Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Open Letter to a Pastor

This blog article was posted on Thursday, September 27.

On Sunday, September 2, a brother in Christ contacted me. He heard a sermon preached at his church, by a visiting pastor. My friend was bothered by the sermon's content--specifically what he felt was a man-centered approach to evangelism that did not include the proclamation of the Law and the Gospel. He asked me to watch the video podcast of the sermon and he requested my feedback.

Click here to watch the video for yourself. I encourage you to do so, before you continue reading. Form your own opinion.

I was disturbed by what I saw and heard. My first thought was to simply share with my friend my opinion of the message. But all too often we, as Christians, settle for talking about others instead of talking to others.

So, I decided to write a letter to the pastor, which I e-mailed to him through his church's website, on Monday, September 3. Having received no response from the pastor or the church, I mailed a "hard copy" of the letter to the pastor. In the envelope I included the following CD's: Hell's Best Kept Secret, True and False Conversion, and Hollywood and God.

It has been more than two weeks since I mailed the package to the pastor. I have yet to receive a response. In the pastor's defense, since he pastors a mega-church, it is quite possible that he never received the e-mail or the package I sent him. It is possible that an assistant stopped the correspondence short of the pastor's computer or desk.

Three days ago, I called and left a detailed phone message on the pastor's personal line, at the church. Since the voice on the voice mail was that of a woman (possibly his assistant), it is possible that he did not receive the message. I believe two full business days is enough time to return a phone call.

I think it is also worthy to note that I have verified that the pastor of the host church, where the pastor to whom I wrote the letter preached the sermon in question, has received a "hard copy" of my letter. It has been almost a month, and there has been no response from the host church or the host church's pastor.

It is inevitable that some who read this blog will ask, "Tony, why are you posting this now? Why are you naming the pastor? What do you hope to gain from doing this?" These are excellent questions--ones that I have asked myself.

I will begin by answering the last question. What do I hope to gain from doing this? In a word--nothing. In fact, there is the chance I will lose more than I might gain. I have dear friends who support my ministry, who attend the pastor's church. Posting this blog could affect relationships and, of lesser importance, my family's financial support.

While I hope to gain nothing, personally, by posting this blog, I do believe there is something to be gained by the pastor and others, by posting this blog. I hope that will become apparent as you read the letter.

Why am I naming the pastor? After careful consideration, and after seeking the counsel of two brothers in Christ, to redact the pastor's and church's name from the letter, and to not make available the video message that predicated the letter, would strip the letter of its context. I wanted to avoid the posting of the letter to appear as though I am simply and sinfully seeking attention for making a stand. I am neither seeking the praises of men, nor do I wish to provoke the scorn of men.

I am naming the pastor because I am concerned for him and his teaching. That is why I tried, more than once, to contact him directly with my concerns. I am concerned for the genuine followers of Christ who sit under his teaching--specifically as his teaching pertains to evangelism. I am concerned for the unbelievers who attend the church (whether regularly or just once) who may hear the kind of teaching I heard in this message, and who may find comfort in their sin and unbelief.

Maybe someone who knows the pastor or attends the church will read the following letter, will be impacted by the message the letter contains, and will go to the pastor and encourage him to preach according to what Scripture actually says, as opposed to preaching what he wants Scripture to say. Maybe there will be those who attend other churches where similar messages are preached and they will consider what they are hearing from their own pastors, in light of the letter's content.

Why am I posting this now? I believe I have given the pastor ample time to respond. Beyond that, there is nothing noteworthy about the timing. And believe it's never the wrong time to do the right thing (James 4:17).

Finally, a word of caution before you read the letter. If, after reading the letter, your conscience is pricked to the point that you, too, want to contact this pastor, or your pastor, or any other pastor that preaches this kind of message; know this. If you approach this pastor or any other pastor without love for the pastor, then you are sinning against God.

If your purpose is to simply make sport of the pastor and/or ridicule him, then you are sinning against God.

If you use the content of this letter as a ruse to gossip about this pastor or any other pastor, then you are sinning against God.

If your speech is not seasoned as it were with salt, then you are sinning against God.

I can present these cautions without hypocrisy because I have been guilty of all of these sins in the past. And I have tried not to make the same mistakes this time, with this letter. Hopefully, the motives for posting this letter, which I have tried to articulate, will be evidenced by the letter's tone and content.

With the above in mind, here's the letter.

~~~~~

09-03-07

Dear Pastor Rusty George,

My name is Tony Miano. I am a missionary and law enforcement chaplain, residing in the Santa Clarita Valley. Yesterday, a friend of mine who attended Shepherd of the Hills Church the day you recently preached sent me a link to the video of your message. My friend asked me to watch it and review its content. I am writing you to share some thoughts regarding matters of great importance. While you may disagree with some or much of what follows, please know that I am writing you with an attitude of Christian love, kindness, and a genuine care and concern for you and your ministry. I pray you will read it in its entirety—not with an open mind, but with an open Bible and a heart and mind focused on Christ, His Church, and the lost.

First, I would like to caution you regarding what movies you encourage Christians to watch. The two movies you personally enjoyed and encouraged others to watch by your enthusiastic endorsements—The Bourne Ultimatum and Transformers—contain blasphemy. The Bourne Ultimatum has no less than six instances of blasphemy, and Transformers contains more than a dozen instances of blasphemy (according to the Plugged In Online reviews). I’m sure you would agree that reverence for the holy name of God should be more important to us, as Christians, than our desire to be entertained.

You shared a number of stories and analogies in your message. Allow me to begin with one of my own. I am an unsaved person living on your street. To my right lives another unsaved family—a very nice and friendly family. To my left lives you, a Christian—also a nice and friendly man with an equally nice and friendly family.

You decide that you want to develop a friendship with me, with the hope of one-day either inviting me to church or sharing the gospel with me, personally. So, you invite me and my family to your house for a no-strings-attached barbecue. We become fast friends. We learn that our children are about the same age and attending the same school. So, we share in carpool duties. We both enjoy sports, so we join a local softball league together. Our families get so close that we even share vacations with one another. Over time, our children grow older and our hair grows thinner.

Like you, the person living on the opposite side of my house, wants to develop a relationship with me. After all, like you, he is friendly and kind. So, he invites me and my family over to his house for a no-strings-attached barbecue. Like you and I, we also become fast friends. Our children are also about the same age, so we share carpool responsibilities. He likes softball, too, and joins us in the softball league. After a couple of years, all three of our families enjoy vacations with one another.

One summer evening, you and my other neighbor arrive home from work to find an ambulance outside my house. My wife, along with your wife and my other neighbor’s wife are standing on my front lawn holding each other and weeping. You and my other neighbor rush to find out what happened. You learn that I died, suddenly and unexpectedly, of a massive heart attack.

I knew you were a Christian. I saw you go to church every Sunday. I really appreciated the fact that you didn’t try to “push” your religion on me. You were pretty proud of that fact, too. In fact, I talked to my other neighbor (the unsaved one), and we agreed that you and your family were very kind. We both figured it had something to do with your religion.

But now I find myself standing before the Judgment Seat of Almighty God. I try to argue that I was a nice guy, just like you, my Christian neighbor. But God judges me according to the holy, just, and righteous standard of His Law. Even though I was a nice guy to you and many others, God sees me as a lying, thieving, adulterous, murdering, blaspheming coveter. He finds me guilty of breaking His Law and He sentences me to eternity in hell—something about which you never talked to me, because you didn’t want to offend me and jeopardize the relationship you worked so very hard (and sincerely) to cultivate.

And while you stand outside my house, while my body lay inside growing cold, you try to console my unbelieving wife. Do you weep for her? Do you weep for me? Do you weep because you never took the time to share the Law and the Gospel with me? You know I wasn’t saved. You know I wasn’t born again. You thought that someday you would get me into church where maybe, just maybe, someone else would speak the truth to me, in love. And at that moment, you come to realize that your ability to make friends with me, in the end, did nothing to prepare me for eternity. And now like the rich man to Lazarus, I scream through the unquenchable and eternal torment I now endure, “Rusty! Tell my wife! Tell my kids! Please tell them what they must do to avoid experiencing the wrath of God I now experience! Please tell them what you never told me!”

But you can’t hear me. Sadly, instead of sharing the Law and the Gospel with my wife and kids, you are now more determined than ever to be an even better and kinder friend to my widow and children. Why? Because that’s what a very sincere, well-intentioned, and kind pastor told you to do one Sunday morning.

With the above in mind, Pastor George, I must tell you that, in your message, you built an entire philosophy for evangelism upon what the Bible doesn’t say.

In your interpretation of the calling of Matthew, in Matthew 9, you imposed your presuppositions and preferences upon the text. This is called eisegesis. Instead of drawing the truth of God’s Word from the text (exegesis), you imposed your philosophical thesis upon the text. The Bible does not teach this form of evangelism, which, in reality, as most Christians practice it today, is no evangelism at all.

To tell a congregation of thousands that Jesus must have had years of relationship building with Matthew before He called Matthew to follow Him is pure speculation. There is nothing in the biblical text to support such a conclusion. It would appear that since you want Jesus to be a proponent of today’s “friendship evangelism” models, you imposed your desire upon the text, and upon our Lord. At best, that is poor hermeneutics. At worst, it is false teaching (2 Tim. 4:3-4; James 3:1).

Another verse you misinterpreted was Romans 2:4. The kindness of God mentioned in this verse references the common grace God extends to all people. It is the kindness He shows to every person when He holds back His wrath instead of instantaneously sending every person into eternal judgment the moment they break His Law, even once. Reading verse four in its proper context (Romans 2:1-16) will help you to see that the verse is not meant to serve as a proof-text to support the idea that evangelism begins with kindness. The verse, again, references the kindness of Almighty God, which is evidenced in the fact that He allows time for some sinners to repent and turn to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This verse does not at all support the idea that the kindness of Christians leads people to repentance.

Scripture is clear. The Gospel alone is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). It is not our ability to be kind to unbelievers or to make friends with unbelievers that leads them to repentance and faith.

I should pause for a moment to say this. Your efforts to encourage Christians to be kind to others is certainly commendable (although announcing the number of acts committed by your church members seems to give the glory to the church members instead of to God). These efforts are also biblical (Matthew 25:34-36; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 John 3:17-18). But kindness without the proclamation of the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15) is not evangelism. It may be Christian service. It may be Christian charity. It may be Christ-like love (all of which are very important aspects of the life of the Christian and the Church). But without the proclamation of the gospel, it is not evangelism.

Please consider this, pastor. As is the case with Matthew, there is no scriptural support for the notion that Jesus spent years making friendships with the other apostles, before He called them to follow Him. What we do see is Jesus taking, at times, mere moments to establish a rapport with a person, before speaking the truth to them, with kindness and love, and calling them to repentance, faith, and obedience. (The woman at the well is a good example.) Let us not forget that His earthly ministry only spanned 3-3 ½ years. Yet today, Christians brag about having relationships with unbelievers that have lasted twice as long as Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and, sadly, they have yet to mention the Law and the Gospel to their unsaved friends.

The kindest, most loving thing a born again follower of Jesus Christ can ever do for an unsaved person is to share the Law and the Gospel with them. While the “Linebacker” parody you showed during your message (considering the context in which it was used) might bring a laugh and a moment of relief and consolation to Christians who don’t share their faith in the first place; it is an offense to those who are lovingly and kindly spending their time on the streets, in the coffee shops, in homes, at work, and elsewhere speaking the truth in love—sharing the Law and the Gospel with people bound for hell (most of whom don’t realize it).

You also spoke about apologizing to unbelievers for the Church. You mentioned events like the Crusades, etc. What we should be telling people is that such barbarity, while committed in the name of Christ, was not committed by true followers of Christ. Such acts were committed in the name of religion, by false converts—like the millions of false converts who fill American churches every Sunday.

I and my friends who are actively engaged in sharing the Law and the Gospel (with friends and strangers alike) do, however, find ourselves apologizing for the Church. But our apology is different. We find ourselves apologizing when people ask, “Why hasn’t anyone told me this before?”

We find ourselves apologizing for the estimated 98% of those who profess to be Christians in America who never open their mouths because they do not really care about where unsaved people are going to spend eternity. We often find ourselves apologizing to young people who attend active, church youth groups of various sizes, but never hear the Gospel. We’ve spent many Friday nights standing outside the theater where you hold your church services, having wonderful, kind, loving, and eternally-important conversations with people of all ages (without any yelling and screaming, by the way).

Pastor George, I do not question your sincerity. I do not question your salvation. I do not question your love for Christ or your love for people. I do not question your motives. While you talk about a “conspiracy of kindness,” I do not for a moment think you are involved in a conspiracy to intentionally lead people astray. But please consider these things carefully.

I know of at least two unbelievers who heard your message, at Shepherd of the Hills. They both came with my friend who asked me to watch your message. One was an Atheist doctor. The other was a lapsed practitioner of the Armenian Orthodox religion. Both came away from your message encouraged to show kindness to others. Sadly, both agreed they could be kind to others without being a Christian. Sadder still is the fact that they both left the church as comfortable in their sin and unbelief as when they walked into the church. Why? It is because they did not hear the preaching of the Law and the Gospel.

You pastor a large church. I needn’t tell you of the spiritual responsibility that carries (regardless of the size of your church). So, brother, from one pastor and preacher to another, let me encourage you to rightly divide the Word, no matter how uncomfortable that may become; and no matter what it may cost you. Love your people enough to kindly and tender-heartedly admonish them to be mortified by the sinfulness of their sin and to flee from their sin, and encourage them to pursue Christ-likeness in every aspect of their lives. Love them enough to hold them accountable for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in their lives, which means actually telling someone about the way to eternal life.

And preach the Gospel! Preach as though lives depend on every word that proceeds from your mouth. Yes, it is true that we can neither condemn nor save anyone (James 4:12). But what a great and sobering privilege we have to serve as ambassadors of Christ—speaking the truth in love—bringing the Law to the proud and grace to the humble.

One last thing, pastor: with a church the size of Real Life, I wonder what the results would be of a two-question poll. And the poll questions are as follows: “How many of you know someone who has died and you never shared the gospel with them? How many of you wish you had?”

Should we be kind to everyone we meet? Absolutely! Should we try to develop relationships with unbelievers? Yes. So long as we understand that our kindness and ability to make friends with people will not save a single soul. If our motivation for being kind and making friends is any less than to share the Law and the Gospel with them, then, in the end, our efforts are more about us than it is about the people we claim to want to reach. In the end, our failure to share the Law and the Gospel with lost people shows that we care more about our friendships than we do about our friends.

Pastor, it is neither with resentment nor bitterness that I write this letter. It is not written with a haughty, “I’m better than you” spirit. It is written with the recognition that I am a fallible man in constant need of God’s grace and forgiveness, who also needs the accountability of others. It is written with the sincere hope that you will be able to see Christian love and kindness in my words.

I want to encourage you to listen to two important messages preached by my friend and mentor, Ray Comfort (The Way of the Master Ministries). They are: Hell's Best Kept Secret and True & False Conversion. I also encourage you to watch Hollywood and God. I’ve enclosed all three with this letter.

I also want to extend an open invitation to you to join me and my friends for open-air preaching and street evangelism, so you can see firsthand the biblical principles we employ to bring the Law and the Gospel to lost people, with kindness, gentleness, and respect.

I am praying for you, pastor—praying that God will be glorified in your life and your ministry.


Sincerely: with the kindness of a brother, and with the love of Christ,


Chaplain Tony Miano
Director of “Ten-Four Ministries”

16 comments:

Romgenesis said...

I think you did the right thing. I know that I would have stopped at a phone call or an e-mail. I hope he reads the letter, and listens to the CD's. I'd better pray for Rusty before I go too much further.

Father in Heaven, please show Pastor Rusty what he is doing. Please reveal to Him what is going on in his sermons, and what his happening to the people in these churches. You must show it to him. All we can do is write letters, send e-mails, make phone calls, and try to share the truth. You have to do the convicting, Father. You alone by Your Holy Spirit. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thanks for going the extra mile, Tony. I know that I'd want others to do that for me, and that you would too. God bless you. - JN.14:27 Rom.5:8

burningfur said...

praying for this brother, may God humble him and have mercy to him so he can preach truth.

Ron and Ginny said...

Well, I tried to watch the video, but I didn't get far... Thanks for sharing. It was very thought-provoking.

Rob said...

Tony, anyone who knows you can attest the the heart of your message. Sadly, some will pereive it as divisive and judgemental. That seems to be the common response of those with lots to lose in a fleshly sense. Keep up the good work. I'm sure it doesn't make you feel great to have to write something like this. Might I suggest you add a link to the video in this post for reference?
Blessings brother,
Robert
www.streetfishing.org

Rob said...

Oops. I guess you did post the video. Thought I had watched it from Aic.
Rob

Anonymous said...

What scares me is rom 2:4 quote. How can a pastor who has been in service long enough to have a mega-church possibly make this mistake.
Was it on purpose? I hope not.
Is this what " lord, lord we cast out demons in your name, we healed the sick......be away i never knew you" looks like here on earth? i hope it was just a big mistake on his part and not a man so scared of losing his flock that he is willing to pervert the gospel message.

bob stearns said...

Thanks for doing what the LORD convicted you to do.
I had a similar situation and wrote a letter well acually three leters.
The first letter to the senior pastor ended up with me being removed as an adult sunday school teacher.
The new pastor of this church started by preaching the gospel but then i think Robert Schuller's and Rick Warren's teaching prevailed. I wrote him three letters and sent him material which was returned and i was told not to write him again and i haven't although i pray for him daily.
This church had a 4th of july firework display which is fine. they had a band and there were over 10,000 people there and not one Christian song was sung it was all secular music and the gospel was not preached.
What are these pastors going to say when Jesus ask them why when given such a huge opptunity to witness they chose not to.
bob stearns

Anonymous said...

I truly believe we should all stop posting. Judgment and gossip are sin. Stop talking and if you really care start praying.
xoxo Just a little Christian accountability
Theresa

Tony Miano said...

Theresa,

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Much prayer went into the decision to write the letter, send the letter to the pastor in two different formats, and then to post the letter on this blog. Much prayer has been made since posting the letter. In fact, you will notice that the first person who posted a comment about the letter, included a prayer in his comment.

You are right that judgment and gossip are sin. But I don't believe that is what is taking place here. A public discussion is taking place about something a pastor did publically. As far as judgment, no one is ascribing condemnation and hell to the pastor, which would be sinful judgment (Matt. 7:1). What is taking place, and the purpose of the letter, is the same Christian accountability you suggest in your comment.

No Christian, including pastors in the pulpit, are above accountability.

Again, Theresa, while I must respectfully disagree with you, I do appreciate your comments.

Thank you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
I'm not saying that there wasn't prayer and thought in your letter or the situation. I actually know you and your ministery, and have great respect for what you do and your heart for the Lord and for the lost. I just know that sometimes when we (posters) have not put as much time and prayer into something like this we tend to get caught up in the talking about it instead of praying about it. Proverbs 10:19. He is our brother in Christ. Trust God that if something false was preached, Our Mighty Mighty God can speak to his heart.
In Christs Love and Service
Theresa

Tony Miano said...

10-4. :-)

Faithful Servant said...

Tony, may the Lord use this letter to prick the heart of the Pastor it was written too, or any other Pastor's/Christians that read this. These truths and understandings are of the utmost importance to grasp as we endure these times of undefinable truths and Christian persecution. Thank you Tony for taking a "Stand" as the Apostle Paul and the word of our Lord has told us to do.

Jason said...

I kept waiting for the Rom 2:4 reference but I never heard it. Did he mention the passage or just imply an out of context idea that probably came from there?

Tony Miano said...

Jason,

He does mentioned the verse. :-)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rusty is preaching at Shepherd of the Hills Porter Ranch today.. November 22, 2009. Did he or Pastor Dudley Rutherford ever respond to your letter? If not I can had a copy to Pastor Rusty today and one to Tim Winters, Pastor Dudleys second in commmand. Pastor Dudley is out of the country again. If he did respond would you post his reply, please. For more information please visit http://callonjesus.info

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I have attended RLC since the first Sunday, 10 years ago. The first pastor was awesome, but he left after 2 years. I have been left wanting by Pastor George’s sermons for quite awhile. I have stayed at this church, because my kid’s really like it, and was concerned that if I changed churches, my kids might not go at all. Although I have been waiting for a sermon that convicts people of their sin, as we all need to hear quite often, especially in this out-of-control crazy world in which we live. Soft peddling came to mind, and I’ve mentioned it to my family many times. Although they don’t see my point. I’ve been searching for some concrete ideas on what is really going on in our church, and your blog is right on! Thanks for writing this, I feel very validated in my thoughts... now.