Thursday, May 03, 2007

Old Timer Religion

Recently I began to re-read a book I read for the first time a couple years ago. The book is “The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever. Mark is Senior Pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and executive director of 9Marks Ministries. I enjoyed the book the first time I read it and benefited greatly from his teaching on church membership and church discipline.

You may be wondering where I am going with this—hold on and I will explain. In my honest opinion, the book as a whole runs counter to most everything pushed in the world of the cultural fundamentalist. This is obviously not an exhaustive list but it is still extremely thought provoking. Just look at the chapter titles alone to see how far many in contemporary Fundamentalism have drifted. Expositional Preaching, Biblical Theology, The Gospel, A Biblical Understanding of Conversion, A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism, A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership, Biblical Church Discipline, A Concern for Discipleship and Growth and Biblical Church Leadership.

What especially caught my eye the other night was a paragraph on page 51 of chapter 1 on the subject of expositional preaching and its transforming power in the sanctification of the believer. Pastor Dever says:

“We need God’s Word to be saved, but we also need it to continually challenge and shape us. His Word not only gives us life; it also gives us direction as it keeps molding and shaping us in the image of the God who is speaking to us.
At the time of the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church had a Latin phrase that became something of a motto: semper idem. It means ‘always the same.’ Well, the Reformed churches, too, had a ‘semper’ motto: ecclesia reformata, simper reformanda secundum verbum Dei. ‘The church reformed, always being reformed according to the Word of God.’ A healthy church is a church that hears the Word of God and continues to hear the Word of God. And such a church is composed of individual Christians who hear the Word of God and continue to hear the Word of God, always being refashioned and reshaped by it, constantly being washed in the Word and sanctified by God’s truth.”

On a recent visit to the region I noticed a billboard that promoted First Baptist of Hammond as an "Unchanging Church for a Changing World". I remember hearing this kind of plug in the past used by churches to describe themselves. No doubt they want to set themselves apart from the seeker sensitive and ever changing churches of our day. In the past I would have never questioned this kind of statement but now when I see this it just hits me differently. You will notice that FBCH has also plastered this statement on the front page of their website.

I realize that to some this will seem petty, but I don't ever want to have the attitude that I have all the answers and a corner on God. Unfortunately this is an attitude that many in Fundamentalism exhibit regularly--especially on topics such as Bible versions, music, church polity, worship styles, matters of separation, etc... We should always want to be in a state of reformation--sensitive to the Spirit and constantly being transformed by the Word of God.

FBCH wants to wear the title "Unchanging Church for a Changing World" like a badge of honor--same old black Book, same old-fashioned preachin', same old tried and true methods and philosophies of ministry, etc... As Jack Schaap has said since taking over the old church downtown, "Same old stuff...just a heap more of it".

This is the kind of Fundamentalism that I want nothing to do with anymore--the kind that is arrogant and vitriolic--the kind that is man-centered and egomaniacal--the kind that is pragmatic, egocentric, and more concerned with empire building than Biblical Christianity.

**I do not wish to imply that Mark Dever has all the answers or that I think that ALL Fundamentalists fit my above description. I am simply reflecting on what I have observed on the fringes of Fundamentalism growing up at FBCH.

PT Barnum