For 10 years I cruised down the smooth asphalt highway of free-will theology. Gradually I began to take notice that the pristine world scrolling past my vision started to lose its luster. The rolling green hills and bright blue sky had become washed out, dull and lifeless; a barren winter landscape. It was then I noticed it wasn’t the environment that had changed, but it was the Lord removing the rose-colored spectacles perched on the end of my nose. Spectacles, that up to that point in my spiritual walk, I had been blissfully unaware I was even wearing. For the first time in my born-again life I saw the modern church from a perspective outside my own limited worldview. I began to question doctrines and church traditions I had firmly believed in for a decade. I marveled at methodologies that didn’t spring from the pages of scriptures, but were fermented in the minds of well-meaning modern evangelicals. Thump! Thump-Thump! Where did all these potholes come from! Oh my. This highway, I’ve discovered, has a toll booth. The price, I fear, is too high to pay.
The past two years at the Assembly of God church I attend have been trying. Disquieted in my spirit over several events the church has endorsed, coupled with the habit of chasing every fad that has come our way (Promise Keepers, Purpose-Driven Life) I feel the direction of the church has changed, and not for the better. What is happening to my church is indicative of what’s happening to evangelical churches nation wide. Some call it the Mega-Church movement, but I’ve come to identify it by a more revealing title, the Market-Driven Church movement. Note: the name is not my invention. There are several books floating around that use this terminology. The strange thing is, this movement has been going on for more than 15 years, but having been birthed in the middle of it, I was unable to discern properly until recently. The Holy Spirit has really been working to bring my slow understanding up to speed. Here are some brief descriptions of the trends in my local church that began to wake me up to the truth.
- John Maxwell teachings invaded our church. I did not care for any of his books, of which I only perused a couple. His teachings all seem based on business models of leadership and self-esteem. I don’t remember a lot of details concerning his materials since I tended to avoid his stuff like the plague. His teachings, in my humble opinion, were so devoid of central biblical truth that I wondered what business (Unintentional pun) our church had in presenting it to the sheep.
- Let me just say first, I have a great deal of respect for our pastor. He has a heart for evangelism and most of all, for supporting missions around the globe. He is a good leader and has helped our church to expand over the years. However, I’m not a big fan of his ‘messages’ anymore. In the toddler stages of my Christian walk I thought they were pretty good but never great. I didn’t think much of it but over time my discernment radar has pointed out some things to me. His messages are for the most part, practical, life-affirming appeals to the felt-needs of the congregation. He has embraced the ideals put forward by men like Rick Warren who think that people will accept Christianity (and eventually Christ himself) through preaching towards the congregation’s present and perceived needs. His messages aren’t insipid like some modern evangelicals I have heard and read, but I am bothered by sermons themed after pop culture trends that center on man more than on God. Unlike many in this movement he does rely on the scriptures more heavily than is current in the trend, but the scriptures are not the centerpiece of his messages. They are used as springboards or support statements for his man-centric ideas. Little of what he teaches is sweepingly doctrinal. For years I thought his way of preaching was THE way you had to preach to a congregation. I have since discovered the glorious, near-forgotten method of expositional preaching. Oh, how the church desperately needs more of this kind of teaching/preaching today! The centrality of the cross and not the centrality of self is the heart of all true gospel preaching.
- Lack of discipleship training.Our church really has little in the way of teaching new converts the fundamentals of the faith or instructing Christians in the ways of holiness, faithfulness and evangelism among other things.Sunday school at our church for the adults consists of watching a video (Usually Joyce Meyers or Joel Osteen) and a Q&A session after it is finished.Sigh….
- Our church has also embraced to an extent the trend to entertain the masses. This isn’t a huge problem here but really, we don’t need dramas, dances and loud music to bring people in and retain those already here. Sometimes the kids (and adults) will work for weeks on a play or dance that lasts only a few minutes and accomplishes little to nothing in the kingdom of God other than entertaining an audience. What a waste of time considering that it could have been used more wisely in training up disciples well versed in the word of God.
- Evangelism methodology.This is a big one.For years we had done altar calls at the end of nearly every service to invite sinners to come up front and ‘get saved.’I accepted this as the norm and never questioned it as a valid means to bring people into the kingdom, until pastor changed up his approach. More than two years ago in lieu of the traditional altar call, Pastor instituted the sinner’s prayer approach.At the end of nearly every Sunday morning service he presents a somewhat watered down gospel plea, (at least compared to his earlier appeals) usually avoiding words with a negative connotation such as sin, hell and wrath. He then has the entire congregation repeat a sinner’s prayer that mentions repentance from sin in passing and believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ.In closing he confidently claims that “If you said that prayer and meant it in your heart you are now born-again.”Even long before I knew about the extreme differences between Arminian and Calvinist theology this quote caused the hair on my arms to stand on end.At the time I wasn’t sure I understood why it bothered me so much, but I would end up thinking about it a lot in the months to come.
That is how the road to reformation began.In my next post I will explain how I came to embrace Calvinistic doctrine and discover the purity of reformation theology.