Neo-independent Baptists 4
Note: Today's post is Part Four in a series addressing the neo-independent Baptist movement. Parts One through Three can be found posted on this blog over the last three weeks. Today's post is by Chris Birkholz, 34, a 2005 graduate of Pensacola Christian College. He runs an orphanage and plants churches in Honduras.
I love the kind tone taken in this series and I believe it is a discussion that needs to be heard. Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
I am friends with many that would follow the philosophy of Josh Teis and I have some great supporting churches that are similar in philosophy. I think one of the blessings of a public format is that we as fellow servants of Christ can help each other and can provide a level of accountability. We are on the same team and serving the same God and will share the same heaven! May God use this to strengthen us and help us as we ALL serve HIM!
What It Offers That We Do Not Need:
It Offers Cultural Relevance
We cheapen the power of the Gospel when we place more emphasis on our catchy salesmanship, slick marketing, hipster coolness, and cultural relevance than we do on simply preaching and proclaiming the Word of God. The dichotomy of the Gospel is that it surrounds but also ignores the culture in which it resides. The Gospel stands alone. It does not need to be adapted, marketed, or sold. It simply needs to be preached. It simply needs to be lived.
I feel for my generation. There is a pressure to be modern, a push to be more sensitive to the culture, and, yes, an insistence on lower standards. We are often fed the idea that if we would just be a little more cool, a little more hipster, and a little more progressive in our thinking that would open wide the door for influence. This is a big temptation. My generation of millennials are hungry to have an impact for Christ and are often ready to jump into new ideas quickly.
I would suggest that the power to influence has little to do with cultural relativity and instead has everything to do with clearly presenting the Word of God. I think many would be surprised to see how many churches are not looking to change their “church” culture and are still having a tremendous impact on their communities.
One of the privileges I have had in my life is deputation. I loved it. It is an incredible thing for many reasons. One of the benefits for me was that I was able to observe well over 100 different independent Baptist churches. We are blessed to have supporting churches that have all sorts of different “cultures.” Sometimes we think that if we do not adapt to be more “culturally relative” we will not grow. Allow me to give an illustration.
I remember one night we were going to drop into a church to which we had been invited. I knew very little about it except that it was Baptist. There was no web page, no Facebook page, and very little signage to find the building. I was starting to get grumpy. In my mind I was thinking, “If this church cared about people they would do a better job at getting their name out there.” I was forming in my mind what I would see when we finally did arrive. In my mind it would be a poorly maintained building full of older people hanging on to their antiquated ways. I just knew that it would be unimpressive.
After driving through country roads and asking for directions twice, which I abhor, we pulled up to the church’s brand new building. We walked in as they were already singing. The auditorium was full with more than 200 people. They had the youth choir singing. The pastor preached, God moved, and people responded. There was no doubt in my mind that God was in this place.
Why had I been so wrong in my presumptions about this church? I directly related this
church’s ability to reach people to their ability to play the cultural game. This church had ignored those rules. God showed me that while this church did not have much cultural relativity and did not seem to be trying to “sell” their brand, they had something more powerful. They had the Bible, the preaching of the Gospel, and the testimony of transformed lives. People going out to proclaim Christ and inviting others to experience the power of the Gospel for themselves was what caused that church to grow. They had the Word of God and it was all they needed.
Over the two years we were on deputation and since arriving here on the mission field, I have learned that it is not the flashy marketing but rather the Gospel that works. Here is a fact that I have learned and that is observed by those who choose to see it: God blesses the Gospel going out not because of its flavor, style or culture. The Gospel does not need your culture. Stop preaching cultural relativity and preach the Gospel. If you are so small to think that God only works in churches with your “culture” you have a small view of God.
We do not have to copy a style to see God’s power. We need to learn to have a closer walk with God more than we will ever need to walk more closely with culture. I am frustrated every time I see a church mimic every trend that comes en vogue. The power will never be in your program, but rather in the preaching of the cross.
I like sales. I can sell ideas and concepts with the best of them. I love to convince people to think a certain way or to buy into a certain concept. Unfortunately, some have cheapened the Gospel and relied more on sales techniques and presentation styles than with the power of the Gospel itself. Some have traded the power of the Gospel for the “art of the deal” and have bought into the idea that if we market the Gospel with great programs and new ideas it will somehow become more powerful. The power does not lie in a tricky presentation. It lies in the thing being presented.
Every time we try to emulate the culture to reach the culture we are forgetting the power of the Gospel. The Gospel ALONE is what is necessary to reach the world. When we overemphasize the culture we de-emphasize the Gospel and the power it possesses.
Allow me to share two Biblical thoughts.
First, the Word of God timeless. Psalm 119:90 reminds us that, God’s “faithfulness is unto all generations:” and 1 Peter 1:25 reminds us that, “the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
God’s Word has been what has made the difference in every generation and in every culture. In every period of history, every culture, and every place the timeless word of God has been able to pierce the darkness. Some have said the truth is never out of style. If someone diligently proclaiming the written Word has witnessed the transformation of the Holy Ghost in every previous generation, then friend, let me assure you that this timeless book will work in our generation without us trying to make it hipster and cool.
Secondly, the Word of God is powerful.
Hebrews 4:12 reminds us “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
When I think of the power of the Bible I think about the power of the sun. It shines every day here in Honduras as well as in Las Vegas and Alaska. Everywhere. It looks the same. It has not changed in thousands of years. The sun brings life in every city, every country, and every small town. It does not need to be advertised and it does not need to be modernized. Everywhere it goes it brings life. This is the power of the sun in every place and to every generation.
Likewise the preaching of the cross, the Gospel, the Words of a Holy God bring light to a dark world. They set the captive free. They heal, help, and hold the hurting. Just stand in the sunlight. The sun does not adapt; it pierces.
The Word of God is more powerful than any cultural adaptation or marketing campaign.
I minister here in Honduras. Most national pastors have no access to computers, internet, printing services or anything modern. You know what they do have? The Bible. A godly man and his Bible have more power and ability than every tech guy in all of the states combined. Why? It is not because of the different culture. It is because of the power of the Gospel. When the Gospel is preached clearly and passionately it changes lives. Cultural relevance is not the hero; the Word of God is. The Word of God IS powerful. It blows cultural relevance out of the water.
In an effort to be effective some have placed such a huge emphasis on being culturally relative. The Word of God never becomes powerful because of its marketing style. The Word of God itself is where the power lies.
I don’t need to get into a debate about where we draw the lines on standards, separation and the like. This is not a debate on methodology. It is instead about philosophy. I am not out to get everyone to be just like me or like anyone else. When our emphasis is on the necessity of being like the people we are trying to reach we are minimizing the timeless and powerful Word of God. Remember that God blesses His Word.
Psalms 138:2 “For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”
If you have gotten this far, thank you! My only goal is to remind us all that God is not bound by any rules of cultural relevance. There does not need to be any pressure to “get with the times,” or “modernize” worship. The Gospel and the power of God are not broken and in need of repair. God blesses the faithful labor of Godly men. Cultural relativity doesn’t unlock some secret door to God’s blessing; sometimes it just makes us into worldly Christians.