Sunday, June 05, 2016

Scripture Repudiates Innovation in and by the Church

Before I get to the point of this post, I need to say what it isn't about.  It isn't about the fulfillment of the cultural mandate, to subdue and have dominion.  God created.   Made in God's image, man is creative in a way designed by God, albeit different than Him.   Man does innovate.  Scripture doesn't forbid invention.  It encourages it.   The industrial revolution emerged from a biblical point of view. George Washington Carver was right to find exponential uses for the peanut.

Furthermore, I grant that even in ministry we use paper and bindings and typewriters.  The words are written between staffs of musical notation for singing.   These are all circumstances for obedience to the Bible, not actual teachings of the Bible.  In addition, people will write new tunes used for praise to God, so that's not what I'm writing about.  You should not use these as arguments to justify all forms of novelty, to drive through that void your Mack truck of innovation.  This isn't even hard to understand; yet these are utilized to blur the lines, so people feel justified in doing what they want to do, and then blame it on God.

Innovation has become such the norm in churches, that when you point it out to people, they act like you are criticizing scripture.  Many get very defensive, as if you are attacking one of their convictions.  As you read here, I ask you to pack away your defensiveness and open your mind to what I'm writing.  The inability even to admit you might be wrong here might be a bigger problem than the problem I'm addressing.  You can still grow, reader.

Scripture Is Complete

The plan for doing the work of God is complete in scripture.   The explanation for the Lord's work was finished with the culmination of the twenty-seventh book of the New Testament in circa AD96. We know everything we need to know and can know to do God's work.

This essay in part dovetails with my recent writing about continuationism.  Men credit a new method as revelation from God.  They reach a barrier blocking evangelistic success and the apparent solution arrives through innovation ascribed to divine illumination.  They couldn't find a way through until the idea "came from God."  Whole manuals unveil page after page of secrets.

Direct Approach

To use a football analogy, the plan in the New Testament is run after run by the fullback right up the middle.  What is being offered instead is a gadget play to win the game in one play, perhaps a literal "Hail Mary."  A run by the fullback isn't fooling anybody.  Everybody knows what is happening.  Now no one expects it to win, because it's too obvious.  It looks like a loser.  The thought is that a new scheme is needed that use a kind of sleight of hand, a little craftiness to score a lot points and ensure victory.  Credit goes to the coordinator.

The Apostle Paul took a beating because he kept just running the ball up the middle -- ground and pound.  There was no doubt he had the ball every time, so every would-be tackler could take his shot at him.  Despite the opposition, he didn't change his strategy.  He suffered for it and was following in the example of Jesus in doing it.

God wants His churches to like what He said.  He wants them to believe what He said.  He wants them to believe that His plan is working, even when it doesn't look like it is working.  That is really believing in it.

Almost inherent to evangelicals and fundamentalists for many decades now has been regular, almost non-stop, new concoctions for numerical success.  From my perspective, this tendency hasn't escaped unaffiliated Baptists either.  I would say that I understand the lure of innovation for God's work, except we are now to the point where we also have seen transpire, repeated over several generations --- nothing new under the sun.  But that shouldn't even matter.  We have a biblical basis for rejecting it.

Preaching

What is the work of God?  It is preaching, what Paul calls the "foolishness of preaching."  Every believer is supposed to preach the gospel.  The audience is every creature.  There are ways that people can ruin the preaching, but there isn't anything to add to the method.  Preaching is the means by which God is glorified.

What I hear and read is that preaching doesn't work.  The lost hear preaching and they don't like it. When preaching doesn't work, people then get discouraged.  They quit.  Because they quit, they aren't preaching anymore.  The work of God isn't getting done.  Not doing anything can't be right.   This convoluted reasoning represents the wrong thinking.

Actually what is said, however, is that preaching is fine.  It's good.  Keep doing that.  Of course. However, if you want to succeed, you can't do just that.  It's not enough.  Sure, it's good to continue to be faithful with the preaching.  Your just going to need to bring some gadgets to your game plan.  You won't win if you don't.

To diagnose the two paragraphs above and the real problem, preaching does work, even if we don't see the immediate results we want.  The people who stop are faithless.  They haven't been taught the proper motivation for work for God.  They gave up because they didn't love keeping God's commandments.  They weren't loving God.  They need to get biblical motivation, so they won't quit. They need to be buoyed in their faith.  They should be encouraged and then encourage one another. Men should pray their love will abound.  Faithful men should provide good examples of not quitting. They shouldn't make excuses for their people, like I hear from church leaders today.

Preaching Is Sufficient

There is a reason we just preach.  Preaching doesn't make sense as a method.  When victory comes from preaching, you will know that God did it, because from a human standpoint, it is a failure of a method.  When someone believes preaching, he really will like just the message.  He will be receiving the message without anything to help it along.  Nothing can help it along, but it will be obvious that it was the message that did the work.  God is glorified.  When innovation occurs, man gets the glory.  There are other problems too, especially over a length of time, but that is a good enough reason, and one that Paul writes in depth in 1 Corinthians 1-3.

If marketing and promotion really are vital, churches should be sending their children to state universities to major in marketing or to the seminars by people who are the best at it.   In fact, that's already what's happened.  Certain pastors conferences have then spread that information all over, books have been written, and often a pastoral degree spends major time on it.  Rather than major on what the Bible says, the emphasis shifts to what will work, at least in the short term.

One threshold of true conversion is affection for the gospel message.  When men eliminate that checkpoint as necessary, something else takes prominence.  You don't fool people into the narrow road. People really do need to be impressed with Jesus to be saved.  When that emphasis is shifted, the nature of conversion itself changes.  Someone might make a decision, but it isn't saving.   More than anything, however, again God is deprived of the glory He deserves.

Go Versus Invite

Moreover, scripture says go and preach to everyone.  Instead, churches very often employ an invitation philosophy, not to be confused with merely inviting someone to church.  I'm talking about invitation as a strategy.  Attempts to lure unbelievers very often change the nature of the assembly.   I've never seen a focus on recruiting the unsaved to a meeting not modify what the church does to adapt to visitors.  A common change is with the music.  This is where the idea of "evangelistic music" (and then gospel music) started, the thought that you used music to affect your visitors.  If your unsaved visitors came, and they couldn't relate to the music, you needed to refashion  it so that they could relate.

In first considering how many come, preaching to everyone becomes secondary with the acceptance of an invitation philosophy.   Usually those churches never get the gospel to everyone.  They might get an invitation-to-church to everyone or some kind of direct mail, but not preaching of the gospel to all of them.  It's not their goal anymore, because of this innovation of invitation.  When God wants the gospel offered to everyone, it doesn't happen.  His will just isn't foremost.  It doesn't work as well as the new idea.  People like the new idea, because it does work, and they like doing things that work. They aren't living by faith and they're not pleasing God, but they're happy.  What they want is different than what God wants, and they're fine with that.

Final Considerations

When innovations work, those who use them often designate the outcome as a work of God.  They say God did it, validating the innovation like a counterfeit sign.  If something works, and it is characterized as a work of God, the person using it appears to have some greater spiritual capability. For instance, the appearance of increased activity means the church "is alive," while the churches not seeing this type of movement "are dead."

The desire among men for the "living stuff" to happen, which is all the success that comes from innovation, spreads the innovation.  Innovative men want to tell others about their success.  You usually don't have to ask them.  They figured out something no one has, and they want to talk about it.

I have had innovative men visit our church and they notice our lack of innovation, as if we're missing something, that we're clueless.  "There is so much more that you could do," that "could be a real help to you."  These innovations that could be a real help have usually been around for quite a few years in different forms, like the same cologne in a different bottle.  The innovations aren't too hard to enact -- they're wrong to do.  If they are not a replacement for the right thing to do, they are at least adding a thing that will take away the glory from God.  We are told not to do that.  Because of this, our church doesn't want to do these innovations.  I don't want the influence upon our church from those who do them.  I don't want our people thinking they're missing anything.  They're not.

If I visit the church of the innovators, I notice the innovation, but I also notice the obedience to God that innovation has replaced.  Almost always in some way the Bible isn't being practiced.  Innovation is practiced.  However, some of the Bible is not.  Today it's very odd to bring up disobedience to the Bible and more normal to bring up missing innovation, as if missing innovation is what is especially missing in churches.

The churches who innovate often don't suffer for it.  Other churches and pastors say nothing.  No fellowship is lost.  If someone does say something, he's the bad person.  It reminds me of what occurs when you point out the errors of Charismaticism.  The problem isn't their lie, but your "lack of love." As a result, innovation spreads.

25 comments:

Tom Balzamo said...

This is a very understandable, concise explanation of this trend. Thanks for giving words to things that I see but don't know how to articulate.

Joe A. said...

When I read this article, I specifically thought of the Sword of the Lord churches and how they operate. Is this out of line with the tenor of the article?

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Kent. Much of this article could also be summed up as "pragmatism is unbiblical." I agree.

I also agree that innovation is unbiblical. And I agree that innovation, and invention within the realm of circumstance, are not the same thing, and that such invention can clearly be Biblical.

And yet, since you've opened this topic, there's something I have never really quite been able to get my head around. These various terms aren't Biblically defined. And I guess my question comes down to this -- what Biblical guideline do we have for determining whether something is "circumstance" (and thus invention can be appropriate) or not?

Brother Ross and I went around on something in the comments on my blog, and it really came down, in its essence, to whether or not the topic we were discussing was circumstance or not. I thought it was, he thought not. The particular topic doesn't matter so much as the larger question -- once it is answered, most topics will fall into place quite easily.

So since you opened the Pandora's box here, I'll ask if you have any Biblical guidelines on the question. What defines where "invention" is acceptable?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Tom,

Thanks.

Joe,

Sword of the Lord churches aren't close to the only ones who do this, but I don't know of one that doesn't encourage innovation of some kind. Most were built on some type of innovation.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jon,

I'm on the road right now, but I think it's a good question that should be explored. It would be good "for a conference."

When is it only a circumstance and when it is it an innovation? I do believe a lot has been written on it historically, so that needs to be read to start. I've read some. When I say I don't think it's hard, I think we know when we are innovating and when it is a circumstance.

I don't remember what Thomas and you were discussing.

KJB1611 said...


Dear Bro Gleason,

Circumstances are things surrounding the worship service, such as time and place. Acts or elements of worship are the spiritually significant parts of worship, like Bible reading and prayer.

For a discussion, please see pgs. 250-251 of the article:

Biblical Authority and the Proof of the Regulative Principle of Worship, John A. Delivuk

at faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/.

Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thomas,

This post goes beyond the regulative principle of worship to innovation allowable for the church for God's work. What have you read on that?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thanks for the question. It is not as easy going outside of what is specifically worship. However, I think it is interesting that Paul calls his evangelism worship, the offering up of the Gentiles. Does this show that the Regulative Principle applies to evangelistic methods? That would be an interesting topic to think through and evaluate Scripturally.

Jon Gleason said...

Brother Ross, thank you for the link. While it clearly explains the author's position, it actually gives no Scripture at all which gives any guidance as to what is and isn't "circumstance."

Kent, at this point can I defer giving the specific issue we were discussing, lest it confuse the larger question? But I'll give a different specific as an example to clarify the question.

Every January, the first Sunday, we have our Annual Testimony service. I ask everyone in the church to prepare a testimony of something the Lord has done in their lives or taught them over the year, and to choose a hymn from our hymnbook reflective of their testimony.

They give me their hymn in advance. I schedule an order of service, call on each in turn, they give their testimony, and we sing their hymn (usually one verse, that's all we have time for). I don't preach, the services is very long anyway. At the end, we observe the Lord's Supper. A few times, someone has decided they want on that day to make a testimony of salvation and be baptised. And finally, we have a meal together.

We have done this for at least 10 years, a well-loved tradition in our church. It's a little off-topic because it obviously isn't motivated by a pragmatic approach to evangelism, but it illustrates the question I'm asking.

I don't want people's opinions yea or nay, but Bible. Does it give any principles to guide us in answering whether this annual tradition is "circumstance" or "innovation"?

SCH said...

Thomas, Where is this reference? I can't locate it. Thank you.

Stephen

KJB1611 said...

Dear Stephen,

The article by Delivuk is near the bottom at:

http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/

and if you search for the word "Delivuk" on that page you will find it almost instantaneously.

Dear Bro Gleason,

I believe that that article and the others on the Regulative Principle at my ecclesiology page give a great deal of Scripture on the subject.

It is true that there is no specific verse that says "this is an element, and this is a cirumstance," just like there is no specific verse with the word "Trinity." The distinction is unavoidable, however. For example, if one is worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness by singing before Him, as that psalm specifically indicates, one needs to be either standing, kneeling, sitting, or in some other posture. One needs to be wearing shoes or something else on one's feet, or have bare feet. One needs to be in a room or outside. All of those things are circumstances--they are not part of the worship with singing.

Scripture won't say "this is a cirumstance" because EVERYTHING that is not specifically worship, but is accompanying it, is a circumstance. The temperature of the room where people are gathering; chairs or pews; the color of the carpet/wood floor, etc.; the size of the room; energy-efficient but more expensive lightbulbs or cheaper lightbulbs; etc. are all circumstances. The list would be endless.

I am neither in leadership in your church nor a member of it, obviously, but in relation to your testimony service I would say that elements such as singing (Eph 5:18-19) are present, and the testimonies fall under the category of mutual exhortation (Heb 10:24-25). Having a meal is fine--it is done sometimes in the NT, but the meal itself is not worship. Scripture never states the number of songs, so a church has liberty within the general principles of what is appropriate, etc. I would suggest that 2 Tim 4:2, the examples of Acts, etc. all teach that preaching is to be a part of worship, so I do not think it is a good idea to have no preaching during that service. Scripture never specifies a certain length of preaching, though. Note that in Acts 20 before the Lord's Supper there was preaching--in fact, a lot of preaching.

Thanks.

Jim Camp said...

Kent, Thomas, et all.
This is good info, thanks.

SCH said...

Thomas,

I was actually wondering about the reference where Paul "calls his evangelism worship" as you put it. I'm asking because I've found quite convincing the argument that an essential attribute of worship is "words addressed to God". Obviously, if Paul's evangelism is worship then that would argue against this argument. Are you sure this is in the Bible? I'm also open to your thoughts on the argument that an essential attribute of worship is "words addressed to God".

Thank you.

Stephen

James Bronsveld said...

Stephen,

I believe the Scripture reference for which you were looking is Romans 15:16

Jon Gleason said...

Brother Ross, thank you. I fear by your response that I have not really made my question clear. My question was not if the elements in that service are appropriate -- they are. Rather, when they are appropriate, is making it into an annual tradition an element (and thus wrongful innovation) or mere circumstance?

I see nothing in the article you cited that gives me Biblical guidance in answering that question.

Side note: many testimonies include Biblical exposition and teaching. The element of preaching is not lacking in the service I've described, even though I do not prepare a formal sermon.

SCH said...

James, Actually I was looking for the reference where Paul calls his evangelism worship.

Kent, I do agree with this article completely (I think). An issue that I'm wondering if you (or someone) could comment came to my attention through the article I happened to read immediately after yours at http://affluentinvestor.com/2016/06/results-based-reality-curse-medieval-postmodern-thought/

The author argues that postmodernism is characterized by a rejection of "results based reality". Obviously from a spiritual perspective we would not see it this way. Yet.....he doesn't seem entirely wrong. How SHOULD we view this in relation to your correct observations regarding "results" justifying disobedience?

Thank you.

Stephen

KJB1611 said...

Dear SCH,

Romans 15:16 is indeed an example:

“That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.”

Note the "offering up" language, and that "minister" is leitourgon, another word related to worship.

Thanks.

Matthew Devers said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I appreciate this blog very much and I have learned quite a lot from it. I had a question concerning this topic. Would you reject such things as baby dedications as practiced in many baptist churches? The best I can tell a church doesn't practice it in the NT and it seems to come from protestant influence. Thank you for any answer. As a side note, I just finished reading Thou Shalt Keep Them. It was the best book on the subject I've read. I'm in the middle of A Pure Church.
Many thanks,
Matt Devers

Jon Gleason said...

Hello, Kent. I thought I'd come back and touch base on this post. Perhaps there is no clear answer to my question from Scripture.

The sufficiency of Scripture is often cited as strong evidence for the regulative principle. But the sufficiency of Scripture would also lead us to expect clear guidance as to how to distinguish between circumstance and innovation. Since that clear guidance seems to be, at least in part, lacking, I can only draw one of three conclusions.

1. Scripture is not sufficient. For good and sound reasons, I reject this conclusion.
2. I'm just overlooking the clear guidance on this question. Having studied the Scriptures for many years, I would say this is possible but unlikely, and the fact that no one said, "Hey, dummy, here it is," means that many others are overlooking it as well.
3. We've not really got the regulative principle defined rightly according to Biblical principle.

I tend to think #3 is most likely.

You asked what Thomas Ross and I had been discussing. I deferred that because we had been discussing whether it is appropriate to adopt an annual tradition of remembering the Lord's birth. Brother Ross sees this far differently from me.

I didn't want to bring that particular discussion into my question because there are many other issues surrounding the observance of Christmas (whether it is Catholicism, etc). That would have distracted from the narrow question I was asking here. Thank you for your patience with me on that.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Gleason,

Perhaps you could explain which of the three things below you do not think is possible to prove with scripture:

1.) Some acts or specifically worship, and others are not. (Singing Psalms.)

2.) When performing acts of worship, other things are necessarily associated with the act of worship at the time, but are not themselves worship. (Pews or chairs.)

3.) Scripture teaches under category number 1 that whatever is not commanded is forbidden, Leviticus 10:1-3. This is a stricter standard then for the things in category number 2.

Thanks. If all of the above is scriptural, then we have the difference between elements and circumstances in worship and we have the Regulative Principle.

Farmer Brown said...

Kent, I realize this is stretching the topic (a little), but what about the methods of evangelism related to the material part of evangelism? Specifically, I am thinking about the way evangelism is financed.

Deputation and paying people to go, we often call these people missionaries, is a recent innovation. This was not how Paul did it, and he is the exemplar. He went out and paid his own way, then had the right to collect from those who were born again under his ministry.

We do not have any record of him taking money from Antioch, or of him spending a couple years begging strangers to pay him for work he will allegedly do at some point in the future. This is essentially what deputation is.

At least every week I am cold called by someone offering to "share their ministry" with me. I exhort them to walk so as they have Paul for an example, but they are not at all interested in paying their own way. They have a multitude of reason why it cannot be done that way, even though that is how Paul did it.

Is this unscriptural innovation?

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks for the response, Brother Thomas. I apologise for the long delay in answering.

I said guidance on distinguishing between elements and circumstance is "at least in part lacking." I did not say there is no guidance.

Yes, as the regulative principle has been formulated, singing Psalms is worship, and pews or chairs are circumstance. Some things are pretty clear. But others are not. No one has given a Biblical answer as to whether or not our annual tradition is innovation in worship or acceptable circumstance. What is done during that annual service is certainly commanded and thus appropriate in your category 1.

We could choose to do it once a quarter, or once every fifteen years, or on a Saturday afternoon once a month. We choose to do it annually. Since God did command annual observances/commemorations to Israel, does that mean that annual observances are "worship" under category 1 and that means we are in violation of the regulative principle (as Biblically defined) in adopting an annual observance? Or is the choice of making this an annual observance mere circumstance? And where does the Bible answer this question?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Gleason,

I would say that having some services where you sing more than in others and where there is more mutual public exhortation than others definitely is acceptable, since Scripture does not say how many songs to sing or how often to give testimonies, and in Acts 20 when Paul preached until midnight, took a break, and then kept going we are seeing something that did not happen every service.

I personally would refrain from calling it a "tradition" because of Scripture's less-than-positive statements about traditions of men. I would also be careful that people in the church do not come to think of that service as in any way more special than any other service. It certainly is in no way on the level of annual feasts actually commanded to Israel in the OT (e. g., Tabernacles, Passover, etc.), nor is it a civil celebration ordained by the civil magistrate like Purim was (or our Thanksgiving). I don't think those festivals celebrated by Israel relate to the Biblical evidence for the question one way or the other.

Thus, if it is just a service where you do more singing and testifying, that is great. If it is in some way viewed as better, more holy, or anything of the sort, then I think we are then starting to go down a dangerous road.

I hope that helps. I have a tradition of trying to give helpful answers to people.

Jon Gleason said...

Thank you, Brother Thomas.

Re: the cases of Purim and Thanksgiving. No one commands Christians to observe Thanksgiving, and it would be hard to make the case that Mordecai had the authority to institute a religious feast which would be binding on the Jews, certainly that would continue to be binding after the fall of the Persian Empire.

So I would view these as comparable to what we do. It is something we have agreed together to do. It is voluntary (we are not compelled nor do we compel).

It is hard for me to see how there is any substantive difference between what we do and a church agreeing to meet together on Thanksgiving Day for a special service of thanksgiving every year. Or, for that matter, any difference between what we do, and the Jews agreeing to continue to observe Purim when the commands of Mordecai no longer had civil authority.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Gleason,

Thanks again for the comment. I believe Purim was a civil festival for the people of God, not a specifically religious festival. It was a day that they ate a lot and were glad (Esther 9:17). It does not even say that they went to the synagogue.

Thanks again.