A few days [weeks? eep!] I wrote a post about a conversation with a kid in my town who attends a certain Church in the area. As they had been attending a while, I asked them some questions about their faith. The premise is simple; Christians should know the basics of their faith. I wasn’t expecting them to wax eloquent on the virtues of supralapsarianism soteriology, but they should know what the gospel is, right?
If they were indeed saved, then that means that Christ took them from darkness to light, ripped out their heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh. They went from being slaves to sin, to slaves of Christ. Salvation is more than giving these lost souls a new change in perspective or a new outlook on life. You’re not just offering them a new god to believe in, or a few suggestions so that they might have a more fulfilling life, or even granting them validation to live a life of contented moral deism. Instead, real repentance and faith in Christ is a radical restructuring of their existence. It is the crumbling of their world and the rebuilding of a new and better one. It is the destruction of their previous worldview, the death of their spirit, and the regeneration of a new man. They are being ripped out of the life they thought they knew and are being born again.
To not understand this or be able to articulate this, even at its most basic level, is really, really troubling. If you can go through that whole process and not be able to even explain what role Jesus played it in you being saved, then something is terminally wrong. And for someone to supposedly experience this, and then not be able to tell anyone else anything about it, or be able to direct others to the freedom in Christ and the way of eternal life, is a damning indictment. It just is.
In light of my probing this question, I received this comment in the combox:
“Its obvious you are trying to discourage the general public from attending this congregation. I am assuming you call yourself a Christian. In which case shouldn’t you be trying to witness to people not going about finding fault or do you think by doing this you are causing anyone to be saved. Pretending to be genuinely interested in someone’s opinion only to criticize them or their church openly is definely not Christian behavior! By the way this is a great church with people that love God.”
Speaking to you directly; I don’t think its obvious that I’m discouraging anyone from attending this congregation. If I were, I would name the congregation publicly and tell people that very thing. Furthermore, because I am a Christian, I believe it is incumbent upon me to do so. I take my lead from these verses
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
It would seem that you have no tolerance for those who would do this, even though this is what we are called to do. Nor do you seemingly believe there is anything wrong with not knowing anything about the faith, or if it is wrong then we definitely don’t want to point that out, right? It would be one thing for these kids to simply not know- which is terrible in and of itself, but its another thing to ignorantly tell people the exact opposite thing. In light of this shocking reality, for you to go on the offensive and rail about “not criticizing” is misplaced at best and destructive at worst. It is not loving at all, in the true sense of the word, and it ultimately demonstrates that you are the one who doesn’t care about these kids, even though I would hope that is not your intention.
Is this Church a good church? I think so. Because I have not said which Church it is, you have no way of knowing whether or not they are a great church. I listen to their sermons every week and I usually see Christ exalted and worshiped, but that doesn’t always work itself down in the ways that it needs to. Something is amiss here and somewhere something is breaking down. This is an inescapable fact. If the three Church kids I’ve encountered have have no idea even what they are talking about and can’t tell you what the gospel is or who Jesus is and what role he plays in salvation, or even how to be saved, after attending this Church for years and years, then their spiritual maturity is not a priority, and they are letting these kids down.
I recently found myself involved in a conversation with another Fort McMurray Church kid. It came up quite naturally while I was out and about. This time it was guy in his late teens. He mentioned something about youth group and not God creating the world, and I asked him what Church he went to. He told me he attended…. [name of Church withheld as per my own convictions. If you are a local McMurray pastor and want to know if it was yours, send me a message and I will tell you. Incidentally, your youth group is two for two, because he attends the same group as this kid]
At no point in this conversation did I talk about ior reveal my own personal beliefs. This was a case of a teen who found himself smack-dab in the middle of a bodafide witnessing encounter- let’s see how he did. What follows is a very close approximation to our conversation.
“So how long have you been a Christian for? How long have you attended youth group or gone to Church?”
“So you don’t believe in evolution because you’re a Christian?”
“Because the Bible says that God created the world”
“So as a Christian, do you take the Bible seriously?”
“So I’m guessing that you believe that abortion, premarital sex and homosexuality are wrong?”
“Kinda? I thought the Bible says that all those things were wrong”
“It does, but I don’t thnk being gay is wrong. I have friends who are gay”
“So then the Bible is wrong when it comes to the whole gay marriage thing?”
“Ugh…I guess so”
“So what do Christians believe anyway? What’s Christianity all about?”
“Christians believe that you need to follow the 10 commandments”
“So like thou shall not steal?”
“Yeah, you have to follow the rules of the New Testament. Like love others and don’t judge and things like that. If you do that you’ll have a way better life”
“But if the Bible is wrong about homosexuality, how can I trust it on other things, like these rules?”
“I don’t know”
“One more question- I have a Christian friend who always talks about the gospel. What is the gospel? Like…. what’s that all about?”
“I’ don’t know”
“Have you heard of that term before? I think it has something to do with Jesus dying…?”
“Well most of the rules in the New Testament are from Jesus, so I think it has something to do with that. I’ll have to ask my Youth Pastor and get back to you on that.”
“Cool. Sounds good. Like I said, I was just wondering.”
Again the questions is this; do you feel confident that the kids in your Churches youth group could do better? If not, does it really make sense that they’re having pizza and games night once a month, and then the other three are spent listening to sermonettes on peer pressure, relationship issues, dreaming big dreams and doing radical things for God, when they can’t articulate the basics tenants of the faith?
I wrote a post recently about my encounter with a local Church kid [two posts down]. I had the opportunity to speak to him about his faith and about the gospel, and he made a mess of things. In response to this story, one of my commenters wrote this
“The reality is that the MAJORITY of the adults that attend these Institutional Churches have no real understanding of the Gospel or the Cross.
I challenge any of your readers with this: Ask 5 grown adults in ANY Institutional Church, it wont matter what denomination it is, to clearly articulate and lay out for you the basics Tenants of the Faith.”
I think that’s a pretty bold challenge, and one I’ve often thought about. While we know that having an intellectual knowledge of Christian doctrines does not necessarily translate into having a love for God or of having a saved soul, it’s also true that having that intellectual understanding often is a mark of a deep love for God and for his Word. I think it’s a sign of sanctification and maturity that people know at least the basics- otherwise what on earth are they being taught?
I wrote in a previous post “mush before milk before meat” that it seems that many churches will spend 10 weeks preaching on leadership, or 4 weeks on a sex series sermon, or 12 weeks on finances and 8 weeks on interpersonal relationships, all the while three quarters of their church members are theologically and doctrinally ignorant.
They can tell you all sorts of mystical, magical things about listening to the still, silent voice of God, but they have no conception of how to answer a basic apologetic question, like “where did we get the Bible from, how do we know it’s true, and who decided what books should be in it?”
They can probably tell you about the amazing way they felt during worship, and how God “showed up” this one time, but couldn’t tell you how the Old Testament relates to the New, couldn’t name a single church father, and couldn’t tell you anything about the first 400 years of Church history.
They can tell you about how to narcissistically insert themselves in the Biblical stories as if somehow these stories are about them, but they would run for their lives if asked to explain the Trinity, or God forbid offer even a basic refutation to the theistic challenges of a Muslim, Oneness Pentecostal, or a Jehovah witness.
They can tell you about the awesomeness of the latest books from Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and any other spiritual lunatic that comes around, but they can’t speak with authority on what the five solas [Fide, Gratie, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria] are, why they matter, and how the relate to each other.
They can tell you about a lot of things, but can they articualte a clear presentation of the Gospel? And how many of them would not only not know, but rather would actively argue against fundamental Christian doctrines like the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation, issues of biblical sexuality, the nature of God, the nature of sin and mankind, and a host of other things? How many of them, when pressed, would reveal to have some really bizarre and idolatrous views of Christ and his work and his means?
Its a good question, and speaking from my experience alone, one worthy of deep thought and reflection.
That comment does reveal a pretty good question- namely how many pastors in the local Fort McMurray area would feel confident and comfortable that if they asked ten of their churchgoers five or six questions on very basic doctrinal issues, that their members would give clear, biblically sound responses? How much more so if we asked the teens?
If you’re not a pastor- how do you think your peers and the teens in your own church youth group would do?
“A heart of flesh is ferocious in giving more of what it has already been given in Jesus Christ. You see, if Jesus Christ is an inexhaustible well, then his believers in Christ are always walking in this strange kind of holy discontentment, wanting more and more of what we’re actually already enjoying. Gone is the indifference toward divine things. We have a tenderness of conscience, a tenderness toward sorrow and suffering, and a ferocious desire of more of what we already possess, not in a sinful, discontented way, but rather in a holy, righteous discontentment, the one that mirrors David when he cries out for more and more and more of the Lord.” Matt Chandler. [Sermon December 16, 2012. New hearts and lives]
“I continually want to lay before you that really in that moment where you blow it, you have this really beautiful opportunity to marvel at the gospel. When your heart goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your mind goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your external actions go to a place you know is forbidden, you have this opportunity to just marvel at the gospel. Just marvel at it. Marvel that you didn’t surprise God, like God didn’t see that one coming. You have this chance to just slow down and rest in, “He calls me holy. He calls me blameless. He calls me spotless. Even in this he delights in me.” Matt Chandler
I have been receiving lots of invitations to donate my money over the past few months. It seems that wherever I go I am being entreated to give to some fund or charity, and my mail is rife with letters asking for donations to this cause or that. People inside the grocery store asking to purchase SARS calendars for thirty dollars. Teenage boys and girls at the checkout lines who will help you bag your items if you donate to their sports teams. Mailers asking me to help buy a Christmas turkey dinner for the homeless of the city. Mailers asking me to help elderly Jews by either buying them a meal, or helping them return to Israel. Cashiers at the registers of retail stores asking me to donate to breast cancer research, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating illnesses. Cashiers at the registers asking me to donate to school supplies for needy children, the SPCA, or to give towards the Special Olympics. The requests are everywhere, and it can be exhausting.
Whereas I used to give a little bit here and there, I’ve since stopped doing that. Some charities I refuse to support on principle [anything to do with pink ribbons and Susan G Komen] but I’ve become increasingly selective over the years, to the point that I’ll ignore 95% of requests outright for one simple reason. I do not see any eternal value in doing so. Because my labors and income is a gift from God, I want to be a good steward of it. I don’t want to be unwise in deciding where it goes and who receives it. I only have a limited amount of it, and so I want to ensure that it yields an eternal value wherever it is spent. For this reason, unless there is a Christocentric component, I will not give.
Case in point; the Special Olympics. Why would I give fifty dollars to this group when that money could feed and support a missionary in some parts of the world for several months? Where is the eternal utilitarian value of paying for an athletes hotel room or for his airfare so they can participate in a particular sport, when that same money could be used to purchase ministry tools for those who don’t have access to them, or could be used to feed and shelter a struggling missionary who is preaching the gospel to the unsaved? Where is the value?
I could give to my local SPCA, and at their request make donations to ensure that the animals are properly fed while they await to be adopted, that administrative and advertising costs are covered, and that they can buy enough sodium thiopental to put their animals to sleep. Or I could donate the money to various Christian organizations who print and smuggle in bibles to closed nations and persecuted Christians.
I could give my money to a homeless shelter or food bank that feeds and clothes and provides financial and physical support for those who need it, or I could give to a homeless shelter and food bank that does all those things as well as makes it a priority to preach the gospel and include a component of Christian evangelism to the services they are providing.I would never, ever give to the former, but I would happily give to the latter.
Ultimately I want to be wise and use my money in a way that will tangibly and practically further the kingdom of Christ. Its not wrong to give to all those organizations, but neither do I think it is particularly beneficial, especially for the Christian who ought to set his sights on different priorities and purposes in giving. Why give to an organization that seeks to only address the physical and emotional needs of someone when you can give to organizations which seek to address both physical and spiritual needs? Where is the eternal perspective on giving? Where is the biblical theology of money? I think it needs to be present at all times, and I think we need to be much more aware of it.