The Messed Up Church is a group of independent contributors who focus on some of the zany, whacky, ridiculous things going on in the mainstream Evangelical church. As of late, they began exploring the podcast arena. This episode is an interview with Robert M. Bowman, Jr., author of The Word of Faith Controversy. Take s listen to the podcast and jump over to the MUC site and relish in the resources that will help you avoid false teachers like COVID!
Teachers and preachers are often crunched for time. Many pastors are bi-vocational and must dedicate the necessary hours to their supervisors. At the same time, they have an obligation to God to tend the flock they have been charged with. But what do you do when you begin to run out of time and have to prepare your sermon on teaching lesson? This is where most Bible software shines. Most of them are geared towards streamlining your study. Here are my top five reasons for using Bible software:
- Programmed to help you get behind the English. A lot of pastors may not have the time to upkeep their language studies once they graduate seminary and step into ministry. Bible software can help quickly inform you of Hebrew and Greek words right along in the text with just a glance. Many software programs are also geared towards those who have little to no experience in the original languages, even going so far as to add sound clips of how the words are pronounced. Notice the bottom portion of the below photo. It follows along word-for-word with the English text, making easier to see which Greek words are being used.
2. Go beyond simple word studies. Bible software is great for digging into the original languages. Most of the free ones allow you to access basic definitions along with the morphology of any given word. But sometimes you want to, you need to go further. Paid software will usually have these types of features. The screenshot below shows the Greek word logos with its basic definition as well as with the senses (how it is used in each verse) of each individual context.
3. Built-in tools to help you exercise your understanding of a passage. It’s important to grasp the full meaning of a text you are studying to present to your class or congregation. One of the best methods of slowing down and meditating on a passage is diagramming. There are basically two types of diagrams: line diagrams, which take each word individually, and text flow diagrams, which take entire clauses and phrases into account. Both are vital for understanding a passage. Examples of both can be seen below.
4. Robust note-taking systems. You’ve studied and studied a passage and have lots of things in your head. You grab a piece of paper and begin to jot down insights about the passage as they come to you. Luckily, just about every software program, free or paid, has some form of taking notes. Most of these can be highly organized. The software I use, Logos Bible Software, allows me to not only create these notes but to create notebooks for each study. So if I am studying the topic of Personal Holiness, while at the same time studying through the book of 1Peter, I can create notebooks for both and place the notes in their proper places.
5. Helpful aids for time-saving study. The goal of Bible software is to make it as useful and time saving as possible. Many developers really pack in the the tools that allow you to look up and read a wealth of material within seconds. In Logos Bible Software these tools are called guides. They focus on two major aspects: (1)Passage Guides, bringing together all of your commentaries and dictionaries for whatever passage or topic you’re studying, and (2) Exegetical guides, which link to your original language texts, apparatuses, and lexicons. Having the power to pull this information up lightning quick is invaluable for those who may find themselves crunched for time. Check out these videos from Logos to see both types of guide in action:
While some people are adamant about studying with book and pencil the “old fashioned way,” the usefulness of Bible software should not be overlooked. We love in a day and age where technology is rapidly consuming our daily lives. As students of God’s unchanging eternal word we have an obligation to study and be prepared at our best to present these truths. Bible software is the tool, I believe, that God has gifted us with in order to faithfully serve and love Him while teaching and reaching out to our neighbors.
Biblical Ignorance Amongst a Bible Flood
You don’t believe me? A 2002 Barna research says otherwise. Though many of the core beliefs about the Trinity and the afterlife were intact, many were still quite heterodox. The research concluded that those who identify as Christian have many unbiblical beliefs. To name a few, Barna concluded:
- 59% reject the existence of a real and personal Satan. They believe he is only a “symbol” of evil
- 51% believe that praying to saints affects a person’s life positively
- 35% believe they are able to communicate with the dead
- A whopping 42% believe Jesus was a sinner
- 50% hold that salvation is earned by good works
If some of these seem disturbing you’re not alone. How did Western Christianity get here? Below, I offer 3 reasons why I believe we are among a Biblical drought even though we have more accessibility to God’s word than ever before.
the bible is boring
If you ask any nominal Christian about their thoughts on the Bible you are more likely to hear that it is outdated and archaic. They believe many of the passages need to change or be reinterpreted in light of the cultural shift, especially those that address man’s sexuality. They are not willing to realign their own beliefs with that of Holy Writ, so therefore they forsake it altogether. The old boring book is not worth their time. Bored Christians are people that look elsewhere for the answers. They are seeking the excitement and adrenaline the Bible fails to give them. As a result they look for the latest, greatest method, that best selling self-help book on ‘fill in the blank’, or more relevant ways they can contribute to community and feel good about their self-worth. This spills over into their church lives as their new churches are more about cool music and pep talks rather than sound, Biblical preaching that properly divides the Law and the Gospel.
the bible seems irrelevant
When the Bible no longer seems to change with the culture people deem it as unnecessary and stray from its precepts. Psalm 119:4 says, You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently. Though culture would deem this unreliable, Christians know that that the Law of the Lord is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:06), a guide to point us to Christ and His Gospel (Galatians 3:24), and to show us our shortcomings before God (Exodus 20:1-17). The irrelevance only comes as more youth create their own paradigm shifts to fit their current situations. This seems to be founded upon another 2015 Barna poll which stated that only 35% of Millennials claim faith as an external factor in their lifestyles. Another poll conducted in January of 2018 found that the atheists among the newest generation has nearly doubled.
Why this sudden falling away? When asked, most youth stated the problem of God and evil. In other words, if God truly existed all of the suffering wouldn’t. This is simply another way of saying, “The Bible isn’t relevant to my culture.” Millennials and Gen Zers are fast becoming a majority part of the population. Considering the current trend it would not be surprising if the next generation wholly abandons God’s Word altogether.
the bible is no longer sufficient
Since the Bible is boring and irrelevant, certainly it cannot be sufficient as the standard for faith and life. Though research shows that many young people still hold a high view of Scripture, their beliefs and practices seem to state otherwise. For example, a study cited earlier in this post revealed that 50% of self-identifying Christians believe they can obtain God’s favor through their good deeds. And it isn’t just the younger generation. This is the trend of people of all age groups. People flock after an experience rather than take the time to find the answers in Scripture. They depend upon fresh revelations instead of the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will through the written word. They flock to those teachers that can promise them their next big breakthrough or the fulfillment of life-long dreams. The number of “ministries” geared towards this disgusting puke attests to this. Teachers such as Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Doallar, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Christine Cain, and myriads of others prey on those seeking some kind of physical or monetary relief. Ultimately those who follow these teachers must share in the blame as they have abandoned sound doctrine for doctrine of demons. Their hope appears to rest in what God can do for then rather than in God Himself. All of this can be directly linked to the abandonment of Scripture as the sufficient means in which God communicates to His people.
Hope Amongst Drought
There is hope, despite the odds of these statistics. Another research performed by Barna revealed that an increasingly number of adults are becoming dissatisfied with “doing church.”
This could go either way. It could drive people away from church completely or it could drive then to seek out a more satisfying experience in worship. Whatever the case, it shows that people are thirsty! They crave more than the monotonous weekly ritual. Even their usual cool, hip relevant churches aren’t doing it for them anymore. This is encouraging as those who remain faithful to Scripture as the innerrant, infallible word of God can be a beacon to point them back to the sufficiency of Scripture. When we allow our beliefs to come in line with God’s word we rest much easier, knowing that all the minor details will be worked out in the end. This is not to say that we must possess an ignorant faith or never seek the answers we desire. It is simply means that we take God at His word and believe that what He has revealed to us is sufficient for our entire lives.
The world is un an upheaval at this moment and in particular the U.S. While some march peacefully for the change they desire, others have chosen to loot, riot, and murder. People have been killed or beaten for simply disagreeing with the current trend of the Social Justice Movement. It’s a sad time. It’s an emotional time. It’s a scary time. I look at what is going on in my country and wonder how it ever got this point. Without a doubt, it is a turning away from God’s word. Even self-confessing Christians are joining protesters, participating in the violence, and justifying their behavior because they feel that Jesus would have done the same.
But hope cometh…
The pure gospel is the solution for the madness taking place. Surely justice needs to prevail in cases where people are truly oppressed.
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43–44)
The beauty of the gospel is that it transforms from the inside out (2Corinthians 5:17). All the “change” in the laws will never change the heart of an individual.
But Hope Cometh…
The Father sent Jesus to obey the Law, God’s Law. And He obeyed every single aspect of it in word, thought, and deed. This was so that He could offer Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for the world’s sins. He took our sins upon Himself. He took the sin of my cursing, blaspheming, adultery, murder, and every other vile thing I had ever committed and He nailed it to the cross. And He did for you and all others. Redemption was purchased for the racist, the angry mob of people protesting, the ANTIFA members that resort to violence to get their point across, and yes, He even did it for the police officer who killed George Floyd. The best part of the whole gospel is that Jesus did not stay dead. He bodily rose from the grave for our justification, proving that God’s stamp of approval was on His atonement.
This is how deep His love runs for His creation The vilest, wicked person can find redemption when they look to the perfect work of the Savior and realize that in all their perceived righteousness they have no footing to stand upon if they are judged. For He has proclaimed, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).
Many faithful witnesses have given their lives in service of Jesus. Here is one of those stories.
In 2017 civil war began to ravage the Central Africa Republic. During the first week, six Christian pastors were murdered by an Islamic group, as reported by Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that focuses on Christian persecution. Among the pastors was one, Jean-Paul Sankagui. Years earlier this bold servant of Christ had planted a church smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. But the Lord was with him and made his ministry fruitful. According to VOM, the Islamic group surrounded pastor Sankagui’s home and church, shot and killed him, looted the church, and then burnt down both the church and parishioner home.
VOM recognizes this faithful pastor on the Christian Martyr Day 2020. Watch the video below to see pastor Sankagui’s incredible witness to Christ.
Church growth is all the rage these days. Type it into any search engine and you are sure to yield more results than you can shake a stick at. Church growth has become so popular there are even marketing agencies that will help you.
Much of this movement began in 1995 when popular teacher and pastor, Rick Warren, published his book, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission.
The book soared to the best selling list and every pastor that was seeing a decline in their numbers flocked to the bookstores in droves to learn the principles of church growth. Others soon began copying this style and writing their own books, but none saw the same success. Warren’s premise of church growth was based on five principles which he says he gleaned from Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 28:20:
On the surface, these principles seem biblical. These things are certainly in Scripture and we see these things present and real within the early church. For example, Acts 2:42-47 gives us a picture of what the first days of the fledgling church looked like.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The introduction of Warren’s book claims that it is not a formula for church growth but rather a formula for church health. If a church is healthy it will grow. The five principles, then, are the key to having a healthy, growing church. And with Warren recently claiming that Saddleback has matched the growth of the Acts 2 church, more people will now have to run out and invest in the book.
Many pastors jump on board the church growth bandwagon. They reason that if they follow what the early church did, success is certain. All that needs to be done is mimic the same methods that the early church participated in and watch the numbers explode.
But there is something wrong with this way of thinking. There is a lot wrong with this thinking. Specifically, I see five reasons why church growth strategies like the one laid out in Warren’s work hinders church growth rather than aid it.
1. Church Growth Strategies Tend to Focus on the Method
Methods are huge with the church growth crowd. The latest research, demographic dynamics, and what the church down the road is doing seem to be a big focus. While methods can be useful they should never exist as the be-all-end-all for the Church. Many methods are devised specifically to see an increase in numbers, but not always spiritual growth. This means then, that the methods are not Spirit derived but man-made. Anything man-made will not last. Although we are not to sit idly by and do nothing, it is best to remember that God doesn’t need our strategies and methods to grow His church. Jesus has already promised church “growth” to His disciples (Matt 16:18).
2. Church Growth Strategies Often Rely on Guilt-Tripping
Have you ever sat through a sermon where the pastor passionately pounds the pulpit (excuse my alliteration) on the topic of evangelism, all the while pointing his finger at the audience? Most of the time we see this kind of thing in old-fashioned revivals. But many pastors do the same thing when it comes to “growing” the church. ‘Service’ is the keyword. If you’re going to serve then it’s time to get off your duff and do it! Most preachers typically see this as exhorting rather than guilt-tripping. In reality, there is no difference. When service becomes compulsory and obligatory the laity tends to lose interest. Biblical exhortation, on the other hand, is simply an appeal to action rather than compelling. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encouraged the young pastor to devote himself to three things: the public reading of Scripture, teaching, and exhortation (1 Tim 4:13). If ever there was a church growth strategy, this would be it.
3. Church Growth Strategies Tend to Focus on Numbers for Success
Most church growth methods that I’ve ever encountered were all about the numbers. No pastor wants to have a small church. Look at any church growth strategy and one of the first things you see is how many people could potentially respond by the church using the latest and greatest method. A numbers-focused method must rely on gimmicks and programs to attract and keep attendance steady. Pastors that become obsessed with numbers eventually give in to the pressure and end up doing silly things like Andy Stanley’s go-go dancers at a Christmas Eve service. The driving force behind any church that claims to worship the true God should be that of holiness and worship (Eph 3:21).
4. Church Growth Strategies Tend To Be Seeker-Sensitive Rather Than Biblically Sound
Seeker-sensitive is commonly described as gently pushing the lost towards salvation. Many of the methods used gear towards a more friendly, non-confrontational form of evangelism. In other words, don’t offend the person. This is often accomplished by refusing to confront people about sin or gradually sharing the gospel with them in pieces. While seeker-sensitive pastors can’t always be called outright heretics, they will compromise the “whole counsel of God” for the sake of keeping up their numbers. This spills over into their church growth ideas and eventually the Scripture messages begin to look more like pep talks on how to have a better marriage, family, well-behaved teens, etc, etc. The worship services begin to mimic secular concerts and entertainment venues, all in the name of making their guests feel “comfortable.” In contrast, even when he was being persecuted in his ministry God encouraged the apostle Paul to keep preaching because He was in control (Acts 18:9-10). Pastors, then, should follow this same example and resolve to preach the Word of God straight even when it isn’t popular (2 Tim 4:2).
5. Church Growth Strategies Often Fail to Prioritize the Preaching of the Word As Primary
In all the articles I examined about church growth strategies there was one thing that commonly missed by all of them: the preaching of the Word of God. The following examples come from the very top hits of church growth. (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4) Scripture doesn’t really give us a formula for growing the church, at least not in the modern sense. Therefore, traditional preaching is deemed largely irrelevant to most church growth pastors. When one examines the early church they find the opposite. The Word was front and center. Take our introductory passage, Acts 2:42-47, for example. Luke tells us the laity devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching & fellowship. When the people came to Peter in Acts 6 with a dispute, Peter’s response was not to give up preaching the Word of God, but resolving by appointing others to help with the problem. The early church fathers devoted themselves to preaching and as result church growth exploded within the first three centuries. There was no method or strategy or demographic research. There was just–preaching. Consider the following images below of church growth, taken from Bild.org.
Most pastors that want to grow their church are sincere believers. They love God’s people and they love the Church. In an attempt to prove their dedication they end up sacrificing simplicity (not purposely, in most cases) in the name of numbers. There is one important thing they miss: any time the Bible mentions church growth it always states that God did it. It wasn’t because of a method, or a specific program, or even because of the way they were discipling their people. It was because they feared God and the people took notice of it (Acts 2:43, Acts 9:21).
It’s time for pastors to go back to the simplest form of church growth by preaching the pure word of God and living in holiness so that the laity as well as outsiders will be able to see that we are truly a peculiar people, set apart for God (1Peter 2:1-9).
Although this is not a post to “pick on” Rick Warren please view the video below to see how badly he handles the Scripture. This video is courtesy of Pirate Christian Media, headed by Pastor Chris Roseborough of Kongsvinger Lutheran Church in Oslo, Minnesota.
I belong to a Southern Baptist church. I know it sounds strange for a member of an SBC church to advocate for a liturgy style worship but I was truly astounded on my first visit. Over the past two years, I’ve been studying Lutheranism, and along with it a lot of the early church fathers’ views on worship and the sacraments. Though I’m not a member of a Lutheran church I highly enjoyed my experience at one last year when my family and I attended for a few weeks.
I had been captivated by the use of the Sacraments, order of worship, and the soaking of Scripture that is present within liturgical worship. The sacredness of the entire service was joyful and a refreshing change to the modern-driven, program-saturated, and fluffy “Christian” songs that are typical of most Evangelical mainstream churches. With that in mind, I would like to offer my five reasons why I believe Liturgical services, especially those that incorporate a lectionary, are superior to most modern worship services.
1. No Pressure on the Pastor
If you’re a pastor or one who teaches regularly you understand the pressures of planning and executing a sermon/lesson each week. In a liturgical setting that uses a lectionary, the pressure to come up with the next “big sermon” is eradicated. That’s because the lectionary is a guide in and of itself. It gives several options of Scripture from which to draw the sermon. While I don’t have a hard copy of a lectionary check out the screenshot below from one of the lectionaries in my Logos collection.
You can observe that there is an Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel reading. The pastor will choose one of these four passages to preach from. This keeps things in line and ensures that the pastor doesn’t go off on a tangent or personal soapbox, as has been many a person’s experiences, including my own. Lectionaries are a wonderful guide and it keeps the flow of preaching nicely all year long.
2. Liturgical Services Follow the Church Calendar
This is much like the first point. Lectionaries follow the Church calendar, marking the seasons and times of the year. There’s no need, then for the pastor to come up with a Christmas service or Easter sermon every year. And the cool thing is that the lectionary is divided into these seasons automatically.
As you can see the services are conveniently divided by the calendar and provide the Scripture and service details according to the different seasons. This makes it quite easy to choose a text and study and prepare for the sermon. Of course, most will chide the idea and state that simply choosing a book of the Bible and preaching expositorily through it (vers-by-verse) would be far superior. While I agree that expository preaching is the best way to present Scripture, using a lectionary does not do away with it. The preacher may still preach in this fashion. The only difference is that the congregation is getting a well-rounded view of Scripture rather than waiting 1-2 years, depending on the length of the book, to move along to the next portion of Scripture.
3. No Smoke & Mirrors
Most worship services I’ve been in have a high-focus priority on entertainment. The choir sings, the soloist solos while the congregation sit back, smile, and clap when the performance is done. It’s all seemingly harmless and most would say it falls under the scope of Christian Liberty. But there’s something a little sinister (at least to me) about applauding a performance in a setting where the focus should solely be on one Person. Consider the video below of North Point’s Christmas Eve service back in 2016.
This video represents the extreme of self-centered worship but there are far too many churches adapting worldly measures in the name of reaching people. The Body of Christ is supposed to gather in order to pray, encourage one another, and be equipped to go into the world and make disciples. While I certainly believe there is a place for singing (I’m not referring to congregational singing) and artistic expression I hold the view that the worship service should be as sacred as possible. Call me legalistic, but many of the things I’ve experienced in some churches is inappropriate, in my opinion.
4. Congregational Participation
This sounds a little strange. I’m not talking about singing as a congregation or giving to the Church financially. I’m strictly speaking of the Sacraments ordained by the church, namely Absolution & Confession, the Eucharist, and Baptism. During these times, and especially the former two, each congregant participates in a personal way that is very meaningful. This participation then becomes participation, not just in the worship service itself, but in the body of Christ, along with His atoning work and redemption. This was probably the best part of my experience at a liturgical service. The reality of the Godhead and His grace washed my soul anew and I walked out of the service refreshed and exhilarated
5. Scripture Soaking
My favorite reason and argument for liturgical worship is the amount of Scripture present within it. From the time the service began until it ended I was soaked with Scripture. I understand most Evangelical churches base their services around the Word, but truthfully I’m accustomed to hearing only the Scripture passage of the sermon read and then other Scriptures read for support of the sermon text. For the Christian, the Word of God is life! It is what we base our doctrine, practice, and all of life upon. And the amount of Scripture I received was astounding. Along with the catechism book I received upon my initial visit I am always surrounded in the Word of God. The catechism book is one that I’ve been reading to my children at night. It is neatly divided into sections for easy reading.
Liturgical Worship was a change for me. I walked in the first time not really knowing what to expect. To be honest, my expectation was that it would be some kind of quasi cult-like ceremony with foreign chanting and figures walking in, dressed in ceremonial robes. But what I found was a God-honoring, sacred assembly of God’s people meeting together to bring glory to the King of Kings. What I experienced was a realization of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work and atonement. I’m not saying those things weren’t just as real as they were at my other church. I’m simply pointing out that at a liturgical service I saw those things more clearly than I ever had.
A lot of folks would disagree, and that’s okay. The conclusion for me is that a liturgical service is much more structured, sacred, Scripture-focused, and participatory. I would encourage you to find a church with liturgical worship and at least attend a couple of times. You may just end up coming to the same conclusion that I have. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day and a happy Father’s Day to all you dads!