Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pastor, Are We All On The Same Team?

Recently, I met with a local pastor. He wanted to discuss the recent letter I wrote to another local pastor regarding the content of the pastor’s sermon. The conversation began with a hug, and ended with a hug. I appreciate this brother in Christ for caring enough about me to meet with me to express and discuss his concerns over the tone of the letter. While we agreed to disagree, the conversation was good and, I think, fruitful.

Since that conversation, however, something my pastor-friend said has sounded in my mind, over and over again. During our conversation, when referring to the pastor to whom I wrote the letter, my pastor-friend said, “We’re all on the same team.”

I’ve thought about that statement for several days. “We’re all on the same team.” I can agree with the statement, but only if it is qualified.

Although one church is mentioned (not by name) later in this article, what follows is directed to all pastors, churches, and ministry workers--not one particular pastor, church, or ministry.

Are we all on the same team?

If you are a pastor and you believe the one, true gospel (and there , is only one true gospel), as articulated in Scripture, then we are on the same team.

If you have truly repented of your sin and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, then we are on the same team.

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Pastor, if this describes you and your ministry, then we are on the same team.

But if you are teaching, preaching, supporting, furthering, or sharing a different gospel (regardless of what you might say you believe), we are not on the same team.

If you do not see the proclamation of the gospel as the primary and urgent goal of every church event and activity that touches the unsaved in this world, then we are not on the same team.

If you do not see the primary function and very existence of the Church to be the glorification of God and the furtherance of His Gospel, then we are not on the same team.

If you are afraid that preaching the truth of God’s Word might scare unbelievers away from the church, or you try to disguise or make apologies for the Word of God, or you mishandle the Word of God in order to further your own agenda or any man-centered philosophy of ministry, then we are not on the same team.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). If you are the pastor that the type of person mentioned in this passage is looking for, then we are not on the same team.

“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). If you are the kind of pastor described in this passage, then we are not on the same team.

“Love people in such a way that they will think you’re really cool and that you’re just like them. Then invite them to church where they will become part of our community. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have lots of people, and someday we’ll get to build a bigger church where we can accommodate and entertain more people who really, really like us. And maybe, just maybe, they will somehow find out about this Jesus we mention—a Jesus who is just like us.” If this is the message you preach, if this is the message you believe, and/or this summarizes your philosophy of ministry then we are not on the same team.

Oh, what rank heresies are being taught in American churches today—heresies that are being propagated to lost people as the gospel of Jesus Christ! Sadly, and tragically, there are more blind guides leading more blind people than ever before.

If some or all of the preceding paragraphs regarding the teams to which I cannot and will not belong describe you and/or your ministry, then you must do what the Scripture commands. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5)! You see, if this is you, then the issue is not whether or not we are on the same team. No, the issue is much bigger and graver than that. The issue is whether or not you are saved. Repent and believe the gospel!

How can you say that? Now, you’ve crossed the line! You might be thinking. I don’t think so—not with so many pastors setting aside essential doctrine in order to chase after the false doctrines of some of the false teachers of the Seeker and Emergent Church movements.

A man (or woman) is not saved simply because they step into a pulpit, or because they lead a popular para-church ministry, or because they have written a book that millions of unsaved people and undiscerning saved people love. And the pulpit, or popular ministry leadership position, or the acceptance of publishing houses that are willing to compromise the truth are not barriers behind which pastors and other Christians can hide from accountability.

Why am I writing this? Why now? The reason is this. Contrary to what my pastor-friend asserted, we are not all on the same team. The mere fact that a pastor or a church is included by many in the evangelical community, or the mere fact that some research group lumps everyone into the same evangelical pot, does not mean we are all on the same team.

Here’s one reason why I can make such a dogmatic and, I’m sure to some, such a divisive assertion.

My heart was grieved Monday morning as I read the front page of a newspaper. My heart was grieved for two reasons: 1) Six young people were brutally murdered and another was seriously injured by a young, deputy sheriff who snapped and gunned down the victims before wounding an officer, and before he took his own life during a shoot-out with fellow officers; and 2) a church in southern California completely missed an opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with more than a hundred young people. Two tragedies in two different parts of the country took place on the same day. One resulted in the physical death of several people. The other resulted in a church’s failure to prepare lost people for physical and spiritual death, and eternity.

Lindsey Stahl, Bradley Shultz, Jordanne Murray, Katrina McCorkle, Leanna Thomas, Aaron Smith, Charlie Neitzel, and Tyler Peterson had gathered in an apartment, about a block or so outside of downtown Crandon, WI. The purpose of the gathering was to enjoy an evening of pizza and movies, in celebration of Homecoming Weekend, at the local high school.

According to preliminary news reports, an argument took place between Peterson (a deputy sheriff with the Forest County Sheriff’s Office and a part-time officer with the Crandon Police Department) and others at the party. Jealousy appears to be the reason for the argument. Peterson left the apartment only to return later with an AR-15 assault rifle. He forced his way into the apartment and fired 30 rounds from the rifle, into the bodies of the people in the room. Charlie Neitzel was the lone survivor.

While I do not presume to know the spiritual condition of any of the victims (And my hope is that they are all in the presence of the Lord), the likelihood is that at least some of the victims tragically left this world only to find themselves standing before Almighty God and hearing the words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” The very tragic and heartbreaking reality is that at least some of the victims of the massacre in Crandon will likely spend eternity in hell because they never turned from their sin and received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Some 2,200 miles away from Crandon, WI, in southern California, more than one hundred people the same age as those murdered in Crandon gathered for a church sponsored “outreach event.” Assuming he was quoted accurately (and it’s certainly possible he wasn’t quoted accurately), the student ministry pastor of the church described the purpose of the event this way.

“We just wanted to do something that would appeal to high school students and every kid that loves rock music . . . We want them to know God loves them for who they are, and God’s arms are wide open to them . . . We want them to realize that church may not be what they think. We’re trying to break stereotypes . . . They don’t have to come here and sit here bored listening to a long speech. We want them to come to church to experience something cool.”

Is there anything inherently wrong with organizing an event that will draw unsaved young people to a gathering place? No. I do it all the time, on a smaller scale, when I open-air preach. Is there anything wrong with playing music, providing a place for kids to skate, or even giving suburban kids an opportunity to experience some faux bull-riding? No.

So what’s the problem?

Call it what you like, but without the gospel, an “outreach event” is anything but outreach. Without the gospel, it is not evangelism. Without the gospel, at best, it is a spiritual swing and a miss. At worst, it is man’s effort to please man, while disguising the effort as Christian ministry.

What if the tragedy in Crandon happened in the community where the “outreach event” took place? What if it happened in your community? What if Lindsey, Bradley, Jordanne, Katrina, Leanna, Charlie, and, yes, even Tyler had attended the “outreach event” before their lives so tragically came to an end? Sadly, it would appear that no one at the “outreach event” would have cared enough about them to warn them about God’s pending wrath and their only hope for escape—repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, I have no doubt that the organizers of the event would say that they did what they did, the way they did it, because they love young people. But I don’t believe it. Why? I don’t believe it because the one thing they could have done, the one thing they should have done to love the young people in attendance, was the one thing they intentionally did not do. They did not love them enough to tell them the truth. In the end, the organizers of the event were more concerned with what the attendees thought about themselves and what they thought about the church, than where the unsaved attendees would spend eternity.

Am I saying that the youth pastor whose church hosted the “outreach event” is responsible for the eternal destiny of anyone who attended the event, or who sits under his ministry? No; not at all. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12a). This pastor, this church, just like me, cannot save or condemn anyone.

But I will say that if the Crandon tragedy had taken place in his community, and those kids had spent some time at the “outreach event” before heading home to be murdered, their blood would be on the hands of that pastor, the church, and any other Christian who, at some time, had the opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with those kids, but failed to do so.

There was a time earlier in my Christian walk when their blood would have been on my hands.

150,000 people die every day—some tragically and suddenly like the young people in Crandon. Mentioning this is not a scare tactic. It is simply the reality of the world and times in which we live.

Pastor, I beg you. Please listen to me. Your greatest concern for lost people must be where they will spend eternity—not whether or not they think you or your church is “cool.” You should not want to see anyone go to hell. So, pastor, the most loving thing you can do for the lost is share the only message that can save their life—the Gospel. Your ability to get the unsaved to like you (or like themselves more) will not save them. Only the Gospel carries with it the power of God to save anyone’s life (Rom. 1:16).

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of this sin of claiming to love lost people while intentionally refusing to bring lost people the only truth, the only message that can save them from eternity in hell—the Law and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of their adherence (as reflected in their actions) to the unbiblical notion that the Word of God is not as powerful as their man-centered messages and man-pleasing methods.

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of having as their ultimate goal the filling of the church with unsaved people, without any true concern (again, as reflected by their actions) about where unsaved people will spend eternity.

To any pastor who happens to read this article: I do want us to be on the same team. I want to support your efforts to bring the Law and the Gospel to a lost and dying world. I want to work with you to uphold and defend the truth of God’s Word from all enemies—inside or outside the church. So if you’re not preaching the Gospel, please, repent and get on the only team that matters—God’s team. Those of us who are preaching the Gospel need your help.

10 comments:

ken scott said...

I want be on God's Team, too. I agree that there is only one true message to all unbelievers and that is the Gospel of Christ as written in the Word of God. No self-serving, people-pleasing approaches will work as substitututes for the One True Gospel. As you know I am very new at this and want to learn how to do more for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I also agree that there is only one true saving message: There is no other name besides Jesus Christ by which we can be saved!

But there are a myriad of methods that can be used to deliver it. Some of those methods may make me uncomfortable, or I may think they are not very efficient, but that does not make them improper. Jesus spoke to some in parables, some very cryptic, and to others in very plain, direct language.

Anonymous said...

Tony- This article is AMAZING!!!!!!! You said so many TRUTHFUL, Biblically-based VERY IMPORTANT things. You're love for the Lord and the Lost is contageous! Keep doing what you're doing brother, your labor IS NOT in vain. God bless, Michelle :)

Tony Miano said...

Anonymous,

Respectfully: you miss the point. The issue is not whether or not there are different vehicles for delivering the one, true gospel. The issue is that many churches and ministries do not deliever the gospel at all. And without the gospel, any effort, regardless of style, is not evangelism.

The issue is not delivering the gospel in different ways. The issue is that too many churches and ministries are going out of their way NOT to deliever the gospel, so as not to offend unbelievers. There is no support at all for this philosophy of ministry, in the Scriptures.

Thanks for sharing your comments, though. :-)

Tony Miano said...

Thanks, Michelle. And thanks for passing the article along to your friends. :-)

george said...

Tony;
Your words were well crafted and delivered in a loving manner. Thanks for reminding all of us of what "really matters." To acknowledge God, our depravity without Christ, and our utter lostness without repentance. When we try to package our relationships (outreach) with others in the wrapping of the World system, we serve a different god. The god of this world is satan, and he is a liar. We can use jumpy houses and skateboard ramps to draw people to youth events, but if the Gospel isn't preached, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions about teamwork!

Anonymous said...

I understand that the point you want to make is that delivering the message of salvation is urgent and critical. I agree with that.

But some people are not happy, and will not be happy, unless things are done their way. So they criticize and complain about everyone else not doing it right, or not doing enough. Sadly, That is oftentimes the undertone of your blog: In recent weeks, you have put down people for taking a weekend trip to the poorer areas of Mexico to build homes there (not missionary enough), reaching out to neighborhood kids through VBS (not evangelistic enough), and now a Youth pastor for giving area youth an alternative place to go to a concert.

Do not misunderstand me! There must be higher levels of evangelistic efforts in ALL of our churches; none of us is doing it perfectly, that's for sure. And I know that many of us, and many of our churches, have made the transition from being comfortable to being complacent, and that's a shame on the leaders and followers alike. As I said, I agree with you.

I just think your point would be much clearer without the distraction of a clanging cymbal. I pray you will accept this as an encouragement to bathe your approach in love. Call it tough love if you want, but make it more "love" than "tough". And maybe more will hear you.

For my part, I think we are on the same team.

Respectfully,

Tony Miano said...

Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

But sadly, I think you have missed the point. The problem is not that Christians aren't doing things "my way."

You are right when you assert that I am not happy. How can I be happy when so many churches and ministries, under the auspices of evangelism and outreach, are not proclaiming the gospel? Why should I be happy about that?

I appreciate your input; but until the American Church (in general) begins to proclaim a Christ-centered gospel instead of a man-centered gospel, and until the American Church (in general) stops looking at ministry efforts that leave out or intentionally exclude the gospel as evangelism, I'm going to keep "clanging the cymbal." :-)

Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts. :-)

Anonymous said...

Twice now, you quickly dismiss me as having missed your point, even though I clearly agreed with your point, again and again. Doesn't this actually reinforce the point I made?

If you're only interested in talking, not listening, a clanging cymbal is certainly very loud. But it only communicates noise, and it ultimately profits nothing (1 Cor 1:1-3). I don't think that's what you want.

Tony Miano said...

Anonymous,

I am not dismissing you. I'm sorry you feel that way.

The emphasis of my article was not methodology, but rather the conscious choice ministers and ministries are making to not share the gospel in order to accommodate their chosen methodology.

If a church or ministry wants to conduct a VBS in order to share the gospel with children, then praise God. What can I do to help?

If a church or ministry wants to build homes or fix roofs in order to share the gospel with people in need, then praise God. What can I do to help?

If a church wants to host a rock concert in order to share the gospel with young people who like rock music, then praise God. What can I do to help?

And please keep in mind that when I say "share the gospel," it is with the understanding that the gospel is a "verbal" message (Rom. 10:14-15).

But, sadly, all too often, that's not what's happening. More and more churches are doing events and activities without sharing the gospel and still calling it evangelism and outreach.

I am sorry I've upset you. I will continue to try to speak the truth in love. To some it will sound like a clanging cymbal. To others it will sound like a loving rebuke. And to others it will sound like something else all together.

I think you meant to quote 1 Cor. 13:1-3, not 1:1-3. I am left to assume that by quoting this passage of Scripture you found my article to be unloving.

I disagree with your perspective (and that doesn't mean I am not listening to you).

I think the most loving thing I can do for those who have set aside the gospel for convenience, in order to please man, or out of fear of man, is to call them to repentance. I do not think it would be loving of me to quietly sit by and allow them to one-day stand before God to face a stricter judgment (James 3:1), without at least trying to call them back to preaching a Christ-centered gospel.

If the problem is that you find the tone of my article to be impatient, unkind, arrogant, rude, envious, boastful, insistant on having things my way, irritable, or resentful (1 Cor. 13:4-6); then I can understand why you would consider the article's tone and content to be unloving.

There is always an inherent risk when addressing such difficult, weighty, important, and sensitive issues (such as the proclamation of the one, true gospel) through a written format--the risk of having one's tone of voice misinterpretted. I submit (and I hope you can agree) that there is at least a possibility of this occurring here.

While you may find the tone and maybe some of the content of my article to be unloving (and you are certainly entitled to feel that way), I simply disagree.

While my heart, like everyone else's, is deceitful above all else and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9), I trust that God knew (and knows) the motives and intentions of my heart when I wrote this article. I also sought the counsel of several trusted Christian friends, who each read multiple drafts of the article. The article went through several revisions (for content and tone), before it was posted.

I believe writing this article was the right thing to do. And to do otherwise--to go against my conscience because I knew (or feared) that some would not like either the article's content, tone, or both--would have been a decision to sin against God (James 4:17).

So, with all that said, while we may continue to disagree, I want to thank you for the conversation. :-)