Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Reformed, Charismatic & Evangelical: Keeping the Fire in the Fireplace!

FOR MANY YEARS the Bible has been treated like a deck of cards. Denominations behave like players in some doctrinal “card game” where each church holds only a few cards in its hand as it competes with other churches for new members. Every church has its own “doctrinal distinctives” or emphases which are often reflected in the church’s name (e.g. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) In addition, churches are grouped into larger camps, based on over-arching values (e.g. Reformed, Charismatic & Evangelical). Such divisions rob every church of its heritage in the whole counsel of God.

Generally speaking, Reformed churches hold tightly to the cards (i.e. the passages of Scripture) that pertain to “the doctrines of grace.” They also emphasize the need to guard sound doctrine from error. Charismatic churches hold the cards that relate to the Holy Spirit and His gifts. They emphasize supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals hold on dearly to the cards that teach the Great Commission, personal evangelism and world missions. They emphasize winning the lost to Christ.

Our analogy breaks down of course, because no true church is void of all interest in the doctrines championed by the others. But over time, these three camps have drifted farther and farther apart. Today they seem mutually exclusive of one another. What is worse, as each has over-emphasized and over-reacted to each doctrine errors have occurred on all sides. As each church pushes its favorite truth to an erroneous extreme, the other churches attempt to distance themselves from those errors and all but abandon some key doctrines. “We don’t emphasize election here.” Or, “We are not ‘seeker sensitive.’” Or, “We won’t stand for Holy Spirit wildfire.” In this way major passages of God’s Word are being abandoned to other churches who, in their zeal, distort them and make them the primary basis of their church’s identity. By being taught without the balance that comes from knowing and believing the other doctrines, every church loses out.

It Takes All Three!
The situation today requires a Christian to attend three churches just to receive a balanced diet of what the Bible actually teaches— one to enjoy expository Bible teaching and basic Bible doctrine (e.g. a sound Reformed Church), one to experience supernatural ministry (e.g. a sound Charismatic church) and yet another to be equipped to live the Great Commission (e.g. a sound Evangelical church). As long as every church holds only its own limited denominational “hand,” no church is “playing with a full deck.” The whole counsel of God has become divided, disjointed and out of balance. Household of Faith Community Church in the Portland Metro Area of Oregon (where I now serve as a Teaching Elder), is an attempt to bring these three camps of Bible doctrine back together in one local church. There we strive to be biblically Reformed, biblically Charismatic and biblically evangelical in order to enjoy the benefits (and avoid the errors) of all three. We want everything that the Bible teaches, but nothing more.

Our Strengths Can Become Our Weaknesses
The strength of the Reformed pastor can become his weakness. He has such confidence in the truth of the Bible and the sovereignty of God that he distrusts the Spirit of God and fatalistic in his response to missions. He becomes cold and academic in his teaching. He closes all opportunities for God to move with power in the church. He “despises prophesy” as “adding to the Scripture.” He “forbids speaking in tongues,” dismissing it as “wildfire.” He is like a man with a massive stone fireplace made up of sound Bible doctrine. But he would rather sit in a cold, dark, empty house than take any chance that the fire might get out of the fireplace, or that careless guests might damage his stone work. He does not understand that his precious fireplace has been designed by God to safely hold the blazing fire of God’s Holy Spirit for the benefit of many yet to be saved.

On the other hand, the strength of the Charismatic pastor can also become his weakness. His confidence in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can undermine his motivation to do the hard work of Bible study and sound doctrinal preaching of the Gospel. He believes he need only read a passage and “pray through” until he “feels the anointing.” Then he steps into his pulpit to serve up half-baked ideas to an ever-enthusiastic, but doctrinally famished congregation. This pastor is like a man who builds a bonfire in the middle of his living room floor. A wonderful stone fireplace stands just a few feet away. But he thinks that any attempt to regulate the moving of the Spirit, to limit the use of tongues in the service or to evaluate the content of a given prophesy, (as the Bible clearly commands us to do in 1 Cor. 14:26-33), would somehow “quench the Spirit.” He also presumes upon the Holy Spirit in evangelism, failing to explain what God has accomplished for the sinner through Jesus Christ, not taking seriously the fact that the Spirit of God works through the proclamation of the Gospel to save sinners. Fire belongs in a fireplace.

In yet a similar way the Evangelical pastor’s strength can become his weakness. His desire to reach people for Christ is admirable. But when he compromises God’s Word and despises God’s Spirit in order to get more people to make decisions for Christ, he does everyone a disservice. In his attempts to be “culturally relevant” and “seeker sensitive,” he can become ashamed of the Gospel, attempting to offer a Savior who is not Lord. Lacking zeal for sound doctrine for fear that God’s truth will turn off the visitors, and lacking faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert the lost through the foolishness of the Gospel message, such pastors offer only a diet of short, fluffy, topical messages that produces many false conversions. This plague that we call “nominal Christianity” is seen in the growing number of people who now attend evangelical churches, but who have never been born again, have only a false assurance of salvation, who bear no spiritual fruit, are not zealous for good works and who know very little Bible doctrine.

Such an Evangelical pastor does not understand that without the fireplace of sound doctrine to display God’s Truth there can be no knowledge of sin, true repentance, nor saving faith. Without the fire of the Holy Spirit to confirm God’s Word with power in the new birth, there will be no lasting fruit. It is the combination of the fireplace and the fire that provides an ideal context for effective evangelistic ministry.

The Balance of God’s Truth
In each camp, the remedy is to be found in the doctrines now monopolized by the other two camps. The entire Bible is for the entire church! What has been lost in this situation is the integrity of the Truth itself. The major doctrines referred to by the terms Reformed, Charismatic and Evangelical, interact with one another in dynamic ways that check the excesses of one another and maintain the balance of Truth.

By keeping the fire in the fireplace we create the best possible setting for effective evangelism — a beautiful backdrop of God’s power in the confirmation of God’s Truth as an expression of God’s Love. Here we find God’s people showing their love for God by the way they love one another. Here we experience passionate worship toward God that is both “in spirit and in truth,” and discover a confidence in the Gospel that allows us to boldly speak God’s truth in love.

All of the Bible doctrines monopolized and distorted by the three major camps of Protestant Christianity are found in every Bible. They have always been there. They comprise an integrated whole. One group’s misunderstanding or misapplication of a doctrine cannot justify the rest of us in ignoring that part of God’s Word. All of God’s truths are intended to be understood, believed and obeyed in relation to one another by the entire Body of Christ. Every church is intended to be “a full deck church” with all of the checks and balances in place. HOFCC is an attempt to be just that. Thus far we find the combination to be both refreshing and effective.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Wow! What an honest and accurate assessment of the current state of Christianity! I have attended all three types of churches outlined here and have come to the same conclusion as you. Often pride is the culprit in division. Man has always tried to put God in a box of his own making. He CANNOT be contained! Fear is also a factor. But, the Bible is full of God's magnificence His, majesty, and His mystery. I know that I am preaching to the choir here. I hope that your message will heard by many and that a new kind of reform can take place within the faith.

Grace and peace in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Andrea Mendenhall