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Archive for February, 2009

As sinister as it sounds, I think this whole thing was planned somewhere. Maybe instead of shots of alcohol there were lattes, instead of cigarettes maybe doughnuts. Whatever the environment, there was an underground behind the scenes meeting. It just feels that way. When you look at churches today it’s a pattern, a very organized ride through a funhouse that starts out slow at first but slides dramatically toward some sort of end goal.

The biggest and easiest way these planners appear to change church into what it’s fast becoming is to find a weak spot in doctrine or behavior and attack. Yes it’s true, we have our areas in each and every protestant denomination where we are sticklers and maybe we shouldn’t be. We make the non-essentials essential. Or maybe it’s our sin or pride that’s picked on. We have flaws. Maybe it’s that the culture of a church ends up with people always wearing long skirts and suits, or maybe we insist on having only three songs before the sermon begins. It’s an order, or a habit, or another non-essential. Everyone sins, and so do church members. This is easy to pick on, because there is no way we can deny there are liars, cheaters, prideful, and on and on in the church. It’s true, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, the people in the bright office or coffee shop, or whatever, got together and decided to start there. Pick, pick, pick. Yes, we must take surveys; we must decide what’s wrong with church today. We must note that our youth don’t want to be around the older generation (because this is somehow different than in the past?). We must make church relevant.

So what did they do? They created a specific order of implementation to break down the church and build it up again. First it was “show the church elders and leader the problem.” Then have meetings. Then plan a vision, and then change things in structure so each church would be hard to change back once it all began. Next, create panic in the church. Present the evidence of problems. Bring in humor, make people laugh at themselves but make it seem like they are laughing at someone else. Make people ashamed of who they are and what they were. Continue with the crisis, especially use their children. Redefine things. Make people feel out of the loop if they don’t know what is being said. Offer a way for them to stay in the loop. Get them into small groups of people so they will be accountable to catch up on the church agenda. Be “seeker friendly.”
When seeker friendly draws people, begin complaining that people are shallow. Separate the youth from the adults. Make sure the youth think adults are dumb for the way they’ve “done church” and introduce the more progressive things there. Eventually, the youth will begin to share with their parents. Introduce fluff in small groups. Sermons must run on cycles with some name dropping and books being used. When you don’t want to say it, bring in a speaker. They add some sort of credence to the changes coming in. Don’t forget to lather, rinse, repeat…or in other words, recycle phrases you’re trying to drill in. Keep new words and visions coming.

When people get restless, get back to the Bible. Of course, use texts for your own desires. We have to keep the people off kilter. Unless they really take the time to research, they will never notice how the texts are taken out of context. When seeker friendly church feels fake, and eventually it will, introduce serving. Sure, churches have always been serving as it’s part of Christian life, but make sure you pretend it’s not anymore a part of life. Since you’ve been seeker focused, youth focused, you’ll have plenty of evidence that your church hasn’t been serving others only selves. You’ve been having carnivals and laser light shows, marriage seminars with comedy, and dinner theater. It’s been a fun time. Now it’s time to get real and serve others. Play videos and heart wrenching stories.

Serving for no reason is not enough. Now we must reach the people with the good news. Introduce “missional” and pretend it means “missions.” Have all sorts of missionary programs, and speakers, and books. (Oh yes, all along there is a new book for everything). Keep people unaware of the next stage. Don’t let the youth get away from you in this. Send them on missions trips with their edgy youth group and focus on social needs in this. Free the slaves of the world, feed the hungry, help the sick…and share the new message with people all over the world.

Church at this time will seem overdone, very busy. You’ll still have the seeker friendly stuff going, the praxis church, the focus on youth. They’ll be programs for everything. Now it’s time to get back to basics, simple church. By now people who are resisters will be flying out the back door. Let them go, and chastise openly if they squeak as they go. Let the congregation know you are in no way an emergent/seeker friendly church or whatever trend that is annoying to those leaving. Squelch all rumors. Spend time in a book of the Bible (hey, Nehemiah’s good, or Exodus) when wanting to prove you are still biblically focused.

As to simple church, make drastic changes to prove you are paring down. Get the children in small groups, make Sunday morning touchy feely for the kids, hands on. Keep youth group the same now since you’ve got them into all the fun activities and service needed and no one is carrying a Bible anyway. No way you could, too much to do.

All along, introduce the next phase. You have already been bringing in key phrases, and defining them vaguely. These definitions must use old Christian jargon and bring in new concepts. No word should stick out too much, but should be just a little stretch. “Transformation,” “spiritual journey,” and “spiritual disciplines’ will replace other terms, and will actually mean something different. Focus on the metanarrative, and on story. In this time you can mention all different authors, and recommend books to your elders and mens groups. Get the women into studies, retreats, and the like all teaching the same themes. Always have the lighter stuff for some, and the mystical deeper things for the others. Begin introducing moments of silence, speaking on fasting, solitude, and the like. The next stage is the Spiritual Formation.

I imagine this group has even more planned; this is where we got off the ride at our former church. Many wouldn’t even realize it was that far, but it’s the pattern we saw. Reading blogs, talking with Christians, and visiting other churches has shown me there is a pattern, a plan. Churches members are given tickets to this ride, and are taken through it. Now, some churches begin later down the line. They are already emergent (or whatever term it will be in the future). They detest the earlier stage churches and seem so opposed to one another. Each can claim to not be what the other is. This is so very convenient when critics come to play.

Create a vacuum, fill the void. What a wild ride!

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We have visited one church enough times to begin to believe we may have found our church home. We’re still a bit careful, and don’t want to trust foolishly. Yesterday we were introduced to a couple who used to attend our former church. They actually were “disfellowshipped” and were the only family to ever have that happen in the church’s history. Because of them, we knew to walk carefully when we were presenting our information. This couple, I’ll say Mr. and Mrs. Watchmen, were VERY active in our former church. We actually sat very near to them every Sunday (you know how people get their favorite spots), but we don’t recall ever speaking with them directly. We knew them by face, and they knew us by face, but not by name. About four years ago Mr. and Mrs. Watchmen were in a small group or sunday school class and began to make “trouble.” It was mostly Mr. Watchmen because he’s naturally more bold, but as we spoke yesterday, I could tell Mrs. Watchmen shared his experience and feelings on the situations. Mr. Watchmen had noted compromise when it came to outright Biblical truths. People were allowed to be on the elder board of our former church though they were teaching things contrary to basic doctrine. He also noted problems with the Warrenite “40 Days” book and DVD series every small group was required to go through in our former church. Mr. Watchmen said he was actually asked to leave by an elder when his small group was having the supposed “open discussions” about the 40 Days materials because he was sharing his observations. We do not know all the details of the events in Mr. and Mrs. Watchmen’s situation at our former church, but from what we heard yesterday, they basically stood up and stated the truth and their problems with the mishandling of scripture and use of materials by Rick Warren, Rob Bell (Noomas in meetings at church) and other things. The core of it all was the emergent leanings, the unity at all cost rather than sticking with the truth in scripture, and the unwillingness of the leadership in church to deal with the problems. Everything was kept hush hush.

Our recollection of the entire issue was one meeting at the very end of a church service. It was mentioned that a man was having problems on doctrinal issues. He may have been right about doctrine, but his way of bringing things up was considered “unloving.” It was mentioned that he had been in meetings for over a year with the pastors, and he would not repent of his unloving attitude. It was mentioned the church had also been in contact with a pastor of a former church this couple attended, and Mr. Watchmen had caused similar problems elsewhere, so this was a pattern. We were told Mrs. Watchmen was not the one undergoing church discipline, she had not been a part of her husband’s actions. Then there was a vote. The church voted Mr. Watchmen out of membership. He was not allowed even to set foot in the church until he reconciled. We were to treat him kindly if we saw him, but were not to treat him as we would a member of the church. Mrs. Watchmen was still considered a member. My husband recalls we had to leave, so we did not participate in the vote. I know that if I did vote, I likely voted the man out of fellowship as I respected the elders and leadership. They stacked the case, did not allow the man to speak to the congregation, so we only heard one sanitized side of things. Some time later, it was presented to our congregation that Mr. Watchmen had gone through the reconciliation process. In speaking with them yesterday, it is clear the only reconciliation was that Mr. Watchmen said, “If I have been unloving, that was not my intention, I am sorry.” He says he told them he still recognized the doctrinal deviations were problems and would not claim otherwise. This is not a reconcilliation. Mr. and Mrs. Watchmen seem to still be feeling some hurt from this event long ago. In fact, Mrs. Watchmen says the feel shunned even to this day because leadership including pastors have refused to speak with them in public places when they run into one another. This actually happened recently, and over three years later, one of the pastors still wouldn’t speak to Mrs. Watchmen. Terrible.

When we shared our story, they said that we are an answer to their prayers. They still love the people who attend our former church and continue to pray for the people there. They completely understood our situation, and it seems we would have been headed for the same treatment had we not just left. I cannot imagine the way it would have felt to have been mentioned by name in my church and disfellowshipped in that way. It’s evident, based on our conversation yesterday, that what the pastors and leadership presented to the congregation about Mr. and Mrs. Watchmen was only part of the story and may even have been a twist of the truth (which is a lie). We know when the pastor mentioned us to the congregation (not by name) the story he shared about our meetings was definitely a twist of the information. He may have misunderstood us and our intentions, but at any rate, we were presented as people speaking “lies from the pit of hell.”

Sometimes misery loves company. I will say it was nice to find someone who knows from experience what it feels like to stand up and be slapped down for it.

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I try some times to step back from “discernment” ministries and from reformed theology, from emergent web sites, and the like to try to figure this out. What exactly is happening in the church? Is it like the New Testament people who were splintered segments of the Jewish population? You had Pharisees, Saducees, Samaritans, Nazarenes, and the many other factions and groups within the Jewish faith. They bickered over this part or that part of scripture. Is this the state of many who claim to be Christians today? I do not think this is completely true of the Church. I believe there are Christians who are sinners just like everyone, but who are saved and are part of the Body with Christ as the head. Now, there will still be some things unclear, some things unknown to this group. But, what of all this error that is so destructive? Are these people part of the Body too? I believe it’s possible some of them are, and yet are deceived. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who are tied down when they need not be. Am I sure about this? No. However, I was in a church I feel was off track and yet I believe I was saved then as now. Even when I didn’t see the error, I believe I was still saved. Kind of like a child, who cannot see the adult that is bad. The child is not necessarily responsible for their lack of insight although they will suffer from the adult who is doing bad things somewhere.

I am just still trying to figure out the truth of where the true Church, true Body is and where the lines are exactly. It’s hard because we are told there will be wolves among the sheep, weeds with the good plants. So, it’s quite possible that the false church sits inside the true Church…and it seems will later be seperated and judged. Obviously, there are churches that are not at all part of the Body.

Ah, if only I could always manage to see clearly. I like to know things. I guess I just have to be aware that I am saved only by the grace of God because I know on my own I would be deceived so easily. I am nothing, but thanks to Jesus I am saved.

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I was floored when I came upon this article/blog today…
http://galatiansc4v16.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/sermon-copying-when-the-world-has-more-integrity-than-the-church/#comment-17431

My husband and I were just discussing this after I listened to a pod cast by my former pastor. He had taken a story from somewhere and didn’t attribute it to the author. I was able to look the story up because it was so unusual, it involved a nail, and a dead dog, and a homeowner. I was able to trace the story online easily and found that the former pastor had used it word for word. When we first started trying to figure out what was going on in our former church, I spent time putting phrases from sermons into google, and I would come up with a book or another sermon. Because the lead pastor stepped down into a missional position, he no longer preaches the bulk of the sermons. His sermons always contained footnotes in online notes, but not always mentioned while he was speaking. This is how we discovered all the emergent/Warren/Hybels and other references. He actually cited who he quoted, and even if he paraphrased. The current pastor does not cite his stories nor books. He even recently preached a series on Nehemiah, and I was able to find online a book by Swindoll with the same theme as well as Saddleback materials with the same themes. I’m not sure he used them for his sermons, but it appears likely he may have. I do know that all it takes is simple searches to find who influences the pastors, they preach from these men’s works. I also found it disturbing when we began our church search to hear pastors using phrases and stories easily found in books or online. One such example is the Sunday we realized we couldn’t attend a church five minutes from our home. A speaker came and was happily sharing how well he knew Max Lucado and that the pastor of the church we were visiting because they attended the same college. He then spent his sermon talking all about “boat potatoes.” I knew I had heard this before, so I came home and opened up a book a friend had given to me to read, an Ortberg book. There is was, “boat potatoes” with the entire theme the pastor had made into a sermon (which by the way, I detested as a theme and feel it was a misuse of scripture). This man was traveling, getting paid for speaking on a circuit, and was using a canned sermon right out of Ortberg’s book. Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating. Putting two and two together is not hard when they make it so obvious. Peddling the word is what is happening, sadly, most believe it’s God’s word, but actually it’s men’s words being peddled or God’s word distorted. The illusion that these pastors are going to the Father and seeking his guidance for sermons is shattered when we learn how canned all these stories and sermons are. It’s not a Divine providence that you might hear the same message from one church to another. It may just be that all these pastors are cutting corners and using someone else’s materials to craft a sermon. They seem to be part of one big machine. This machine masks itself as the Body. Sad, very sad.

One other thought, the pastor has stopped quoting or citing in his online work. This means that an author has to be found by his quotes and not by the citation. It makes it a great deal harder to find who is influencing the sermons. We had come to the church with some examples of using emergent/emerging authors in sermons as proof the church was being influenced by this teaching. This was denied by our former pastor, and angrily so. Forced into plagiarism by Berean behavior perhaps?

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Today my children participated in Awana Bible Quiz. They basically answered multiple choice questions about bible verses, definitions of words in particular verses, answers to questions in the Awana handbooks, and other similar questions. I have no problem with this as the kids do have to study their verses and memorize them to do well. We are involved in Awana partly because of the verse memorization, and because of the experiences the kids enjoy with others. It’s a Wednesday night thing, not a substitute for home bible study or church services. So far, I’ve not heard anything leaning contemplative at the meetings, I help with Awana myself so that I can see what’s going on. I know the Cubbies program is much like it has been for several years, but the books have been changing for the older kids. I have my children focus on the verses, and even then I’m not really worried about it as I’d rather have them learn from better versions of the bible itself. With that out of the way I’d like to share what bothered me about today.

After the quizing, there was a message from one of the missionary leader type Awana men. He told us about a book he read ( Annointed for Business). He then proceeded to describe four types of Christians. I was thinking right away that either you are a Christian or you’re not, kind of like being pregnant or not. There’s not “a little pregnant” just “early pregnant” and so was thinking it might be more like a discussion on signs of maturity or something. He began with level one. He actually called them “level one Christians.” These are the hypocrites, the two faced Christians. Okay, already I’m thinking the obvious, these are NOT Christians. He gave a scary story of a youth who committed suicide, and the kids who had once been in his youth group a few years earlier had teased him while there, so he stopped going. What might have occured had they not been two faced hypocrites as Christians? This boy might have stayed in youth group and maybe wouldn’t have killed himself. (Huh, so he could pick on another kid because youth group was supposed to make us better right?….or is it true that we’re all sinners…). Level two Christians are the Pharasees. That’s right, they are the letter of the law keepers. They come to God out of fear not love, they are holier than thou. I wonder if they think about reformed people when they mention this, or if they really mean the people who claim to be Christians but are actually very legalistic? Would this author include those who believe homosexuality is wrong? I would love to know exactly what was defined in the book because many times this area is where Christianity is attacked as being too traditional and the myth is used to steer people into “seeker friendly” churches. Hopefully this is not what was happening here, but I’ll never trust again without checking for myself. The third level Christian is alright, according to the leader and the author he quotes. This one is lead by the Holy Spirit and does many things in obedience not out of duty or obligation but out of love. These Christians are considered pretty good. This level is fine, but this leader mentioned there are ways that are bad, okay, better, and best. Level four Christians sound like the one this leader and the author want everyone to be. They are Christians who “transform” their environment. They are the ones that, in the workplace or school, cause everything to be better. They are the ones who, in his example, end up making everyone behave better because they are around. The leader shared that at one public school, an Awana group asked to use the school facilities for meetings. Although only 12 children were in the club, the teachers at the end of the school year thanked the Awana leader because the kids had behaved so well and had done better even on school work. The principal had resisted at first, but now admitted that this group had done something good. Even the peers of the Awana kids were acting better. Problems solved, right?

So, what’s wrong with this presentation? The fact is a false Christianity is presented. There are “levels” of Christians. There’s better and worse Christians. Is that how Jesus sees us? What of the persecuted Christians who make little to no impact on the evil culture around and are murdered? Remember Moses? Pharoah’s heart was hardened, the Israelite generation wasted what they knew of God from this experience. Was Moses considered faithful by God or not? Sure, it sounds good, it goes down easy. However, the bitterness sits in my stomach and makes me ill. The message was hollow. No one was saved by this message. This is the message that was given to children and parents in an attempt to motivate them to action. Was it the action God would have wanted from a leader? Also, who transforms us? Is it an Awana leader or is it the faith we have in Chirst and His grace and mercy because of His sacrifice for our sins? What has transformative power?
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On another note, the church that sponsors the Awana club our kids attend is one of our former church’s plants. I was speaking with a few leaders, and one who now also left our former church and attends the one we like (confusing enough yet?) came up to me and said he heard about a new thing Rick Warren was coming out with and he thought of me. Since we’d had these discussions before, I knew he is aware of how I feel about the program Rick Warren is selling. He then mentioned that’s why he was fed up with our former church, because of the “following of men’s books” instead of studying the Bible. One woman who attends this church plant said, “yeah, you know, I really like it when our pastor does a series from an actual book of the Bible. Last spring we did an 8 week series on [a book in the new testament] and I really learned a lot.” She went on to say she really only knows a lot about that one book of the Bible and would love to do more books in the Bible instead of books from authors. Wow. I hope this gets her to thinking. She’s probably a Christian who wants the real meat and not some false meat, huh?

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We have attended a small Baptist church in the area over several weeks. It’s been interesting to see even the children carrying Bibles, but more than that, they are taking actual notes during sermons along with the adults. It’s a church that not only says it’s important to get into the Bible, the people appear to actually do it during service. The Sunday school lessons match, meaning that the children’s lessons and the adult lessons are on the same topic thereby allowing for discussion at home. The younger children do go to a seperate worship hour while the adults hear expository teaching, but this is children 8 and under. The rest of the children are in service, and this adds to family unity and truly gives the parents the power to teach back. In our former church, there were very few children in “big church” and the teenagers were seperated out into a place called “the warehouse.” The younger teens were there in the early hour I believe, and the older teens in the second hour of service. With many children in a family, it would be impossible to participate in the Sunday School type lessons and for the teens to get to go to their service and for families to really go to church together. The segregation is staggering to me since I’ve thought about it. Even women with newborns go “hide” in a cryroom to nurse. This is a nice service for these women, but the message is definitely that parents are within their rights to expect to not have children interrupting them in service. This means that children are not disciplined in church, and do not get the message with their parents. It also allows for teaching to occur that parents aren’t aware of. The Baptist church we attend now appears to have set in place a system that really gives parents the opportunity to know exactly what has been poured into their kids’ minds. It’s refreshing.

The music is maybe a little stiff for some in the church we’re currently attending. The choir director, or whatever his title is, stands directly behind the pulpit and directs the congregation through hymns and songs just as I recall choir directors doing in church when I was a child. There is unfortunately an overhead rather than song books, which means people are not gaining the benefit of seeing the actual music lines, which I find a shame. Otherwise, the music is orderly and worshipful. There’s no oversentimentality, no calls for raising hands, no whipping up the crowd. There’s no video distraction behind the words, no light show. There are instruments, a guitar, and the like, but the sound is not overpowering or rock. Some more modern songs are used, but very old hymns are also used. The focus is definitely not on singers, no matching outfits. Though there might be a few singers and instruments, it’s not a show. Not saying all our former church did during singing was wrong, but it’s just different. All the glitz is gone. There’s not an atmosphere created, so the emotions and worship is all on the individual and not on the music minister. I really did enjoy music at our former church, but again, it was more about the style than the substance in some cases. Our former pastor of music was very purposeful about choosing songs to go with the message and reading psalms out loud. He did think raising hands and extras were important, and he also liked to really challenge the church to pray and read the word. He refocused on the gospel often, which made the time rich. Most complaints by people attending our former church was that the “worship time” was too long and drawn out, just get me to the message already. Because the worship pastor didn’t get off into emergent or contemplative messages, and he brought in the gospel often, I clung to his speaking between songs and listened to his readings etc. when things were getting bad in the pulpit messages. The music minister of the church we’re now attending doesn’t add in so much fluff, but he does read scripture and presents music in a cut and dried way. I think a middle ground would be nice between the two but I have no complaints. I love singing more doctrine rich hymns, and each Sunday we get several and not just an adapted one or two mixed with repetative choruses.

When it comes to the actual preaching, the two churches are vastly different. The one we’re attending is expository and straight from the Bible. The former had themes based on books or on life application often. There was a rotation between a Bible string for weeks, and then a book for several weeks, and back and forth. Of course, there was a text read in every sermon, and the Bible or people from the Bible were referenced, but it was never really verse by verse (though the former church has been digging into Nehemiah for many weeks since we left using this for a campaign to raise money and to chide those who would not “get on the wall”…the amount of time in Nehemiah has been strange though and people who we speak to comment that it’s been great to really “get into the word” though they don’t really see the subtle move toward more submission, more commitment, more leader authority that I hear when I listen online). In contrast, the church we’re attending is spending many months in John. They add historical context, interpretation of the text, and life application from scripture and not from some author’s opinion. It’s rather refreshing to hear a message week after week from the Bible. Imagine going to church and knowing the message is coming straight from the Bible and not psychology or some such author. With our former church I was able to take sections of sermons and google, finding the sources for the sermons. In the church we’re attending now, the pastor prepares the lesson from scripture. I haven’t tried to google, but I suspect the books that agree would be sermons based upon that text that were also expository and weren’t used necessarily by the pastor to write the sermon.

When people stand for membership, and we’ve witnessed this a few times, they have stated they tried churches in the area or attended for years and found them “less than Biblical” or found this particular church to be genuinely focused on God’s word in the Bible. The hunger for the gospel makes a difference to the people in the congregation, many have left our former church and others like it. We are among people who value the Bible as we do. This gives me hope.

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