Monday, August 19, 2019

Controversy in the Church

Recently, I stumbled across a series of articles from various pastors defending their decision not to use a specific worship group's songs in their churches. And apparently, it's a thing. But why? 

Without exception, every article that I read confessed that there was not a problem with the songs themselves. The lyrics were biblical, God-fearing, and edifying for the Christian faith. In fact, they are uplifting and beautiful and very well done. The problem was that the pastors writing about this issue have a problem with the teachings of the church that produces the worship music, so they believed that buying the rights to use the music themselves in their own churches would fund what they said falls nothing short of heresy. They could not, they said, in good conscience give their money to a church that preaches such things and leads well-meaning Christians astray from the Gospel. 

So they turn their backs on popular worship that they themselves confess glorifies God because they are concerned about what the rest of the worshiping church is doing. 

On one hand, this is an absolutely critical stance to take. We should not provide funding for any operation that turns persons away from the true, living, loving God that we serve and worship. We should not be part of promoting heresy in any of its forms. We should absolutely be discerning about what we choose to support, even indirectly, because these things absolutely matter. This is true when it comes to worship music that we may or may not use in our churches. It is also true of books we may or may not read, podcasts we may or may not listen to, sermons we may or may not stream, and many more. Movies, television, everything is on the table when we start talking about this. 

On the other hand, we have to be extremely careful in how we go about this. For a couple of reasons.

First, we have to confess plainly and humbly that none of us are getting it 100% right. None of us. There is some form of heresy creeping into every church in America, whether we institutionalize it or not. There are popular preachers preaching it every Sunday in front of their mega-churches; there are rural preachers using it to try to get a few more numbers in the pews. It is extremely easy for us to tailor the Word to our needs without realizing it and end up changing the God that we're preaching for the sake of the persons we're preaching Him to. That's heresy. It's the prosperity Gospel. It's the limited Gospel - the one that ignores uncomfortable topics. There are churches that don't even preach the Gospel any more, but rather jump from one series to another about "how to live" and hits hot topic after hot topic but never touches on Jesus, except perhaps on Easter, when He's cute and convenient. If we refuse to support churches we don't think are getting it right, we turn our back on every brother and sister because none of us are getting it right. And we may start to develop an arrogance about us, thinking that perhaps we're the only ones who are (which inherently makes us among those who are not). 

Second, we have to remember what is Gospel and what is not. This was the problem of the Pharisees. They had elevated their interpretations and ideas to the level of God's interpretations and ideas and were trying to enforce them among the people as the same type of authority. 

Everything I've read about this controversy comes back not to an issue of Gospel, but one of interpretation. The issue that these pastors are so upset about, what they're so upset that this worshiping church is teaching, is not an issue taken clearly from the Scriptures. Rather, it is an idea that goes against what "the church" has "decided" about an "issue" in the post-Apostolic period.

Specifically, the issue is this: the church in question teaches the supernatural power of God as available to His people - to heal sickness, to cast out demons, to make the blind see and the lame walk and the deaf hear. (How this church goes about this and the emphasis they place on the idea may be a real issue, but the heart of the matter for these objecting pastors is that they teach this at all.) And many hundreds of years ago, the church decided that God no longer does this through His people, that it was a gift only for the apostles while they were trying to get the early church off the ground. We, as a Christian people, have decided that that era of God has passed, so this church should not be believing it or teaching it. 

And yet, there are plenty of churches - not just this one - that do. It would be worthwhile to ask here why we get so upset about a church who is believing God for more than we believe Him for, but maybe that's a distraction. The point is - this isn't a Scriptural issue; it's an interpretation issue. It's what we've decided about how to understand something about God, likely because we aren't experiencing it any more. But is our experience of something the determinant of what is true about God? 

These are dangerous waters we tread. The songs coming out of this church movement are popular songs. They are being played on Christian radio all over the country. Christians are hearing them and worshiping with them. And even those who won't play them in their own churches confess they are good, biblical songs. But they're drawing a line. 

Any time we draw lines, we have to know why we're doing it. And it better be for a good reason. 

Because at the end of the day, what these pastors are really saying about this church is that it isn't really a Christian church. The worshipers there aren't really Christians. The preachers aren't really preachers, the pastors aren't pastors. All because they disagree over a certain teaching. All because of the way they teach something that most other churches don't teach.

Is it heresy? Maybe. But maybe we're heretics, too. Especially when we start talking about how our interpretations ought to define Christendom itself.

Listen - I'm not defending the church in question or its teachings. Neither am I condemning them. I come from a Restoration Movement background, which emphasizes unity on the essentials and love on everything else. So the question I'm asking is - is this an essential? Is this a defining essential? Is it absolutely necessary for every Christian to believe this way in order to believe authentically in God? 

More tomorrow. 

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