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Are we Really a Hospital?

Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed

If you run in the evangelical circles for any length of time, you have more than likely heard the phrase that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.

I realize that is the goal, but are we truly striving for that?

As I write this I am sitting in a hospital setting as my dad is getting a hernia surgery today. Let me explain my experience.

It snowed today in Pennsylvania. About 5” of snow came down overnight. As we drove to the surgical center, we went by a couple of churches and I noticed that their parking lots were not cleared. When we got the surgical center, not only was the parking lot clear, but the majority of the parking surface was dry, which meant no ice.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the signage was amazing. This place has several doors and they are very well marked with signage throughout the parking lot as to which door to use and how to get there. I know in many churches signage is a huge issue. Many people who lead churches are still thinking old-school. You walk up to the front door and have a one-room schoolhouse mentality. Those days in churches are over. The church today is a multi-venue location that has several KidMin locations, Bible studies running concurrently to the service, and, in some cases, several different entrances to the service venue. If you walk through your church and pretend to be a newcomer, do you know where to go?

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Try bringing someone who has never been to your church before and let them try to navigate it on their own and see what they say. That is how your church looks to the world.

As my dad and I walked into the building we were easily able to figure out where to go as it was all clearly, and cleanly, marked. If we couldn’t figure it out, however, there was an information desk that had a very happy woman with a smile from ear to ear who got up from her desk and walked out to me to ask me if I needed help. And they must have cloned this woman because there was someone just like her on the lower level of the building at the other entrances.

Is that the same in our churches? Can we honestly say that if someone new comes to our church that we are that exuberant to greet them? Do we have someone smiling at the entrance or does the person looked stressed out? Are we simply happy to see newcomers or do we say, “I don’t know who that person is…?”

A side note to entering the building is that, while it was snowing and messy outside, the building had someone there who was putting out wet floor signage and keeping the floors as clean as possible. I don’t expect the main floors to be so clean you can eat off of them when the weather outside is dreadful, but making the effort is important. That same person was going around the building and changing the trash as well as cleaning the windows and sweeping/mopping the floors. A single person who was taking care of a building probably 4-5 times the size of most churches.

Once we got to the check-in area there were smiling people behind the desk ready to take our information. I liken this stage to our KidMin check-in areas. We signed in and my dad’s name went on a screen with a number associated with it that I have access to at all time. I am able to track where my dad is in the surgery and determine when it is time to get ready to go into recovery with him.

What about our churches? When we sign our kids into KidMin, do we even sign them in? I know a lot has changed recently with child safety in churches, but in the past when I would go to different churches when I was on business trips I would go in and see parents just dropping children off at a classroom. No check-in system. No way to track their child.

Even today, many churches minimally give the child and parent a sticker to wear. But what happens if there is problem? It is at this point that most churches and KidMin leaders would say, “But I know which kids are in my class, it rarely changes.”

Right.

So you are creating a system that opposes growth in the ministry.

1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

I know, ouch. That is painful to hear, but any system we create or put in place needs to be scalable to future growth. If we cannot scale a system upward, then it isn’t worth having as to grow would involve a lot more money, time, and energy to install.

As I dropped my dad off after check-in, he did what all children do at KidMin. He said, “I don’t wanna go.” We hugged and he went off with the KidMin, er, I mean the nurse. I was able to track anything happening with my dad either on my phone via an app or on a screen that was in the waiting room.

If there is a problem, the nurses come and get me based on the number they gave us at the beginning.

Now, what about our services?

I am a big believer that if you are going to be in a ministry in the church, whether paid or volunteer, you need to be putting everything you have into that ministry to make it successful. If we go in with a mind set that we are simply going to “do the job and then go home” then you may as well step down from ministry.

Again, ouch. There will be days that we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or there may be a lot going on in a season of our lives that wear us down, but our ministry should never suffer for it.

Just like Paul, I am going to ask you to imitate me. I am in Pennsylvania today, Friday, for my dad’s surgery. Tomorrow afternoon I will be heading back to Maryland for an event at our church Saturday night and then, unless there is a major issue with my dad, in church on Sunday morning.

Galatians 5:14 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, I realize I get paid to do that. But I don’t do ministry for the paycheck. I am making less than I usually have in the past 20 years of my life, so the money is not the motivator. I do it with the hope that the event we are doing will motivate our church to even more excellence and that on Sunday I can introduce myself to someone new that never attended our church before. It is about trying to have a heart that God would want.

So what I am going to say about our services will run counter to what many people in our churches believe.

I’ve never been scared to upset an apple cart, or turn over a table in the temple.

When my dad went back to get his hernia operated on, everything about his experience was to make sure the service was focused on him so that he was comfortable enough to be healed and not have any anxiety or fear.

How often are newcomers to our churches fearful?

It is probably more often than you think.

Fear of church comes from various places. They are fearful that church environment will be too different than their normal lives. They are fearful of being judged if they wear the wrong clothing, don’t shave, let an f-word slip, have to step outside to smoke, or something else. They are fearful that they will not be accepted because they aren’t part of the clique.

Philippians 3:7-9 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

How can we alleviate fear in our churches so that we can reach more people in our communities?

We need to look like our communities.

Now this is where purists will maintain that we need to be in the world but not of the world and if we are doing things that make us look like our communities then we are too much of the world.

I disagree.

If your community is used to watching TV, making sure you have a significant video presence on the screens will keep the community members engaged.

If your community is listening to rock music, then why does your worship sound like folk music? If your community is listening to country music, why does your worship sound like rock music?

If your community is military, then why do we not have more events for military families?

If your community is a lot of blue-collar workers, why does the church have a distinct white-collar feel?

If the community has a lot of African-American people in it, why is congregation mostly white? If the community is mostly white, why is the congregation mostly Africa-American?

You see what I am getting at?

If our churches look more like our communities that we serve then we don’t need to jump through hoops to attract them.

The problems come when the people currently in the church don’t want to see change.

But, Fred, that is how we have always done things and we will upset this family over here if we start changing.

I understand that.

And I understand that Jesus left the 99 to go save the one.

We are not Jesus.

Paul became all things to all people so that he might save some.

We are more closely like Paul.

Don’t be scared to change the worship. Don’t be scared to change the demographic. Don’t be scared to change the focus of the church to reach the people in your community.

My church was given the vision by my Senior Pastor to reach at least 10% of the 60,000 in a ten-mile radius of our church. If we stay the same way we are right now, 5 years down the line we will look the exact same as we do today with about the same number of people in our congregation.

How can we get there?

I want to echo something I heard from Thom Rainer a couple weeks ago:

  • Spend 5 hours a week working outside your church. Don’t work from home, but work from a local restaurant or coffee shop.
  • Go to a restaurant in between services on Sunday and look at the people sitting in the restaurant, those are the people that are skipping your, or most likely any, church on Sunday.

We need to become the hospital for sinners that we so emphatically like to claim we are.

Unfortunately we have way too many similarities to a resort that caters only to paying members than a hospital that takes and heals those who can’t heal themselves.

The service aspect is the exact same between a resort and a hospital, the difference, however, is what means the growth or decline of the church.

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Unity or Heresy, Part 10: Baptist and Nondenominational

Revelation 2:5 – Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

So last week, I had a challenge to my view of United Methodism that I feel I need to clarify.  This reader expressed concern that I went too easy on the UMC denomination.  While heresy exists in every denomination, and UMC is no different, the basic tenets of their faith, minus the Arminian views, are fairly Scriptural.  There are a lot of things going on in all of the old-line denominations right now that are cause for alarm, and again, the UMC is no different.  They are the largest supporter of the ecumenical group World Council of Churches.  This is a radically liberal theology group that is looking to create unity among the churches.  Unfortunately, it is going beyond just the churches and into unity among religions.  Also, many people point to the UMC when speaking about gay rights.  I want to post the page directly from their Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions.  This will give you their official statement and then I would like you to be the judge.

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-the-denominations-position-on-homosexuality1

The next point about the UMC is something that does concern me.  They allow for abortion in certain circumstances.  Here is the word from the UMC on their site:

http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1732

The sanctity of life is beyond important.  If it weren’t, God would not have sent His Son to die on the cross for us to save us.  If life were not sacred, then we would not even exist.  Life cannot be aborted.  In any case.  What would happen if we chose to abort a life that God was going to make into the next great evangelist or a talented musician or a great writer?  Even beyond those opportunities to miss some of the world’s greatest people, the Bible is clear about murder.  Does “Thou shalt not murder” ring a bell with anyone?

Regardless, the UMC church is still a strong denomination.  Like all of the larger, legacy denominations, they are on a slippery slope and heading closer to ann abyss of heresy.  But there is no denying the 200,000 who gave their lives in Africa alone last year through the UMC.

So now it is time to get to this week’s topic, the Baptist Church and all of those non-denominational, evangelical churches out there.

1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Baptist Church

The Baptist church is one of the oldest Protestant denominations.  The main difference between Baptist churches and many other Protestant faiths is that they believe only in believer’s baptism and that this baptism takes place through immersion only, as traced back to the early church.  Just like any other legacy denomination, there have been schisms along the way and those schisms have caused the theology to be varied from subgroup to subgroup.  The most major of these schisms was in 1845 when the church divided between north and south with the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The two main groups of Baptists in America are the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the American Baptist Churches (ABC).  While the basic theology of Baptist churches varies between subgroup, there are certain points that make a Baptist Church its namesake.  This can be seen in the acronym BAPTIST:

                B             Biblical Authority

                A             Autonomy of the local church

                P             Priesthood of the believer

                T              Two ordinances (believer’s baptism and communion)

                I               Individual soul liberty

                S              Separation of church and state

                T              Two offices of the church (deacon and pastor)

While most affirm that basic acronym, there can be differences found between Calvinism and Arminianism, eschatology, views on homosexuality, and views on women in leadership.

Let’s look a little at each of the major groups of Baptists out there and determine the differences.

Each of these two groups has done amazing things worldwide for the cause of Christ. They both believe in the authority of Scripture, believer’s baptism, that the Bible is inerrant, inspired, and infallible (according to their position papers), and in the Trinity.  While that may be the case, they both have some issues that need to be addressed.  The SBC is extremely conservative in their approach with being one of the few denominations that do not allow women to hold pastoral roles.  They also affirm, on their positional statement, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, disallowing the world’s view of homosexuality as less than a sin.  You can find their positional statement here:

http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp

The denomination has chosen to begin severing ties with the Boy Scouts of America over the issue of homosexuality in leadership.  You can read this here:

http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/about/homosexuality

The SBC has been known to re-baptize those who were baptized in other denominations.  While the information I have received is ambiguous as to whether they are required to re-baptize if they came from a believer’s baptism/immersion church prior to joining the SBC church, this position can be seen in two different ways.  Either the church is breaking down the unity of believers by requiring this stance, thus making other denominations out to be unbelievers, or they are attempting to create a unified methodology that can bring a visible example of Christianity in this dark world.  If the former is true, then there could be cause for claiming heresy as they would be seen as exclusivist.  If the latter is true, then they have a long road ahead of them with some definite push back, not only from non-Christians but Christians as well.

James 4:17 – So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The ABC church, while known as being more liberal in their teaching, also holds many of the same basic tenets of Protestant faith.  To give you an idea of their view of homosexuality, here is their positional statement:

http://www.abc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/homosexuality.pdf

The ABC has been littered, over recent history of individual heresies that go unpunished.  These individual heresies may not have been primarily done by the ABC, but they have turned a blind eye to much of it.  For example, in 1991, an ABC women’s ministry paper, stated, “What I have come to love about Scripture is the fact that IT IS NOT INERRANT. That IT IS NOT PERFECT. That it is not complete. That it does contradict itself…”

In another situation, at the Christian Feminist Conference in 1993 in Minneapolis, an ABC outwardly gay female pastor claimed that Mary and Martha were not sisters, but lesbian lovers.  My question for the ABC is how does that statement in 1993 by an openly gay, female pastor line up with the 2005 statement in the link above that homosexuality is “incompatible with Biblical teaching?”

The American Baptist Convention is having a major issue.  They have claimed some of the right teaching in their positional statements, but reading pieces from their website and seeing the major schism that is forthcoming proves that there is something below the surface that is brewing.  The heresies that have been turned a blind eye toward are finally beginning to take a toll.  In a matter of time, there will be many more Baptist denominations.  Here is one more link, showing their views on women in ministry:

http://www.abc-usa.org/what_we_believe/abc-organizations/abwim/

Looking at the SBC, I would have to call them a denomination.  But the ABC, I need to see them as a cult.

Jude 1:3 – Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.

Nondenominational/Evangelical

The nondenominational churches are very tough to pinpoint.  For these, you have to look very carefully at the individual church.  Whether it is a single church, a multi-site church group, or even a para-denomination unto itself, one needs to look very deeply at the individual church beliefs, positional statements (if even there) and interview the leadership.  For the record, I attend a church that is nondenominational and evangelical.  This church I attend is very Biblically focused and, from what I have seen, heresy is not existent.  As with any large church, the challenge to love all of the congregants as we love our family is tough, especially when the church is constantly growing.  And, of course, like any large organization, there are daily operational struggles, mostly involving the same operational struggles of any church, growing a volunteer organization to be evangelical, loving, and unified.

But the blessings that I have experienced at Chesapeake Christian Fellowship are not experienced at all nondenominational church or organization.  I look at Calvary Chapel as an example.  I love the idea of Calvary Chapel.  The running joke there is that “you don’t have to go to cemetery, er, seminary to pastor a church.”  Now I am not one who believes that seminary is an absolute necessity to pastor, but there is something to be said for deep, intellectual study of Scripture.  This is why at Calvary, inconsistency from one church to the next is significant.  From a pride-filled Gospel to one that is very Scripturally sound.

And then there is Mars Hill.  Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll’s multi-site organization.  This is the same church that provided for us Rob Bell.  The benefits to these non-denominational churches is that, since they don’t have positional statements, they can easily wipe away heretics such as Bell.  But in the tradition of sola scriptura, they show the Bible as inerrant, infallible, and inspired.  They believe much of the Protestant view of Christianity.  But there is one thing that is concerning, similar to Calvary Chapel, that they “believe in the autonomy of the local churches, free of any external authority and control.”

That is a common theme throughout nondenominational churches.

I am not going to bash many of my friends.  I love Mark Driscoll.  I grew up on heavy metal music that came out of Calvary Chapel in the 80s.  Steven Furtick at Elevation Church, David Ashcraft at LCBC, Perry Noble from NewSpring, Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands, Matt Keller at Next Level, Greg Surratt at Seacoast, Jim Putman at Real Life Ministries and the list goes on, I love them all.  I’ve spoken via email to almost all of these men, spoken live to a couple of them, and read almost all of their books.  I love what they all stand for.

But you can’t deny the risk.

Christian, let me ask you, what is the largest church in America?  Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen.  I’ve blogged before about my concerns with Osteen’s teachings.  But his church had 43,500 weekly attenders in 2013.  It is very easy for churches to water down the Gospel in order to reach more people.  Every pastor who is part of a growing church will at least be tempted by Satan to make the church more appealing to the masses.  Whether that be twisting Scripture like Osteen or disregarding the command to disciple while focusing only on seekers, the temptation will happen.

If you are seriously considering one of the megachurches or any nondenominational church for that matter, then I mean this severely:  You need to interview the lead pastor.  You need to make sure you check them out deeply.  These churches can build amazing communities that are Scripturally sound and focused on the Gospel.  But they can be dangerous as well.  They can do more damage if there is little or no oversight.  Remember, the road to hell is broad while the road to heaven is narrow.  The definitions of broad and narrow can be subjective, however.

So I can’t really give a blanket statement about nondenominational churches.  I know that Chesapeake Christian Fellowship is a true definition of a church by Scriptural standards.  And I know that Osteen’s church is more heretical.

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Next week, I will begin to wrap this up with the 3 part conclusion that will list out each denomination and each standard that I am reviewing them all by and giving the denomination’s position.

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