My home church is called Grace Bible Church. It is nondenominational but if you like fancy words I’d sum it up like this: Calvinistic, Reformed, Dispensationalism, Premill, Cessationists…. am I missing anything? Let me put it this way: My home church is mighty solid. My pastor loves the Lord, is a steadfast follower, mature man of God, and faithful shepherd. He has the gift of discerning Scripture and instructs his congregation in the way that is right and Biblical, whether toes get stomped on or not. This is a meat feeding church. No milk. Just meat. Our worship is old school, but who cares about culturally appealing sounds? I think our reverent God is far more pleased with us worshiping “in Spirit and truth,” meaning, with deep, thought provoking, edifying, profound, biblical lyrics. Not with noisy gong redundancy of shallow self-centered lyrics embellished with rave music. Despite my tone, it is not a legalistic church. It’s just amazing.
It was hard when I moved to San Diego for school to find another church but it was of highest priority for me. After visiting a total of three churches, I found one. I liked it. I thought that the pastor’s sermons were Scriptural, solid, and well…good. Worship I liked too. It became my home-away-from-home church. I got plugged in pretty quickly, serving on the worship team by singing, regularly attending weekly bible studies, interning for a while (which ended up being a dramatic bust! – more on that later, maybe…). I no longer go to this church. I now go to Community Bible Church. I don’t treat church like a rockstar treats groupies…. get what you can, and on to the next. But I had to leave. I left with a broken heart and some sniffles. But I had to. There were too many wolves sneaking in.
While I was an intern, my sophomore year of college (2013), I remember hearing my pastor comment that he’s realized the members of the church in general were weaker or newer in their faith. He implied that he felt a need to…what I describe as “dumb down”… his preaching. This struck a flat chord with me. Bring the teaching of Scripture down to the level of man? Where’s the challenge to grow? You don’t lower the bar… you encourage them to reach for it. I remember at my home church, I use to complain that it felt like I was sitting in a college theology course. My pastor hasn’t changed his style, but I changed. I grew up. Now, I understand, and I grow! Man, did I sure notice that ‘dumbing down.’
#1 Dumbing Down the Curriculum
The common occurrence became me leaving church with a shrug of the shoulders thinking, “well, ok? I mean…I guess there were some good reminders in that sermon.” Challenges? No. Conviction? Some. Growth? Maybe a little.
But then I started noticing another thing. This, I noticed in my bible study group: disagreements. It’s no news that Christians, unfortunately, bud heads all the time but that’s typically on big theological issues or biblical ‘grey areas.’ There should NOT be disunity on elementary teachings of Scripture, and certainly not on foundational and fundamental truths of the bible. I was quickly deemed the Pharisee, know-it-all, “miss big words” and Christanese speaker. The trip was that I was regarded as this for using basic words like “sanctification” and for other elements that are basic. Why are we disagreeing about these things, people? It was alarming. If salvation is a response to Christ’s work on the cross, we would NEVER choose Christ. It’s entirely initiated by the Holy Spirit because by nature I am an enemy who hates God! But others disagreed. Hm. I began growing discouraged. But then came the sugar, spice, and everything nice.
#3 Jesus + this & Jesus – that
This church has not abandoned Christ. First, let me say that I still love and hang out with many people from this church and I am confident many of them are saved, God fearing Christians. Now… this church has not abandoned Christ. But worse, they’ve added and taken away from him. I think a better phrasing would be, they’ve shifted the emphasis from Christ, to experiences for the self. It’s your classic Corinthian church. I’m not trying to put them on blast. I’m genuinely grieved by what I’ve been witnessing. The first thing I noticed that got me beginning to search for new churches, was that the sermons became heavily about experiences and feelings. I firmly believe that the key to EVERYTHING is know Christ. Just know Him. This church started preaching like they were trying to generate some sort of revival. They’re just a few hundred years behind Kierkegaard and Schleiermacher’s charismatic revival. I could see where this was going.
#4 Strange Fire
John MacArthur has awesome books, resources, sermons, and a conference on this entire topic of strange fire which is based of a Levitical passage where Aaron’s two sons are consumed by fire from heaven for offering unauthorized or “strange” fire, rather than the holy and designated fire for offering. One night I babysat for my worship leader. Before he and his wife walked out the door for their date, we entered a brief discussion about the miraculous Spiritual gifts. Majority of the members of this church believe in them. I do not. Well, I believe they served their purpose and ceased. I had gotten into it pretty bad with a couple from my bible study on the topic and it ended terribly – we still haven’t reconciled which bothers me. A few days after babysitting and touching on the subject, I get a text from the worship leader asking if I would mind coming by the church to meet with him. Because of previous intern drama a year earlier, I was worried. Meeting with them usually meant I did something wrong. He assured me it would be civil and just between me and him. He told me that the staff recently went on a retreat where they discussed the vision of the church. He told me that since he is my friend and because we had just discussed the Gifts of the Spirit, he felt inclined to tell me in advance. “Our vision is to be a Spirit filled church. We want to see people healing, performing miracles…” etc. He went on to encourage me to study and pray on the subject but that if my thoughts and convictions remained as they do, I may not feel comfortable attending that church any longer. The conversation was civil. Before I left, he warned me to not attest the modern practices of the miraculous gifts with the work of demons because as the Bible says, blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. My retort: “I know. You’re not the first to refer me to that Scripture. I’ll be cautious but if I may, perhaps you should view it the other way too and be careful. You think I’m attesting works of the Holy Spirit to the Devil, but maybe just maybe you’re attesting works of the Devil to the Holy Spirit.” With that, I left and did not return. As I turned my back to him, tears streamed down my face. I called my dad in the car while driving and broke down into tears. “Dad, I’m so sad! These people played such a huge part of my life. They helped me get through my breakup with Ryan and God has used them so much in my life. But they’re so deceived and it breaks my heart!” I sobbed.
How is “being a Spirit filled, gift practicing church” a vision? When the disciples performed miracles and spoke tongues – always an actual language – they weren’t seeking it. They weren’t encouraged or taught the formulaic way to do it. Their faith wasn’t measured by how many euphoric experiences they had… It was a fruit of their relationship with God. IF those gifts were still necessary, they’d come without warning. And they would be immediate. I have never seen in the modern age, a shriveled hand be extended immediately. Scales fall of eyes. Sores and boils be patched up with brand new skin immediately. Paralytics receiving brand new bones and ligaments immediately. Paul calls the mind set on these things elementary. He basically spouts, “Well if you insist… geez, fine, I’ll help you practice them correctly WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE REVEALING OF CHRIST JESUS… then you won’t need this stuff anymore.” We have the full cannon of Scripture. Those gifts ceased. I don’t want to get into all that now, I just think it is wildly erroneous to have this be the VISION of your church. Make your vision to raise up mature men and women of God. Feed them meat. After all, those who prophesied and healed in the name of Jesus are the very ones to whom Christ says, “depart from me, I never knew you.”
I watched a church I called home and that I loved, get snatched. I watched the wolves come in. I watched them snatch my friends. And I left. Alone. But God is good. The new church I attend reminds me so much of my home church. Meat. Not milk. I even snatched someone myself from that church and have been going to CBC with her. This Sunday, we have a membership class 🙂 God is good.