Monday, August 28, 2006

Passionate Peacockery versus Christ-Centered Preaching

Over the past decade since I graduated from Hyles Anderson College in 1995, my philosophy of ministry has undergone a complete transformation--some may even refer to it as an Extreme Fundamental Makeover! Many of the "doctrines" that were preached ad nauseum as "fundamentals of the faith" during my upbringing I have since found out were nothing more than emotional dynamite to excite a raucous Sunday evening congregation. Jack Hyles taught that preaching more often than not needed to be shouting and that all good and effective sermons were topical in nature. Jack Hyles decried the expository sermon as nothing more than a lecture. They were boring, ineffective, unbiblical and "dry/dead as last year's Christmas tree"! I bought into this foolishness as a young lad and it took some gracious de-programming by the LORD to place me back on the right path. One of the areas in my own system of beliefs where the greatest change has taken place is in this matter of preaching--what is the difference between a "Man-Centered" sermon and a "Christ-Centered" sermon? Over the past 10 years my thinking on this topic has been completely transformed.

Two Sunday evenings ago I had the chance to watch about 20 minutes of the live video feed from First Baptist Church of Hammond. What I saw was nothing new--only the cast of characters has changed. I have many memories of Jack Hyles prancing around on stage and commanding the attention of thousands with a seemingly endless stream of comical personal illustrations. What I saw this past Sunday evening was nothing short of Passionate Peacockery. Again I wish that I had thought of this keen image--I cannot lie. This is an analogy that my brother Josh relayed to me just before he left FBCH. The cobwebs had been removed and he called me one night and with all due respect mentioned that Pastor Schaap strutted around on stage like a peacock in full bloom! As we have reflected on our years in Hammond this analogy has stuck and for good reason--I highly recommend that those of you who doubt our analysis check out the FBCH website during one of their scheduled services.

One of the things we all need to keep in mind is that the First Baptist Church of Hammond is a college church--it was when I was growing up there and it is even more so today. The college is the machine that keeps everything clipping along. These dear college folks have a hunger for what they believe to be "red hot preaching". I believe that this is one of the reasons that the typical service at FBCH is more like a college chapel service or pep rally. (I realize that FBCH became the World's Largest Sunday School without HAC, but at the present time FBCH is made up almost exclusively of people who came to Hammond in order to train for the full-time ministry at HAC. Countless former college students and graduates put down their roots for decades in Hammond and they crave the kind of preaching that we are going to look at today).

Those in Hammond will try to tell you that they are just teeming with new and excited "middle class" converts. They will try to convince you that they have new Sunday School classes that have pulled in literally hundreds yea thousands of new middle class couples who are being assimilated into the church family on a regular basis--DO NOT BELIEVE IT. For the most part there has simply been a reshuffling of the deck to populate these new classes. I digress.

In a previous post Josh mentioned the penchant that those at FBCH and HAC have for "red hot preaching". I would like to build upon that first post concerning this topic and provide a link for your investigation. Many of you have never experienced the kind of IFBxdom that Josh and I were raised in--here is your chance to learn a little more about these folks and what the focus of their ministry truly is.

I want to direct you all to a couple of gems that I have had the chance to listen to over the past couple of weeks. The first sermon is titled, "Mistakes of the Modern Ministry", and has some very interesting items missing from its content--here is the link to listen to it for yourself so you know that I am not just making this stuff up.

You will notice that among other things, Pastor Schaap lays down the "fundamentals" as he sees them of the "old-time religion." His list includes the heresy of King James Onlyism, emphasis on external "standards", traditional music, and soulwinning! He would classify all of these as "non-negotiables". He goes on to make the claim that a non-soulwinner is worse in the eyes of God than a gambler or an adulterer--simply unbelievable! These are statements that I remember Jack Hyles making, but I had never heard Pastor Schaap mention these things until this sermon. Pastor Schaap goes on to drive the point home that the Gideons and those who print Bibles and put them in the hands of the lost are not doing very much good--he reasons that those Bibles are in hotel rooms and people are still going into these rooms and committing all sorts of sexual sins and drinking liquor from the mini-bar--in Schaap's opinion a fiery soulwinner is much more powerful and vital to ministry than 100,000 copies of the Word of God!

Does anyone see the continual elevation of man and downplaying of the Eternal Word here? Certainly we all ought to be better witnesses than we are, but these careless statements give more proof that Pastor Schaap truly is by his own admission, "winging it" every week at FBCH.

What we want everyone to explore is the content, style, and method of preaching that these folks in the clutches of IFBxdom employ. I have no problem with a preacher raising his voice or getting excited about a truth--the problem is that when the typical IFBXer preaches, he is floating around in an exegetical vacuum and proud of it! Notice the lack of true Biblical exegesis and the abundance of rank eisegesis. Pastor Schaap mentions some things that are very true about the state of the modern church--I do not disagree with every point that he makes--our point is that this is nothing more than a pep rally of sorts to stir up the college kids. It is man-centered to the very core and the proof is to just simply watch the next video feed from FBCH--you will find Passionate Peacockery and not a shred of Biblical and Christocentric exegesis.

What else did you take away from this sermon? Are we just being too hard on FBCH because of our history there? Does anyone else notice the peacockery or are we simply seeing what we want to see? Sometimes I have to rewind some of the statements just to be sure I am hearing them correctly--unfortunately all my fears are confirmed upon further review. Next time we will look at another sermon that will have all God-fearing believers in tears--either of laughter or of sincere sorrow. Stay tuned...


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Circus Blogroll

Just wanted to take some time to recommend some of our favorite blogs that we link to on our sidebar here at B&C. If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer they will be out of their proper place and down at the bottom of our blog--if you are using the official browser of Bread and Circuses, Firefox, you will find these links up in their rightful place near the top of the page. We believe that you will find some very thought provoking articles/posts on these blogs and also that you will be edified and blessed by them. All of these sites endeavor to keep things civil and Christ-honoring--we truly appreciate this kind of spirit among believers especially. I want to just introduce you to a couple of them at a time and give you my take on their content.

Extreme Fundamental Makeover - This is a blog whose author is the pastor of a historic fundamental church in Illinois. Mike Hess and I went to Hyles Anderson College back in the early 90's. We met a couple of times, but did not really get to know each other very well during our college years--he was on-campus and I was off-campus. I discovered Mike through Sharper Iron and found the other blog he used to contribute to, The World From Our Window. Mike used to be very active in the Chicago bus ministry that FBCH runs--he was even a division leader within that ministry responsible for many Chicago bus routes. You will find that Mike has a heart for our Gracious Savior and a passion to help those caught in the clutches of cultural fundamentalism. Take some time to check out his blog--you will be glad that you did.

Neofundamentalist - This is a blog by three other pastors of historic fundamental churches with a burden for those caught in the web of IFBxdom. Thomas Pryde, Joel Tetreau, and Charlie Eldred have a knack for hitting the proverbial nail square on the head in regards to the hysteric fundies. I came into contact with Pastor Pryde through Sharper Iron as well--his blog will challenge many of the gray areas on which so many IFBxers oft dogmatically opine. Turns out that Thomas attended Hammond Baptist Grade School for a year back in the 80's! He even had the opportunity to preach a sermon to his fifth grade school class while enrolled there. I do not remember him, but I am sure that is only because he is so much older than me--just kidding. These young pastors share their burden for calling IFBers back to the sound exegesis of Scripture. Do yourself a favor and check to see if you are a Neofundamentalist and just haven't realized it yet--you may even begin to "Explore Proactive Fundamentalism!"

We will be highlighting the other blogs and sites we link to in the weeks ahead. Also, be sure to download the official web browser here under the big top in order to fully enjoy our circus.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Grandiose FBCH Memories and Re-Writing History (Part 2)

I apologize for leaving some of you hanging on this one--no doubt some of you were on the edge of your computer chairs just waiting with bated breath for the conclusion to our post from a couple of weeks ago--OK, maybe that was just Josh. Since that post, we have received some lively email and comments from people who obviously are taking things here at B & C very personally. I want to preface this post by saying again that we wish no ill will to anyone at FBCH--we truly believe that it is possible to disagree and not be disagreeable. We have been called "traitor", "deceived", "disloyal", and last but not least, "bitter". Nobody who knows us well would agree with any of those descriptors.

That being said, we are going to try and analyze Pastor Schaap's books sparingly--it becomes very tedious and time consuming to delve into these books--we could literally spend months looking at them, and those at FBCH would simply charge that we should write our own books if we do not like the ones they are producing--I partly agree and will not make this type of post the norm. Since we did begin looking at this portion of one of Pastor Schaap's books, I do want to finish it before jumping into some other topic. I believe I left off with the fact that FBCH believes that she is one of the last truly great churches in existence today--Pastor Schaap doesn't want her to go the way that Moody's, Finney's, and Spurgeon's churches have gone! FBCH believes she is "headquarters" or the "mother church" for "true" fundamentalism. The entire premise for this conclusion by those in IFBxdom distills down to one thing--numbers.

Here is another portion from Pastor Schaap's book, "Principles of Church Growth", on page 147 he compares FBCH to the church of Sardis in the book of Revelation--of whom Jesus said, "Thou hast a name that thou livest." He goes on to recount all of the great works that the LORD has done at FBCH over the years:
"First Baptist Church of Hammond has enjoyed a tremendous name through the years. What a name with 41 Pastors' Schools! What a name hosting our 31st Youth Conference! What a name in 1972 being called the "World's Largest Sunday School" and holding that title for many decades! What a reputation when Brother Hyles was pastor for 41 years and 5 months!"
On page 148 he continues with:
"The influence First Baptist Church has, the missionaries and preacher boys we have, the college and the Christian schools we have, the preaching the First Baptist Church congregation heard under Brother Hyles' ministry--all these show that we were spoiled rotten and spoon-fed by a master pulpiteer."
On page 149 he continues with:
"Wow! Hasn't First Baptist Church enjoyed a good life? How many times has the altar been jam packed! For over 44 years, there has not been a Sunday in First Baptist Church when someone has not been baptized in our baptistery. In 2002, twenty thousand folks walked an aisle at First Baptist Church trusting Christ as Saviour. That number doesn't include the 8,000 to 10,000 saved on special days like our Teenage Soul-Winning marathon. It doesn't include the 29,000 people our teenagers won to Christ on the streets in 2002 or all of the souls won by college kids while visiting on their bus routes on Saturdays. That number doesn't include the folks won to Christ by the Phoster Club or the Fishermen's Club or the Gospel League Home ministry and the homeless ministry and the nursing home ministry and the truck stop ministry and the sailor ministry. That number does not include the 48,000 who professed faith in Christ on one day in multiple services.

First Baptist Church has a great past. We have a past that Charles Spurgeon's Tabernacle once had. We have a past that the First Church of Oberlin, Ohio, had under Charles G. Finney. We have a past that Moody Memorial Church had when D.L. Moody graced her pulpit. Yet, if I know history, I believe First Baptist Church of Hammond has had a greater past than all three of these churches together. Charles Spurgeon baptized 700 in a great year. First Baptist has had days when we baptized 5,300 in one day. What a phenomenal past!"
Pastor Schaap goes on to tell a story about a group that he took to Oberlin College in Ohio and also the First Church of Oberlin where Charles G. Finney once pastored. Pastor Schaap and his group stumbled upon a man who told them that the church used to be packed full with 1,600 in attendance! Pastor Schaap proceeded to ask the IFBx million dollar question--how many you running now--the man answered that on a good day they would have 70! He went on to say that the group of men with him was saddened to hear this and they knelt around a pulpit and put their hands on Charles Finney's Bible and asked God to use them in a mighty way. They asked God to "do it again" and raise up some powerful preachers from among their group.

Later on during that visit, Bob Marshall, a staff member at HAC, slipped away from the group and came running up to them later and told them about his having won a sophomore college student at Oberlin to the LORD. When Bob Marshall had asked the young lad if he knew he was going to heaven, the sophomore student grabbed him and told him that he had asked every student and every professor at Oberlin for the past two years how he could go to heaven and not a single one could help him. He was terrified of going to hell and had been waiting for someone who could tell him how to be saved. I digress.

Later on in the chapter on page 154, Pastor Schaap talks about a trip he and his father took to the Moody Church for a tour:
"There was a rock concert going on with a bunch of teenagers dancing around like animals in frenzy. We left the concert and walked down the halls to an old storage room. We could see through the window a picture of D.L. Moody. A janitor came walking by. I asked him, 'Is that a picture of D.L. Moody in there?' The janitor answered, 'Yes.' I asked him, 'Are you going to do anything with that picture?' He said, 'No. Nobody wants anything to do with that guy.'"
These stories can speak different things to different readers--interesting at least to someone who can clear away the cobwebs of hysteric fundamentalism, but to the loyal fan they are stories and words that will stir up a certain amount of pride and arrogance as numerical statistics and teary-eyed illustrations are hurled about. What Pastor Schaap doesn't tell you is that you can actually find a solid independent fundamental Baptist church where Spurgeon once pastored--contrary to popular belief within the bubble of the cultural fundies.

Pastors Hyles and Schaap consistently forget/forgot to mention that Metropolitan Tabernacle was bombed in 1941 during World War II--in the 1970's attendance did drop--today the church is thriving and making an impact in England! We need to always keep in mind that a good illustration that pulls at the heartstrings trumps the truth more often than not at FBCH. To tell the whole story would destroy the strawman that they have created and the veneer of FBCH as the only mega church that can thrive after a famous pastor leaves. Although I could probably find something to disagree with Moody Memorial Church and her affiliated ministries , is there any doubt that they are still training some very fine Christian servants--missionaries, pastors, and teachers? Are they not still having an impact across America and the world with their radio stations that happen to carry some very good Bible preaching and teaching? The idea that any church that has less noses today than she had at some time in her past history equals the withdrawal of God's blessing is pure folly. The pride and arrogance that emanates from books and sermons where these assumptions are made is disturbing. As far as Oberlin College is concerned I do not have much to say--needless to say the aforementioned illustrations are a bit much for me to swallow. I do not hold Charles G. Finney as a hero or an example of what a pastor or preacher ought to be--these folks may hold him in very high regard--I will pass on this one for now--that is another post for another day.

The focus of all things in Hammond shines through at this juncture just like it always does--numbers, numbers, numbers, and more numbers. Their definition of success in ministry since the 1960's has been that simple--how many YOU got? This mentality was big during the years Pastor Hyles was at the helm, but I believe that this mentality is pushed even more under the current leadership--Pastor Schaap has an admitted infatuation with this thing of "church growth". This philosophy permeates the entire ministry model put forth in Hammond.

Micah 6:8: ESV "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Some questions to ponder:

Is the LORD more pleased with large churches because they are large and less pleased with small churches accordingly?
2. Is it possible for a church to please the LORD and not have record attendance campaigns?
3. Where did this philosophy of ministry begin? When did programs and numbers become the standard by which certain churches measured themselves?
4. Is it possible for a church of 70 to please the LORD and be more God-glorifying than a church of say 1,600 or 18,000?