Maybe It's Just Me...

05.15.12 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[8]


I’m sure many of you do not remember a British TV series in the late ‘60s called ‘The Prisoner’.  It centered on a British former secret service agent who is held captive in a mysterious coastal village resort.  It played off the Cold War spy mentality and combined elements of science fiction and psychological drama.  The underlying premise of the show was that everything surrounding the main character, played by Patrick McGoohan, was a fabrication.  He found himself living in a world of lies.   Discerning truth was a daily challenge.  Standing for it was even harder.      

Recently I decided to watch the series again – it only ran 17 episodes - on Netflix.  Forty-odd years later it still held my interest but my perspective had changed.  And as the underlying themes played out, I found them analogous to something we all face today as followers of Christ.  Living in a world of lies.  Discerning truth.  And standing for it.

I feel burdened for the current state of evangelicalism.  Are there good things going on?  Yes.  Is God still in control?  Firmly.  But I’ve come to believe that just standing for truth may not be enough.  If we’re not moving forward in our faith we’re actually losing ground.  Evil has not called a truce; there is no DMZ in the battle for the souls of men.  We cannot simply stand in place and expect the world to come flocking to us looking for answers.  We must engage the enemy, both outside and inside the church.     

Inside the church?  Sure.  It’s nothing new; heresies and false teachings have been with the church since its inception.  Maybe it’s just me, but shoddy theology and emotionalism masquerading as spirituality seem more prevalent today than ever before.  Here’s a glance at just a few of the recent happenings in Christendom.

Let’s see, the Crystal Cathedral, which, regardless of what you may think of the Schuller dynasty, is a beautiful house of worship, is now owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orange and I say more power to them.  This is not in itself a spiritual issue; it’s a simple real estate transaction.  And for $57 million and change, it was a bargain.  But what led to the Hour of Power’s demise and $100 million bankruptcy was family squabbles, internal politics, different factions fighting for control and a lot of bad business decisions.  They spent more on dry cleaning for costumes for their annual Christmas pageant than some people earn in a year.

OK, what about Christian media?  TBN?  No, they’ve got another spate of lawsuits and counter-suits going to the tune of $66 million.  Financial impropriety and sexual immorality among other things are alleged; brings back memories of PTL around 1987.  Sorry, TBN.  Between the gold chairs, the blue carpet and the purple hair it’s all a little too Rainbow Brite for me. 

Mitt Romney did the commencement address at Liberty University this weekend.  Funny, I just re-read their Statement of Faith and Mission Statement; I didn’t see anything about “spirit paradise” or “modern revelation”, which is kind of like Papal infallibility without the scepter, or that whole “we can become gods ourselves if we reach the highest level of heaven” perk.  Not that LU hasn’t invited commencement speakers in the past whose affinity was political in nature, not religious; John McCain, Sean Hannity, Ben Stein, Chuck Norris, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck.  But doesn’t it seem just a bit ironic that a conservative Christian university that teaches its students that Mormonism is a non-Christian cult has one of its most prominent lay leaders stop by for a chat.  Oh wait.  He’s running for President.  I guess that makes it o.k. 

Besides, Joel Osteen, our ‘Best Life Now’ Theologian-in-Chief recently said he believes Mitt Romney (and Mormons in general) is a Christian.  Just like him.  Uh-huh.

That sound you just heard was Walter Martin rolling over in his grave. 

Then there’s Wycliffe Bible Translators’ as yet unresolved controversy surrounding its translation of the Bible geared toward Turkish Muslims that removes ‘God the Father’ and ‘Son of God’ from its explanation of the Trinity.  According to WBT’s CEO Bob Creson, translators were given “latitude” to come up with equivalent phrases that would not cause confusion among Muslim readers.  So rather than present scripture on its own merits and explain what the doctrine of the Trinity is, we’ll just avoid the ‘issue’ so no one’s offended.  OK.  Wycliffe announced last week it will submit its work for review to the World Evangelical Alliance but stopped short of saying it would not publish the translation. 

And we can’t overlook the latest dust-up from Atlanta with Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church.  A few weeks ago, as he was working through an eight-part series on what it means to be a Christian, Stanley used an illustration of a gay couple who attended the church and wanted to serve but were told they could not because of a sin issue.  So was the sin issue their homosexual behavior and relationship?  No.  The sin issue was that one of the two men had not yet divorced his wife therefore he was committing adultery by his relationship with his partner.  To date, Stanley has not issued a statement of clarification or further explanation.  Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary blogged about it.  Then Rick Warren tweeted that he thought the title of Mohler’s blog (“Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?”) was ‘sensational’ and inappropriate.  Which prompted a response from Mohler which in turn…well, you get the picture.  Even the sewing circle at the Bible-Rite Baptist Church in Bozeman, Montana was talking about it this week.

Interestingly, the ‘Regarding Sexual Behavior’ section of the covenant document adults must sign in order to be considered for youth ministry at North Point states, We teach that sex was created by God as an expression of intimacy between a man and woman within the context of marriage. Volunteers who embrace lifestyles or behaviors that conflict with this teaching will eventually find themselves having to pretend to be something they are not or believe something they don't. In an effort to protect you from a potentially awkward situation, we ask the following:

* If you are involved in a sexual relationship and are not married, we ask that you not volunteer in family ministry at this time.

* If you are pursuing a same sex relationship, we ask that you not volunteer in family ministry at this time.

* In the spirit of being a good role model, if you are single and living with a member of the opposite sex, we ask that you not volunteer at this time.  We do not want to put you in the awkward position of having to explain your arrangement if members of your group visit your home.

* If you are married and are currently involved in a sexual relationship outside of your marriage, we ask that you not volunteer at this time.”

Umm…ok…thanks for clearing that up.

To quote Mohler, circa 1995, “When a denomination begins to consider doctrine divisive, theology troublesome, and convictions inconvenient, consider that denomination on its way to a well-deserved death."

At least Rob Bell hasn’t published another book this ye…..wait a minute…..checking Amazon.

(sigh)  Never mind.

We’ve got CCM artists traveling across the country in private coaches with marble floors, red leather couches and crystal glassware.  (In contrast, a few years ago I broke bread with Martin Smith of Delirious? and they were driving a van with a trailer.  We used paper plates and a couple of Solo cups.)  But you know how it is – if you want to feel like a winner you have to look like a winner.

We endure the embarrassment of the Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church), the Terry Joneses (Quran-burning pastor from Florida) and the Harold Campings (“missed it by that much!”) of the world.  Wiser men respect those with whom they disagree.  We must stand for truth in such a way that if people are offended, it is the truth that offends them, not the shouting fool whose mouth is moving faster than his brain. 

We’ve gone from Jesus as our Savior and Lord to Jesus as our ‘life coach’.  We’re more concerned with fitting in than standing out.  1 Peter 2:9 refers to followers of Christ as “peculiar people”; not odd or weird but, as the NIV puts it, “a people belonging to God.”  Is that where we find our identity?  Or are we merely reflecting the pop-culture mindset with a little added spiritual gloss?  Because it’s safe.  Because it doesn’t cost us anything.  Because we can’t conceive of the types of sacrifices we would need to make for our faith if we lived in some parts of the world.

To quote Ravi Zacharias, “Why is it that a community that talks so much about supernatural transformation shows so little of that transformation? We will have to be men and women who embody the message that we are preaching, whose lives are faithful to the claims we are making.”

The irony in this ‘can’t we all just get along’ drivel is that in our seeking to be accommodating and tolerant, we’re actually becoming more intolerant.  Tolerance used to be understood as defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs than ours.  Today, if you’re going to be a culturally-savvy evangelical, your definition of tolerance must include affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct.  If you attempt to stand firm for what you believe, guess what?  You’re the one being intolerant. 

In the decades since World War II, this country, its people, its economy, its social fabric and its religious values have endured tremendous change.  Much of that has been good.  Much of it has been bad.  I don’t have comparative data available but I feel comfortable saying that there is probably more spiritual immaturity, consumerism, self-centeredness, Biblical illiteracy and lack of community within the church of Christ today than at any other time in our nation’s history.  This is not a legacy to be proud of.

What do you think? 

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.  The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”  (Clive Staples Lewis) 


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 05.22.12 djdeb commented

Thank you for writing this timely and NEEDED article. Sadly you are in the unpopular opinion in the church today. It seems like we are more worried of how we fit into the world than trying to reach them. We are a "peculiar" people and are to "not to be of the world" Lord focus our eyes on YOU and your TRUTH. Let us not be ashamed to stand for righteousness, morality in our lives and churches. AMEN..

on 05.23.12 Mark commented

I am 35 years old and I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written. I am also an ordained minister and I am tired of the church talking about power and yet have very little to speak of. Being from a Pentecostal background, I have seen too much craziness and fan fair over signs and wonders than getting to know God through the written Word, prayer and quietness before the Lord. I want to see God move again but I wonder what it will take for the church to be desperate for Him.

on 05.28.12 Bonnie commented

I agree with you completely. My husband and I left the church we had attended for eight years because the leadership brought in a new associate pastor who has very liberal views. When I asked one of the elders why he said they wanted to provide balance. But we found that balance meant compromise. And then people look at you funny when you explain why you're leaving. It's like everything's backwards. Thank you for writing. Please don't stop.

on 05.29.12 Ken Hodgins commented

Yes! You have accurately delineated some of the issues working to rob the church of its power for fulfilling the great commission. We must repent, 2 Chron. 7:14, and embrace the call of Jesus to "follow Him" fforts

on 05.30.12 Rob commented

I am ashamed at what defines Biblical Christianity these days. We have allowed the Bible to become just another book and Christianity to become just another spiritual choice. But I wonder if we will turn around or just keep going in the wrong direction?

on 06.01.12 Christy commented

Just read this. Really good thoughts. I grew up Catholic and became a Christian in college. But now after ten years in a church that is a lot like what you described, I'm wondering what as so bad about the Catholic church? You don't have to agree with everything they teach but at least they stick to the scriptures and I think they are a lot closer to the early church than most Christian churches are these days.

on 08.02.12 Betty Learn commented

I just read your blog on what is happening in the churches today and I want you to know that I agree with you 100%. TheBible says in the last days perilous times will come and they are here. We must stand together ..we who believe the Bible is the only abosolute truth and pray for for our children and our grandchildren. My heart aches for them..they don't hear about Jesus in the school or church (some of them) I praise the Lord for all who stand firm on our foundation..Jesus Christ! thank you for taking a stand and letting us know about it.

on 08.02.12 Betty Learn commented

I just read your blog on what is happening in the churches today and I want you to know that I agree with you 100%. TheBible says in the last days perilous times will come and they are here. We must stand together ..we who believe the Bible is the only abosolute truth and pray for for our children and our grandchildren. My heart aches for them..they don't hear about Jesus in the school or church (some of them) I praise the Lord for all who stand firm on our foundation..Jesus Christ! thank you for taking a stand and letting us know about it.