American Church Idol
I think you know my deep conviction that the church of Jesus must be intentional, earnest, and aggressive in going into our communities and nations with the life saving message of reconciliation to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save sinners. Indeed, we must constantly look for ways to publish the good tidings of great joy in the world. In saying this, however, it seems to me that leaders in the evangelical and Reformed world are guilty of idolatry. In fact the idol of the American church seems to be the unbeliever. Ironically, reaching the unbeliever, using any means possible, seems to be undermining the authority of the biblical message, the very thing which alone can affect the desired change in people and culture.
This idolatry is motivated by a desire to grow numerically and begins with the Sunday morning worship service. Southern Baptist Convention churches have long used Sunday morning as the primary means of evangelism in their local congregations. The pastor encouraged people to bring their friends to church and he preached an evangelistic message with an altar call. At least, at the time, there was a commitment to the Scriptures and addressing issues of sin from a distinctly biblical perspective. In the 1980s the Seeker friendly movement used an entertainment-driven model and preached topical, ‘How to’, sermons and used Wednesday nights for building up the saints through biblical exposition and the sacraments.
The underlying hermeneutic (method of interpreting the Bible) is always the same – in a desire to appeal to the unbeliever, the tendency on the part of preachers and church leadership is to alter slightly the message to make it more acceptable and less repugnant. When gaining a measure of ‘success’ from this approach, it is not long before preachers make greater and more significant departures from biblical orthodoxy. Some will say that they are merely seeking to contextualize the gospel message, but what they are doing is not contextualization. By all means, any preacher or evangelist must contextualize his message to make it more clear to his hearers. When In East Africa, for example, I do not use illustrations of Alabama football or PGA golf.
The hermeneutic used to appeal to the American church idol begins with the world itself, not the Scriptures. In other words, ‘What do worldly people like, want to hear? What can I say to gain a hearing from them?’ Fifteen or twenty years ago, in order to reach the ‘can do’ women running major corporations or other women in the higher echelons of the corporate world, preachers began to find the clear biblical teaching of male, qualified leadership in the church to be problematic. So they found ways to give women leadership roles without the actual credentials of ordination. Or, if the preachers could no longer stomach the party line of their denomination on the absence of women’s ordination, they simply bolted to another denomination that saw things their way. And in a desire to reach these same women, pastors began omitting the ‘A’ and ‘S’ words from their sermons. Preachers shied away from the controversial prohibition against abortion. They also found wifely, marital submission particularly distasteful, so they jettisoned that word too. And since no one likes to hear doom and gloom, that we are all sinners, justly deserving God’s displeasure and eternal wrath, many pastors chose conveniently to refrain from using the ‘H’ word. Warning people of the horrors of hell was simply out of place. It became chic to speak of the sin of social injustice, racism, and corporate greed; but not so cool to speak of the sin of homosexuality or drunkenness. Then there is the juggernaut homosexual agenda. We are now finding evangelicals waffling on the issue of same sex marriage and sexual perversion. There are now conferences and seminars where evangelicals and homosexual rights groups are dialoguing about how to go along to get along. Are we forgetting that homosexuality is an abomination, a horrific perversion of God’s ordained use of sexual intimacy (Lev. 18:22, 20:13)?
Allow me to remind you of my love for and ministry to homosexuals over the years. Wini and I had an amazing ministry in the homosexual world with HIV/AIDS men while living at St. Simons Island, Georgia. I have written extensively of this.1 However, evangelicals are allowing homosexual groups to have the high ground in the discussion. Homosexual activists have convinced the majority of Americans that their perversion is a civil right. They coined the terms ‘gay’, ‘LGBT’, and ‘sexual orientation’ and Christians often adopt their terms, just like abortion rights advocates coined the term ‘Pro-Choice’. And we are now hearing well-known and respected evangelical leaders say that homosexuality does not send anyone to hell. Sure it does. The Scripture cannot be more clear. But any unrepentant sin can send people to hell, beginning with fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, stealing, coveting, drunkenness, slander, and ripping people off in business deals (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Clearly the idol of the American church is driving this whole issue in the evangelical world. The unbeliever is king. We bow to him. We throw the church under the bus, seemingly willing to separate ourselves from her, pitting the church against the world, in order to win a hearing with the unbeliever. My friends, in doing so we are giving away the farm. We are jettisoning biblical authority in order to gain the spiritually dead who do not understand the radical nature of biblical faith and repentance. In this way are we not becoming de facto Arminians? The Arminian believes the fall into sin does not annihilate the sinner’s ability to repent and believe. Consequently the evangelist is justified in using whatever means necessary to convince the sinner to follow Christ. Their decision is often spurious. A radical change of heart through regeneration has not happened.
And the reason for such a diluted message, even though there is an honourable motivation of seeking church growth by reaching the lost, is a failure to remember the basics. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:1-5). Only the sovereign, Triune God can save (Eph. 1:3-14). The Holy Spirit must convict and regenerate (John 3:5-8, 16:8). And the purpose of assembling ourselves together on the Lord’s Day is to worship God, to equip the saints, and to encourage one another to love and good deeds (Psa. 96; Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 10:24-25).
So – bottom line – pray for the lost, ask for the Holy Spirit, worship God with his people on Sunday mornings. Pastors should preach evangelistically on Sunday nights or some other time during the week, speaking plainly and simply in the vernacular of the people. Do not, however, worship the American church idol.
- See my devotional ‘Addressing the Homosexual Agenda,’ December 4, 2014 at www.pefministry.org.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.
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