. 105.
Winford Claiborne works with the church in West Fayetteville, TN, and is the speaker on the International Gospel Hour.
The Church Growth Movement
How could any Christian possibly be opposed to “church grown”? Without trying to be “cute,” one today must legitimately observe: “That depends.” That depends, that is, on the type of church growth under consideration and its relation to Bible teaching on church growth.
No one can properly object to the church growth evidenced in such statement as; “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47); “the number of the disciples was multiplied…” (Acts 6:1); “the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (Acts 6:7); and “therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Every individual Christian and every local church should be engaged in such efforts of church growth to the limit of the abilities they possess and can develop. Let there be no mistake: Churches of Christ should be zealously committed to and busily engaged in promoting and achieving the greatest growth of the church possible as guided by the Bible! Now! In the future!
On the other hand, one cannot give aid and comfort to and promote any form of what is called “church growth” not in keeping with the will of God! Could one with the approval of God promote of the Roman Catholic Church? Could one properly promote the “church growth” of any or all of the denominational groups – Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals or Charismatics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc., including all the numerous denominations which erroneously stand as rivals of the church of Christ?
Surely no Christian and no church, well informed and rightly instructed in Bible truth about the plan of salvation and the church, would even think of promoting the growth of Catholicism, Protestantism, or any “ism” not in keeping with Scripture! Probably 15 or 20 years ago this observation would have been accurate concerning virtually all Christians and all local churches of Christ. The present reality, however, is that much about “church growth” has radically changed with some who have remained among us over the last 15 or 20 years.
Aye, and, that is the rub. That is why the answer “that depends” concerning “church growth” is now both legitimate and requisite.
The balance of this article will consider what is now known as the “church growth” movement as it is being advanced by some among us, although in violation of Bible teaching on such topics as the plan of salvation and the unique nature and work of the church in worship and service.
Decline of Main Line Denominationalism
Ronald E. Osborn put it straight about the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) and about Protestantism in general when he wrote: “It is now clear that in identifying with the Protestant mainline, Disciples also readily took over numerous characteristics of an established church. Whether by conscious choice or institutional osmosis, we began [after becoming a full fledged and self-acknowledged denomination in 1967-68, ww] to avow openly or to manifest unwittingly a pattern of life and thought which broke sharply with our past…. As a result of these and other factors the second half of our century has witnessed a sharp and dramatic decline of the mainline churches, especially the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)…. So here is the irony: Disciples managed to make it to the mainline just in time for its disestablishment.”1
In comments concerning Thomas C. Reeve’s book The Empty Pew: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (Free Press, 276 pages), David Klinghoffer observed that another title might appropriately be “Why Should Episcopalians, United Methodists, Evangelical Lutherans) have diverged further and further from Christian orthodoxy, while losing parishioners in droves.”2 He stated that since the 1960s and 70s, the main-line denominations have bled between a fifth and a third of their congregants. And this while being told by their leaders that in the “post Christian” era, old fashioned Christianity repels potential church goers; and their “final answer” is: Follow the path of modern culture wherever it leads! But, he wryly observed: “It doesn’t work that way. The more heterodox – multicultural, multi-doctrinal – the churches become, the more congregants they lose and yet they keep at it.”
One who has not heard such calls from some among us, in the name of “church growth” to be sure, for the same heterodox, multicultural, multi-doctrinal revisions allegedly necessary for churches of Christ to exist into the 21st century has not been alert to what is going on all about him! How has this come to be?
The Erroneous Demands for Misguided Changes in the Name of “Church Growth”
Men among us, claiming expertise in growing churches of Christ,3 have wrung their hands and wailed over the supposed impending demise of church of Christ because of their allegedly antiquated doctrinal views and their out of sync worship practices which the current generation will not accept in any significant number. And this spells the end of church grown and the ultimate placing of churches of Christ in the dustbins of history.
Oh, how sad it is, in their view, to see the churches of Christ helpless and wasting away, and all without necessity. Just listen to the knowing ones! They have the sure-fire solution to the problem: Cast aside our doctrinal stance grounded in Scripture for one acceptable to the current generation and to denominationalism in general, revive the worship services with “fresh breezes of the Holy Spirit,” welcome into fellowship denominational preachers and members, lay aside such barriers to church unity and growth as opposing instrumental music in worship and insisting that baptism is necessary to salvation, apologize for hindering or preventing true unity and peaceful Christian service with Christian Churches and other denominational groups, and churches of Christ will grow and bloom like a well-watered rose in a barren desert! So some tell us.
This scenario, however, masks what lies beneath the surface: The repudiation of the headship of Christ over the church and the abandonment of the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice among churches of Christ. With such revisionism in place, churches of Christ would lose their reason for being, rebel against the Lord who bought them, and repudiate their heritage and birthright as the people of God.
Links with the Church Growth Movement
These revisionist proposals have not fallen from the sky. Rather, they have their roots in the current denominational groups known as the “Church Growth Movement.”
What is known as the “Church Growth Movement” was the creation of C. Peter Wagner and John Wimber at Fuller Seminary in California during the 1970s and 1980s. It is also termed the “Vineyard Movement,” the “Signs and Wonders Movement”; and “The Third Wave.”4 This movement has church associations, oversight and accountability procedures, and a full denominational stance. And, significantly for our study, it vigorously seeks entrance into unsuspecting groups under the guise of aiding them in church growth.
In various places among us, brethren are engaged in a struggle for the soul of the church. In the name of church growth and with an agenda more or less hidden in all but its fringes, men who have embraced pentecostal and charismatic doctrines are promoting false doctrine as the way to grow the church.
Wagner notes key ingredients of their faith: Holy Spirit baptism at conversion, multiple fillings of the Holy Spirit, low key acceptance of tongues, miraculous healings, castings out of demons, words of prophecy,5 and even some claims of raising the dead. One especially relevant insight is this: “The desire of those in the third wave is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in healing the sick, casting out demons, receiving prophecies, and participating in other charismatic-type manifestations without disturbing the current philosophy of ministry in governing their congregations.” Also, he stresses that every effort assures “avoidance of divisiveness at all cost. Compromise in areas such as raising hands in worship, public tongues, methods of prayer for the sick and others is cordially accepted in order to maintain harmony with those not in the third wave.”6 Does any of this sound familiar in such gatherings as Jubilee and Winterfest?
These references must suffice. The relation of this movement to our people is frequently to be found in the reception of various graduate degrees from Fuller Seminary in the 1970s until the 1990s by teachers who were aiming to be teachers of church grown in various Christian Colleges among us. The carefully nuanced stance of Wimber and Wagner was drilled into the students as constituent elements of course requirements. If not carefully evaluated as the false claims of pentecostal and charismatic advocates, poorly taught and poorly grounded graduate student. With degree in hand, embracing without much criticism such views, and with only slight revision, the newly minted teacher could present these views in lectures as the very essence of church growth. In addition, students could and would go farther than teachers ever wished or dreamed in tracing out these latent charismatic doctrines and practices to the bitter – although to the teacher unwelcome or unaccepted – end with the resultant embrace of pentecostalism in principle if not in fact. Preachers, reading these views and hearing them praised as the way to church growth, could buy into the pentecostal system and present these errant views as the latest word in church growth. Resistance and resultant conflicts would be identified as originating from legalistic attitudes, lack of real desire to grow, unwillingness to learn, and determination to circle the wagons and maintain status quo at all costs. When applied, in some instances this revisionism slowly found acceptance and gradual success in winning some numbers, fascinated some hearers, and the church thus victimized was on the way to real difficulties. Any difficulties were laid at the door of those said to have no desire for “church growth.” In reality, the difficulties were due to the refusal of well-taught brethren to embrace pentecostal and charismatic theology and practice in the name of church growth. Thankfully, many among us have not forgotten the neopentecostalism of Pat Boone and others in the 1960s and beyond.
In various places among us, brethren are engaged in a struggle for the soul of the church. In the name of church growth and with an agenda more or less hidden in all but its fringes, men who have embraced pentecostal and charismatic doctrines are promoting false doctrine as the way to grow the church. As these otherwise hidden components become better known, the true nature of the supposed recipe for church growth is recognized for what it is – incipient pentecostalism with ultimately tongue speaking, words of prophecy, lifting up holy hands, praise and worship teams, and the other characteristics of the charismatic worship.
To be sure, we must not and should not be suspicious of every person academically or otherwise trained in and pleading for church growth. There are Bible principles of church growth we are to understand and apply with zeal and enthusiasm. And we should appreciate those who have and still do loyally follow the teaching of Scripture and stimulate and encourage us to greater church growth. But, a pentecostal based or denominationally based proposal and plan for church growth should be recognized by elders and preachers and members for what it is – and refused before its inroads generate dissension and ultimately division in otherwise united and active churches. The task is often unpleasant, and the effort requires courage and right to make and uphold the difference between genuine and counterfeit efforts to promote church growth.
1 Ronald E. Osborn, “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),” Mid-Stream (July 1989), pp.297, 305. As an example of the problem faced by Disciples of Christ, Osborn observed that from 1980-1990 Disciples lost 110,061 members, a drop of 13.91%.
2 David Klinghoffer, “Trendy Sermons, Vacant Pews,” The Wall Street Journal (January 3, 1997).
3 It has often been of interest to me to observe that two leading papers advocating what the editors and writers call church growth have exhibited a less than exemplary history. One, called Image, is now defunct because of lack of readership and financial backing; the other, Wineskins, while still being published, was and possibly still is unable to appear on a regular schedule. In fact, for several years Wineskins was glaringly infrequent and irregular in publication. How about that for running a railroad? Yet, these failed and failing editors and writers have the sure fire way to produce church growth if only stubborn brethren would turn over the life and work of churches of Christ to them! How wrong can editors and writers be? How can they hold their heads up among brethren? They fail as editors and writers but criticize brethren vigorously for not adopting and implementing their proposals for church growth. Wonder why?
4 The best summary of this movement is to be found in the writings of C. Peter Wagner in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (1988). See especially his articles on “THIRD WAVE,’’ pp. 843-844, “CHURCH GROWTH,” pp. 180-195. One also finds helpful insight from Tim Stafford, “Testing the Wine from John Winber’s Vineyard,” Christianity Today (August 8, 1986), pp. 18-22.
5 Tom Stafford relates the following concerning John Wimber as an example of how these folks claim God provides them with astonishing messages of supernatural nature: “For instance, Wimber tells of seeing the word adultery printed on the face of a man he met on an airplane; then God gave him the name of the woman involved. The man was so shaken he was converted on the spot.” Christianity Today (April 8, 1986), p. 21.
6 Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, pp. 843-844.
William Woodson, 229 Caperton, Lawrenceburg, TN 38464, is the former chairman of the Bible Department at Freed-Hardeman and is the retired director of Graduate Studies in Bible at David Lipscomb. He continues a full schedule of preaching and writing.
Contemporary Worship – How Far?
The caller identified himself and told me he was an elder in the Lord’s church. He then told me where he lived and the name of the congregation in which he served as an elder. After we exchanged some pleasantries, he said he needed my input about a conflict within their congregation.
He proceeded to tell me their story, and it is a story that has been “played out” in dozens of congregations during the last few years. There was a group in the church who wanted to change the format of their worship into what the caller referred to as “progressive and informal,” while another group was strongly opposed to the proposed change and insisted on staying with the “traditional” format for worship. He then expressed deep concern that the “leaders” in the “progressive” group were trying to lead the church into liberalism.
He said they were considering a proposal to resolve the conflict by “polling” the membership to see which type of service the majority of people prefer – the “progressive” format or the “traditional” format. And he said they were also considering offering both types of services. “That way,” he explained, “everyone can attend the type of service he or she prefers.”
When he asked for my input on the matter, my advice was that he and the other elders should exercise more leadership. With due respect, and in kindness, I said, “You are the shepherds. Lead the church in the direction that is in the best interest of the whole church. Polling the members to see how the majority wants to worship is followship, not leadership.”
As stated above, that is a story heard a lot these days, as more and more churches are troubled over what style of worship and what format of worship to have in their assemblies.1
In the churches of Christ in recent years, there has been a call for a variety of changes, led by those who have been identified as “change agents.” Much of the change that has been promoted and taken place in many congregations centers on worship, especially in the Sunday morning assembly. The changes have included the introduction of special singing groups, lifting up hands, drama presentations, observing religious holidays, dedicating babies, hand clapping, children’s worship, and a change in format and environment. Without question, there is a movement underway to restructure the worship of the church, and this movement is disrupting the peace and harmony in many churches of Christ.
Without question, there is a movement underway to restructure the worship of the church, and this movement is disrupting the peace and harmony in many churches of Christ.
The magnitude of the problem is illustrated in how frequently and extensively the subject is being discussed in church bulletins and brotherhood journals. For example, under the title of “The Community Church Trend,” the March and April issues of The Christian Chronicle called a series of articles by various writers regarding the various components of the community church trend, including changes in worship. And the latest Christian Chronicle (August, 2000 issue) has the first of a three-part series on worship, which, in my judgment, is an extension of the matters discussed in the March and April issues.
So, what has given rise to the call for changes in worship, and the subsequent ongoing discussion over the matter? While space will not allow a thorough discussion of these matters, I shall mention and briefly discuss some of the contributing factors.
The Age of Entertainment. One of the most noticeable cries about the need for doing things in a new and different way is that people are bored – bored with “the same ol’ songs and prayers,” “the same ol’ sermons,” and the “same ol’ order of worship.” Well, consider the words of Neil Postman, who noted that “toward the end of the nineteenth century … the Age of Exposition began to pass and the early signs of its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business.”2 In other words, we are in an age when everything is designed to appeal to our emotions and to entertain us rather than appeal to our intellect. Entertainment has become the center of family and cultural life. We are part of a consumer driven/entertainment culture, with television being the dominant influence. (Consider how in the room in which the average family spends most of their time, the TV is the focal point of all the furniture.)
In such a culture, Christians are influenced to think that the church must keep pace and present worship in the fast moving, entertaining style and format to which people are accustomed. We are told that we must be clever and brief if we are to attract and hold the attention of people, especially young people.
Church Growth Orientation. When we set our minds to “grow a big church,” we set ourselves on a path that can, and often does, lead to a compromise of biblical doctrine. By that I mean that, if there is something that will hinder church growth, we will want to remove, or neutralize, that “something.” And that “something” may be a point of doctrine, like baptism being essential to salvation, or the type of music we have in worship. (Could that explain why some preachers no longer preach on these things as they once did?)
Also, when we set our minds to “grow a big church,” we may end up adopting a pragmatic approach to “doing church.” In other words, we determine what attracts people and makes the church grow, and we put it into practice.
As discussed more fully elsewhere in this issue, some of our brethren, being impressed by the huge fast-growing community churches in the denominational world, have established community churches, with a design of attracting people by meeting their “needs.” As I understand it, in these community churches, the emphasis in the worship services is how to make worship entertaining and meet the desires of the people.
The problem with this tact is a misplaced priority. Man’s felt needs are elevated above meeting man’s real needs! Our primary concern in worship should be doing things in the way God wants them done, and we make a tragic mistake if, in our quest for church growth, we lose sight of that.
Relative to making things attractive to people, Dan Chambers wrote,
Despite the fact that, as already asserted, framing worship as entertainment will no double entice some people to worship who would otherwise be uninterested, trying to win the hearts of pagans by making Christianity attractive to them must be rejected as a valid evangelistic strategy. Why? To be blunt and to the point, it is because Jesus never directed, or even suggested, that His disciples try to win the world by making Christianity attractive to the world. As some have put it, Jesus told His disciples to preach the gospel, not sell it. His instruction to the twelve as basically, “If you can’t win people with substance, move on” (Matthew 10:14), not “If you can’t win people with substance, try to win them with splendor.”3
When we try to attract people to Christ and the church by making worship a fun and exciting experience, we are changing and perverting the fundamental and biblical design of worship.
The Framing of Worship
Should the church maintain the “sameness” in worship and remain “traditional,” or shall we heed the cries for “newness” and change to a “contemporary” style?
In answering that question, the first consideration is another question. What does the Bible say regarding worship? What is the Lord’s will regarding the matter? What has he said about worship? Has the Lord regulated worship? If so, what are those regulations?
Well, indeed, the Lord has spoken and, indeed, he has regulated worship. First, he has made it clear and emphatic throughout the scriptures that the only acts of worship acceptable unto him are those that he has authorized. He rejected Saul as king when he disobeyed him and brought back forbidden spoil. Saul said that the people took the animals as spoil to be offered as a sacrifice in worship, but Samuel told him that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (I Sam. 15:22). In other words, worship which man offers which is not authorized by the Lord is unacceptable unto the Lord. And this fact is further illustrated in the punishment of Nadab and Abihu when they “offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not” (Lev. 10:1-2).
Second, Jesus taught that those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and that definitely regulates worship.
(1) The object of our worship is to be God. The matter, stated simply, is this: Man, the created, comes before God, the creator, to worship. Whom shall man seek to please? Himself, or God? Well, the Bible makes it clear and unmistakable that our focus in worship should be to please and honor our heavenly Father, not ourselves.
(2) In order for worship to be acceptable unto God, it must be “in spirit,” i.e., from the heart. For example, in singing, we are to make melody in our hearts unto the Lord (Eph. 5:19).
(3) In order for worship to be acceptable unto God, it must be according to truth (John 17:17). The actions of Christian worship must be those divinely authorized in the New Testament (Eph. 5:19, I Cor. 11:23-29, et al).
In framing worship, let us not ask if it will attract a crowd and make the church grow. Instead, let us ask if it is in harmony with the will of God.
Food for Thought
In the interest of being helpful and practical in these matters, I offer the following points that I believe, with proper consideration, will “steer” us in the right direction regarding worship.
(1) Where is the biblical evidence that worship is designed to please the worshipper? I hear people talk about “not getting anything out of worship.” But where did we come up with the notion that such is supposed to happen. It is true, of course, that we will “get something out of worship” when it is done properly, but the fundamental design and intent of worship is to honor, praise, and glorify our heavenly Father.
(2) Where is the biblical evidence that worship should be shaped to appeal to those who are outside the church? Many are contending that “our traditional services are unattractive to outsiders and we must make our services more visitor-friendly.” But, what is the basis for thinking that worship is for attracting the sinner? Is it not the case that, according to the New Testament, worship is to glorify God and strengthen the saints?
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with an evangelistic emphasis in our assemblies. It is right to try to get people to attend our services in order to teach them the gospel, and the church is not wrong for making that one of the “strategies” in evangelizing the community. But, let us not lose sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of the assembly is to worship God and encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25).
(3) Those who advocate a contemporary style of worship tell us that if we want success and growth in the church, and if we want to keep our young people, we must do things in new and different ways. But, consider this. When the “new” wears off and the “different” becomes customary, what happens then? Do we not, at some point, have to deal with our attitude toward worship? Consider what Dave Miller wrote:
Instead of attempting to renovate worship for our own benefit, what we need to do is cultivate our appetites for pure, New Testament worship. When I was a child, I didn’t enjoy the worship assembly. Do you remember your mother insisting that you eat your vegetables? Her rationale was (1) they’re good for you and (2) you must learn to like them. Our culture is losing all of these sage bits of wisdom and insightful truths about life and human experience and moral value. Like virtually everything of value in life, one must grow, cultivate and develop one’s involvement in life’s activities … so it is in the spiritual realm. We need to stick with the simple worship behaviors dictated in Scripture. We need to learn to like them – because they’re good for us.4
(4) But, what do we do about the “sameness” in worship? How do we respond to being “bored” in worship? Well, as noted in the previous point, we need to work on our attitude. When worship becomes boring to me, and I begin to feel the need to change the worship in order to make it “more meaningful,” I need first to examine my heart. Discontentment with “doing things the same way” is usually more of a reflection of one’s own attitude than the style or format of worship.
On the other hand, can anyone successfully deny that many of our services are best described as stale, lifeless, and unchallenging? And do we believe that such pleases God and strengthens the Christian? Those who plan and lead worship need to regularly consider how they might change and improve the format of worship to promote greater participation and help the church worship more like God wants.
God help us to worship him with hearts that are filled with sincerity, and with deep sense of humility and gratitude. And may we always stay focused upon worshipping him in accordance with his revealed will!
1 Dan Chambers has written some very helpful comments about the various styles and format of worship and the difference between the two in Show Time (21st Century Christian, 1997), pp. 12-13, 25-26, 65-66.
2 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: penguin Books, 1985), p. 63.
3 Chambers, p. 74.
4 Dave Miller, Piloting the Strait (Sain Publications, 1996), p. 187.
David Sain preaches for the Wood Avenue church in Florence, AL.
The Market-Driven Approach
Marketing is designed to catch someone’s attention, capture their interest and change their behavior in favor of a product. A friend once told me, “A business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.”
Well, as Christians, we have the greatest product of all times – the gospel – and we should do our best to “market” this precious commodity. Unfortunately, two extremes are negatively impacting our efforts.
There are, for example, those that are against all kinds of change. They believe in “marketing” the gospel by the same antiquated methods of yesterday even if those methods have ceased to be productive. To them, “different” is “dirty.” They have so attached methodology to theology that a change in methods is viewed as a compromise of our message.
Then, there are those that are advocating all kinds of change. They believe in “marketing” the gospel by adapting to the market place. To them, we need to “change” even if we have to “exchange” the precepts of God for the preferences of men. They think that success in growing a church justifies our methods even if we have to rethink and alter our message.
They think that success in growing a church justifies our methods even if we have to rethink and alter our message.
Both of these extremes impede the progress of New Testament Christianity. Both are wrong. The first idolizes the traditions of man while the second minimizes the traditions of God – his handed down word (cf. II Thess. 2:15). The first leads congregations to their demise while the second leads congregations down detours that are not authorized.
For this assignment, “The Market-Driven Approach,” let us strike a balance. Let us see the importance of productively marketing the gospel without compromising its integrity. If you please, we need to “market the gospel” but we must “never be market-driven” in preaching and promoting the gospel!
We Need to “Market” Our Product, the Gospel
Did you know that every member of the Godhead actively involved himself in “marketing” the gospel?
God the Father, believed in “marketing” the gospel. In fact, he designed and employed the ministry of John (John 5:33), the miracles of Jesus (john 5:36), the predictions of the Old Testament (John 5:39), and the law of Moses (John 5:45-47) to “bear witness” of our Lord. That is “marketing.”
God the Son, believed in “marketing” the gospel. Over and over again, he miraculously helped folks with disease (Matt. 8:1-15); demons (Matt. 8:28-34); despair (Matt. 8:23-27); death (Matt. 9:18-26) and disabilities (Matt. 9:27-31). But the Lord thought of these miracles as a means of “marketing” his true identity (Matt. 11:2-6). They were, after all, “signs” (John 2:3; 20:30).
God, the Holy Spirit, believed in “marketing” the gospel. In Acts 2, he came upon the apostles with “a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and … tongues, parting asunder, like as of fire” (Acts 2:1-4). Why all the theatrics? Listen to what he said through Peter: “Jesus did God raise up … Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted … he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear” (Acts 2:33). The Holy Spirit came in such a dramatic fashion to “market” the resurrection, exaltation and authority of Jesus.
You and I should also believe in “marketing” the gospel. Today’s church leaders should constantly brainstorm, dream and try to be as productive as possible in getting the gospel to others. Jesus said, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). His “Great Commission,” specified: (a) a location, “the world”; (b) a vocation, “preach” and (c) an avocation, “the gospel.” His word for “preach,” kerusso, means “to proclaim after the manner of a herald.”1 It implies the concept of “marketing” in that a herald was someone with a loud voice that alerted people to something important and/or wonderful.2 Our young people sing a song that beautifully captures this idea “a herald.”
I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found –
You can depend on him, it matters not where you’re bound;
I’ll shout it from the mountaintop, I want my world to know:
The Lord of life has come to me, I want to pass it on.
Our message is the greatest of all times. It is the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 16:16); the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24); the “gospel of the glory of Christ” (II Cor. 4:4); the “gospel of the uncircumcision [and] the circumcision” in that it is for all (Gal. 2:7); the “gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13); the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15); the “gospel of our Lord” (II Thess. 1:8); and, the “gospel of the glory of our blessed God” (I Tim. 1:11).
It is a message others need to hear, a message that we need to effectively “market” in response to the Lord’s commission. At the same time, we must avoid the temptation to alter this message by becoming a “market-driven” people.
We Must Avoid Being a “Market-Driven” People
In his book, Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur rebuts a “market-driven” approach to the ministry and offers an excellent summation of what it entails.
Ministry has married marketing philosophy and this is the monstrous offspring. It is a studied effort to change the way the world perceives the church. Church ministry is being completely revamped in an attempt to make it more appealing to unbelievers…. Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained. Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we’re assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline…. The whole point is to make the church “user-friendly.”3
Used to be, we talked about the Hippies and the Yuppies. Today, “the Boomers,” “the Busters” and “the X’ers” have captured our attention. The market-driven approach calls for an analysis of these variant groups and a custom-designed message that supposedly applies to their whims, wants or worries. Instead of going to the community with the greatest product of all times, the gospel, the market-driven approach allows for the community to sculpt its own product. As a result, the church becomes nothing more than a conduit for the satisfaction of a self-absorbed world.
Many of our own brethren have been seduced by this approach. The shift has been ever so subtle but seismic.
(1) First, there has been a “change” in the way folks view “change.” In his work, The Frog in the Kettle (published in 1990), George Barna anticipated “Christianity” in the year 2000. Among other characteristics, Barna predicted:
Baby Boomers and Baby Busters (the generation after the Boomers) have redefined change. To the parents of Boomers, change was a risk; it threatened what they had achieved. But to the Boomers and Busters, change represents opportunity, the best avenue to new possibilities and breakthroughs. The willingness to accept change is a sign of health; resistance to change, without a strong rationale, is seen as short-sighted and foolish. While many of us still find too much change happening too quickly to be emotionally unsettling, the lust to experience life more expansively will entice more and more of us to discard doubts and fears regarding change.4
In response, change – in methods – is not always a bad thing. If we are not careful, we might inadvertently discourage church growth and the corporate discretion that masterfully contributes to such. Carl F. George asks some provocative questions along these lines.
Could it be that we are so accustomed to working with bonsai trees that we have lost sight of and hope for ongoing, unstunted growth? Could we church leaders, like a dynasty of oriental gardeners, be part of an ongoing tradition that twists, bruises, pinches, and clips the roots of our churches so as to prevent their being overtaken by growth? Maybe, despite our intentions otherwise, we do so without even realizing it.5
Some tine in the past, someone came up with the idea of a Bible School class, a Gospel Meeting, a Vacation Bible School, an internet web page, a summer Wednesday night series, etc.! There are many other great ideas waiting to be discovered and employed by those who wish to be innovative while remaining biblical. Still, we must never change for the sake of change and run roughshod over the feelings of others. Our product, the gospel, forbids that kind of insensitivity (I Cor. 10:23-33). Too, our innovations must never, NEVER, N-E-V-E-R change God’s word, even if the proposed change is thought to be an opportunity for church growth (I Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18; cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32).
(2) Second, “culture” has begun to pave the way for “compromise.” Consider the suggestion of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church.
Targeting for evangelism begins with finding out all you can about your community. Your church needs to define its target in four specific ways: geographically, demographically, culturally, and spiritually…. I use the word culture to refer to the lifestyle and mind-set of those who live around your church. The business world uses the term psychographics, which is just a way of referring to people’s values, interest, hurts, and fears…. Within your community there are most likely many subcultures, or subgroups. To reach each of these groups you need to discover how they think. What are their interests? What do they value? Where do they hurt. What are they afraid of? What are the most prominent features of the way they live?6
This entails what Warren later describes as learning to “Think Like a Fish” when you go fishing.7 His church, the Saddleback Valley Community Church of Orange County, California, has even personified their community’s composite profile into what they call, “Mr. Saddleback.”8 Their ministry, in turn, is governed by the “priorities,” the “skepticism,” the “personal “preferences” as well as the economic status, the academic prowess and the varied struggles that “Mr. Saddleback” represents.
In response, demographics should definitely be considered in the strategic planning of our congregations if we want to succeed in our God-given mission of evangelism. At the same time, we must not allow the preferences, the positions, or the problems of our community to dictate who we are or what we believe and teach. Did Paul agree to incorporate the culture of Judaism into Christianity when the surrounding community called for compromise? Read the book of Galatians (cf. Gal. 5:4; cf. Acts 15:1ff). Did he politely involve himself in the cultural polytheism of Athens in an effort to woo and win the heathen to Christ? Think again (Acts 17:17-31). Yes, we need to understand our community, but we should never, NEVER, N-E-V-E-R fail to stand against it when its thoughts and ways are contrary to the gospel. Remember, Paul wrote, “I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” But in the process, he was still “under law to Christ” (I Cor. 9:21-22).
(3) Third, “relevance” is now being used to determine what is “right.” In his work, The User Friendly Church (a companion volume to The Frog in the Kettle), George Barna asks,
What does your church do that makes Christianity relevant for those who attend? … A church trying to compete for people’s time and attention without providing a relevant ministry may as well not exist.9
Now, watch carefully. We are encouraged to change because change represents opportunity. We are, then, charged to access the culture that encapsulates our congregations and see that our changes make us culturally relevant. Such leads to something called “value added” marketing and a consequential push for meeting the “felt needs” of our community. “Value added marketing requires offering the basic product, then adding something special to it to enhance the perceived value, causing the product in the enhanced form to be more attractive than it would be otherwise.”10 Did you see that? Our basic product, the gospel, is not sufficient. Something must be added to make it appear more valuable, more relevant. What could be more valuable or relevant than a message that helps us overcome sin?
In response: every man and every woman carries with them the scars of sorrow (Job 5:7; 14:1; II Cor. 5:4). As Christians, their pain, hopefully, touches us (Matt. 5:7; Luke 6:36; Eph. 4:28; Col. 3:13-14). Still, the needs of others do not dictate who we are, what we believe, what we offer or what we are to preach. What happens, for example, when the community needs help with the delicate subject of divorce but will not accept the Lord’s demands relative to this knotty problem? Too, are we going to avoid controversial subjects (i.e. the wrath of God, hell, the singularity of the NT church, the exclusivity of our biblical fellowship, the essentiality of baptism for the forgiveness of sins) just because they are distasteful to the community and deemed “irrelevant”? Remember, Jesus addressed the “felt needs” of people, but he never compromised the integrity of his mission or his message in the process (cf. Mark 1:35-39). The extent of our relevance is that of making people happy by helping them come to an obedient, saving faith (cf. II Cor. 1:24)!
(4) Finally, due to these subtle shifts, “syncretism” has been substituted for the “singularity” of the New Testament church and the “specificity” of her message. Again, projecting himself into the future, Barna predicted:
America’s religious faith in 2000 will be a combination of existing faiths. Known as syncretism, this approach to spirituality was quite common in the Old Testament (and earned the stern rebuke of the prophets). Americans, never satisfied with their options, and rarely pleased with old traditions and old rules, will create their own religions. They will mix and match the best of each faith to which they are exposed and emerge with a synthetic faith…In all likelihood, they will seek a blend of elements that will give them a sense of control over life, personal comfort and acceptance and a laissez-faire life-style philosophy.11
Sound familiar? Compare this concept to the “Community Church Craze” that has surfaced in recent years or to the ecumenism that has encouraged God’s people to cooperate with denominational crusades. Such is nothing shy of folks rejecting the exclusivity of God’s people and the specifics of her message for their own “Christian” (?) conglomerate.
In response, when Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, did they allow for syncretism? Look carefully. They went back “confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22, emphasis dw). Why, if one way of belief is just as good as another? Why, if we have the liberty to compile our own set of convictions? Why were they taught to “continue in the faith” if we have the right to craft our own faith? Unpopular as it might be – even if it is culturally irrelevant to the thinking of some – there is only one church, only one spiritual body of Christ (Eph. 1:22
-23; 4:4). No matter how vague others wish to be, the message is clear. To become a member of this body, this spiritual family of God, we must (a) believe that Jesus is God’s Son (John 1:12); (b) come out from this world, “repent” (II Cor. 6:17-18) and be “baptized” into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27) which, of course, is an immersion (Rom. 6:3-4) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16).
The impact of forsaking our message for the sake of methods is devastating. It will change our “purpose” – from preaching the gospel to “growing” the church. It will change our “pattern” – from the church of the New Testament to the denominations of our day. It will change our “preaching” – from the distinctive word of God to the fables that please itching ears. And, it will change our “praise” – from the worship God specifies to orchestrated pep rallies with a little spiritual seasoning.
The plan of God is simple. Wherever we go we are to let others know about the good news of Jesus. Look at that word kerusso, “preach.” one more time. From a study of its use in the New Testament, note its balanced and comprehensive nature. The message we need to “shout from the mountaintops” includes:
· the commands to believe, repent, and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47);
· the deity, death, burial, resurrection, and authority of Jesus (Acts 9:20; I Cor. 15:1ff; II Cor. 4:5);
· the New Testament church, our Lord’s kingdom (Matt. 3:1; 4:17; 10:7; 24:14);
· the final judgment (Acts 10:2); the hope of being reconciled to God (Eph. 3:10); and
· the entire word of God, with its corrective and constructive qualities (II Tim. 4:2).
Brethren, this is “good news”! It is exclusive in its import. It is restrictive in its demands. Still, it is “the word of good tidings” (I Pet. 1:25). Let us dare to be as progressive as necessary in getting it before as many as possible. At the same time, let us do so without compromising its integrity by a “Market-Driven Approach” to church work.
1 Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1975), p. 346.
2 See Geoffrey W. Bromily, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. III (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1965), p. 697.
3 John MacArthur, Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1993), pp. 45-46.
4 George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle (Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 1990), p. 38.
5 Carl F. George, How to Break Growth Barriers (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1993), p. 18.
6 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 160, 165.
7 Warren, p. 188.
8 Warren, pp. 169-171.
9 George Barna, The User Friendly Church (Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 1991), p. 73.
10 George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle, p. 95.
11 Barna, The Frog in the Kettle, p. 141.
Dan Winkler is minister for the Crieve Hall church in Nashville, TN.
Book Review: Ashamed of the Gospel
David R. Pharr
Some might assume that concern and debate over changes in the church are problems peculiar to churches of Christ. Some might assume that such issues and controversies are new for the present generation. The fact is that every religious group is struggling over like issues, and it is easy to see in the current controversies that history is repeating itself. As our own brotherhood deals with pressures to be like the denominations, various denominations are wrestling with pressures to be more like secular society. Actually, the innovations favored by some among us embrace the very philosophies which more conservative denominational voices greatly fear. Regardless of excuses offered, the motive behind unscriptural change is the desire to more in harmony with the spirit of the age.
That the issues are not new, that the problems are not unique among churches of Christ, and that the real issue is worldliness are points forcefully demonstrated in a book by John F. MacArthur, Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel.1 MacArthur is with the Grace Community Church2 in Sun Valley California, and is president of the Master’s College and Seminary. In this work he contends that much of current preaching and practice is no more than the church seeking to win the world by embracing the world. This is, of course, really surrender to the world. He deplores the gimmicks and gadgets which seek numbers instead of conviction. He strongly objects to the ideas of church growth specialists which are based on secular principles rather than spiritual convictions. He argues that so little of the Bible is being preached that it is evident that, unlike Paul in Romans 1:16, many are “ashamed of the gospel.” The sub-title of the book is: “When the Church Becomes Like the World.”
The book is useful in showing that much of the ideology he so effectively discredits among evangelicals is the very thinking which has led to digressive changes within our own brotherhood.
Spurgeon and the Down-Grade
MacArthur greatly admires the nineteenth century London Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Quotations from Spurgeon are found throughout the book as the author compares current trends and issues to like trends and issues which occupied Spurgeon’s attention a little over a century ago. Spurgeon was without doubt the most famous preacher of his age. He became concerned with what he saw as a “down-grade,” meaning that he saw faith going downhill (we would say on a “slippery slope”) toward unbelief. MacArthur credits Spurgeon as “the first evangelical with international influence to declare war on modernism.”
The Down-Grade controversy began with Spurgeon’s publication3 of two anonymous articles by a fellow Baptist which lamented trends away from biblical fundamentals, compromises with the world, and the unwillingness of even otherwise orthodox preachers to oppose those whose soundness was questionable. There was particular concern that professors training ministers had departed from the faith of their school’s founders and were undermining the faith of the students.
After this, Spurgeon took up the issue in articles of his own. He compared biblical truth to the pinnacle of a steep, slippery mountain. One step away and you find yourself on the down-grade. And once started on the down-grade, momentum takes over. He had been the most respected preacher of his time and had been the most influential leader in the Baptist Union. In time, however, he found it necessary to break fellowship with the association because of their unwillingness to take a stand for what he saw as essential truth and because of their unwillingness to censure those who had abandoned the old faith. Eventually, it was Spurgeon himself who was censured by the Baptist Union – censured for his boldness in speaking out against what he saw as fatal error. Some even who knew that he was right nevertheless opposed him, preferring peace and compromise with their associates who were teaching the error.4
Our interest in MacArthur and Spurgeon is not in their Calvinistic and Baptist theology, but in their observations regarding the danger of being conformed to the world. False doctrine and worldliness always go hand in hand, MacArthur observes, with worldliness leading the way. (It ought to be evident that worldliness is the cause of most departures among us – not the worldliness of dancing and drinking, but the worldly desire to be sophisticated, to fit in, to no longer be different. But we also realize that indifference toward doctrine is only one step away from permissiveness in morals. (See Romans 12:2.) He reminds us that modernism was not at first a theological agenda, but a methodological one.5 The current shift away from emphasis on doctrine to an inordinate emphasis on methods prepares the way for theological compromise.
Current church growth theory calls for marketing religion in the same way that the world markets its products. MacArthur examined a dozen or so of the latest books6 on ministry and growth and the ministry instructions Paul had given to Timothy. Instead they drew principles from modern business techniques, psychology, and similar sources. Good marketing requires that both the producer and consumer be satisfied. Anything that leaves the consumer unsatisfied must be rejected. The thinking is that “Preaching – particularly preaching about sin, righteousness, and judgment – is too confrontive to be truly satisfying. The church must learn to couch the truth in ways that amuse and entertain."7
The market-driven approach tolerates almost any innovation that appears to get results (numbers, that is). The one thing that is not tolerated is plain preaching which opposes sin and demands commitment to truth.
The market-driven approach has its roots in erroneous measures of success. “The churches most often judged ‘successful’ are the large, rich megachurches with multimillion-dollar facilities, spas, handball courts, day-care centers, and so on.”8 The market-driven approach tolerates almost any innovation that appears to get results (numbers, that is). The one thing that is not tolerated is plain preaching which opposes sin demands commitment to truth. Another writer is quoted: “The baby-boom generation won’t just sit in the pew while someone up front preaches. They are products of a media-driven generation, and they need a church experience that will satisfy them on their own terms.”9
One telling flaw in the market-driven approach is the unabashed emphasis on targeting a selective audience. The author explains:
Why do you suppose nearly all the user-friendly churches identify their “target market” as young suburban professionals and other moneyed groups? Why are so few of these churches targeting poor and inner-city congregations or ministries of all classes and types of people? The answer may be obvious. One leading pastor in the movement says, “A pastor can define his appropriate target audience by determining with whom he would like to spend a vacation or an afternoon of recreation.” It would be hard to imagine a ministry philosophy more at odds with the Word of God than that.10
Borrowing a term from the computer industry, church growth specialists urge churches to be “user-friendly.” This means being benign and utterly non-challenging. It means making people comfortable even when their philosophy and lifestyle are radically different from what they ought to find in church. “No longer are pastors trained to declare to people what God demands of them. Instead, they are counseled to find out what the people’s demands are, then do whatever is necessary to meet them.”11 Some churches are having their largest services on Friday or Saturday nights, with emphasis on music and entertainment, “offering people an alternative to the theater or social circuit.” This also provides for members to “get church out of the way.” One Saturday night churchgoer explained: “If you go to Sunday school at 9:00 a.m., then to the 11:00 a.m. service and leave about 1:00 p.m., your day is pretty well shot."12
One of several quotations which explain user-friendly preaching says: “The sermons are relevant, upbeat, and best of all, short. You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin and damnation and hell fire. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching. It is sophisticated, urbane, and friendly talk. It breaks all the stereotypes.”13 Hell and the wrath of God aren’t allowed. MacArthur writes: “Rather than arousing fear of God, [user-friendly preaching] attempts to portray Him as fun, jovial, easygoing, lenient and even permissive.”14
“The fact is that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments.”15 When Spurgeon wrote this, he could hardly have imagined how far some would go to draw crowds. MacArthur also draws from A. W. Tozer, who, he says,
was not condemning games, music styles, or movies per se. He was concerned with the philosophy underlying what was happening in the church. He was sounding an alarm about a deadly change of focus. He saw evangelicals using entertainment as a tool for church growth, and he believed that was subverting the church’s priorities. He feared that frivolous diversions and carnal amusements in the church would eventually destroy people’s appetites for real worship and preaching of God’s Word.16
Church growth is good if it is growth that God gives following proper planting and watering (I Cor. 3:6). What is not good is numerical growth that comes through techniques which have nothing better to commend them than that they seem to be working. “Feeding people’s appetite for entertainment only exacerbates the problems of mindless emotion, apathy, and materialism…. If the world looks at the church and sees an entertainment center, we’re sending the wrong message. If Christians view the church as an amusement parlor, the church will die.”17
Many innovations are defended on the basis of pragmatism – if it works, it must be right. C. Peter Wagner says: “If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method.”18 Some even advocate adopting methods found to be effective by cults and liberal denominations. It is assumed that if a church is growing (regardless of its doctrine and practice), its methods must have divine sanction – if it works it must have God’s blessing. But MacArthur counters: “It is folly to think one can be both pragmatic and biblical. The pragmatist wants to know what works now. The biblical thinker cares only about what the Bible mandates. The two philosophies oppose each other at the most basic level.” Calling this pragmatism “a bankrupt philosophy,” he explains: “Rather than teaching error or denying truth, it does something far more subtle…Instead of attacking orthodoxy head on, it gives lip service to the truth while quietly undermining the foundations of doctrine.” This, he says, is a danger far more subtle than liberalism (modernism).19
Sovereignty of God
The author’s advocacy of Calvinism dwells heavily on the sovereignty of God in effecting conversion. He is careful, however, to remind that: “Scripture affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility [emphasis added].”20 He tries to reconcile Calvinistic election with human participation. “All who are elect will certainly be saved, but God does not save them apart from the means He has chosen: the Word of God, conviction of sin, repentance, faith and sanctification.”21 Our purpose is not to review this aspect of the book except to appreciate his emphasis that God in his sovereignty can and will accomplish all his saving purpose through the preaching of the gospel. The gospel message is the method God uses for the conversion of men. MacArthur rightly sees that conversion is a work of God and that if God does not convert men when the gospel is preached. It is presumptuous to imagine that some other method or message might be better. It is not our responsibility to make the church grow. Our responsibility is simply to plant and water.
Men are ashamed of the gospel when they substitute gimmicks for gospel preaching. Men may argue that drama, dance, special music, and even outlandish carnival acts will attract the unchurched. But, “Merely ‘churching’ the unchurched accomplished nothing of eternal value.”22
Men are ashamed of the gospel when they minimize or change it. Some growth specialists are quite frank to say that the message has to be changed to fit the needs of the modern world. Others may not be so bold, being unwilling to actually contradict the Bible, but their preaching skirts around those truths which condemn sin, which expose error, and which demand more than an affiliation.
Here is precisely the problem with the market-oriented, user-friendly, pragmatic approach to ministry: it is man-centered, not God-centered. Its concern is what people desire, not what God demands. It sees the church as existing for people’s sake rather than for God’s sake…
User-friendly, entertainment-oriented, market-driven, pragmatic churches will probably continue to flourish for a while. Unfortunately, however, the whole movement is based on church fashion and therefore cannot last long. When the fickle winds finally change, one of three things may happen. These churches will fall out of vogue and wane, or they will opt to change with the spirit of the age and very likely abandon any semblance of biblical Christianity, or they will see the need to rebuild on a more sure foundation…23
Some may question why we feel such alarm over changes taking place among churches of Christ. Charles Spurgeon said it right when he warned, “It is hard to get leaven out of dough, and easy to put it in.”24
1 John F. MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993).
2 Though with a church with “Community: in its name, it is evident that MacArthur does not endorse much that has come with the community church movement.
3 Spurgeon published a journal, “The Sword and the Trowel.” Items from him come from this journal as quoted by MacArthur.
4 Appendix I traces the Down-Grade controversy. Spurgeon was accused of violating Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 because he had not first gone privately to those with whom he had grievances. This was an effort to make him the issue and to evade the real issue, which was the preachers and professors among them who no longer upheld what he perceived as the truth. He described this lack of alarm and willingness to ignore heresy with vivid imagery: “The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs and meet the burglars, they are even half vexed that a certain noisy fellow will spring his rattle, or cry, ‘Thieves!’” (Quoted by MacArthur, p. 209). MacArthur makes an important observation about Spurgeon’s decision to break with the Baptist Union. He acknowledges that many did not agree with his course of action, but “we must acknowledge that history has vindicated Spurgeon’s warnings about the down-grade” (p. 22).
5 “The earliest modernists seemed concerned primarily with interdenominational unity. They were willing to downplay doctrine for that goal, because they believed doctrine was inherently divisive and a fragmented church would become irrelevant in the modern age” (Preface, p. xv). How much this sounds like the defenses being made for fellowship with denominations. In the name of unity doctrine is ignored.
6 Many are impressed with church growth ideas from such authors as Robert Schuller, George Barna, Elmer Towns, Donald A. McGavran, C. Peter Wagner, et al., as well as the methods of Willow Creek and like sects. Truth is truth wherever it is found, and expedient methods may be learned from various sources. But it is strongly recommended that one carefully consider the points made by MacArthur before feasting too long on current church growth fads.
7 MacArthur, p. 23.
8 Ibid., p. 28; 9 Ibid., p. 33; 10 Ibid., p. 126; 11 Ibid., p. 49; 12 Ibid., p. 46; 13 Ibid., p. 47; 14 Ibid., p. 63; 15 Ibid., p. 67; 16 Ibid., pp. 68f; 16 Ibid., pp. 71f.
18 Quoted on p. 76, from A Theology of Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p. 161.
19 MacArthur, p. 81.
20 Ibid., p. 156; 21 Ibid., p. 167; 22 Ibid., p. 103; 23 Ibid., pp. 188f; 24 Ibid., p. 189.
David R. Pharr may be reached at 339 Charlotte Ave., Rock Hill, SC 29730. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Influence of Modern Trends on the Church
Influence is a powerful thing. Every person both influences, and is influenced, by others – in varying degrees. Jesus stressed the importance of godly influence when he compared his disciples to “salt” (Matt. 5:13), and Paul warned of the power of bad influences when he noted that “evil companionships corrupt good morals” (I Cor. 15:33 ASV). The Greek word for “companionships” is homilia, having to do with “association,” hence here denotes “bad company.”1 One gets to be like who he “runs with.”
The Influence of the Primitive Church
It is a remarkable historical reality that the church of Jesus Christ, as such was constituted in the initial centuries of its existence, was a body of tremendous influence. In point of fact, it revolutionized the antique world. The Lord hinted of this in his prophetic parable of the “leaven” (Matt. 13:33). Historians have noted that as a consequence of the sway of Christianity, many evils of the ancient world were abolished, or at least curtailed, e.g., crucifixion, the brutal gladiatorial games, slavery, the abuse of women, infanticide, etc. Even skeptics have acknowledged such. British philosopher Bertrand Russell conceded that the influence of Christianity “remains the inspiration of much that is most hopeful in our somber world.”2
It is not without significance, however, that during this timeframe, when the church was exerting such a wonderful impact, it was being persecuted bitterly. Then, a strange thing happened. In A.D. 313, Constantine issued his famous “Edict of Toleration,” which brought an end to Christian persecution, and which, unhappily, accelerated an era of spiritual decline. Christianity even became a “state religion,” and, ultimately, the church was “baptized” in an atmosphere that can only be described as a “this-world-ness.”3 Great and devastating changes were wrought which finally resulted in an egregious, fully-organized apostasy, the residue of which abides to this day.
Our More Recent History
The concept of “restoring” pristine Christianity was revolutionary, both in Europe and in America. Courageous pioneers sought a return to the original pattern; the idea caught on, and the cause of the “ancient order” spread like a prairie fire across the frontier in the waning days of the 19th century. In the late 1800’s, students of the old Nashville Bible School (later named after David Lipscomb) baptized some 5,000 souls in a five-year period.
In the early portion of the last century, the Lord’s church was the fastest growing body in America. A typical example of the influence of the church was seen in the Tabernacle Meetings conducted by N. B. Hardeman in the early 1920s. When the first meeting was held in March/April of 1922, the old Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee was “packed and jammed,” with 6,000 to 8,000 people, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 being turned away.4 And there was no compromise of doctrine in Hardeman’s sermons! Those were glorious days for the kingdom of Christ.
But in the early decades of the previous century something else was happening. A movement known as “Modernism” was evolving; it reflected an inclination to reject the concept of “propositional truth” based upon “divine authority.” Men like Presbyterian clergyman Harry E. Fosdick (1878-1969) argued that the Bible had developed along evolutionary lines, and they rejected the supernatural elements of Scripture. This ideology became pervasive in both Catholicism and mainline Protestantism. A major component of the “restoration” heritage (the “Disciples of Christ”) was seriously influenced by this heresy.
More recently “Modernism” has been succeeded by a philosophy known as “Postmodernism.” This dogma, more dangerous even than modernism, is a mid-to-late-20th-century theory of knowledge which contends that there is no such thing as real knowledge – at least in the objective sense. One writer says that Postmodernism reflects a “rebellion against all aspects of the modern culture that had prevailed in the West since the late 19th century.”5 Postmodernism has impacted the religious community at large in a devastating fashion, and the churches of Christ have been significantly influenced by this ideology as well.6
The “Trendy” Church
Over the past several decades there has developed a growing mentality among some in the church that we are an outmoded organism. We have lost touch with the “now” generation; it is, therefore, imperative (they say) that we upscale the church. We must make it more “trendy.” Whence the origin of this disposition?
There is a cultural phenomenon that may be figuratively described as “societal osmosis.” This is the recognition that environmental influences silently and slowly move from one realm to another. Here is a tragic but realistic fact. The trends of secular society, to a significant degree, filter into the religious fabric of our culture. There is no better example of this than the current endorsement of homosexual unions in some of the historic Protestant sects. That which once was an abomination is fashionable now.
We are progressively departing from a dependence upon the New Testament as the authoritative source of instruction in religion and ethics towards a subjective-style, get-in-touch-with-your-feelings philosophy.
Further, the contaminated elements of “Christendom,” in differing proportions, ultimately trickle into the church. Not a few citizens of Christ’s kingdom are like the Israel of Samuel’s day; they lust to be like the nations [churches] round about (I Sam. 8:5). Consider briefly some of the major changes that have been observable in the church over the past several decades.
(1) Through a few radical “voices of concern” (e.g., Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett) were being raised a third of a century ago, scarcely anyone would have dreamed that high-powered people in some of our major schools would be calling now for an ecumenical blending with denominationalists in these swaddling days of the new millennium. And yet, voices as “sectarian” as anything imaginable are now frequent and unrestrained – within our midst. No longer is J. D. Tant’s quip, “Brethren, we are drifting,” apropos; we are rushing with a full head of steam towards a “Casey Jones” disaster.
(2) We are progressively departing from a dependence upon the New Testament as the authoritative source of instruction in religion and ethics towards a subjective-style, get-in-touch-with-your-feelings philosophy. Many congregations no longer have substantial Bible classes where the Word of God is explored deeply and taught powerfully, with solid application made to Christian living. Rather, we have “sharing” sessions wherein we “testify” of exciting events we’ve experienced in the workplace. Even some of our Bible class literature (not a little of which has been transported from denominational publishing concerns) is filled with people-centered scenarios – “What would you do if you were in Johnny’s place?” – with only a biblical veneer.
At the same time, a “new hermeneutic” has evolved by which the authority of “apostolic example” is questioned, the concept of “necessary inference” is ridiculed, the matter of the “silence of the Scriptures” is deemed to be a pure fabrication, and, incredibly, the notion is advocated that the issue of “authority” is, in the final analysis, irrelevant anyway!
(3) The influence of society’s feminists is being felt in the church. As denominational groups ordain female “priests” and “clergy,” congregations of the Lord’s people, from Connecticut to California, are opting for “an expanded role” for women. Church after church is announcing that Christian ladies will be progressively employed in leadership roles. The New Testament subordination of women is viewed as a cultural oddity of the first century – with little, if any, application for today. Again, some of our institutions of higher education are leading the way in this digression.
(4) When Hollywood blazed the trail in serial “marriage,” many wondered if small-town America could be far behind. It wasn’t; now, the same pattern is seen running rampant in the church. “Single-again” groups are in vogue. Experts in “marriage enrichment” skills are in great demand, while the seminar directors generally are careful to throw a wide loop that avoids confrontation with the biblical law of divorce and remarriage. Every sort of quirky notion imaginable, the design of which is to “sanctify” adulterous liaisons, has surfaced in recent years. While we must have sincere compassion for those who are victims of divorce, the compromise of biblical truth is not a solution for these heartaches.
(5) Just as the world of denominationalism has been gimmick-driven in recent years, so our people have not been far behind. We have explored every mechanism under the sun for attracting the public’s attention. We have offered a variety of classes (somewhat analogous to a community college) and a host of public services within our neighborhoods in hopes of enticing the baby-boomers and Generation X. All the while, we largely have ignored the very thing responsible for our greatest success – the wonderful and simple proclamation of the gospel. While some labor under the illusion that the modern world no longer wants the message of a dusty book, twenty centuries old, actually, just the reverse is true. Many are starving for spiritual truth; rich Bible teaching, presented by instructors who are excited about the treasures of scripture, is attracting the attention of a whole new generation of lost people.
(6) The denominational world has evinced little interest in the teaching of the New Testament in terms of a divinely-authorized worship format. Will-worship (Col. 2:23), for the most part, has been the order of the day. With roots that reach deep into paganism, Catholicism has been steeped in pageantry for centuries. Early Protestantism attempted to remedy that; Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, and other notable Protestant scholars, for example, expressed strong views against the use of instrumental music in Christian worship. Ferguson has noted that the expression A Cappella (which refers to purely vocal music) literally means “in the style of the church.” His exhaustive research led to this conclusion: “The classical form of church music is unaccompanied song. To abstain from the use of the instrument is not a peculiar aberration of ‘a frontier American sect’; this was easily, until comparatively recent times, the majority tradition of Christian history.”7 Now, almost thirty years removed from Ferguson’s comment, it is not at all uncommon to hear prominent brethren arguing that “instrumental music” is a non-issue that certainly ought not to be treated as a test of Christian fellowship.8
It is almost certain that conditions are developing among churches of Christ that eventually will accommodate a large-scale introduction of innovations into congregational worship. Even now, a number of sizable churches, following the lead of denominational groups,9 are staggering their services, providing a “traditional” worship format for the older generation (dare we say, “fogies”?); then also a “jazzed up” service is arranged for those who are more contemporary. Too, it is a sad commentary on our attitude toward the hours of sacred worship that our dress has degenerated to the exceedingly “casual,” not to mention “sloppy.” In a recent gospel meeting a song leader was adorned in a tee-shirt and jeans; sandals and shorts are observable not infrequently in some places; neckties are becoming rarer at the Lord’s table, etc. What has happened to our sense of reverence for the solemnity of the occasion? What impression de we convey to visitors from the community? Contrast the decorum of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” as they proceed from door-to-door, impeccably dressed, with the bedraggled appearance of some Christians in the worship assemblies.
In his letter to the saints in Rome, Paul instructed the brethren to “be not fashioned according to the world” (Rom. 12:2). The present imperative form of the verb means, “stop being fashioned [conformed – KJV]!” The principle involved in this admonition is broad in its application. Barclay attempts to catch the spirit of it. “Don’t try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don’t be like the chameleon which takes its colour from its surroundings; don’t go with the world; don’t let the world decide what you are going to be like.”10
Let us summon the courage to make the appropriate applications, yielding to truth and common sense, rather than to the fickle trends of an unspiritual society.
1 William Arndt & F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967), p. 568.
2 Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950), p. 137.
3 For an interesting survey of this period, see Jesse Lyman Hurlbut’s, The Story of the Christian Church (Philadelphia: John C. Winston co., 1954), Chapter IX, “The Imperial Church.”
4 Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing, 1922), “History and Description of the Meeting,” p. 11.
5 William G. Dever, “Save Us from Postmodern Malarkey,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2000, p. 30.
6 For an excellent treatment of Postmodernism as it relates to the church, see: Phil Sanders, Adrift: Postmodernism in the Church (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 2000).
7 Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music In The Public Worship Of The Church (Abilene: Biblical Research Press, 1972), p. 83.
8 “There should be room in the Christian fellowship for those who differ on…whether instrumental music is used in worship.” Carroll D. Osburn (Professor, Abilene Christian University), The Peaceable Kingdom (Abilene: Restoration Perspectives, 1993), p. 90.
9 See: Gene Edward Veith, “The Cute, the Cool, and the Catechized: Generational Segregation in the Church,” For the Life of the World (Journal of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, July 2000), pp. 4-5.
10 William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), p. 170.
Wayne Jackson, P.O. Box 55265, Stockton, CA 95205, works with the East Main church and edits the monthly Christian Courier.
A Critique of the Community Church Movement
The Lord Jesus established his church on the first Pentecost after the resurrection in Jerusalem, Israel. The church of Christ was purchased with the precious blood of the Son of God (Acts 20:28). As his loving bride, the church wears his sacred name, the church of Christ (Eph. 5:21-33; Rom. 16:16). Jesus Christ is the head of this one bride, which is his body (Eph. 5:23; 1:21-23). And, “there is one body” (Eph. 4:4). In recent times, men have arisen who are ashamed of the name of Christ’s bride and body, “the church of Christ.” One example emerges from The Christian Chronicle where a deacon from the former Southlake Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas stated that changing the name to Southlake Boulevard Church and following a Baptist preacher by the name of Rick Warren through his book, The Purpose-Driven Church, was “removing a barrier to the community.”1 Dozens of examples like this can be cited from the March and April editions of The Christian Chronicle. The names being substituted in the place of the scriptural name “church of Christ” constitute a departure from heaven’s way. Truly, anyone seeking “the salvation which is in Christ Jesus” would be hard-pressed to be drawn to a church wearing the name “Baptist” which is nowhere found in the Bible. Surely, an imposing barrier has been erected by those who wish to advance their cause under that unscriptural banner. Why would anyone familiar with God’s word accept the Community Church name which likewise is absent from the pages of inspiration? How easily some are toppled from the correct and eminently scriptural name “the churches of Christ salute you” (Rom. 16:16). The name church of Christ has been opposed by denominationalism all across the years, and one of the apparent reasons for it is due to pride on the part of those wearing unscriptural names in religion. Simply put: They cannot find their names in the Bible. It is a mark of undisguised compromise to retreat from the name of the Lord Jesus Christ which inspiration has applied to his blood-bought church. What an egregious oversight since the church is the Lord’s bride and since for the church he died, if he failed to give her his name. That is one obvious nightmare with which denominationalism has been struggling since its inception. Salvation is only in the name of Christ, "“either is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Those who have become ashamed of Christ and his sacred name will be condemned, for he said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
In the place of heeding the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20) by sowing the good seed of the kingdom, which is the word of God (Luke 8:11), and being content and honored to be workers together with God (II Cor. 6:1) allowing him to give the increase (I Cor. 3:6), these people are following a so-called “paradigm” or model for church growth from Barrington, Illinois called “Willow Creek Community Church.” They speak of “practical” Christian doctrine which is “pragmatic,” meaning whatever works to bring in the numbers of people and dollars.2 Their goal clearly is to please “people today” or “contemporary Christians.”3 And, from where did Bill Hybels, founder of WCCC, get this model now being so widely imitated among denominational people like Rick Warren and many who formerly considered themselves to be members of the church of Christ? Hybels wrote in Rediscovering Church, “But what could seem like a patterned formula is actually a twenty-year response to the fluid, daily, unpredictable leading of God. The unimpressive truth is that we made the whole thing up as we went along, trusting the Holy Spirit for each next step, rarely seeing which direction the path ahead would take. It was only by following the voice of God – by listening for his particular call to us – that we could move forward with confidence.”4 The Holy Spirit leads, guides, and directs only through his word, the Bible, today (Eph. 6:17; II Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, taking away the Holy Spirit directly leading Hybels, all that is left is, “The unimpressive truth is that we made the whole thing ups as we went along….”
A summary of this new model will be given in three points: 1) The strategy for changing the name to the Community Church, 2) the organizational structure of the Community Church, and 3) the evangelistic thrust of the Community Church. Point one, the name Community Church is preferred because traditional names are viewed as carrying unwanted baggage. Contemporary people want to be in charge of the church without old restrictions, so a break with the past is made in accepting a new name. Contemporary people do not want to learn Christian doctrine; they just want to be free to express themselves in whatever way they “feel” the Holy Spirit directly is leading them. Point two, the Community Church is organized around a twofold structure, large group celebrations and small affinity groups or cell groups. The way the professor of Christian doctrine at Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis has organized the Community Church of which he is a shepherd is into small groups of eight to sixteen adults. Large group gatherings are celebrations; small group gatherings are “entry points.” Informal dress, contemporary Christian music, testimonials, praise team presentations (music and drama), and hand clapping make up the celebration of the large group meetings. Sharing, praying, evangelizing, and Bible study make up the small group meetings. Point three, the evangelistic thrust of the Community Church centers around targeting the type of people the church wants to evangelize. Most pick younger (late thirties or early forties) people who are well educated and have good incomes. The one or ones in charge find out what that group wants and then sets out unreservedly to give it to them. Somehow granting these “contemporary people” what they want is supposed to generate within them holiness and communion with God.
The same brethren who consistently have rejected following the word of God as a pattern, stressing that strict conformity to it constitutes legalism, ironically have replaced the word of God with the Community Church pattern and meticulously are loyal to it.
The source from which the Community Church model or paradigm is making its way into the churches of Christ is out in the open. Sadly, it is the Christian schools. The generation who established these schools for the education of Christian young people in an environment conducive to Christian growth and development based on the inspired word of God is now deceased. Younger men impressed with the soaring expense of operating these enterprises know it will take large sums of money for them to continue to compete for the brightest and best students. Churches now primarily made up of older people have given their all to keep them viable, but their children have married and moved into other cities and communities, their pre-inflation blue-collar-worker dollars no longer are enough. At this point in time, not all of the Christian schools have succumbed to the pressure. They remain worthy of personal and financial support. But, those that are participating in the Community Church movement or are silent about it, thus, facilitating it, are not worthy of another dollar from the pockets of Christian parents who formerly have entrusted their precious children to them for instruction in righteousness (Eph. 5:11).
The schools that are known to be promoting Community Church from published sources earlier mentioned are these: Abilene Christian University, Harding University (the academy, undergraduate, and graduate schools are and have supported the Community Church. The dean of the graduate school, Evertt Huffard, is credited with starting the Downtown Church in Memphis in 1995. See: Harding Alumni Magazine, August 1995), Oklahoma Christian University (OCU publishes The Christian Chronicle), Lipscomb University, Pepperdine University, Rochester College, and Southern Christian University (a retired faculty member, Edward R. Barels, has gone on record in favor of the Community Church, so whether or not SCU itself favors the movement needs to be clarified by SCU officials. SCU’s name appears in The Christian Chronicle articles). States in which the schools and churches mentioned in the articles are located are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas.
A leading characteristic of brethren who are in favor of the Community Church is to downplay Bible doctrine and an arrogant chiding of following the Bible as a “blueprint.” Isaiah wrote, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Paul wrote, “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). The Epistle to the Romans not only affirms that a form of doctrine exists which God carefully has planned and announced through the gospel of Christ but that this doctrine must be obeyed. Paul said, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16-18). In the life of a faithful Christian, a “pattern of good works” must emerge (Titus 2:7). An abiding conviction of these truths should promote the proper response of earnestly contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3. The same brethren who consistently have rejected following the word of God as a pattern, stressing that strict conformity to it constitutes legalism, ironically have replaced the word of God with the Community church pattern and meticulously are loyal to it. In following the false pattern of the Community Church these brethren have espoused that which they formerly renounced, that is, the validity of following a specific form of doctrine or teaching.
Lindy S. Adams, the editor of the feature articles which appeared in The Christian Chronicle, is laboring under at least two misconceptions regarding the church of Christ. One, in the introduction Adams write, “The church they worked diligently to create….”5 Men did not create the church of Christ; it is of divine origin (Eph. 3:9-11; 4:1-5; 5:23-25). Without doubt this misconception is why such liberties are being taken with regard to the church. The view seems to be if men created the church of Christ and it is not now what men want it to be, then just simply change it to fit the wishes of men today. Two, denominational church growth models can be adapted and altered to cause the churches of Christ to grow. The church of Christ is not a denomination (I Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:4). The one responsible for its growth is God himself (I Cor. 3:6-9). The method of its expansion is the preaching and teaching of the word of God (Mark 16:15; Acts 6:7). Flavil Yeakley, a self-proclaimed church growth expert who teaches Bible at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and has helped start Covenant Fellowship Community Church there, has said, “This approach [the Community Church] is a step in the direction of non-denominational Christianity, and I think that Stone, Campbell and other Restoration Movement pioneers would rejoice to see this development. It is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction.”6 He also wants the readers to believe these Community Churches are “still within the ‘Church of Christ mainstream.’” How can anyone expect that to be so when they do not even so much as retain the name church of Christ? Their attempt at worship and congregational organization is a departure from the truth, yet they demand their followers to insist that they are center of the strait and narrow road. A Christian may have no fellowship with the unfruitful division of denominational darkness (I Cor. 1:10; Eph. 5:11). Their means and methodologies have nothing to offer the Lord’s people (I Thess. 5:5). Light and darkness have no communion (II Cor. 6:14). Brethren need to wake out of sleep, get back to teaching and preaching the word of God, and Christ will give all the light needed to advance his cause (Eph. 5:14).
Four positive principles are presented that have the power to free the faithful from the Community Church faction. One, expose the error of the Community Church and those favorable to it. It is right to be “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17). Paul left Titus in Crete to set things in order, hold fast the faithful word, exhort and convince the gainsayers, stop the mouths of the gainsayers, and rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:5-13). Jude 3 still calls for an earnest contending for the faith. Two, refuse to fund the Community Church movement by withdrawing personal and financial support from those congregations and schools promoting the Community Church. Philippians 1:5 and 4:15 prove that those who are supported financially are being fellowshipped. If one is contributing into a church treasury, he is in fellowship with that which is supported out of that treasury. When the leadership of a local congregation is dedicated to the planting of the Community Churches, all of the members of that congregation are responsible for the planting of the Community Churches. By withdrawing personal and financial support from that congregation the movement will be thwarted. The Community Church begins as a parasite feeding off a thriving organism. A paradoxical phenomenon is occurring with the Community Church. Older, established churches of Christ are funding the vehicle of their demise when they support the Community Church. It is very sad to note that if this continues, the children and grandchildren of members of the churches of Christ will not know the truth about the church of the Bible because the Community Church advocates are changing everything about it under the pretense of church growth.
Three, evangelize the lost (Matt. 28:19-20). No matter what the problems and challenges faced by the churches of Christ, the gospel of Christ must continue to be preached to a lost and dying world. Many problems and challenges besieged the early church, yet the gospel was advanced to the point that Paul could write in Colossians 1:23 that every creature under heaven had the opportunity to hear it. The method authorized by God to reach lost souls is preaching (I Cor. 1:18-21). Imagine if The Christian Chronicle were dedicated to such a noble purpose instead of promoting the latest denominational craze. The millions who could be taught the Bible through that paper who are instead being coaxed into error make these developments all the more a shame. Four, edify those who are Christians (Eph. 4:15-16). Paul taught through edification “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). Through edification the Christian dons the whole armor of God in which he stands against the methods of the devil (Eph. 6:11).
The Community Church with its erroneous doctrine poses a threat to the churches of Christ. At a time when society in general seems to be moving farther and farther away from receptivity to the scriptures, some brethren are appealing to denominational successes to glean numbers and dollars in the false assumption they are thereby bringing glory to God. Perhaps this exposure of the paradigm now being used and some of the brethren following this false way will serve as a call for some to return to God’s way and a solemn warning for all to “speak as the oracles of God” (I Pet. 4:11).
1 The Christian Chronicle, April 2000, Vol. 57, No. 4.
2 John Mark Hicks, The Bridge, Harding University Graduate School of Religion; Volume 41, Number 4, July 2000, p. 1.
4 Lynne & Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church, The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p. 53.
5 The Christian Chronicle, March 2000, Vol. 57, No. 3.
Gary McDade recently authored a tract on the Community Church movement. Write him at the Getwell Church of Christ, 1511 Getwell Road, Memphis, TN 38111.
An Informed Brotherhood
More and more congregations are endeavoring to teach, admonish, and warn so that individual Christians will be prepared when they encounter the dangers, difficulties, and challenges confronting the church today. More and more elderships are becoming aware that an informed congregation is a prepared congregation. When a congregation is not informed, it most likely is not prepared to recognize error, false teaching, and divisive influence when it arises from within. It is commendable that many congregations are taking steps to assure that the church is protected and preserved from the weakening impact of liberalism and loose thinking.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak to a number of active and energetic congregations who what to make certain their membership is informed. In June, I spoke at Northport (Tuscaloosa), Alabama, where Roger Johnson is the preacher. Prior to that, I had the privilege to speak along similar lines at Roebuck Parkway in Birmingham, where Jerry Jenkins preaches. In September, I spoke at Woodland Hills (formerly Union Avenue) in Memphis. In November, I will go to the Gloster Street church in Tupelo, Mississippi. I have known all of these churches for many years, and I know their dedication and determination to be faithful in all things. Most of these occasions have been only a Sunday – two services in the morning and one in the afternoon.
We encourage congregations and elderships everywhere to think about a day set aside to inform the members of dangers we face in the church – how to recognize the problems, how to deal with them, how to respond, and how to keep the church pure. There are many capable preachers among us who are informed and able to teach on these things.
Another means of keeping the members informed is to send THE SPIRITUAL SWORD to every family in the congregation. Many congregations are already doing this. Please call the Getwell church at (901) 743-0464 and inquire about the congregational plan. We will strive to send nearly 200 pages of worthwhile reading material into every home during the course of a year’s time. We hope you will consider this option when you are thinking of ways to promote an informed congregation.
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