My name is Hope. I've observed where Western Christianity is now, and have a desire to see it return to its original, biblical intent.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15 (NKJV).
These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to the disciples before ascending into Heaven. 2,000 plus years later where is His Church and how is that Commission going? What have we accomplished so far? Have we really honored our Lord's request, and executed it with excellence?
Some reading this may know where this is going while others are genuinely curious. To be frank, I am tired of waiting for someone else, another "watchman", to stand up on the wall and say what needs to be said.
Over a thousand denominations, petty arguments about tradition, while society and the world laughs at us...
Does no one care anymore? Do any of you care about the words of Jesus or do you like holding on to your obsolete, unfruitful traditions --pushing your own agendas all for the wood, stubble, and hay to be burned by fire??
This is not just a call for the church to evangelize, but to "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." Rom. 12:2. (NKJV) Paul wrote this to the church to communicate that we are to be different post-salvation in our minds and actions. And in turn, this should translate into the way we reach the lost.
When has compromise ever gotten anyone in the Bible anywhere? It didn't go well for King Ahaz: 'For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. ' II Chronicles 28:23 (NKJV). King Ahaz had been plowed over and defeated in battle. In his defeat, he thought that by leaving the Lord and turning to the gods of Damascus that he would gain success. Instead, the writer of second Chronicles records that this action was his downfall.
This story is not so far off from modern, western church culture. Upset because our ways of bringing people to Jesus aren't working, so we resort to conformity --donning an appearance that looks exactly like the world to "attract the world". Should we continue in this endeavor, we will end up exactly like King Ahaz and this "conformity" will be our downfall.
Examples of Church Conformity
Initially I would have called this the "Goliath" that is standing up in the church mocking the people, but the characteristics of this are exactly like the figure Jezebel in the Bible (more on that in a later post). The West has decided to trade the rich saturation of God's presence on a service, for a dehydrated and pre-packaged model.
I remember being on Instagram and seeing an ad for a template worksheet that one could print out to fill in a sermon. I asked Holy Spirit how He felt about it and He said, 'It's not of My Spirit'. Understand this, can you put mechanisms around the wind? Can you package and distribute it? Jesus spoke and compared the Holy Spirit to wind in this manner: 'The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”' John 3:8 (NKJV) . Holy Spirit wants to flow through us unhindered. So for us to try and package and manufacture something that's supposed to flow freely from Him is an insult to His presence.
Imagine, you wanted to have a spontaneous day without any plans or schedules. How would you feel if a friend came over and started dictating what times both of you should do different things? that would be upsetting. And by trading the Holy Spirit for a business model in the church, we are not only hindering Him, but are controlling how He sets people free. This leaves people in the same bondage they had when they walked into the church.
Example A: A church has one Sunday-morning service and opens at 9am. It does not have a set closing time because it believes Holy Spirit will show up and touch the people. The worship is spontaneous and can go from twenty minutes to an hour, or even last the whole service. God can convict people through the pastor, deliverance takes place, and the altars are always open. The pastor goes off his notes, as Holy Spirit leads, and no one leaves/pulls out their tithe check because of it. At the end of each service everyone goes home refreshed, edified, and more on fire than when they walked in.
Example B: A church downtown just opened up. They agree to cater to the corporate-climate of the area that they are in. Each Sunday they have two services, neither of which are longer than an hour-and-a-half in duration. One starts at 9:30am, the other starts at 11:15am. The worship is only allowed to last 20 minutes and the song selection is "positive" and surface-level. No one speaks in tongues so as to not offend anyone who may still be "seeking" which spiritual path is theirs. The pastor preaches for 45 minutes and strictly stays on his sermon notes --the format of which is an outline that he learned in Seminary. The sermon's topic is pulled from a survey he did to know what people are comfortable with hearing. People go home feeling like they checked off their daily routine and continue throughout the rest of their week, looking no different than their peers and colleagues who do not attend church.
Which church is closest to the biblical example that is set for us, and which church is God pleased with? Which church is someone going to go to if they've been battling physical or mental oppression, and which one would they be set free at?
Culture's Appearance: Sheep in Wolves' Clothing
Many church members attribute modern items in the church to the Rock-and-Roll era of the 80's. Items such as smoke machines, flashy lights, eye-catching backgrounds, and fast-paced music can all be found from that culture and have made their way into the church. Some may completely reject these things and the church altogether when they see that, however as someone who listens to Christian Rock music, I believe God can turn different things for His glory. The problem comes when a church's motive isn't right and uses these things to attract people. To gain more congregants we have replaced the Glory Cloud with smoke machines, flashes from God's presence for flashes from a light show, and took our eyes off Jesus during worship to look at eye-captivating backgrounds. All of this, of course, is rooted in psychology and how to keep a crowd's attention (more on that in a later post) and not to the effect of breaking chains and equipping the congregation. This has more resemblance to a concert than a church moving in power as in the book of Acts.
Example: The church is in an area with a younger demographic. It is popular and has a large congregation. Their services are always contemporary with lots of entertaining lights, music, decor, and the like. The pastor's preaching style is to try to "be your friend" and he has catchphrases for you to remember him by. The sermon titles are acronyms and the sermons themselves are littered with jokes, which the amount of jokes is how the congregation judges whether or not it was a good sermon. The pastor plugs his personal Instagram on the screen before worship to up his follower-count. While preaching no one says 'amen', which is replaced with clapping (sometimes snapping), and the pastor starts straying away from being referred to by the title of "pastor" because it sounds too "old-school". The people leave laughing about the jokes that were told and talking about the fashion of the worship leaders. They go home and take a picture of their Bible for an Instagram post, being more fixated on which filter to choose, and forgetting to do their five-minute devotional.
Looking at the parable of the men that built their houses on rock and sand respectively, would someone who got saved and "discipled" in this church, have their house built on rock or on sand? If a "storm of life" came would their house withstand it?
Again, while the items of a smoke machine and lights are not bad in and of themselves, the motive behind why a church uses them can be. We are supposed to be pointing people to Jesus, not to us. Jesus is the attraction, not the vibrant staging.
*Disclaimer: none of these examples are to depict a specific church. These are fabricated scenarios used to convey a message.
Bad Evangelism and the Shoddy Lifestyles it Leads To
The Spectrum of Evangelism and Styles of Preaching
Over the course of the church attempting to evangelize (without the Holy Spirit) different styles have persisted. Prior decades have seen what is called "turn-or-burn" preaching, which is holding someone's sin over them and telling to them to repent of it or else they go to Hell. This has become so condemnation-focused that, in recent years, this gave way to the pendulum swinging to the other side which is "hyper-grace" or lawlessness, under the guise that actively sinning post-salvation is fine since it is already forgiven by the blood of Jesus.
The style of "turn-or-burn" preaching, legalistic lifestyle that follows causes restriction and restraint, which is why it appears more favorable to turn to lawlessness under the guise of grace. However, in order to see why "turn-or-burn" and "hyper-grace" preaching is so detrimental, we must first see what a true, biblical call to salvation looks like.
A Salvation Call From God
' “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ' Matthew 11:28 (ESV) This is as simple as it gets. Jesus was preaching this to the people in the city which was under the military rule of Rome. He was around much oppression and devastation and this was His compassionate plea to the people. Though this was not just specific to the visibly oppressed. In his conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, He spoke to him explaining: '“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. ' John 3:18 (NKJV) Jesus was talking about the people who are oppressed and condemned because they do not know Him. This is about a state of being and a position that one is currently in. Jesus is saying, one can go from being condemned to no longer being condemned by believing in Him. This salvation call yields to true Christian living and leads to a relationship with God: 'Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. ' John 14:23 (ESV). Again, it is that simple. Jesus wants a relationship, and for us to obey Him, and He and the Father will be with us. Believing in and loving Him, which looks like keeping His commandments, translates to genuine salvation and true life as a Christian.
Turn-or-Burn Preaching and Its Detriments
Now let's look at "turn-or-burn" preaching. For those not familiar with this term, I'm using it to talk about a style of preaching to the lost that constantly throws their sin in their faces and uses it to condemn/guilt people into repentance. This leads to a lifestyle of strict rules, religious ideologies of man, and little to no spiritual freedom. Paul says this: 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.' Galatians 5:1 (NKJV). He was talking to a church that was pressured into returning to religious works and keeping the law. He reminds them that Christ has freed them and they do not need to be legalistic. We as a church today should remind ourselves this as well.
Although it is wrong to continue sinning after you're saved as if you were not saved, this style of "guilt-laced" preaching did not originate from the heart of God. As a matter of fact, guilt is not a characteristic of God period. John, an early disciple of Jesus, understood this when he wrote: 'For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. ' I John 3:20 (NKJV). So if God is greater than our heart and condemnation, then what makes us think we can use condemnation to win the lost? We can't and we shouldn't. And though people know this, they skip over the middle ground of true evangelism/salvation, and have gone to the other end of the spectrum: lawlessness.
Legalism to Lawlessness: A Look at Hyper-Grace
This hyper-grace teaching has sprouted in the church more recently and takes place out of a response to "turn-or-burn" preaching, and the legalistic lifestyle that follows it. However, hyper-grace is also detrimental. This style of preaching states that after you come to Jesus you can still live however you want because all your sins are forgiven under the blood of Jesus. This style of preaching may come as a "breathe of fresh air" to those coming out of legalism; however the lifestyle that it leads to is one of powerlessness and a deeper bondage than before they acknowledged Jesus. Peter says this about how the church is supposed to act among non-believers: 'Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.' 1 Peter 2:16 (ESV) The people that preach this false grace message cannot bear to give up the sin issues and compromise that they are in. Therefore, instead of changing their lifestyle to match God's Word, they twist God's Word to agree with the lifestyle they are living.
(I will go more in depth about these individual topics in later posts. I just wanted to lay the foundation.)
Proactive Steps for the Church to Take
Let's say you're a church pastor, leader, or an elder that is reading this and you recognize that your church fits into one of these categories. You're feeling convicted about the way your ministry is going and want to change it. Some recommendations:
- Take a step back and examine your personal life. You may be thinking: "What do I need to do this for?" There is a biblical principle that what is on the head of a group flows down and affects the people underneath. If you're in compromise and preaching compromise --it affects the congregation. Even if you're not preaching it but are preaching strict, religious rules and are still in compromise, it will still affect the congregation. Ask Holy Spirit to expose things in your life not of Him and read the Word with Him.
- Acknowledge the pressures around you as a minister and confront them. If you're in a younger, metropolitan area, the pressures you face may be different than a church pastor in a rural area with a middle-age demographic. Nonetheless, there are still pressures to conform your message, and church's appearance to appeal to the wants of the congregants. Remember that the church is for Jesus and for God to minister to His people.
- Remind yourself of God's call to ministry. Look at what Jesus told Peter. He told Him to take care of His sheep. Did this entail forcing strict rules on them? Did this mean to let the sheep run wild looking no different than the world? No it didn't mean either of those. Maybe you didn't feel God's specific calling on your life to ministry in the first place, but you were pressured into it. Or you saw the influence and wanted it. Be honest with yourself, and the people and hand your ministry off to someone who is actually called to shepherd the flock.
God is compassionate on those who are in deception, and wants to bring them into His light. Do not delay and come back to Him.