Monday, August 29, 2005

Interesting Invitational Music

Awhile back, Steve Camp posted on his blog a satirical list of top ten signs that indicate you were in a bad church. The second sign, “Worship team performs their favorite Led Zeplin medley; with an altar call of “Stairway to Heaven”, is really not far off from reality. At least not at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Community Church. Scott Hill over at Fide-O, apparently visited Saddleback about a dozen times and shared his list of 15 Things I Learned at Saddleback.” One of them was “I learned 'The Living Years' by Mike and the Mechanics makes for a very sentimental invitation song after you have preached a message on respecting the elderly.” Yes, apparently they really did play that song for an invitation!

The more I learn about Rick Warren and his ministry, the more concerned I get. At one time, I thought that Rick Warren was basically solid theologically, even though I did not necessarily agree with everything he said or did. At least he seemed better than Bill Hybels and Willow Creek. But I think that is what many people think. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. The more I read about his philosophy and teaching, the more I realize he is not as sound as many think.

I recall when his book came out , “The Purpose Driven Church”. The book made some good points, but there were many things that I did not like about it. I recall a statement in the book that set me on edge, where he essentially slammed expositional teaching. And then of course we have his latest effort, “The Purpose Driven Life”. I received a copy of the book as a gift. The book proved to be a great disappointment. It did make some good points, but I just thought that it turned out to be quite shallow and just seemed to ooze with a man-centered theology. He often misused numerous passages of Scripture and used so many different translations of the Bible, many of which were loose paraphrases that had a tendency to distort the text of Scripture. The reason Rick Warren concerns me so much is that he is one of the most influential Christian leaders in America. The church better start exercising discernment and return to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, rather than latching onto the latest fads of the moment!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Threat from Within

It seems that many in Evangelicalism perceive that the threats to the church are coming from outside the church, but the real impending danger is coming from within. When you think about it, history shows that threats from outside the church seldom destroy it. The church at Smyrna in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2:8-11) suffered from persecution, but the Lord has no words of condemnation for this church. The heavy persecution did not destroy it, but rather purified and strengthened it. Compare this with Laodicea. (Rev. 3:14-22) That church was rich and thought they needed nothing, existing in their comfort zone. They were lukewarm and the Lord has no words of commendation for them. Churches in countries where they are heavily persecuted are generally strengthened spiritually. Also consider the strong condemnation given to Pergamos and Thyatira due to their spiritual compromise, tolerating false teachers. Thyatira was dominated by plenty of love and works, but those things will never make up for religious apostasy.

Paul warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would arise from within their ranks who would lead people astray. This is exactly what is happening today. There are numerous influential teachers that are bringing false teaching into the church.

“28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31, NKJV™)

The most effective strategy that Satan can use to attack the church, is to recruit men from within. This is the greatest danger because these men generally posses certain “credentials” in the form of seminary degrees or they have become popular in the Christian community. Many of these men have become leaders in fast growing churches and as a result, many people are impressed by their results. Most disturbing is the charisma these men possess. People are easily taken in by their winsome personalities.

Take for instance, Brian McLaren, who is now one of the official leaders in the “emerging church” movement. His teaching is riddled with error. He appears to maintain a doctrinal position where he tries to be as ambiguous as possible, seemingly avoiding taking sides in any theological “camp”. Despite his attempts to be as vague as possible, when you examine what he says, his teaching is nothing but heretical. He often tries to claim that he embraces historic biblical Christianity, while in practice he ends up denying the fundamentals of the faith. His teaching creates confusion by introducing more questions than answers. In the process of “borrowing” from many different traditions, as he proposes in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy”, the true message of the gospel becomes muddled and the fundamental doctrinal teaching of Scripture becomes obscured.

McLaren has authored several books including "A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey". I wrote a post some time ago explaining the dangers of the philosophy that McLaren promotes through the book. I also have a link to an article in the Christian Research Journal in that post to a review of the book by Doug Groothuis. One of his more recent works, A Generous Orthodoxy is essentially an attempt to get the reader to borrow from any theological “tradition” regardless of the doctrinal position of that group.

If you want to get an idea of what Brian McLaren’s philosophy is, watch the video of the PBS special "The Emerging Church" and read the transcript. Also, read the transcript of the PBS interview with McLaren. Pay close attention to the way that he handles such things as homosexuality and the concept of hell.

What McLaren promotes is all too often par for the course in the postmodern “emerging” church movement. I have covered this topic in several posts on my blog, The Postmodern Journey to Apostasy.

Much of what is taught by these teachers is truth intermingled with the error so much so that it tends to mask the error. Little by little, error is slowly introduced into the church. A relatively minor error is introduced into the church and a few people are somewhat shaken, but that soon passes. Then something a little more erroneous is introduced and again, some people are a little concerned, but things eventually settle down. It seems that people eventually adapt to the change. This happens repeatedly, slowly eroding away truth. Usually, the slide to apostasy is not sudden, but is a gradual process as churches begin letting down their guard. Churches just don’t suddenly wake up one day and decide that they are going to set aside the Bible and deny biblical teaching. It usually results from a gradual drift as a result of spiritual apathy and laziness.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Positive Effects of a Godly Upbringing

The Pyromaniac has a great post that explains the events that influenced the life of Charles Spurgeon that shaped him to become the great preacher that he was. Let us not underestimate the great influence we can have on our children and the importance of a godly home life in shaping our children’s character!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Lessons from the Church at Ephesus

1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’ (Revelation 2:1-7, NKJV™)

I know that the evangelical church is in a mess today and we need more than ever to diligently guard the truth. However, we need to be careful that in our endeavor to battle for the truth that we do not neglect our fellowship with Christ and keep our hearts tender for the Lord. We can get so caught up in the battle that our service becomes more mechanical and loveless, and we can drift into dead orthodoxy. While the Lord certainly commends the Ephesians for their stand on the truth, he CONDEMNS leaving their first love – Himself! The danger can be so subtle. We get caught up in battling and can neglect our time in fellowship with our Savior. If our love for the Lord begins to wane and we begin serving more out of duty, we run the danger of becoming cold and loveless. This also affects our relationships with other people resulting in a poor witness and testimony. (1 Cor. 13:1)

This reminds me of the passage in Matthew with Mary and Martha. Martha was busy laboring away, but was so preoccupied with the task at hand that she neglected the most important thing – spending time with Jesus.

“38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 38-42, NKJV™)

Much like Martha, we too can get so caught up in the work that we essentially shove Jesus aside in the process. We get into a rut and our service becomes a dull routine. Yes, we ARE certainly to stand firm and labor for the truth, but let us not forget to make time for our fellowship with the Savior. Let us also not forget the battle is ultimately the Lord’s, not ours. Just as the Lord had ownership of the battles that Israel faced (1 Samuel 17: 46-48; 2 Chronicles 20:14-16), He is also in charge of the battle that we are involved in. We are essentially His soldiers taking orders from Him. And guess what? We know from Scripture that He will be victorious in the end! (Revelation 19-22) Even if it seems that everything is in total chaos at times, in reality the Lord has everything under control and He will triumph in the end. It is very encouraging to reflect on those passages of Scripture. No matter what happens, we are secure in Christ and will be spending eternity with Him as He rules and reigns for forever.

The Lord warns the Ephesians that if they did not repent, he would take away their witness and their ministry would no longer be a light to others. The remedy was to repent and “do the first works”, to return to the fervent love and zeal they had when they first began with Christ.

This, however, is NOT an excuse to avoid battling or laboring for the truth. Unfortunately, I hear a lot of this today. We simply need to be reminded not to neglect our relationship with Jesus.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

More on the Frog in the Kettle

Satan’s conversation with Eve in Genesis 3 may not seem very subtle at a casual glance. There was a response to my last post that pointed this out. It seems that Satan questioned the Word of God outright. In fact, compared with some of the errors that are prevalent today, it certainly does not seem to be that subtle. But the term subtle here is used in the sense of being crafty. This also illustrates an effective tactic that Satan uses to twist the Word of God. There is a crucial lesson to learn here. First, let us examine the texts in Genesis 2:16-17 and Genesis 3:1-5 to see Satan’s crafty scheme.

“16 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."”

Genesis 2:16-17, NASB®

“1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, " From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.' " 4 The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! 5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."”

Genesis 3:1-4, NASB®

The words describing the serpent carry the meaning of subtle in the sense of being crafty or sly. For instance, in Genesis 3:1, the Hebrew word, “aruwm” translated “subtil” in the KJV, “cunning” in the NKJV and “crafty” in the NASB, carries the meaning “subtle”, “crafty”, “sly”.

God’s command to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 was that he could freely eat of any tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 3:1, Satan begins by twisting the Word of God with the false statement that God commanded that they could not eat of any of the trees of the garden. This was contrary to God’s actual command. Also notice that Eve adds to the command by saying that they could not touch it. But God did not say that they could not touch it. Since the command was given to Adam and God had placed Adam in charge, it could be that Adam added the restriction not to touch it in order to protect her. Or maybe the addition was simply an indication that she did not fully understand the command. Satan could have figured that her lack of understanding made her vulnerable, so here was his chance. But notice when he first questions Eve how he twists the prohibition to extend to all of the trees in the garden. In his conversation with Eve, he introduces doubt and confusion on the Word of God. At this time, Adam and Eve had no knowledge of Satan. When Eve met up with the serpent, it is interesting that she does not appear at all disturbed at the notion of a talking animal. Perhaps they were in awe of God’s creation and Eve figured that this was but one more wonder in His creation. Of course, God did not create talking animals. The ability of the creature to speak was Satan’s doing. Satan indwells the serpent here in order to deceive Adam and Eve for the purpose to entice them to disobey God. Here was Eve in the garden and this crafty and seemingly interesting creature approaches her engaging in this conversation. This creature appears intelligent and seems to know about God. Through the course of the conversation, she probably began questioning her understanding of God’s command. She probably began thinking that “maybe I really got everything wrong, and here is this enchanting creature enlightening me on this topic. Hey, you know, maybe he is right, this stuff really looks desirable. Well it can’t be all that bad can it? After all, it will make us all the wiser. Why would God not want us to have something so good?”

While Satan seems in a very direct manner to attack God’s Word and His character, there is much more going on here. Satan cleverly sets Eve up before making a direct assault on the Word of God. He begins with the false notion that God was depriving them of anything good (i.e. restricting them from all of the trees). From that point, he then takes it a step further with the logic that it does not seem plausible that God would prohibit them from partaking from this particular tree, especially since it seemed so desirable and seemed to have so much to offer. After all, if they would take part of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then they will be so much wiser and be like God. Satan presents the notion that God was holding out on them!

"3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully."

2 Corinthians 11:3-4, NASB®

When Paul addresses the Corinthians with his concern about their vulnerability to false teaching, he uses the same basic term that was used to describe the serpent in Genesis 3.
In 2 Corinthians 11:3, the word “craftiness” in both the NKJV and NASB, is translated from the Greek word “panourgia”, which means “craftiness” with the sense of being specious, meaning that it merely possesses a look and feel of truth, but is in reality false wisdom. Satan made his argument seem plausible, but it was indeed false.

If you look at issues such as the “emerging church” movement, you see a similar pattern to what Satan used. It starts with the questioning of God’s Word, especially through the use of deconstruction. Then we have the introduction of blatantly false claims, once the confidence in the Word of God is shaken. Little by little, God’s truth is called into question. A little whittling away of truth here and there over time, and heresy finds its way into the church. I will elaborate on this in some future posts. But I believe that many of the problems in evangelicalism can be traced to the shallow understanding of God’s truth. If Eve’s apparent misquote of God’s command is an indication that she lacked a thorough understanding of the Word of God, then this should be a lesson for us that we need to thoroughly understand God’s truth. Words are important and precision is necessary in order to accurately and precisely communicate the message. Subtly change the words and you can alter the message. This is why I am such a stickler for formal equivalency – as opposed to dynamic equivalency or paraphrasing - in Bible translation. I am not a fan at all of so-called paraphrase Bibles.

This is why it is extremely important that we thoroughly understand the Word of God. Unfortunately, a growing number (dare I say majority?) of Christians barely possess even a cursory understanding of biblical truth. No wonder Christians today are so vulnerable to false teaching. I can hear the serpent’s “hiss” all around us!