December 14, 2017

iMonk Classic: A Reformation Day Meditation

'Country Church' photo (c) 2009, Jeffrey Kontur - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From October 31, 2005

Note from CM: On this week when we have been focusing on the Bible, this meditation from Michael Spencer on the state of the church in his region, especially with regard to seriousness about Biblical and theological depth, is a lament and cry for God to send his Word in power to us once more.

• • •

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)

On the way to preach at the evening chapel service, I drove past a church building here in our little village. There were probably 30 cars out front, a good crowd on Sunday nights here in the mountains of southeast Kentucky, but especially good because, just a few weeks ago, this building was empty. A few families have left a large Church of God down the road and come down here to start services in this building. Now they appeared to be up to probably 50 people or so. A quick start.

The church that had worshipped in this building before had grown from nothing to several hundred in just a few years. Now they have moved into an elementary school that the board of education vacated, and I expect they may be the largest church in the county right now. The “First Baptist” Church in the county seat runs about 150 on Sunday mornings. This is easily twice that and growing rapidly.

'Carters Chapel United Methodist' photo (c) 2008, Doug Garner - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Pentecostal/Holiness churches dominate our county. I’ve never been entirely clear as to how they got such a foothold in such a short time, but they are the clear winners to appeal to this culture. I know that, at one time, Baptist and Presbyterian churches were strong, but in the last 50 years, the Presbyterians have almost vanished and the Baptists have barely held their ground. Pentecostals, Holiness and various kinds of Charismatic, non-denominational churches have flourished and multiplied. I work at a Baptist school, but probably a third of our staff goes to some variety of a non-Baptist, usually Pentecostal-Holiness, church.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to know what is going on in those churches. It is impossible to miss them. They are all over the television and the radio. Our cable system has 6 religious channels, all generously populated with local church and religious programming. The weekend radio is wall to wall Pentecostals and Holiness “worship” and preaching. I’ve visited the local Church of God and the local Charismatic Church several times. None of it is any surprise to me anymore.

You see, this morning, at my Presbyterian Church, I preached to 12 people. That’s not unusual. Several of my folks weren’t there, but I rarely preach to more than 25. We have a Reformed worship service that does everything we believe is important in a God-centered, God-honoring service of public worship. We are a Bible-saturated church. We read it. We sing it. We say it. We pray it. I preach it from lectionary texts and in verse by verse exposition. You’d have to drive a long way around here to find someone more committed to serious reformed worship and preaching than I am.

We don’t have a band. We don’t anoint with oil. We don’t shout. We don’t fall over in worship. We don’t speak in tongues. We don’t clap and jump. My preaching is intelligible, organized and earnest. I apply the message. I am careful to preach the gospel. There are no strange prophecies or emotion-laden prayer groups. We worship decently and in order. We do the Christian year. We say the creeds. I teach the confession.

I’m pretty sure that our church will die in a few years. I’m just as sure that most of the churches in our community that don’t embrace the Pentecostal-Charismatic style of worship will decline, and that many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Holiness churches will grow and prosper. I am certain that Biblical preaching means less and less to the average Christian every week in our community. It is a famine, and I am watching it happen in my lifetime.

The average Pentecostal-Charismatic preacher/pastor in our community has no education at all, and it shows very obviously and quickly. Ignorance is not a problem here. Being unintelligible, even bizarrely, dangerously ignorant of the Bible or Christian doctrine is not an issues. What matters is if you have the Spirit, at least as it’s judged here. I am not being prejudicial or bitter when I say that nothing approaching the Gospel is preached in most of these churches. The messages do not understand or beging to explain salvation by grace through faith by Christ. It is not a matter of a distorted or incomplete Gospel. It is religion without the Gospel. It is emotion that is genuine, and communal life that makes life easier in a hard place, but the Gospel, as a message and a truth to be believed, is almost never heard.

You hear a lot about prayer and what it can do. You hear a lot about repentance. There is a call to be holy and to live different. There are many warnings about the devil. You’ll hear assurances that God is on your side and that the Lord can give you the victory. Everything that God wants to do for you will happen at the altar when the Holy Spirit gets ahold of you. There is much said about family. Demons and spirits are very real. Emotionalism is encouraged, but the Gospel and the faith are almost never taught.

Faith? You’ll hear Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts’ version of faith, but you won’t hear sola fide anywhere. The Gospel of grace? If you are lucky, and find your way into one of the Baptist or Presbyterian or Methodist churches, you will hear about a gracious God who saves us in Jesus, but this is only a handful of churches. In the majority- the Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic majority- the Gospel of Grace is no more likely to be heard than a review of Russian novels.

'Country church in Teay's Valley, WV' photo (c) 2005, Michael L. Dorn - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/You will hear the Christian’s responsibility to change the moral condition of society. Our community has a lot of anti-drug crusading going on these days, and the churches are very involved. Our local churches love the Ten Commandments fight, the prayer in schools fight, and the gay marriage fight. Mobilizing these churches for conservative political causes is easy work. They are ready to vote against alcohol and they are ready to march against drugs. If reforming society by getting Christians to vote and march is your passion, the churches here are wonderful.

In these churches, most of what you will hear that is worth believing about Jesus will be in the music. There’s music everywhere. Contemporary worship choruses. Mountain bluegrass. Country gospel. It’s on the television, on the radio and in every church. It seems that every church has 4 or 5 musical groups that love to sing. Music touches mountain people, there is no doubt about that. I’m not immune to it. I enjoy much of the mountain music, even as I recognize the uneven truths of the Gospel in it. The music is full of songs about heaven, mama and the need to repent. I am grateful for the times the Gospel shows up in some of this old music, however, because it is frequently more clearly stated in some of those songs than in the pulpit.

You can hear the Gospel preached clearly if you know where to look. There are national radio ministries that reach into our county from another county. (Thank God for them.) Of course, there are the usual con-artists and charlatans from the Word-faith side of the fence. Some of the Baptist ministers here have discovered John Piper and are reading and preaching the Gospel more clearly. We have some good men here in some churches that have little interest in a true Biblical ministry. Pastoral turnover is very, very high. Mountain people want their preaching to be emotional and confrontational. They don’t like a paid, professional ministry and they are suspicious of education. They hardly recognize the power of the Gospel as it is presented in Romans. They value authenticity, but they do not recognize the Biblical deficiencies in their definitions of it.

An educated ministry has a hard time relating to an uneducated culture. I’ve learned this many times. This is a place where feelings and emotions are the currency of religion, and the minister who seeks to emulate Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones will have a difficult time. What works at Piper’s church or Dever’s church won’t work here.

The parking lot of the Pentecostal Church reminds me that I live in the midst of a famine of the Word of God. Like Luther’s time, the truth of the Gospel has been lost under the rubbish heap of mountain religion. The decline of a culture often catches the church asleep, and before you know it, the ability to even explain the Gospel is in perilous distress.

I have friends- good, educated, Biblically committed friends- who go to these churches. They are well aware that they seldom hear the Gospel and almost never hear Biblical messages. They go for the music, the children’s programs and the atmosphere of believing that God can and does act in people’s lives. They have adjusted just fine to sitting under a ministry that has little need for the Gospel or Biblical preaching.

It is discouraging. I drive past that parking lot- a scene that is repeated all the time in our community- and I wonder if I live in an anomoly or in the beginnings of the end of a kind of Biblical Christianity in our culture. While I know there will always be places where the Word and the Gospel are loved and valued, I am living in a place where the truth is dying, and what is replacing it is not the Gospel at all.

I often wonder if I should change? Should I embrace the local culture somehow and try to find a “reformed” mountain Christianity. So far, it stifles me. I cannot see where to start. Maybe it is right in front of me, and I am just afraid. Maybe I and other pastors here are carrying the light until another generation can take it up and shine it brighter in this place.

'43266 Church of the Big Hole' photo (c) 2009, Raymond Hitchcock - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/As it is, Reformation Day has come and gone, and the parking lot at the newest Pentecostal church in our county is full, while my church grows emptier.

Am I to blame? I end this Reformation Day wondering if I have furthered the famine or if I have done the best I can do to ease it. I do not know. God will have to be my judge. I dream of a church that is full, but every time we sing a reformed hymn, I am looking at faces that want to be elsewhere where the songs are recognizable and the atmosphere is familiar and informal. A few years ago a new family came with relatives to our church . They tried. I tried. We simply couldn’t keep them. I couldn’t be that mountain preacher. They couldn’t be those reformed Christians. There was a Charismatic church that suited them. It was a sad day when they left, particularly because they left me not with certainties, but with doubts.

“We long to see your churches full” wrote the hymnwriter. That is my desire, and as my time in ministry grows shorter, I want to see the Gospel loved and the Word of God hungered for among God’s people. I pray that I see a Reformation Day when there is evidence that the famine is lifting, and God’s Word is doing its work once more.

 

 

Comments

  1. Adrienne says:

    I am on a website where we share devotions, lessons and so on as encouragement and hopefully for learning, though today I despair of the learning aspect. I love Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon etc. So once in awhile I post one of the writings of these pastors. I got called on it. Keep it short and simple. No one reads “this stuff”. Give us Lucado (Next Door Savior!!) or even better Osteen or Meyer.

    So, I stopped. I am sad. And today I feel lonely. I guess Paul might have felt that when he said, “You should be teaching and into the meat. Instead you are still drinking milk.” (My paraphrase) Nothing changes.

  2. I have two thoughts. One, moving to a basis where scripture is the sole authority has resulted in thousands of different authorities, and I am not sure how any human can know which is correct. Certainly any one of them would vehemently defend their views as being based on scripture.

    Two, perhaps the arc of scripture is legitimately moving in the holiness pentecostal direction. I am not part of that tradition but I recognize that time reveals much of God to us, as it did with our views on slavery.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The average Pentecostal-Charismatic preacher/pastor in our community has no education at all, and it shows very obviously and quickly. Ignorance is not a problem here. Being unintelligible, even bizarrely, dangerously ignorant of the Bible or Christian doctrine is not an issues. What matters is if you have the Spirit, at least as it’s judged here.

    He has NO book-larnin’ and HE IS LOUD!!!!”
    — Highest complement you can pay to a preacher-man, according to one long-ago comment on this very subject

  4. Does God only work through people who can read?

    If you had never seen or read a copy of the Bible, does it automatically follow that you cannot be a Christian?

    • Of course not – but I think it is important for the preacher to read. And think.

      • Most of us are probably speaking as people who readily had the resources for education available to us growing up. It isn’t simply a coincidence that poor and under-educated people are attracted to Pentecostalism. It wasn’t that long ago that this was really their only option. This was especially true of many African American people. Also, Pentecostals were one of the few denominations that have had women pastors for quite a while. Whenever the institutions at large set themselves up against certain groups of people in society, those people will find ways to subvert the institution.

        I just don’t think it’s the dynamics at play in why people are pentecostal and why these movements are growing are as simple as people having their ears tickled. There’s definitely some of that at play, but it’s not the whole story.

        • Just a note: It isn’t only poor and under-educated people who are attracted to Pentecostalism. TO think so reflects the mindset of Vance Packard, whose book The Status Seekers included a chapter entitled, “The Long Road From Pentecostal to Episcopalian” — the road runs in both directions. Ya think?

  5. A Christian is one who has accepted Jesus The Christ’s death and resurection as atonement for his/her sins and follows His teachings. Where do you find this but in the Bible.

  6. I grew up as an AoG pastor’s kid, so I’ve been around Pentecostalism all my life. I’ve definitely met more than my fair share of nuts and seen all sorts of craziness attributed to “moves of the Spirit”. But at the same time, I can’t deny they authenticity of many of the experiences I had myself and seen. I understand the frustration with people not appreciating education, the chaos the can sometimes thrive, and the general idiocy that survives. Sometimes I think the movie Idiocracy looks more and more like prophecy everyday.

    On the other hand, I often think that sometimes as humans we have a desire to want to control and organize life in a way that’s manageable for us simply because we don’t like the feeling of not having control. Let’s face it, even churches that aren’t official cessationist function as if they were. When something out of the ordinary happens, people get worried. I think there is a legitimate sense in which God is chaotic and unnerving, and in order for us to approach God it requires us to let our guard down.

    C.S. Lewis captures it in a scene in The Silver Chair. In the scene Jill finds herself in Narnia, very thirsty.

    …”Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

    “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

    “Then drink,” said the Lion.

    “May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

    …”Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

    “I make no promise,” said the Lion.

    Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

    “Do you eat girls?” she said.

    “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say it as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

    So perhaps at the root of a lot of the abuses in both directions is the desire to tame God, make Him do what we want Him to do. Pentecostals tend to be more overt in this way, but it certainly happens in all sorts of churches.

    • Christiane says:

      I love how that quote ends
      . . . when the girl says that she thinks she will go find ‘another stream’,
      and Aslan replies, ‘There is no other stream’

      so simply written . . . so sharply edged, the pen of C.S. Lewis

    • Great quote from JACK; and nice post, Phil. Well said.

  7. The same thing goes on (big time) in Southern California.

    Lots of packed churches with no gospel. Just Christian sounding jibberish that focuses the listeners on themselves. The law (what we do) still works to pack ’em in and keep ’em coming. People love the dangling carrot.

    We have one of those places a few miles from us and the police department has to modify the stoplights and man the intersections to get everybody in and out (thousands).

    And we are down the street, proclaiming the gospel, using the law to convict and drive to Christ, and administering the Sacraments. It’s not sexy and we usually don’t get sixty or seventy on a Sunday morning.

    Can God work in those churches? Sure He can. But it is not apparent to me.

  8. dumb ox says:

    A better description of this movement is not pentecostal, charismatic, or holiness, but revivalism. For instance, revivalists like Phoebe Palmer and Charles Finney hijacked the term, “holiness” from the Wesleyans, who did preach the gospel and holiness as a work of grace (John Wesley was saved in part by hearing the introduction to Luther’s commentary on Romans, and Charles Wesley used to lead home meetings in reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians). Revivalism is very, very pervasive in American churches – even Lutheran and Reformed churches haven’t escaped its influence. Pentecostalism was forged in the fires of revivalism; that is why it has so many revivalistic characteristics. But most denominations were split in two by Great Awakening revivalism, with one half following the revivalistic path. Many of these splinters became what are now the liberal wings of mainline denominations.

    This is not merely a pentecostal problem. Every church – no matter how gospel-centric, scripture-grounded, or seminary-trained – needs to be wary of the lure and promises of revivalism and the scorched earth it leaves behind.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I agree mostly about what you are saying about revivalism. However it didn’t totally abandoned the gospel message. But it turned out to be a gospel of limited effect. One of the problems was that you couldn’t find salvation and keep it with that type of preaching. People were constantly searching for some type of emotional experience, being under conviction over and over again, constant self searching, being never sure, and backsliding. Evangelists preached people “under conviction” for committing every known sin. You could be saved one minute and lost the next. People would go to the “altar” and pray with a dozen people around them praying at the same time until they prayed through.

      When I was a teenager I had a teenage female friend, who all the boys considered “hot.” She had lots of dates. Every revival she was one of the first to the altar. I accepted Christ at around 10 years of age. It wasn’t really an emotional experience, so I had trouble believing it. For several years I struggled with whether it really “took” or not. No child should have to go through anything like that. This was a battle of doubt and faith that raged in my heart, and I never told a soul about it. Thank God one of my daughters was born believing in Christ. She just grew up in the faith. She’s had many struggles in life, but not about salvation.

      • Cedric Klein says:

        Do you know whatever became of her? Did she become settled in the Faith?

        • David Cornwell says:

          Yes, she has a position in a fairly large Methodist Church, which leans strongly in an evangelical direction.. Hopefully she is settled in her faith. She’s a wonderful person, but another person whose faith struggles have not been easy.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I agree mostly about what you are saying about revivalism. However it didn’t totally abandoned the gospel message. But it turned out to be a gospel of limited effect.

        And limited coverage.

        I’ve heard it described as “A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.”

        • David Cornwell says:

          Yes, that also. I’ve never been in the slightest bit tempted to go back into the world of revivalism, camp meetings, and altar calls. But when I was 14 we had a big community wide revival once under a tent with Ford Philpot preaching. My dad and I spent one night in the tent as night watchmen. The whole thing was tremendously entertaining for me. The Baptists almost walked out at one point over the subject of — guess what– baptism. Philpot’s preaching was loud and he was always in attack mode, and telling stories of his years in alcoholism. The soloist would sing songs like “It is no Secret what God has Done”:

          “The chimes of time ring out the news
          Another day is through
          Someone slipped and fell
          Was that someone you?”

    • It is too simplistic to blame revivalism for all the ills of the modern church. The great awakenings in American history had their obvious abuses and over-the-top emotionalism but most historians would suggest the awakenings were influential in much of what was good in the 19th and early 20th century church, including social justice issues, such as the anti-slavery movement, the anti-poverty movements, and even feminism. It is just too simplistic and even irresponsible to suggest that revivalism only produces a “scorched earth” result.

  9. I went Pentecostal 20 years ago and haven’t looked back. I totally agree with Michael about the great deal of emotion-driven, experience-centered, brain-dead Christianity that you see among our churches. Some of us are trying to put a stop to that. Others not so much. The trend, I notice, is that if someone gets saved and starts going to a Pentecostal church with a fool preacher, about five or six years in, they’ll realize this and start looking for a church whose pastor can actually teach them something. (Unless, God forbid, they get involved in leadership or marry into the pastor’s family; then they’re stuck.) So it’s self-correcting, sorta.

    That said, the whole “Why aren’t they listening to me?” aspect of this post irritates me. Valid concerns aside, there’s a thread of jealousy, and intellectual paternalism, throughout it that I don’t care for.

    Here’s the thing. People want an emotional connection with God. They want an experiential connection with God. They want that so much they’re willing to listen to fools who have those connections. Some of them are con artists; some are earnest but dumb. Our job as Christians seems to me to expose the con artists, and to take the earnest dummies—like Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos—and get to know them, and correct them.

    This makes far more sense to me than to minister to a 12-person flock, and bellyache about the fools in the far more popular church. I wish to goodness that smart people would recognize that there, in those churches, is a field white for harvest, and go minister to them. Not to sheep-steal; certainly not. But to help those under-prepared pastors out. And, to some degree, to learn what those folks are doing right that they are not—because people definitely think that church is meeting their needs, and I will bet you that in most cases it truly is.

  10. Yes, I agree with KW. Both kinds of churches could help one another a lot. People are seeking a genuine encounter with God. The salvation message is absolutely imperative, and it’s what people in these churches need to hear– and also how to tell by the “fruit” the difference between a shallow emotional experience and a true encounter with the Spirit of the Grace being preached. But to say they’re somehow wrong for seeking a genuine experience– even if they mistake other things for that!– is missing the boat.

    Saying the creeds, teaching the confession, and carefully explicating the Bible can be very empty things if the focus is on being “decent and in order.” Lead the people to Christ, and then if that experience makes them feel emotion, don’t make them bottle it up. Leave room for the Spirit to move. Don’t be afraid of simple, modern worship songs– if they’re turning people towards true worship of God, it doesn’t matter if they’re not as doctrinally deep as the old hymns. Singing a beautiful old song, if you don’t understand and it means nothing to you, might as well be singing a page out of the phone book.

    The best kind of church is one that embraces both good teaching and true encounters with God.

  11. Classic blame the customers and the new shop next door.

  12. So…God won’t heal you if you’re sick. If you’re in financial trouble, He won’t miraculously provide for you. He won’t directly speak you about anything. You can’t have a band in worship. And the only way for you to really learn God’s Word is to learn it from someone educated like me. Heh, yeah, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to go to a church like yours. 🙂

    • Please forgive me for my sarcasm. 😛

      • Kelby Carlson says:

        Guess what? I’m blind. Always have been, always will be. God won’t heal me. I accept that. I am so freaking tired of evangelicals throwing people with permanent disabilities under the bus. Guess what? God seems to only “heal” people if they have an infectious disease or a temporary disability. People like me are S.O.L., I guess.

        Healing talk disgusts me, and I’m a Christian.

        • I have an “incurable” medical condition. It heavily affects my life, although most people, including my own family, don’t understand what I have to put up with. Two ministers associated with my church, who were 100% preachers of “healing talk”: one died of diabetes; one, despite wonderful visions about the Lord’s healing power, died a long and protracted, very painful death with terminal cancer. These two deaths made me wonder: If these two men of God, who had wonderful testimonies and, I believe, really knew how to walk in faith, died like this, what does that mean for me? I struggle with the smallest things of faith. But I must believe Jesus Christ will heal me. I face a choice: Will I believe what the Word of God actually says, or will I believe what I have seen and experienced, up to and including the deaths of these two word-of-faith ministers?

          • Kelby Carlson says:

            Thanks for the clarification. I believe Jesus will heal me, but not in this life. I will be healed when I am raised. That I can put my faith in, but not some ephemeral promise of “healing” in this life if I have enough faith. My problems go a lot deeper than any physical ailments I have, anyhow.

        • Kelby: One of my roommates in college (a Pentecostal college, I should add) was blind. Still is. Genetic condition. He had to put up with a never-ending stream of well-meaning folks who wanted to pray for him… and then wanted to blame him for it, either by criticizing his faith or his righteousness, when their prayers weren’t instantly answered. He also had to put up with it when his twin brother, who suffered the same condition, was miraculously healed. What kind of twisted God was he following?

          Well, he wasn’t following a twisted God. Just people’s very twisted understanding of a very good God. The Pentecostal twist is the God who answers every wish like a genie. The non-Pentecostal twist is the God who only answers prayers for spiritual things, not material ones, and the rest of the time we have to suck it up; His grace is enough. Neither is scriptural.

          God loves us, cares about us, knows better, and doesn’t answer to us. He doesn’t have to tell us why He does as He does, or allows what He allows. He’s told us that He’ll make everything right in the End. Pentecostals recognize that, as Jesus demonstrated personally when He was on earth, every so often He doesn’t care to wait till the End. But we have no business guaranteeing He’ll heal every comer who has enough faith. Earning a healing through “faith,” or deserving one through righteousness, is not grace. And healing is all grace. But God has free will: Stuff happens in His timing, for His reasons.

          Jesus will definitely heal you at the resurrection. And He may heal you before that point, if it serves His purpose. I have no business telling you more than that. I apologize for those schmucks in my movement who have promised too much. Hopefully someday they’ll crack a bible.

    • cermak_rd says:

      No. The Almighty won’t heal you when you’re sick. Otherwise he’s guilty of an awful lot of negligence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Aren’t the prayers of the absolutely destitute as good as other people’s prayers? The same with miraculously providing. Tell a woman who has just lost her child to starvation in Somalia that the Almighty will provide for her and her children. I don’t think she’d take it well.

      I’m not sure whether the Divine ever speaks to people directly or not. I rather suspect (S)He gets real tired of hearing other people speak for Him (Her).

  13. I really appreciate the opportunity to read the late Michael Spencer’s posts that IMonk continues to carry; and I can appreciate many of the concerns voiced in the article by Michael. In my part of the world the congregations that seem to be prospering, numerically, are the independant, non-denominational Bible-believing churches that promote the CCM at the forefront. My disclaimer to my comments is that I am a bi-vocational pastor of a ‘mainline’ denomination, and serve four rural congregations in the SC low country.

    I do not mean these words as ‘whining’ or complaining that my congregations and/or my denomination are in a numerical decline as opposed to the increase of many independant, non-denominational churches that have arisen in this area and seem to be growing by leaps and bounds; rather I want to share my perspectives about the elements, or components of the worship services.

    The congregations that I serve are similar to the Presbyterian congregation that Michael mentioned in this post: we observe the Christian year, read multiple selections from the Bible, and have an ordered service of worship that I believe honors God and the congregants; we do not have a band, nor many of the elements that Michael contrasted in his post with the Presbyterian church he pastored. I do believe that many people attending the churches which utilize bands and/or elaborate presentations and/or intentionally attempt to evoke certain types of emotional responses, similar to the ones Michael described, do so because they want to be entertained or have certain internal wants or needs which are met by the heavily emotionally-charged atmosphere of the service.

    I’m not necessarily implying that emotional responses in worship are bad or not desirable; in fact though my services adhere to a more formally ordered structure which does attempt to honor God in a reverential manner, I ferverently pray for the Holy Spirit to move the congregants so that they are engaged emotionally and that they feel real emotion as they worship God individually and corporately in our services. However, I know that I will never be popular to anyone seeking an overtly, emotionally-charged or confrontational pastor; that is not how I see my responsibility as pastor-preacher. Like Michael, I attempt to be faithful to the text in my preaching and present the Gospel to those who hear me.

    Sometimes I also wonder what will happen to the congregants I am appointed to whenever the time comes for me to leave for another appointment; I am appointed to them in part because they cannot financially afford the base minimum set by our denomination for a full-time pastor, and though God still calls from within our ranks men and women to serve in these settings, there seem to be fewer and fewer called or responding to the call each year. I wonder if these congregations will be forced to make the choice to close or to reband, I wonder if these congregations will be active a generation from now. I also wonder if many of the people in churches that are more charismatic in theology and practice are being ‘fed’ by the word of God in order that they might truly perservere the trials and vicissitudes of life. I wonder how many go because they receive an emotional ‘high’ on Sundays that they desperately cling to throughout the week; I wonder if I am being truly faithful in my ministry and pray that my comments are not fostered by some jealousy because I do not have the status or financial gain or the following that some ministers in these other churches have.

    I do believe, however, that Michael was (and is) right: there is a famine in our land for the hearings of the LORD, and I’m not entirely convinced that all who attend church are being spiritually nourished.

    Many thanks for running these words from Michael!

  14. Yes, thanks for re-running this post. Why did it take me soooooo long to find M. Spencer and this site? Probably cuz i’m techno-illiterate for the most part and couldn’t find my way around my kitchen, much less the internet back then! Nevertheless, i’ve found my home and soul(mates) here over the last year and a half.

    This is why this site speaks to me….i’ve been thinking the same things for years and trying to find others who did too, but was met with walls of blank stares. His Amos reference is so appropriate; this has been the frog sitting in the slowly heating pot–a long time coming…but definitely here now, especially 6 years after Michael wrote this. Wow.

    Even if this website disappeared tomorrow (highly doubtful-going for that 2 million mark, right Jeff?), i would now know that i am not alone in my heart-aches for the Church. I could not, and would not be able to express as well as Michael and all of your writers the thoughts, ideas, concerns, suggestions, and gospel are able to. This has been my long journey, and this is a refuge for my mind and soul. “Thank you’ can and will not ever be enough, and i know it is simply my Father who led me here:)

    But, THANKS!! anyway:) and you all are in my prayers, i am so grateful.

  15. MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

    I was around the AG most of my adult life until I fled into the arms of Quakerism. However, I want to say all three of the pastors I had in my years with the AG were educated, doctrinely sound, and scripturally based. Ultimately, it was the thinking that God is spelled GOP that drove me out, and that was more of a problem with the layity than the clergy. So, maybe this is a problem with the non-denominational churches? I’ve never gone to a holiness church because I figured they’d have issues with the length of my hair or the fact that I love my blue jeans and wear shorts when I ride my bike.

    Now to pick on the Presbyterians because I have gone to a Presbyterian church. My experience with them is that the minister gets up, reads a snippet of scripture out of all context, and then spends 20 minutes expounding on why it doesn’t mean exactly what the text said. And they certainly can fall into error as is evidenced by the recent vote removing the requirement for celibacy outside of marriage. If the Presbyterians are the standard of orthodoxy we’re all in a lot of trouble.

  16. Charles Fines says:

    I remember clearly as a youth the time I looked around me in our Presbyterian church at all the rigid, joyless, respectable and upright congregants and thinking, if these are what Christians are I want no part of it. When I finally turned my life over to God at the halfway point I ended up starting voluntary church attendance at a Foursquare Church. After a severe bump in the road I ended up at a Lutheran Church which seemingly spoiled me for appreciating any other particular congregation.

    You couldn’t have told the attendees at those two churches apart by their dress or the cars in the parking lot or the heartfelt comradeship. Completely different styles of worship but never a word in either against those of the other persuasion. God was in attendance at both and these many years later I am convinced that God led me to both as part of my education and I thank Him heartily. I remember both pastors and all the congregants with great fondness.

    My most serious prejudice is against bigots. I consider self-identified Christians who are bigots as more reprehensible than the ordinary garden variety. Martin Luther was a raving bigot but fortunately that didn’t carry down into the church I found. I did once attend a different variety of Lutheran church where I was refused communion, one of my worst experiences as a Christian, so you never know.

    I have given up trying to figure out why Christians can’t even agree on what the gospel is or why what is presented as the gospel so often has little or nothing to do with what Jesus proclaimed. It seems to me that at least by self-definition the Good News ought to make you feel good and happy even if your understanding of it is askew. And that usually gets a knee jerk response of, so if it makes you feel good, do it, is that your Gospel? Which brings back to mind those dour, p[inch-faced Presbyterians who drove me away in my youth. Go figure.

  17. BALANCE……

    You DO NOT lose the gospel for the sake of the experiential….
    You DO NOT lose the working of the Holy Spirit for rigidness, traditions, rituals and order…

    The Word of God should NEVER be compromised-
    What is completely amazing to me is that we would even have a discussion
    about losing one (the doctrines of the faith and inerrancy of God’s Word) or the other (the working of the
    Holy Spirit).
    Both are intertwined and cannot be separate.
    The Bible is very clear to me and that is where I stay- not on someone else’s interpretation of
    what they “think” it is or could be. I want to stand grounded on the truth, yet know that the Holy Spirit works
    within the framework of that truth. The Holy Spirit ONLY works through the Word of God, not opposite of it.
    Read Scripture and you will find that out