Monday, June 23, 2008

Salvation Lite: Less Filling, But Tastes Great

There was an interesting blog post in John Alan Turner's blog. In the post he examined the role salvation plays in the world, in the church, and in God's ultimate plan for mankind and His kingdom. Then he asked the question, "Why in the world do you think we so often reduce (salvation) to being let off the hook for our sins?" I thought about it briefly and responded:
Maybe because we really don’t understand salvation.

In 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter makes the case that the salvation we have is glorious, and worthy of our allegiance and effort. And if we are not growing in Christlike character, we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from our past sins. We just don’t get it.

It’s easier to talk about salvation as fire insurance, because most in pop-Christianity don’t want to bother with true discipleship.

I really believe that the salvation message is often reduced to "once saved, always saved." And what I mean is that people just want to know the minimum entrance requirements, then they go on to live their lives. Maybe they do "Christian" things, but they have little interest in true growth.

Seems that way to me. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Growth Versus Growth

In an article by Peter Drucker (Managing Oneself, Harvard Business Review, January 2005) Peter makes an interesting point about personal values. He uses the example of two "successful" churches
and how they have differing values concerning what constitutes "success":

"Value conflicts are not limited to business organizations. One of the fastest growing pastoral churches in the United States measures success by the number of new parishioners. Its leadership believes that what matters is how many newcomers join the congregation. The Good Lord will then minister to their spiritual needs or at least to the needs of a sufficient percentage. Another pastoral, evangelical church believes that what matters is people's spiritual growth. The church eases out newcomers who join but do not enter into its spiritual life."

He goes on to evaluate each stance:

"…this is not a matter of numbers. At first glance, it appears that the second church grows more slowly. But it retains a far larger proportion of newcomers than the first one does. Its growth, in other words, is more solid. This is also not a theological problem, or only secondarily so. It is a problem about values. In a public debate, one pastor argued, 'Unless you first come to church, you will never find the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven.' 'No,' answered the other. 'Until you first look for the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven, you don't belong in church.'"

Peter goes on to explain that neither values are particularly wrong, but that they fit with each organization's value system in how they operate. The church that just wants to reach the lost, will tend to focus on that more than the spiritual needs of it's members, while the church that really wants maturing disciples of Christ will focus their efforts on that more than trying to bring in people who will be indifferent to spiritual growth.

What's interesting is that the church that focused more on spiritual health and growth had a more long-term approach to soul-winning than the former church. Yet was growing in more new members than the other church. Following, the church that spent time soul-winning actually did mature members who really wanted it. They both were effective. They just had a different value system.

Why some churches fail when valuing either position.

The problem with some churches isn't an either/or issue. I've seen churches who focus squarely on growth, even to the detriment of sound doctrine. They grow fast sometimes, but die just as fast. They seem to just run out of gas. Then I've been around churches that focus on the spiritual growth of its members to the detriment of clear purpose. Instead of creating an atmosphere of discerning, serving, disciples of Christ, they invent a club atmosphere. And these churches don't really grow. They just stagnate. Doctrines and decisions become a matter of taste and comfort for the existing members, rather than become the challenging soil of deep transformation.

Do who you are well, in the will of Christ, and you will have an attractive church. In fact, you will probably attract the right people to your church. Remember, Jesus not only bid people to follow him, but he dared people to follow him and he prequalified people to follow him. Churches can do all these things at differing degrees, depending on the personality of each church. But, to do any of them without understanding is sin.

Where am I in all this?

The real issue here is where I, as an individual, fit it? Does the church I belong to not only teach sound doctrine, but do my values fit with theirs. Otherwise, I will find myself frustrated and constantly working against the grain. This doesn't mean that either of us are working against God's will (though that can be possible too), but that God may want me elsewhere where my talents, experiences, and values will be a better fit. This may sound sort of individualistic, but this is a very real issue sometimes. Even in the early church, not everyone worked well together all the time, and sometimes unpleasant adjustments had to be made. But, God grew the church anyway and His work was getting done.

What do you think?

Monday, June 02, 2008

The New Gospel

We can be good enough to be saved.

This isn't a new idea. More and more people believe that love is what God requires of us. If we just loved each other, God would be satisfied and mankind can be saved. Again, this isn't anything new. But what is new is that more and more American Christians are buying it. The message of salvation has become more works-oriented than ever. Why?

Shouldering the blame.

I can lay the blame on postmodern reaction to modernist ideals. The idea that human thought and ingenuity can save mankind has led to skepticism. This is because it is a false worldview. As a result, modernist thought has led to utilitarian ideals of man's existence. Human experience, love, culture, art, and feelings had been relegated to roadblocks to the Great Utopian Ideals of convenience, uniformity, and control.

Postmodernist thought rightly judges such hubris. But it also holds to a Great Utopian Ideal. The difference being that it relegates thought and reason as roadblocks to a society of harmony, beauty, pleasure, and celebration. This thinking leads to absurd notions, contradictory language, and inherit skepticism of everything asserted as true.

In the postmodernist worldview the way to "Eden" is not much different than the modernist. We must work at it. Whether it is to build the Great Society, or it is to deify the poor and the unfortunate. In postmodern thought, we demonstrate "love" by doing good acts—no matter how society or culture would define it. This is in opposition to the modernist construction of right societies, by eliminating the nonconformist, the poor, and the less civilized.

So, what's the problem?

I honestly cannot say that these worldview philosophies are the whole problem. The problem is more ancient than we care to admit. We just don't trust God. Yes, we may believe in God. But we just don't trust Him. We say—like the demons—that we believe God exists, and shudder. (James 2:19) But, we just don't trust that he is the answer to the world's problem, our problem, or that we really have a problem. So, our deeds don't reflect trust in God. They reflect distrust in God.

How many times have you heard that Jesus came to show us how to love? This is a cop-out response. It is designed to substitute utter devotion to Christ with being a good person.

How many times have you heard someone talk about redeeming this present earth—which is marked for destruction (2 Peter 3:3-7)—for God? People who say such things often don't believe in seeking the city God will build. (Hebrews 11:13-16) They are determined to help him build a new city, right here on this old earth, by calling men to build it for ourselves—even with the help of the unsaved.

How many times have you heard that we must eliminate poverty? People who say such things don't believe the words of Christ, who said that we can help the poor, but we will not eradicate them—unless, as the unbelievers say, by force a few can control the earth's resources and determine its distribution, or we can just practice eugenics. (Mark 14:7) And Christ also said that the human soul is of more worth and concern than food to God. (Matthew 4:3-4; Matthew 6:25; John 6:25-29) After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his very soul? (Matthew 16:26) If we believe, we must trust that Christ is the ultimate solution, not our ingenuity—modernist or postmodernist.

I'm okay, you're okay, sometimes.

No one does good. No not one. (Romans 3:9-20) Yeah people do good things, but the motives are often not right. When the motive is right, and the deeds are good, then they do them in the wrong order or priority. Everyone thinks that he is good in his own eyes. But everyone must also come under God's judgment. For everyone must give an account to God, whether they do good or bad.

Unfortunately, whole churches believe the false gospel that our works earn us salvation. They believe that their actions prove their love for God and their love for fellow man. Therefore, God is please with their deeds. To some degree God is pleased with good deeds. But what doesn't please Him is when deeds are done to appease Him, or to simply avoid His rebuke for our dirty hearts. Adherence to deeds is not an acknowledgment of our need for God or of our own depravity. It would be better to not do good and acknowledge our sin to God, than to use good deeds to pretend that we are really good, like a whitewashed tomb (Matthew 23:27; Luke 18:9-14).

Who can stand?

Christ alone. We need God's solution very badly. We have a sin problem that good deeds cannot solve. What we think about ourselves is irrelevant.