At the end of January President George Bush will deliver his State of the Union address to the nation. It will be carried on the major networks and the pundits and talking heads will dissect and comment on it for days. Some of the citizens will watch but many will not. After all, folks don’t believe that what they think or do makes very much difference on a national scale. They are pretty focused on their own personal and/or family life. You know, doing the 9-5, planning for vacations and/or college for the kids, keeping their lawns mowed and in general trying to be good neighbors. Sure, they might grumble around the water cooler about immigration (either pro or con), or complain about the price of gas or the seeming inability of congress to stop the turf wars long enough to provide leadership to the nation but for the most part it is just talk. They simply don’t believe their elected leaders listen to them or that what they think makes any real difference. Sadly, this is largely true in the church as well.
We don’t have a president of the church to give such an address. In spite of the secular media electing and installing Rick Warren as the Pope of American Evangelicalism it isn’t really true. So in reality this article is simply my thoughts on the State of the Church as we begin the New Year.
The “Church Report” released the list of what it considered “The 50 Most Influential Christians” on January 6th or 2006. How were they chosen? Was it their servant attitude or commitment to sound biblical teaching? Was it their clear proclamation of the gospel or willingness to confront and challenge the increasing paganism in culture or more importantly within the church? No, nothing so mundane as the Heroes of faith we read about in Hebrews chapter 11. The “Church Report” chose the 50 most influential through a popularity poll. As they tell us in the first paragraph:
The staff of The Church Report did not choose this list; rather, we feel that the nominations from Christians across America and around the world are much more meaningful.
At the top of the list in position #1 was the oneness Pentecostal and Word Faith teacher T.D. Jakes. Of course, we wouldn’t want the rejection of a little theological teaching like the doctrine of the Trinity, which Jakes reject, to get in the way of Jakes being considered the #1 most influential Christian.
In the #2 spot, we have the seeker sensitive Word Faith teacher, Joel Osteen. In fact, 4 out of the first 10 in the list are false teachers. That brings us back to an issue that I looked at a couple of weeks ago in the article “What is a Christian?”. If Evangelicals are unable or unwilling to clearly state what a Christian is and follow the biblical mandate to expose false teachings and false teachers, why would we assume that the secular media would have any understanding? As a side note here, Dr. Richard Land, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethic’s and Religious Liberty Commission publicly denounced Word Faith as heretical on national television. That was encouraging. Also, I did hear from Dr. Land yesterday via email and he posted his response to the blog article as well. He said in part:
Regarding the question, “What is a Christian?” I explained my view more explicitly in remarks that CNN chose not to air. I do not disagree with any part of the last paragraph of your posting.
The entirety of his response puts CNN in the position of appearing deceptive with their handling of this important question.
The Church Fixing the World
Although Jakes and Osteen took the top of the list, and Ted Haggard (#33) took center stage for a week or so with the exposure of his homosexual affair which we looked at in “When Kings Go Out to Battle”, Rick Warren was probably the most influential leader in the world last year. After all he has relieved many a pastor from the difficult work of studying and preparing sermons to feed their flock by encouraging them to go online and print out his and preach those. But more important than that, he seems convinced that he can eliminate poverty, hunger and AIDS (physical AIDS not spiritual AIDS) on a global scale. It seems to me that if he can, then Jesus would be a false prophet for He said when challenged by Judas about the wastefulness of His feet being anointed with expensive perfume:
For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. (Matthew 26:11)
That doesn’t mean that as believers we shouldn’t attempt to alleviate the suffering of the poor or sick but that is not the primary emphasis of the mission of the church to non-believers. The primary mission of the church to non-believers is to preach the gospel. That is true even in the context of feeding the poor. Jesus said in Matthew 11:5:
the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.
When Warren was on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Tim Russert expressed concern that millions of Christians will be on the march and evangelizing in the process of solving the world’s ills. Warren was unresponsive. In the material I have read or listened to by Warren and the various media statements he has made, it does not appear that the gospel is as much of a priority as curing AIDS has become.
I am not saying that Rick Warren is a bad guy but he may be a one person example of the confusion which resides within the church. Sound doctrine is downplayed and social action is elevated. The result will be better fed and healthier lost people but they are still lost none-the-less. It seems to escape the notice of many that the sick, imprisoned and hungry that were to be ministered to were “brothers of mine” or believers:
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
Paul writes about contributing to the poor saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26). The key word being “saint.” Again, I am not saying that as believers we should turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world. Christians have been the leaders on that front for millennia. We see it in the writings of the last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate. He was attempting to resurrect the pagan religions of Rome and was not finding success. We read in his letter to his priest in Galatia:
“Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
The believers lived holy lives, markedly different from the pagan culture in which they lived. It wasn’t in their dress or Christian haircuts but in their care for others, believers and then non-believers. Their goals weren’t personal health and wealth but how they could better serve others. It wasn’t primarily about solving world hunger or sickness or poverty. They had an eternal perspective which placed the proclamation of the gospel to those outside the church as its mission and training, equipping and caring for those inside the church as its ministry. It was about assisting those who came in to their area of influence. Christians were not trying to imitate or mimic the world but rather the pagans began realizing that if they wanted to gain ground they would have to start imitating the Christians. Bill Honsberger has done an excellent article on this titled “How to Reach a Pagan World.”. The current state of the church is confused. We are looking at book ends in time. In 361 the pagan leadership was busy trying to imitate the Christians. Today, Christians are busy imitating the non-believers. Sadly, imitating paganism has largely left us with what Peter Jones has called Pagans in the Pew