Like me, many of the faithful have come to know God as much bigger and more Sovereign than He has been represented in the Modern Church. We have turned to the Bible for our knowledge of Him and His precepts and commandments, rather than rely on denominational rituals and creeds. We long to know Him and His Son more deeply and more truthfully. We have immersed ourselves in His Word and seek to fulfill our purpose for His Kingdom.
In that vein, we have left "lukewarm" Churches and have either formed our own home churches, (in the manner of the early believers in the Faith); or have sought Churches that encourage a more spiritual and personal relationship with God. And that's why I am warning you to be aware.
Case in point: Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in California, has long been a proponent of "Change" in the Church. He transitioned his successful book The Purpose Driven Life into a program he calls The Purpose Driven Church. Along with associates who are eager adherents to the Emerging Church Movement, he has made a name for himself through his advice for churches who have "hit a plateau". In case, you are unfamiliar with exactly what the Emerging Church is, here's a simple description: Emerging Churches seek to reach the lost (or dissatisfied) by focusing on relationships and developing a "story," a "journey of life," that is expressed through the "narrative" of learning. Sadly, the focus is usually on learning about oneself, than about gaining knowledge of our Creator. Simply put, the Emerging Church teaches a doctrine that Religion Saves, not Christ.
You can see how this more "personal" agenda might appeal to those who have never heard of Jesus's Saving Grace, or to those who are hungry for a warmer, more dynamic approach to worship. But that is where the Devil is hidden in the details! Escaping a lukewarm Church for one that is empty of the true Majesty of God is just a swing of the pendulum, and brings you no closer to a greater understanding of Jehovah. Just take a look at Warren's Saddleback Church website -- you will be overwhelmed with all the ministry opportunities and programs in which to immerse yourself. But where is a Mission Statement about the Core Beliefs of this Church? It doesn't seem to be about God at all!
So, in case you're wondering if you might have traded one false Church for another, here are some warning signs to be cognizant of; a change in format could be leading to a change in the Truth that's being preached:
• Change in music to a contemporary rock style.
• Removal of hymn books; eliminating the choir.
• Replacement of organ and piano with heavy metal instruments.
• Repetitive singing of praise lyrics.
• Dressing down to casual and informal attire.
• Eliminating of business meetings, church committees, council of elders, board of deacons, etc.
• The pastor, or a new leader with a few assistants, usually four, takes charge of all church business.
• A repetitive 40-day Purpose Driven Church study program stressing psychological relationships with each other, the community, or the world, begins.
• Funded budgeted programs are abandoned, or ignored, with ambiguous financial reports made.
• Sunday morning, evening, and/or Wednesday prayer meetings are changed to other times; some may even be eliminated.
• Sunday School teachers are moved to different classes, or replaced by new teachers more sympathetic with the changes being implemented.
• The name “Sunday School” is dropped and classes are given new names.
• Crosses and other traditional Christian symbols may be removed from both the inside and outside of the church buildings. The pulpit may also be removed.
• In accordance with Dr. Warren’s instructions, new version Bibles are used; or only verses flashed on a screen are referenced during regular services.
• Purpose Driven Church films, purchased from Saddleback, precede or are used during regular services.
• The decor, including the carpets, may be changed to eliminate any resemblance to the former church.
• The word “church” is often taken from the name of the church, and the church may be called a “campus”. Denominational names may also be removed.
• An emphasis on more fun and party sessions for the youth.
• Elimination of altar calls or salvation invitations at the close of the services.
• The elimination of such words as “unsaved”, “lost”, “sin”, “Hell”, “Heaven” and other Gospel verities from the pastor’s messages.
• The reclassification of the saved and lost to the “churched” and the “unchurched”.
• The marginalizing, or ostracizing, of all who are not avid promoters of the new Purpose Driven Program.
• Closed meetings between the pastor or chosen staff members without any reports made to the general membership.
• Open hostility to members who do not openly embrace the new program, or who may have left for another church.
These are really important times for Christ's Church. We have a job to do, and I sense that our time is running out to accomplish our purpose. Instead of looking for the finish line and running as hard as we can towards Victory, we seem to be either stuck in slow motion, looking backwards; or looking at ourselves in the mirror and congratulating ourselves on OUR relevancy. Neither description fulfills our commission as the Body of Christ. We must escape the routine and mechanical operation of the apathetic Church, while guarding against the dangers of the "new spirituality" found in the false Emerging Church. Right now, we are not resembling the Bride of Christ. We cannot be too vigilant!
2 Timothy 3:1-5 "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves ... haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!"