Fumbling the Gospel


I would prefer not to start the week with a rant, but this one has been stewing in me for some time, and unless I get it out, it will only nag at me further.

Please read this post today, even if you’re not up for an in-your-face message. And while much of this is aimed at charismatics, it applies to everyone. Because it’s not just charismatics who are missing the point.

I write this today because my heart is just sick with the way we are presenting the Gospel to the lost. I’m writing because our teens are not getting the proper indoctrination into the Faith. I’m writing because I am tired of fellow charismatics who treat the Holy Spirit like a cudgel. I’m writing because a lot of people who “asked Jesus into their heart” are going to hell.

The pastor of my former church linked from Facebook to the following video:

This video, as labeled, purports to show healing revival going on at Disneyland. A group of Christians wanted to pray for strangers at the park. My response: Great! Go for it!

But then the uh-ohs start. You can find one between 40-50 seconds in. Another comes at 4:07-4:20.

There’s a move in some charismatic churches into what has been deemed “power evangelism.” For those not familiar with the term, it involves using the charismata to evangelize people. This includes healing encounters and speaking words of knowledge and prophecy to the lost.

I want to state upfront that I believe power evangelism can be a remarkable tool to lead people to Christ.

But there’s a big “IF” attached to that statement. And part of that if shows at the 4:07 mark.

Power evangelism works if power encounters with the Holy Spirit are immediately followed with the truth of God’s word, the presentation of the Gospel, repentance, and a completely changed life. In that way, people who have genuine power encounters with the Holy Spirit are not just affected by the power encounter, but by the reality of who Jesus is as presented in the Gospel.

When I hear people claiming to be born again because they asked Jesus into their heart, it riles me. Not because Jesus doesn’t dwell in the believer, but because the whole idea of asking Jesus into one’s heart has no biblical basis for salvation.

Paul Washer provides an eloquent counter to this unbiblical concept. I encourage you heartily to watch the whole video. It’s worth it:

Entire churches are dedicated to equipping their youth for power evangelism (such as this well-known example). And while on the surface that sounds awesome, I have enormous reservations.

My key reservation is the same concern shared by Paul Washer: We evangelicals and charismatics no longer understand what the Gospel is. And we don’t understand it because the people who are supposed to be transmitting the truth of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ have fallen down on the job, distracted by prosperity teachings, comfort, the American Dream, fun, entertainment, self-help, and even, sad to say, power encounters with the Holy Spirit (the why of which I’ll explain later on).

I think it would be safe to say that the average teen in a charismatic church who may be receiving encouragement to do power evangelism can’t articulate what the real Gospel is. In fact, knowing what I know of youth ministry today, I doubt that most teens in evangelical or charismatic churches could lay out a basic plan of salvation with a half dozen Bible verses in support.

And that’s a crime.

Say a youth group decides to go out and do prophetic prayer ministry at a mall filled with lost people. A few scenarios exist:

1. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person blows them off and walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

2. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched by the prayer, but walks away. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

3. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. Result: That person may stay lost because they have not heard the Gospel.

4. Teen prays a prophetic word over someone. Person listens, is touched, and asks what next to do. Person is told to ask Jesus into his/her heart. That person manages to retain enough interest in the experience to look into it further and, hopefully, stumbles across someone someday who actually explains the real Gospel to them. Result: That person may truly get saved and develop a love relationship with Jesus.

Numbers 1 through 3 are a complete loss, in my opinion, while 4 is the equivalent of fumbling the football and hoping your side recovers the loose pigskin—except in this gridiron classic, there’s not just one team playing against you, but hundreds, if not thousands.

Chances are, these mallwalkers who do bite may taste the fruits of heaven, end up calling themselves Christians, and fall into that netherworld of religiosity dominated by what I call “antiwitnesses.”

Too cynical? Well, I’m not done yet…

If the teens on this prophetic outreach can’t articulate the Gospel, can we be sure they even know what it is? And if they don’t know what it is, then are they truly saved themselves? And if all this is in question, what spirit is driving their power evangelism? Yikes!

(If you think I’m just charismatic bashing, then you’ll have to argue with well-known charismatics Andrew Strom and Derek Prince on these same issues. And for evangelicals, see “10 Reasons to Not Ask Jesus into Your Heart.”)

Youth ministry in this country is in a full-on freefall if we look at its ultimate results. Surveys by many of the most respected Christian pollsters and organizations repeatedly show that the majority of our supposedly born-again young people go into college as Christians and come out as unbelievers. George Barna paints an even bleaker picture, wherein only 0.5% of those ages 18-23 hold what is considered to be a traditional Christian worldview. No matter how you may want to slice and dice Barna’s figure, it’s a tragedy.

Those heartwrenching numbers exist solely because we in the Church today are not instructing our young people in the faith. They don’t know the Gospel. If they did, they wouldn’t be falling away in droves.

Instead, we teach kids who may not know the Gospel how to do power evangelism. Then they go around trumpeting how they’re going to “whack people up with the Holy Spirit.”

Frankly, I’d like to “whack up” whatever heretical “teacher” ever taught someone to talk about the blessed Holy Spirit in such a crass, demeaning way. Godless people speak that way about the members of the Trinity, not those who are indwelt by the genuine Holy Spirit. And for another thing, the Holy Spirit exists to relentlessly point to Jesus, not to Himself. Again, if we don’t know that, we don’t know the Gospel.

Are you mad yet at the foolishness that passes for discipleship and ministry today?

You don’t give a howitzer to a baby, no matter how much they may scream for it. The early Church did not let people go off spiritually half-cocked like we do today. Maturity was lauded and immaturity criticized.

We MUST instruct the immature in the basics of the faith. Any 13-year-old kid who was raised in a church MUST be able to espouse basic doctrine, including the core of the Gospel,  in a coherent way. When I was that age, I had to study my Lutheran catechism for hours, do personal Bible study on basic doctrine, and sit through a one-hour, two-on-one  grilling on tough issues of the faith by the pastor and youth worker before I was considered an adult member of the church.

We have GOT to get back to that kind of intensive discipleship or this will be the terminal generation of the Church. God will not forever excuse the kind of educational folly we’re practicing in all too many churches before He takes decisive action.

In a bit of sychronicity, I happened to stumble across a likeminded post over at iMonk’s blog, “Higher Things: A New Model of Youth Ministry.” It reads like a breath of fresh air, even if it’s again the Lutherans doing it right. I’m just glad SOMEONE takes ministry to the next generation seriously. Much more power to ’em.

But as for the rest of us, we’re atrocious at turning our young people into mature Christians. Atrocious. Too many distractions knock us off the core, foundational doctrines.

Power evangelism is incredible when it’s in the hands of people who know the Gospel, can articulate it, and know how to discern good from evil. But that simply is not our young people today.

If we want to undermine the Church in America even more, let’s keep being stupid about discipleship. But God help us then on Judgment Day.

The Error of the Unstrung


I’ve got no strings

To hold me down

To make me fret, or make me frown

I had strings

But now I’m free

There are no strings on me

Hi-ho the me-ri-o

That’s the only way to go

I want the world to know

Nothing ever worries me

I’ve got no strings

So I have fun

I’m not tied up to anyone

They’ve got strings

But you can see

There are no strings on me

If you don’t remember that ditty from your childhood (or parenthood), it’s sung by Pinocchio in the classic Disney film.

I hear this song a lot lately. As I’ve listened to the Church in America over the years, I hear it voiced by a growing group of Christians who are ecstatic that they’ve dropped out of the institutional Church.

You know these folks. They talk about how much freer they are now that they no longer attend Sunday morning services. Now that they’re not part of a local assembly, they talk about all the things they can do for the Lord that they could not do before or were made to feel guilty for doing by the institutional Church police. Theirs is a louder and louder voice.

I was almost one of those people. Fed up with the way churches operated, I wanted to mold a loose affiliation of church-shunners who felt exactly as I did, a hand-chosen group of friends who could pal around together in Christ and buck the established institutional system that had grown so lethargic and monolithic.  Strings? I didn’t want to have any strings on me, especially institutional Church strings.

But as I have mellowed in the last few years, I have come to realize the problem of being unstrung.

An unwillingness to be herded plagues the American psyche . As the world’s iconoclasts, no one has the right to tell us what to think or how to behave. If we don’t like something, no force from heaven or hell can dissuade us. Rugged individualism defines us. We are the ultimate bootstrappers, devoted to me, myself, and I. I don’t need you and you don’t need me, and that’s the way the American religion works.

Strange as it may seem, that same mentality reigns in those people who deem the institutional Church unworthy. And just as I cannot support the errors of the American religion, I am fully convinced that abandoning the traditional church in this country is a grave mistake.

When the Lord formed His Church after Pentecost, it was a ragtag group of misfits. You had widows, orphans, Roman politicians, prostitutes, Jewish zealots—the ultimate mishmash of classes, races, and temperaments. And that’s exactly how God desired the Church to be.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Pharisee who had just come to Jesus to sit down with whores and Romans? How stretched, right? Do you think that man grew on the inside?

When one of us decides that we don’t want to be a part of the traditional local church, we lose something exceptionally valuable: the test of dealing with people we may not especially like.

We see a bit of this in the consumeristic action of church shopping. We hop and shop from church to church looking for one that best fits our desires, the one filled with people most like us. (Oddly enough, people who eschew the institutional Church are often the most vocal against church shopping. )

At a time in American history when it seems as if everyone considers himself or herself a victim, when we walk around as open wounds expecting some jerk to pour salt on us, when intelligent debate is no longer possible between people without the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and other people just plain suck, people who drop out of church only add fuel to that fire of misanthropy.

So while some may think they are truly spiritual by saying goodbye to what most of us recognize as church, I wonder if those dropouts are missing out on vital, God-ordained character building.

A few years ago, David Wayne of Jollyblogger interviewed a pastor from the country of Georgia. When David asked that pastor about church shopping and hopping, the pastor was shocked. In his country, church people were born into a church and were buried in its cemetery. What about discord and disagreements? David wondered. The pastor gave a simple answer: People were forced to work out their differences because they were fellow members of the Body of Christ.

When Christians drop out of church, we shun the vital truth that Christian character is built on dealing with one’s differences within a body of believers comprised of people who are not exactly like us. In fact, we may not even like many of those people.

But the Kingdom of God does not allow us to pick and choose who will be in it. God desires us to learn how to live with people who would ordinarily bug the heck out of us. That is part of our growth as Christians.

When I see people dropping out of church and proclaiming how free they now are, I can’t help but think that their supposed freedom comes at a steep cost, pinocchio.jpgthe cost of learning to find common ground with people they would not have chosen to be in their Christian clique.

Pinocchio had a cranium filled with sawdust when he sang how free he was from being tied to anyone. Is that how we wish to be?

When I hear people who have dropped out of church, they almost invariably talk about how they now get together with their handpicked friends, people just like themselves, for fellowship. I find that sad because I gain valuable lessons in my inner man when I must deal with a wide swath of diverse fellow believers I did not handpick.

God desires that I learn to love brothers and sisters in Christ who are ignorant, lazy, judgmental and stubborn—which may even be how others perceive me. He also desires that I share in the lives of people who are much smarter, more loving, and deeper in the faith than I am—people I might ordinarily avoid because they make my own walk with Christ appear so tepid.

Would I choose to hang with Christian 80-year-olds,  sports nuts, quilters, teens, auto mechanics, infants, and the like if it were not for the institutional Church? Probably not, but God asks me to anyway, forcing the issue by keeping me in the local church.

No matter where others fall on the spectrum of Christian maturity and social graces, all have something to teach me that is valuable. And I have in them people whose problems I might not ordinarily encounter, but for whom Christ desires I intercede and bear burdens. It is in those burdens found in people who are not like me at all that I learn what it means to seek all solutions in Christ alone.

The world around us is fragmenting into tribes, and God help us all when tribes clash. But the Church is not to be this way. We are called to get along, no matter what our fellow Christians may be like.

Sadly, when we drop out of church and go our own unstrung, “enlightened” way, we avoid this lesson. And we are poorer in spirit for doing so.

Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne

We pour our ardent prayers;

Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one

Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,

Our mutual burdens bear;

And often for each other flows

The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,

It gives us inward pain;

But we shall still be joined in heart,

And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives

Our courage by the way;

While each in expectation lives,

And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,

And sin, we shall be free,

And perfect love and friendship reign

Through all eternity.

— John Fawcett, “Blest Be the Ties that Bind”

Thoughts for a Rainy September Friday


It’s one of those soggy days in southern Ohio that presages autumn. It’s also one of those days where my mind reels from a whirlwind of small thoughts, many inspired by the political season now upon us. So consider today a showcase. Maybe one of these will grow up and become a bigger post someday.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot about silence. (I guess if you perceive silence as a friend, you HAVE the ability to think.) If “Be still and know that I am God” is one of the hallmark verses of the Old Testament, what does it say about our ability to know God that we fill our days with noise and a blur of activity? I find it strange that I know adults, not children, who confess that they can’t sit in silence for a half hour without squirming and whining about it.
  • One other verse that strikes me as unknown in America 2008 is “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we treat fellow Christians who disagree with us like the spawn of hell, how is it possible that any of us could muster even a mustard seed of love for our genuine enemies? And why is it that we are so quick to disagree angrily yet so slow to pray for opponents? Notice, too, that I use the word opponents. It’s a long road from opponents to enemies. Someone please invite me to the next prayer meeting wherein Christians spend an hour praying for their enemies. I sadly suspect I’ll need a very expensive plane ticket to get there.
  • If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, why is it that American Evangelicals seem to have no concept of what it means to practice peace or work as ambassadors on behalf of it? Time and again, it seems to me that Evangelicals who discuss political issues are quick to include that they are “for the war effort,” yet NEVER, EVER say they are “for the peace effort.” Does a peace effort even exist in American churches outside of dead, liberal mainline denominations and a handful of Quakers?
  • Every year, the comment that “America is a Christian nation” loses more of its cachet. Consider that four people out of five in this country self-label as Christians and then ask a critical question: What would our nation look and act like if those four out of five were replaced by Christians from Palestine circa 70 AD? Am I the only one believes the difference in practice and influence would be a startling one?
  • What is the goal of an education? For much of the history of our country it was to create adults with a high, lasting understanding of civic responsibility. In that, education was never viewed as self-serving, but as a necessary means to strengthen society and the body politic. Now it’s viewed as only a pathway to greater amounts of personal income. Is it any wonder then that our nation is in trouble economically, socially, morally, and spiritually? When George Barna polls Evangelicals and finds that a greater percentage are worried about getting their kids into a prestigious college than ensuring they know Christ, then the wheels have not only fallen off the last vestiges of Christian education in this country, but the entire vehicle has burst into hellish flames.
  • It’s bizarre to me that people seem to be baffled by the denominational affiliation of Sarah Palin. Since when were the Assemblies of God considered to be a fringe group? This is what happens when all your political pundits are lapsed Episcopalians or Presbyterians-in-name-only.
  • An independent is running in the 2nd Congressional District in Ohio, my district. This has long been considered one of the most Republican districts in the entire country. Republican candidates have in the past won this district with nearly 80 percent of the vote. This has not been the case recently as the GOP has consistently let conservative voters down. In fact, when a real alternative was offered to the GOP incumbent now in office, game-playing by party reptiles snuffed out his candidacy. This is just part of the reason why I will be voting for David Krikorian (I). I think many other people will be voting for him also. That an independent has received the endorsement of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police is astonishing to me in these days of party politics. The irony is that the GOP alternative candidate who was torpedoed by the GOP bigwigs in town had consistently garnered the Cincy FOP’s endorsement in the past in the local offices he held.
  • More than anything else politically, I long to see genuine orators and statesmen return to lead our country in the days ahead. I believe they will not be these men and women of privilege, these millionaires we keep electing, but average Joes and Janes of principle and conviction. Those people are out there. We just need to stop voting for the ones who keep them down. I think that every Christian in America needs to stop supporting parties and start support worthy candidates. If that means abandoning long-held party affiliations, then we must. Character counts, and too many people in office today are sorely lacking it.

With the local forecast for the next five days filled with clouds and rain, I suspect that I’ll be doing more thinking in the days to come.

What are you thinking?