IS YOUR CHURCH SUFFERING FROM R & R?
By Paul Proctor
January 2, 2008
The Lord sent me on a difficult journey several years ago. It has been a long, painful and frustrating excursion. But it has also been quite rewarding in that I have learned so much along the way.
He called me out of The People's Church in August of 2000 for reasons I have already chronicled in a published piece by the same name. It wasn't a mere critique of a church gone bad from a disgruntled ex-member with an axe to grind, but rather the beginning of a calling of sorts to expose what I discovered to be a growing movement and trend in church life that in reality robs people of their faith in Jesus Christ.
In my ten or so years as an untrained writer and columnist with an undeserved high school diploma and a very basic knowledge of the scriptures that came largely through personal study and prayer, I started writing commentary for the internet barely knowing even how to punctuate a sentence, much less how to structure one properly. It was more or less on-the-job-training; so frankly, I learned as I wrote what I witnessed. And not having the luxury of editors most of that time, it meant that any embarrassing errors I made involving grammar, punctuation or spelling were promptly published for all the world to see - and in many cases, still are.
In retrospect, I suppose that helped keep my ego in check, at least most of the time, especially when the praise and support of other Christians began coming in - not unlike the Apostle Paul's thorn in the flesh that tormented him throughout his ministry. By the same token, I guess those words of encouragement helped keep my discouragement, embarrassment and humiliation from overwhelming me when all the criticism and rejection followed.
I had been a musician all of my adult life and until the mid-nineties, had no inkling or desire to write about anything that didn't involve music - much less controversial matters of church and faith. To this day I'm amazed that anyone is interested in anything I have to say - and moreover, that the Lord would compel a fool like me to write it down.
But I do nonetheless, for whatever it's worth.
After leaving The People's Church, I ended up at a smaller more traditional Southern Baptist fellowship where the pastor assured me numerous times over the four years I was there that he would not bring that church growth movement stuff I had agonized through at my previous church into his church, only to end up, much to my dismay, hearing him quote Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Life principles time and again from the pulpit - eventually going so far as to offer a class on it to those who were interested in attending - that is, until I reminded him of his promise to me. It was as if every time I tried to settle in and serve the Lord in some capacity there, either as a teacher, a committee member or as a trustee, the CGM would reappear in one form or another and distract me into a confrontation and response in order to restrain its influence. As I would soon learn, many others who were reading my articles were also enduring the same kinds of struggles at their churches.
Whenever I questioned my pastor about his PDL proclivities, the justification was that, even though he didn't actively promote The Purpose Driven Life and Church per se, there were some practical things in Warren's books he thought would help our congregation. I suspect he was also under at least some peer-pressure, intentional or not, from local promoters and sellers of PDL products and materials which may have included fellow pastors and representatives from LifeWay Christian Resources here in Nashville, where such things have been for sale for years - a company that once employed him as an editor - not to mention the fact that he was shepherding a handful of misguided church members who were absolutely taken by Warren's unbiblical notions and ideas.
Still I remained, hoping to persuade him otherwise.
What finally sent me packing and back on my journey in search of a faithful church (not to be confused with a perfect church) was a Sunday morning message given in two services on November 21st, 2004, where he told of being impressed by a missionary and speaker he heard a few days earlier named Rick Leatherwood, who shrewdly used certain Proverbs from the Old Testament as a means of evangelizing Muslims by referring to the God of the Bible as "Allah," in hopes of winning them to Christ.
After the service was over, I obtained a CD copy of my pastor's sermon, to make sure I had actually heard him correctly, so as not to jump to conclusions and falsely accuse him of something he didn't actually say.
Citing the Apostle Paul as an example, this is an excerpt of what he preached that morning:
Paul had learned to become all things to all men. Rick Leatherwood has done that too. He does so many interesting things. And, he was trying to figure out, "How do I connect with these Muslims? They believe in the same God, sort of, that I do. They believe in the same God Abraham believed in. They believe in that God. Well, what can I do to connect with them? I can't just walk in and start talking about Jesus. They believe that Jesus was a real man but they don't believe He really died. So, I just can't walk in and start telling the good news about Jesus."
After listening to the CD at home I called my pastor and politely told him: "Jesus is not the Son of Allah." He responded to my concerns by saying, that wasn't what he meant, followed by an apology for "offending me."
You see, he cleverly turned an Absolute Truth issue into a Relationship issue and quickly apologized for having offended me rather than admitting that he had in fact contradicted the Word of God.
After a short but heated discussion, I closed the conversation stating, if I were he, I'd revisit the issue from the pulpit and clear up any confusion his remarks may have caused.
When two or three Sundays passed without any mention of his mistake, my wife and I discontinued our participation in worship there, but did continue in Sunday School with friends for a time, visiting another nearby church for worship, waiting on the Lord's leading elsewhere or our pastor's public confession and repentance - whichever came first.
Almost three months later, on February 6th of 2005, my pastor made the following remarks in passing during his sermon that morning:
"Muslims claim to know God; but the god that they say they know, when you really study what they say; we did a study, some of you may remember, on Muslims and Muslim religion a few months back. When you really study what they believe, you see that the god they're worshipping is not the God you and I worship. It's a different God. It's not the God that Jesus revealed to us."
So, apparently this was, to his way of thinking, an acceptable substitute for confession and repentance; to ever-so-briefly re-visit the issue months later as if no real error had actually been committed - as if his unofficial follow-up sermon communicated what he really believed all along about God and Allah. I was left to ask myself: How could such a man ever call on sinners to confess and repent when he was so stubbornly unwilling to do so himself?
We never looked back.
And that brings me to the point of this article about my ongoing journey and the question I offered as its title:
Is your church suffering from R & R?
Both my previous churches obviously were; and amazingly, so have every one of the Southern Baptist churches my wife and I visited across three counties here in Middle Tennessee over the last three years.
Blame whomever and whatever you will; but somewhere along the way, they all to varying degrees, quit believing God - they lost their faith - their conviction - their focus and their Divine call to hear, believe, proclaim and obey the Word of God at all costs, whatever may come - and made the call to repentance and faith in Christ at best, secondary to the pragmatic pursuit of Results and Relationships - refashioning their religion into something more marketable - more practical - more horizontal and humanistic, so as to please prospects and participants into jumping onboard, that they might artificially grow their congregations into something impressive instead of something faithful - boasting of "fruit" while yielding a great harvest of weeds.
In spite of all this, the numbers steadily drop and revival continues to evade the Southern Baptist Convention whose members stare at their baptisteries year after year, longing for more Results - and then at each other, longing for more Relationships - this, while ignoring the Provider of both Who patiently waits for their confession, repentance and obedience, that He might bless.
Eve took the forbidden fruit because she wanted Results. Adam took it to protect and sustain his Relationship with Eve. Today, the church of the 21st century shamelessly continues to pursue both at God's expense in a desperate and disobedient attempt to satisfy "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life." (1st John 2:16)
May God have mercy on us all in 2008.
� 2008 Paul Proctor - All Rights Reserved
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Paul Proctor, a rural resident of the Volunteer state and seasoned veteran of the country music industry, retired from showbiz in the late 1990's to dedicate himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. As a freelance writer and regular columnist for NewsWithViews.com, he extols the wisdom and truths of scripture through commentary and insight on cultural trends and current events. His articles appear regularly on a variety of news and opinion sites across the internet and in print.
In my ten or so years as an untrained writer and columnist with an undeserved high school diploma and a very basic knowledge of the scriptures that came largely through personal study and prayer...