Reclaim the gospel, then...

In my last two posts, I have written, first, about the powerless church, a church that is increasingly irrelevant in an increasingly secularized America. Then, I wrote of the first step in renewing the church, bringing it to life, the first step in becoming a credible factor in society: reclaiming the gospel.

But there's another question - a big one - as yet unanswered: How does all this happen? How does the church reclaim the gospel - the whole, biblical, life-transforming gospel? And how does the church go from being "just words" to living out life-transforming power? How do we move from being an irrelevant subculture of more-or-less nice people to a community of radically committed followers and representatives of Jesus?

I think there are two major factors: our concept of God, and leadership.

Let's first things first. The most important factor in shaping our lives is our concept of God.

No matter whether we worship God or even accept that he exists, our concept of God is a huge influence in our life. If we see him as a loving father who welcomes us into his presence, we will respond one way. If we see him as a vindictive, judgmental terrorizing tyrant, we will act another way. If we see him as intimately interested and involved in our lives it's one thing, and if we see him as distant, uncaring and aloof - or even non-existent - it's something entirely different. One thing is certain: We all respond in one way or another.

So here's the rub: The only reliable source of information about God, the place where we get the raw material to build our concept, is the Bible. But most of us don't read it; we don't consider that it says anything pertinent to our lives. Just another boring book written by people long dead. And because of that, we live with a concept of God that is at best warped and distorted, and at worst destructive. We are guaranteed not to know God as he is. And this is important because in life we do not respond to reality, but to our perception, regardless of its relation to reality. Therefore, it's imperative that we have the most accurate perception possible.

Then there is the second matter: leadership. There is a seldom violated principle that every group reflects its leadership. If a church has poor leadership, that church will do a poor job of being a church. People have a poor concept of God because they are in churches that do a poor job of teaching what the Bible reveals about God. Poor leadership.

So what does the typical church leader believe and do? In too many cases, he or she does not believe the Bible is supreme and the absolutely reliable source of information for our lives, individually and together.

I had a friend some years ago, a pastor of 10-15 years' experience. He told me, with some surprise, that some repeat visitors to his congregation had told him how much they enjoyed his teaching. "It's so refreshing to hear someone teach from the Bible," they said. He leaned toward me, a perplexed look on his face, and said, "What do they think I would teach from, if not the Bible?"

Sadly, I had to tell my friend that he was naïve. He needed to get out and visit other churches and meet other pastors. He would find that those who teach faithfully from the biblical text are the minority.

This is a major factor in powerless, spiritually empty churches. Secular churches.

Here's what's happening: A great many leaders - and therefore a great many Christians - are simply, as the song says, "doin' what comes naturally." We profess to believe the Bible, and some teach and preach from the Bible, but even then our commitment to the text is highly selective. We believe what's safe, not what's written. Anything that looks a little risky, we "explain" as not saying what it seems to.

I remember a well-known Christian author speaking to the faculty of a Christian university. He focused on biblical Christianity and biblically empowered, transformational teaching. He emphasized that Christianity is a supernatural faith or it is nothing. There is nothing "natural" about it. And, he said, "If your life and your teaching consists in just doing what comes naturally, you are not living a biblically based life."

When do we get tired of doing what comes naturally, and insist on seeing the power of God through the Holy Spirit in our midst? When do leaders stop relying on their "leadership talents" - for which there is often scant evidence - and cry out to God for a move of his Spirit among the people?

A recent article said the church spends over $340,000 for every new baptism. That leaves me breathless. It's difficult to know what to say about such a number. But I am reminded of a pastor friend years ago who said, "Peter preached one sermon and had 3,000 conversions. We preach 3,000 sermons and are pleased if we have one conversion." It was sad but true then, and it's equally sad, and perhaps more true today.

The difference is not in theological education, or ordination systems, or doctrinal statements, or any of the other factors we consider necessary to church leadership today. The difference is in the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter was not doing what comes naturally.

Paul wrote that the kingdom of God is not in mere words, but in power. The kingdom of God is in power that transforms lives: It heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, raises the lame to walk, and sets the captives free. The kingdom of God is in the power of the Holy Spirit working through his followers, making Jesus alive and real to the world today.

Anything less is just words. And just words is not leadership. "Just words" lead to secular churches.

8 Comments

Hey Larry,

I so agree. Christian church services today are full of what I call 'consumer Christians'. Unfortunately, they may be led by "popular" leaders who preach statistics and social platforms of political correctness. To this I say, ack!!
The gospel of Christ must be at the very heart and soul of every Christian form of worship! Church leaders, esp. clergy, should not pass the "bar" unless held to a higher standard than the society/culture we are called to minister to. The Church needs to reclaim its authority to be His Light which stands out. Leaders of our churches need to rid themselves of the false-ego notion of self-consciousness. The only one we need to obey and please is God. Churches don't need CEO's either. They need true shepherds. The Protestant churches in our country are primed for another reforming. That all being said, how do we do this? First step; in seminaries, re-focus on the future clergy's personal spiritual formation and not quite so top heavy with all academics.
That's enough for tonight.
God bless!

Lynn,

Thanks for your comments. You make some good observations. A danger that concerns me is to see a problem and assume that means I'm supposed to solve the problem. Not necessarily the case. Sometimes God shows us problems because he wants us to intercede and pray, and in that way become a part of solving the problem. Our attempts to solve these problems nearly always results in nothing more than a different version of the same problem.

One of my favorite verses is II Chron. 7:14, which, while addressed to ancient Israel, illustrates a principle. When things fall apart, the responsibility is on God's people -- not the world -- to humble themselves, confess their sins and turn from their sins, and then God will bring healing to the land.

The solution to a secular nation or a secular church is found when God's people are on their knees, confessing, repenting, and pleading with God to pour out his Spirit in renewal.

This is my testimony set within the framework of my former worldview in contrast to what is now my current and biblical worldview. I wrote it for an essay which I submitted for the counselling degree that I am currently studying. If it were not for the Destiny Church movement and my connection to a great spiritual Father, who with his wife and family model excellence in kingdom living, and bear good and great fruit, well known to the Church in New Zealand (Loved or Hated)and a household name known by a whole nation...New Zealand. I believe that it answers both of the questions you pose.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb, I consecrated you and ordained you a prophet to the nations. (Jer 1:5)

"You are purpose! - Wrapped in skin" (Bishop Brian Tamaki.)
I was born Maori…of Ngapuhi descent…and female - the least advantaged
people group in a nation. Pertinent to the social climate of the day I have
counted back through five generations of my lineage - ravaged with incest.
And so as it were when I was born the atmosphere increased its deficit, in that
the multifaceted problematic behaviours associated with my placement in
the world, were compiled as normal. At 16 months of age I fell into a bath of
boiling hot water and incurred third degree burns to my body - further to say
that as a child growing up in a carnal culture where self worth is based on
exterior appearances, I did not fare well. My adolescent years began with yet
another violent relational extraction. I first met my biological Father at 13
years of age. He was a diagnosed schizophrenic and came explaining to my
mother that he wanted to see his children first and then would kill himself - He
proceeded to hang himself a month later. Thus, my first world view was
established within the framework of a relational desert “A world devoid of
relational intimacy.” (Italics my own)

Now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour, but for this cause came I unto this hour. (John 12:27)

As a young adult I was imprisoned within internal systems of shame and
cycles of rage and depression. As I indulged in my own sinful nature my
reckless soul was further encumbered in the dark realities of rape and
affliction in an alcohol oriented - sexually perverted social setting. It was in
times of sobriety and solitude that I found myself wanting , and deep would
cry unto deep - I was aware of my wretched sinful state.

And I say also to you … I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18)

God is a faithful God - I had priori knowledge within. Somehow I knew that
Jesus Christ is son of the living God and that Christ is synonymous with the
local Church, I recall at the age of around 8 years old baptising my own self in
the bath tub. But it was in the day that my soul decided "Enough is enough"
and I surrendered it to God - he then set me up. When I went to church I
heard a certain sound in the preacher, destinies collided and I became
intricately connected by covenant to a mandated vision from God. "I was
born again and entered into the kingdom of heaven." (Italics my own)

To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God. (Eph 3:10)

For fourteen years I have continued to serve the church. Initially I had no
capacity to "wholly" minister to people as such, and so I began with years of
toilet cleaning, and church maintenance. The theoretical principles of
relational therapy were initiated, firstly with myself- and the living and active
preached word of God being preached in power from the pulpit. Church
leaders modelling Godly principles and living well also spoke volumes to me.
Today, my worldview is transformed and whole - without the aide of any
formal counselling sessions. I continue to strive for excellence of Spirit, Soul
and body - for the culmination of the purpose of that which I believe every
Man & Woman of God are sent for - to be salt and light in the world.
www.destinychurch.org.nz

Sandie,

Thanks for your comment, and your fascinating testimony. Our God is indeed a healing, restoring God, and in him we do, indeed, have purpose and a life of value and meaning. You are a wonderful demonstration of the power of the gospel. God's richest blessings on you.

Just one question, If one does not accept the existence of God then
how will his concept of God affect his life? You should say rather his lack
of acceptance of the Almighty's existence will color his views.

Next, while the leadership of a church does affect the views and
teaching of a church it should not affect the body in the church, why?
Because the body should be like the Bereans who "searched the scriptures
to if see if these things were true". The members of a church should not
blindly accept what they are told by the pastor, they should make sure that
he speaks what scripture teaches. If they do not know what scripture
teaches than how can they be saved? For from knowledge comes faith and
from faith, salvation. How then do you reconcile your view to the view of
inerrant, and infallible scripture, which states its view quite clearly?

Alistair,

Some good questions. First, one's denial of the existence of God is still a concept relating to God. The fact of denial will be a major factor in shaping one's life. It's the same principle as the influence of a father in the life of a child. Whether the father is a good one or not, and even if he is absent, he influences the life and development of that child.

Second, it's a principle of group dynamics that a group will reflect its leader. That's true of the church as well as any other group. And the influence of that leadership will be far ranging, because different people are attracted to certain types of leadership. It would be nice if those in the churches were of the Berean pattern, but it's not the case with most. It has been well established that the average church member seldom reads the Bible, and has a level of biblical knowledge that is, at best, rudimentary.

The third issue, "how can they be saved," is the biggie. I am convinced that many people in the "typical" church in America -- including evangelical churches -- assume salvation with little theological knowledge on which to base their belief. Some years ago, a study was published by the Barna Group that said that, in a typical evangelical church on a typical Sunday, more than half of those present would not even identify themselves as "born again." This didn't depend on the length of time the person had attended the church, and in fact included some who had been present for decades. Doesn't reflect well on the leadership of the churches.

It's amazing to me how much money churches spend on things that do not change lives. I mean it seems to me that many churches are into building new buildings and paying mortages rather than doing outreach...We all need to bend the knee and spend more time in prayer... & Pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send Laborers into his harvest to reach out to our communities. Most churches are just paying salaries, gas, & electric bills, --- it's time to reach out w/ the good news and watch God confirm his Word!!!

E.C.,

Interesting comments. It certainly seems that there are few folks coming to faith, relative to the amount of money and effort expended by the typical church. The "cost/benefit" ratio seems far out of balance. However, before that can be changed, I think it's important to recapture a biblical vision of why the church is here in the first place. What is our purpose? Recapture the gospel, but what, exactly, is that? Certainly not, "If you die right now, will you go to heaven?"

So how does all that happen?

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  • Larry Baden said:
      E.C., Interesting comments. It certainly seems that there are few fol...
  • E.C. said:
      It's amazing to me how much money churches spend on things that do not...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Alistair, Some good questions. First, one's denial of the existence o...
  • Alistair said:
       Just one question, If one does not accept the existence of God t...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Sandie, Thanks for your comment, and your fascinating testimony. Our ...
  • Sandie O'Connor said:
      This is my testimony set within the framework of my former worldview ...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Lynn, Thanks for your comments. You make some good observations. A da...
  • Lynn said:
      Hey Larry, I so agree. Christian church services today are full of wh...

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