Monday, August 26, 2013

Pandering: The Actual Tie that Binds Most of American Churches

It's attributed to professional baseball player Mark Grace, "If you're not cheatin', you're not tryin'."  Christians can't support that particular credo.  Christians aren't supposed to cheat.  It's not Christian to cheat.  But Christians do.

Pandering is a type of cheating.  Jesus has His will.  He has a way church is to be accomplished, how people are added to His kingdom.  Instead of depending on Him and following His ways, the church in America especially has been cheating.  By pandering.  They have pandered to the American public for awhile in different ways and to different degrees to 'get' and then keep people.  And now churches are doing it more than ever.  It's a disgusting form of cheating by churches.

There is only one Bible and one truth, but there is a tremendous amount of doctrinal and practical divergence between churches in America.  There is a lack of commonality between churches, except in one way, that being pandering.  What churches have most in common today, as I see it, is pandering.  They might not agree in belief or practice, but most of them pander.  They do it with pride.  They're proud of their pandering.

Pandering in churches closely relates to the Mark Grace statement.  Winning is important in America.  Churches don't want to lose.  Rather than lose, they would rather cheat.   And what the cheating churches do in order to keep from losing is pandering.

I think many American churches would say they dislike the pandering of race hustlers and politicians.  They expose their type of pandering.  Shameless pandering.   And yet they themselves pander.  They don't see it as shameless pandering, but it is.  Is it worse when it's churches that are doing the pandering?

What am I talking about?

Pandering is to cater to lower or baser desires.  It is a means of appeal for support by indulging or gratifying the audience with something it wants.

How do churches pander?

Much of American church growth has become related to pandering.  What first comes to my mind is the halfway covenant of colonial America, in which churches changed the requirements for membership in order to indulge those who needed it to further their social agendas.  Later Charles Finney wrote in 1835:

Without new measures it is impossible that the Church should succeed in gaining the attention of the world to religion. There are so many exciting subjects constantly brought before the public mind . . . that the Church cannot maintain her ground without sufficient novelty in measures, to get the public ear. The measures of politicians, of infidels, and heretics, the scrambling after wealth, the increase of luxury, and the ten thousand exciting and counteracting influences that bear upon the Church and upon the world, will gain men's attention, and turn them away from the sanctuary and from the altars of the Lord, unless we increase in wisdom and piety, and wisely adopt such new measures as are calculated to get the attention of men to the Gospel of Christ. . . .  It is evident that we must have more arousing preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age. Ministers are generally beginning to find this out. And some of them complain of it . . . The character of the age is changed, but these men retain the same stiff, dry, prosing style of preaching, that answered half a century ago.

Pandering.  Moody, Sunday, and then Rodeheaver followed in that same path (Scott Aniol writes and documents this here and here).  Os Guinness argues:

The Christian faith is unrivaled among the world religions for its genius in innovation and adaptation.  And no branch of the Christian faith has demonstrated this genius more than the evangelical movement. . . . Fundamentalism . . . prides itself on being world-denying by definition.  Today it has become world-affirming in a worldlier and more compromising way than . . . liberalism.

Relying on a study entitled, "The Rise of Evangelical Youth Movements" (among others), Richard Kyle writes:

Groups . . . engaged in youth work . . . thoroughly accommodated themselves to American culture. . . .  [T]hese youth groups did not ignore the pop culture.  Rallies were a Christianized form of entertainment, tailored for the youth.  The music was lively, celebrities gave their testimonies, and the leaders dressed in the latest styles.

More pandering.

If you grew up in an American church, you probably grew up with pandering.  I did in the 60s.  If they weren't cheatin', they weren't tryin'.  If you weren't pandering, you weren't tryin' to get bigger, tryin' to grow.  I rode the church bus, where every week there were handouts.  There were prizes upon prizes in junior church. There were promotions and marketing campaigns of many different types catering to the fleshly desires of lost people.  We had an M and M Sunday, where packages of M and M's were given along with the Musician and the Magician, and more.

Our family moved to Wisconsin and the youth were pandered to. We had to be constantly entertained by the church with regular youth activities.  Our Christian college pandered.  I participated in the pandering because it was fun.  When I traveled with the college, I was in churches that took pandering to completely different depths than I had ever witnessed.  We visited one youth room with posters of Christian rock stars on the walls.  I remember our bus breaking down and our choir crowded into a 40 seat auditorium with a tiny platform three quarters filled with the drum trap set and the other quarter with their multi-colored mush microphones.  I've seen many of those stages since then.

Let me give examples of how widespread and accepted pandering has become.  It stretches across and bridges almost every "camp" of evangelical Christianity.  A major form of pandering are the indulgences offered the lost to interest them in church ("the sacred").   Several churches still have an incredible ratio of unbelievers attending their churches every Sunday based on pandering.  You can visit churches with 2000 in their services, over a 1000 of which are unsaved kids lured in by fleshly goodies.  They keep coming until they get bored with whatever is being handed out.  In the meantime, they are totally desensitized to the sacred through the pandering to which they are exposed by professing Bible-believing and practicing churches.  If you criticize this method, this pandering, you will be attacked as uncaring and not compassionate, most likely slandered. These same people say they are against racial pandering, and yet they have hundreds of black kids in an almost exclusively white church, because they lure them in with candy and toys and games.  They say they are feeding them.  If they were feeding them, why not try something healthy, like spinach salad with balsamic vinegar dressing, and see how many still come "to be fed."  This method is sick and it's still being done all over.   I say, "Shame on you!"  All of you.

Methods like I mentioned above, which are pandering, are justified because "kids get saved."  How do kids get saved?  Isn't it the gospel?  Please don't say it's because of a sno-cone.  Please don't.  That is offensive to God.  Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of these kids are turned away from church permanently, when they are through being pandered to.  A minuscule few make it all the way through, very few, especially compared to those who eject.

I don't know where Hybels and Warren and their kind of pandering stem from, but it wouldn't surprise me that they looked at what Hyles did and just erased some of the scruples Hyles held, that kept him from the extent of the seeker sensitive movement.  Now you've even got Calvinists, the young, restless, and reformed using similar methodology.  John MacArthur uses it in his church and has with the Resolved Conference, where they pandered to the youth culture with their music and dress.  People grow up no longer able to discern between what is holy and what is profane.  That's easy to see.

Evangelical and fundamentalist colleges pander to get students.  They attract students with fleshly means.  Pensacola Christian College uses the symbol of the palm tree, even though they aren't native to that area of Northern Florida, attempting to lure people in with the symbolism of the beach culture.  The Master's College panders.  Christian colleges most often compete for students by pandering to a lower common denominator.

Churches pander by softening their approach to certain sinful practices and not preaching against certain sins.  They pander with short sermons laced with stand-up comedy.  They pander by offering programs to indulge people with special interests.   Certain academics choose to fellowship in a wide range of associations to make their position seem more credible.  There are exponential further examples.

Pandering ultimately comes out of insecurity, a lack of trust in God, a dissatisfaction with the sufficiency of scripture, pragmatism, or worldliness.  The solution is contentment with biblical practice out of one's completion in Christ.  God is not honored by pandering.  Pandering says God is not enough or less than whatever is used to cater to a fleshly desire.

Let us all consider whether pandering is part of what we do.


Larry said...

That saying actually predates Mark Grace by quite a few years.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brandenburg,

When you say, "I say, 'Shame on you!' All of you," are you including Fairhaven Baptist College and Roger Voegtlin and Jeff Voegtlin? I ask because you mention many individuals and institutions by name.

Do you think the day will come when you will publicly separate from Fairhaven over this pandering doctrine and practice that you have discussed here? I imagine it would be a tough decision if you still have friends who fellowship there.

Thank you for the article.


Kent Brandenburg said...


I knew the statement, wanted an accurate quote, and everywhere I looked attributed it to Grace, which is why I didn't say he said it, but that it was attributed to him. Thanks though. It's an interesting topic in itself to me.


I am including everyone, including them when they do it. I've often said that I don't believe separation is "cutting people off," and that people who you separate from ecclesiastically takes a slower time than in your own church. There are reasons for this. Sometimes fellowship is reduced due to sheer proximity. I teach and have written that fellowship is cooperation and participation with. Do you know me? How do we presently fellowship with Fairhaven? Is there a way that you know of?

I recognize you are saying, "Publically separate," or in other words, tell everyone that we've separated. Announce it.

Who are you, Bob? If you don't mind telling me. There are a lot of Bobs on earth.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brandenburg,

I mentioned the possibility of you having friends who still fellowship with Fairhaven. I did not mean to imply something more than that. What I meant is this:

1) Your article on pandering mentions Hybels, Warren, Hyles, MacArthur, Pensacola, and the Master's College. It does not mention Fairhaven.

2) Your website is coauthored by a Fairhaven graduate. You link to the website of Jeff Voegtlin. You link to several individuals and churches with connections to Fairhaven. You have regular commenting from some individuals with connections to Fairhaven. So your website appears to have many more positive connections with Fairhaven than with Hyles, Pensacola, the Master's College, etc.

3) I think you believe Fairhaven teaches and practices pandering.

So I asked the question about public separation from Fairhaven, and imagined it could be difficult.

Thank you again,


Kent Brandenburg said...

Who are you Bob? I don't mind answering these questions, but I want to know who you are first.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brandenburg,

That's a fair point. I'm asking you to be more specific, you're asking me to be more specific. Point taken. I hope I didn't rub you the wrong way. And I do appreciate your answers for what they are. If you would prefer me not to comment on your blog as I do, I will abide by that. I do appreciate your writing.

Best wishes,


Kent Brandenburg said...


You are welcome to comment. It's just that you are asking some questions that relate to my personal application alone, as if it is important to you that I'm consistent in my application. You don't really say much as to what you believe about what I've written. You wrote a very ambiguous, "I do appreciate your answer for what they are."

If you know who Thomas Ross is, then you know how he is and that he writes on this blog wouldn't be a problem to you, but you bring it up. It's fine to bring up, but you throw it out like something's wrong, when there is nothing to it. You are asserting something.

I don't see having someone in my links as fellowship. I'd be glad to have you explain how this is the case.