Archive for February, 2008

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A Pre-Book Review – A First For Me

February 22, 2008

I am about to review a book I have never read.

I am going to read it as soon as it arrives from Amazon, but the purpose of the review is not to deal with the actual contents of the book (which I am fairly certain I already know, since the authors involved have made their positions clear in other books). My purpose is to deal with their central theme, which is well known. And I want to comment on why that theme shows up in nasty places right before those places became nasty.

The book is called “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna. Viola may not be a common name to the average Christian, but pastors and church leaders have been reading his works for years. He is one of the world’s strongest advocates for the House Church movement. He is also a “New Testament Scholar” and prefers to encase all of his theories in his particular views on what New Testament Christianity really is (was). Barna, until recently, is most famous for being the Christian equivalent of Gallup and his polls. Barna’s organization (the Barna Group) studied every trend within Christianity they could get their statistical hands on. In fact, they are credited with studying more trends than they actually did. Too many preachers and teachers like to throw the “B” word into a sermon (i.e. Barna) to lend their own theories credibility. Last year, in this blog, I exposed one such “statistic” as fraudulent. The preacher was quoting Barna as saying that 50% of all Pastoral marriages are ending in divorce. Barna had never researched this (according to my documentation last year), but was credited with it nonetheless.

Lately, Barna has left the research business to spend time on his soapbox. He has every right to do so, for he has observed North American Christianity for several decades and personally found it deficient in many respects. In his book “Revolution”, he sticks it to the organized church and announces he is firmly on the side of the unorganized, House Church movement. I assume this is how he and Viola got teamed up.

Now for my review. What Viola and Barna are going to say is that the modern organized church, lead by pastors, owes more to pagan roots than the Bible. The key to that statement is the phrase “lead by pastors”. Viola sees very little New Testament support for the pastor and says that our modern iteration of pastorally-lead churches comes out of the pagan influences of Greece, Rome and the Germanic Empires of the Dark Ages rather than true and unadulterated biblical Truth. Therefore, we should all leave the modern organized church and join loosely structured communities of believers, such as House Churches. He will use some significant Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 14 to suggest that there is a given New Testament structure for what the church should look like. He will also advocate a Plurality of Leadership model where no one person is allowed to be in charge. Barna will give weight to these theories by explaining that the Pastor-lead model of the church has created unnecessary hardships to people, done damage to the Priesthood of all believers and prevented people from realizing the calling that every individual in Christ has.

My review amounts to this: It’s a well-intentioned load of crap.

Now, here is my explanation of that very succinctly stated conclusion. First, there is no New Testament vision or structure for the Church. Sure, the 1 Corinthians 14 passage seems to suggest a free-for-all small gathering of believers, each one commissioned with the role of adding to the overall content of the meeting. (And I would note that even in that passage there are guidelines to follow and recognized leadership roles that suggest a hierarchy). But then we look at a passage like Acts 15 where a Council at Jerusalem is telling the Gentile church that they need to avoid meat that is killed by strangling. They impose Kosher rules on non-jewish Christians. And they expect their pronouncement to be obeyed. They send it with Paul and Barnabas, whom it is assumed carry their authority. This is a Presbyterian form of Government. Then in the letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul gives them instructions about how to lay out the structure of the church. They appoint people. They make unilateral decisions. They tell people the will of the Lord as it was communicated through Paul. That suggests an Episcopal/Pastoral form of Government.

I could go on and on. There are so many different types of structure in the New Testament that it is ludicrous to suggest that there is one structure we are to follow. And who says that the structure needs to be contained in Scripture to be biblical. Perhaps God wants the structure of the Church to reflect the culture it is in. An Asian church will respect elders. An American church will want to vote on everything. An African church will focus on the Evangelist and the Healing gifts. The South American Church will demand strong leaders. Each of these is what we have now, and each is a reflection of the general culture. I don’t think that makes them unbiblical.

Today’s pastor is not the pastor of the New Testament. Today’s pastor often plays the various roles of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher. I would love to just be a New Testament pastor. But we have not raised up the other callings enough in local churches (though we are trying here at Gateway). We just use the term “Pastor” as shorthand for “Leader of the Pack”.

Now for the nasty part. In church history, the concept of the House Church and the criticism of the organized church takes two forms. The first is good. During times of Religious Persecution (where everyone is required to be part of one national church) the House Church movement is a protest, both effective and necessary. Someone needs to stand against tyranny. But the second place the resistance movement shows up is a precursor to pre-cult formations. For instance, many people respect and revere the books of Watchman Nee This Chinese saint and sage wrote many of the finest books on Christian Living we possess. But later in his life, he preached against the organized church. At the same time, he also denied the Trinity doctrine (Note: Witness Lee has now inherited the Watchman Nee cult group that arose in China and Asia as a House Church movement during Nee’s life). During the same century, one of Christianity’s most profound Healers – William Branham – was used to bring healing to tens of thousands. But he also began to teach against the organized church and against the Trinity. Throughout history, almost every movement that breaks away to fight any organized church also embraces the Unity view of God. And almost always this results in the formation of cults which are much more hierarchical than the system they taught against. Ask any Branhamite or Witness Lee follower and you will see this is true.

Why is that? God has always been about establishing authority. Even within the Trinity, there is a person of the Godhead in charge: the Father. The way God wired us, if a leader is not designated, the strongest person becomes the leader. This is always true. Look at any group of people. If someone is not named as the leader, the one who has the strongest personality is always the one who heads the group. And when that person makes a mistake, the only recourse is rebellion. This is why God designates leaders in churches. Then when they mess up, God can correct them or remove them. God can use groups of people to do that also (as in the American Tradition) or can use Bishops to do it (as in the European Tradition).

As Churchill said about democracy, the current church system may be the most messed up – except for all the other ones that have been tried from time to time. As for Viola and Barna, here is their value. They point out the glaring weaknesses of today’s church. We really need to raise up more leaders and use more accurate titles for them. Not all pastors are pastors. That needs to be recognized.

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Threat to Christian Counseling

February 15, 2008

The association with whom I hold charter membership as a counselor (the AACC, American Association of Christian Counselors) has just informed us of a serious threat to the carrying out of our ministries. Here is a portion of a letter we all just received:

Dear Members of the American Association of Christian Counselors:

 

I want to take this opportunity to share with you an important issue that potentially impacts our profession and may have some far reaching consequences.

 

In May 2006, the Ethics Committee of the American Counseling Association (not to be confused with our organization, the AACC) issued an opinion which directly questioned the ethical conduct of referring clients to therapists who work with their counselees to live according to a Christian view of sexuality. More specifically, the opinion designated a gay affirmative approach as the only correct ethical stance. Our analysis of the opinion is that it stands in direct opposition to those counselors who work with clients who choose not to affirm homosexuality in their lives. Furthermore, the opinion not only challenges the religious diversity of people, but also undermines a client’s right to self-determination and the freedom of choice when it comes to a therapeutic environment.

 

Warren Throckmorton, co-chair of the AACC Task Force on Homosexuality, initiated dialogue with the ACA leadership in July 2007. In reviewing ACA policies, Dr. Throckmorton, in consultation with attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, has determined that the ACA may have actually violated its own policies by accepting and incorporating the Ethics Committee opinion. Dr. Throckmorton has written a formal letter of complaint to current ACA President, Brian Canfield (please click http://www.aacc.net/email/media/ACA_complaint.pdf to download)

 

This is more serious than many people realize. If this is accepted, then it opens up to lawsuits any Christian counselor who tries to help people who have chosen a homosexual lifestyle. As Dr. Throckmorton has noted, this probably violates the rules of the ACA, but nevertheless, it can greatly hurt the genuine efforts of Christian counselors by threatening to take away any licensing they have through a spurious and vindictive lawsuit. Pray that this will be settled soon and according to God’s will.

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God is Not Raining…He is Reigning

February 9, 2008

Since the fifteenth century, Amsterdam has been known for two things: the practice of modern capitalism and open prostitution. Some would say that in the history of the business world that the two are synonymous, and I will not attempt to discourage that notion. Let’s just say that amid the Tulip Futures and Coffee stocks a few well-turned ankles have also been on display.

In fact, Amsterdam has the distinction of being the most open about all the recognized societal vices since the 1960s. They openly allow brothels to exist in their red-light district, and even allow the hookers to display their wares openly on the streets. However, that is about to come to an end.

In an article in Newsweek, the report has come in that they are buying up the properties in the red-light district and closing down all the brothels. The mayor is spearheading this campaign because he doesn’t like the “sleeze, shady dealings, violence and crime associated with the sex industry”.

Wait a second…the Dutch Liberals for years have claimed that the best way to eliminate crime is to legalize the things that people will commit crimes for: Drugs and prostitution. Now they want to eliminate those things because they cause crime? It sounds like there is a society that is finding out that God is not about raining on anyone’s parade.

Most people assume (and I’m afraid that some Christians hold this in their hearts) that God just likes to outlaw fun. He is gleeful at raining on our parade of joy. History tells us that societies that voluntarily follow the ten commandments find a lot of peace, joy and low crime rates. That is not Liberal or Conservative…that is biblical. Liberals ignore moral imperatives and Conservatives ignore ethical ones (such as taking care of the poor, widows and orphans).

But any society that sees the value of moral living reaps the benefits. Have there been any societies like that? Granted, they were short-lived, but they do exist. Israel under Uzziah and Josiah saw unparalleled prosperity. So did Switzerland in the 18th century under the Reformers. You can add Scotland in the 19th century, Wales in the early 20th century, Korea in today’s current economy and modern Fiji. All of these societies outlawed moral crimes and rewarded moral living. They all saw crime rates at the bottom of the scale

A civic leader in Amsterdam had this to say about her city:

The crackdown fits into a nationwide backlash against the excesses of 1960s “happy-clappy” liberalism, as a conservative Dutch member of parliament recently put it. Over the last few years the Netherlands has adopted a stricter policy on selling marijuana, and a ban on hallucinogenic mushrooms is slated to go into effect later this year. “People in Amsterdam and the rest of the country are starting to discern real tolerance from bogus tolerance,” says Asscher. “When Rudy Giuliani started to clean up Times Square in the mid-’90s, some people were warning that no one would ever again want to come to New York City. But as far as I know, it has had record tourist numbers each year since.” Perhaps Giuliani, who this week dropped out of the U.S. presidential race, should run for office in the Netherlands.

They are learning that God’s laws, no matter who adheres to them, are best for the creatures He put on the earth. That will always be true.

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Remembering Donna

February 1, 2008

As I sat on the platform of this massive church in White Rock, British Columbia, a strange thought occurred to me: “I’ve been here before”. This wasn’t a deja vu experience. I actually had been in this place before, both situationally and actually. 29 years ago, almost to the day, I stood in the pulpit of the same church (albeit in a different building on the other side of town) and delivered the eulogy to my grandmother who was a member of Peace Portal Church. Now, I was about to deliver the final message for my sister-in-law, Donna, who passed away after a 6-year battle with cancer.

I had already listened to one of her co-workers extol her virtues working as the Executive Assistant in a local school. What a wonderful person she was to all the teachers, students and principal. They all called her Mom, and they lauded her cookies and listening ear. I heard my own dear wife give her remembrances of her sister. I was so proud of her as she was able to do so with the torrent of emotion threatening to carry her downstream. As she said “I am losing my friend, my prayer partner, my mentor and guide through the teenage years (Donna was the older sister). Then Donna’s oldest daughter got up on behalf of the kids and told us in intimate details what we always suspected: they had won the Mom lottery with Donna! Even when her greatest fault was revealed, it amounted to little more than doting on the girls while Dad’s back was turned. Seeing her kids now and how successful they are at life, I doubt this did them any harm.

Finally, Donna’s husband had his close friend read his own remembrances. I realized as he read the simple, heartfelt and tear-producing words, that I would have to get up and follow this. I have preached somewhere around 150 funeral messages in my time, but none that gripped my heart as profoundly as this scene.

I glanced at the clock and realized it was up to me to wrap it all up in 15 minutes. Those who have heard my sermons know that they are best measured by the calendar, and not the clock. However, God helped me improvise my planned out thoughts and I just focused on my wonderful sister-in-law that I am going to miss so much.

Here is one story I didn’t get to share, so I’ll do it here. Years ago, a young british preacher lost his wife also to cancer. He had four children under the age of 10 and the weight of this was ponderous and overwhelming as he prepared to go to the cemetary for internment. His 10-year old son was acting as marshall over the other three to help dad. The littlest boy, 3 years of age, was unaware of the awful nature of the scene, and thus was playing by the side of the road. He saw carriages coming by and he jumped out of the way of the shadows. As he did this, he got further and further away from the funeral party. His brother was disgusted by his lack of propriety, so he went over and grabbed his arm and dragged him back to his dad, scolding his brother for not honoring their mother’s memory. Dad noticed the scene and asked what was happening. His oldest son gave an accurate report and then broke down crying. “I am going to miss mother so much” he sobbed.

At that moment, light passed into the pastor’s soul. He took his oldest son and showed him the passing carriages and their shadows. “Son, do you remember the 23rd Psalm?” “Of course Father.” Dad went on: “Do you remember what valley the psalmist passes through?” His son thought for a moment and answered, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”.

“That’s correct son. This is what we face today. Just as you know that no shadow can harm your brother, he doesn’t see it yet. He is too young. And the death your mother has experienced is the same. She has only been struck by the shadow of death. The Lord has her in his care now. She cannot be harmed by the mere shadow of this world’s death. But we are like your little brother. We are too young in eternal things to grip its meaning. To us, the shadow of death feels dark. To your mother, it hurts not a bit.”

I am comforted by his words. To me, Donna’s death is a dark shadow. To her, it passes away in the light of the brilliance of Jesus’ Presence.

You see: She believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. She will have life forever.

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