Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Necessary Fight Against Church Light

If there is anything worse than dogmatic, authoritarian churches where members are told what to believe and punished for questioning leaders, it is vapid churches where members are given nothing to believe and participate for the sake of being hip and cool. Whereas the former churches ultimately fail because the Information Age launches church members into the stratosphere of interaction with scholars who give cogent arguments for opposing views and then leads them to eventually revolt against insecure authoritarians who blanche in the face of disagreement, the latter churches ultimately fail because members are never taught to value truth in the first place and shrug their shoulders and say, "What's the big deal?" Istoria Ministries has written extensively against authoritarian church leaders who squelch disagreement, but little has been said about theologically uninspiring leaders who are unable to teach people God's word.

No more. There is a rising sense within me that church light is more dangerous than church might. Those crushed by the abuse of church leaders who see themselves as God's vicars on earth are in need of our mercy and support, but those who are enmeshed in church light are also in need of an awakening. The former abuse is overt and painful; the latter abuse is subtle and sweet. In the end, the effects on church members are the same.

God's people ought to be able to articulate the reasons for the hope within them. The ability of church members to articulate the essential differences between egalitarianism and complementarianism, the different world views of dispensational premillennialists over and against partial preterists, the reasons why some believe the Old Covenant laws of Israel are abolished versus some who believe all laws in the covenants--both Old and New--remain in effect forever, as well as members being able to articulate for themselves other theological differences, should be not just the dream of pastors, it should be our goal.

For example, there's no way for Christians to explain the basis for believing the dietary laws of Israel are abolished unless those same Christians read and learn the books of Leviticus and Hebrews and then see how Scripture specifically teaches the person and work of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed in the dietary laws--every jot and tittle of them--and that Christ through His life, death and resurrection for sinners has made these Old Covenant law "obsolete" and causes them to "disappear" (Hebrews 8:13). In addition, until Christians know the book of Daniel, they will never be able to explain how the prophet Daniel was given a vision foretelling the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom, which would crush every earthly kingdom (Daniel 2:44) including Israel's, but that he was to seal up the "scroll of his book" because the time was 'far away' (Daniel 12:4). Unless people read Revelation for themselves and see that John's scroll was "not to be sealed because the time is near" (Revelation 22:10), they might never realize that Daniel's prophecy was fulfilled when Christ rose from the dead to inaugurate His eternal kingdom and then He waited forty years to utterly destroy Jerusalem and the Old Covenant kingdom of His people (the Jews) in righteous judgment. Of course, the dispensational premillenialist would say that the kingdom of God has not YET been inaugurated, and unless Christians learn to understand the differences in eschatology, they will never be able to articulate why they believe what they believe about the future. Christians enmeshed in church light will never know the differences,  much less what they believe, and struggle with understanding why they should care.

The goal of every pastor is not that every Christian in the church believe the same thing on tertiary issues of Scripture, but that every Christian in the church knows the arguments of both sides of an issue and is able to articulate why he or she believes what is believed!  Peter writes,
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).
It seems Peter is saying one's confidence in the Lord is strengthened when one is able to articulate the reason for the hope that is within. To be able to articulate your beliefs as a Christian in areas of marriage, eschatology, church governance, New Covenant and Old Covenant theology, the person and work of Christ, and hundreds of other important issues from Scripture is the sign that you are maturing and growing in your faith relationship with God.

I would rather have a church member who is a complementarian, dispensational, Old Covenant Presbyterian, believer in male authority and is able to articulate what he believes from his interpretation of the Scripture (though I strongly disagree with him), than I would a member who cares nothing for the truth of Scripture and revels in church light and vapid preachers who "coach" instead of biblically literate preachers who teach the Bible.

There is an official organization called Church Lite. It is composed of atheists, agnostics, and all those who deny the existence of God. Their statement of faith:
"We remove all of the guilt over offending imaginary beings and of enjoying life ( "bad guilt" ) while retaining most of the guilt over harming others ( "good guilt" ) and some guilt over privilege (in the form of concern over the plight of the less fortunate) (not present in all competing churches)."
Sadly,  evangelical church lights share similarities with atheistic church lites. Both have lost sight of the person and work of Jesus Christ in removing guilt by Himself.


Anonymous said...

Wow. You really hit home for me with this post. You have given me a name by which to call our former church home. Church Lite. And yes it is just as dangerous as the authoritarian church as I have been in both. In some ways, the wounds are even deeper with this church lite. We knew we were to leave when a church member at a town meeting on an issue facing the church said that she did not want her pastor preaching on or telling her what is a sin. Isn't the job of the church to teach about sin so that we can repent and experience forgiveness and the beauty of grace? How can we know false doctrines if we don't know what the Bible says?

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for the illustrative narrative.

Anonymous said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Agree totally with you that church lite is every bit if not more dangerous than church might.

With an authoritarian church, I can evaluate what is taught, and attend or not attend. With church lite, you never know what is taught.

But even worse, with church lite all who hold strongly to any belief or opinion are ridiculed as bigoted and intolerant.

Dang right I'm intolerant. My overall theology is generally reformed without being hyper anything. With D L Moody (I think) I can sum it up as ruined by the fall, redeemed by the blood, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Even that, implying humans sin, is too much for some wimpy churches and wimpy preachers.

Again, thank you for this post and keep encouraging everyone, clergy and laity alike, to be much in the Scriptures so we know truth from falsehood.


Tom said...

Hi Wade

At a church I attended, the pastor, asked the congregation what they thought was necessary for the church body scripturally and I suggested that Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61:1-4 and Matthew 25:31-46 would be a good basis for the church to start. The pastor responded with the comment that he did not see that these passages were related.

Sadly this church has died but people are still attempting to keep it alive by changing the pastor, the name and those who attend without changing the core values of its reason to exist.

Was the theology of the original pastor completely kosher? Did he do any good in the work that he did? Was his example as a leader above board? I am not sure that any pastor can honestly answer these questions in the affirmative whatever their theology, good works or example is.

It is so easy to find fault with others and what they are doing that we forget that we, “the church,” are to be like salt or light or like a spring providing the living water that flows freely out of heaven so that it brings healing to the land wherever we unpack our bags and hang up our clothes.

So often we want to be the puppeteer {to act God Like} and pull the strings of God so that our desired outcomes come into being, but God does not want us to be puppets that only does what the puppeteer commands when he pulls the strings; he wants us to be able to freely respond to His love and to become the very person that he fully intended us to be from the very beginning. He wants us to be identified as the sheep of this world and not as the “goats” who also acknowledge Christ as their “lord” but who approach their relationship with Christ from a Hellenistic perspective and do not see the needs around them that their hearts should be drawn to help and lift the heavy burdens off of.

Does the form of our theological understanding or structure really matter? Not really because as it states in Isaiah 58, if we stop pointing the finger, i.e. finding fault in others, then he will heal us as we make a real difference in the things that God cries over in His heart within this world. We need to become more like Christ so that we disappear from the view of the people around us and only He is seen.


Jay Ross

Unknown said...

Great post. I've enjoyed your comments on the authoritarian extreme, but this end of the spectrum is just as dangerous. The attempt to be "relevant" and "non-offensive" within seeker driven circles often leads to the church-lite phenomenon you describe. I see it a lot in the suburbs of Atlanta. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I find your article challenges and stretches the mind, widens the horizons, and certainly lifts our faith and trust in Christ Jesus. Due to the internet revolution-- a much greater influence than Gutenberg's printing press--ideas can spread universally so rapidly these days.

To Jay Ross : I compliment his former pastor on seeking the input of the congregation. At our small chapel we are currently busy distributing the original Foundation Deed of 1823.

It is stated there that the work was established for the purpose of:
1. Worshiping Almighty God.
2. Expounding the doctrines of God's holy Word.
3. Preaching salvation through Jesus Christ to perishing sinners.
4. Attending to the practical needs and effects on all the congregation.

Although the doctrinal statement is brief , and the religious ethos is described only as being according to Protestant and Baptist principles, history shows that the church flourished when the members were doctrinally literate.

Theirs was a diet of 'strong meat', which would confirm the sentiment of your article.


Tom said...


While I agree with you that a pastor of a congregation should seek input from the congregation, I provided little information on the character of the pastor. The fact that I also stated that the church began dying under this pastor’s watch and leadership should have indicated to you that there were other issues brewing under the surface that led to this pastor choosing to leave before “his” church finally grasped its last dying breath.

Hyper Grace was his primary doctrinal position, as was his need to control/manage every activity and function of the church. If he could not control a person he would effectively sideline that person. He regularly appointed “elders” but refused to submit to them because of his adoption of the “apostolic leadership model” for church governance.

People began to “abandon his church” because they saw that its season was drawing to a close as it characteristics subtly changed from God centred to Self centred over time. Sometimes it is the things not said that speaks the loudest about what is happening/has happened over time.


Tom Ross

Anonymous said...

My family and I escaped a church like this. It is sad how few people can see it. It is sad how long it took us to see it. I just wish that there were more voices out there proclaiming this message. There is so much more to the faith than practical living!