Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Message of the Gospel.

Contemporary Evangelicalism in an attempt to make the gospel less threatening and more relevant has inadvertently muddled the message of the gospel. Evangelicalism is rapidly losing the ability to proclaim the message of saving faith with any clarity and boldness. Central to the gospel is the cross and it seems that there is a growing reluctance for the cross to be preached from the pulpits of our churches. To put it in a term that John MacArthur used as the title for his book, the church is “Ashamed of the Gospel”.

But the cross is central to the preaching of the gospel, and its emphasis in the presentation of the message of saving faith is crucial. However, the cross is offensive to the world. Scripture explicitly tells us that it is “foolishness to those who are perishing”. (1 Corinthians 1:18) Yet without the preaching of the cross, you really do not have the gospel at all. Any attempt at toning down or making it less offensive robs it of its power. The message of the cross is death, the death that Christ had to suffer to atone for the sins of man. Paul summarizes the key tenets of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

“1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-5, NASB)

Central to the gospel is the fact that Christ died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day. Christ died for our sins, not to restore our self esteem or merely to give us purpose in our lives. He did not come to merely carry our burdens in life. He died to provide the perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins. To preach a gospel that deemphasizes the centrality of the cross essentially makes the message of saving faith powerless. We must understand that we are guilty of sinning against a just and holy God and that Christ suffered greatly in our place in order for us to enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. To diminish the significance of the cross grieves God.

“The Great Commission is not a marketing manifesto...We gain nothing but God’s displeasure if we seek to remove the offense of the cross.”
(John MacArthur; “Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World”, Pg. 18)

But even more disturbing are the latest attempts at re-thinking or to use a term gaining in popularity today, “re-imagining” the cross. I will be posting more on this topic in future posts.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Gilbert Bilezikian going the “emerging” route?

In a post on the Pyromaniacs this last weekend, Phil Johnson (the original “Pyromaniac”) had this link to an article interviewing Gilbert Bilezikian who was stating that the Western church is on the brink of extinction. Bilezikian was cofounder along with Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church. He was stating that the biggest downfall was the lack of community among believers. According to Bilezikian, “After coming to Christ, our next step is to be involved in community.”

He goes on in the article to state that the church has been overtaken with individualism and the pursuit of material gain, breeding a sense of self-sufficiency. Having any meaningful family life is nearly impossible as everyone is pulled in different directions. He points to the issue of models of leadership that are more akin to that of a corporate CEO. These issues are among those that are contributing to making the church irrelevant.

Bilezikian then points to the fact that the New Testament church is to have a strong basis on community. He bemoans the fact that the church has become “institutionalized”. (He's beginning to sound like our “emerging” friends)

Bilezikian said that “The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly. Instead of imparting the Word and becoming an agent of change, it adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life."

But who encouraged the church in this direction? Isn’t the Willow Creek model just as he describes here? Isn’t he one of the “gurus” who helped formulate this strategy? Looking at the popular model that he helped create, I for one would not want to follow any newfangled concoction that he would recommend.

I would agree that the Bible certainly describes believers being in community with one another. I believe that this is clearly taught in Scripture. Believers looked out for the needs of one another and provided spiritual support and encouragement (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-37; Hebrews 10:24-25; Philippians 2:1-4)

But this community must be based on the truth of Scripture. The believers encouraged each other with the truth of God’s Word.

Bilezikian apparently is hopeful for the church, pointing “to a community movement which, he says, appeared at the end of the 20th century and has taken hold. These are churches in which lay people and clergy are raising basic questions about the identity of the Church, and about the definition of its workings.”

“It seems the Holy Spirit is operating a kind of quiet revival which is primarily aimed at recovering the dynamics of the Church of the Book of Acts, which results in renewed incentives for outreach in a pagan world.”

Gee, I wonder what “movement” he is referring to. He does not use the term “emerging”, but this certainly seems to be the movement he is describing. And it seems as if he is willing to jump from one popular bandwagon to another. I can appreciate the zeal to want to reach out to the pagan world, but we must be certain that this is carried out according to the truth of Scripture.

Since Bilezikian believes that “The bane of the church is that it becomes worldly" and "adopts the values of the world and integrates them into its structures and life“ , I wonder what he thinks the end result of this new movement will be?

It is good to raise questions about how the church should function, but let’s go back to Scripture and find out how the ministry should be carried out. Interpret the Bible in its normal historical-grammatical sense and find out what God’s definition of the church is.

I certainly appreciate the fact that the emerging church seeks to restore a sense of community in the church. If there is anything that is positive about the movement, the realization that community is important is a good thing. But deemphasizing or distorting the truth of Scripture creates a counterfeit sense of community, not a biblically based community. Long ago I felt that the church desperately needed a return to more of a sense of community. So many churches were just “program” driven. And I know of some churches that sensed that need as well. But they also understood that the community must center on biblical truth, not “deconstruct” it and refashion it according to our whims. So many of these churches set out to do just that; to create a community based on Scriptural accountability and discipleship according to the truth of Scripture.

As far as recovering the dynamics of the book of Acts, I wonder if the “emergent” types realize that those believers in Acts embraced the “apostles’ teaching” that was based on propositional truth that they so disdain? (Acts 2:42)

Yes, the church certainly needs to correct its thinking in certain areas, but there is no need to “reinvent” or “re-imagine” the church. And the last thing that we need is another popular movement to jump on board. It seems that everyone is desperately searching for that silver bullet to revitalize the church, eager to jump on the next purpose-driven frenzy. The fact is that there is no replacement for the solid teaching of God’s Word and a willingness to obey it. We don’t need another model to emulate or another way of doing church, but we just need to be the church according to God’s Word.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Environmentalism and the Church.

Rick Warren and 85 other evangelical leaders are now part of a movement in evangelicalism to raise awareness of environmental concerns, particularly with global warming. Warren along with the other 85 leaders have released a statement entitled "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action". However, 22 leaders in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) urged Ted Haggard, the president of that organization not to take an official position on global warming. Some of these leaders include Richard Land, Chuck Colson and David Barton. This is due to the skepticism as to the actual cause, extent and remedy for the problem. This skepticism is far reaching and includes scientists who recognize that average global temperatures have risen over the years, but are not unanimous in their conclusions that human generated CO2 emissions are the culprit. Scientists also do not agree on the extent of the effects and whether they will actually end up being catastrophic. Furthermore, there is doubt that cutting these CO2 emissions will be successful in reversing the warming trend. In fact, drastic measures may actually create economic harm and end up creating hardship for the poor.

What is amazing is the voracity with which people are willing to acknowledge that global warming is caused by human means. In fact, an MIT meteorologist compared it to a ‘religious belief’. Since people seem to automatically assume the consensus of all scientists on the issue, they simply believe it without actually trying to understand all of the facts.

He was not far off in his assessment. In fact, what is probably the most troubling is the actual religious implications attached to radical environmentalism. And now evangelicals are being enticed to jump on the bandwagon.

This push for the church to get involved with environmental concerns began some time ago. The idea was beginning to be promoted in the mid to late 1990s by men like Bill Easum. Easum is a church consultant who co-founded Easum, Bandy and Associates. In an article published in July 1996, Easum discusses the importance of ecology and how this will be “one of the major ministries for the first half of the twenty-first century.” He went on to say that “One of the key issues facing Christianity at the upcoming turn of the century is how to reach a generation turned off by Protestantism's dualistic approach to spirit and matter.” He also claims that it is this neglect of the environment that is causing the current generation to reject Christianity.

But what is most problematic is the tendency to promote a sort of pantheism. According to Easum, “Christianity must rediscover the interconnectedness and sacredness of all life if it is to reach them… Perhaps it's time for Protestants to think of the Earth as the "Third Sacrament."” Easum advocates raising the “care and feeding of the Earth…to the same stature as Baptism and Holy Communion.”

Easum goes on to say that “We would all be more respectful of the environment if we thought of it as a living organism instead of as just a planet on which life exists. I think the day will come when quantum physics will give us more than hints that everything, including the planet, is connected to the same life source.”

Easum further comments that “We could begin to put an end to the heresy that views some things as sacred and some things secular. Failure to understand the importance of this connection will be fatal to churches in the twenty-first century.”

While Bill Easum is not really officially classified as part of the “emerging” movement; some of the elements of postmodernism are permeating his philosophy. Environmentalism is high on the list of priorities in the emerging “church” movement. This is how postmodernism is making inroads into mainstream evangelicalism. This is why postmodernism really is not just an issue isolated to the emerging crowd, but has become very much a part of the culture today and is quickly seeping into evangelicalism.

This pantheistic tendency to make environmentalism synonymous with worship is rooted in paganism. Observe the following quote from a website promoting what is called scientific pantheism:

"When you look at the night sky or at the images of the Hubble Space Telescope, are you filled with feelings of awe and wonder at the overwhelming beauty and power of the universe?
When you are in the midst of nature, in a forest, by the sea, on a mountain peak - do you ever feel a sense of the sacred, like the feeling of being in a vast cathedral?
Do you believe that humans should be a part of Nature, rather than set above it?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then you have pantheistic leanings…
At the heart of pantheism is reverence of the universe as the ultimate focus of reverence, and for the natural earth as sacred.”

“Scientific Pantheism: Reverence of Nature and Cosmos”
by Paul Harrison

“A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)

It appears that we are well on our way towards the final false religious system described in Revelation 17 as “Mystery Babylon”.

The latest move by prominent Evangelicals is further evidence that we are moving further and further from biblical wisdom and understanding in the church. We are losing sight of the mission that the Lord has commanded us to carry out, becoming sidetracked by issues that the church is not really called to be directly involved in.

I am all for Christians being involved in civic duty and to be involved in their communities where they have the opportunity to be salt and light to the world. But I cannot see from Scripture where the church itself is called to become a global crusader to stomp out environmental problems and social ills. I further shudder at all the religious connotations associated with radical environmentalism and how this will influence the church.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A False “Vision”?

I have wanted to comment further on some of the charges made against Calvinism. I commented last week on Ergun Caner’s comments left on the Founder’s blog slamming Cavinism. In that post I also mentioned how I listened to a sermon by a guest speaker for a Bible Conference at the church I attended in my home town, where he listed Calvinism as one of the beliefs (or as he put it, “visions”) that were problematic in the church today. The theme of the two sermons that he preached were on the church establishing a vision or focus for the ministry. The whole issue of listing Calvinism as a false “vision” really irritated me because it is just a display of ignorance of church history and ignorance of the text of Scripture. Not once did he explore the passages of Scripture that dealt with predestination and election, but loosely referred to the concepts in such a way as to present them in a negative light. What he discussed had more to do with hyper-Calvinism that is really only held by a relative minority, not orthodox or moderate Calvinism. He mentioned the common misperception that if you believe these doctrines, that there is no reason to be involved in evangelism. He also made some outlandish statements such as embracing Calvinism inevitably leads to postmillennialism and amillennialism, ultimately leading to political and social activism.

First of all, the charge that those who embrace reformed theology see no reason to evangelize is unwarranted. Charles Spurgeon, who adamantly embraced the tenets of Calvinism, also had a heart and compassion for the lost. “Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” (C.H. Spurgeon, “The Wailing of Risca”). Alistair Begg just went through a series on evangelism on his radio program “Truth for Life”, and he falls under the category of Reformed as well. I do not know of anyone personally who embraces Reformed theology and yet does not think evangelism is important.

Another outlandish statement was that the natural outgrowth of Calvinism is postmillennialism and amillennialism. Really? Yes, there are a number of people who do embrace those millennial views, but certainly not everyone does. In fact, while a large number do, there are plenty of others who embrace pre-millennialism including myself. And I am not about to go postmillennial or amillennial any time soon. How about John MacArthur? He is pre-millennial in his views of eschatology and yet embraces Calvinism. There are a wide variety of beliefs on eschatology in the Reformed camp. But I do not see how Calvinism ultimately leads to these millennial views or to any particular millennial view for that matter.

But the charge that Calvinism will ultimately lead you to become preoccupied with social reform and political activism is the one that really got me. Huh? Really? Yes, certainly there are some that are, but let’s look at evangelicalism today and see how many are preoccupied with political activism and social reform. Most of the key people involved in what we call political activism are certainly not associated with Reformed theology. Look at James Dobson for example. Or look at Rick Warren and how he is now preoccupied with environmental and social concerns. In fact, many of the men that I am familiar with who are Calvinists are opposed to political and social activism. John MacArthur has taught a series against political activism. Steve Camp has also spoken out against political activism as well. Many others in the reformed camp have also been outspoken against these things, recognizing that Scripture does not teach that the church’s primary mission is social reform. So this is another charge that is totally unwarranted.

Many of the things that were mentioned were things that I would agree are detrimental to the church. However, to list Calvinism as something that is harming the church was absolutely absurd. One of the greater issues contributing to the weaknesses in evangelicalism is the overt pragmatism that has become so prevalent today and is rooted in full-blown Arminianism. But nothing was mentioned about that. A careful study of church history reveals almost invariably that when the church to turns to a synergistic view of salvation, the church is generally characterized by a sharp spiritual decline. Look what happened during the period of time leading up to the Great Awakening. Arminianism had taken root in the church and the spiritual fervor of the people waned. It was the straight forward preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield that helped ignite the fire of the Great Awakening. And they were Calvinists.

How about the wholesale departure from biblical preaching and teaching? What about the preoccupation with experience over truth? Those are the real hindrance to the mission of the church today. Political activism and preoccupation with social issues and reform are certainly detrimental, but to tie these things to Calvinism is ridiculous.