Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fervor without truth, religion without biblical faith: the broken church

Recently I listened to a couple of videos by Jud Hendrix, Pastor of Covenant Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The videos were recorded more than a year ago; they are about evangelism, beginning with the video “Evangelism The Teresa, Rilke, Rumi Way.” Today I read John Vest’s blog posting The New Frontier of Evangelism.

Both pastors speaking about evangelism are trying hard to focus on the fervor of the early church without adhering to the apostolic teaching of the New Testament. The atoning work of Jesus Christ, the heart of the gospel, is missing.

Listening and reading I am convinced of three realities. 1., The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is so very badly broken that the Church of Jesus must be formed anew within her. 2., The progressives, in the midst of this denomination, are both gaining power and yet are becoming so heretical that they will splinter into factions and fail to sustain their own coherence. Without renewal and revival the denomination will continue proliferating false teaching. 3., Jesus Christ weeps over this denomination and calls his people to a ministry of biblical urgency.

Hendrix’s theological views can be equated with Gnosticism, New Age and an Eastern worldview. I wrote about his views several years ago in a posting entitled “Something mystical this way comes: A new syncretism in the Presbyterian Church USA.”I wrote in that posting that:

Hendrix refers to Jesus’ baptism as the time when he realizes he is God. Hendrix states, “A person wakes up, Jesus a human person … wakes up to the reality that all is sacred, that he is God … He some how becomes the channel for truth and grace… somehow with this new moment there is a new potential for the human experience.” This leads to the view that “There is new opportunity for all of history for us to wake up and realize who we are … we are god present in time and space.”
In the later video on evangelism, Hendrix states, “Luke is the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life, then there is this transition [Acts] where Jesus is taken into the life of God and comes back as a community.” He goes on to lay out a peculiar type of evangelism that need not proclaim what the early Church proclaimed.

Using Acts, chapter 2:43-47, and referring to the Holy Spirit as this Christ energy, this spirit of God, this energy or consciousness Hendrix, among other things states, “there’s some ways the [early] Church bubbled over that we might be concerned about.”

Hendrix wants his congregation to be aware that “the spirit is always bubbling over in new ways, that the spirit finds a way in every context in every place in the world, it takes on new energy, new forms, new structures according to where it is and how it bubbles over.” He speaks of the hope of the Incarnation which “is that God always needs flesh and that flesh always looks different because each context each moment is unique.”

Like Hendrix, Vest, a member of the PC (USA) Middle Governing Bodies Commission, rejects the traditional word of God. For Vest, the message of evangelism must change. He believes that, “In order to buy into the conservative Christian narrative of salvation you must first accept a complicated … mytho-theological metanarrative that is based on a bunch of assumptions no longer native to our contemporary American culture.” He goes on to state , “By contrast, there are lots of other people that look at this metanarrative—with its ancient understandings of heaven, hell, judgment, and atonement—and find it completely unintelligible and irrelevant.”

Vest suggests that progressives need to focus on re-imagining the gospel. He sees examples of this in the theologies of Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong. But Vest is different in not lifting up a radical Gnostic, new age view of Jesus. Hendrix suggests a new age kind of transformation. The Christ energy bubbles up and brings about a change in community. Jesus was the potential Christ, the community is also. Vest is not so clear, but like the nineteenth century liberal theologians, he seems to see Jesus offering a way rather than being the way. He writes:

If we truly believe that the way of Jesus has something to offer our world—indeed, if we believe that the way of Jesus is the salvation of the world—we need to follow the Spirit into new ways of being, thinking, and practicing Christianity. This is the new frontier of evangelism.
As heretical movements spread, but diversify in the denomination, they will affect others in various ways. As I left a presbytery meeting early this last year, after asking a candidate if it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, another candidate who had been voted in despite his poor statement of faith, grabbed me by the arm, demanding I answer my own question. And of course he wanted to argue with my answer. Heretical teaching does something more than create diversity, it creates angry souls misunderstanding the loving grace of God.

It is possible for the Lord of the Church to work through his followers to counter the deepening apostasy. But that will mean something different. It will mean, not politics as usual, although working in presbyteries must not stop. It will mean times of saying no we will not be a part of that outreach it is not centered in the true mission of Jesus Christ. It might mean saying I will not take communion here because the word you have preached is contrary to the word of God. It will certainly mean praying for and proclaiming the gospel to the lost in the denomination.

There is another possibility, which is not a seventeenth synod and doesn’t need a vote. I have written about this in other postings under a main title, “A Church within a church.” From my first posting on that subject I write of the call for free synods in Germany before the writing of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. In the posting I quote Arthur Cochrane:
There remained for Christ’s flock the one thing possible—the one thing the Church can do when all other possibilities have been exhausted, namely, a common Confession of Christ in the face of a heresy that threatens the life of the Church as the true bride of Christ. Thus in the early months of 1934, a new movement appeared on the scene, in which the laity played as important a part as the clergy. A.S.
has called this the ‘synodical movement, because it took the form of local synods of clergy and laity who expressed their mind on the dangers that threatened the Church.’
There are several calls for conferences, there are prayers and papers. There should be meetings in every presbytery, or perhaps two or three presbyteries together, of the orthodox that would come together as Pastors and Elders to worship, pray and confess Christ. And also to express “their mind on the dangers” that threaten the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There ought to be an attitude such as the Biblical Presbyterian Network calls for:
In his sovereignty and for his good purpose, God has placed our ministries within the PC(USA), a denomination which is our context for ministry whether or not it continues down a path of departure from the faith once held. And yet, even as our denomination fails, stumbles and so often impedes the work of God’s Spirit, we acknowledge that this reality does not change our calling to be faithful and hopeful where we are. Our denomination’s chosen path need not impede our connection to one another or our calling to work for reformation. Instead, this situation calls us to greater activity in Christian living, teaching and preaching in fidelity to the gospel.
I believe all of this must grow up out of a deep love for Jesus and for one another among those who are reformed, orthodox and evangelical.


Pastor Bob said...

It is curious, isn't it, that so many of us joined the Confessing Church Movement a decade ago. I suspect we thought that the time to confess had come. But if that was true we failed to do anything about it. Maybe the time is now? And if so how will we know?

I refer to Barth's (and Cochrane's) idea that German Church in the late 1920s was not yet ready to confess. This if I remember correctly was partly because the heresy in the Church was not yet clear but also that the Church itself was not prepared to do the confessing. The Spirit had to move.

I suspect I need to re read Cochrane. If anything I am sure of this: denial of the personal Trinity, the authority of Scripture and the proclamation of Jesus as the one Lord and the one Savior (including the cross as part of the means of salvation included in the incarnation) call for a time of confession by the true Church.

Viola Larson said...

Yes, Bob I am beginning to believe it is time. And yes there was a time when Barth thought the church was not ready. But Cochrane makes a point of writing that it is Christ who sets that time.

Doug Hagler said...

"angry souls misunderstanding the loving grace of God."

As always, perception matters. This is very much what I experience in many who talk about orthodoxy and renewal...and who are frequently comparing those who disagree with them to demonic forces. But this is review.

Perhaps confession is the best path - one would assume that, given enough time, the truth would win out, yes? Or, if you will, the Spirit will move. Sounds like a plan - let the best confession win! :)

1. I agree, but from the opposite side, and I think that this new formation is beginning to happen, has been happening for some time now. Of course, what I see as the Church of Jesus is often what you would call "false teaching" - but we knew that.

As for number 2, I suppose that is partially right, where what you call "false teaching" I would for the most part of course simply call "teaching". It will indeed continue to proliferate, and progressives do not value the 'coherence', if you could call it that, of the evangelical set, so presumably we won't achieve it. When one worldview calls another worldview incoherent, what's to be done? Perhaps some parts only make sense from the inside. Your worldview appears, to me, internally consistent, but not 'coherent' with what I value in Christianity.

3. I agree, but we both read the Bible selectively (as does every person and group), and I select different things in a number of cases. Again, as we know.

As usual - I agree with some of the statements, but swap out the underpinning assumptions.

Viola Larson said...

One confesses Christ-what is to win?

We did know that: )

As usual.

Thank you for offering your opinion I always appreciate it.