Saturday, March 11, 2017


"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night."  (Psalm 1:1-2)

I think I need to say right at the outset that this piece is not about politics, nor is it about talk radio.  I say that because I'm starting with a quote by Rush Limbaugh.  This is something I heard him say on his program yesterday during the first hour of the show.  I was on my lunch break at work, just sitting in my car listening to the radio and eating a sandwich.  I was so taken with something he said that I quickly grabbed a small piece of scrap paper and wrote it down word-for-word.  Here's the exact statement Limbaugh made that so powerfully impacted me:

"I summarily reject conventional wisdom.  I go a different way.  Conventional wisdom is 'group think'; it's not critical thinking."

There are so many areas of life to which that statement could be applied.  Yes, he was speaking of politics and modern American cultural behavior.  But it applies to much more than that.  It's something I wish could be "drilled into" the hearts and minds of every evangelical Christian in North America, and I include every pastor, every evangelist, every Christian author, every church board member, every denominational executive; all of them!  You see, the Lord intended us to be different from the rest of the world.  I don't think he wanted us to be a bunch of weirdos, so much; although I know we've all heard those sermons about Christians being called to be a (in King James language) "peculiar people".   No, not weirdos, but not exactly like the rest of the world, either.  We are not supposed to be the followers.  We are supposed to be the leaders!  People are supposed to look at us and find us so different that on the one hand we make them feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable, but on the other hand, they admire us and wish they could be more like us.  We are then supposed to befriend and love people "from the world" and show them the way.

That's not happening very much in our day at all!

I've been a "born-again Christian" since I was a teenager in the early 1970s.  At that time, Jack T. Chick put out his famous tract aimed at Christians, illustrating how carnal and worldly the Christians were.  Sadly, the Christians of the early 1970s in so many respects seem like spiritual giants in comparison to so many of the Christians of 2017!  It's my conviction that the evangelical church of North America of today is in a rush (and I did use that word as sort of a pun because of mentioning Rush Limbaugh) to look like and act like everybody else.  We're not the better for it!

Recently, (as an Ordained minister) I received an on-line survey to fill out from a highly respected Christian organization.  The e-mail said it was soliciting the opinions of pastors about what trends they see in the church today so that it would help them to effectively plan for and anticipate the future of the church.  I didn't fill it out.  Now, I didn't fill it out for two reasons.  One is that I'm not currently pastoring a church, and I think they mainly wanted to hear from people who are actively pastoring churches right now.  But the second reason is that I found the whole idea of such a survey very offensive and frankly at odds with true Biblical Christianity!  Even if I were pastoring, I don't think I'd have filled it out!  As a Bible College student in the late 1970s, I was involved in "nursing home ministry" at the Assemblies of God retirement complex (known as "Maranatha") in Springfield, Missouri.  It was my privilege to meet many of the great early pioneers of the Assemblies of God, including E.S. Williams and Frank Boyd.  I sat with them, talked with them, and heard wonderful stories from them.  I was about to write "I prayed with them",  but it would be far more accurate to say, "they prayed with me"!  So many of these men and woman literally walked by faith, worked miracles (by the power of God), and went into cities and countries and "turned them upside down" for Jesus.  They were humble.  In fact, it was surprising how simple and humble most of them were.  I think of "Brother Gowdy" who was a great missionary to Nigeria.  He'd be excitedly telling me how he'd witnessed to the UPS driver who came to make a delivery.  All that Brother and Sister Gowdy owned in all the world was in their room in that nursing home.  There was a desk and a bookcase and a few other things.  They'd given everything for Jesus, and they'd done a great work!  I can't imagine any of these folks sending out a survey to find out what the trends in the church are and how to anticipate the future of the church.  Instead they were just foolish enough to take the Bible very literally, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and humbly obey God, no matter what the cost.  I think of my first pastor in the Assemblies of God, the Rev. Lloyd A. Westover.  He'd probably be a hundred years old or more if he were still living.  He'd worked in the business world until he was well into his forties, then he'd taken the Berean School of the Bible correspondence courses, and moved from his home in Washington State to New England to plant churches and do a work for God.  Dr. Terry Lewis, a highly respected educator in the Assemblies of God, was his Assistant Pastor many, many years ago in Laconia, New Hampshire.  Lewis says of Westover, "he was the most godly man I ever knew".  I can imagine what Lloyd Westover's response to that survey would have been, and I don't think it would have been very positive.

Almost a decade ago, my daughter Amy was on the worship team of the church she attends in Missouri.  The church decided to have the worship team dress much more casual to be "more relevant."  When Amy told me about this, I was so proud of the question she told me she'd asked the church music director:  "Relevant to WHO?!"

Please don't misunderstand me!  I'm not saying we should "do church" the way they did it in 1855 with no electricity, no bathrooms, and no sound equipment!  Of course not!  I'm not even saying we should "do church" exactly as it was done in 1970.  There have been a number of positive changes and developments.  The use of PowerPoint in services has been mostly a good thing.  Instant communications have allowed a church in the midst of a missions convention to have a missionary up on the screen live on the internet giving a progress report.  Those kind of changes are great!  But there's such a rush today to look like everybody else, and to act like everybody else.

I'm so thankful I attend a church where we still have "old-fashioned" altar calls and where we still believe in and promote the Baptism in the Holy Spirit!  I'm so glad I have a pastor who is not quick to follow the crowd but who is quick to get a word from God and obey Him and deliver it!  Let's not be in a rush to be like everybody else.  Let's humble ourselves.  Let's get into God's Word.  Let's seek His face.  Let's forget the surveys.  Let's see what He will do! 


Dennis Cole said...

Great words and hearing from you is a blessing.

Bob Baril said...

Thank you, Dennis. Your positive comment is much appreciated.

jon TK said...

It bothers me when churches hold up third world countries as a model - "these people have nothing and look how they worship!" - but then can't get through a service if something breaks down. I remember when the AC broke down at 1st AG and I started thinking we shouldn't have fixed it. You can *talk* about Haitians in church in sweltering heat, but if we can't do a couple Sundays uncomfortable, we're worse off.

There's a line between being unconventional and just shutting off from everyone saying "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" We don't want to say there is no standard or accountability. So we can't just be followers, and we can't be self-interested myopic leaders in the "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" way.

Nothing turns me off more than being told "but other churches do it this way". It's more important to follow Holy Spirit direction than church peer pressure.

George said...

Well atated, Bob. Good for Amy! Change is fine if it improves the churches ability to communicate. But has scripture changed? Of course not. I think sometimes we lose the big picture worrying about worldly details.