Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ashamed of the Gospel Chapter 3 "Give Me That Showtime Religion"

Every once in a while we wake from a slumber to see things the way that they actually are.  This chapter certainly helped to reawaken me as to how much the entertainment industry has affected the culture, my life, and the church.  

MacArthur quotes Neil Postman who speaks of the end of the "exposition era".  People used to spend much more time in intellectual and philosophical debates.  There was a genuine interest in truth, content and meaning.  Postman says that we are now in the "entertainment era."  This is so true!  What do people want to do with their free time in our day: be entertained:  watch TV; watch a movie; go to a show; listen to music; play games; go online; read light, entertaining books, magazines, etc; play sports; go outdoors; go out to a bar; socialize in many ways; gamble; and on and on it goes.   Many of these things can have their place in measure, but our culture worships these things and lives for these things.  It is never enough.  

In C. H. Spurgeon's day back at the end of the 19th century he say that the church was no longer taking a stand against the god of entertainment. Instead, they invited her in to the church to see if they could increase their numbers.  He was very concerned about were this was leading.  In the middle of the 20th century A.W. Tozer sounded the same alarm as the churches at that time were using films, up tempo music, and humorous speakers as a main way of attracting people in.  Churches in our time have thrown out all the stops when it comes to the use of entertainment to draw people in and keep them in.  MacArthur mentions a church that staged it own full scale wrestling match WWF style.  Many churches look for a pastor who can be a master of organizing entertainment.  Churches research all of the methods of the entertainment industry and employ them even as far as having pyrotechnic shows in the service and hiring 100 clowns to give away gifts!  

MacArthur points out that all of this comes from a Philosophy called pragmatism that says that the end justifies the means.  In other words if we have thousands of people gathered who will hear the gospel then what does it matter how we got them there.  He shows the link between pragmatism and the church growth movement.  Churches and movements are studied and the most effective means are deduced and employed with out any thought of how biblical and Christ honoring they are and who is using them and why.  

MacArthur questions the whole approach of focusing on numerical growth.  he speaks of Jeremiah the prophet who ministered for his whole career without seeing a convert and was a faithful servant of the God.  He quotes 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 which indicates that growth is the work of God and not ours.  

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6, 7, emphasis added).

MacArthur says that it is the pastors job to be concerned with the depth of the ministry and we should let God take care of the breadth.  In other words pastors and church leaders need to seek to help people have a deep understanding of God from a deep understanding of His word and focus on discipleship and spiritual growth and not numbers.  He points out that numbers are not wrong and shares that his own church has 10,000 regular attenders. However, he has always said that all they ever tried to do was to remain faithful to God's word and God has chosen to bring numerical growth.  I have also heard him say recently that a pastor may be faithfully preaching the word and ministering well and yet the church may not grow.  It is entirely up to the Lord.  When God grows a church through His word He grows in deep and wide.  It has been said that the modern church is an inch deep and a mile wide.  

Evangelical churches today pride themselves on being clever and slick in their presentation to the world.  MacArthur explains that this is the opposite of what the apostle Paul did:

On the contrary, the apostle Paul shunned clever methods and gimmicks that might proselyte people to false conversions through fleshly persuasion. Paul himself wrote,

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1–5).

He reminded the church at Thessalonica,

For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority (1 Thess. 2:3–6).

Biblical correctness is the only framework by which we must evaluate all ministry methods.

One of the most important things that MacArthur points out is that pragmatism is a bankrupt philosophy.  The church has jettisoned the preaching of God's word because it is not "relevant" and has replaced it with entertainment.  But as MacArthur says "What could be more relevant than God's word!"

He draw an interesting parallel between modern churches and a pub mentality.  Many pastors want people to feel just as comfortable sitting in a pew (or chair) at church as they do bellying up to the bar!  The problem is that God's message is not a comfortable message to a sinful heart, and why should it be?  Should people who are on their way to hell feel comfortable about it?  No!  People need to feel uncomfortable about their sin, so that they will realize their need for a Savior and turn to Him!

Acts 17:30–31 (NASB95)
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

MacArthur also asserts that the problem with the modern church is not that they have bad Theology it is that they have no Theology.  Many churches have fine looking doctrinal statements, but you will never hear these expressed or explained in a service.  Instead you will be entertained to your hearts delight while theology is completely avoided.  

In the down grade controversy in Spurgeon's time Spurgeon equated the entertainment inroads into the church as leprosy.  That leprosy has surely spread and whole pieces of the evangelical landscape have no completely fallen off.  It begs the question:  what's next?  

Will we wake up?  

Posted via email from Caleb's posterous

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ashamed of the Gospel Chapter 2: "The User Friendly Church"--The Steve Jobs Method Doesn't transfer

Let's face it, what Steve Jobs did with computers in nothing short of amazing.  He didn't invent the technology, but he made it user friendly.  Why did I buy a Macbook Pro?  Because I wanted a laptop that would be user friendly and work the way I wanted it to.  Guess what, it has not disappointed!  Music player:  Ipod touch.  Next phone: hopefully Iphone (I currently have an android phone, but it just isn't, well, all that user friendly).  He made it work and he made it cool.  I am saddened by his death and I am praying for his family and friends.  

The Steve Jobs method fits very well in the corporate world, but not so much in the church.  

The church "gurus" of our day are trying to make the church work for the world and make the church cool to the world.  I have no doubt that there are some sincere desires in this:  to reach more to do more.  The problem is that Christ's idea of the church does not fit with the world and will never be cool to the world.  

MacArthur describes this attempt by church leaders to make the church more appealing to unbelievers:

The experts are now telling us that pastors and church leaders who want to be successful must concentrate their energies in this new direction. Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained. Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we’re assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline.

Almost nothing is out of bounds for those who are absolutely committed to wooing the world:  from cage fighting to sex education.  One thing that is out of bounds for the "Steve Jobs" church is preaching on hell or sin.  These things are to be avoided if you want to draw a crowd.  

MacArthur talks about how many mega churches were born through surveying the community to find out what they want and then giving it to them.  The result, MacArthur says, is the at the customer becomes sovereign over the church rather than God. This is "turning the church growth theory upside down."  

Scripture says the early Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, kjv). In our generation the world is turning the church upside down. Biblically, God is sovereign, not “unchurched Harry.” The Bible, not a marketing 
plan, is supposed to be the sole blueprint and final authority for all church ministry. Ministry should meet people’s real needs, not salve their selfishness. And the Lord of the church is Christ, not some couch potato with the remote control in his hand.

MacArthur goes on to show that in the explosion of the early church in the book of Acts they were not preaching a user friendly message and God did not use user friendly means.  Acts 2:42 tells us that they were "devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer."  

What was the apostles teaching?  Well the center of it was that "Christ died for our sins according to the scripture, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15).  Peter told the Jews that they had killed their Messiah and that they needed to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.  

Once they responded to the gospel the people were wholly committed not to serving themselves but to serving their Savior and serving others.  They commemorated His death on their behalf regularly and spend great amounts of time in prayer.  They did not try to imitate the world around them, but instead they wanted to imitate Christ.  People even sold their land to meet the needs of others.  

MacArthur points out that some prideful hypocrisy arose in the church.  Ananias and Sapphira sold their land but kept back part of the proceeds, and they acted like they were giving all of the money (Acts 5).  They were not interested in the glory of Christ in this, but their own glory.  The Lord struck them down and they died as an example of how serious Christ is about sincere worship.  MacArthur points out that this is not "user friendly" to the world.  Great fear came over not only the church, but the community around them and yet their were people being added to the church daily.  How can we explain that:  God's word accomplishes His work!  

MacArthur points out that God wants us to deal with sin seriously:  

Matthew 18:15–20 (NASB95)
15  “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 
16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 
17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 
18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 
20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

He also points out the Christ had more to say about eternal hell for sinners than any other person in scripture (Mt. 25:46; Luke 16:23.24).  

In fact the certain reality of hell should motivate us to see sinners saved:  

“Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

We are not so much concerned with what the world wants, but what the world needs!  What they need is to be forgiven of their sins through Christ so that they can be restored to their creator and their purpose to bring Him glory and rejoice in Him and His gifts.  

MacArthur concludes the chapter with these words:  

Too many who have embraced the user-friendly trend have not carefully pondered how user-friendliness is incompatible with true biblical theology. It is, at its heart, a pragmatic, not a biblical, outlook. It is based on precisely the kind of thinking that is eating away at the heart of orthodox doctrine. It is leading evangelicalism into neo-modernism and putting churches in the fast lane on the down-grade.
The answer, of course, is not an unfriendly church, but a vibrant, loving, honest, committed, worshiping fellowship of believers who minister to one another like the church in Acts chapter 4—but who eschew sin, keep one another accountable, and boldly proclaim the full truth of Scripture. People who have no love for the things of God may not find such a place very user-friendly. But God’s blessing will be on the fellowship of true believers,
  because that is what He ordained the church to be like. And He will add to the church, as He promised.

Steve Jobs was a technological and marketing genius, but let's not try to go "Steve Jobs" on the church.  Let us trust Christ do what he promised to do: build His church (Mt.16:18).  he does this as we stay faithful to his message (Romans 10:16).  

Posted via email from Caleb's posterous