The writing was on the Banner. I just didn’t immediately notice it.
I pulled into the church parking lot one bright Sunday morning, going through my normal routine. I delivered my kids to their various classes and sat down in our gym-turned-auditorium. Service began as usual, with our pop-star praise and worship leader grooving and crooning to the beat. I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and attempted to worship God despite the distractions. When our pastor stepped up to the pulpit he declared, “Welcome to XXXX XXXXXXXXXX Church.”
Excuse me? What did he just say? I looked around, first to assure myself I had not taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Yep, it was the right place. Next, I gauged the reaction of the congregation. However, nobody blinked an eye at his calling the church by a different name.
‘Miss one week of church and see what happens’, I thought bemusedly. I suddenly recalled an odd dialog exchange I had with a friend earlier that week. He had asked me when our church had changed its name. I looked at him funny and replied “What are you talking about? You must have our church confused with someone else’s.”
Ooops. I felt a little sheepish. Even outsiders were more aware of church goings-on than I was.
I didn’t pay close attention to the message pastor preached that day, I mused over the possible reasons behind the change. Why would he do it? Our church has unashamedly been an Assembly of God congregation for nearly 50 years. What purpose does changing the name serve? I was itching for the service to end and when we were finally dismissed I rushed over to a friend seated at the back, demanding answers.
He informed me that the name change issue was brought up at the monthly meeting for members and deacons, where various issues are discussed and voted on. Out of the blue, pastor brought up changing the church’s name to XXXX XXXXXXXXXX and immediately asked for a vote – with hardly any discussion. Taking advantage of the chaos & confusion of the moment, pastor managed to pass the motion. Only four dissenters spoke up and said ‘whoa! wait a minute. Let’s talk about this.’
The very next day a banner with the church’s new name was draped over our old sign. The so-called vote was a foregone conclusion. Pastor was not going to be deterred, so he implemented a corporate bullying tactic in order to strong-arm his will and sidestep opposition. I wish I had been there, but alas, I was neither a deacon nor a member and I would not have had a voice in the matter anyway.
I asked my friend, “So, did he give any reason for the name change?”
He shrugged, “Pastor said it would bring in more people.”
I slumped in my seat. Reality hit me square in the chest and took my breath away. Our church had been utterly seduced by the lure of the Church Growth/PDL movement. I could no longer deny that we were now a franchise outlet. The era of sound biblical teaching and reverence to our Lord and Creator had officially come to an end. The sheep were hungry and now I knew they would starve. The goats’ ears were itching and they would soon be tickled. Soon the sanctuary would be overrun by them.
As these realities sank in, I recalled some of what the pastor preached on that day. He compared ‘natural born citizens (longtime churchgoers) to immigrants (people new to the church). He effectively scolded the citizens as cold, institutionalized do-nothings who had lost their zeal for service, while he fawned over the immigrants, who would infuse new life into the congregation.
The old guard is being pushed out, the new guard is being ushered in. I knew my time here had just about come to an end. I began planning my family’s exodus from Babylon even before I had left the parking lot. As I passed by the sign on the way out I noticed for the first time the banner draped over it. It was a fitting metaphor. The veil of darkness had fallen completely over the church and its end as an assembly of God’s people was nigh at hand.
I told my wife as we drove off. ‘You watch, if he is following Rick Warren’s blueprint, the next things to go will be the cross and the steeple.”
Almost prophetically, several weeks later the steeple came down. I asked one of the members why it was removed. He replied, “There was a leak underneath it so they just got rid of it.”
Hmm, well maybe I jumped the gun a bit… then he added, “And also it looked a little retro”.
Ahhh, the truth surfaced. I understood those weren’t really his words, they were the reasonings of the newest purpose-driven pastor in town. That same day, I noticed a scaffold suspiciously placed right under the cross which hangs on the front of the building. I just knew it was coming down – but it never did. I don’t know if it was too difficult an endeavor or if the scaffold was only placed there there for storage, but the cross remains up to this very day, which, frankly, surprises me.
So why did the name change upset me so much? Let us count the ways:
1. The name change signified that our pastor was stealing plays directly from the Purpose-Driven playbook. Rick Warren and his fellow church-growth gurus advocate creating a seeker-sensitive environment in the church by eliminating religious symbols such as crosses, steeples, paintings and the like as to not offend the ‘unchurched’. They believe changing the church name to veil denominational affiliations will also aid in luring in coveted seekers.
2. As a result, I believe if a church is willing to cover up their denominational heritage for the sake of numerical growth they will also sacrifice their doctrinal distinctives for the same reasons.
3. Once church doctrine is sidelined, life enhancement and self-help messages will rush in to fill the void. After all, the preachers need to talk about something, don’t they? Unchurched people love to hear about themselves, so, by golly give them what they want. Unchurched people love to be entertained. Let the bread and circuses commence! Come watch the spectacle!
4. The gospel message is sacrificed at the altar of relevance. When man-pleasers work so hard to create an environment friendly to the unchurched, it logically follows that they will not preach any hard messages that may make them squirm in their seats. The gospel is a hard message. it offends, creates controversy and stirs malice in unregenerate hearts. Therefore, it is off-limits for a seeker-sensitive pastor to speak to the conscience of man concerning his guilt before a just and righteous God. It would be unthinkable to inform the unchurched that in their current state, they are condemned to an eternity of misery and suffering in a place called hell. A substitute gospel is thus championed. Jesus Christ is not presented as the atonement for our sins nor the propitiation of God’s wrath but as the great life-enhancer. He is our buddy who helps us make it through the tough times. He is the genie who grants us all our deepest desires -if we’ll just believe upon him. True repentance is circumvented and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins is obscured. Charles Spurgeon once said,
Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, “Father, I have sinned.”
Marketing another gospel is the greatest offense of all. Woe unto them who preach a false message of hope that sends multitudes of happy seekers blindly down the broad road of destruction.
In good conscience I could no longer support our church’s ministry. I started thinking about what church I would move our family to, but none readily came to mind. Nearly every one I inquired about had been involved with PDL in one form or another. I couldn’t envision us jumping from one PDL train-wreck to another. So, I stayed a little while longer… and I must say I’m glad I did, for I made some more startling discoveries.
Read Part 4 HERE