The following message was delivered at the 2003 Shepherds’ Conference, A ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530. © 2003 All Rights Reserved. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session (# 1029) can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org
Church Growth Gone Mad
A sobering look at the church growth seeker-sensitive models
(Formerly: Associate Pastor, Outreach Ministries,
me draw your attention to Ezekiel chapter thirty three, and as you turn there
we understand that Ezekiel was a prophet during the Babylonian exile. For a
broad outline of the book the first thirty-two chapters of Ezekiel could be
thought of as a description of the departure of the glory from Israel, from the
promised land; of God's chastening. And the latter portion of the book,
from chapter thirty-three to forty-eight could be thought of as the return of
the glory, or God's comfort, or God's grace, or redemption of the nation of
Ezekiel here is describing the function of a watchman...a watchman. It comes from a Hebrew word and it meant one who is stationed on the wall of a city. The job of the watchman was to be stationed on this wall of the city and to be scanning the horizon to look for impending danger; to look for armies or other threats to the city. His job was (as Ezekiel here notes) to sound the warning. There is this implicit meaning of alert and active watching for the safety of the city that he is watching over - that he is watching to protect. To give you an idea of the significance of the word, it's the same word that the psalmist uses in Psalm 66:7 to describe the intent gaze that the Lord watches over the nations. So that gives you a little idea of the import of this word. Notice what he also writes in verse six: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand.”
You see, the watchman had this responsibility to warn the people and if he neglected that duty - if he failed in that duty - then he, in essence, had the death penalty imposed upon him. The blood of the city would be upon his head - would be resting upon his head. Even an application here in Ezekiel as the prophet is God's messenger, as God's man with the Word of God; if Ezekiel did not faithfully deliver the Word of God as God had given it to him, then God would require the blood of the people from Israel's own head. And he was liable for their lives.
And I say this, and I open up this seminar on 'The Church Growth Movement' because you pastors - you church leaders - are the twenty-first century watchman. You are the watchmen that God has placed, to care for, to shepherd, and to watch for your flocks, and to warn your flock of impending danger, and to warn the unbelievers in your community of the impending wrath of God that's coming. We're to warn them to flee the wrath that is to come. We can think of Romans 2:5 "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you’re storing up wrath for yourself on the day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God." That's the message - Paul's message - to the unbeliever - this wrath of God that's being built up, as it were, like water behind a dam that will be poured out on the unbeliever in hell. And we need to warn unbelievers, people that do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior of this wrath that is to come. Revelation 14:19, there is this vivid picture drawn of the winepress of God's wrath. And that's our job, we're to warn the people.
there's a movement that is sweeping across the face of Christianity; and the
sad reality is that most of Christianity is not well prepared; most of
Christianity is ill-prepared to deal with this phenomenon - to deal with the
encroachment of this church growth movement - of this seeker friendly
movement. It’s been gaining wide popularity in
So to gain a biblical perspective on this movement, what we will do is examine four areas of discussion, we're going to look at the definition of the 'Church Growth Movement' - when we talk about church growth what exactly do we mean - don't we want the church to grow? Didn't Christ say He would grow His church? So when we talk about the 'Church Growth Movement' what exactly are we discussing here? So we'll look at definitions, then we'll look at the history of this movement. We'll look at the practice of this movement and the theology of the Seeker Friendly/Church Growth Movement. And really this is almost a Hebraistic thinking - we are going from the lesser to the greater. From the definition to the history to the practice to the theology (which is where the rubber really meets the road.) So the first area of discussion that I think would help us to understand as we examine this topic, as we are seeking to craft a biblical response to this, are the definitions.
Definition. The movement has been
called many things: 'The Church Growth Movement,' that's the title
of the seminar today, 'Church Growth Gone Mad,' 'Seeker Friendly,'
'Pragmatism.' A variety of phrases have been used to describe this.
Our own Rick Holland who is a pastor of Youth Ministries here at
How about pragmatism? Pragmatism - the pragmatic approach - is something that we look at here. Pragmatism, as a philosophy, was championed by William James and the educator John Duey. Pastor MacArthur, in the book, "Ashamed of the Gospel" defined pragmatism this way, "Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. The belief that usefulness is the standard of what is good. To a pragmatist, if a technique or course of action has a desired effect it is good. If it doesn't seem to work, then it must be wrong." This may be a repackaging of the thinking that the ends justify the means.
about 'Seeker-Friendly' or 'Seeker-Sensitive?' A website of a leading 'Seeker-Friendly' church
would say that a seeker sensitive church still wants to minister to the
believers that are coming to the church, but that at the same time it wants to
be sensitive to the unbelievers that are coming in the context of evangelism
and ministering to the unbelievers. And then, by their definition,
In the context of our discussion today there are distinctions between all of these, and I just gave you some distinctions between the seeker focused, sensitive, and insensitive. But when you think of 'seeker friendly', 'church growth', and 'pragmatic' in the context of our discussion today, you can kind of just view them as being all the same thing. So that's just a preliminary topic of discussion on definitions of the movement.
II. So let’s move onto our second area of discussion that we need to consider: What is the history of this movement? What is the genesis of this seeker friendly church growth movement?
We could, in my mind, go back to Genesis three to discuss the real origin, the beginning of the history of the church growth movement when Satan told Eve to sit in judgment on the Word of God to improve the message that God had clearly given her, but maybe we should start in more modern times?
And I think a good place to start there would be to go back to the nineteenth century and talk about Charles Finney. Now we don't want to spend too much time on this man. The sad reality is that many Christians today lionize Charles Finney. They even view him as a tremendous, wonderful evangelist who led great revivals. Well, it doesn't take much examination of Charles Finney doctrines to understand that he was not a believer. Certainly if he believed what he wrote he wasn't a believer. God of course is the only one that knows a man's heart; but Finney denied almost every major key doctrine of the Christian faith, he denied regeneration, original sin, salvation by faith alone, repentance and substitutionary atonement. He was a full-fledged Palagian.
But to the point of the topic tonight, Charles Finney was an advocate of pragmatism - not necessarily pragmatism as a philosophy by that name, but he was an advocate of pragmatism. This is something he wrote in his lectures of revivals of religion, "There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature, a revival is not a miracle nor dependent in a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means. A revival is as naturally a result of the use of means as crop is of the use of its appropriate means."
So Charles Finney was a chief proponent of this ends justifying the means. If I'm using means - if a pastor - if a preacher is using means that produces conversions, or at least produces professed conversions, then it's a good means and we should adhere to it. I think an accurate description - an accurate understanding of Finney was captured by Phil Johnson, one of our elders, and the executive director of Grace To You, who said this, "Finney filled the bloodstream of American evangelicalism with poisons that have kept the movement maimed even to this day." We could spend a lot more time on Charles Finney, his 'anxiety bench' was a precursor to the altar call and the decisionism that we see in the church yet today. But certainly he was someone that is appropriate to look at when we talk about the history of the church growth movements.
Well, let’s move into the twentieth century. Fuller Theological Seminary, Donald McGavran was the founder of the Fuller Institute of Church Growth and an author of the then seminal work on church growth and the church growth movement, "Understanding Church Growth."
And then, someone that came on the heels of Donald McGavran was C. Peter Wagner who has had, as I heard one pastor say, legendary courses at Fuller Seminary on the whole subject of church growth.
major player in the formation of this system would be Robert Schuller as we move up in time a little bit to our modern
times. Robert Schuller is the pastor of the
a man that was greatly influenced by Robert Schuller is Bill Hybels, again, as we are moving closer and closer in time to
where we're at today. And in 1972 Bill Hybels in the
the last person, and last church for us to look at in the history of this
movement would be Rick Warren.
Rick Warren is pastor of
Now what we'll do as we move on to the practice and the theology, where we're really getting into the core of the issue, is look at some quotes. For the most part we'll be using quotes from Bill Hybel's book, "Becoming a Contagious Christian" and Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose Driven Church."
"Becoming a Contagious Christian" was a book that predated "The Purpose Driven Church," but probably today the most influential book in Christianity in the subject of the Church Growth Movement is "The Purpose Driven Church." There is a new addition now, "The Purpose Driven Life" - and so we will see what happens there. A couple of caveats as we embark on the next two areas of discussion.
First we need to understand, and please hear me on this, that this movement is not monolithic, so when we talk about some of the practices and some of the theology in no way shape or form am I indicating that every single church that maybe exhibits some of these, or takes in some of this is swallowing the whole enchilada. This is not a monolithic movement so we understand that there's a huge spectrum here, so please understand that. We also understand that our job is not to examine motives. Many of the motives of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels may be very noble. Pastors and people that propagate this system and this movement could be very noble, so we're not examining the motives; but, as Christians, are we not called to examine everything by the Word of God and test everything by scripture? That's what our job is to do, and that's what we'll do today. We will examine the message of the movement, not the motives.
III. That takes us into our third area of discussion, which is: the practice of the church growth movement. That's the third area that we need to understand in the formation of a biblical response to this. And what we'll do is we'll examine four practices that are characteristic of the seeker friendly movements. The hope is that this will illuminate the picture of this phenomenon and then set the stage for the area of theology.
The first practice that we want to observe is a contemporary “Seeker Service” on the Lord's Day. What does a seeker service look like? There are some characteristics of it. Generally speaking there will be a huge emphasis placed on casual dress and style and also on contemporary music.
me make a make a quick statement on the casual dress and style. When you come to
About contemporary music, I mentioned that as well. Well first they view music as a means of evangelism. I would make the statement that nowhere in the Bible do we ever see music used as evangelism. Music is a form of worship. It is for the believer to sing the new song - the song of the redeemed. It is not a means, primarily, for evangelism. Now, can music be used for evangelism? Sure, if we have godly hymns or godly praise songs or chorus songs that have accurate theological content and an unsaved person comes in and hears the word and these words reflect biblical truth – sure God can use that. But the primary purpose and focus of music is never (in the Bible) for evangelism. It is always for the worship and exaltation of God and even for the edification of the believer.
Let me say a couple of more comments on this subject of casual dress and contemporary music. I believe that what we're talking about here is not just having casual dress, and having contemporary music. But I think endemic to the movement and endemic to the thinking is a disdain for the past. It is a disdain for suits - for non-casual dress; a disdain (a mocking) of the hymns. Now again, this is not a monolithic movement, so I'm not saying this is the case for every church but the forefront of this movement, I think, is this disdain for the past; where they say hymns are stodgy, they’re old, that its something of the past. That we need to jettison these hymns because that will drive unsaved people away - that will even drive saved people away. And I think there is, embedded in this is a form of arrogance. And again, not saying in every case, but I myself have experienced this, and I want to stay away from too many anecdotal stories, but I will give you one.
wife and I were up in
And besides just the dress and the music, this gets into the preaching as well. The sad reality is that while hymns are being mocked and while people dressing up in more formal attire for church - often expositional preaching itself is mocked as a dinosaur of the past - that we need to get away from that and we need to have these enticing, ear tickling messages to capture peoples interest with a generous insertion of comedy and so forth, that you're probably familiar with. I would say this: that it's a form of egotism for any believer to say, "I don't care what the Christians of the past have said. I don't care what the great saints of old have said. I'm going to reinvent Christianity and I've got my own shtick." What I would just encourage you men is that regardless of the style and whatever you have in your church - don't pull the plug on the past. Don't let the past be killed on your watch.
Sure, you want to use, you want to do more contemporary music and praise songs and everything. You examine them closely to make sure that the theological content is accurate - but don't let the hymns die on your watch, and don't let the past die. And I would say that no superficial person in church history ever made an impact. The history of the church bends and moves on the backs of profound thinkers. Even historically, while we're on the subject of music, the music grew out of that, the hymns grew. I mean sing, or even just read one verse from A Mighty Fortress is Our God, which we had sung to us this morning by the seminary students. Just read the deep theology in that and understand that this came out of suffering and this came out of wrestling during the time of the Reformation - and all the history that went into that. Capture that and support that and protect that as God's men in your church, as the pastors and the leaders. While we're talking about hymns I would say that great hymns went along with great theology. And you will never, ever meet a guy with great theology that's against the hymns. So again I'm not saying you have to sing only hymns - I'm not saying that we can't have more contemporary songs. But I will say that it is our job to support the hymns and the theology that went before them.
Well, let's move onto another characteristic. Drama. Another pattern or another thing that is representative often, not always, but often of a seeker sensitive/church growth movement. The idea behind drama is that it's a means of communication of biblical truth and it’s part of the process of improving the marketing, of making the gospel and church more attractive to those outside the church. I would say this: that God gave us a book – he gave us a book with words in it, in a sequential format to be understood by the cognitive process of the mind. I would follow up with this - I would make the assertion that - drama is not a clarification or an intensification of the communication process. I would say to you that it is a dulling of the communication process, to whit, man's imagination, which our mind is part of our being made in the image of God right? Why are we creative? We're creative because God made us in his image and God is creative. The power of our mind is far greater, and our imagination is far greater than the power of people being able to being able to duplicate or reenact things. When you add a medium to any communication the result is distraction. Did you get that? When you add a medium to an existing medium, generally speaking, the result will be distraction, not clarification or intensification. Also this moves from the objective nature of the truth in scripture to subjective nature. When you move from the spoken word, which is the way in which God gave us his word, and the mandate that God has given us to preach the word - to preach the objective truth, when you move to drama and acting and you move into the subjective realm, and you're training your people to do just that.
Now one of the questions, let me just head off at the pass one of the questions that I might get at the Q & A time (which we will try and carve some time out for that at the end) - "What about the prophets? What about all the prophets in the Old Testament that ate this and did this and ate their food burned over that and did everything else - isn't that example for us?" Well? I would say a few things, first, you're not an Old Testament prophet - I'm not an Old Testament prophet - I'm not being superintended, or given direct revelation in whatever form it might be by God to do something like that. Secondly I'd say that what God has told us in the New Testament is very clear. He's given us marching orders that we don't need to remarket or add to. He's told us to preach the word 2 Timothy 4:2. Preaching is the God-ordained means of dispensing grace or disseminating His truth.
Well the second practice to observe, in the church growth movement, is that pragmatism is the criterion for ministry. The question: “Does it work?” or “Will it work?” is asked. Numbers and crowds define expertise, credibility and worth. I would say this is tied into one of the root sources of this movement and this drifting away from the clear pattern that God has given us in regards of an illegitimate lust for success. An illegitimate lust for success in the form of big numbers and big churches, and men what is our job? Is our job to fill the pews, or is it to fill the pulpit? Should we be more concerned with how many or more concerned with what kind? Right? Aren't we far more, or shouldn't we be at least far more concerned with what kind of people we have - what kind of believers we have than how many people are filling up the church? And I do think this, that God's word will not return to Him void (I don't think that, I know that because God said that - it's in His word) But I do think that (more often than not) when you as pastors fill the pulpit, and preach the Word of God, and give the truth to your people you'll create a biblically literate sanctified congregation that God will grow that church numerically, and not always but he often will.
Rick Warren wrote this in The Purpose Driven Church, "Never criticize any method that God is blessing." Well, at face value, that might not seem too bad. Certainly if there is a method that God indeed is blessing we wouldn't want to criticize it, but the question is, "Who defines God's blessing? - Who defines how to understand what the blessing is?" As we said before if it's just purely large numbers, then sure, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren they have huge churches - John MacArthur has a huge church. Benny Hinn has a huge church. You know if it was just a numbers game, then that makes it easy. But our standard is the Word of God. We filter everything through the spotlight of the Word of God, and trust God to burn away the wood, hay, and the stubble and dross in our thinking and in our world view and our vocabulary and in our practices at church and we trust God to illuminate our thinking so that we can be more refined and we can follow more closely the mind of Christ.
How about Jeremiah? Fifty-five years or so. Fifty-five years or so Jeremiah preached with very little response. Was he a failure? I don't think so. I think he was faithful to the Word of God. I think he stayed the task at hand, he understood that it would be shut up in his bones and he could not endure it if he just sat on the prophesy, on the Word of God, that God had given him. He didn't start doing drama, or performance dance, or music videos. He stayed the course, and he proclaimed the Word of God with the biblical language and in the biblical manner that God had given him to do.
Or how about this, just in terms of understanding pragmatism, as a criteria for ministry in prayer - here's a quote from Rick Warren again, "Keep your pastoral prayers short in your seeker services. The unchurched can't handle long prayers" The question asked is to Whom, and for what are we praying? That's this focus that is on the unchurched, that is on the unsaved people.
How about in, I think your notes say in worship, but by that I mean in music, here's another "We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. God tells us to be sensitive to the hang ups of unbelievers in our services." This comes from, I would say, a gross misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 14 when Paul was telling the Corinthian church to stop speaking this pagan gibberish because even unbelievers are going to come in and say that you're a bunch of barbarians. Paul's point was not to say that we should modify the worship service of the local church for the unbeliever - you understand his point, his point was saying stop speaking in this pagan gibberish. Start focusing on the clear Word of God, on the prophesy of God - but again the focus is on the unbeliever rather than God.
Well third practice to observe is that sociology and psychology take precedence over theology. Now that might not be the philosophy that they come out of the gate with, but that, I would say, is the end results. The ministry is driven by sociology, psychology, and felt needs. Support groups are primary methods of evangelism often. Psychological diagnosis and terminology are preferred above biblical diagnosis and terminology.
I have seen a few bulletins of a large church down here in southern California, a church I mentioned before, and they have endless columns of support groups. I think I counted one time something like seventeen different support groups related to ADD. You know what ADD stands for right? It's the Adult Deficiency in Discipline? That's a better one. So certainly the integration of psychology and marketing techniques are inserted into church, and that takes us to the next point here.
Modern marketing techniques are lifted to the level of scripture. What are better ways to market God. And this is sadly crafted by secular managerial and leadership techniques. Now here's Bill Hybels in a comment on evangelizing an unbeliever, "assist him in a cost-benefit analysis," In other words spell out to the unbeliever the cost and the benefit of becoming a Christian. Now this is just representative of this thinking and this is all under the banner of, maybe you've heard this phrase before, "All truth is God's truth." That's the siren-song of all forms of integration and of many of the major plagues that are wreaking havoc on Christianity. And I would say this in regards to integration, they integrate psychology, evolution, marketing techniques. I would say this: the pagan thought is to be subordinate to scripture - not integrated into scripture! The thinking of unbelievers is to be subjective, it is to be subordinate to scriptural truth, not integrated with scriptural truth. I think that's a good thing for us to keep in mind regarding the subject of integration.
Well the fourth and final practice to observe is the avoidance of Christian doctrine on Sunday. People are saved outside of indoctrination. That's a dirty word. "We don't want to think about indoctrination - my word! That's something of the past." In that thinking. People are saved outside learning the great doctrines of the Christian faith - Justification. Sanctification. Don't use words like that - you'll scare people away! In short, people are not saved, often, by the Word of God in this system.
Before we react too much to that, consider some of these quotes from Rick Warren: "We want to loosen up the tense muscles of uptight visitors. When your body is relaxed your attitude is less offensive" as though the tenseness of one's muscles has any relationship whatsoever to the work of God in the heart of a person. Here's another,
"Worship is a powerful witness to unbelievers – if God's presence is felt, and if the message is understandable. God's presence must be sensed in the service. More people are won to Christ by feeling God's presence than by all our apologetic arguments combined. Few people, if any, are converted to Christ on purely intellectual grounds. It is the sense of God's presence that melts the heart and explodes mental barriers."
I would say that this is a ludicrous notion that the tenseness of muscles has an effect on salvation, and even more grave is the elevation of a mystical feeling of God’s presenmce above an intellectual understanding of the Word of God that's being communicated. This whole ministry paradigm has been established around tickling ears rather than educating the mind and mortifying the flesh.
IV. Let us move on to our last area of discussion, and definitely the most important and that is the area of Theology of the seeker friendly movement, of the church growth movement.
And I would say this: That the church growth movement in its truest sense, again, not every church that takes some of these in, but the pure, undefiled if you will, church growth movement at its pure form strikes a blow at almost every major doctrine: depravity, election, regeneration, sanctification, worship and even evangelism. The sad reality is that this movement, which began with the intent and the motive to evangelize the lost, I would say emasculates true evangelism.
Well let's look at the local church. In the church growth movement the gathering of the local church is either directly or indirectly for the unbeliever. I would say this in opposition to the clear pattern and the clear testimony of scripture. The gathering of the church is, as we said before, for the exaltation of God and the edification of the saints. This is the clear and consistent New Testament pattern. I think that you can see that in some of the terminology that's used in scripture. It talks about the ingathering verses reaching out - verses going out to evangelize - to go and make disciples of all the nations. That's why the department that I oversee is called "Outreach" because our Outreach department is about reaching out to the unsaved people in the community and across the world. I would say that that's different from the ingathering, than the ingathering focus of believers to worship God and to lift up God and to be sanctified and edified by the preaching of his word and by God honoring music.
Here's a quote from Bill Hybels, "Our church hosted a public debate between the leading spokesman for atheism and Christianity." In the church! I would say that's a clear violation of second Corinthians six, of light and darkness, of the son of God and Belial. And it's a gross misunderstanding of the purpose of the local church. How about Acts five with the death of Ananias and Sapphira, that's certainly not a particularly seeker friendly phenomenon that took place by God. Well, I would say that they misunderstand the purpose of the local church and that's really at the heart of this. But let's move on to some other theological topics.
How about depravity? Just a brief note on depravity. We need to understand at any level of ministry - whether it's evangelism, worship or discipleship or whatever, a biblical anthropology - that's key to understanding man to be able to minister to man - whether it's evangelism or discipleship. The testimony of the Bible is clear - that man, in his unsaved, unregenerate state is dead in his trespasses and sin. He's not a sick person waiting to receive medication to get better - waiting to cooperate with God at some level - He's a corpse that needs resurrection - He's desperately wicked: Jeremiah seventeen nine, His heart is deceitful above all else and who can understand it? His mind is blinded according to second Corinthians four - the mind and conscience are defiled, Titus 1:15 and his conscience is seared 1 Timothy 4:1-3. And do turn with me to the book of Romans. Romans 8:6-8. Paul in this great chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer gives us a biblical anthropology of unsaved man here. Romans 8:6-8, "The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God." An unsaved person is totally depraved in the sense that he is utterly unable to please God, he is utterly unable to respond to God. Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." An unsaved person can no more change his spiritual status - he's not on some journey or process or progress towards discovering the truth - it is as impossible for him to change his spiritual condition as it is for the leopard to change his spots or the Ethiopian to change his skin.
Consider this quote from Bill Hybels, "The first step in moving people towards the point of decision is to simply find out where they are at." We don't need to find out where they are at - we know where they are at: They are dead! They are dead in their trespasses and sin. You can tickle the ears of a corpse all you want - it will never have any effect - he must be born again. God must take his heart of stone, remove it, and give him a new heart. God needs to give him a new inner man according to Paul in Romans.
Here's another quote, "Some seekers have serious intellectual questions that are preventing their progress toward Christ..." Here's a fundamental question we can even ask, even on the subject of a seeker friendly or a seeker sensitive church whatever you want to call it, or a seeker focused church - a fundamental question: Are there seekers? The Bible's testimony is clear. No. THERE ARE NO SEEKERS. Romans 3:11, "There is none who seeks for God, no not one. Altogether they have become useless." quoting from Psalm 14, there are no seekers. This is the noetic [based on the intellect] effects of sin the effects of sin on the mind of man. So when Bill Hybels says that some seekers - that right there, he's in error there – have serious intellectual questions that are preventing their progress towards Christ, and unbeliever has no progress towards Christ. He is unsaved. He needs regeneration. He needs to have newness of life. In fact, if we're still in Romans, turn back to Romans 4:17. I might be stealing this passage from our later discussion of regeneration, but let’s do it anyway. Romans 4:17, at the end, "God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist." That's the biblical form of salvation, of God taking a corpse and giving life where there was no life before. So an unsaved person is not on a journey or not some kind of progress with some intellectual barriers that need to be overcome. He needs regeneration. He needs newness of life as Paul describes here in Romans 4:17.
Well here's one more quote from Rick Warren, "The problem is the longer you are a believer the less you think like an unbeliever. Your interests and values change. Because I've been a Christian for most of my life I think like a Christian. I don't normally think like an unbeliever, and worse than that I tend to think like a pastor and that is even further removed from an unbeliever's mindset." This betrays a misunderstanding of the mind and the thinking of an unbeliever.
The depravity leads into election. We don't have time to expand on this but the Bible is crystal, unequivocally clear. That biblical salvation is a result of God's sovereignly moving in the heart of sinful man - of giving sinful man the gift of salvation of giving him the gift of faith. Ephesians 2:8-9, "you've been saved by grace through faith and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one should boast." Faith is a gift, belief is a gift, according to Philippians 1:29. Repentance, which is essential to biblical salvation, is a gift—In 2 Timothy 2:25 and Acts 5:31 and Acts 11:18. Just an historical note, Augustine wrote a prayer, and in his prayer he said, "Lord, command us what thou will, but God grant what thou hast commanded." And Pelagius reacted to that prayer because he thought that Augustine was saying that God had commanded something of man that man could not in and of himself, do. Pelagius correctly understood Augustine. Augustine correctly understood Paul, and Paul of course, correctly understood Jesus. It's a gift of God, by God's sovereign choice.
Here a quote from Rick Warren, (and we're not going to do this here, but on Friday I am going to do biblical evangelism, our understanding of God’s sovereignty and salvation does not in any way strip away our fervency for evangelism - our heart for the lost. In fact it galvanizes biblical evangelism and drives us to greater levels and greater effectiveness of evangelism. But that's for a different topic).
Here a quote from Rick Warren, "It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart, and the most likely place to start looking for that key is within the person's felt needs." This is man centered Arminianism! It fails to recognize that a pagan's felt needs spring from the soil of a dark, stony, unregenerate heart. We shouldn’t care one bit about someone's felt needs. We don't need a survey to determine a pagan's felt needs, I can save $20,000 for somebody that's thinking about doing this. A pagan's felt needs are comfort, sex, money and recognition - there you go, you don't need a survey. And what we care about is the true need which is reconciliation to God. That's what we care about, that's the need that we care about. Well besides contradicting the clear testimony of scripture regarding God's sovereign hand in salvation through his election - this quote betrays a misunderstanding of the heart.
The church growth movement mindset betrays a misunderstanding of the heart of man. Jeremiah 17:9 we talked about before. It's deceitful above all else and who can understand it. Or the great new covenant promise of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 36 where God describes the taking away and the removal of the heart of stone and giving a person a new heart in the new covenant.
Well, that moves us to regeneration. Let me give a definition of regeneration. It's defined as the act whereby God imparts life so that one may believe. That's what we saw in Romans 4:17. Here's a quote from Bill Hybels, "If they'll sustain that kind of all out effort, they're going to break through all the barriers keeping them from belief." That's scary! That's saying that an unsaved person is going to break through the barriers that will take them towards belief - that's as man centered as you can get! We saw the quote before. "Assist the unbeliever in a cost-benefit analysis." Here's a quote from Rick Warren, "There are some types of people that your church will never reach because they require a completely different style of ministry than you can provide." Another quote, "Explosive growth only occurs when the type of people in the community match the type of people that are already in the church and they both match the type of person the pastor is..." Well, I would say that we're a violation of that right here because you don't look to me like an audience of all Jews. Right? The early church was all Jews. If this statement of only matching the type was true then only Jewish people would be saved. That's a simplistic example. But at the heart of this - this thinking - this mentality fails to recognize the absolute necessity of regeneration for any true response of a person to the gospel call. It fails to recognize the complete transformation of the inner man. It fails to recognize where the true source of salvation is: "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" - Romans 10:17 or 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, old things have passed, behold, new things have come."
So the church is made up of a type of believer and it's a new type - it's a new being. It's a person with a different worldview, with a different culture. This isn't a church made up of 'Western Culture' – this is a church made up of a biblical culture - that's the church that we strive for at least. We just looked at them but Romans 8:6-8 and 4:17 describe this regeneration - this new life. Of course Titus 3:5 we would look at as well for our understanding of regeneration.
Let's move onto sanctification. I would say that the church growth movement misunderstands and strikes a blow at the doctrine of sanctification. There's two presuppositions here in this thinking: Number one is that doctrine is viewed as a deterrent to church growth - again the deep theological truths - don't have those in these seeker services. They'll be scared away by it.
Consider this quote from C. Peter Wagner, "Church growth principles have intentionally been kept as atheological as possible on the assumption that they can be adapted to fit into virtually any theological tradition" - as atheological as possible. This is a fatal error. Justification comes by doctrine - Romans 10:17. Sanctification, Romans 12:2 - comes from renewing the mind by immersing our minds in the truth of scripture. Justification, sanctification is key to theology, and
springs from the exposure and the unfolding of the deep theological truths and doctrines of the Christian faith. Psalm 19:7-9, when David moves from the general revelation testifying to the greatness of God, to the special revelation of the Word of God. He talks about what the Word of God does and produces in the minds and in the hearts of the people who adhere to it. It restores the soul, it makes wise the simple it rejoices the heart and enlightens the eyes. I would say this, that, without clear, solid, heavily studied, expository preaching, at mining and exposing the deep truths that God has revealed in His word - that will produce a barren wasteland of doctrine. And that barren wasteland of doctrine will produce a barren wasteland of truth, which will produce a barren wasteland of believers which means churches, sadly filled with unbelievers - thinking they are believers - coming and worshipping a God that they don't even know.
Presupposition number two that is often embraced without challenge in this that people will not learn the way they used to learn. I don't know if you've heard that, or read that before. That denies the timeless nature, and the timeless value, and the timeless power of the Word of God - Romans 1:16 "I'm not ashamed of the gospel for it's the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew and to the Gentile." Two representative groups of all types of people.
How about worship, worship in the sense of music. True worship of course is everything the believer does in obedience to Christ - his life of service. As we said before, contemporary music is not just as a form of worship, but as a means of evangelism. You have a big quote from Rick Warren in front of you, I'll just read a few lines from it, "You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach. It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose. If you were to tell me the kind of music you are currently using in your services, I could describe the kind of people you are reaching without even visiting your church. I could also tell you the kind of people your church will never reach." He's saying that there’s people that your church will not reach if you don't have the right kind of music. That's an astonishing assertion to make. That it's not the Bible that God is using to draw people to himself in this system, it's music! It's not the Bible that God uses to rescue a rebellious sinner from hell, but it's music. Sadly, these people that would say these things, I would say, are ashamed of the gospel – not understanding its power to save.
And as I mentioned, Evangelism. I would say that the church growth movement strikes a blow at evangelism. We read the quote before about, from Rick Warren, talking about feeling the presence of God, and how that's much more powerful than any apologetic argument, of by extension, any preaching of the Word of God in evangelism.
Here's another quote from Robert Schuller, "I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and hence counterproductive to the evangelistic enterprise than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. Classical reformed theology has erred in its insistence that theology be God centered not man centered." That's from the book, Self Esteem - The New Reformation, or something of that nature, Pastor MacArthur mentioned that this morning in the opening session.
The idea here is don't offend the seeker, don't offend the unbeliever. Let me state this in response, let me state it as emphatically and as unequivocally as possible, Salvation is impossible without intense discomfort! Without intense offense, and intense guilt. And if a man does not come to understand his wretched condition as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, he is lost. And I would say, back to the subject of seekers; yeah, I would say people are seeking all right, people are seeking to have their ears tickled. They're seeking to be pleased, to be self gratified to have their ego stroked. How does God view this? In Amos 4:1 God talks about the comfortable pleasure seekers, the cows of Bashan and in no uncertain terms of what His opinion is of those seekers of pleasure or Numbers chapter 11 with the greedy grumblers that the people from the mixed multitude that came out of the exodus where whining and complaining, "How come we don't have the garlic and the good onions and all that wonderful food that we ate before, and now all we have is this manna." And we remember the story of course, God caused them to have quail come - you want meat? God will give you meat. And a plague struck them even with the meat between their teeth.
This is in contrast to the weeping publican in Luke 18:13 who was beating his breast saying "God be merciful to me, a sinner;" or the first and second beatitudes in Matthew 5 of those who are poor in spirit and those who mourn - that's the picture of the kind of seeker that God is looking for, and by that I mean the seeker, the one who is covering their head in ashes and sack cloths so to speak and seeking forgiveness from God. That's really the only kind of seeker that God would answer. Of course John 4:24, God himself is the ultimate seeker, right? God is the one who is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Let's turn to 1 Corinthians 1 - look at a couple of passages. First Corinthians one and two, by themselves, those two chapters should drive a stake in the heart of any kind of thinking of the church growth movement. Consider verse seventeen chapter one: "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel - and watch this - not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void." And brothers, when we add our cleverness of speech, when we try to remarket, when we try to improve on the clear message of God, on the clear means of communicating that message, we're running the risk of making the cross of Christ void. Or chapter two verses four and five, "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 on men, but on the power of God." If we are using our persuasive words of wisdom, that's the risk we're running - that the faith of our congregation - the faith of the unsaved people would not be resting on the wisdom of God but would be resting on the wisdom of man.
Can the gospel be made to be inoffensive? Absolutely not, look at what Paul says in chapter one, verse 18, "The word of the cross is to them who are perishing foolishness, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God for salvation." And then in chapter two verses 14 and forward Paul describes the contrast between a natural man and a regenerate man who is given the mind of Christ. Even crucifixion itself, it was the most defiled manner of death to both the Jew and the Greek in the idea of the creator of the universe being crucified in the most ignoble form of death is as un-seeker friendly as you can get, as offensive as you can get. Not only did God in eternity past choose the most tortuous and most agonizing way of death, he also chose the most offensive way of death. That the very God who created the universe would die that death so that unsaved man could be saved and could be forgiven of their sins. And I would say this that an inoffensive gospel is a false gospel.
Beloved, our great challenge is not to get the world to start liking Christianity. Our great challenge is to get Christianity to stop liking the world. And I would say, as I've said before, that, the danger of this thinking, especially if taken in the extreme is that it emasculates true evangelism. It emasculates true worship and true prayer. In 1 John 2:15 through 17 there is a great passage an exhortation from John to NOT love the world, and then in verse 24 he says, stay true to what you have - quote, HEARD FROM THE BEGINNING. So we need to stay true to what we have heard from the beginning, and not repackage it and add our cleverness of speech and our persuasive words of wisdom to what we have heard from the beginning.
Let me read a story to you here, this is called The Life Saving Station,
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat but a few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little life saving station, so it became famous. So some of those who had been saved, and various others from the surrounding areas wanted to become associated with this station, and give of their time and their money and their effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, new life saving crews were trained, and the little life saving station grew.
Some of the members of the life saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those who were saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots and beds with put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it, and they beautifully furnished it exquisitely because they used it as something of a club. Few members were now interested in going to sea on life saving missions so they hired life boat crews to do the work. The life saving motif still prevailed in the life saving club's decorations and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held it's initiations, but professionalism had taken over and displaced the original purpose of lifesaving.
Now about this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some of them had yellow skin and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up - so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of ship wrecks could be cleaned up before they came inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. You see most of the members wanted to stop the clubs life saving activity as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life saving as their primary purpose and they pointed out that they were still called the life saving station. But they were finally voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, and dirty and wet, they could begin their own life saving station down the coast a little ways, which they did. And as the years went by the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old one. It evolved into a club, and yet another life saving station was founded. Well history continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore - very professional in nature. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
Now I would say this, let us not allow our church to become a club. Let us keep our church a church. And let us not be ashamed of the gospel and resort to this man created, man approved man centered methodology which strips the gospel of its efficacy and God of His glory.
I will wrap up with this, back in Ezekiel 33, we read Ezekiel 33, the first six verses. Notice what Ezekiel writes in verse seven: “Now as for you son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel, so you will hear a message from my mouth and give them a warning from me. When I say to the wicked, O wicked man you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hands.” And then in verse nine: “But if you go on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.”
Brothers, I would just say, be an alert watchman, warn people of the wrath of God to come, and present the good news of our Savior and present it in an undefiled, un-remarketed, un-cleverness of speech, un-persuasive words of wisdom manner, and with that have about 12 minutes for Q & A.
Questions and Answers:
Q. In the history section you didn’t mention anything about the Calvary Chapel movement and in my area that I have been exposed to that has been kind of a driving force.
A. Certainly Calvary Chapel churches just like Baptist churches; many of them are imbibing this in large levels. I am not aware of any significant influence from the Calvary Chapel Church in terms of the formation of this movement, in the same way as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren. It could be that I am ignorant of it, so as I have said, I am not aware of it as being a source of it, but certainly they have imbibed, in many cases, many aspects of it. But I would say that it would not be an across the spectrum kind of thing, I would imagine it is the same way in the Baptist churches. Some Calvary Chapel churches probably eschew [avoid; shun] this kind of thinking, and many others might drink deeply from it.
Q. It appears that you have taken some of Rick Warren’s comments in his book out of context. Have you read his book? Have you gone to his conference? Have you approached him or his staff to get clarification by what he means by these things, especially in light of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19 and following?
A. I haven’t read the entire book, but I have read probably about 80% of it, and I’ve read the portions where the quotes were taken out of. I don’t think they are taken out of context. I am not sure how we could negotiate this, but I would say, regardless of that, I would stand and perhaps I have some areas that I am missing a little bit here, but I would stand and say that the quotes that I have taken are representative of the movement and I would even say they are representative of Rick Warren’s thinking. I think the quotes stand on their own, but they are certainly representative in terms of what’s been flushed out in terms of how the ministry has developed and the focus and everything that surrounds it.
In terms of the conferences. No, I haven’t gone to any of the conferences, although two of our pastors did go to a conference at Willow Creek. Willow Creek and Saddleback are different, although I think that there are many similarities. I am not sure if I should report back what they said, but let me just summarize it this way: They said, “That the Word of God was used more as a prop than actually being taught from at this entire conference they went too.” That’s their subjective experience, and I am just reporting it so you can take that as you wish.
Regarding 1 Corinthians 9, I believe that is where Paul said, “I became all things to all men…” Now, what’s the topic of 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 10? It’s Christian liberty. In 1 Corinthians 8-10, what Paul is talking about is Christian liberty, and Paul, when he writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19 and forward, “Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, though not being myself under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law.” And then in verse 22, he says he became all things to all men, that he might by all means save some.”
What Paul is talking about here, and I appreciate you asking that question, because this is a passage that is often, I would say, misused by people that would support this. Paul is talking about his surrender of Christian liberty. So Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10, and the same thing as in Romans 14, talks about Christian liberty, and says that the Christian should take the high road. If there is something that will make a weaker brother stumble—don’t do it. Be willing to sacrifice your Christian liberty. So when Paul talks about living under the law, when he is with those who are under the law, and as without the law for those without the law, he’s not talking about remarketing or packaging or trying to do something to improve the clear message that God has given him. He makes that very clear in the first two chapters as we have said before. What he is saying that a believer should be willing to sacrifice his liberty.
In chapter 10, Paul gets into discussion of food sacrificed to idols, and he says that if you are a brother and you go to a pagan’s household and they offer you food that was sacrificed to idols—go ahead and eat it, and if that tweaks you conscience don’t worry about it because an idol is nothing, so go ahead and eat that meat, which is clean, for the benefit of the unsaved person. But he also says, but if you go to a situation, where you are at an unsaved person’s house and they offer you up food that was sacrificed to idols, but wait, you have got a weaker brother over here, that maybe just came out of this pagan meat sacrificing system, and it is going to tweak his conscience, then give priority to him and don’t eat the meat. So even in that chapter, Paul is saying that the priority for a believer is his ministry to other believers and not to this unsaved person. So that’s the context of this passage. It doesn’t have anything to do with remarketing it.
Q. Would you comment on the emphasis on small groups. Is there anything that you have trouble with the small group ministry?
A. I know that Rick Warren has a real big thing with “Flocks” and all that. I am not intimately familiar with how he does all that so I can’t comment on it. I would definitely say, if you want to call them small groups or what we do at Grace, and call them Home Bible Studies, I think they are tremendous. What we do here at Grace, and again it is not the standard for anything except in so far as it follows the biblical pattern, but we have our worship center where John preaches to 3,000 people. We have adult fellowship groups which range anywhere from 150 to six to seven hundred people, and from those adult fellowship groups we have Home Bible Studies, broken down into smaller settings so you can have more intimacy and more fellowship. We have called, gifted, trained, and qualified men shepherding those home Bible studies to have better and more intimate discipleship and so forth. I think that’s a tremendous thing.
And then the second aspect of the question was about moving of “attenders” to different phases. I can’t remember if it’s Warren or Hybels, but one of them has the baseball field diamond. I don’t want to overstate the case, and say that baseball diamond thing is evil and should be done away with. All of us are all for sanctification. We are all for our people and ourselves growing in the grace and knowledge of God. It you want to try to represent it somehow with different phases or different bases; if that benefits something then fine, but I’d be careful with overstating the case with something like that.
Q. I understand that Peter Drucker has influenced some of these guys. Have you heard about that? His School of Management, his Consensus Program and that’s why it works very well in the church these days—Drucker’s influenence on this seeker sensitive movement.
A. The question was regarding Peter Drucker and his influence from managerial techniques and leadership techniques. I have heard of that before and I have heard of him. I am, again, not real familiar with it. I would just make this comment, there is a lot that can be gleaned from pagans and some of the things they have written. But we need to be careful with it, and again what we do is we subordinate the pagan thinking to scripture—we don’t integrate it with scripture. So, that I would say is a Shibboleth issue. I read books by unsaved people, Amusing Ourselves to Death, I forgot the name of the author. That was a great book, but he was an unsaved person. Again, I don’t integrate that with scripture and put it on equal par, but where it agrees with scriptures or illuminates things—it is interesting reading. That’s as much as I can comment on that.
Q. What is the relationship of apologetics in evangelism?
A. I would say that apologetics and evangelism do go hand-in-hand as long it is a biblical apologetic. I would say a biblical apologetic is a presuppositional apologetic: one that understands Romans 1. I was a presuppositionalist before I came to The Masters’ Seminary, even though I had never heard the word before, because I had read Romans, chapter 1, and I understand from Romans, chapter 1, that all men know that God exists and they suppress that truth in unrighteousness. So I would say that a biblical apologetic is essential to biblical evangelism.
In regards to evidence, I would say that Evidential Apologetics would be more for the edification and the benefit of the believer. At the same time I think that you can use evidence guardedly with an unbeliever, but always if they ask an honest question, give them an honest answer, whether it is evolution or whatever, but always direct it back to scripture, understanding that someone does not get saved by disbelieving evolution or abortion or anything else—they get saved by receiving the Word of God and having the Word of God perform its work on them.
Q. You spoke of Charles Finney being a precursor to much of the church growth movement and his methodology led to his altar calls, which if I understand Warren correctly, from his book, they do not practice an altar call, and their main motivation is to again remove these barriers from these people in the church or involved. Could you comment on this whole idea of the altar call, and how Grace Community tries to find out about the people who have been saved and make a time of response in the worship services?
A. The question was regarding altar calls, especially coming from Charles Finney, and in the context of Rick Warren, apparently (I don’t know this) not doing altar calls. I would say this, as I said before, this is not a monolithic movement. My understanding is, I don’t even think that Rick Warren does drama. I know Willow Creek does, but I don’t think Saddleback does. So as I said, no individual church, even if they are really pushing this movement, even in an extreme way will exhibit every single one of these characteristics.
In regards to the altar call, I think it got its biggest boost from Charles Finney, and I would say that heavily comes under the danger of decisionism: in having people trust in some mechanism that they are doing, rather than heart transformation. I’d even say a “Sinner’s Prayer” can be just as dangerous—people are trusting in saying some magical mantra of words at some point in time, and if that ruffled your feathers you can come to the thing on Friday on biblical evangelism, in the seminar.
The final aspect of the question was, “What do we do here at Grace?” We certainly, obviously don’t do altar calls, but what we do is, we have a prayer room afterwards, and Pastor MacArthur will say, “We have some men over there if you want to come and receive more of the Word of God, or you have questions, you can go over and meet these men, or sometimes we will have women for the women, in the prayer room over there to discuss these things.
The point is this: there is a huge difference. Some people will say, “Well, it’s like an altar call!” No, it is not, because it is not attaching the gospel of conversion to any kind of decision, or mechanism, or walking, or action on the part of the person. All that [Grace’s prayer room] is doing is saying that there is another platform, another opportunity to receive more of the Word of God. So that’s how we follow up after a service at Grace.
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