Chris Gordon, WSC grad and pastor of United Reformed Church at Lynden, WA, has recently done some road-tripping in visiting a modern seeker sensitive/purpose driven church North County Christ the King Church in Lynden itself. As he begins:
It's a challenge today to take a stand for anything. This is no less true in the church of Jesus Christ, especially as we think through the implications of the Biblical warning that in the latter times some will depart from the faith giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Part of our responsibility as Christians is to defend the truth, and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
As as pastor, I recognize that one of my responsibilities is to protect those whom I serve from influences and practices that have a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). At times, this requires critical reflection of what others are doing and saying in the Christian world, especially when, as Paul said, there are savage wolves among us who do not spare the flock, but draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29). There is just too much at stake if we remain silent, we are called to pull souls out of the fire (Jude 1:22).
Many well-meaning Christians, however, don't take well to any kind of constructive criticism or warning against what particular churches are doing contrary to the received doctrine. We have come to a point in the Christian world that if we say anything by way of exposing error, we are labeled as unloving or schismatic. But such pressures, as strong as they are, do not remove our responsibility to expose error and false doctrines as we speak the truth in love.
With these things in mind, I have been challenged on more than one occasion that I do not have the right to critique any other local church if I have never attended the one in question. In the past, my answer has always been, "I don't have to slam my hand in a trunk to know it's going to hurt." But, fair enough, although I think such a charge is a diversionary tactic, it is important to "know" exactly what you are critiquing. So, to honor the challenge of others, last Saturday night I decided to attend North County Christ the King Church here in Lynden.
In this light, Gordon has posted his interesting and revealing reports with regards to his road trip on his blog here, here and here. The last report especially was a good critique of the typical modern wishy-washy sermonettes that have a low view of God and a too high view of Man. In Gordon's words:
There are two very serious errors here that were evident throughout the service, especially in the message itself—a wrong view of God and a wrong view of man. The first error, a wrong view of God, was a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. In this denial, God's revelation of himself in his distinctness from his creatures is rejected as he is refashioned into those things that make us feel comfortable about him. Simply stated, if God created us his image, we have returned the favor and created him back into a fallen image that we feel comfortable with.
If you take the subtitle of the sermon, Satisfaction Guaranteed, what is the assumption being made here? The basic assumption here is that if you try out God, he will work for you. Now I am used to this “guarantee” language when I buy a product at the grocery store and expect that the money I have invested in the product will earn me some positive result in my life. For instance, the other day I saw this very claim advertised on a teeth whitening product, satisfaction guaranteed. I was interested because prolonged coffee drinking has darkened my teeth. So the first thing I did was check the price. That stuff is expensive. If they really want to sell me the product, the prices have to be slashed; I’m looking for the Safeway card discount. Further, I expect it to work for what I have determined is my need. As a consumer, I reign sovereign over my need and my purchase.
Now since this marketing strategy is so common in the church, we should ask what happens when God himself is marketed this way? What are the consequences of this? And what does this presume is my greatest need? Think about the suggestion: you go off-roading with God, we guarantee satisfaction. How do you guarantee satisfaction? As the marketer, you have to please the customer. And if God and his church are being marketed like a product, you have to sell both. As stated above, you cannot identify them with any of those things that the consumer might find offensive or unattractive; both have to packaged for their use — because, well, that is how products sell.
So what happens? If the customer is sovereign over what he is “buying” with regard to God he certainly will not select a view of God that emphasizes His justice, holiness, or righteousness. The attribute(s) that is most pleasing to the customer will drown out all the rest, and in today’s church market, it is the single attribute of love by which God is defined to the demise of all the rest, especially his justice.
So where does this lead us? If you have ridded God of those attributes that you dislike, what happens to your view of what you need and who you are? To be certain, we will never be in pursuit of the gospel. Why? Because the only way the Christian gospel has any real meaning is when there is a proper appreciation for God’s holiness and justice. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and, therefore, are under his just wrath (Rom. 3:23). The only way anyone escapes the wrath to come is by faith alone in Christ, whose righteousness is freely imputed to all who heartily trust in him for salvation. But it is only when we are properly confronted with our misery in the face of God’s justice that we are prepared to submit ourselves to what he says is our greatest need.
Do you see what has happened? There is no “life-giving” power in this because Christ as a savior from sin is absent. As Michael Horton has stated, “the cure is only as radical as the disease." If our greatest problem is just getting derailed from life's path, all we need is a new moral compass. But this does not reconcile needy sinners to God. I heard nothing of Christ and him crucified in the message, and yet this message is God's expressed chosen power to save. The apostle was clear about this to the Corinthians when he said “that his speech and preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that their faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Couldn’t we paraphrase this by saying, when I came to you I did not use Suzuki 4wds, love videos, espresso bars, dramas, bands, liturgical dances, et al; and I did not use these things purposely so that your faith should not be in the marketing of men, but in the power of God?
It is God who identifies for us in his Word who he is, who we are, and what we need. God is not product to be used, nor is his gospel. No one has ever been manipulated into the kingdom by gimmicks. As David Wells states, “the gospel calls us not to use it but submit to the God of the universe through his son…when we accept Christ he is not there for our use but we are there for his service.” It's tragic to state that we are in desperate need of going back to the basics, understanding and submitting to what God has revealed of himself, and of us. As Hosea lamented in his day, "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6)." Whose people? It’s my prayer that all Christians today would appeal to the Lord's mercies and remember what he prayed: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
It is heartening to see Reformed folks and especially pastors start to utilize the medium of the Internet for outreach. The world is perishing and there is a shortage of biblical teaching and discernment in the land (Is. 5:13, Hos. 4:6), and we need (forth-telling) prophets to proclaim the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and apply the living Word in the world (2 Tim. 3:16-17).