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Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Christian Gimmick

2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

I want my church to grow. I think that most pastors do. In fact, most are looking desperately for something that will not only have their churches grow but they are looking for something that will have them grow so fast and so big that they will be on the front page of the newspapers. A desire that deep  opens us up to a lot of snake oil salesmen.

So, we hear of one seminar after another which promises to grow our churches. Another book comes out that we all flock to buy, read and implement. A brand new program is introduced which promises to be the last evangelism, discipleship, outreach, grow producing or you fill in the blank program that our churches will ever need. So our churches spend thousands of dollars sending us to seminars, we spend thousands of hours reading books and thousands of our church members go through the last programs we will need until the next last program.

When will we learn that these are just gimmicks with a Christian base? In some cases I believe even the seminar leaders, authors and program designers have duped themselves. They are so convincing because they are truly convinced themselves.

We will never be able to teach, preach or lead people into a forced encounter with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like the wind who comes when He desires. We are trying to imitate Him rather than to depend upon Him in our churches. In fact, we love that idea. This way we can think that we have actually done something significant. Later, we can write our own books and lead our own seminars on how it was done.

But truly great revivals have all come through prayer. Often people have prayed for years with no apparent results. Finally, the Spirit arrives and everything is different. It was the instructions Jesus gave His disciples. He told them to wait until they received the Holy Spirit before branching out. Thousands got saved after the Holy Spirit came without one of the disciples going to a seminar, reading a book or starting a new program.

I am tired of the gimmicks. I have been guilty of going to every seminar, reading every book and starting every program that promised church growth. I have gathered around myself people who would tickle my ears; who would tell me what I wanted to hear.

Now I am realizing something that I didn't want to hear. My obedience to what the Lord has called me to do is all that is required. I should daily take up my cross and follow Jesus. I should respond to His commands. I should abide in His word. I should pray without ceasing. I should love others. I should make sure that God remains in the center of my life. My sermons and my leadership should come out of my relationship with Him.

The number of baptisms in my church have increased dramatically over the past year. There were no extra special emphases. We simply share the gospel. The only change is that we require everyone to write out how and why they gave their lives to Christ.

Thus, last Sunday night we baptized twenty people (including the Spanish mission that meets in our church. They baptized eight. ) and those who came heard twenty different testimonies or how and why they gave their lives to Christ. We can't make anyone trust in Christ. We had to admit that it was a "God thing."

Now, if we read that God will build His church, shouldn't we believe that He will do so?

I, for one, want to give up the Christian gimmicks.


Deb Willbefree said...

What a wonderful word! I nodded all of the way thru it.

Due to a horrible church collapse in which a 150 member congregation was reduced to 10, my husband and I left our church of 25 years.

We were pretty bruised. It felt like our entire family died in a day. So we went back home. :} Back to the Baptist church in which we were saved many years before.

We needed to heal up and we knew that they would welcome us back. Baptists are like that, you know? They are always sure their prodigals will come to their senses and return home. :)

At first, it was nice. It did feel like a homecoming.

About six months in, tho, Bill and I began to hear some familiar words and ideas. Hints of the group that took over our little church, but without the doctrinal error, thank goodness. We wrote it off as being gun shy.

But, as time went on, Church began to feel more and more like a PR campaign. Material began arriving from Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. And the pastor began going on seminars there.

Don't get me wrong. Warren has lots of good things to say. He does. I read his early book and loved it with only a little hint of hesitation here and there.

But there is...I'm not sure how to say this...there is a spin to how he packages some basic doctrines that make them...not wrong, exactly, but not right either. Something is lost in the make-over.

Your post made me think of it. As the pastor became more and more enamored with Rick Warren, et al, things became more and more slick, less real. Less of the sacred, more of Park Avenue that works to offend no one and include everyone, no matter how much water it takes to weaken the broth, to mix way too many metaphors.

Bill and I became wary. It's not that our newness to the fellowship left us out of the ministry. Quite to the contrary. We were made to feel like we were a part of the congretation from the beginning.

Bill was asked to join the choir right away. When the Warren movement began to surge, the pastor asked me if I would lead a group. I declined, and although the pastor was disappointed and very surprised at my refusal, he was pleasant about it.

You see, it was not really my ministry experience, although I have it, that caused him to ask me to facilitate the group. It was because I am a licensed social worker and Christian counselor. My worldly credentials were way more attractive than my spiritual ones. A nice selling point to have an LSW with multiple degrees on board for this kind of thing, you know?

At any rate, the whole gimmick thing. You are absolutely spot on. It leads not only to a shallow walk, but can also lead to significant error. I've seen both. I liked neither. It all makes me sad. And trying to explain it to someone sold on the PR method of evangelism just sounds legalistic.

While there is no perfect church, seeings how they're full of imperfect people (What WAS God thinking?), a church built solidly on Jesus and the Bible, while being led and empowered by the Spirit, is the best program you can have.

I was going to write that it may not be flashy, haha, but done well and full of the Holy Spirit, it can achieve better than flashy--it can be miraculous. :D

March on.


high-expressions said...

2 Tim 4:3 is increasingly coming true these days, NOT that it was NOT happening all the time (in times gone by), but it is increasingly easy for people to do that, and that is why there is greater and greater explosion in this aspect.

It is easier nowadays, for the world has become smaller and smaller. Not only you can read of what I have to say, from this end of Singapore, you can easily make your way to this tiny island too. In years gone by, it was more expensive to travel, now with budget airlines and all, travelling has gotten a lot cheaper. Infrastructures, all round the world have improved a lot, making it quite easily people to be moving about, to be going to where the lies are! Such easiness can mislead us, and put us to be more vulnerable compared to times of old.

In years gone by, you had hardly any choice, but to kneel right there, beside your bed and pray to the Lord for whatever that was pressing in your circumstances. Who and where was Ps Prentis or Anthony Chia, where was Singapore? Didn’t know who and didn’t know where, so to speak! Access to people was NOT so easy, and therefore, listening to men, was NOT so easy. But today, we can go here and we can go there, and that also mean, we can get Mr/Ms So and So to come here, too, right to our door-step! Or you can just beam it! In short, it is now so very convenient! It is convenient to listen to men, than to listen to God on your knees.

This is NOT something new or was NOT noted by God in the olden days! God had always been concerned when the children of God had easy access to the outside world, the world of the Gentiles. When Israelites stayed isolated from the Gentiles, they didn’t get to hear so much, and be influenced by, the ways of the Gentiles. Purity of hearts and ways of life were more easily sustained over time, compared to when the Israelites went mingled with the Gentiles, such as the Canaanites (in the Promised Land); so, in the OT Scripture we read that God warned the Israelites.

So too we must remember that the source is God, the source of all the righteousness and justice, and ways we ought to be subscribing to, is God. We have to keep going back to the Source; we are bound to be a lot safer than if we go around listening to men. I am NOT, and I have always advocated that we, as Christians, cannot be holed up in the monasteries, and have nothing to do with the outside world; had this been the idea of God, we would NOT have seen God causing the Gospel to go out from Jerusalem to other parts of the world, with believers moving into those places. But when we are in the world, the world-views would inevitably be there before us, and some of us, believers, are being impacted by them, and influenced by them (all, in varying degree), and the purity of our hearts became difficult to maintain and be sustained. Embracing the ways of God, and the ways of the world becomes commonplace. That we are in the world we cannot help it; just like, after 40 years of wandering in the desert, the children of Israelites (children of the adult generation who died in the desert), inevitably, still were brought by God, to the entrance of the Promised Land which then was occupied by the Canaanites, ways and practices of whom, God specifically abhorred and forbade the children of God to embrace alongside the ways God already prescribed to His children.


high-expressions said...

COnt. from above

So we are here, in the world, ways or teachings of the world come at us; and these teachings included the adulterated teachings/ways of the Lord by believer-leaders. One of the thinking of the world is, big is always "beauty" compared to small. The beauty of big, by the world's ways points to greater popularity, and greater popularity means more support, and more support, means higher status and more money, and higher status and more money means greater power, and greater power means we can do what we want! Once we view big NOT from the angle of what the Lord's will is, we are in danger of having an impure desire being sneaked in, by the evil one; and when we entertain it, it grows into a sin, and when the sin is full-blown, it leads to fall and death.

“But brother Anthony, you said it, we are in the world, like we are in the nuclear disaster area, the radiation is being emitted all the time. We cannot save ourselves, can we?” No, we can suit-up, still, for example! Of course, through entirely human means, clean air runs out, so to speak; even if you carry portable tanks, like a man walking on the moon! But our situation is NOT like that; God as Light is present in the Darkness. So, even in the darkness, we are to fall-in or align-in, into the path of the beam of light. God is able to sanctify you from the radiation, so to speak. What I am trying to say is that we just have to come back to the source, God, His Spirit and His Word, and let the light of Him purge the impure (teachings) hitting us. Scripture put it this way: Be like the Berean Jews, “… examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”. (from Acts 17:11)

More need to be said; it is NOT enough to just read the Word, we need to read the Word theo-centrically or with a theo-centric perspective, and you can only read the Word theo-centrically when you truly embrace the key theo-centric attribute of God, His holiness. Too often we don’t guard the purity of our heart and mind, and we begin to do eisegesis of the Word, instead of exegesis of the Word from the viewpoint of God (being theo-centric). Simply, it is “what God wants!” Then there is the “Even if it is I don’t know what God wants, it is still what God wants!” that’s how I must view all things!

I remind myself, from time to time, that I do NOT get carried away with what I think; for what I think is NOT the point, it is what God wants, is the point. If we are NOT careful, and that include myself to be warned, we fall into converting what we think, into “that is what God wants”. I can very frankly say, I cannot be, NOT at all guilty, in this account, for if I read back at my own writings over the years, some things, in the past, I used to carefully phrased in, “I think/believe”, I no longer do that, rather I have come to stating it, as if it is “that is what God wants”. So, it is NOT surprising that Ps Prentis can say that some of the promoters of gimmicks are so convincing, for they were themselves have become self-convinced, when it is really NOT “that is what God wants”.


high-expressions said...

COnt. from above

Is there a way to avoid ourselves falling into such self-delusion? The deep “think phrase” I can give is this: “No one can eat for you!” Imagine, is it possible for me to savour the delicacies on the banquet table in a grand US restaurant in the States, when I am NOT there, but in my place, I nominated Ps Prentis to go and take my place, with Ps Prentis eating them, and I am here, in Singapore, sleeping perhaps, because of the time zone difference? Eating is NOT too difficult a thing to do, but it is NOT possible for someone to eat for you; you have to eat the food yourself. Knowing God is like that, I cannot know God for you; you have to know God for yourself. Ps Prentis could afterwards, call me or email me and say how delicious the food tasted, but it is still NOT the same as I were there, eating the food myself. In fact, Ps Prentis is NOT me, some of the items might have tasted marvelous to him, but it may NOT be, for me, isn’t it possible? Likewise, you can know ABOUT God from me, you can hardly know God from me; you have to know God yourself.

Another illustration: A woman in church can be known by me because I minister openly and people come to me for ministry; by a few other men; and is known by her husband; but I cannot be knowing the woman the same as her husband knows her, or the same as the other few men. She would NOT have revealed of herself, all the same, to everyone she related with; her husband probably knows her a lot more than anyone of us, assuming he has been spending lots of time with her, and has been doing things together, and was found together a lot of the time. So, to what extent do you and I want to know God?

Yes, we can know about God, through the preaching of men, the teachings of men, if they are saying the right things, still, that is NOT knowing God. And, yes, it is necessary to read the Word to know about God, and yes, through the Word, we can get to know God, but that is NOT all, we need to live out the Word with Him. We need both, the reading and understanding of the Word, and the living out the Word, with Him (by His Spirit). The right teachings of men, godly men, can help, but ultimately, we have to eat for ourselves, or know God for ourselves. If you just mouth, “Ours is a relationship”, just as a lingo, it will NOT do; a relationship with God, has to be lived out as a relationship. Just as I cannot eat for you, I cannot relationship God for you! I can only stand in the gap for you, but I cannot relationship God for you; you have to do it yourself, and there is hardly a short-cut, in relationship, is there!?

Teachings of men can be deceiving for obvious reasons, especially when it is about things NOT easily verifiable. What is for me or for you, or for me to do, or for you to do, it all got to be looked from the overall will of God, and from the relationship each has with the Lord. The woman in church above may NOT necessary ask me to do something she would ask her husband to do, purely because the relationships are different, but if she of righteous character overall, whatever is dished out would be consistent with that. So, while we look from the overall perspective rendered to us, of the will of God, we necessarily also consider things from the perspective of our relationship with God. Too much selling is done, without pointing out to people that, what is put forth, as “secrets” to church growth or ministry growth or prosperity or blessings or miracles, is subject to, or still needs to take into account, each party’s relationship with God. That is one of the reasons why something that works in one scenario when applied to another by someone, does NOT work! It is NOT as simple as many snake oil salesmen (I like your use of this, Ps Prentis!) put it out to us; if it were, there would NOT be such a case like the case of the 7 sons of Sceva given to us, in Scripture (Acts 19:14-16).


high-expressions said...

COnt. from above

Another reason which is also NOT stressed to us (how typical of salesmen, they only tell you what you want to hear, the provisos they conveniently ignore), is this: What God thinks is the best for each scenario. It can even be put variedly as God does what He wants or likes; Ps Prentis said this, in the article: “The Spirit is like the wind who comes when He desires”.

I am NOT against hearing testimonies of God working in many circumstances, rendering church growth, ministry growth, prosperity, blessings or miracles. But principally, testimonies are shared to encourage us, to encourage us to summon up our faith for our situations; to reveal to us, that God is NOT far, only that we need to find the way to Him (fall-in or align-in); and that God is able. Testimony is NOT primarily for saying that when such and such were done, the result was this, and so, when we also do such and such, we necessarily get the same result!

Insistence that the only interpretation of Rev 19:10 is that, testimony about what Jesus did (like signs and wonders and miracles) is the spirit of prophecy does NOT help. By that interpretation, we hold God to “if we give out a testimony about something God done, like being healed divinely, then any hearer of that testimony with that condition, he too must necessarily be healed by God”. The more correct interpretation, I believe, is it is NOT “ABOUT Jesus”, but “OF Jesus”. What was “the testimony OF Jesus” in that verse? The testimony of Jesus was given at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, and it was in Rev 1:2, and it was to be mean, “this special message of Jesus”, which got recorded to us as the text of the Book of Revelation. And so, the message of Jesus given via John, given to us as the Book of Revelation, is prophetic, meaning it would come to pass, and so, the use of the phrase, “is the spirit of prophecy”. I am NOT saying that when a testimony is shared, another, a hearer in the crowd, cannot say, “God, I want that too”, and got healed, too, but it is NOT necessarily that Rev 19:10 is saying that.


high-expressions said...

COnt. from above

Now, I can throw you a fish, and some ingredients, it NOT necessarily means that the end result of your cooking will be a delicious fish-dish equal to mine! Or people say, you can have the hardware, but without the software, you don’t get the result desired. In a way, as a parable or metaphor (only), the Holy Spirit can be likened to be the software. We have to operate things according to the dictates of the software. If you have worked with computer systems, you will understand; you just cannot do as you like, you have to do according to the prescription of the software used. I said it is a metaphor or parable only, for indeed the Holy Spirit is NOT a pre-programmed software, which has no mind of its own; it, the software, cannot do any differently from what it is programmed to do; but NOT the Holy Spirit. The capacity of the Holy Spirit is limitless; and you just follow her prescription or you will NOT get the desired result. In any case, the Holy Spirit is NOT a thing or a force; He is the Spirit of God, and is God; and so, you and I have to work with Him; there is just no other way. Old cliché, yet it is the also the truth: God knows the best, and so, it is either you are working with Him, and would definitely get the result He desired, which would definitely be good, even if you cannot visualize it, or we are working against Him, and the result will NOT be optimal, viewed from His perspective.

And so, the conclusion is still the age-old seeking the face of God, and then His hands, for your situation is what we must do, primarily. (Don’t get me wrong, again, I repeat, I am NOT saying knowledge about spiritual matters are NOT important; they are, in fact, what are revealed to us, collectively, Scripture said, they are a legacy for us, and for us to pass on to future generations (Deu 29:29). And there are enough “hero” characters in Scripture, favored by God, for such knowledge and their apt applications). Learning to know what God has done in the past (long past or just past) is good but it cannot replace the age-old seeking God for our current situation.

Let God be God, don’t be fixated at “the God’s part, His sovereignty and prerogative and all), rather we do the part we are supposed to do, and can do. And the part that we are supposed to do, and can do, is to seek His face, and then His hands, for our situation, and then work with Him; and then just rest with what He wants or wants NOT, to bring about; if He brings miracles, He brings miracles, if He doesn’t, He doesn’t; we need only to be of pure heart and clean hands.

You see, it is NOT how we fall in love that is that important (important, and should be remembered, but NOT that important) over time, and you will agree with me, similar to what Ps Prentis has let us know, that different people came to Christ, differently; their salvation testimonies are different, people have different falling-in-love stories, but it is continuing in the love relationship that is important over time. I am sure you expect God to continue to love you, but do you continue to love Him? Do you continue to grow that relationship with God? Remember now, other people cannot relationship with God for you, you have to do that yourself. You are less likely to get “conned” if you are in strong relationship with God.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions
PS: I don’t belittle people’s salvation testimonies, in fact, in my previous comment entry here, I give thumb-ups for the kind of salvation testimony exercises that Ps Prentis practices; they tells us about the loving God.