In this era of terrorism, poverty, oppression and a few less-distinct enemies, waves of patriotism occasionally revive the slogan “God Bless America.” Sadly, though, the sentiment long ago became a cliché to which people rarely give serious thought. The phrase is even seen, ironically, on bumper stickers adjacent to other bumper stickers expressing humanistic and atheistic sentiments. One assumes that even those who don’t believe in God want His blessing on our nation.
Anti-God philosophies and worldviews now clearly dominate most of Western society. God has been removed from public discourse; prayer has been virtually banned from the public arena; agnosticism and humanism dominate public policy. So it is remarkable that the slogan “God Bless America” is still in vogue. We have to wonder what most people have in mind when they repeat it.
Originally, “God bless America” was a prayer for divine blessing. In its current form, it sometimes seems nothing more than a patriotic battle cry—usually intoned without much serious reflection. Perhaps it is sometimes recited with the superstitious belief that merely invoking God’s name can garner His blessing. One thing is clear: while Americans universally want God’s favor, as a whole, they do not want God.
Some apparently believe that America enjoys God’s blessing by divine right. After all, God has blessed America throughout history to a remarkable degree. But His blessings are not measured—as most people believe—by material affluence, power, and world dominance. The greatest blessings God has graciously given America have been spiritual blessings—freedom for the gospel to be propagated, sweeping revivals like those of the Great Awakenings, and growth and spiritual prosperity for the church in our nation. The sad truth is that all those blessings were in serious jeopardy long before the terrorist strikes reminded us that our freedom and material prosperity hang by a fragile thread.
Does our nation really desire God’s blessing? Do Americans truly long for the spiritual awakening that would be the necessary condition for true blessing, or would the policy-makers and media moguls in our society be as hostile to such a revival as they are to the threat of terrorism?
And what are the means by which the people of God should seek to have God’s blessing on our nation? Can we help position modern society to receive God’s blessing merely by influencing public policy through politics and protest, or is something more needed to fulfill the conditions under which God will bless our nation? Can external moral reform alone make America fit for God’s blessing, or is something even deeper needed in the lives of most Americans?
To ask such questions is to answer them. Scripture is clear that a wholesale spiritual renewal, brought about through the preaching of the gospel, is the true pathway to divine blessing. What is needed is not merely moral reform but spiritual regeneration. And unless this occurs on a widespread scale that deeply impacts all of society, we will continue to forfeit the true blessings of God for our nation. Merely reciting the slogan “God bless America” will do nothing for us until it becomes a heartfelt prayer for spiritual renewal and regeneration.
The remedy to our nation’s moral and spiritual woes must begin at the house of God. The process starts with personal repentance. If Christians truly want to see God’s blessing on our society, we ought to be models of genuine contrition and humility rather than merely pointing fingers of blame at the evils of secular society.
The church today is in a serious state of spiritual decline. Many churches are apparently more willing to imitate the world’s fashions and opinions than to confront them with biblical truth. Meanwhile, Christians concerned about the moral evils of society often opt for all the wrong remedies—as if the only thing needed to cure the spiritual malaise of our nation were some kind of federal legislation against abortion, sexual promiscuity, pornography, or other forms of corruption.
I am by no means opposed to legislative efforts to outlaw abortion, drug abuse, and similar abominations. But political remedies to our nation’s moral ills are no cure for the underlying spiritual problems. Of all people, Christians ought to know that, and the preponderance of our efforts ought to be focused on proclaiming the truth that can genuinely set people free. In other words, the majority of our energies ought to be invested in preaching the gospel and living the kind of life that gives testimony to the redeeming power of Christ.
Lives, not just laws, need to be transformed before America will be in a position to ask for and expect God’s blessing. The blessings of God cannot be acquired by any legislative process. Law cannot make people righteous. Scripture is clear on this. No one is justified by works of law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). And saving faith is an individual matter; it cannot be imposed by legislative force.
In other words, society as a whole cannot be delivered from moral bankruptcy unless individual lives are transformed by the power of Christ. If that conviction does not frame the priorities of the people of God and drive the activities of the church on earth, we can forget about God’s blessing on our nation.
Most readers of this site will share my angst about biblical illiteracy. I think we sometimes assume, though, that this illiteracy is simply a problem in the broadest sweep of cultural Christianity. It is there, to be sure. That’s why Christian bookstores (or their digital equivalents) don’t sell many books on the meaning of justification in Galatians, but tons of books with diet tips from Ezekiel or channeled messages from heaven. The problem, though, is far bigger than that.
I’ve never really known how to identify the scope of the biblical illiteracy facing us until I read this past weekend a sentence that perfectly articulated what I had noticed, in David Nienhuis’ very helpful new book A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament (Baker). Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.”
He is exactly right.
Biblical interpretation in American evangelicalism tends to be trickle-down, from the entrepreneurial ministry pioneers to everyone else.
Nienhuis locates part of the problem in the way higher criticism has sought to remove the Bible from the terrain of the church to the alleged expertise of those able to discern the “original context” in ways novel to the reading of the church through the ages. But the problem goes beyond this, he notes. The problem is also the way the Bible is used in churches.
“Some of my students attend popular non-denominational churches led by entrepreneurial leaders who claim to be ‘Bible believing’ and strive to offer sermons that are ‘relevant’ for successful Christian living,” he writes. “Unfortunately, in too many cases, this formula results in a preacher appealing to a short text of Scripture, out of context, in order to support a predetermined set of ‘biblical principles’ to guide the congregants’ daily lives. The only Bible these students encounter, sadly, is the version that is carefully distilled according to the theological and ideological concerns that have shaped the spiritual formation of the lead pastor.”
I would say the problem goes far beyond non-denominational churches, or even entrepreneurial churches, as biblical interpretation in American evangelicalism tends to be trickle-down, from the entrepreneurial ministry pioneers to everyone else.
Here’s the end-result according to Nienhuis: “They have the capacity to recall a relevant biblical text in support of a particular doctrinal point, or in opposition to a hot spot in the cultural wars, or in hope of emotional support when times get tough. They approach the Bible as a sort of reference book, a collection of useful God-quotes that can be looked up as one would locate words in a dictionary or an entry in an encyclopedia.”
If the Bible is God’s Word, we must raise up people who don’t merely believe the Bible but also know what it says.
He continues: “What they are not trained to do is to read a biblical book from beginning to end, to trace its narrative arc, to discern its main themes, and to wonder how it shapes our faith lives today.”
This is not a matter of the educated versus the uneducated. The same problem exists among both. I have noticed people who were experts in the grammar of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles who didn’t really get the flow of the old, old story. If the Bible, though, is God’s Word, and it is, we must raise up people who don’t merely believe the Bible but also who know what it says.
The answer is not easy. Part of the problem is what Nienhuis mentions, the modeling of the use of Scripture in some teaching and preaching. Part of the problem is the larger cultural question of whether the distracted, fragmented modern mind any longer has the attention span to read a text (meaning a literary text, as opposed to a text message). And part of the problem is that in order to train people to read their Bibles, the church must be gathered more than just an hour or two a week. To engage with a narrative requires (pardon this metaphor, my paedobaptist friends) not just a sprinkling but an immersion in the text.
Every Christian loves the gospel. By definition, you cannot have a Christian who isn’t shaped by and saved by the gospel.
So three cheers for the gospel. Make that 3 million cheers.
But let’s preach the gospel the way Jesus and the apostles did. Theirs was not a message of unconditional affirmation. They showed no interest in helping people find the hidden and beautiful self deep inside. They did not herald the good news that God likes you just the way you are.
Too much “gospel” preaching sounds like a slightly spiritualized version of that old Christina Aguilera song:
You are beautiful no matter what they say. Words can’t bring you down. You are beautiful in every single way. Yes, words can’t bring you down. So don’t bring me down today.
I don’t doubt that many of us feel beat up and put down. We struggle with shame and self-loathing. We need to know we can be okay, even when we don’t feel okay. It is good news to hear, then, that God loves us in Christ and that we are precious in his sight.
But the gospel is more than positive self-talk, and the gospel Jesus and the apostles preached was more than a warm, “don’t let anybody tell you you’re not special” bear hug.
There’s a word missing from the presentation of our modern gospel. It’s the word repent.
Yeah, I know, that sounds old school, like an embarrassing sidewalk preacher with a sandwich board and cheap tracts with bad graphics and lots of exclamation points. And yet, even a cursory glance at the New Testament demonstrates that we haven’t understood the message of the gospel if we never talk about repentance.
When John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord, he preached repentance (Matt. 3:8, 11), just as Jesus launched his Galilean ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Jesus understood the purpose of his ministry to be calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Just before his ascension, the resurrected Christ implored the disciples to be his witnesses, that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” would be preached in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47). In fact, if there is a one-sentence summary of Jesus’s preaching, Mark gives it at the beginning of his Gospel: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1:14-15).
Notice that pair: repent and believe. The two are virtually synonymous in the New Testament, not that the words mean the same thing, but that they are signs of the same Spirit-prompted work and lead to the same end times inheritance. Strictly speaking, the proper response to the gospel is twofold: repent and believe (Matt. 21:32; Acts 20:21). If only one item in the pair is mentioned—which happens often in the New Testament—we should realize that the other half is assumed. You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.
You can’t really believe without also repenting, and you haven’t really repented if you don’t also believe.
The gospel message is sometimes presented as a straightforward summons to repent (Acts 3:18-19). Other times, forgiveness is linked to a singular act of repentance (Acts 5:31; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10). The message of the apostolic good news is that God will be merciful when we repent and that repentance leads to life (Acts 11:18). Simply put: repent, that your sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19).
If the call to repentance is a necessary part of faithful gospel preaching, then maybe we don’t have as much of it as we think. The summons to turn from sin, die to self, and turn to Christ is missing from prosperity preachers, from preachers in step with the sexual revolution, and from not a few gospel-centered preachers, too. It’s certainly missing from most of our worship services that long ago did away with a deliberate confession of sin.
To be sure, we aren’t called to beat people up Sunday after Sunday. Many folks stumble into church in desperate need of the Balm of Gilead. I get that. I think anyone who listens to several weeks of my sermons will hear that I’m not a finger-wagging scolder. And yet, if I never call people, with God’s authority, “to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 89), then I’m not doing the work a gospel preacher should do.
The unpopular fact remains that the ungrateful and impenitent will not be saved (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:1-20; 1 John 3:14). The New Testament has nothing to say about building the kingdom, but it does have everything to say about how we can enter into the kingdom. The coming of the King is only good news for those who turn from sin and turn to God.
If we want to give people a message that saves, instead of one that only soothes, we must preach more like Jesus and less like our pop stars.
Before we get started, I would like to let you know this article has been something I was hesitant about for some time. Struggling with the concept of coming off as being unloving, judgmental and all the other accusations which will come to your mind as you read. The purpose of this article is not as some sort of spiritual attack on the individuals or ministries mentioned but as a concern for the Christian faith. The Christian is called to love (agape) others in the same manner that God loves His creation. But not at the expense of ignoring or twisting the biblical truth. To the Christian, the Lord's word must be first on our hearts.
This article is not just for Van Wert, but for the entire Christian faith all together.
Now before we get into accusing this guy here of being unloving, inconsiderate, danger to the Christian faith etc, keep in mind that I have been in a number of churches as well that have had a very solid doctrine. Churches in which the Lord does actively work in. A Baptist church in Fort Wayne IN, Apostolic in Paulding OH. And even a church in Chicago that has recently went viral when the pastor played a social experiment on his congregation by dressing up as a homeless man outside of the church doors. Even today, I am "attending" out of state by listening to their sermons online.
I was speaking to my girlfriend this evening on a certain issue, and God spoke through her saying
“I was thinking that your area is lacking in true biblical teaching”.
This really hit me hard, both in concern for my own town, the churches and more specifically the people involved with these churches, and a command from God, this one though was something I have been running from for a while. Please keep in mind, this is not an article of personal opinion, if that were the case, my opinion is not to speak but hope God would find other means. But just as He did with Moses when he tried coming up with excuses, the Father gave Moses all the necessary resources for him to accomplish what was asked of him. This article is something heavy on my heart that desperately needs to be addressed.
As Christians, we must be willing to call out a biblical error. But we must do so in a loving manner a love for the Lord's word, and a love for the believer/followers so that may consider the error and act accordingly, Now that's not to say we must call out the error on every Christian who makes a mistake. In fact, if we did then there would be no church today. In human nature, we screw up. But in regards to godly ministry, it is very important that we do our best to represent the God of scriptures in the proper lighting.
With all that being said, in my own experiences, I have noticed a few concerns. A few churches which appear to be in desperate need for a Reformation, or perhaps maybe stumbling away from “Their first Love” as Jesus put it in Revelation 2:4 and are at risk of leading into false doctrine and need to be warned. More specifically, churches within the country or perhaps further.
Below is a short list of some concerns I have noticed within the churches in the surrounding area, this is not an exhaustive list, of ministries or even the issues within the walls. I have tried to provide the concerns to the best of my ability, as well as the thoughts on why it is an issue. For further details please read each section in complete.
Trinity United Methodist
This was the first church I was able to call home. The church in which I had family. But as I began to grow further in the faith, I also felt the lack of spiritual movement within the church. Yes there was fun entertainment, yes there was the occasional potluck among other things. But during my time there I noticed something. Worship for the Lord was based on an emotional response within the music. There was a lack of Zeal for the word of God, and a lack of properly teaching the people (adults and children) the Word. Most importantly, there was a lack of people, over the years the numbers appeared to get smaller. This last portion is not inherently bad, Jesus did go from a couple thousand to only 12 followers. But it can still be a sign of the lack of spiritual movement.
After being away for about 2 years, I heard they had a new pastor as well as a new youth pastor. Now I have to give them the benefit of the doubt, to this point, I have not listened to one of the Senior Pastors sermons. But as I looked over their website, I noticed they have a female as their Associate Pastor. I know, what your thinking, that shouldn't be a big deal right? I totally agree with you, in fact I was speaking to a gentleman the other day on this very issue. He attends this church and is an active participant and has agreed with me on this issue.) but my/our own opinion doesn't matter. What is important is God's word, and He was the one who designed pastoral leadership within the church to be for men only.
This may seem like something subtle that doesn't need to be brought into the light, but the reality is that it should be addressed. Now I personally don't have an issue with women preaching. But when we begin to undermine what God has already said, especially since this was stated in New Testament, and say that certain things do not matter (this is true, unless stated otherwise in NT). We will ultimately end up with a faith that is far from the Christian faith the Lord has laid out before us. Down the road, we can get to a point from saying "This doesnt matter, as long as you follow Jesus" (which by the way is a bit of an unbiblical cliche, more on this in a future article) to a time where we are all saying "The bible doesn't matter, as long as you believe there is a God somewhere."
I am not arguing that women should not be or cannot be ministers of the word. In fact, i stronger encourage it. My only argument is that biblically speaking, women are not permitted (by God) to be in a pastoral leadership position within the church.
This was an interesting experience, some time ago I left a review on their Facebook Page, this review actually took me well over a year before I felt moved to publish my thoughts. Here is the review, after which further insight...
“This has taken a great deal of time in deciding to provide this review on Lifehouse or not. I am quite honestly deeply concerned with how Lifehouse ministry presents themselves.
Some time ago I decided to visit Lifehouse and was there for a good month, getting a feel for the sermons if you wish. All seemed well but I had trouble sensing the Spirit working, i didn't think anything of it until the sermon closed with Andy Stanley video... "Wait a minute, this sermon I am hearing was piggybacked from another evangelist?"
I immediately left for another church, which at the time appeared to be on fire for the Lord. The biggest turn off in a sermon is one that's essentially an echo. As John Piper said, "It is unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word." Another... "A preacher must understand the Scriptures specifically in relation to the needs of his own flock." This last quote is very important. It is very difficult, if not impossible for a minister to tend to the needs of the flock, and providing the food that they need when he is taking food from another person table.
I had hoped for so long that it was just a fluke, and for some time I have monitored the sermon series you guys share on your website... All of which appear to be the teachings of Andy Stanley, not the appointed pastor you have.
On top of this, another great concern is the means of "advertising" the ministry. As I scroll through promotional videos you have posted, as well as a couple a friend has shared, I have not found a single promotional video that gives any hint to the scriptures, Nor do I see anything related on your Facebook page. It seems to me, as an outsider looking in, if i was new to the Christian faith and looking for a solid doctrine church. Basing judgment on if I should step foot inside the door or not from what sort of inspirational, or educational scripture I find online, there is none. Sad to say but i would have to keep on moving by.
Though the plus side is, if all I wanted was a place that promoted how awesome their worship service is, with such great songs, and fun events for the kids, then this would be the place to be. As Charles Spurgeon once said, "If you have to give a carnival to get people to come back to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back."
What is more important, feeding the flock the food they need that comes from their table instead of another's platter, or the carnival entertainment to appeal to the eye of the people?
While there is potential in every ministry for the Lord, this potential only becomes reality when we focus on presenting the Word before we present the entertainment.”
Since the publishing of this review, Lifehouse has chosen to remove the option for people to leave a review (With Facebook, admins cannot delete the reviews, its an all or nothing deal.) There appears to be no change within the ministry, and the only thing you will continue to see online is the promotion of their worship music.
Living Truth Ministries
This one in particular I don't want to be too hard on. This was a church I once called a family. In fact, there was a number of things I have learned from being a part of this ministry. If anything they opened me up to further understanding of the scriptures or at least helped me begin this journey. It was because of my time here (positive experience) that I began my studies in theology and am now going for my Associates in Divinity.
April 2018 I shared something on social media which raised some questions from the “Elders” of this ministry and concluded with the Pastor (Anthony Perry) presenting a sermon that was contradicting to what my own claim was. This lead me in a spiral, for a couple weeks, I felt torn apart, one of my biggest fears is presenting the Word of God inaccurately, which is exactly what I thought I was at. So I began to dig into studies, trying to find some sort of solid biblical evidence to prove I was wrong on this issue but found nothing.
Study Sources: John MacArthur, GTY.org, Chris Braun, Bible.org, Got Questions, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, and a few others
I came to the conclusion that the church was in error on their understanding and my original plan was to walk away from the church. But once God spoke to me in a number of ways, I had no choice but to confront the issue. After the event, that same day signs were blowing up everywhere, in my reading, social media, I was seeing another pastors articles/videos online which I have never seen before. And to this day I still have no idea who this pastor I saw was.
Tuesday came around and I messaged the Pastor (Anthony Perry) on messenger to inform him how sorry I was that things turned out how they did, this leads me to offer to draw up a list of concerns (no payment desired) for the board to take under consideration.
For some reason this lead to the same pastor blocking me online, I was also blocked from interacting on their social media page, To make matters worse, this same pastor chose to explain what happened that previous Sunday online what happened, sort of...
Without dissecting his post too much, my concern was that he not only provided some misleading information but also lied about what I said to him by informing the congregation that I demanded to be paid to "fix" the church, as well as the demand for leadership position (there was an interest, but classes were something I was willing and attempted to take). There was no such claim. After trying to contact him through 3rd parties on multiple occasions he refused to talk at all.
My concern about this is the idea that this pastor had to concoct a lie to his congregation in order to keep things in check for whatever reason, as well as leaving the option available to resolve the issue, all the while blocking and refusing to discuss it with me.
Why is this an issue?
I would like to remind you all, this specific ministry had a good impact on my faith, and I had people I could at one point call my family. But the concern that a pastor would lie to his congregation about specific things said is very concerning to me, among other things.
Should a pastor lie? Why would a pastor need to formulate a lie? This action to actively do concerns me not just because he is a man in a pastoral position, the question we could ask is why does anyone need to lie? The only reason we do lie is to justify our self, protect our image, or keep us from getting into trouble. So in human nature, we act to put that barrier of protection. But as a minister of the flock, it is the duty to honestly lead the sheep, be open to the truth no matter how hard it is. This shows the righteous character of a person, who they truly are and the strong desire to honestly follow the Lord's guidance no matter how faulted we are.
Moses for example, he didn't want to lead. David was guilty of adultery and murder. Peter denied Jesus at His trial. Yet all of these men are considered great men within the Christian faith. Why? Because while they may not have told everybody of their failures. They still mentioned them. And because of that, today we can see the righteousness of them in the Word of God.
This one I have chosen to leave anonymous because my experience was limited and not yet complete.
A week or 2 ago I chose to look into another local church to see how things ran, are they sound in their doctrine and in the faith?
Unfortunately, on this week they had a guest speaker delivering the message, my concern on this was that the gentleman chose to replace the name of Zerubbabel with "Z-man". Most likely because of the complexity of the name. This I can understand, but at the same time is can be a dangerous thing to do. and here is why...
There are over 60 men in the scriptures that have their name start with a Z. So by calling Zerubbabel Z-man, while the speaker and the immediate audience may know who he is talking about. If this continued, it could perhaps become a habit and down the line, people would refer to any other prophet, priest, king or any others as Z man, this would leave some very heavy confusion about what is going on in scripture.
Could you imagine calling Jesus "J-Dog"? Don't even get me started on how many men with J type names there are, I lost count even before i began counting.
Needless to say, that was a poor first experience, though I do plan on going back in hopes to hear their pastor preach.
In the past 8-9 months from the time this article is published, I have spent a great deal in the study of the Christian faith, and doing what I can to live it out. I have been studying under a theologian named John MacArthur and would consider him as a mentor through his sermons, teachings, and books. I am currently pursuing a theological degree and by this time next year hope to have my associates in Divinity and hope to put that to use in a full-time career serving the Lord.
I'm sure there will be those who may disagree with this article, and I do know a few who may scrub it as some sort of attack against the faith. But as I have said, that is by no means the intention. Rather see the church (as a whole) come back into right relationship with God the Father. And be unified under one doctrine of faith.
This article is the first of many that need to be addressed within the Church today. If you have found the work of this ministry moving, please join us as we continue this journey through a new reformation.