The Material Principle of Modern Christianity

Chris Rosebrough of Extreme Theology has hit a home run with his latest article. He recently attended the Evolve 08 Conference in Cumming, Georgia. Church planters, cutting edge pastors and ministry leaders from around the country gathered together to share ideas. Chris interviewed and conversed with many of the participants to try and understand the CPM’s modus operandi of establishing and growing churches in postmodern America. He has rightly divided the word of truth, splitting asunder their foundation with surgical precision, exposing the central tenant of this dangerous movement. The CPM, according to Chris, has part of its roots planted in the sandy soil of the candy-coated Purpose-Driven Ungospel of Rick Warren’s brand of Baptist theology. I’ll let Chris explain further:

The Material Principle of this popularized form of Baptist theology is the ‘Changed Life’

The Formal Principle of this popularized form of Baptist theology is ‘The Bible as Guidebook for Living’

Almost without exception the sermons that I hear from this stream of the CPM are all topical, all of them are based upon 2 to 4 verses ripped out of context and preached as a life application. IF Jesus is mentioned in the sermon He is usually brought in as a moral example. AND the main reason given to people by these pastors to apply these Biblical principles to their lives is that ‘€œGod has called them to greatness or has a special purpose for their lives’€. All too often the thorny subject of sin is left out or not mentioned at all.

The method of evangelism that these church planters are employing is to market to people in their community offering them advice for becoming a better parent, having a more fulfilling romantic life, financial advice or career guidance. The assumption is that if unbelievers show up then they can apply these Biblical principles as a means of ‘€˜trying’€™ Christianity before they ‘€˜buy it’€™. Once they experience positive change in their lives then that will motivate them to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. But the problem is that what they are buying is not the gospel message of Christ crucified for our sins. Instead they are buying a performance based religion that promises to help them overcome and solve the everyday issues of life. Based upon what is being preached the people in these churches are being led to believe the Bible is merely a guidebook for living and that the primary message of Christianity is about life change. Therefore, the object of this religion isn’t Jesus Christ it is ME and the progress that I need to be making so that I can experience life change or the methods I need to employ to form better habits. This is nothing more than a merry-go-round of self-improvement and I don’€™t need a savior for this. In reality, all I need is a good life coach and some good advice.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

I recall vividly how this philosophy of ministry operated in my old church. The call to salvation through a quick ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ effectively initiated the willing participant into ‘The Spirit-Driven Country Club’ where health, wealth and prosperity in family, relationships, career, marriage and finances become the primary focus of so-called discipleship. Christ and the cross of his suffering were discarded like tickets to yesterday’s baseball game. They were good to get you in the gate, but after that they serve no useful purpose. The abundant life was now ours to indulge. It’s quite a different gospel from the one Jesus taught. He taught his disciples to deny self, take up their cross and follow him.

I’m reminded of CJ Mahaney’s wonderful little book, The Cross-Centered Life. He taught that we are always to ‘keep the main thing the main thing’. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf must be the driving motivation of our walk of faith. He said this of the cross: “Never lay it aside. Never move on.” If every Christian minister heeded these words the church today would not be in the mess it is now. I pray that God raises up a whole generation of faithful pastors and teachers who will know nothing but Christ and him crucified.

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5 thoughts on “The Material Principle of Modern Christianity

  1. “When was the last time you preached the Gospel message of Christ crucified for our sins and applied it to the BELIEVERS in your church instead of the unbelievers?”

    Sadly, tragically, every single pastor that I asked this question answered with these words, “The believers in my church already know that.”

    This is really sad. I’d have to locate the video on my blog but Paul Washer, I think, addressed this. Something like “you get them to ‘accept the gospel’ then move on to “more profound things”. There IS NO MORE PROFOUND THING”

    “Ok, I’m saved, now improve my life for me, Jesus!”. We look at him as our little “servant boy”.

  2. Hey Brandon;

    Another sad thing is that what is preached as the gospel in nothing other than Jesus as a life coach. This is usually not preached after the gospel, but as the gospel! If the theological underpinnings of the church are the Bible as a guidebook and theology as a changed life, then the true gospel is lost in a sea of self-centered, self-help psychology. Most of these churches seem to hold some sort of message of Christ and sin and redemption, but they do so along with good works and a changed life. This is the heart of the Galatian controversy of which Paul called something other than the true gospel. It makes my heart ache!

  3. Tim,
    I remember hearing Paul Washer say those very words, but I don’t recall what sermon it was. That had a profound effect on me. Oh, if someone had spoke those words to me years ago, my eyes would have been opened to the deception much sooner. The gospel is the main thing, the most profound thing, the ONLY thing that matters. If we don’t continue to preach Christ and him crucified from our pulpits then we are no different than any other religion. Christ is reduced to the role of moral example, the same as Muhammad or Buddha. This should never be!

  4. Brett,
    Those two words – life & coach – used together cause me to grind my teeth! Isn’t Paula White a life coach for some secular TV program?
    And you are so right, churches have taken the final step into apostasy by forsaking any kind of recognizable gospel message at all. I will have to study Galatians and examine the parallels. There’s nothing new under the sun!

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