Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Leave Our Current Church?

In light of the recent events unfolding at our church (as chosen by both the leadership and the congregation), we feel compelled to worship elsewhere on Sunday mornings. Our problem coincided with the arrival of Scott, although they were not his fault, nor did he have anything to do with them, but his hiring brought to light the realization that we had been troubled for some time by a number of things that are not going away.

The Executive Summary

The Bible commands us to be in subjection to our elders, but the leadership here doesn’t believe in either the authority or sufficiency of Scripture, and I can’t in good conscience submit to someone who disbelieves in such a fashion. If we stay we will be in violation of the Scriptures, which is a sin, but even if we could stay I still fear we would put our kids at risk for growing up in a doctrinally soft feel good mega church. That's a big order, so let me explain.

The longer Explanation

A little over a year ago The Bridge of Elk Grove (working title, they have not formally changed the name yet) decided to move away from any remaining historic Baptist roots and embrace a mega-church style borrowed from Willow Creek. Surveys became common, classic doctrines and preferences were replaced by the idea that to grow the church we need to find out what people want to hear and give it to them. That is, in order to achieve the leadership’s goal of “moving people closer to Jesus” we need to trade orthodox Christianity for a kind of moral therapeutic deism. The change has come so quickly because the leadership has decided the oldest generation, the one that likes hymns, expects the pastor to be dress in more than a Rick Warren Hawaiian shirt, and attends the 8:30 service is now neither the future, nor the present of the church. Their doctrinal and ecclesiastical preferences are seen as relics of a bygone era, and in ten years will die with them. As a practical matter the leadership realizes it must replace the generous departing old saints with larger numbers of younger givers if it is to survive, and it believes speaking to felt needs is the way to do it. Now while that’s a strong indictment, I will hasten to add that their bad thinking comes from a good heart. It’s not because they hate Christ or would deny fundamental truths like His divinity that they would do this, it’s just that they want to be culturally relevant and engaging, like Bayside of Granite Bay with its 12,000 attendees on a Sunday, and to get there you have to attract people by giving them what they want. Mature doctrines are divisive and keep churches under a certain number; feelings are unifying and allow a church to grow as big as possible.

This explains why we started preaching from the Story book for a year (the Story, if you’ll remember, takes away the boring sections of the NIV text and replaces them with Lucado’s personal thoughts). It’s why we invited John Jackson and David Harris to the pulpit on a number of Sundays so they could tell us their feel good, empty calorie stories and jokes while our executive pastor assured us that “Doubting is good, it’s healthy, and everyone does it.” It’s why we changed our new believer curriculum to Experiencing God by Blackaby. It’s why we opened the “helps center” bookcase and manned it with volunteers, so that if anyone had a problem, we could cry with them and tell them God isn’t mad, and hand them a life resource. It’s why we re-upped our partnership with World Vision, an organization run by a member of the PCA—because what really matters is not beliefs, but the fact that we are out here to “do something” for God, like stop bullying or bring social justice to the community. We went big on our coffee ministry. We replaced the sermons with musicals or dramas on occasion, because who wants to be lectured when you can experience an interactive presentation of the gospel? We partnered with William Jessup University to use our campus (their philosophy is that a minister is better served with an MBA than a M.Div). We changed our purpose from glorifying God and making people disciples of Christ to “moving people toward Jesus.” We changed our name from First Baptist Church, because people don’t like such antiquated titles anymore. It’s why we started to, and why we continue to do Willow Creek REVEAL surveys. It’s why we were told, “I don’t care if you don’t like it, God is on the move here.” It's why we brought in David Harris, emergent preacher in the style of Brian McLauren for eight weeks.

 The result of which has been a downward spiral for real spiritual maturity. A year ago we had something in the neighborhood of 5,000 visitors, and 600 something people who identified themselves as “mature or Christ centered believers,” while this year we had near 8,000 visitors and 400 something people who identified as mature. Most people don’t take their kids to service with them. The vast majority don’t do anything more than attend one service. And out of this we have selected new elders, which is why one of them exhorted us during a men’s group to “preach the gospel, use words if we have to.” 

Now this methodology, and the decisions that have come from it, was something we were willing to overlook while we didn’t have a senior pastor, so long as when we did hire someone, he would be a man of God who would repudiate the silliness. It didn’t matter to us if the elder board didn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, as long as the senior pastor who drove the vision would. Is this sloppy thinking on our part? Shouldn’t we have recognized that the church already is a seeker sensitive mega-church? Shouldn’t we have realized that the elders had consolidated power in the absence of a senior pastor and things weren’t going back to the way it was before? Perhaps.

But it’s into this background that Scott Hansen comes, and his appearance was from the beginning problematic for us. He literally walked away from his church without telling them, and the reason for moving doing so was, “God called him, and he needed to be faithful,” which is either soft headed thinking, a violation of the third commandment, or more likely, just a non-answer. When asked how he would win the millennial generation he said, “through the use of technology.” When giving the alter call he summarized salvation as “God votes for you, Satan votes against, and you cast the deciding vote.” He told us we needed to become more seeker sensitive, that we needed to learn to speak the language of the world around us, if we wanted to win souls to Christ. Before he writes his sermon he asks himself, “What is the congregation struggling with, and what do they need to hear this week?” His sermon on John 3 was how we can reach men like Nicodemus by making them comfortable. And the leadership loved him. His style blended swimmingly with theirs because he worked through the same set of first principles they did. We decided it was extremely unlikely he would even attempt to swim against the mega-church current. I’m not saying he’s not orthodox, because he is. Nor am I saying he won’t make the Bible a part of his sermons, because he will. The Bridge Elk Grove might well experience great numerical growth under his watch, but fundamentally he agrees with the current leadership regarding both the sufficiency and the authority of Scriptures and that’s unacceptable.

I don’t expect our decision to be popular, or, for that matter, to have any of our friends agree with it. At the members meeting there was a tremendous backlash against the elders when they tried to change our constitution to give themselves more power and the postmodern growth philosophy full reign, but the few remaining dissenters are outmaneuvered. They’re holding onto hope in thinking Scott is going to be on their side, on the side of tradition, but he’s not, he’s pro-contextualization. But even if we are ostracized from our friends due to their anger (which I hope isn’t the case) the fact remains that the driving philosophy behind all of these decisions is expressly forbidden by the Scriptures, and represents a denial of other key doctrines of salvation. The church has now fully committed to growing using a method other than fidelity to the Bible. It grieves me to leave but the simple truth is I don’t want to attend Bayside of Granite Bay. I don’t like Saddleback Church. I don’t want to fill out surveys during a Willow Creek service. I want my hymns and my children to hear the full gospel message, the word of God unpacked faithfully every week. Not what someone else thinks they should hear, what God has chosen to say. Insofar as I am able, I must be faithful to Scripture. I know there are still churches out there that operate by faith in the foolishness of God, even if The Bridge of Elk Grove isn’t going to be one of them. So we must go in search of higher ground, lest we be swept away by the storm.

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