Thursday, February 28, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #3, Music

I can hardly think of a more beloved Scriptural topic than music. As early as Genesis 4:21 we learn of “Jubal … the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” From that starting point, music fills the Bible from beginning to end. It is amazing to me that there are even such a thing as “non-instrumental brethren,” considering the overall volume of God's word dedicated to those who sing and play music.

Unfortunately, Satan is a master at taking what is good and right … and making it bad and wrong. Currently, music is killing the Restoration Movement. Forget whether music should be instrumental or non-instrumental. Let's set aside whether we should be using contemporary or traditional songs. Can we simply take a moment to discuss why the Lord finds music so important?

The New Testament church has been given clear commands. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “be filled with the Spirit, [19] speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16 likewise says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Just a few verses of Scripture from the Lord is enough to learn! 1) Music is connected with the Spirit of God (“filled with the Spirit;” “spiritual songs”), 2) it is a means of our communicating with one another (“speaking to one another”), 3) it is a means of training and correction (“teaching and admonishing”), and 4) it is a means of communicating with the Lord (“to the Lord;” “to God”).

Our communication … our instruction … is via “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Regardless of what these words may mean or whether they imply the use or non-use of instruments, the key word has to be “spiritual.” These are songs that are byproducts of the Holy Spirit living within us. If we fail to understand that point, then our communication with one another and the Lord fails. We certainly cannot appropriately teach and correct Christians unless the Spirit is directing the process.

So let's take a look at what's happening in the churches today … and why it's killing the Restoration Movement.

Oh, we have music … and plenty of it! If you get out your stop watch and time each segment of your worship service, I'd bet that more time is given to music than to anything else. Most song services (or praise times, or whatever you want to call them) run longer by far than the time of communion, which is supposed to be central to our time of corporate worship. They also normally exceed the preaching of the word. But what do we achieve with the 30-45 minutes we dedicate to music?

Has someone thoughtfully selected “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that reflect a common theme, or simply picked random songs that the musicians can actually play? Has more time been spent in finding a common key signature than in finding a common spiritual message? At the praise band practice, how much time is spent in determining whether or not a song will appropriately teach and correct as opposed to the time spent simply practicing the way the music is going to be played? Again, what do we plan to achieve with the HALF of our “worship service” that is dedicated to music?

Unfortunately, in most Restoration Movement congregations the music has become a sore spot … a bone of contention … a means of loss, rather than gain. Older people have been divided from the younger based on musical tastes. Leaderships have chosen to pursue musical services that they believe will best appeal to God to the masses. The pianos and organs have been sold and replaced with drums and guitars. Why? Is a drum and guitar better suited for playing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” or is it just more in tune with the popular culture?

I have been told often (really, really often) how we will never reach young people unless we play the music that they like. Is that our Biblical mandate … to reach young people? (Such thinking implies that we should care more about the youth that are NOT present than the older people who actually are.) And have we been instructed to imitate the world in order to reach people in general? A song may get the crowd clapping and tapping their toes … yet still fail to teach and admonish. So what if your rockin' praise band brings in throngs of young people? If they have not spiritually strengthened them, then what has been accomplished? And if the only thing you have accomplished in your praise time is to offend the ears of the aged, then someone has never learned Christ's first great Christian lesson … deny yourself (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)!

Almost every congregation I have visited over the last ten years has had a praise band … no matter how small the congregation. I have to shake my head in both sadness and disgust as I hear the latest popular contemporary song butchered in the hopes that maybe – just maybe – it will help build the attendance. Spoiler alert: It won't!

Let's get a few things straight: 1) Great music will never overcome poor leadership or poor preaching. 2) Music is a side issue, not the main issue. The early church (which we are supposed to be restoring) “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Don't you find it a little odd that so much attention is given to music by the church today, and so little is said of it in the New Testament? And 3) what you win them with, is what you win them to. In other words, if it takes great music to get people in the door, then it's going to take great music to keep them. If the music quality falters, then they will attend elsewhere. I've heard “leaders” say they will “teach them once they get them!” Yeah. I've never seen it happen. Go ahead. Set up the walls of the house on a foundation of cotton candy. See how long those walls stand.

Oh, how I would love to see the heart of New Testament Christianity restored, with music taking its rightful place as a tool to assist in the instruction of sound doctrine. There's not one of us who don't know the words to songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” or “Happy Birthday to You.” We learned them as children … and have never forgotten them! Where are the "spiritual songs" we have memorized though? Where are the "psalms and hymns" of which we know every word … which are teaching us sound doctrine and helping us to maintain our relationship with the Lord? I don't see them.

All I see is that music has become divisive, and has opened the door to a casual attitude before the Lord and a dismissive attitude toward others who don't share the same musical tastes. At best, today's musical culture within the Restoration Movement is selfish and indulgent ... at worst, it's promoting false doctrines. Having said that, I ask this: Who will be the first to step up and make the necessary changes to restore New Testament principles?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #2, Relevant Preaching

One might assume from my first article and opening salvo aimed at the eldership that I am merely a disgruntled preacher who's been fired once too many times (I'm up to four actually, and currently no congregation will apparently have me). May this point lay such nonsense to rest.

Let's go back to Ephesians 4:11 again. What did God give for the building up of the church? God gave “some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” Therefore, let's spend a little time discussing the paid ministers whose deeds and discourses are just as effectively crippling the church as anemic elders.

I have labeled this Restoration Movement-killing trend as “Relevant Preaching,” so let me start there. The term “relevant” means bearing upon or relating to the matter at hand; pertinent; to the point. As it is being applied in the churches today, it has come to refer to preaching which is relevant to the lives of the people the congregation serves. Modern preachers have become multi-talented public speakers, using whatever it takes to reach their audience. Whether it be a Powerpoint presentation or a poignant story, side-splitting humor or practical application, today's preacher goes the extra mile to make his point!

Thus the problem. Can anyone imagine any of the apostles warming up their crowds with a few jokes? Christ's men weren't (and aren't) public speakers, but servants who have been chosen for their willingness to endure hardship as they go to often unwilling listeners and declare, “Thus saith the Lord!” “You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you” (Jeremiah 7:27).

Our Bible colleges must share the blame, as they teach our young men all the appropriate methods with which to stay in touch with the culture. How interesting that Jesus spent ZERO time teaching methodology. In fact, the only time the word “method” is used in the Bible (Greek, methodeia) is in Ephesians 6:11 referring to the “schemes (methods) of the devil.” Jesus didn't endorse methods, He endorsed truth! “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

The difference between modern preaching and Bible preaching is the difference between flesh and Spirit. Today's preacher works to please the people and perpetuate the paycheck. The Bible preacher works to please God, whether or not he ever receives a paycheck. The truth of this is easy to discern. How many of your preachers are speaking about heaven rather than earth? How many of them regularly speak of holy and righteous living? How many of them are pleading with their audiences to die to self and live for God? Instead, what we see are sermons taken from the latest Christian bestsellers. We hear series of messages on how to live well on this earth, and none about preparing for the next. The itching ears are being thoroughly scratched!

Folks, as a preacher it's not my job to do your job. My task is to tell you what God said. It's your responsibility to apply that to your own life. If I tell you what God says … and then apply it to your life … I have effectively bypassed the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul says, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

It is in their efforts to be “relevant” that contemporary preachers show their true colors and abject failure. Again, the term “relevant” means bearing upon or relating to the matter at hand; pertinent; to the point. The matter at hand though isn't man, but Christ. It isn't earth, but heaven. By preaching relevant sermons, today's speakers magnify the natural rather than the supernatural. They do the exact opposite of what Jesus intended.

I know this to be true, because the Holy Spirit's job – per Christ's own words – was that “He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Interesting. Sin, righteousness and judgment … three topics we never hear preached today. But wait! If the Spirit came to convict us of sin, righteousness and judgment … and preachers aren't preaching sin, righteousness and judgment … then by what spirit are they preaching? Hmmm …

This is why I say that relevant preaching is killing the Restoration Movement. In fact, in keeping with the title of said movement, why aren't we restoring the Spirit's teaching from Ephesians 4:11? The modern preacher does nothing more than perpetuate the established institution. We need less pulpit preachers, office administrators and internet junkies, and more evangelists out in in the highways and the byways.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #1, Pastors

The ideal of the Restoration Movement is a grand one. Rather than reform the existing – and potentially incorrect – practices and traditions of a particular denomination or congregation, the goal is to lead men back to the Bible; to restore that which was originally created by Christ and His apostles.

Unfortunately, the principles established 200 years ago by men like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell have been seriously undermined. I have heard motto after motto. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” A motto though, is just that … a motto. It sounds great on paper, but rarely is actually applied. I can't begin to count the number of times through the years I have heard the phrase, “I know what the Bible says, but ...” If you know what the Bible says, then why would a “but” ever come next? If you know what the Bible says, then do it!

In today's religious climate, the Restoration Movement has shifted far from her original position. It is the stated goal of her contemporary leaders to retain sound doctrine, yet adapt her methodology to an ever-changing culture. With that said, I believe there are five current trends which are killing the Restoration Movement.

#1, Pastors

One popular trend is the title of “pastor” applied to ministers. We have senior pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, etc. While denominational churches may freely use such a term, I would expect better from a movement whose supposed concern is “where the Bible speaks.”

In this case, the Bible has spoken clearly. Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave “some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” One doesn't have to be a Bible scholar to do a little basic research. God's kingdom requires those who make disciples (evangelists, preachers, ministers) and those who train the disciples (pastors and teachers, elders, shepherds).

Interestingly enough, the KJV, NASV and NIV each use the word “pastor” only once, in that Ephesians 4:11 passage. The Greek word, poimen, is translated as shepherd or shepherds in all other instances. The majority of those references refer to Jesus, our great Shepherd, but two of those passages in particular point to the function of the elder or overseer. In Acts 20:28, Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And in 1 Peter 5:2, Peter – speaking to elders – says, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.”

So how has this term “pastor” – very obviously used in the Scriptures to refer to elders or overseers – come to refer to the paid minister? The answer is: Laziness. Why do your job when you can pay someone else to do it? Over the last thirty years, I have heard elders declare a) they have full-time jobs and are too busy, b) “people expect to see the minister,” and c) “that's why we pay a preacher.”

By referring to the contemporary minister as “pastor,” Restoration Movement churches have spoken the truth, yet have also inadvertently admitted the failure of their leaders. Today's minister IS “the pastor.” He shepherds the flock … which Scripturally is not his responsibility, but that of the elders.

In effect, the Restoration Movement has redefined the eldership. The shepherds of the first century have become a twenty-first century ruling council. Borrowing from Wall Street, they have become a board of directors whose “life experiences” have become substitutes for Biblical knowledge and spiritual character.

One might believe me too strong in declaring that “pastors” are killing the Restoration Movement, but I believe the use of the term to be symptomatic of a greater problem within the leadership of Christ's kingdom. If one unbiblical practice is accepted, then why not two? Why not three? Where do we draw the line in the sand? We ought to know that if a tradition is left standing long enough, it becomes equal in authority with the Bible itself (i.e., the Catholic church).

I believe that within modern elderships, traditions have overtaken and subdued doctrine. Elders are usually elected by their congregations, despite the fact that Paul writes to the minister, Titus, directing him - not the congregation - “to appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Using the sheep metaphor abundantly supplied in Scripture, can you imagine a flock of sheep gathering to vote one of their own to be a shepherd? That's hardly a realistic picture. In truth, a shepherd is hired by the owner of the sheep, not elected by the sheep themselves. But if the truth of God's word isn't applied in one instance, why apply it in another? There is a serious problem when “that's the way we've always done it” becomes more important than that which the Holy Spirit inspired.

If ministers are “pastors,” then where is the evangelist? If the minister is shepherding and teaching, then what are the elders doing? Such dysfunction is why the Restoration Movement is failing. If they cannot restore such a simple, yet vital, thing as a Biblical pattern of leadership, then how am I to trust anything else?

“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak ...” “In essentials, unity ...” There is nothing more Scriptural or essential than leadership. Jeremiah's prophecy against Israel still delivers the sad truth today, “For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; Therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jeremiah 10:21).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Importance of Death

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ...” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

What is Christianity? It is not simply about moral virtue. One may be moral, yet not Christian. It is about redemption. Sin fractured the relationship between man and God. Christianity is the result of repairing the broken fellowship brought about by the guilt and power of sin.

People called Jesus a great Teacher. Certainly, He was … but the apostles never spent any time belaboring that fact. Jesus has also been called a Reformer and a Healer … but again, such emphasis hasn't been made by those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The central fact repeated over and over again by the apostles was that Jesus died for our sins. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostles then went out into this world baptizing, making disciples and teaching “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

When you examine the gospels in their entirety, a quarter of it is spent on Jesus' death. In John 20:30, the apostle admits that there were “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book,” yet abundant room was made for the death of Christ.

The epistles make up the majority of the New Testament. In those letters, we are barely given any quotations from the lips of Jesus. Interesting. If Jesus primary role was that of teacher, why not simply make people memorize His words? If His primary role was that of healer or reformer, why not simply emphasize those aspects of His ministry? Yet the apostles chose to focus again and again and again upon His death. The epistles are literally soaked with blood. Why? Surely there must be a reason for this … especially since these letters – and the gospels – were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself.

What was it – in three and a half years of training – that Jesus REALLY taught His disciples? He taught them about suffering and death. He taught them that the climax of God's great revelation was the redemption of the world.

John the Baptist set the stage. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He knew that Jesus was sent here for the express purpose of dying. Jesus then came teaching and preaching. Whether publicly or privately, His ministry reflected that prophecy. John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Nicodemus didn't understand it, yet that was what Jesus chose to focus upon in their conversation.

In John 2, Jesus went to the Temple and drove out those who were making His Father's house a den of thieves. When questioned about His actions, Jesus didn't dwell on economics, but death. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

When He was later surrounded by great crowds of hungry people in Capernaum, He fed them … but accompanied that meal with the real message, “the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). In John 10:11, He says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

In John 12, a group of Greek worshipers came looking for Him. They wanted to hear Jesus. What He gave them was, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Then, in vs. 31-33 of that same chapter, He concludes by saying, “'Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. [32] And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.' [33] But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”

Churches are filled with preachers and teachers focusing upon Jesus' good works, and the way in which Christians can live good lives here on this earth … yet Jesus' focus was single-minded, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! [50] But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50). James and John's mother “said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” [22] But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”” (Matthew 20:21-22).

People may not have understood His message completely then, but there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't understand it now. He made His message clear, especially to His disciples. Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” Peter tried to dispute that fact with Jesus … and was soundly rebuked! God's plan was simple, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

“We're a New Testament church!” That's the declaration of many. Then why not focus upon that which the apostles focused upon? Take Peter for example. A simple man … a fisherman … one who at times had been rash and temperamental. What did he focus on? Jesus' healing ministry? His good works? He writes to Christians facing persecution. What encouragement does he give them?

He tells us “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Peter 1:2). He wants Christians to know, “you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [19] but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Will all our troubles go away when we become Christians? Peter says in chapter 2, “you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

In chapter 3, reminds us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). In chapter 4, He says, “since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose” (1 Peter 4:1).

This is certainly different than the sermons we hear so often today! But Peter's real message – his real encouragement – is right there in black and white. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”

Why aren't we hearing THAT message preached? Why aren't we hearing about the death of Christ? “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, [2] by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. [3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Even to the very last book of the Bible, the message is the same. Revelation 1:5 says, “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood ...” Revelation 2:8 refers to Jesus as “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life.” Chapter 5 declares the glorious message, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

There are so many visions … so many descriptive images … but at the center of all of them is Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer of man. So many messages today are about the love of God, which in truth are nothing but excuses to preach the toleration of sin. The real message of God's love is a sacrificed Lamb, shed blood, the removal of sin, the reestablishing of fellowship with God and an eternal home in a “sin-free” heaven.

So why aren't preachers focusing on the cross? Why are men trying to remove such songs from the hymn books? “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; [17] and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).

“But we need to be more relevant in our preaching!” some say. “We need to teach people how to apply the Bible to their daily lives!” As Paul says, “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, [5] who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; [8] and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, [9] obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).