Thursday, August 25, 2011

Divided and the discussions that follow

Since the movie "Divided" has been released for free viewing online, the question of age-integration has erupted into a storm of discussion. Members of the NCFIC and churches who adhere to the FIC discipleship model have been thrust into the limelight and put up for questioning on many of the statements not only in the movie but from Scott Brown's "A weed in the church". A cursory glace on the NCFIC website will present you with a listing of the numerous radio and, more recently, television interviews of Scott Brown.

I have personally been engaged with several brothers over this issue in the past 9 months as well. Most have been very gracious but others have admittedly been less than open to biblical discussion. To those who have been gracious, I greatly thank you and pray that our discussion and exchange have helped to drive you further into the Scriptures as it has done me.

There are, as I perceive them, two reoccurring themes in most if not all of the discussions. The first is, as a fellow brother noted, that "those who disagree have emotional not biblical arguments". The second is that they appeal more directly to what they perceive as an imbalance in the movie's presentation of the issue.

As a former advocate for age-segregated ministries I can understand the emotional response. I had previously served as a Sunday school teacher for 5th and 6th graders, the creator and Director of a Sunday school department, and the co-creator of a junior church ministry. I served in these capacities and would have vehemently defended them against anyone who questioned their validity. I had even written several research papers for college on the necessity of these ministries and their benefit to the local church. But in all of my writing and defending I never started with Scripture. I based most of what I knew from the writings and articles of others which were peppered ever so slightly with a few verses taken out of context. Because my argument for these age-segregated ministries was found no where in Scripture I would inevitably appeal to pragmatism and fall back on the emotional appeal for validation.

"Look at how these kids enjoy children's church. You wouldn't want to force them to sit with there parents would you?" My intent in saying such was to subtly insist that such ministries would deprive the children of something precious which in turn would tug at the "heart strings" of those to whom I was pleading. I can see the same in many of the statements from those who are now in the same position I once was. Our appeal should always be to Scripture and not to our emotions. Do emotions play a part in the Christians life? Yes, but always in subjection to the revealed Word of God.

A few brothers and sisters have asked why the movie does not interview Youth Pastors of successful, biblically framed youth ministries. I italicized successful because I have heard a spectrum of definitions for the word in relation to ministry. Some saying success is determined by professions of faith or those who are still active in church today, others by the evangelistic drive of the group, while others solely by the sheer size of the ministry. I hesitate to attach such a label because I would rather say whether something is biblical than successful. If something is biblical then outward "success" is irrelevant in light of God's truth.

The supporting issue to this argument is the claim that the movie only focused on the mohawk, head-banging youth and seemed to indicate that they were typical of all youth ministries. However, several other teens were interviewed in the movie and most of them were well spoken and very polite. In doing this, I believe the film gave a good representation of the majority of youth produced from youth groups today. So why weren't more current Youth Pastors interviewed? Would it not seem fitting to give them the opportunity to defend themselves?

To answer this I would point to two other parachurch ministries that I follow and greatly appreciate: Living Waters/Way of the Master (LW) and Answers in Genesis (AIG).

LW teaches the biblical pattern of evangelism in using the Law to bring about the knowledge of sin and death. In making their case, they appeal to Scripture first and then to other prominent Christian leaders of the past who themselves pointed to Scripture. While there are many other evangelism ideas out there, LW does not interview proponents of them to balance their view. They point to the false conversion rate that many of these unbiblical methods have produced but only do so in order to drive home their point of the sufficiency of Scripture in evangelism.

AIG is a far-reaching creation apologetics ministry that unashamedly stands upon the biblical account of Creation and opposes those who compromise with alternate, unbiblical theories. Their stance has even placed their president and founder Ken Ham on the "black list" of the Great Homeschool Convention after his biblical rebuke of Dr. Peter Enns. AIG did not seek to balance their presentations with interviews of other professing Christians who disagree with their position. They rely primarily on Scripture with scientific support sitting in subjection to God's Word.

We would not accuse either of these ministries of not properly representing the other side because they are making their case from Scripture. We instead applaud them for their uncompromising stance and plead with other parachurch ministries to do the same. So why would Divided or the NCFIC be any different? Why would we require something of them that we do not of other ministries? I believe we have become so dogmatically attached to some of our church traditions that we are unwilling to question their biblical validity. We were raised in these age-segregated ministries, our parents were likely raise in them, and even some of our grandparents were raised in them as well. Thus, they have become a generational part of who we are. While some ministries, such a children's church, are newer parts of the age-segregated model they are all a part of how we as modern Christians "do" church.

It is hard to step outside of that mindset in order to critically examine the issue. It was very difficult for me and I personally know of others that struggle with it even today. But if we are to be a people who rely on the Word of God, we must begin asking these questions. We must start taking a look at why we do what we do and whether those things are based in Scripture or not. If they are, then let us press forward in our service to the King. If they are not, then they must be removed and replaced with what Scripture prescribes.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to watch the film Divided. I would also recommend you purchase "A weed in the church" book or e-book available for Kindle or Nook for a more in-depth treaty.

May God be glorified as we seek the light to our path.

For His glory,
Adam (and family)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The focus of our worship

I know I am a little late on chiming in on the following issue but I wanted to see how others approached it before I spoke up. Take a look at the video by following this link: "Special needs child removed from NC church".

I have heard others addressing this video and the deplorable actions of the church in regards to the sensitivity the church should have displayed and the manner in which they addressed the woman and her son. But what I have not heard is how this church is simply following the same pattern that many other churches do elsewhere.

In the church's response they noted that "It is our goal at Elevation Church to offer a distraction-free environment for our guests". Notice what their focus is for the worship service...THEIR GUESTS. They spoke nothing of exalting Christ, worshiping God, preaching the Gospel, or hearing the Word of God exposited. Their focus is on man and not God. Because of this, they will logically want to do whatever they can for man with no regard to God and His Word.

So what does this mean for all of us? Simply stated, more churches are guilty of this than we are willing to acknowledge. Of course you do not hear of the extremes of a situation such as this particular one all over, but on a more subtle level it is happening every Sunday in our services. Church leaders are focused on being sensitive to the people without being sensitive to the Word. They do whatever they can to not only make the worship service attractive for everyone but to make it comfortable and worry-free. Yes, this takes place in watered down sermons and cotton candy music, but it usually happens long before either of these begin.

It happens when those well meaning people meet you and your family at the door to escort you to where the nursery is for your youngest ones and tell you how great their children's church is. They pride themselves on the reliability of the workers of these programs and ensure you that you children are not only safe there but that you will be able to enjoy the service without having to worry about them. If, like my wife and I, you keep your children with you in the worship service you are usually met with furrowed brows and awkward glances. Some take it even further by insisting that children are not allowed in the worship service. They tell you how the kids just can't "comprehend" what the Pastor is preaching or how the songs are not on their "level".

Even after insisting that your children remain with you, you have suddenly been marked. During the service the tiniest peep from your family invokes several turning heads and whispers. Halfway through the service someone again approaches you to offer the other option of escorting your children away. Even when you thank them you have the sense that you are no longer welcomed. There are others though that take this to the next level. They not only insist that children not be in the worship service but that if you refuse their offer for nursery of children' church then you are in violation of their church policy.

"Adam, you're just being extreme. I mean, what church in their right mind would ever make children feel like they are not welcomed in the worship service?"

If you really want to know, please send me an email (adam@doulostheou.com) and I will tell you.

The real issue is what the focus of our worship service should be. If we focus on man, then we will do everything we can to please whoever walks into our doors. We will alter the sermon, change the music, create a concert-style atmosphere, offer prizes, and numerous other pragmatic practices.

However, if our focus is on God then we will not be concerned with catering to people. We will seek songs that glorify our Lord. Songs which the entire congregation sings in beautiful unison to. We will delight in the fellowship with others sitting around us. We will love seeing children with their parents in the service, because this is modeled in Scripture (Nehemiah 8; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). We will desire to bring children to hear the words of Christ as our Savior Himself desired (Mark 10:13, 14). We will delight in the expositional preaching of God's Word and the centrality of the saving Gospel. We will leave that place carrying with us the continual practice of worship in our personal lives and in our homes with our families.

Before we jump to quickly at this seeker-sensitive church, we must ask ourselves: Who is the focus of our worship?

To God be the glory,
Adam (and family)