Tuesday, August 7, 2012

But Look at the Results

When questionable doctrines or practice is met with solid biblical objections, a common response goes something like:
When we were doing things the old-fashioned way, no real progress was being made.  We didn't relate to the community.  The preaching was boring and the music stale.  We wondered if God was working against us.

Now, after the change, look at the number in attendance, the programs, the Sunday School class sizes, the money coming in and being sent out to all the missionaries being supported.  Consider the successes in people's lives of those who have made professions of faith, been healed of afflictions, and assisted through bereavement or family strife.  If there is this much blessing, we must be fully in God's will.
This argument relies on cultural norms to be the measure of success.  The result is driving the means: if it works, it must be correct.  This is not the faith to which we have been called.  God's people are not called to be pragmatic, efficient, or relevant.  They are called to be faithful.

Christians are not the first group to use this rationalization for their worship activities.  Roman pagans, when confronted by Arnobius of Sicca, related how historians had recorded events in which
fears of impending dangers have been diverted, and the most troublesome enemies beaten, and the republic extended both by repeated joyous victories and by gaining possession of several provinces … [that] would not have happened if the gods despised sacrifices, games, and other acts of worship, and did not consider themselves honored by expiratory offerings.… And if those things become favorable which seemed fraught with terrors, it is clear that all these things are not done without the gods wishing them, and that it is vain, and shows utter ignorance, to blame us for giving them.
From Case against the Pagans VII.38

This indeed reaches the crux of things.  If what has been promoted and implemented works and is not being frowned upon by the one worshiped through some type of discipline, the objector has no argument and should just be quiet.  Some have been defensive in nature, while others have made a forceful attack.  A year ago, Steven Furtick of Elevation Church broadcast one example of a church leader using similar tactics against those pointing out his improper teaching and wrongful leadership.

Furtick's plan, along with others like him, is to lead the church into new directions of love and service without the hindrance of actually knowing the Bible.  Just recently, Tim Elmore of Northridge Church publicly stated that spiritual maturity comes from relying on less doctrine and doing more deeds.  The consequence of this movement is an elite group of powerful church leaders with monetary backing dispensing knowledge about scripture while telling the congregations what to think and do about Jesus.  Are we revisiting the Dark Ages?

How do we correct Christians intent on moving this direction?  Arnobius countered the pragmatist's argument by saying that those on both sides should lay aside fears and partiality and "examine whether these are gods whom you assert to be furious when offended, and to be rendered mild by sacrifices; or whether they are something far different, and should be separated from the notion of this name and power."  Otherwise stated, if you are worshiping and carrying on in such a way that demeans rather than exalts, is the "God" you claim to obey, really the true God?

I have stated before that we know how to worship based on what the Lord reveals of himself.  People have attempted to say that various ideas and techniques can be offered and inculcated as a regular part of the church, because they are nonessential (i.e., adiaphora).  In this very thing, reformer Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) sounded a warning against seemingly innocuous practices.
All ceremonies and church practices are in and of themselves as free as they will always be.  However, when coercion and the false illusion that they are the worship of God and must be observed, [and] renunciation of the faith, offense, or an opening for godless ways develops, and when, in whatever way it may happen, they do not build up but tear down the church of God and mock God, [then] they are in this way no longer adiophora.  All these evil parts are now among the present-day adiaphora so that those particular things are not adiaphora but precisely godless.
A General Rule Regarding Ceremonies

Results do not dictate the proper worship of God, even when there are good things occurring.  Arnobius never questioned the validity of what was written in the annals.  He took them as valid.  In the same way, miraculous or ordinary positive results do not dictate how the assembly comes together and operates.  Flacius did not condemn all nonessential practices, and neither should we.  God alone determines what properly glorifies and honors him and builds up the saints gathered together.  There is an inherent danger in introducing those things not expressly mentioned as good and proper, because the focus can so easily shift from God to the individual or the group.

Assembly practices should regularly be compared to scripture both before and after implementation.  What begins as willing humility under the easy yoke of Christ can be turned to a heavy burden as practices are used to measure commitment or maturity with the full weight of Law.  Or the reasonably articulated and well-meaning idea to begin a practice might actually do more harm than good by opening a door to unintended consequences.  Pride tells us neither scenario would happen in our church.  Reality says it absolutely will happen, because we still carry the sinful nature.

1 Peter 5:8
Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

"It works" only matters to bean-counters who are excited about how many people attend their "church." But numbers of people attending does not equate numbers of Christians attending. Appealing to the world's ways to get more people will certainly build your church population, but if it doesn't turn them to Christ and maturity in the faith, then is all wasted effort. And that is exactly what is happening in the "churches" people like Furtick lead.