Five-Hundred Years Later; Still, 95 Reasons Why…

This October 31st marks the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In the same spirit that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of Wittenberg Chapel, we offer this list of offences. This list has been compiled by numerous Pastors, Professors, Authors, Church leaders and followers of Jesus Christ, across North America. This group consisted of various ethnicities, different socio-economic status and genders.

The purpose of this list is not to encourage division, but to help increase the awareness to the seriousness of the current issues that are facing the evangelical Christian church.  This list is not directed at any specific evangelical Christian Church, even though there may be several things on the list that your church may be guilty of.

It is no secret that millennials have been and are continuing to be disengaged from the evangelical Christian church, and here may lie some of the reasons why.  The hope is that by humbly understanding what millennials are saying about the evangelical church, we will be able to improve and correct the current wrongs. This is the only way that the evangelical church will be able to re-connect with millennials and not lose future generations. 

CONGREGATIONAL SINS

1. You are full of idol worship.

2. Your buildings have become your idols.

3. You have made the Bible into an idol.

4. You have committed adultery with the Scriptures in loving them more than God.

5. You have made pragmatism and ability your idol.

6. In your addiction to church “programs”, you have made them your idol.

7. You have made efficiency your god.

8. Your love of money is humiliating.

9. Money has become the main factor in decision-making.

10. Money, not truth, has become the driving force behind the translation of the Bible.

11. The majority of your tithes goes to “paying the bills” and not to community needs.

12. You have turned the church into a marketplace by marketing the gospel.

13. Personal safety dominates your mindset rather than the will of God.

14. You have become defined by your judgemental attitude – not your love.

15. You manipulate the Bible to justify your silence.

16. You treat women as second-class citizens.

17. Your silence on matters of human rights is abominable.

18. You have allowed human/ sex trafficking and slavery to exponentially grow without being seriously addressed by the church.

19. Your neutrality towards those who are oppressed because of race is disgusting.

20. Your decision to stay neutral when our indigenous people are abused and taken advantage of is deplorable.

21. Your decision to stay neutral when it comes to defending the covenants made with natives is shameful.

22. You abuse the foreigner and immigrant.

23. You have tolerated ethnocentrism.

24. Your intolerance of people from other religious beliefs breaks the heart of God.

25. You spend more time inside your building walls than in the community that you claim you belong to.

26. You are scared to get close to people.

27. You have not taken the time to understand gender issues correctly.

28. Learning to love those with sexual identity struggles is not a priority.

29. You are unable to love those who identify as LGBTQ+.

30. You judge those who are different before you get to know them.

31. You have failed to create a place of safety for those who have been abused.

32. You turn a blind eye to the sick and wounded.

33. You have neglected to address cases of sexual abuse within the church.

34. You are more concerned with your own image, rather than the image of God.

 

CHURCH LEADERSHIP FAILURES

35. You are controlled by fear.

36. You use fear to manipulate those who may think differently.

37. You are obsessed with the idea of physical and emotional comfort.

38. You easily confuse politics and the desires of God.

39. The leadership of your local churches are power hungry, manipulative, and serve their own interests, instead of the commands of Christ.

40. In your pursuit of control, you have neglected the sovereignty of God.

41. You have elevated and glorified the position of senior pastor.

42. You have turned a blind eye to the thousands of church leaders who are addicted to pornography.

43. The church’s authority lies in your local or denominational leadership, and not in the Holy Spirit.

44. Your desire to be “right” overshadows God’s command to love.

45. You speak of agape love, but have settled for conditional love.

46. You abuse those (pastors) who are called to serve among you.

47. You have built a system that unhealthily relies upon the pastor for spiritual growth.

48. Keeping those in your buildings “comfortable” overshadows your love for the lost.

49. You have failed to go to the nations.

50. You have turned missions into “colonization”.

51. You have brought “western culture” to lost peoples, and not the love of Jesus.

52. Your failure to learn and appreciate other cultures has led the world to associating “Jesus” with “white culture”.

53. You have taught children that they do not belong in the worship experience with adults.

54. You have oppressed the younger generations whom God has called to serve.

55. You have neglected to teach the “whys” behind what we believe, resulting in generations of religiosity and legalism.

56. You refuse to believe God can be worshiped in different styles and forms other than what is acceptable to you.

57. You use the excuse, “it’s tradition” to stifle progress.

58. Family has become second priority over ministry work.

59. Your apathy in connecting with this generation is not concerning to you.

60. Your close mindedness toward the discoveries of science has led to an inappropriate view of God.

61. Your inability to admit and ask for forgiveness from those you have clearly wronged is evidence of your complete arrogance.

62. When disagreements arise within the local church, you settle for division- over unity.

63. You honor Christ with your lips but your heart is far from Him.

64. Your exclusivity of like-minded people has pushed out thousands.

65. You have deemed this generation’s demand for truth as rebellion.

66. You have allowed the “prosperity gospel” to mislead thousands of people with heretical teachings.

67. You have been misled to believe a heretical understanding of a “successful church”.

 

THEOLOGICAL FAILURES

68. You have forgotten how to pray, you focus on continual “asking” instead of seeking the will of God.

69. You have made Jesus “white” and expect those who follow Christ to act accordingly.

70. The Lord’s Supper has become a measurement for who is holier.

71. You have forgotten how to be led by the Holy Spirit.

72. You have minimized the role and power of the Holy Spirit.

73. You marginalize the Holy Spirit by presenting polished sermons every week.

74. You worship war and violence instead of peace and compassion.

75. You have a high view of scripture, yet a low view of Jesus.

76. You have failed to acknowledge and teach on the humanity of Jesus.

77. You have mistaken sexual repression and oppression for sexual purity.

78. You have removed the holiness of sexuality.

79. You obsess over having new converts but this has led to tolerating a heretical teaching on salvation.

80. You have defiled salvation by teaching that it is contingent on saying “the sinner’s prayer”.

81. You have misled many into a false security of salvation.

82. Your passion for people stops after the salvation experience.

83. You are ignorant of pagan practices and influences, and therefore have filled the church with pagan practices on your quest to be “biblical”.

84. Your failure to correctly interpret and understand scripture has led to many false and heretical teachings.

85. You teach that “blessings” come in forms of comfort, getting what you want, health, and success.

86. You teach that the “church” is a local congregation while failing to acknowledge the universal church of believers that exists worldwide.

87. Your desire to “know” and “prove” everything in relation to God, has minimized the sovereignty and love of God.

88. You inappropriately teach an Old Testament version of tithing; you impose it and frown down upon those that do not conform to it.

89. “Worship” has been defined by singing, but you have failed to teach the importance of a life lived in worship.

90. You elevate a concert-like environment of worship, instead of a genuine Spirit-led worship encounter.

91. Your desire to build a concert-like environment causes your resources to be spent on materialistic items, rather than towards building the Kingdom at a local and global level.

92. Your emphasis on a performance-level worship shuns those with a genuine heart to serve.

93. You have led your congregations astray by singing heretical songs.

94. You glorify large churches rather than small gatherings that are filled with the Holy Spirit

95. You have neglected to teach a sufficient theology on death and the after life.

Advertisements

My Ministry Regrets…

The following is my personal regrets in regards to pastoral ministry over the past 10 years, mixed with a bit of satire. Theses regrets do not reflect on one specific church or congregation but are rather a summary of my feelings. These regrets are not meant to be taken personally, unless a personal reference is made.

 

  1. I put too much trust in the Church leaders:

Well before I even get there, I have to say that I have worked in churches where it was evident by the things certain people said or did, that they did not even have a relationship with Jesus. Like straight up disgusting decisions to lie, cheat or even treat a person differently based on their race or socio-economic status.

I made the mistake of trusting church leaders to make the right decisions and lead the church in a “godly manner” which I can admit now; was a huge regret. I would happily swap in any of my middle school kids to replace those “church elders” to serve—they would have been increasingly more effective, loving and caring. I stupidly trusted them when they said they would do something, or have my back in a decision…only to be thrown under the bus literally hours later. They will kick you when you are down.

Church leaders will always put their needs and agenda before you as a pastor. It doesn’t matter how good of a pastor you are or how much you accomplish. Once you fulfill what they want, you are dispensable—like a tampon.

  1. I should have just stuck to running programs:

I thought I knew better, I tried my best to build relationship with the people I worked with. Such as the student leaders, adult leaders and students. Relationship building is my strength, but a majority of the churches I served at, were not comfortable with that. I can recall over a dozen times where relational ministry was challenged with statements like:

“Oh…that means we have to get to know each other?”

“This makes me uncomfortable. I am not ready for this type of commitment.”

“I feel this is inappropriate.”

I apologize, we all know that Jesus was a robot who never had a relationship with anyone, which made going to the cross as non-emotional as possible. Jesus doesn’t really want a relationship with humanity…he just wants the idea of one because who would really want to get to know you?

Not sure what kind of ministry is done without “relationships” but sign me up…it might help me keep a pastoral job longer. Even Scotty P isn’t that stupid..

cd348d44080e6347ec6a63cf1691a78a--tattoo-removal-bad-tattoos

  1. I underestimated the power of “church bullshit”:

Church politics? Let’s be real. It’s bullshit; straight from the pit of hell if you ask me. It disgusts me to the point of increasing my need to vomit—truth be told I actually have vomited due to church bullshit.

However, I regret that I didn’t engage in the gossip, backstabbing and slander that occurred in the churches I served in. I think it would have really opened my mind to see who in fact were the “douche-bags” in the church. I could have also exercised my passive aggressive nature to tear some people down so I could earn my stripes with the rest of the “church bullies”.

God knows I have a ton of juicy stuff people told me in confidence, affairs, lies people have been living for years, stealing from work, drug usage, habitual masturbation, church leaders who were actively abusing their children, catching couples engaging in oral sex in the church…man I could have put all that stuff on blast just like them!

Church bullshit can literally tear a church apart. Ever wonder why so many people have left your church? Yes, my finger is pointing right at it, church bullshit.

  1. I invested too much time into people:

I regret wasting my time investing in people. Let me re-phrase, wasting it on people who don’t matter. There are a handful of people in every church that are a waste of time. They are usually considered “trouble makers”, “tough kids” or “emotional sponges” but behind closed doors, church leaders call them “a waste of time”.

I normally found myself drawn to this group of people. This group would be known for their “un-church like attitudes”, smelling of body odor or drugs, their “always wanting to fight you” or tell you off and best yet, their always wanting to be with you…wherever you go.

I should have been more like Jesus, with investing my time with the righteous and the goody goodies. Jesus knew how to do ministry; un-relational, impersonal and with the righteous.

      5. I should have insisted on an hourly salary:

No joke here. Pastors are the most taken advantage among all professions. What other job do you literally work 60-70 hours a week on average, plus be available all hours of the day for immediate email response, house calls, hospital visits, phone calls AND meetings that run until 1:00am? Even if I was paid minimum wage I would have made way more than I did on salary.

If I were to take the highest monthly salary I was ever paid, and divided it by the actual hours I put in…I would come close to $6 an hour. At the end of the day, you can’t help but feel very appreciated. Thanks for showing me how much I am worth to you, truly heart warmed. Oh and I would definitely would have charged a fee every time I had to deal with church bullshit…that would add up real fast, trust me 😉

“..sorry let’s pause, before we continue please swipe your credit card for a bullshit fee, I waived it last time…but this time you gotta pay up” 😉

 

Following Jesus is ALL about Freedom

Since my last blog post, several of you have asked me to expand on what the difference between being a “Christian” and “following Jesus”? Like I said, some may see this as semantics but there are several crucial differences.

First and foremost, it starts with correctly understanding the implications of the atonement. Mainstream evangelical theology of the atonement is decently sufficient; more so the penal substitution theory–but the reality is, God has only revealed a limited amount of information on how everything worked out. No matter what view you lean towards, it is still a theory.

Nevertheless, the idea of freedom emerges once you go deeper into the atonement. The Apostle Paul was an unashamed proponent of the new found freedom that a believer has through Jesus. Paul references this idea of freedom over a dozen times in his letters to the new believers–this new freedom was a BIG DEAL!

While growing up in the Christian faith, I was taught that this “freedom” was “spiritual freedom” from sin or a “freedom” that came with certain rules and restrictions. However, this by its own definition is a contradiction.

Freedom is not truly freedom unless it is independent of all conditions

Example: In light of Independence Day here in the States, we celebrate independence and freedom from England. Now, if after the Revolutionary War in 1776 we agreed to become a free nation but yet England wanted to impose and enforce a couple of their rules and regulations on us still, I would be the first to object in saying that that is not true freedom.

America as a nation is NOT in fact a free nation either. There are still laws and restrictions. Such as immigration, taxes, legal procedures, and a bunch of things you can and cannot do. Don’t let your mind become warped…America is not a free country.

True freedom is completely separate and independent from ALL rules and regulations. Somehow in the Christian religion they have been able to sell this idea of “freedom” with it not being complete freedom. I would argue that if it is not “complete freedom” it ceases to be freedom at all.

Jesus comes to bring complete freedom (spiritual, emotional and physical) to those who follow him. A true follower of Jesus does not need any laws, rules, conditions, or guilt in order to “keep them in line” or “on the right path”. Many Christians are under the illusion that they are living in freedom but all they have done is allowed people to control them, tell them what to do, dictate their emotions and appearance…while telling them they are free. Boggles my mind.

 A follower of Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit which is sufficient for EVERYTHING the person will need in this life.

This differs drastically from the mainstream Christian stance, where they believe that you need these extra things to keep the person on the right path. Such as the Bible, or man made conditions; don’t drink alcohol, don’t get a tattoo, don’t get divorced, don’t smoke, don’t dress or act a certain way, don’t listen to that type of music, don’t go to that club or bar, don’t hang out with those people, don’t cuss, blah blah blah…in order to live a righteous life.

All those can be good things, don’t get me wrong; but they will never substitute the all encompassing sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. Take away the Bible, take away all the rules, regulations, cultural expectation, all the “do’s and don’ts” and take away all the conditions and just give me the Holy Spirit; that will be more than enough to help me living a life that is pleasing to God.

Trust the Holy Spirit. 

A true believer does not need the Bible to tell them to be patient or to love or that they should tell others about the true freedom that is found in Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has already been or will empress these things upon them. The Holy Spirit will lead, guide, teach, empower, strengthen, comfort, encourage and mature a person much better than anything man has set up in Christianity. When following Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes first; before anything else.

In Regards to Freedom: Following Jesus is much more than freedom from sin; but it’s a freedom to love unconditionally. Unfortunately not many believers are able to grasp this.  What this truly means is that the believer has been freed from the bonds of hate, rage, anger, stress, worry.  In the lives of one who truly claims to follow Christ, love must govern their actions and thoughts, Love must prevail over all.  You can choose to do whatever with your freedom as…. there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. (Extreme example: But if I were to murder someone I know Christ will forgive me and He will love me no less). However, the Holy Spirit calls us to love.

True freedom is only found in true love, therefore with your freedom, choose to love. 

Why I am no longer a Christian.

I have been on a journey over the past several years.  This journey has been instrumental in shaping my theology and understanding of life.  As some of you know, I have endured many different struggles and hurts. I have been broken, betrayed, threatened and abandoned. I’ve had people lie to my face. I’ve been judged by the things that have happened in my life and the choices I’ve made–all by people who hide behind church walls and misinterpret scripture. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I am no longer a Christian.

Before you jump down my throat, let me explain…

What is a Christian? According to the dictionary it’s:

A follower of Christianity or the religion of Christianity”

What is Christianity?

            Christianity: “A religion based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth”

I have to stop here; my problem is not with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but his teachings were not meant to be a religion.

Religion: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

As someone who has been raised in the Christian Church and has even pastored for almost a decade in the Christian Church, I have to admit, Christianity is not what it’s all cracked up to be. 

Christianity has morphed into this “luke-warm, sour tasting, rancid milk” that has been left open in a hot house for a month. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to drink it, yet alone get close to it; the smell alone will make you gag. It’s not only gag-worthy but it’s aided in breeding maggots and poisonous bacteria.

People have added their own personal preferences to the Bible in order to control others.

Poorly educated people have been allowed to become influential Christian authors, who write books and get on TV to say things that the Bible really doesn’t say. All you have to do is go to the “Christian book-store” (not sure how a book-store can be Christian) and you’ll see Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado and every author that has written a “Christian dating” book, claiming the Bible “says this”, “promises that” or “tells us to do this”…They are in it for the money. Sadly, the average Church attender won’t be able to tell the difference since they haven’t learned how to read the Bible appropriately either. (Don’t even get me started on “The Circle Maker”…talk about one of the worst ones yet.)

Christianity has been allowed to breed condemnation for people who wrestle with different struggles. Self-righteousness runs rampant. Judgment rains down upon those who choose to look, live and sin differently. It saddens me to say this, but the most racist people I have been around in my life have called themselves Christians. That’s saying something because I have been around several rough crowds of people but they held to the value of all people no matter what color of their skin of country they came from. The people who have lied to me the most and stabbed me in the back most often, have called themselves Christians. I thought there was suppose to be a difference between “Christians” and “non-Christians”? There really isn’t.  And God forbid someone chooses to follow another religion.

“Claiming to have ‘the truth’, is truth held in vain if your truth allows prejudice, racism and inhumane treatment of those who disagree with you”

For example, Christians have completely forgotten Genesis 17:20. I bring this up to prove this point: we like to pick and choose what we like from the Bible, and then we let those things, that we like, influence the formation of our religion—while having a total disregard for the important things in the Bible, that “we don’t like”.

Genesis 17:20 says “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

Yes, God blessed Ishmael and yes that Ishmael. Abraham had two sons. God, being a God who made a covenant with Abraham, kept his covenant to bless, multiply and make Abraham’s decedents a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3). God promised to bless, multiply and make Ishmael into a great nation, just like Isaac. The only difference is found in the promise of Jesus’ coming through Isaac’s lineage.

Do I know exactly what that means? No, but what I do know is that a Christian’s understanding of Ishmael, is wrong due to the fact that they’ve ignored several important passages that could help them better understand how God has promised to protect Ishmael and his descendants (which are more commonly known as Muslims). Again, this is only one example.

Christianity is not a group of people who follow the teachings of Jesus. Christianity is a blend of Judaism, paganism, archaic eastern Arabic customs and culture that has been mixed in with fear, consumerism, rituals and morality.

Most practicing Christians wouldn’t be able to tell you when culture ends and their religion starts. Christianity does not mean adapting to “white north American” culture, yet how many times have we seen “what is acceptable in Christianity” being defined by “white culture”? Or subconsciously expected someone, who decides to become a Christian, to give up their culture and adopt “white culture”. Christianity, by all intentions has become white—and ethnocentric.

For example, let’s look at the concept of sin. In order for something to be “a sin”, it has to be independent of, and un-reliant on culture. Culture cannot define sin, for if it does, it no longer becomes sin but a cultural “faux pas” or “taboo”. For what constitutes as sin, cannot change. If sin is able to change, then that means that God changes the rules on his requirement for righteousness, but God does not change. For example, in Deuteronomy there is a clear command “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen mixed together”. Yet how many articles of clothes do we all own that are made of mixed materials? Or in Leviticus 19:26, the Israelites were told not to eat meat with blood still in it. To be honest I do like myself a nice rare stake every once in a while.

(By the way this verse is two verses away from where people get the “it’s a sin to get a tattoo” and its only 6 verses away from “When a foreigner comes to you in your land, do not mistreat them.” Perfect example on how we like to pick and choose).

I digress, so are those sins or not? My understanding was that these laws were given to God’s people in a specific context thousands of years ago. They weren’t given specifically to me. Does sin change then? Actually, no. Sin is not so much a “do this” and “don’t do that”. God has given an overarching command, which is to love and obey Him. Therefore, whatever He asks of you, or me, we must in love, obey–and it’s different for everyone.  Not loving and obeying God, is truly the definition of sin. The Bible contains examples of previous instructions that were given to people–not necessarily prescriptive for us to follow exactly today.

We have to understand sin in the context of God. The one character that governs all of God’s actions is love; and to that, it’s the highest form of love. God IS Agape. Therefore, a more appropriate understanding of sin is this:

Sin is any action that is done that lacks the perfect amount of  full agape love. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good of an act we do if it’s lacking love or obedience to God.

God expects love to emanate from all aspects and actions. Murder, hatred, selfishness etc…those are not loving.

The problem now, is that we have allowed our understanding of sin to be developed by culture and morality rather than God. This has led to self-righteousness (because the emphasis has been put on “don’t do this, don’t do that”. So a person who stares at the wall their whole life becomes “righteous” because they have never done anything wrong, or so they believe).

When considering sin, we should be asking instead,

“Does what I am about to do, say or think, demonstrate the Love that God has called me to emanate?”

Jesus gave clear instructions on how to follow him. These commands were not tied to any specific culture. There is no legalistic expectations, but unconditional love. Religiosity has no place in his teachings. Fear is replaced with trust in his sovereignty and perfect love. Hate is replaced with Love. Love for all, not just those that are like you, or those who like you. Christianity today, has strayed drastically from what Jesus taught, however His expectations for those who say they follow him remain the same. “Love as I have loved you”. Simple yet very challenging.

“Salvation is not found in the church nor in Christianity. Salvation can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ.”

I am no longer a Christian. I follow Jesus now. I am going to allow his love; Spirit and power, change me from the inside out. I seek to allow his love express itself through my brokenness. I gather with people who are broken and also follow Jesus; where we seek to love and change the world together, through His love. Some may call this semantics but for me this is life altering.

 Do Not Resuscitate: The Death of Evangelicalism

“We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.” –Michael Spencer, 2009

To be clear evangelicalism is just one of the dozens of versions of Christianity; it is not christianity. It has grown in North America over the past 50 or so years but it has significantly declined over the past 10-15 years. We can point fingers at many different reasons why- all which have some validity. However, I would argue that the main reason this collapse is inevitable is solely due to the fact that the evangelical church has “sold out”.

To be fair, the evangelical church has “sold out” on so many different levels in so many different ways, that it’s hard to find an area that they have NOT sold out in. Their passion to stay relevant to the culture has taken a fatal turn into compromise and destruction.

I can rant all day about the number of areas that have been jeopardized (maybe one day I will), but today I want to focus on a couple major areas that the evangelical church has “sold out” in.

  1. The first area of “sell out” is in the area of defining success. The evangelical church has completely redefined the understanding of a successful church.  I would bet that every evangelical church when asked what a successful church is, would say that a successful church is one that “brings the gospel to the world”.  But that is not happening.  I don’t need to throw the stats at you as they are widely available (Suggeted reading: UnChrsitianby David Kinneman, You lost meby David Kinneman & Barna Group, & The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church by John Dickerson). All the stats point to major decline in all mainline denominations over the last 10-15 years along with the average age of people who attend church increasing above 50 years old. The decline is not just in church membership, but in baptism and new believers. This means that not only are churches not reaching non-believers in their community with the gospel, but once avid church attenders are losing interest and no longer going to church as well. Instead of addressing the issues head on and realizing the failures of evangelicalism, churches have tried to redefine what a successful church looks like, in hopes of re-wiring the minds of its members.

 Production based church: A successful church is one that produces a great experience for its attenders. Utilizing the latest technology is not sinful nor wrong but after the service is over, those serving gauge the “successful-ness” of the service based on how many “hiccups” or ” screw ups” occurred during the service. The lights have to be perfect. The sound has to be flawless. The outfits need to be coordinated. The pastor needs to be eloquent. The “flow” of the service needs to work for the people. The service needs to end “on time”. The emphasis is placed on the production.

The Worship Experience: A successful church provides a touching worship experience. I mentioned this in one of my earlier blogs (What is the goal of worship? (https://wordpress.com/post/jonscarpuzzi.wordpress.com/4 ). How can there be so much effort into the worship experience and walk away feeling satisfied even though no one connected with the Spirit? The result is like walking out of a theater after watching a great movie. It was great but it didn’t change your life. There is such a huge emphasis on the “worship experience” that I get nauseated even thinking about it now. I wanted to kick something every time someone told me “that was a great experience, it went really well”.

The Mega-Church. The formation of the Mega-church has severely warped the minds and expectations of evangelicals. Don’t get me wrong, there has been good that has happened through the mega-church movement over the years. However, evangelicalism has elevated the mega-church as it’s “pride and joy”. They highlighted the pastors of mega-churches who became the “go to” for answers on “how to grow a successful church”. They started showing the glitz and glamor of the mega-church on TV, and soon the mega-church was seen to contain all the answers to a “successful church”. As a result, theology started to exit the church almost as quickly as people streamed in. BUT according to church growth statistics, this too was a fad and is now declining. What it has left behind, among other things, is spiritual confusion, consumer-driven churches, un-fulfilment, disappointment and unfortunately–something a majority of evangelical churches are still striving to become.  It is ridiculous the amount of breath I have wasted explaining to people that the mega-church model is NOT the ultimate church that Jesus expected his church to be. It was something that was tried, and had its “heyday”…now let’s move on.

“Evangelicalism has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.”

2. The second area of “sell out” is in the area of clinging to the “Business Model”. All of the churches I have been a part of over the years, have either adopted the “business model” of running the church, or were in the process of doing so. I have to say this for the sake of my sanity. If the church is NOT a business, it should NOT be run like one. You only run something like a business, if it is a business. Leaders that have come to believe the best way to run a church is by using the “necessary evil of a business model” have been duped to believe a lie. If a church “has to” be run as a business…there are probably a bunch of other things wrong that need to be addressed. The challenge for churches is to avoidthis model at all costs. Agreed, it may be more work but it is better than being lead astray. Churches that run by using the business model shelter their leaders from the accountability that business leaders are held to. The stage is set for total abuse of power; using God as their witness–“church leaders need to be completely respected and obeyed and never questioned”. Businesses would not be able to get away with a fraction of what church leaderships have been able to do. The “money eyes” of church leaders are completely humiliating…I have seen it first hand multiple times.

3. The third area of “sell out” is in the area of “Replacement”. If Jesus could write one sentence to the evangelical church, I think it would be, “You have replaced me”. Jesus has been replaced with the Bible, christian education, the worship experience, the preaching, the singing, the fellowship, legalism, the church culture, the building, morality, church leadership, christian bookstores…and so on. Evangelicals have such strong relationships with “Christian things”, but all those things have silently and slowly replaced a legitimate relationship with Jesus. Thus leaving evangelicals questioning their faith once one of those things are taken away. As a result, evangelicals have begun substituting their faith with books, unbiblical teachings and heretical aspirations (ie the prosperity gospel). Going hand in hand with that is the replacement and marginalization of the Holy Spirit. The evangelical version of Christianity has been able to operate without intentionally seeking the leadership, guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

“There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven mega churches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.” –Michael Spencer

Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout, it has already signed a DNR. All evangelicalism needs is a funeral. Let’s remember the good, learn from the bad, bury it…and move on!  Personally, I am not mourning the impending death of evangelicalism, I am rejoicing as I know there is a new chapter that the Holy Spirit has waiting to unveil for the Church!

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”–Matthew 9:17

“Un-Focusing” on the Cross

“It is all about the cross!”, the preacher declared from the pulpit, sweat dripping from his brow as he thrust his finger towards the 8 foot tall crucifix that stood plastered to the back wall of the church. He closed his rant by stating, “you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!” As the audience rose to their feet in applause and to respond by singing “wonderful cross”.  Why did we spend a whole two hours focusing on the cross?  I literally counted over a hundred times the preacher said “the cross” and seven times he said Jesus. I sat there perplexed wondering how in the world had the evangelical church strayed this far. It certainly did not happen over night. Little by little the symbol of the cross has been allowed to become an idol in the church.

“you don’t understand love unless you learn how to love the cross, who you are is found in the cross, it’s all about the cross!”

To be fair, the cross does hold a great amount of significance for the believer.  It symbolized freedom, new life, the death of sin, forgiveness and it plays a major role in the atonements. But at the end of the day, it still is just a symbol.

Just for sake of the argument, if Jesus was hung, beheaded or electrocuted, would we be embracing the  “noose” the “sword” or “electric-chair? Would we be placing such value and emphasis upon the instrument of death that took the life of our Lord? It is not all about the cross, it never was and it never should be for a true follower of Christ.

“The cross is just a symbol”

Interestingly enough, the early followers of Christ embraced the ichthus (the fish) and the dove more commonly as a symbol of their calling. For them, the calling to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19) and be empowered by the Holy Spirit, was the primary focus.  This mentality shaped the early church into an exponentially growing movement that brought the love of Jesus to the world in the first hundred or so years. Consequently, the cross bore the painful memory of the execution of their Lord, not something they wanted to constantly remember.

It was not until Justin Martyr in the mid 150’s wrote that the symbol of the cross should be engraved on all objects of Christianity. The Emperor Constantine expanded the use of the cross eclipsing the use of the ichthus after claiming to have received a dream that commanded him to conquer in the name of the cross (if he was truly a follower of Christ, he would have recognized this dream was not from God). Constantine used the symbol of the cross to incite fear and dread in the lives of his foes. For Constantine the cross symbolized power, destruction and impending death to his foes if they resisted his expanding empire. Needless to say, the cross was not viewed in a positive way by those outside of Christianity.

In recent history, the cross has become sacred, especially to evangelicals and in subtle ways–a substitute for Jesus. There are numerous worship songs that glorify the cross, sermons are structured that focus on the cross, crosses are affixed throughout houses of worship; evangelicals have put the cross at the center of their lives…in many cases, instead of Jesus.

“The cross has been put at the center of the evangelical experience…instead of Jesus”

Evangelicals have a unhealthy obsession with the cross. The cross speaks predominantly to a certain part of the Christian life…mainly the early stages of belief. Unfortunately, at the cross is where a majority of believers stay their whole life.  Battling their sins in the shadows of the cross, working on themselves to be worthy of the cross or even living in self guilt and shame, even though that is exactly what Jesus came to deliver us from. They never seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and never act on the command to be a fisher of men. When the focus is upon the cross it places more emphasis on justification, the struggle against self and sin and the personal experience.

No one focuses on the limo that brings the superstars to the red carpet. 

There needs to be a balance between using symbols in the Christian experience and allowing symbols to dictate or define the Christian experience. The christian life includes the cross but is not defined by the cross, it is defined by Christ. It is always a danger to cling to symbols as it leads to idolatry. Quiet frankly the use of the cross in almost every “christian thing” (music, stationary, jewelry, statues, sculptures, buildings, prayer rooms, multi-media, carvings etc.) is becoming hard to defend as “not-idolatry”.

“The cross is the mode–something used to accomplish a greater purpose.  Don’t focus on the mode, don’t obsess over the mode. Worship and focus on the greater purpose which is Jesus Christ and his love for the Father and His plan for salvation.”

I Wish More Churches Focused On Confirmation

My spiritual formation has been a “chop-suey” of evangelical traditions and cultures. I was raised in a conservative Chinese Church, where people tried their best to raise us (the millennial generation).  Children’s and Youth ministry was a mix of “trial and error” and “grass root” movements, which were impactful nonetheless.  Were they perfect? No, but what it did do for me was increase my passion for vocational ministry among teens and young adults.

However, as I have journeyed through my life and explored different schools of thought and orthodoxies, I have found various hidden “Jewels” that I wish more Churches held to. One of those “Jewels” is “Confirmation”. One of the misconceptions about “confirmation” is that it is exclusively a Roman Catholic teaching.  This is not true, since Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Anglican and even Baptist, currently or at some time in their history, have viewed “confirmation” as important.

For me my first question when studying confirmation more in depth a couple years back was, What is the Biblical foundation for this understanding?.  Most of the answers I received were along the lines of “receiving the Holy Spirit” or “baptism of the holy Spirit” in Acts 8:14-17.  This put me in a state of contemplation as I was not raised to view “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that way. I was raised to understand that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was something that happened at conversion…or was it? I was also told, that if you were of the Pentecostal or Assembly of God tradition, “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was a completely separate event that happened AFTER conversion.

So let’s back up…what is “Confirmation” according to Church tradition?

“In Christianity, confirmation is either considered a sacrament or rite – depending on the beliefs – of the practitioners, ceremonially performed in a church, which signifies the faith and commitment of a person, who desires to publicize their convictions to their family, friends, and church.”

Wait, I was told that was Baptism!  Yet baptism also granted me the ability to be a member of the church. I was deeply confused!

Baptism in many of the churches I have been able to observe, serves as a multi-purpose event…it was the “3 in 1” or “trinity event” 😉

  • Baptism
  • Church Membership
  • Confirmation

I inquired “why is this the case and where do we find Biblical support” for doing it this way? I have received the answer, “well, its just easier and more efficient to do it this way“.

The thirst for efficiency in the church, has caused more harm than demons themselves. (Yes you can quote me on that)

At the last church I pastored (which was very efficient by the way), according to our survey two years in a row, 80-85% of the baptized students had no idea why they got baptized other than it was “something to do” or that “their parents pressured them” to do it.

I (and other pastors I worked with) were part of conversations where we were pressured by parents and elders to “approve” someone for baptism who had no idea about Christianity nor the desire for Jesus–just because it would “look bad” or “embarrass the parents and elders” if we denied their baptismal request, or the worse one I’ve heard, “we need to hit our baptism numbers, so push this one through“.  My heart broke…what have we become?!

My “two cents”

  1. The Church needs to isolate baptism to “the declaration to follow Christ” and that is it. Period. No strings attached. Baptism should be an open event based on a profession of faith and the desire to follow Jesus. (I am an advocated of baptism happening right after the declaration of faith. “Believe and be baptized” (Acts 2:41)). It also should provide the right to partake in communion.
  2. Confirmation needs to be a separate event when after a period of time, a person is evaluated by the church leadership to exemplify: Christ like character, possession/ indwelling of the Holy Spirit and evidence of sanctification. This should be a more rigorous process in contrast to baptism, and available to those who have been baptized.
  3. Church membership should not be connected to baptism. It needs to remain completely separate, reserved for those who have been baptized, been confirmed  and have a desire to serve in a leadership position in the Church. The membership process should be even more rigorous than the confirmation process.  Members need to serve, there is no such thing as a “non-active member” and only members can serve as deacons and elders. 

I am not claiming that this will solve all of the Evangelical Church’s problems when it comes to millennials or that Churches that go about it this way are better. However, it may help address some of the problems concerning millennials who have been baptized (with all the strings attached) who are sitting there going “what the heck was all that for?” and who were taught that baptism was the “end all be all” which has led them to be no longer involved in a the church for lack of understanding.

  • Baptism is an event that is between you and Jesus that is witnessed by the world around you
  • Confirmation is an event where the church body you are apart of, confirms that you are in fact, by their observance and interaction, are a legitimate follower of Christ, redeemed by Jesus and recipient of the Holy Spirit
  • Church Membership is a privilege that is granted to those who are dedicated to serve in leadership in that specific local church

Separating these three events could greatly increase the way your church does discipleship. Sure it will put more responsibility upon the church leadership, but I really think by using Baptism, Confirmation and Church Membership this way, it could really increase the spiritual maturity of your not only your young adult’s but entire church as well.

I hope that this is beneficial for at least some of you to read 🙂