by Paul Proctor
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."
So, he came up with
the idea, he said, "They believe in God; why not tell them
about God? And so the one way I can do that is to give them a copy
of the book of Proverbs from our Old Testament." It tells all this
wisdom about God, from God and how to know God. And so, what he did;
he printed up these little booklets - and he's done it - he's got
them printed in various Arabic languages. And he'll go up, and when
he gets to know somebody, he said, "I'd like to give you a gift. I'd
like to give you this copy of the wisdom of God." Because they
believe in God, he can say, "I'm talking about the same God."
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 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.
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