Thursday, March 15, 2007

Family Time vs. Church Time

Dr. Al Mohler has posted a provocative commentary on his blog in which he deals with the competition which has developed between church time and family time. As a pastor, I have become all too familiar with this situation. It is a real issue in the church today.

As a youth, I remember hearing stories about pastors and church leaders from an earlier generation who were successes in terms of ministry and failures in terms of family. They sacrificed their marriages or their children on the altar of service to God. The pastors and church leaders of my generation got the message. Don't lose your family while climbing the ladder of ministerial success. During my lifetime there has been a resurgence of interest in the family responsibilities of Christians. Giant para-church organizations whose "focus" is on families have become major forces in evangelical culture. For the most part, this has been a positive thing.

However, pendulums are hard things to control. They tend to swing from one extreme to the other. Now as a middle-aged man with a wife and four children, it seems as though the reaction to that earlier generation of Christians who seemed to neglect their families has been a pendulum swing toward an opposite extreme. Now, for some Christians, family has overshadowed the church. Attendance and involvement in church services or activities often takes a back seat to family time.

I fully support the importance of family time. I think it is a sin for parents to neglect their family responsibilities. So, I don't take issue with people who prioritize these things. However, my observation is that the idea that families do not have enough time for church deserves closer scrutiny. I would encourage families to take a hard look at all the time commitments they have made in terms of eternal priority. The idea that the family cannot be involved in church because they don't have time for each other seems hollow when time is always found for sports, music lessons, school activites, and various other personal interests.

I remember hearing a message once about the priority of the kingdom of God in our lives. The speaker said something to the effect that "when you stand before God, you don't want to hear Him say, 'you were a good family man.' You want to hear Him say, 'you were a good kingdom man.'" He went on to tell us that our families are certainly a subset of kingdom life. We should not neglect those responsibilities. Yet, we should never use our families as an excuse to say "no" to kingdom things while saying "yes" to a plethora of earthly things. The setting in which that message was given added to the impact of those words. It was given to a Christian men's group gathered for the purpose of becoming better husbands and fathers.

I realize that there are times when legitimate conflicts arise between church commitments and other commitments. I do not intend to say that one's spirituality can be measured solely by attendence and involvement in church. However, I do believe it is all too easy to allow our family life to become so crowded with family concerns that are temporal that the eternally significant things we can do as a family get squeezed out.

May God give us discernment and wisdom to properly prioritize our lives according to biblical priorities. If we do so, we can be sure that the church will be an important part of family life. Why? Because the church is important to God and a biblically ordered family life will reflect the priority of the church as well.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Shepherds Conference Highlights

I recently attended the Shepherds Conference at Grace Community Church in Southern California. That is why I have not posted for several days. The conference has become an annual highlight for me. It is a time of spiritual refreshing and challenge that feeds my soul. The preaching is outstanding. The hospitality of Grace Community Church is unmatched in my expereience. The book store is tremendous. The worship in music is outstanding. There is nothing quite like being one of a crowd of a few thousand men singing In Christ Alone or And Can It Be.

This year's line up of preachers was superb. Of course Dr. John MacArthur hosts the conference. Dr. MacArthur was joined this year by Dr. Steve Lawson, Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Mark Dever, and Dr. Ligon Duncan. Dr. John Piper was scheduled to preach but could not be present. He was with his father who passed into the presence of the Lord last week. In place of Dr. Piper, C.J. Mahaney preached. All the messages were solid, biblically saturated, Christ-honoring messages. In culinary terms it would be like having several world-class chefs prepare meals for you all day.

I am still processing all the input from this conference. Several things stand out in my mind. First, preaching is to be passionate and authoritative. We are not as one speaker said, "used car salesmen" who play up the good parts and play down the less attractive parts of our message. We are ambassadors who speak on behalf of the King. Second, preaching is to be Christ-centered. From the most difficult passages we can preach Christ and His saving work. This was demonstrated by Ligon Duncan who preached from Numbers on an obscure ritual regarding accusations of adultery. Third, preachers must be humble. We are sinners in need of God's grace. A lack of humility and teachability is a spiritual flaw which can ruin our preaching and our ministry to others. We must tremble at God's Word (Isa. 66:1-2).

These are just a few highlights from the messages. It was also a great highlight to spend several days with four other men who serve as elders at Country Acres Baptist Church. The conversation with these men was stimulating, edifying, and encouraging. These brothers in Christ are serious about the gospel and the church. They are passionate, wise, and loving men who rejoice to exalt Christ in their personal lives and church. They are a blessing to my life.

I thank the Lord for Grace Community Church and the investment they are making in the lives of pastors, church staff, elders, and other church leadership. It is an encouragment to my heart to see so many men who are still serious about the importance of biblical exposition and biblically driven ministries. Not everyone is bowing their knee to the Baal of church-growth pragmatism and man-centered ministry. The thousands of men who gathered for this conference reminds me of this and I rejoice in it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More Dangerous Theology from Pastor Oprah

Chicago Sun-Times writer Cathleen Falsani writing about the impact of Oprah on American spirituality asks, "I wonder, has Oprah become America's pastor?" A Beliefnet.com poll last year found that 33% of the 6600 respondents stated that Winfrey had a more profound impact on their spirituality than their own clergypersons. Oprah's impact on American culture is seen in the recent popularity of a book called The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. This book is selling out in bookstores across the nation. So, what is the latest theology being promoted by "pastor" Oprah?

The Secret suggests that there is a universal law of attraction. On the Oprah show, author Rhonda Byrne stated, "What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling." In the book she says, "Nothing can come into your experience unless you summon it through persistent thoughts." So, if you want to be wealthy, you attract wealth by thinking about it. The same holds true for everything else whether it is relationships, possessions, etc.

This is simply the old new-age thought repackaged. You can manipulate reality by the power of your mind. So-called Christians borrow this eastern philosophy and dress it up in Christian terminology. We call it the prosperity gospel. Words and thoughts contain the force to change your personal reality. Claim your wealth (in Jesus' name, of course) and you will have it. Don't think or speak negative thoughts. Think and speak positive thoughts which will bring you what you desire.

Oprah had several spiritual gurus pushing the basic premise of The Secret. Of course, according to these experts, this premise does not contradict Christianity any more than it contradicts any of the worlds great religions like Buddhism or Islam. This is typical Oprah spirituality. It is the embodiment of relativistic, post-modern thinking about truth. It is the worst kind of syncretism. Jesus and His Words are like a wax nose that you can shape as you wish. Nevermind the fact that the New Testament clearly teaches the exclusivity of Jesus and His gospel (John 14:6). Oprah's brand of "broad road" spirituality makes room for all kinds of contradictory theological claims. It makes you want to sing along with the Doobie Brothers, "Jesus is just alright with me."

Even if a person does not want to accept the claims of the Christian gospel, one has to realize that it is intellectual foolishness to try and make the message of Jesus fit into the theological system espoused in The Secret. The law of non-contradiction is routinely violated by these cross-denominational gurus. The claims of Christianity cannot be made to logically agree with the claims of Buddhism, for example. Jesus is either the unique Son of God and only Savior of the World or He is not. The Christian gospel never portrays Jesus as one way among many. It never indicates that there are multiple ways of salvation among which the gospel is one. Clearly, contemporary culture has been so shaped by post-modern, pluralistic thought that many people seem to have no qualms about accepting into their religious stew ingredients from contradictory systems.

We must remember that the way to heaven is not decided by a majority vote. It is decided by truth. All roads do not lead home. It is not possible to find one's way to God by a variety of spiritual paths. The on-ramp may read "Buddhism" or "Islam" or "Hinduism" or "Your Personal Brand of Spirituality." But the highway these on-ramps feed into is called by Jesus the "broad way" which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

For a good review of The Secret visit Don Whitney's web site here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

It's Worse than We Thought

Justin Taylor has posted some interesting information about church attendance statistics. Most popular pollsters (Gallup, Barna, etc) have been telling us that about 40% of Americans attend church on the weekend. Dave Olson of the Evangelical Covenant Church conducted his own research surveying only Christian churches. His findings are that 18.7% of Americans attend Christian churches on a given weekend.

Southern Baptists boast a membership of about 16 million. Thom Rainer of Lifeway Resources has stated that less than 7 million people actually attend Southern Baptist Churches on a given weekend. That means that over 50% of those who claim membership in an SBC church even bother to attend a worship service. Not exactly a stellar statistic is it?

This kind of information reinforces the need for evangelicals in general, and Southern Baptists in particular, to address the reason why the ranks of our churches have swelled with people who obviously do not love the church. At Tom Ascol and others have suggested, part of the reason must be that there are a lot of unregenerate church members in our churches. Couple a weak doctrine of conversion with a weak practice of church discipline and you get unconverted people joining churches and then quickly abandoning them.

The reality is that evangelicalism is being diluted by those who have never understood and embraced the evangel. We pastors must do a better job explaining the gospel and making sure those who join our churches have truly been converted. We must do a better job teaching people what it means to be a follower of Christ. We must return to a biblically informed model for ministry instead of allowing the unregenerate culture to set the agenda for our churches.