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Posts Tagged ‘heresy’

Ever get the feeling someone has a button that makes this invisible hood around their head soundproofed?  I see it when I try to explain to someone the problems with Spiritual Formation style churches.  I also see it when I speak about problems with Rick Warren’s teachings.  Even if I’m sharing with someone who knows me, knows I left my former church, and begin to point out issues…I get the glazed over look and the sudden comment that they need to wash their cat.  I’m trying to decide which is scarier, a person who won’t see what’s right in front of them and avoids hearing anything critical OR a person who attacks you when you’re speaking the truth. 

People tend to do strange things in churches.  They let a lot of things slide.  Because a pastor preaches about unity, people will try to get along with severe error.  They will take a “wait and see” approach to something that is going on.  A pastor can say a situation calls for a halt on gossip, so then people are afraid to speak to each other about it.  They don’t seek counsel of other believers for fear of breaking confidentiality.  A culture of silence is created.  So when someone speaks boldly and tries to point directly to the problems, the sound proof hoods come out. 

When it happens to me, when someone puts on the hood I sigh.  I sigh and try my best to move on.  You cannot force someone to hear the truth.  I wait for a better opportunity with the person, wait a while to restate myself.  Maybe later a person will be ready to hear the truth.  I can only hope.

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I’m just a Christain woman with no leadership really in my family. I’ve really had to dig and learn for myself, and have trusted pastors and leaders to teach me truth. I spent time in high school being a girl who was basically a “goody two shoes.” I cussed, rarely went to parties but did go to a few. I was worldly, I knew nothing much else. I couldn’t really figure out how to grow until I got out on my own. I did study the Bible at times, prayed every day, and just learned as I went. When I got to college I found other Christians, and could attend church where I wanted to. I was in Navigators, and we were encouraged to study the Bible and memorize scripture. I wasn’t so great at the memorization, but I did attempt to do it. I really have always had a relationship with Christ as far as I could remember, and have had knowledge that I am a siner in need of my savior. Once married, my husband and I sought a church we could raise a family in. In the “Great Northwest” we found a non-denominational church we enjoyed. We continued Bible study weekly as we had from the first days of our marriage. We learned, we grew. We moved back to the Midwest. We found another non-denominational church. I recalled that Hank Hanergraff spoke there once and so I thought it would be good to try. I believe we had actually visited before we moved to the Northwest, and we knew we’d go there when we came back. We interviewed the church leadership as much as they interviewed us. We didn’t know enough to ask better questions. We joined small group, which I always called “Bible study” because that’s what I wanted it to be. We did study the Bible, we also used many little books and I know we always tried to get back to the Bible. We thirsted to know the scriptures and not something else. Not that we didn’t enjoy learning our spiritual gifts (which changed over time by the way) and learning how to handle our money or marriage tips. We did learn things, but did the things we learned have much to really do with the scriptures, with Christian living in the way Christ intended for us? We eventually figured out there were problems, partly because we became leaders of small group and were being trained about transformation/spiritual formation. The church changed the sign out front and the word “transformation” took a large part. A Christian in the wild wood saw danger. This Christian took to studying and figuring it out. My relationship with God has remained, Christ has not ever let me down. People and leadership has let me down. They have hidden their true agenda, (I have to say this…the weasles), and yet I have not been alone. My husband has been my support, noting that discernment is one of those spiritual gifts he believes I do have based on experience. When it comes to my fears when someone is teaching me, if I am bold enough to speak out I have often been right that something is wrong. I may not know enough to figure out WHAT but I can just say, “this doesn’t seem right.” I am generally good this way with men too, sometimes I just know this man is ego oriented…is up to something shady. (of course, not always, but many times I can do this). Now, I often push those feelings down, try not to judge. However, when it’s horrible and I feel I’m being warned by the Holy Spirit over and over again, I cannot ignore. I am not adrift with no hope, with nothing to guide me. I have God’s word written in scriptures. I can study. I have others I trust, and I can still ask their advice. I have prayer, I have the Holy Spirit. I have my husband who has a better memory than I do and can say “yes, he DID say what you think you heard.” There are many snares out here in the wild wood, many wolves to eat a lost little lamb. I am not a lost little lamb. I have a shepherd that will come looking for me if I go astray. Thank God for His Shepherd.

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We left our church because we saw emergent creeping in. We were unsure if we were on target at first, but now I have no doubt we were right. Sometimes it’s a conversation with friends still attending, sometimes we pop into someone who left months or years ago. At any rate, the things that some say were “lies from the pit of hell” that came from our mouths are ever more proving to have not been lies.

My advice, if you have any strange little feelings that your church is “off” on biblical teaching in any way is to go to the leadership and ask questions. Be wise in how you ask, think, study, pray, pray pray. Ask them what books they recommend. Ask them what speakers they are listening to. Ask them what conferences they plan to attend. Ask their opinion about different books. Ask them what they know about this or that topic. Ask their favorite passages in scripture. Ask, ask, ask. Then, you can begin to challenge. Challenge on what they say at the pulpit, challenge on what they read, who they listen to, who they quote. If a pastor is following Christ, they likely will appreciate information that is helpful. If not, you’re going to go through a bit of trial. Pray for your friends but don’t burn bridges with them. You never know who will see what you are seeing, and who else is asking. Things are not what they seem. You might think someone is against you, but unless you hear it from their lips…or from the lips of someone you trust…don’t assume they are in agreement with the wrong teachings in your church. If you can find an ally, grab hold of them. Always pray. Offer to pray for your pastors, and really do it. Offer to pray with others who have the same doubts you do. It’s possible God may spare your church from ruin. You never know. Do what is best.

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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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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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