Monday, May 24, 2010

The Myth of ECx Internalism and Grace

During the 1970s a common and then continuing practice began in which churches dropped their denominational name for some non-descript, generic one. For instance, Calvary Baptist Church would become Calvary Community Church or just Calvary Church. This related mainly to two different issues. First, research showed that the general public had negative feelings about certain denominational titles, like Baptist. Going to a "Baptist" church might associate people with doctrines they didn't want others to think they held. People were less likely to come and visit if others knew they were visiting a Baptist church, for instance. These evangelical churches (EC) wanted to take away the stigma they saw that came with a denominational name. Second, denominational titles related to dogmatic church traditions. The EC didn't want their constituency to think they would have to follow certain traditional practices---men wearing a shirt, tie, and even suit or sport coat, women wearing dresses or skirts, the stately, formal, slow organ music, hard, intimidating church buildings, and then the prohibition of social taboos like dancing, the movie theater, and moderate alcohol drinking. The new title would mark a relinquishing of the old rules.

A big part of the explanation by the EC was that they had had an advantage in an emphasis on the internals and grace. Their Christianity wouldn't obsess on externals and so they would have better Christians, even if they didn't look like mom and dad's Christianity. Their people would not be burdened by the standards and rules of their forefathers, and so they would be more authentic. Part of the paradigm was the pastor dressing down with the casual shirt and facial hair that would signal the new graciousness. Out went the stodgy organ for the drums and the guitar. Goodbye to the song leader and hello to the worship team. The auditorium was not the sanctuary any longer, but the "center." The church buildings were now the campus. New terms replaced the old terms in order to signal the change.

Since the seventies, the EC does not remain monolythic. You've got different varieties of this same motif. Now you'll see the rock band EC with the trap set right in the middle of their "stage." You have the short sermon (30 min) with plenty of comedic material, with monthly series pulling from the Beatles and U2. The pastor, like, relates. Some EC like to spice up their hard-core reformed doctrine with some gutter langugae. In certain cases, a more conservative EC has shucked most of the cultural distinctions that Christianity held, but they major on expositional sermons that are, however, short on the precise applications that "step on any toes." "Stepping on toes" is a no-no at an EC. There are those who haven't changed the name from the denominational one, but they have most of the other trappings of the EC. Some have moved in some eclectic music into their main services, majoring on traditional hymns, but their youth and singles departments have picked up on the "Christian" rock, rap, and jazz. Perhaps concerned about the perception of worldliness, they hide their fads and pragmatism in the teen and twenty-something groups.

The new trend is "the gospel." You may say, "But wait a minute, that's good right?" It sounds good to say that you are gospel-centered. If you look at this a little deeper, however, you find that the gospel becomes an excuse for the acceptance of worldliness. They don't want anything to get in the way of their exposure of grace. Grace, grace, grace, and more grace. And then "unity." The gospel unifies those with differences on the "non-essentials." You sprinkle infants? That's OK as long as you believe "the gospel." We'll get together. You speak in tongues? Not going to be a problem because of your "gospel-centeredness."

Part of the point with the new emphasis on the gospel is a reaction to standards that churches once held and practiced. They "didn't smoke or chew or run around with those that do," so, of course, they were just painting on their Christianity. It was mostly a fraud and the EC can give documentation for this. And evangelicals still do on their myriad blog sites, showing how that the churches that said no to movies, no to alcohol consumption, no to immodest dress, or no to pants on women, that these were all just a replacement for authentic Christianity. Oh, and they were a big joke too. Ha, ha, ha. They just didn't get it! What a bunch of loons!

Do you see the obsession of EC with externals? It's not that they aren't emphasizing externals. They've just lowered their standards. Having lower standards doesn't make someone a better Christian. Being more like the world in the way that you sound, the way you look, the way you talk, and the way you act---which EC definitely are since they made this break---doesn't mean that you are more internal or more gracious. There is a point that right wing externals can be painted. Christians can fake it. They can find out what the correct codes are and fit into them. But the left wing externals can do the same. The difference, as I see it, is that the left wing is easier than the right. You can fit more easily into the world by dropping or lowering considerably the standards.

The Pharisees weren't just about adding to Scripture. They also were into extreme reductionism, that is, limiting the teachings of God to the few essentials. They would relegate the law to the greatest of the commandments. Both ways still can concentrate on the externals to the exclusion of the internals, the real you on the inside.

Lowering the standards hasn't made EC more spiritual. It hasn't made them more authentic. All it has done is made their churches more worldly. The flesh loves the lower standards. They're easier. They are more genuine in a sense. Yes. The people love the world and so they don't have to fake that any more. But they also think they are more spiritual because they aren't faking it? Come on. Just because someone can put on his hip-hop gear for church doesn't mean that he loves the Lord more. That's the lie of modern EC. It's a heinous lie that uses the gospel to excuse worldliness.

So today we see church leaders touting movies and rock music. They don't prevent mixed swimming, women and men frollicking in the water, barely dressed. They don't stop anyone from drinking alcohol, because it's not just OK in moderation, but "a great blessing." And all of it is explained by "the gospel." This is what "the gospel" has done for them. And they don't judge each other in these matters, because they believe in "unity."

I know of a situation right now of fairly conservative EC. Under the leadership of their pastor, they changed the name of their church to the popular generic title. This was key. He tore off the tie for the polo shirt. He grew the facial hair. This EC brought in the drums and the guitars. In other words, the church took on the typical externals of the EC. They showed how important externals were to them, how pivotal they were.

The pastor of this EC got his hip worship leader. They were friends. They were close. They saw each other close up. This same younger man also took the leadership of the youth. All of this was, of course, so authentic and so genuine. And oh so internal. But all the young youth and music man did was fit into the new lower standards. It was easier. It was more fun. And he and his wife became the white wine experts and consumers of the movies. The grace and liberty were exhilarating. They were married with several children, close to the pastor, and he was having extra-marital relations with multiple other women. And this was all during this authentic time of genuineness at the very internal EC. Now this thirty something man and his wife are getting divorced.

These EC have taken up all these external features that show how much liberty they have an how in love with the gospel they are, even though their lives may not look like the gospel. I'm going to start calling them ECx, extreme evangelical churches. They require the lower standards. Anyone with higher standards is fake and can't be too spiritual, must be moralistic. They are ECx. Extreme. If you don't fit into their understanding of grace, which really is grace as an occasion for the flesh, which really is turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, then you aren't "gospel-centered." But none of that is really true. It's the myth of the ECx grace and internalism.


Phil said...

So are you against men growing facial hair or just men growing their facial hair into certain types of styles? I know that their is nowhwere that scripture does not say thta its wrong,but is it a discision you make based on those priciples you preache about(Priciple for making the the Best Descisions)? On a different note i heard that the president was at West Point rescently. Did your soon hear him speak what was his speech about?

philipians2511 said...

You fundamentalists are so uh, like, pharasaical. All you ever do is major in the minors. These are all tertiary issues (dress, alcohol et all). Besides we can't really know for sure if we have Gods Word. Dog mactic fundamentalists!!

Like 'fo sure dood. LOL. [/sarcasm]


Bro Steve

Gal. 2.20

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

There is a particular church in that you and I have firsthand knowledge of. During the time of our mutual attendance, do you think the leadership spent more time adressing matters of the heart and how that affects our external life or merely addressing the externals to the neglect of the Godward orientation of the heart. Maybe you feel it is somewhere in between. I'm interested to know.

But let me tell you what I "heard" for those many years: "If you're saved you won't do xyz and won't want to and if you have a hard time stopping you probably need to get saved," No real discipleship or teaching on the spiritual dynamic at work in the process of mortification. I could go on.

At this point I would rather place my family within a ministry that doesn't demand adherence to certain applications (where there is not an explicit, "thou shalt not") but which teaches the robust principles that spring from the gospel. Even though our present church does demand more conformity that than I feel is necessarry, the principals of the word of the Gospel are taught, and God has done more in my heart in life in 10 years there than in the 30 in the other type of ministry.

Gary Webb said...

What you write about this does not ring true. You come to this blog & argue against the application of "principles" that come from Scripture. Any preacher or church that doesn't "doesn't demand adherence to certain applications" [of Scripture] is certainly not following the Biblical pattern. Paul wrote, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1); and "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9); and "For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
... Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us" (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9); and "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation" (Hebrews 13:7).
It is quite clear that Paul commanded Christians with the authority of Scripture to watch & follow his example, i.e. the applications of Scripture in his life. It seems to me that you are giving yourself as an example of what Brandenburg has written about: a claim of internalism while denying the righteous, outward application of God's Word. I cannot let this pass as being Bible Christianity. I know that our church teaches principles & the "spiritual dynamic" as much as any church in existence, but we also demand the application of those principles in certain definite ways that are called for by Scripture & that also establish habits to build character & establish walls of protection. For pastors & churches not to do this is to be derelict in their duty.

Gary Webb said...

For your benefit & for others that might read here, I want to also point out 2 other unscriptural lines of thought in your comment:
1. "At this point I would rather place my family within a ministry...." What about the "principle" that it is God who places Christians in churches? "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." (I Corinthians 12:18). Is your choice of a church simply your choice as a husband/father, or did God actually place you in that church? [BTW, the "body" in I Corinthians 12 is identified as a local body in verse 27.]
2. "Even though our present church does demand more conformity that than I feel is necessary...." I am not sure that the Bible has any regard for what an individual member "feels" is necessary. As I understand it, the pastor & church study & apply the Word of God, & the church is to be "of one mind" about those decisions, not everyone reserving his own opinion & taking the liberty to express any difference of opinion publicly as if he had the same authority as the church does.
I sure hope that no one else in the church you attend reads this blog. You might be the creator of dissatisfaction & "discord" in that church.

d4v34x said...

Brother Webb,

I'll let you make your case on most of that uncontested. We have a fundamental difference of philosphy, no question about it. As for demanding externals before the internal is changed, God is a God who will not quench a smoking flax or break off a bent reed. I'll follow that pattern.

As for God placing me in my church-- God is sovereign over all things. He has certainly brought me here. If I left my church today and went to another, would He not have placed me there? Let's ask a bigger question. Do you always refer to your conversion as the day God saved you or do you sometimes call it the day you trusted Christ. I wouldn't say either is unbiblical, even though you trusted Christ because of what He did. Or is God only soveriegn in what church we go to, not who the elect are?

I would say that someone who is willing to forgo a measure of liberty he finds in Scripture for the sake of his local congregation makes for a most harmonious church member, not one who sows discord.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I have no problem with facial hair, just the point of growing the hair as a means of manifesting some type of liberty.

Kirk heard the President at graduation. He laid down some of his thoughts about his use of the military---some call it the Obama doctrine.


My experience at Calvary in Wttn revolved around loving God and serving Him. Some of that has to do with my parents, who loved the Lord and served Him, and mainly my youth pastors at the time. I could critique the teaching, but I think the people were doing the best they could. Our church has a lot of differences between the churches I attended as a child/youth---our expository preaching, emphasis on one-on-one discipleship, thorough evangelism, etc. My standards are stronger, however, then they were then, and expository preaching has led to that.

I don't think that either discipleship, emphasis on grace, centering on the gospel, or any of that leads to less godliness or holiness. That's what makes some of this movement suspect.

d4v34x said...


I didn't name that church on purpose, but it's your blog. I think they may have been doing the best they could at the time, but that doesn't exempt them from criticism of where they fell short.

You're criticizing the length to which the pendulum has swung, but it needed to swing, and I think that's important to recognize.

I don't think that discipleship, emphasis on grace, gospel-centeredness should lead to less holiness either. But I think demanding adherance to standards before the heart has grown to embrace the spiritual reasons actually can be damaging. I don't think that's what Paul is calling for in the verses Brother Webb cites.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Thanks for the article. I have grown weary with the hypocrisy of the liberated righteous who know God so well that they can now openly disobey plain Scripture in the name of grace. There is no wickedness too vile, no sin to be avoided; just do all in the name of reaching the lost (which they then never witness to). On top of all this, they profess to know the Scriptures SO deeply that they must instruct stupid Christians & preachers who still believe that God is offended at our sin & desires us to not walk in the flesh. I will be using this article in the future.

Jim Camp

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful article. I would rather be in a church with standards that had average teaching than a very expository church that didn't. I appreciate great preaching, but do we have to have PhDs in all the pulpits? Are "lesser" men to be sneered at? Is it only the fault of the pastor if people don't learn...what about their responsibility to study? If people are serving God, studying, and searching Him out to have their personal ministry blessed, they will learn.