Category Archives: Fundamentalism

And another one bites the dust….

Sometimes I hate to be right.

A decade ago, I wrote a series of articles on my blog (don’t look for them now, I took them down some time ago) on the problems facing the Christian Colleges largely supported by Independent Baptists. (I was still ensconced in that identity at the time.) It was a serious of 3-4 articles wherein I very pointedly named about a dozen things they would need to change if they were to survive in the coming decade. It created a firestorm. The articles got 10′s of thousands of hits — particularly in cities like Pensacola, Tampa/Clearwater, Greenville, Chattanooga, Springfield, MO, etc… I was informed I was no longer welcome on the campus of one of my alma maters for daring to publicly challenge them. Another one banned faculty and students from accessing my blog. (Such childish reactions, ftr.) Others accused me of being a rabble rouser.

Today, I heard that Clearwater Christian College is closing. This follows recent announcements from Tennessee Temple that this was their last year and they were “merging” with Piedmont (which has largely become an “online” institution) and also Northland International closed its doors. Prior to that, Calvary in Lansdale, PA had closed, as had Spurgeon Baptist Bible and Atlantic Coast Baptist. (Piedmont hoovered up their assets as the last two were closing.) Baptist University died. BJU has been hemorrhaging students in recent years as has Hyles — largely due to various scandals — and most other extreme right institutions affiliated with churches are barely functioning with the possible exceptions of Crown and West Coast which are both church-based colleges which will likely disappear when their founders die off or retire.. There are a handful of tiny ones run by churches, but they have never been credible. Cedarville does well, but they have moved more mainstream with excellent academics and a recent alignment with the SBC. Pensacola can afford to give away its education due to Beka Books, but otherwise would be struggling as they still don’t have credible accreditation. BBC/Clark Summit has changed its name as they struggle to find their niche and BBC/Springfield is on life support and I predict they’ll be one of the next 2-3 to close. Boston Baptist and Davis are about as small as a school can get before it collapses without outside support. Liberty has sucked the life out of most evangelical schools as they have developed a world-class campus and a national student body base with nearly 100,000 students. Ironically, some of these schools once had robust student bodies numbers in the thousands at their peak. (BJU/TTU/BBC-Springfield had 4,000+, HAC had nearly 3,000. BBC/CS had around 1,000.)

Years ago, I noted that if these schools wanted to survive they had to start thinking regionally, instead of nationally as Liberty and Cedarville took over the national market. I wrote that the right-wing schools had to get over the fixations with music styles, Bible versions, affiliations/associations, the hyper restrictive dating and dress rules, the lack of academic freedom, the incestuous over-hiring of alumni and over-control by alumni. They had to stop their foolish disparaging of any form of accreditation or their students would leave for more credible institutions. I was right. They refused. Called me a liberal and compromiser. They disparaged my ministry — PCC refused to allow us to recruit faculty from them and the Sword of the Lord magazine did a two-part series trashing my church, me and a conference we hosted.

I wish they had listened. Now it’s too late. As has been the case with many fundamentalists I know, if they can’t control something, they’d prefer to kill it. In their mind, they won by losing. It’s really sad, if not pathetic. I was right. I wish this time I hadn’t been.

I’ll probably write more on this in a few days.  Stay tuned.

Signs of an Unhealthy Church

1healthyRecently, I’ve been doing some reading regarding unhealthy and even dangerous assemblies which call themselves “churches”, but which possess characteristics that defy the healthy components of a church we see discussed throughout the Book of Acts and many of the Pauline epistles.  Just for the sake of discussion, I offer a few warning signs of what I would call unhealthy churches.  Perhaps after reading these you might want to debate some of my conclusions or add a few warning signs of your own.

1. Does your church leadership tightly control the flow of information within its ranks suggesting that anything that is negative or which questions something is ‘rebellious’ or ‘gossip’?

2. Does the pastor use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers or does he use the pulpit as a place to “call out” individuals who have crossed him?

3. Are all the previous pastors “unwelcome” back to where they once served and is there a rather regular cycle of pastoral resignations or dismissals marked by infrequent long-term pastoral ministries?

4. Is the pastor of the church the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or interpreting Scripture?

5. Does the pastor and leadership foster an attitude that frequently suggests that it is “them/us” against “the world” and that outsiders are constantly “out to get them”.

6. Are you instructed to dis-associate with any former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “back-slidden” and to be avoided and/or shunned?

7. Is leaving your group to join another church equal to leaving God?

8. Is the power of the church held by a single person (usually the pastor) or in a board that is unaccountable or outside of a defined Biblical role or office?  Does the governing board act like a board of directors more than a board of spiritual advisement and leadership or accountability?

9. If the church or leadership is questioned or challenged is it viewed consistently as a “spiritual attack”?1pointer

10. Are there a significant number of related parties that serve on the governing board or on the ministry staff?

11. Do you sense fear of rebuke or retaliation for respectfully voicing a contrary opinion or position?  Is there a freedom to disagree agreeably on non-doctrinal matters of lesser significance?

12. Is there a pattern of an inability to get along with others you would clear identify as members of the body of Christ but who may not hold all of the same position on non-doctrinal issues?

13.  Is there an unusual allegiance to a school/university, association, fellowship, tradition or “camp” which promotes a sense of spiritual superiority for those in the “group” and a disdain or spiritual deficit among those who aren’t?

14. Are the primary sermons more often personal diatribes or topical addresses that reflect the position of the pastor or association rather than expositional studies and explanations that examine the Scripture?

15.  Are there political, financial, educational or other non-Biblical demands made of the membership in order to fit within the fellowship or to be eligible for leadership?

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply to open some discussion.  Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts.  What did I miss and where am I off base.  The lines are open for your calls!

It’s Not Just Adultery…..Jack Schaap and the latest IFB Tragedy

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus lately.  I’ll be returning soon enough.  Life’s busy.  Facebook often scratches my itch to “rant”.  I’m in a position now where I must measure my words a bit more carefully than I have done in the past. 

All that said, yet ANOTHER “big name” IFB (the group of my past where I got my start many moons ago and have long since left) “star” has been revealed to be a sexual predator.  In recent years, I have reached a conclusion about which I will someday right that links extremist religious sects of every stripe — from Mormons to Baptists to Muslims to Catholics — to some common characteristics including the degradation and low view of women, an obsession with power and control and a perverted — often predatory, view of sex.  The anecdotal evidence is just over-whelming.  Jack Schaap, the Senior Pastor of the largest IFB church in the country, was recently fired by the church deacon board of First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN for having an affair with a 16-year old kid in his church.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not.  All one had to do was read transcripts or watch you tube videos of his sermons and you would see an incredibly twisted and perverse view of sexuality that should have made reasonable people walk out of that church in droves.  Sadly, like frogs in hot water, most had become acclimated to the perversity and verbal abuse that is part of much of that movement.  Immediately, spin began in certain circles, trying to make it less appalling.  For thinking people, it hasn’t worked.

Lifeway Publications, Ed Setzer wrote an excellent article about the whole topic.  It completely nailed much of what I’ve been thinking.  I recommend that you take a minute and read it.  You’ll find it HERE.

Book Review — The Shooting Salvationist

America’s history is punctuated, and at times littered, with the stories of religious leaders of every denomination, stripe norrisbook1.jpgand reputation. From Cotton Mather and Charles Wesley to Billy Sunday and D.L. Moody to Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell, a nation born out of a desire to worship God as we are inclined to do so has given rise to some interesting personalities.Among the most flamboyant, notorious and controversial of these was “Dr.” J. Frank Norris, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. He was, inarguably, one of America’s first “megachurch” pastors, but he was much more than that. He was also a showman, muck-raking journalist, astute businessman and, in the minds of some, a murderer.

Pastor David Stokes,* a man who grew up in fundamentalism and one who was well-acquainted with the reputation of J. Frank Norris, has written a mesmerizing book about the sensational murder trial of the pastor from Fort Worth as he stood to account for the shooting of D. E. Chipps with a pistol from his desk—right in the pastor’s office. The Shooting Salvationist is impeccably researched from the archives of Ft. Worth and Austin, Texas newspapers, Norris’ own Searchlight tabloid and numerous other documents located in the archives of the local libraries, the University of Texas at Arlington and the Arlington Baptist College.

The book is not intended to be a treatise on southern fundamentalism, the gifts of Norris or the history of religion in Texas or elsewhere. Instead, it is clearly a historical work with nary a suggestion that it was being written by a minister—let alone one who can trace his spiritual heritage back to the doorstep of the infamous “Texas Hotel,” located very near Norris’ office. It is a work of history and fact that has the feel and vibe of a John Grisham novel about some sort of trial in a hot and humid southern town.

Every generation or so, Hollywood takes the story of some real or imagined colorful religious icon and makes a movie about it. Works like “Elmer Gantry,” “The Apostle” and “Leap of Faith” are examples. If ever there was a book that was ready to be turned into this generation’s “Elmer Gantry” it is The Shooting Salvationist. In fact, the book reads much like a movie script with a precise coverage of detail that can, at times, be almost mind-dulling. Stokes expertly captured the feel and atmosphere of American life during that era from his examination of the Scopes Monkey Trial to the heydays of Ft. Worth’s rise to prominence to the powerful influence of the tabloid style of journalism then practiced by the likes of William Randolph Hurst and Norris himself.

Norris’ story

The story begins with a look at Norris’ fascination with William Jennings Bryan, who was winding down his public career as the lawyer who represented the plaintiff in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. Norris had a yearning for notoriety and attention that flew right past simply having a strong ego or excessive self-confidence. As such, he constantly looked for ways to find the limelight, to attach himself to others who would bring him acclaim and an attitude that gave little thought to representing the softer and more humble attributes of the gospel he thundered from his pulpit. Stokes gives the reader insight into Norris’ childhood and early days, which would later encourage inferences as to why he ended up shooting a man in what appeared to many to be cold blood. The author tracks and traces the meteoric rise of Norris’ career to assume the role as one of Texas’ most influential pulpiteers, as he took on the role of pastor of First Baptist Church of Ft. Worth.

norris.jpgNorris quickly made a name for himself by combining lead articles in his weekly periodical, The Searchlight, with sensationalist sermons that were promoted and then printed in it. He would foreshadow sermon topics and promise scandalous revelations about local politicians and businessmen that he called out by name from his pulpit. Accuracy of speech was not an encumbrance to Norris and innuendo and suggestion were tools he artfully deployed when speaking and writing. As a result, he made myriad enemies with people of influence across Texas.

Ultimately, one of the most pivotal experiences of his life, and the source of the topic for this book, occurred when Norris shot D. E. Chipps after Chipps allegedly threatened him and perhaps even made a move toward him with the intent to do the minister harm. Interestingly, not even twenty-four hours later, Norris was back in his pulpit—soon to face the charge of first degree murder and the possibility of the death penalty. Stokes masterfully reveals different facets of Norris’ complex personality. As the trial unfolds in Arlington—moved there to find a better venue—we see a man who was unrepentant and arrogant, charming and witty, and even at times frail and sickly. Indomitable, he took on the trial process and its tapestry of politics, law and theatrics and made his case through his attorneys. Truly, it was the O. J. Simpson trial of his day.

In the end, though Norris was acquitted, Stokes never quite answers the question of whether or not the flamboyant preacher indeed murdered the oft-drunk Chipps. Certainly, reasonable doubt existed and, at the same time, the specter of plausibility as the facts of the trial and the testimony of the witnesses played out.

Value for fundamentalists

So why is such a book featured in a fundamentalist website in the form of a review? I admit that the book was quite different from what I anticipated. This is a secular book—that does not even covertly defend or explain Norris’ theology. Nor does it give a rolled-eye or an up-turned nose toward Norris’ excesses and arrogance. The author simply lays out precisely what happened and lets the reader draw his own conclusion. The book reads like a crime novel, only it’s true. It is peppered with the earthy, and at times blasphemous, language of the unconverted. It doesn’t hold back on the details of hypocrisy, yet it doesn’t try to portray the story as a microcosm of a bigger movement. This book is simply about J. Frank Norris and his murder trial, nothing more or nothing less.

Yet, for those who might be familiar with Norris and the fundamentalist names of that era ranging from Jones, Rice, Vick, Sunday and others, the book offers fascinating insight into the cradle of modern fundamentalism—particularly of the Southern variety. We see ego and the KKK, cantankerous spirits and pragmatic methodology, raw ambition and yet, a concern for reaching others with the gospel. It’s hard at times to sift through the debris in search of the good elements, but it does help us understand the nature of many who lay claim to the title of “fundamentalism” today. Indeed, many of the same tactics, techniques, manipulation and even mannerisms still exist in some branches today.

Norris, post-trial

At the conclusion of the book, one is left slightly unsatisfied. Unsatisfied that we don’t have a sure conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the “preacher.” Unsatisfied that we don’t have a lot of additional insight into Norris’ activities, or even accomplishments, after the trial. Unsatisfied with the lack of dogma or conclusions that would allow us to agree or disagree with the author. Obviously, that was his intent.

Norris went on to found a movement of Independent, fundamentalist Baptists. That movement split in the 1950’s and the Baptist Bible Fellowship based in Springfield, Missouri formed. The remaining movement became the World Baptist Fellowship and Arlington Baptist College became their flagship institution. Norris was the pastor and co-pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan whose pulpit he shared with G. Beauchamp Vick—the eventual lead pastor and the first president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield. Today, that same church bears little resemblance to its famous pastor of years gone by and is known as Northridge Church, led by Pastor Brad Powell—himself the son-in-law of a firebrand fundamentalist icon—the late Wally Beebe. The roots of many in today’s fundamentalism and evangelicalism can be traced back to one J. Frank Norris, the shooting salvationist.

If you are into history of any sort, curious about the origins of today’s fundamentalism or simply interested in one of the most colorful and controversial characters in American religious history, read this book. It is not a brief tome, but it kept my attention from start to finish.

In an interesting twist of irony, the school founded by one of America’s most flamboyant and controversial religious leaders has just hired another one of America’s most flamboyant and controversial leaders to serve as its provost and vice-president—Ergun Caner. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Notes

* David Stokes is a friend and colleague of mine. In addition, I was once active within the Baptist Bible Fellowship and served as the senior pastor of a Baptist Bible Fellowship affiliated church.

 

Me and My KJV

I’m not one of those guys that believes that the King James Version of the Bible is the only version that God has 0kjv-bible.jpgpreserved.  I’m mostly an ESV (English Standard Version) guy for reasons of scholarship and readability when I’m studying.  I find many who hold most vociferously to the KJV to be cultic and in some extreme cases, hold to heretical beliefs regarding Bible translations, inspiration and preservation.  Others hold a racist (Aryan) view of mankind that lends itself to an extreme KJVO belief.  Others wouldn’t know translation scholarship if it hit them in the head.  For the vast majority of them, they have an obnoxious attitude about the issue that renders them toxic and unbiblical.

But, neither am I “anti-KJV.”  I have hundreds of verses memorized in the King James Version and when I teach and preach, they flow easily from my conversations with a melodic fluidity that is as much who I am as is my faith so intertwined are they.   Many folks have an emotional attachment to the Scripture version of their early days as a Christian — and I’m no exception.  A crude similarity is my personal affection for the “Sally, Dick and Jane” books from which I learned to read.  There’s a familiar intimacy and a joy of discovery that defies logic and explanation, but which is quite palpable in my heart.  It’s like an old and trusted friend who knows your secrets and loves you still.

Today, I came across an essay on a website that I’ve sometimes visited for an easy laugh that is dedicated to a common heritage many of us have who trace our origins in some way to the stock of religious fundamentalism that no longer means what it did when we were young.  I won’t share the specific website here, because if you haven’t lived those experiences, you wouldn’t understand the website.  But the essay posted today was so moving and captured my heart on such a personal level, I asked for and received permission to share it with you.  I do not even know the author’s last name — he writes as “Darrell”.  But in my opinion, what follows is a moving soliloquy of why I love the KJV.  Enjoy.

————

By “Darrell”

I have a confession to make: I’m no longer an Independent Baptist Fundamentalist but I still love my King James Bible. Yes, she’s old-fashioned and in places she’s more than a bit obscure. And there are certainly plenty of trendy new Bible versions with stylish covers that scream to me from the shelves of the Christian bookstore about how much easier they are to read, learn, understand, ingest, and recycle. Some of them (if the advertising is to be believed) are even capable of reading themselves on my behalf to save me the bother.

I’ve brought a few of these versions home with me from time to time over the years and and set them next to my old KJV. But when the time comes to grab “my Bible” I know which one that is. It’s the leather-bound Old Scofield — the same Bible that my dad preached from for all those years when I was growing up. It’s the one with the “thees” and “thous” and thunder and blood and power and majesty in its pages. I’ll be disappointed if when I finally meet Abraham and Moses and Paul they don’t all sound like Alexander Scourby.

I’ll admit part of this appreciation is simple sentiment. It just sounds right to me. It contains the words I’ve got stored in my brain and hidden in my heart. It also contains breadth of vocabulary and poetry that allows me the childish joy of befuddling the general public when I allude to it (as I frequently do) in everyday conversation. But most of all, it’s simply a classic. A translation that for the past 400 years has been more read, memorized, disputed, preached from, quoted, hated, loved, railed against, treasured, denounced and cherished than any other printed work in the history of English literature. That’s pretty impressive.

I’m not unaware of the problems with this Grand Olde Version. It has a decidedly king-friendly political slant in some passages and some of its prose is downright prudish. I know that there are many people who, after having spent time in churches where the KJV is exalted more than the Saviour, can only hear in its archaic wording the language of judgment and wrath and prefer to turn instead to a fresher, gentler reading of text. And while I understand, I find it unspeakably sad that such a great old volume full of hope and truth should become a club swung at those those who need its message the most.

So why do I still turn to my KJV to refresh my spirit and comfort my heart? It’s not because it’s the only translation worth reading — there are quite a few good ones available (and I often double check my reading with more than one). It’s not because the Flesch–Kincaid readability test tells me that there may be a home-schooled third-grader somewhere in the world who actually understands most of it. It’s not because I feel that there is some magic in praying and reciting quaint phrases that have long since passed out of common use.

I suppose if I had to sum up my respect for the King James Version in few words, I’d say that it has in its translated pages a majesty and a nobility that rarely graces our speech and writing anymore. It is art. It is beauty. And it is inseparably entwined with my own spiritual journey.

When I read it, it transports me to memories of my father reading Proverbs at the breakfast table with its stern instructions that if “sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”

It evokes the images of my mother leading her seven children in recitation as we memorized entire books at a time including Philippians and its reminder of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”

It leads me back to my grandfather’s graveside service with the hopeful words that “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

While it may not be the best choice for everyone, I think it would be a sin to allow a handful of fundamentalists to claim sole ownership of such a treasure as the King James Version has been the the English-speaking world. My own copy in the old leather binding remains one of my most prized possessions. I only wish that I could say that i have learned to live its message as much as I have loved to hear its words.

Fundamentalist Christians and Church Planting — A Good Article

Because I know quite a few of my readers come from the “fundamentalist” branch of the evangelical tree, I wanted to direct your attention to a very timely article on church planting from Steve Davis — a church planter from the Philadelphia area and an adjunct at CBTS in Lansdale, PA.  Take a look at his thoughts HERE.

Quite the Parody of What Church has Become for Many Today

I always said that today’s CGM/Contemporary Church has as much potential to become a caricature as did the polyester-suit/pompadoured pastors and the first/second/last-stanza hymn singing of the past did.  Well, here it is.  Funny video HERE with some interesting irony unintentionally included.

Some Things I Want to Ask Committed “Traditional Church” Folks

A little bit ago, I posted a blog article about some things I wanted to ask my “emergent” Church planting friends.  I’ll probably incorporate some of the things I’d like to have said in responds to some who offered comments in a future article.  In a nutshell, I found a lot of interesting things presented, reinforced and expanded upon in the dialogue that followed.  I also remain frustrated with an “identity” that seems to glory in being unidentifiable — which is part of what I find very disturbing about the “emergent” culture.  But, I digress….

Today, a few questions for the folks that are committed to doing church the way that it has always been done.  I am really going to do my best to avoid caricatures and cliches.  I’m going to leave the King James Only Types and the most extreme adherents to evangelical fundamentalism alone and try to aim for the more mainstream traditionalists.

For the sake of full disclosure, I probably identify more with “traditionalists” than I do with “emergents” (no…make that DEFINITELY) while at the same time, I am often disgusted with myself for too frequently approaching my faith as an exercise rather than a journey.  I believe some earnest questions are in order.

1. Is it just me, or do you think some traditionalist church leaders would just as soon see their church close as change because they would view change as “compromise?”

2. If it meant you could see your son or grandaughter continue in the church of their childhood as an adult, would you be willing to let tolerate some things like more contemporary music, more casual dress or a less formal order of service in your services?

3. If the whippersnapper youngsters would be willing to admit that they have over-dosed on “grace” to the point of license, would you be willing to admit that the traditionalist generation often over-doses on the law to embrace an unbiblical form of legalism?

4. Is the church down the street who subscribes to a traditional evangelical/fundamental doctrinal orthodoxy, yet has up-beat music, expressive worship including clapping and raising of hands, untraditional dress (read: casual) and other characteristics that give you headaches and panic attacks really destroying Christianity (if not civilization)?  Are they enemies of sound doctrine?

5. Why is it that traditional churches are generally monochromatic racially?  Why is it that they skew older –often dramatically?  Is there a correlation?

6. Would you be willing to agree that some traditionalist church leaders have elevated traditions and preferences to the point (if not above the point) of doctrinal matters?

7. If it meant that your church would continue for another generation with a fresh wave of younger members and leadership, would you be willing to consider adjusting things like: Service schedules?  Using women as ushers and greeters?  Allowing guitars and drums to accompany the music?  Permitting younger people — teens even — to participate in things like singing in the choir or taking the offering or even teaching or working in the nursery?  Utilize meetings in homes rather than only on-campus functions for instruction?

8. Is it accurate to say that many traditional churches are more intent on things that can be counted and easily measured (baptisms, “decisions”, membership, new members) than things that are more nuanced and more difficult to calibrate (discipleship, equipping, training, connecting, developing spiritual disciplines?)

9. Is it possible that many traditional churches have largely neglected the 1/3rd of the great commission that deals with discipleship wherein a new convert is personally and systematically instructed in the doctrines of Scripture and the responsibilities of the Christian walk?  Why is that so?

10. Have many traditional churches become overly critical of others who are less traditional?  Paranoid about change of any kind?  Self-satisfied?  Separated to the point of isolation?  Envious of God’s blessings on other ministries which we might routinely dismiss as evidence of compromise in order to “draw a crowd”?

11. Has the traditional church lost sight of changes in communication and transportation which has left us with a system of missionary outreach that is outdated and inefficient?

12. Has the traditional church created an artificial, arbitrary and even pharisaical attitude toward holiness that emphasizes conforming to a “list” of acceptable and unacceptable conduct matters while ignoring the command to be transformed by adopting a Christ-like mentality.  (EXAMPLE: Consider our commitment to preaching a tee-totaler’s position on alcohol — which I personally hold, btw — to our absence of preaching on matters like gluttony in light of Scripture saying much more about over-eating than not drinking at all.)

OK….I’m going to stop now.  I have more.  But I also had more for the Emergents.  You may feel free to add your own questions, comment on these questions or send me hate mail which accuses me of destroying fundamentalism.  I look forward to seeing your comments.  If you haven’t read the Emergent dialogue, I would challenge you to do so be clicking HERE.

More Discussion Regarding Emergent Methodology

I opened a can of worms with some in my criticism of Ed Young’s recent “7 Days of Sex Challenge” in THIS previous post.  I’m not going to rehash the particulars of this specific incident again, but in the process of trying to make a point I wrote the following which drew a strong reaction from some of my younger/hipper readers:

I personally find this kind of trendy, flavor-of-the-month, pop-psychology type of “religion” distasteful and immensely irritating.  To me, this fits in with other “trends” in emergent-driven churches like wearing too much gel in one’s hair, wearing shirt tails out, giving away shot glasses with the church name on them out in bars, shocking signs (Flamingo Road Church recently had a huge banner on their building asking people to “Flip Someone the Bird” this Thanksgiving.  It was part of a Thanksgiving food drive.  Please excuse me while I roll my eyes.), Starbucks franchises in the lobbies, one-word church names and worship franchising.  

I want to clarify a few things.  I don’t have a problem with flavored coffees, kewl glasses, untucked shirts, gelled hair, big screens, sitting on a stool to preach, etc…   I really just don’t care one way or the other and I find much the debate to be supercilious and pointless.

However, (and this is where I’m going to start trying to make my points),  what I find off-putting is this concept that doing any or all of the above will make you more spiritual, relevant, cutting edge, unique or any combination of those things.  They all come from the ol’ “Nothing New Under the Sun” department in that we fundamentalists/evangelical types tend to stampede to the latest trend some mega-church dude is trying like a herd of lemmings without much thought.  But I’ve seen this all before — in the 60′s and 70′s.

In those days it was double-breasted (and later 3-piece) suits, pompadour hair styles, bus ministries, Christian schools, Sunday school attendance campaigns, the Moral Majority, ensembles with matching outfits and Gaither music.

In the 80′s and 90′s it was dramas, stage decorations, polo shirts, projection systems, comb-overs, the Christian Coalition, mega-church conferences, orchestras, praise and worship, and anything Hybels.

Today, we’re into Starbucks, camp shirts and shirts with untucked tails and opened long sleeves, black sets with kewl lighting, blogging, the Junky Car Club, hard=edged bands, conversations and social work.

What we don’t seem to notice, with each generation, is that we keep becoming caricatures of ourselves.  Today’s generation openly mocks and derides the “fundamentalism” of the 70′s and 80′s with it’s polyester suits and legalism, but I lived it and our churches were bulging.  For all it’s flaws and failures (and they were myriad), it was trendy at the time.

Today’s emergent generation seems to be so impressed with themselves, the way they “relate”, their penchant for being innovative and shocking, their kewl young looks and their compassionate social activism that they are missing the fact that in their rush to be as relevent (if not more) than the next guy, they are ALSO losing touch and coming off more than a little ridiculous.

And c’mon — a preacher — any preacher — Ed Young or anyone else, lounging on a bed while delivering a sermon that is beamed across the country to satellite locations in which he is encouraging married people to “do it” for seven consecutive days is somewhere between revolting and hilarious.  And what’s even more curious is the fact that Ed wasn’t the first — and for sure now — he’s not going to be the last.  All the hipster young pastors and some that are not-so-hipster-or-young will now feel compelled to match his bet and maybe even raise the stakes a few points to make it interesting.

I guarantee you that in a few years, some obnoxious young blogger type is going to teleport an article onto someone’s eyeglass screen microchip which mocks and derides the days when some loony preacher dared give a sex challenge from a bed in a church.  That will be SO old school and corny.

But in the midst of all these trends and rushes-to-trends, what must remain constant? — the sound systematic exposition of the Word of God.  Over and over, Paul noted that he did not resort to “gimmickry” or trickery in his Gospel message.  He just faithfully preached the Gospel message without a lot of adornment.

Yes, I know a favorite tactic is to bring out the example of Christ eating with the publicans and prostitutes and how he was criticized by pharisees.  But keep in mind, there is a difference between someone being an unconverted pharisee and being pharisaical.  Also keep in mind that there is a difference between methodology and simply having daily contact with the unconverted.  In fact, Jesus at times refused to perform miracles rather than turn his message into a dog-n-pony show.  His supernatural methods were to reveal and confirm His message and His authority, not to draw the masses.  One should also note that at the moment of his agony, the masses who swamped many of his appearances were reduced in number to a handful of faithful disciples.

So I offer a few simple words of caution to my younger friends and sons in the ministry.  Preach the Word.  Whether you do a book exposition or a sound topical exigesis — don’t substitute style for substance.  Don’t chase the elusive butterfly of relevance and edginess.  That’s a pursuit that has no conclusion.  Like “converts” who pray a prayer for a bowl of rice in a third world country, people who flock to a venue to see a show will often drift away once their bellies are full.  Spend more energy in prayer and study than in pomp and production.  Nothing’s more important than the working of the Holy Spirit and that can’t be artificially induced.  Don’t worry about whether or not you are perceived to be relevant, kewl or creative.  Be concerned with whether or not you are accurate, direct and honest with the Word.  Don’t substitute volume for virtue, relevance for reality or dynamism for doctrine.  It doesn’t mean you have to go old-school.  It doesn’t mean you have to become a neo-legalist.  It doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to connect with your audience — you can and you should make those connections.

If you don’t want to put on a tie — who cares.  If you gel your hair — be thankful you have enough hair to gel.  If you want to remove the pulpit — go right ahead.  If you schedule your services at different times than tradition — go for it.  Just don’t put the emphasis where it doesn’t belong.

In 100 years, the only things on this earth that will still matter are the souls of men and the Word of God.

Listomania #4 — Things We Can Do to “Revive” Fundamental Churches

revival.jpgWell, the waters have pretty much settled from my first “Listomania” entry wherein I discussed why many fundamental churches were growing increasingly irrelevant.  So, with some degree of trepidation, I will now offer a list of “ideas” for your consideration on what we might do to “revive” fundamental churches.  (By fundamental, I mean churches — self-identified as fundamentalist or evangelical or both, who agree on the fundamental doctrines of Scripture and Christian orthodoxy.)  As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts in the comments section.

Things We Can Do to Revive Fundamental Churches

1. Preach the WORD.

Away with preaching on hot topics and trends and get back to sound, straight-forward preaching that exegetes the Word and boldly and practically applies it.  Whether it’s stand-alone exposition or book studies or verse-by-verse series or character studies or some other form or approach of Scripture-focused preaching doesn’t matter, but focusing on the Bible will never fail.  Those who have said that “expository preaching will kill a church” are idiots and time has or will prove the fallacy of such a ludicrous statement.

2. Break out of Denominationalism

Many fundamental churches claim to be “Independent”, but they aren’t.  If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck — it’s a duck.  If it acts like a denomination, fellowships like a denomination, gives like a denomination — it’s a denomination.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who claim they are “independent” are members of fellowships — like the BBF, GARBC, FBF, Shepherds Fellowship, Southwide, IBF, WBF, IFCA, etc…, etc…  These “fellowships” have “headquarters”, publish curriculum, have missions boards, hold conferences, issue declarations, have officers, take offerings, own/recommend/start/affiliate/endorse colleges and hold elections — so someone PLEASE tell me how they are different than a denomination.  (And don’t say “control” cuz’ some “fellowships” are more controlling than denominations and some denominations have no control whatsoever over their churches.)  Denominationalism and Fellowship Loyalties (particularly exclusive participation) create camps, conflicts, control, comparison and competition — none of which are healthy for the Body of Christ.

3. Answer the Liberals

There is a difference between answering a liberal and attacking a liberal.  (This would probably be a good time to ask someone to “define” what a “liberal” is in these circles anymore.)  Many of us choose to savage the messenger rather than to rebut a wrong message.  Usually, in the end — both remain intact.  Good scholarly rebuttals to the error that regular flows from genuinely liberal colleges, seminaries, publishing houses, etc… (and those who are drifting that way) will make us part of the dialogue and conversation and will give us the opportunity to espouse Truth from a historical, Biblical perspective.

4. Lose the Attitude

An evangelical brother recently asked me what kind of Baptist church I attend and I reflexively said, “Independent”.  As soon as I said it, I saw the familiar flicker that can only be described as surprise tinged with perhaps a little fear or at least concern.  So I quickly added, “….but not the MEAN kind.”  He laughed long and loud.  I think that’s sad, but I knew it was necessary.  Many fundamentalists were born fighting — we had to fight.  There was something for which the fight was worthy — the Supremacy of Scripture and the Sufficiency of Christ.  Too often the fights we see today are not against theological liberalism, modernism, ecumenicism, humanism or whatever anti-Christ “ism” being promoted.  The fight is over secondary and tertiary matters that are often unique to Western churches in general (American churches specifically), practices, secondary associations, etc…  Too often, we have become mean, angry, bitter, hostile, intemperate, volatile and unkind as we “claimed” to be defending the faith.  But whether we are disagreeing on majors OR minors, certainly the commands to “speak the Truth in love” and “as much as lieth within you live peacably with all men” shouldn’t be ignored.  How much more influence might we have if we could Biblically and intellectually defend our positions with a smile on our face and optimism in our voices.  Or could it be, as cynics have suggested, that our fiery passion and angry rhetoric is sometimes a substitute for a scholarly response?

5. Reach the Needy with Good Works

I am NOT a proponent of the Social Gospel.  NOT at all.  I understand the dangers of “rice Christians”.  I acknowledge the failures of the welfare mentality.  But, in this commentator’s opinion, many of us have grown calloused about things happening around the globe that are gut-wrenchingly tragic.  The genocide in Darfur (much of it against professing Christians), the AIDS orphans of Africa and Asia, the vile sex trade industry, the slavery of Northern Africa at the hands of the Muslims, the imprisoned believers in China, Cuba, North Korea and elsewhere (and their families), the village pastors in India and Central America and the list goes on and on.  While we bicker over inconsequential preferences and traditions, genuine needs that would save lives and reach souls go unmet.  We make excuses and create smokescreens for why we don’t get involved, but honestly, should liberal denominations who no longer embrace the True Gospel be doing a better job of giving and sharing than those who still lay claim to Truth?  Will those who are starving or are naked or are in bondage to chemicals or are homeless be in a position to hear or understand the Gospel?  Might we address their physical needs as we address their spiritual needs as well?

6. Invade the Devil’s Turf

For too long, our belief in separatism has given birth to isolationism.  We are not “of” this world, but we are “in” this world.  We’ve created the Christian ghetto for our own comfort where we enjoy Christian radio, Christian books, Christian music, Christian TV, Christian retirement centers, Christian Entertainment Venues, Christian social circles, Christian recreation, Christian media, Christian education on our massive self-contained campuses.  We really don’t have to venture out of our “safe zone”.  So how do we fulfill the Great Commission if we never interact with unbelievers.  Are even our mature believers so vulnerable that they cannot influence for good and Truth unbelievers without succumbing to the temptation they might introduce? Are our answers so frail that we cannot argue for Truth against those who may never have heard it? Do we not believe that the antidote to poverty, crime, addictions, abuse, violence, pornography, materialism and a host of other sins the GOSPEL?  Then why do we avoid the poor sections of towns, the AIDS clinics, the treatment centers, the areas where “sinners” congregate?  Should we be surprised when non-believers act like non-believers?  Can we not show them a better way?  If so, then we should invade their areas and SHOW them the difference Christ makes.

7. Teach our Children Well

The vast majority of practicing believers today were raised by practicing believers.  Sadly, many of them have a weaker commitment to their faith than their parents because we failed to teach them well.  Teaching isn’t just lecturing, it’s living.  It’s not just explaining it, it’s modeling it.  It’s not just teaching, it’s mentoring.  Discipleship begins in the home.

8. Reach our Children Well

Research says that 80% of kids in evangelical churches do not return to the churches in which they were reared after they leave home.  Many great churches are great for only 1 or 2 generations as the founding generation(s) age and ossify, they forget to make way for those who will fill their seats next.  We’ve turn generational preferences into tests of fellowships and too often communicate to our coming generations that they are not welcome if they want to do things a bit differently than we did them.  We keep our kids isolated from the adults with separate programs, separate leadership, separate services and even separate buildings.  They feel no real connection to the heritage of the church family because they’ve been consigned to “eating in the basement” for years.  Older generations too frequently refuse to reach out to, or interact with or listen to the younger folks creating walls that are simply unnecessary.  We spiritualize traditions and preferences at the expense of teaching principles and expanding outreach.

9. Emphasize Conversions rather than Decisions

For too many years there was such an emphasis on numerical growth, numbers of baptisms, etc… that a mentality and strategy of evangelism developed that was misguided and even heretical.  “Pray the magic prayer” and get eternal life (but can be counted on a tote board) became a form of evangelism that created legions of false “salvations”.  Repentance, acknowledgment of sin, a knowledge of grace, the responsibility of Lordship were left out of evangelism and discipleship and tares filled baskets intended for wheat.  Genuine salvation is a conversion, not a decision.  We’re changed because of the Holy Spirit, not because we “will” it.  We come to Christ because He draws us, not because we had someone present a handy-dandy plan replete with a charming personality and a disarming method of explanation.  Salvation costs us everything while it cannot be purchased with anything we could possess.  Decisionism leads to a false sense of security and salvation and should be rejected.

10. Re-emphasize Discipleship

For too long churches have neglected the third step of the Great Commission — Teaching.  Discipleship sifts those who make decisions from those who simply “prayed a prayer” for quick relief.  To neglect discipleship is the spiritual equivalent of child-abuse.  It is like giving birth to a child and then leaving it on the sidewalk with hopes that someone else might come alone and take care of it.  Our failure to disciple new believers has created a generation of Christianity that knows little of the “what’s” of orthodox Christianity and even fewer of the “whys”.

So those are my thoughts.  Tell me where you think I’m wrong and fill in what I’ve missed.  Looking forward to reading your thoughts.