Monday, November 30, 2009

Church Growth Hypocrisy

John MacArthur has written several volumes exposing and refuting unscriptural church growth methodologies (Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, Truth War, Our Sufficiency in Christ, etc.). Much of what he has written is excellent. In the last twenty years, when an unbiblical trend or fad has become popular, MacArthur has dealt with it by writing a book. Despite his professed opposition to the false doctrines and practices propagated by destructive methods, however, MacArthur sends confusing messages with the double standard set by his own church and his own lack of separation from those violating God's Word.

I thought MacArthur's Charismatic Chaos sent a heat-seeking missile into the Charismatic movement. MacArthur himself, though, does not separate from well-known Charismatic, C. J. Mahaney. He has had Mahaney preach at his own church a few times and also speaks with Mahaney in many places all over the country, cooperating with him in ministry and worship. The Bible doesn't teach anywhere to write a book about false doctrine and practice, but God's Word does tell us to separate from it. You might not sell as many books if you practice separation. This is the kind of self-denial that Jesus called for in His presentation of the gospel.

Over at Hip and Thigh, Fred Butler, a member of MacArthur's church and staff member at Grace to You, MacArthur's radio program, has written about some men who have attempted to point out apparent inconsistencies in the practices of Grace Community Church. I don't know these men and I couldn't say whether what they write about MacArthur is true or not. I don't give them any endorsement. However, Butler's blog post made me curious. These men are claiming that Grace Community is involved in Purpose Driven Church Growth ministry philosophy of Rick Warren. In summing up this methodology, Butler writes:

I can clearly see what a purpose driven ministry looks like: The watered down preaching, trendy music replacing good worship music, the emphasis on getting people to feel comfortable rather than on sound doctrinal teaching, marginalizing older saints as not having an important role to play in the life of the church, attempting to be relevant toward current cultural issues.

I want to focus on the second, third, and last of the characteristics expounded by Butler: trendy music replacing good worship music, the emphasis on getting people to feel comfortable rather than on sound doctrinal teaching, and attempting to be relevant toward current cultural issues.

The men who Butler referenced have criticized a part of Grace Community Church called "The Guild," a singles group operating within MacArthur's church. It has its own website and it is right now promoting a Christmas Concert with a group called "The Narrow Gate" with the Christian/country/pop singer, Christian Ebner. Butler defends his church by arguing that these groups by definition have a different tone than the whole church. In the advertising for this concert as a part of the marketing of the church that "The Guild" uses, they have invited the "mainstream" church to be with them for this Christmas concert.

Where in Scripture do we see the church segmented like this? Where does God's Word say that one part of the church will have a different emphasis than others or will accomplish what it does in a different way than the rest of the church? Where in the Bible does this philosophy come from? And what is tone?

Christian Ebner is trendy and anything but narrow---very much the broad road in sound and style. You can hear some of their selections at their myspace site. The music is fashioned after worldly lust. You can also see that "The Guild" is relevant in current cultural issues. And this music gets people to feel comfortable, especially unsaved people. The whole rock concert philosophy is part of the modern day church growth movement. In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren says that choice of music is the most important trait for church growth. He advocates finding what people want to hear and giving it to them. This philosophy contradicts what the Bible teaches about worship, which is that we give God what He wants. Getting what we want and offering it to God runs mutually exclusive to scriptural worship and confuses people about this most important activity for men. This is also the direction that Grace Community takes, especially in "The Guild." Peter Masters in his own criticism of Grace Community Church describes it this way:

Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment.

If it isn't "The Guild," then it is the youth department, holding its yearly Resolved conference, which Peter Masters again explains:

Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. . . . (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)

In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretised by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.

God designed nothing but the same Christianity for singles as He did for everyone else in the church. This idea of customizing the church program to the unique fleshly desires of a particular age group fits the Purpose Driven profile. Grace Community Church caters to youthful lusts, exalting the wisdom of men. If church members happened to desire carnal amusement on their own, it would be one thing, but to offer it to lure them to the church property to satiate themselves is another. The flesh surely can be trusted to lust for its own delights on its own without the help of the church, couldn't it?

Is there somewhere in Scripture that says that a church should organize people's entertainment? What does mixing worldly amusement with worship do to the discernment of professing saints? It all gives the wrong view of God no matter how many passages a church exegetes. You can teach the Holy Bible, but what about holy conduct and offering up holy worship to God?

John MacArthur writes a book, Ashamed of the Gospel, and his church shows shame for biblical methods that depend on God for growth. He writes Hard to Believe, but his church wants to make it easier for the singles and youth to believe by giving them the fleshly lusts of the world. He authors Our Sufficiency in Christ, but his church puts confidence in the worldly methods to draw in new people.

Why write books that admonish everyone else about it when you are going to do it yourself? Why? People like it and it works. It doesn't glorify the Lord, but people get what they want. Why follow anything John MacArthur has written if it isn't good enough for him? It's a blatant double standard.

I can already hear the defenses. I've read them over at Pyromaniacs among other Grace Community and MacArthur apologists. The defenses are very similar to those offered in revivalist fundamentalism. The one criticizing us "has a small group of supporters." "He's a hyper fundamentalist." He's one of those "King James Only types." In other words, no substantial defense, just name-calling and blatant arrogance. There ought to be soul searching, but there is circle-the-wagons, close ranks, and often say whatever is necessary to deflect from what this is really about. These groups and their methods disobey Biblical methods, corrupt Scriptural worship, and diminish the true means of change in people's lives. They are a worldly attraction that sends the wrong message about the purpose of the church.

Know what? God is our Judge. What I've written is lightweight compared to what the Lord already knows. When there is no Scriptural defense, there should be confession and repentance. May God then have mercy on their souls.


Terry McGovern said...

Amen! Oh how easy it is to see the sin in another, and yet miss the beam in one's own eye!

Claymore said...

A very good article - I believe this describes the emergent church (an oxymoron) quite well.

Regarding making people feel "comfortable" I have known people to say that they respect a preacher who does this - in reality, they do not, for it is no true preacher who does not expose sin according to the command of Moses that we are to rebuke sin, and to not suffer it upon our neighbours. Paul re-iterates this in saying "them that sin rebuke before all". Solomon then says that the wounds of friends are faithful, but the kisses of enemies are deceitful. Ultimately, the best example is that of Christ, for nobody could say what needed to be said any better, and the people were still so angry with Him that they crucified Him. It should be enough for us to do the same. I have heard these people say that "the average worldly Christian (contradiction in terms) does not need to be 'beaten down'". In the same way, any physician will give a slap to a newborn who is not breathing, how cruel (permit me to take my tongue out of my cheek there). They may even say that God would not say such things - they may be right, for Jesus said nothing to Herod because he did not hear John the Baptist - if they will not listen to a true preacher, they will not listen to God. Ironically, Hebrews says that God scourges every son in whom He delighteth - the idea of the word "scourgeth" is that He "beateth".

Only when Christians realise that their sins are infinite offenses against the holiness of God will they think differently. Conversely, if they are seeking Godliness, the pastor (or anybody else in touch with God) can say anything to them that might be hurtful to those who do not seek Him, and they will benefit from it. People may say that we have no friends from it, but that is far from truth - I have friends all over the world, and they all preach this way.

philipians2511 said...

I'd be interested in hearing a rebuttal from their side. A rebuttal that doesn't end with ad hominem attacks and straw men arguments. I believe the case is pretty plain already. I don't think we'll see that rebuttal.

As it stands I don't allow any John MacArthur in this house. I don't think I will either in the future (short of a confession and repentance on his behalf).

Thank you for remaining diligent Br Brandenburg.

Respectfully Submitted

Br Steve

Gal 2:20

Katie said...

Maybe MacArthur doesn't believe that all Charismatics are heretics. There is a lot of bad stuff going on within Charismatic circles, but not all Charismatics are buying into that hogwash. Does McArthur's book teach that the gifts are no longer in operation? (I haven't read that one, but have enjoyed many others of his) That's the true divider of what makes Charismaticism right or wrong. Has God ceased giving those gifts, I don't think you can make a solid biblical argument for that.

Unknown said...

Great article Pastor B. JMac's duplicity smacks against Phil. 1:10 - Paul prayed for the Philippian believers to approve things which are excellent, and be sincere and without offense. Sincerity is being open and honest, pure, hiding nothing. This is what we should want in every area of our lives, and this is the only way to live now so that we aren't ashamed at the judgment seat of Christ.
The only JMac book that I have is "The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perpective" - and this is a good read, although he does have some errors (like the closing of the canon occured in the 4th century). I got turned off when I got hold of his "Murder of Jesus" book where he was messing with the blood issue. He is a good writer and Bible teacher, but I just don't want to go there.

Robert said...

I think we need a debate on what is acceptable in worship to God. For the judging panel, I nominate Cain, Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, Saul and Uzziah. They should be able to weigh the perspective of those who think God uncritically accepts whatever we are pleased to give Him in whatever manner we choose to offer it through the lens of experience.

Jerry Bouey said...

Great post, Bro Kent. I was speaking with a coworker just yesterday about some problems with McArthur, and you hit the nail right on the head! I am going to forward this to him. God bless.

Lou Martuneac said...


Good article and demonstrates the inconsistency and double-standard in MacArthur’s ministry. His Resolved conferences, the Rock music in particular, cuts against the grain of his preaching against worldly forms of worship. Really glad you referenced the Peter Master’s article. The JMac camp basically brushed it aside. Here is the link for your readers to avail themselves of it.

The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness

At the pro-evangelical blog Sharper Iron JMac’s music choices was discussed at length about two years ago. I believe it was Scott Aniol and Mike Harding, no lightweights on music themselves who brought out the inconsistency with documentation on MacArthur’s inconsistency. Phil Johnson objected, but when he was shown irrefutable proof of that inconsistency with JMac he said he would speak to MacArthur about it and departed post-haste. That was the last time anyone heard from Phil on the subject

You also noted, “In other words, no substantial defense, just name-calling and blatant arrogance.

Exactly! Elitism, sarcasm and arrogance are Phil Johnson’s primary debate tools.


Jack Lamb said...

Just posted an amazing quote by MacArthur on music at <a href=">my blog.</a>

Just another example of writing books, but not practicing truth.

Fred Butler said...

Consider yourself answered

Claymore said...

In reading the link to which Fred's post goes, I saw that Dr. Brandenburg believes in Lordship Salvation. Would you be willing to explain what you meant there, as sometimes people from different churches or theological backgrounds will have different definitions for the same terms (for instance, I hold to open communion which means that those in communion with Christ are welcome to partake, while some might say "open" means "all persons partake, whether they are Hindu, Mohammedan, &c".) I do have one understanding of lordship salvation that may or may not be the one to which he referred, so this is just for clarification purposes.