I've been in some form of ministry for nearly 20 years. I pastored traditional denominational churches, planted 2 non-denominational churches, helped coach several church plants, while being friends with pastors of many denominations from Church of Christ to Baptist to hyper-Charismatic.
So let me say first of all that we all need to give pastors a break. The statistics for pastors crumbling in ministry are mind-blowing. The demands are unreasonable. Many church-goers are less "christian" than atheists. Caring pastors often live with a perpetual broken heart. Most of the time the pay is unreasonable and we struggle to meet basic needs (especially compared to the kind of crap we put up with.)
But the evidence is in, at least in America. I watched an ABC news report that said, over the last 10 years, nearly 7 million had left "the church".
"It's a huge change," says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, who conducted the research.
Historically, the percentage of Americans who said they had no religious affiliation (pollsters refer to this group as the "nones") has been very small -- hovering between 5 percent and 10 percent. However, Putnam says the percentage of "nones" has now skyrocketed to between 30 percent and 40 percent among younger Americans. Putnam calls this a "stunning development." ( Pew Forum on Faith in Public Life.)
What is the general response in the American church? Nothing more than resignation that it's the signs of the times, or pressure to pray harder, fast more, become more relevant (seeker sensitive) and teach more evangelism classes.
A CHRISTIAN REFORMATION
Reformation is happening outside the church gates, fueled by Facebook where discussions can function beyond the limitations of the local church. Add to that the access to tools to study Greek and Hebrew which are available at the click of a mouse in a way unparalleled in its effect since the Gutenberg Press created massive release of Bibles.
As a result of both arm-chair theologians and mature leaders, a shift, a quake really, is happening so fast that church leaders can't keep up. Even those who try, are limited in time to be able to investigate the trends with legitimate open-hearted research.
Not only that, but the local pastor, is usually chained to a denominational set of belief-boundaries that forbid him/her from exploring anything beyond the veil of his movement. It is incredibly risky to think differently. Not only will criticism arise, but a loss of members means an even more unstable financial crisis. Many live in parsonages owned by the church, or are in debt already so that they risk bankruptcy. Of course those who haven't pastored will say, "Just trust God and tell the truth!" But it is usually not quite that simple.
Well-intentioned pastor-reformers are usually burned at the stake of professional ministry.
The problem is that churches are built around a set of beliefs instead of the person of Christ. Once that church or movement or denomination is built around certain fundamentals, it cannot change without major crisis.
Some emerging churches are now learning to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, which has the potential to allow God to change their beliefs as he leads them.
5 CHURCH-QUAKING TRUTHS
So here are 5 church-quaking truths your pastor will most likely never be able to tell you because even IF he/she DID understand and believe them, the cost is usually too high.
While the "grace movement" being pioneered through Joseph Prince has brought conflict and criticism by placing the "finished work of Christ" center stage, the message of inclusion though names like Dr Baxter Kruger (Jesus and the Undoing of Adam), Steve McVey (Beyond An Angry God) and W. Paul Young (The Shack) is creating an earth-quake in Western theology.
At it's core is the simple idea that as the creator, all things are created by and held together through Christ, so much so that as the Son of Man and incarnate Son, whatever happens to Christ affects all creation. So Paul says succinctly, "Christ died for all, therefore all died." The testimony of Paul (and early church fathers) is that all humanity died with Christ on the cross, all were made alive together with Christ, and all were raised and seated with him (Eph. 2). So that one is not believing a potential good news based on our offering God our faith, but rather a proclamation of real news (past tense) of what was utterly finished. In this scenario, we are not believing something to make it true. We believe it because it is true. At the heart of this is that all separation from God has been eliminated (2 Cor. 5:19)!
What pastor in his right mind, would risk the already weak financial support of his congregation to teach that the tithe was an Old Covenant concept not found in the New? This is especially true when the leader has used the threat of a members finances being cursed as leverage. What leverage does one have if there is no tithe? He/She would have to depend on the sheer generosity of the people. (A concept that Paul teaches in Eph 4:28).
A well-known church in our region once had a well-known grace preacher come and teach that God wanted to train people in generosity (potentially more than 10%) not limit them with tithing (10%) as an obligation. Within a short time, the finances tanked in the church and that preacher was never asked back again. The time gap between when we give up the idea of tithing and replace it with the practice of a generous heart may be too wide to support a strained church.
I am thankful for a number of precious people who support our ministry out of their love for us and passion to see this message spread all over the world!
There is a growing chorus of honest theologians and intelligent well-studied Christians who question the concept of hell as a literal place after death where God torments unbelievers with flames for eternity (Eternal Conscious Torment View). With the word "hell" never actually occurring in the Bible, the words Gehenna, the Abyss, Sheol-Hades, Tartarus, and the Lake of Fire are being researched in their history and context. These saints take seriously the Word of God but after measuring the testimony in scripture about the love and goodness of God, and the context of many of the "hell" passages, they are settling on one of three other options:
A, That the "lake of fire" is the fire of divine love that every person will pass through and it will purge them of all unbelief (Christian Universalism attested by many early church fathers);
B, That unbelievers are annihilated which was the position of John Stott, a world-renowned British evangelical theologian, who boldly broke ranks to teach this. John was named by TIME magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People”.
C, That the lake of fire, including either parts or all of the book of Revelation, was a description of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In this case evidence shows that the context and language of that chapter are events that Daniel and Jesus said would happen in the generation of the first century.
4. The Rapture.
While only about 1/3 of pastors today believe in the rapture, the public pressure is so great to conform to a future rapture and tribulation that one is branded worthy of hell for believing anything different. It takes incredible courage for a pastor to stand strong against the rapture doctrine, even in the face of hundreds and hundreds of failed prophecies, and even deaths as a result of fearful end-time teachings. There is an incredibly surging movement that reveals that the "end times" was the past Old Covenant age already fading away in the first century until it ended forever in AD 70.
5. The Judgment.
One of the pillars of Western Christianity is the idea of a future judgment. Verses such as "It is appointed for a man once to die and then the judgment" (Hebrew 9:27), have been used for centuries to motivate people to live a life of good works and avoid sinful actions that would be judged by God on that Day. As a consequence of good behavior, one would be given rewards and a special place in heaven.
But since many Westerners are totally unfamiliar with the history of the NT and are unable to re-imagine Christianity from the perspective of the cross, it is nearly impossible for any pastor to give up this doctrine.
In fact, most today started with the symbolism of Revelation, and re-interpreted the gospel, instead of starting with the gospel to understand Revelation.
Yet, the context of every "judgment" scripture seems to indicate it was an event that was to happen in the first century and was limited to the world of Rome and Israel. For instance, Peter speaking of the end of the old covenant age (AD 70) said, "they will give an account to Him who is READY to judge the living and the dead...But the end of ALL THINGS is at hand...For the TIME has come for THE judgment to begin at the house of God..." (2 Peter 4:5,7,17).
Whatever your view, there is an emerging understanding that will not fit in the modern pulpit. More honest untethered and prayerful research needs to be done in this area.
Of course many who are reading this may have 5 or 10 additional major shifts in Christian thought. Others might be ready to crucify me for tampering with the "faith once for all handed down to the saints" (as if their version among 41,000 other different denominations is the only "true" version.)
Regardless, organized churches cannot handle the shock-waves of the implications of these fresh points of view (which actually have roots in scripture and the history of the church). So don't expect to hear your pastor sharing these on Sunday mornings, or in a Wednesday night Bible study... unless it is to thunder and pound against them.
The real question is, "Are YOU open to following Jesus or just following a denomination?"
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