December 18, 2017

A Ray of Hope in South Florida

By Chaplain Mike

No, this isn’t about LeBron James, for heaven’s sake.

It’s about a pastor that I admire more every time I read something about him or by him, or hear him speak. You may not be able to pronounce his name, but you will appreciate his message.

He is Tullian Tchividijian, and he is Billy Graham’s grandson. He also (reluctantly) became the pastor of the congregation that Dr. D. James Kennedy served for 48 years, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

You can find an interview with Pastor Tchividijian over at Church Executive, called, “‘High Noon’ at Church: Dissidents challenge the leadership of a new pastor.” I encourage you to read it and return here to give some feedback and engage in discussion about his experience.

In the interview, Pastor Tchividijian tells how he did not seek the pastoral position at Coral Ridge, but was approached several times by the church asking him to consider it. He finally agreed, with the stipulation that the church merge with the congregation he was serving, New City Church.

The process led to a messy, contentious public dispute. About 500 people eventually left Coral Ridge to start another congregation. Tchividijian describes what happened:

Trouble started brewing before the merger was complete. Those who wanted everything to stay the same, who wanted nothing to change, circulated letters and developed anonymous blogs calling my leadership, theology and character into question. Those who wanted Coral Ridge to maintain its focus on politics were the loudest.

Coral Ridge had become widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for. And I vowed to change that. I wanted the city of Ft. Lauderdale (my hometown) to know that we were going to become a church in the city, for the city. I made it very clear from the outset that we were going to be a church that rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty in service to our city. I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached. Most people loved that! Some hated it—and they made it known.

My heart sings when I read his grasp on and desire for church-based, Jesus-shaped ministry!

I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached.

Take some time, reflect on that. Hmm.

But note how this approach provoked tremendous conflict with those committed to culture-war evangelical Christianity. What a telling statement he makes: “Coral Ridge had become widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for.” How many churches and organizations will have that as their epitaph?

However, he also reports that some of those who left the church have filtered back, that folks on all sides have apologized and repented, and that, at least as far as he can see now, “the Gospel is winning.” In addition, Tchividijian honestly shares that he learned many valuable lessons as a person and a pastor in the process, especially regarding his own need for human approval.

Pastor Tchividijian has written a book that grew out of sermons on the book of Jonah preached during the heart of the crisis. It’s called, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. I am reading it now, and it has wonderful insights into God’s grace.

More on that later. For now, meditate on these words from Pastor Tullian Tchividijian, hard-won from the battleground of church conflict:

I learned that God’s capacity to clean things up is infinitely greater than our human capacity to mess things up.

More: You can hear Steve Brown’s radio interview with Tullian Tchividijian at Steve Brown Etc.

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says:

    Great article filled with great insights. Thanks for sharing it, and sharing your thoughts. I thought, along with you, that the two killer lines were:

    “Coral Ridge had become widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for.”

    and

    “I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached.”

    Very convicting stuff.

    • I thought about the quote about attracting the same type of people Jesus attracted… And I have concluded that I disagree. It implies that attracting these certain types of people is inherently more godly and spiritual and attracting these others are bad. Not true. Was there truly a type of person that Jesus did not attract? He attracted a little of everything! We are not called to the poor, and we are not called to the rich. We are called to preach good news to ALL sinners, even the self-righteous hypocritical pharisees. Even the upper-middle class white suburbs. Even the downtown urban centers. The homeless and politician. I think diversity is a better reflection of a Jesus shaped demographic than nailing the “right” people group.

      • I agree and disagree. No one is saying we should avoid those who are well off. However, I do think the NT, both in Jesus and the apostles, directs us to give special attention to the poor, not because they are more worthy, but because in doing so we signal to the world that God does not evaluate “success” as we do. See my post on the Beatitudes for a fuller explanation of this.

        • Very true. In keeping with the spirit of true religion, the poor, fatherless and widow must be prioritized. But that is mostly in terms of care and not preaching. Preaching goes to all men. Help goes to the poor. But as it tends, those who won’t preach to the poor won’t help them either. I like Imonk’s advice in the book to go where the poor are. I will certainly follow that whenever I have to move, as it will more likely leverage my position for more kingdom usefulness.

      • Years ago, a pastor and his wife stopped in to visit my wife and I after we had visited their church. The pastor said “you’re the kind of people we’d like to have in our church.” What did he mean by that? I’m certain he meant that we were young, well-educated, well-mannered, middle class, Caucasians, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt that he meant something less objectionable, his statement isn’t the sort of thing any pastor should ever say, in my view. A church shouldn’t be “marketing to” or “trying to attract” anyone—-they should be preaching the gospel to all and receiving all who come, rich or poor, black or white, etc. I think it’s all about attitude: is a pastor or congregation trying to create a church “in their own image” or are they simply ministering to and with whomever God sends them.

        • What did he mean by that? I’m certain he meant that we were young, well-educated, well-mannered, middle class, Caucasians, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt that he meant something less objectionable….

          Maybe it’s me, but these kinds of statements always bother me.

  2. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    The SBE interview was really good. I think Tchividijian is definitely one of the bright spots in Christianity today.

  3. Dana Ames says:

    re his name: II don’t know if he is an Arminian, but he is most certainly Armenian! 🙂

    Dana

  4. ” “Coral Ridge had become widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for.” How many churches and organizations will have that as their epitaph? ”

    Regardless of the specific issues involved here, I think it’s generally true that one should spend more time stating what one “is” as opposed to what one “isn’t”. I’ve discussed the Westminster Confession with strong advocates of that document (which I also support in most of its theology), but one thing that always bothers me about it is how much space is devoted to saying what should NOT be believed or practiced (i.e., anything having to do with that “other” large branch of Christianity). Much as I love Calvin and the Westminster Confession, so often they both come across negatively because of an excessive harping on “WE don’t do this” and “WE don’t believe that” rather than just stating positively what “WE” actually do believe and practice. Just a pet peeve of mine, I guess, but seems related to the spirit of the above quote.

  5. black cat says:

    I have become increasingly uneasy over the past several years with the association of conservative political activism and evangelical Christianity. I expect the gospel to offend unbelievers, however, I often find the believers acting high and mighty with disdain toward those outside the Church. This does nothing to draw anyone to the gospel.

    Our church’s founder, A.W. Tozer, said in 1951, “…we must not identify the gospel with any political system, nor make Christianity to be synonymous with any form of government… . Christ stands alone, above and outside every ideology devised by man. He does not join any of our parties nor take sides with any of our great men except as they may come over on His side and try to follow Hm in righteousness and true holiness.”

    Am I conservative? Yes. Do I believe Christ is a card-carryyng member of the Republican party? No. We need to return to a focus on exalting Christ rather than exalting political causes. I’m glad that Pastor Tchividijian is doing this.

    • Indeed. Bless you, Tullian, and may your tribe of Jesus-seekers increase!

    • Black cat:

      Your points are well stated. You said exactly what I felt after reading this article and reading the other articles that were linked.

      What is even worse about this second wave of the culture war is that Sarah Palin’s rise to prominence (with her combination of Republicanism and her pentecostal/charismatic background) has now “legitimized” the third wave / NAR / seven mountain mandate / dominion theology folks (Wagner, Engle, Jacobs, Joyner, Wallnau, Sheets, etc.). And the “mainline” culture warriors have now united with the dominionists in dire desperation to fight the culture war.

      Thank you Tullian for seeing what is more important here, Jesus and the Gospel and not the culture war.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Dominonists” as in “Handmaid’s Tale For Real” guys?

        Dominionists as in “Take Back America and Make It Into a GODLY(TM) Christian Nation by any means necessary? No law except Leviticus, No Constitution Except SCRIPTURE (TM)?”

        Just like Khomeini made Iran into a Godly Islamic Nation?

        Just like the Talibam made Afghanistan into a Godly Islamic Nation? “No law except God’s Law, no Constitution except the Koran!”

  6. I wonder how Dobson would feel about this.

    • Let’s not. 😀

    • With Dobson no longer at the helm I was much encouraged by a recent broadcast from Focus on the Family regarding Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

      While stating that they did not support the nomination, the tone was much more respectful than it has been in the past under Dobson. Rather than calling on people to melt down phone lines, as Dobson bragged of having done, the call was to pray for our leaders in accordance with the scriptues.

      Sure, they encouraged people to contact their representatives as well, should they be so inclined, but more as voting citizens than as representatives of the church. There was also a much stronger acknowledgement of the sins of the church, as it was made clear we are not coming from the perspective of righteousness, but as fellow sinners who are more than willing to acknowledge the sin in our own camp.

      If it wasn’t for the fact that my kids are grown now this steering away from the culture war mentality might have made me willing to become a regular listener again. 🙂

  7. I live in South Florida and I am very aware of this entire situation from its inception to its current standing. There is alot I will not say because at this point it isn’t necessary, nor will it bear any fruit. I admire Pastor Tullian and how he has handled this situation. I do not know the minute details of everything, but things were messy and there is still alot of residual from how things unfolded; from continuos slander (albeit alot more subdued) and even a planting of a “new” (pun intended) church started by the defectors. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 give me comfort whenever I hear of issues like this that are so divisive.

  8. God is working a strange but wonderful grace at Coral Ridge Ministries. The more I see and hear about Tullian Tchividijian the more I like. I have to admit, when I first heard he was taking over at Coral Ridge, I thought he was going to be a rubber stamp of what Kennedy had done. I’m so glad he isn’t! Thanks for posting this very encouraging story.

    • As a current member of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, let me make a very important distinction. Rev. Tullian Tchividjian is the beloved pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. A totally separate organization is Coral Ridge Ministries, run mainly by the daughter of the late
      D. James Kennedy and others who left Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after Tullian became
      our senior pastor.

  9. JoanieD says:

    “Jesus plus nothing equals everything and that everything minus Jesus equals nothing.”

    That’s a great line, too.

  10. This is like watching the Berlin Wall come down; it’s a bit overwelming. It isn’t just Coral Ridge. Other ministries that have been key to the cultural war are going through similar earth-shaking changes. Add to that the passing of Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts and the fall of Ted Haggard. I guess there’s still Pat Robertson. I wonder if EWTN will become the new leader in the cultural war. Will this draw even more evangelicals to the Catholic Church?

    • Evathek says:

      Well, unfortunately, it looks like Pastor Charles Stanley is stepping into the culture combat boots(according to the article previously mentioned here at IMonk). This really saddens me, because I love Dr. Stanley, even though he’s kind of a tough cookie at times 🙂

      • As Christians we are should all be concerned when those that are without Christ are determining the morality (laws) for the entire nation. Every law on the books is based on someone’s morality. Through evangelism and spreading the message of salvation – that Jesus Christ alone paid the price for our sin and offers eternal life to all who trust in Him – can heart be changed to vote into office leaders with a Godly character. It is important to the freedom of all Christians that we defend our Godly heritage and freedoms that are indeed a divine gift from our Creator.

  11. Pastor Tully is right on the money. I’ve been paying attention to him for some time, and I think he is a great example of what many younger pastors are striving to be. The more I hear, the more I like.

    With the passing and aging of so many of the politically motivated evangelical national leaders, I really believe this generation of pastors/leaders will step into its own, and there will be significant moves toward more Christ centered and Gospel focused church life.

    Younger pastors and evangelicals just don’t think the way their parents and grandparents did.

  12. dumb ox says:

    I would agree that a shift away from the cultural war was necessary, but is this a sign of a shift back to neo-orthodoxy? Political activism is not the problem; too narrow of a range of issues and the adaptation of secular political viewpoints and methods is. We need to maintain a voice in defense of the unborn, but also defend those already born, who are experiencing various forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. There needs to be a Christian voice speaking out in defense of the land, in the priestly call of Adam to care for and nurture God’s creation.

  13. I have lived in Europe for a decade. It is interesting to note that most Christians associate themselves with “social democracy” as a political system. Pro-free market folks are usually atheistic, and those who stop a strong nationalist line, as well as a strong military, are often of a pseudo-fascist bent.

    Now, I AM pro-free market, and believe in a strong national identity and defense, but those are political views, not religious views.

    Yet, in the United States, the “Religious Right” often seems to think the Republican Party platform was written under divine inspiration.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Yet, in the United States, the “Religious Right” often seems to think the Republican Party platform was written under divine inspiration.

      The guy who uses the handle “Onward, Forward, Toward” in these comments coined the term “GOP = God’s Own Party!” or “God’s Only Party!” to describe this attitude. And it has opened up Christians to Pavlov’s Dog-level manipulation by the Republican Party, up to and including Sarah Palin as Messiah Politics.

  14. Andy Zook says:

    Hallelujah! More waking up and realizing that God’s kingdom is not going to come through man’s might and money. But let’s continue to pray…for others and ourselves. I got off the culture war wagon a long time ago, but now my biggest issue is dealing lovingly and humbly with many of my family and friends who are still on it. People like Palin and the tea parties have given them new hope that they can still run the show despite being a shrinking minority…it makes my heart grieve to see so much wasted (IMHO) time, money and energy. I just hope and pray their fingers don’t go to the triggers…or that after a multitude of future failures/collapses that they turn from any faith in God in despondency… Let’s be there for them in that time and meanwhile let’s humbly rejoice when the Kingdom of God does show up in all the places not sought after by the Palins, preacher patriots or PAC’s.

  15. dumb ox says:

    Looks like Coral Ridge just produced the new DVD series, “Dangers of Socialism”. I’m thinking those worried (or hopeful) that Coral Ridge is moving away from the cultural war can rest easy.

    • Did a little checking Coral Ridge Ministries is still publishing D James Kennedy’s sermons. It is a separate entity from the church. The church’s radio ministry is now called Godward Living. I suspect that at one point or another someone will change their name to distinguish between the two. If not, there will be lots of confusion.

      • Thanks to all who have clarified this. One look at the Coral Ridge MINISTRIES site, and you will see that the culture war is alive and “well”.

  16. A Ray of Hope? Yes. I admire Tullian for a number of different reasons. I appreciate his emphasis on the gospel and its need for application in every area of our lives in every moment.I also like his admiration for the Puritans and the rich reformed tradition we share. Having said that, I think you make too little of his predecessor. As a long term, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church member (one who has remained throughout the merger, despite the cantankerous difficulties on both sides, and my great personal struggle throughout the process). To paint the previous administration at CRPC as the church that was known for what it was against, I think is unfair. The church had many wonderful ministries including a ministry to struggling homosexuals, divorce support groups, and many other compassionate outreaches. To paint them as a bunch of nay sayers, is patently unfair and untrue.
    I look forward to Tullian’s redirection of Christ’s vision and witnessing the glory of God in new manifestations. “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail”

    • Those were his words, David. And if “Coral Ridge Ministries” is any indication of the perspectives of those who left, it’s “all culture war, all the time.” No one is saying that was the entire focus of the church, just what they became known for.

      • Coral Ridge Ministries is a ministry that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church spawned, like Evangelism Explosion (which by the way is in every country of the world and is one of the most widely used evangelism programs). To say that as an issue oriented ministry, it focussed on protecting the unborn and the family, you would be correct. But to say that it was the foundation upon which the entire church revolved is a gross exaggeration. The CRM content (family issues) did have a prominent role as one of the main topics of sermons by Dr. Kennedy (though mostly in the morning services which alone were used for Coral Ridge Ministries programming). Dr. Kennedy held to two fundamental pillars, evangelism (all the peoples of the world) and the cultural mandate (standing for righteousness in our society). There were also many other ministries, as I have mentioned, but regardless of who is making the above mentioned claim, the former CRPC was not known by most as a church that stood against cultural decadence. Just ask the many who came from around the world for Evangelism Explosion and Music Explosion seminars.

  17. Gary Monzillo says:

    It’s amazing how people who know so little about what really happened at Coral Ridge the past year are so quick to pass judgment on others. Having lived the maelstrom that was Coral Ridge in that period, let me assure all of you that there is much more to this story than is being revealed. It is a shame that Tullian has seen fit to bring what should be a time for humbling himself and stark introspection, repentence and correction into the public square not only here but many other places seemingly just to get people interested in his books. This has less to do with politics and tradition than it has to do with poor people skills and lack of love and compassion for those God has placed in your care. With the exception of David above, none of you know what it was like. Please know those that left did so only after great prayer and contemplation and meditation and God’s counsel. If God can’t be praised in an environment of love and freedom, what else is there?

    • I was an active member of Coral Ridge for several years, I loved and still love and respect Dr. D James Kennedy and was saddened by his death, and realized that we must move on. We knew that we could not and would not have another D. James Kennedy. WE welcomed TT, to our church. I personally went to him and welcomed him and offered to do whatever I could do to help. This was not a merger of two churches but a hostil taker over. I was very sad and concerned when I personally wittnessed his rage and uncontrolled temper. Before breaking away we prayed for several months for our Lord and Savior to lead us in the right path. I personally attended a weekly prayer meetings and each and every week we prayed for guidance and for CRPC. There is so much more that went on than the public knows, I could go on and on, but it is not worth it. TT and his group did not take our church, merely the building, we are the church and we have been so blessed with as far as we have come in 44 weeks. God is with us and I pray that CRPC. As Gary said, If God can’t be praised in an environment of love and freedom, what else is there?. Thank you Gary for your comments

  18. I agree with Edie and Gary about what happened at CRPC when Tullian and his church merged with us. Immediately, things began to change. Good, experienced people were fired from their jobs and replaced with younger, less experienced people from Tullian’s group. The traditional worship order, whichTullian had told the choir would be kept, was changed. One of his executive committee members was found to have conflicting interests and was asked to resign, but the things that this “hatchet man” did were not rescinded after his departure from the church. Many feelings were hurt by all these rapid and drastic changes. I wanted to like Tullian and support him, but after he practically jumped over my head in fury to challenge a friend of mine during a discussion at choir practice, I had to reconsider. I am with the new church and we are indeed blessed by what God is doing with us there. I still have many friends at CRPC that I dearly love, and I pray for their fellowship, but I am glad that I went with the new church.

  19. Gary is right….most don’t have any idea what was really being said and done to the people during this time. Even some elders and most deacons don’t know the hurtful words and vengence with which he and his staff were attacking behind the scenes. I think if it were all told most would not believe it anyway. I still have friends who don’t know these truths and I’m sure would thnk I was lying, but the proof exists. At this point….everyone has formed their opinions, much like policical parties and no amount of truth would change their minds. We are all sinful in the sight of God, but he is able to use us to His glory in spite of that sin. The new church is fantastic and is helping all of us to refocus and get back to the task of evangelizing our world and sharing thehope of Heaven with the lost that we meet each day. There is such joy that comes from sharing the truth of His perfect sacrifice of dying on the cross in our place for the forgiveness of sin. That’s what really matters.

  20. I think some of you people are drinking Tullian’s Kool-Aid. I am a victim of his takeover of Coral Ridge Church. I listened to him stand in front of our congregation and promise the people that those who worked at CR would not lose their jobs, the worship music and service would stay the same, and he was a “cultural mandate junkie” who would continue DJK’s legacy. The day after he was installed as pastor, he fired the worship team leader and told the worship team (some of whom had been singing for 17 years!) that they would have to audition to be on the new worship team. I watched in horror as he systematically replaced ministry leaders who had years of experience with younger people from his former church. I waited in a lineup in the hallway on June 2, 2009, while one by one, ministers and other employees were called in to the HR director’s office to be fired from our jobs. I witnessed his rage as he charged after a choir member who dared to challenge him. We went through another “purging” as our “secret” ballots were not so secret, and any choir member who voted against him was told they could not sing anymore. This was done without the benefit of approval by the Session. He took out the traditional prayers and hyms from the worship service. You say he preaches the Gospel, but I seldom heard the name of Jesus Christ from his pulpit, and I never heard him ask people to recite the sinners’ prayer and give their lives to Jesus Christ. He blames the exodus of the “dissidents” on our desire to continue political activism, all the while ignoring his own role in our leaving. He always manages to blame someone or something else for what goes wrong. His ego will not allow him to accept the blame. We didn’t leave because we wanted to maintain DJK’s legacy. We left because the new pastor was unbearable. We are not idolators. We don’t worship the building or the politics or the choir. We just wanted the purity of our theology to remain intact. Our new church is a joyful, happy place where we rejoice in tradition but delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is being preached every Sunday, and it doesn’t take 18 weeks to get across the message. (His next book will be your new sermon series, I’m sure.) I wish you all well, but I, for one, will never go back to the white elephant on Federal Highway.

  21. My thoughts are on my blog.

    • Your post was good, Otter. I hope others will go to your blog and read it. Folks, just click on Otter’s name at his comment to go there.

      • even better was Otter’s “Cross and Flag” it might make an interesting kick-off to Christian Patriot’s week…..if Otter doesn’t, mind the hate mail….

        • I live for the derision of others. It unifies the community.

          • I read both. I think my only comment was: Weren’t there more reasons for the Revolution than simply ‘taxation without revolution’? It was just a thought.

  22. Ah, church politics. It makes one thankful to be a chaplain. Sigh…

    • It’s my theory that the reason family fights are worse than other kinds of conflict is because of the relative level of intimacy there. How much more so, then, the Church?

  23. There is more than one side to each story, but too often those without power do not have a fair opportunity for their side to gain equal public hearing.

    They are dismissed as bloginistas, bitter and dissidents.

    This thread alone serves to remind me that all of us Christians are born sinners, damned apart from the mercy and grace of God, and even after we get saved we have our own struggles with the flesh. Sometimes greatly affecting others. And, sometimes with certain people, bringing reproach upon the body of Christ.

    But as long as the PR machine can cover over the sin, it’s all good, right? 🙄

  24. Offended people have one of two choices: forgive as you have been forgiven, or choose to hold it against your offender.

    • Gary Monzillo says:

      Isn’t there a higher standard for a pastor? Luke 12:48 says, “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” God has given Tullian much it is certain, so shouldn’t much be demanded of him? It is one thing to forgive a brother, but a pastor and shepherd, one to whom many lives are entrusted, is called to a higher standard. That is the problem with what has happend at Coral Ridge in my opinion. They have been shortchanged by this replacement. They deserve better. It is up to the Session to make it happen if the pastor cannot or will not. They need to check him if he cannot or will not.

  25. Its really sad to see how some people such as Monzillo harbor such anger and hatred and continue to spew it across the internet. Tullinan’s sermons are filled with the Gospel of Jesus to no end and I am at a loss where the accusation that he lacks that exists. CRPC is thriving and there are a majority of older/long timer members that stayed and would strongly not agree with the propaganda that has been spread about. There are many key people still there from the previous administration. Another thing I see is the church does not reach its hand into the peoples pocket so hard.

    My prayer is that we can accept each other in the name of Christ our Lord and put aside our differences so we may move the kingdom forward… amen