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In God we trust?


Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

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IN GOD WE TRUST?

Many Americans seem to believe that the USA is God’s Promised Land – including many Christians. Politicians have been quick to make capital out of the Christian community, some seem to have worked out which buttons to press to get the greatest number of American Christians on their side of the political spectrum. It seems that there are more than a few people who seem to think that whatever is produced in America, and exported by America, is blessed by God, because America trusts in God.    

For years America has been exporting many of its products around the world. There are only a few places in the world completely closed to America’s product influence. Many US products have become very visible and recognizable international icons.  Examples include: Apple; Burger King/Hungry Jack’s; Citicorp/Citigroup; Coca Cola; Ford; Gillette; IBM; Johnson& Johnson; KFC/Kentucky Fried/the Colonel; McDonald’s (the Big M); MGM; Microsoft; Nike; Pepsi; Starbucks; Warner Bros.  – and the list goes on.

Apart from consumer products, however, America has for years been exporting various forms of religion. A wide variety of cults, pseudo-Christian and Christian groups (as well as concepts, ideas, notions, attractions) have been exported worldwide. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Science through to televangelists, the Word/Faith movement, and more, have spread from the USA around the world – and as with the commercial consumer products, the profits (‘prophets’) have mostly been America’s.   But many are beginning to recognise, and even acknowledge, that many of America’s religious exports are far from perfect!  Many of the concerns expressed about American religion, and versions of Christian expression, are also applicable in Australia, Britain, Singapore and elsewhere.

As a Ministry, there are many things/issues/concepts promoted by CHARISMA Magazine with which CCG Ministries would strongly disagree.  However, from time to time, we gladly endorse the sharp perceptions and critiques of its senior editor, J Lee Grady in his regular ‘Fire in My Bones’ column (http://fireinmybones.com/).  When he writes about issues and problems within the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian communities, he writes as a passionate ‘insider’ not a narrow-minded extreme ‘outsider’ critic.

In December 2007 Grady reported on a Pentecostal/Charismatic conference held a week before, to alert American churches about the need to rediscover evangelism and Biblical church planting. He began:
‘The American church knows how to design functional buildings, develop sophisticated programs, utilize technology and preach to the proverbial choir. But we have forgotten the fundamental task of soul-winning—and as a result churches are closing at a record rate and more and more young people are leaving the faith.’

He went on to outline some of the reasons for the decline in evangelism as perceived by the presenters and participants of that November conference:

‘They include:

1. A lack of spiritual zeal in our churches. “Soul-winning must be a passion, not a program,” one attendee said… 

2. A spectator mentality. Many Christians have been deceived into believing that evangelism is the work of paid clergy or itinerant specialists…

3. A cultural disconnect. …a large segment of the millennial generation has abandoned church because they feel it isn’t relevant to their lives. As long as the church remains mired in superficial religiosity, we won’t reach young people—who crave authenticity…

4. An increasingly secular culture. …universalism and atheism are growing…

5. Tensions between evangelists and pastors. …many pastors feel threatened by evangelists and don’t want to share local church resources with them…

6. The church’s credibility crisis. Recent religious scandals, incessant fundraising on Christian television and reports of televangelists living in opulence have produced increased skepticism about preachers’ motives. Many of the leaders in Orlando were incensed by the blatant moral and ethical abuses occurring in our movement. Said one leader in a moment of candor: “If I see one more telethon on Christian television I’m going to puke.”

7. Bad theology. … American Christianity has, at times, morphed into an errant “virus” that has had a negative impact on countries where it has been exported. “We preach a gospel that offers faith without repentance, grace without the fear of God and destiny without discipleship,” [said Rice Broocks, pastor of Bethel World Outreach Center in Nashville].

8. A poorly defined mission. Many churches no longer understand what evangelism is. Missionary mobilizer David Shibley offered the group a succinct definition, borrowed from his days in Southern Baptist seminary: “Evangelism is sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit with a view to bringing people to repentance and faith in Christ so that they might serve Him in the church.”

Grady then expressed a ‘Desperate Cry for Revival in 2008’ at the beginning of January, and informed readers what he was praying for in this year – now two thirds over:

1. The fear of God. Holiness was so tangible among early Christians that false prophets were blinded and greedy liars fell over dead. As a result of God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear came over the whole church” (Acts 5:11, NASB).

Where is this sense of “shock and awe” today? How can Christians be so cavalier about divorce or so flippant about adultery? How can television preachers sleep at night after robbing God’s people with manipulative fundraising appeals?

2. Integrity and purity in the church. Our movement hit rock-bottom in October when charismatic pastor Donnie Earl Paulk of Atlanta announced to his stunned congregation that a DNA test had proved he is not the nephew of Bishop Earl Paulk but is in fact his son. That such unspeakable depravity was permitted to thrive for decades at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is an indictment against the elder Paulk and all leaders who refused to challenge his behavior when they first learned about it years ago.

This and other recent religious scandals have so tarnished our credibility that we have become a curious freak show. Many unbelievers now associate ministers with wife-swapping, wife-beating, no-fault divorce, gay affairs and $10,000-a-night hotel rooms. We need a Holy Ghost housecleaning.

3. A return to evangelism. In the 1970s we were less sophisticated but so much more zealous for Jesus. We handed out tracts and witnessed to everyone. Sharing our faith was the priority. Yet most people in churches today have never led anyone to Christ.

We are no longer contagious. Spirit-filled believers spend more time chasing “financial breakthroughs” than lost souls. We have rejected sacrifice and compassion and embraced a counterfeit gospel that produces bored, selfish spectators.

4. Godly leadership. …Many of our spiritual fathers have disappointed us, either by their own moral failures or by their refusal to confront sin…May He [God] also give us spiritual shepherds who care more for the flock than for the crowd’s applause.

5. A national spiritual awakening. There were seasons in America’s past when sinners became so convicted of their sins that they collapsed under the weight of their guilt. During the days of revivalists George Whitefield and Charles Finney, huge waves of conversions led to a widespread transformation of society. Drunks became sober, prison inmates sang hymns, stingy business owners stopped oppressing their workers, atheists surrendered their unbelief and rebellious children returned to faith.

In February 2008, Grady shared with his readers comments from a Louisiana pastor, Larry Stockstill, a former missionary in Africa and currently low-profile senior pastor of  the 10 000 strong Bethany World Prayer Center.

‘Stockstill became alarmed about the anemic condition of American churches in 2006, when he had to step in and help bring discipline to Ted Haggard, the Colorado pastor who was removed as senior leader of New Life Church because of a moral failure…“We look like a sleaze bucket in the eyes of the nation,” says the 54-year-old pastor… Stockstill says the level of dysfunction among American ministers concerns him because their unhealthiness is then passed down to their congregations. He sees five types of common dysfunction among ministers today, especially in the independent charismatic movement:

1.  Lack of fathering (no affirmation, encouragement or spiritual covering) 
2.  Lack of correction (no accountability, resulting in pride and moral failure) 
3.  Lack of fruitfulness (no training in evangelism and discipleship, preventing churches from multiplying as they should) 
4.  Lack of healing (many pastors suffer silently because of sins and addictions) 
5.  Lack of teaching (many in ministry today are untaught, resulting in biblically illiterate churches)…
“You look at leaders in the Bible like Solomon, or like Samson, and you find that years of success can lead a person into pride. And when pride comes, it brings a lack of accountability,” he explains… Stockstill hopes hundreds of pastors will…reclaim kingdom values including humility, purity and honesty—as well as passion for missions and church planting.’

The issues, concerns and hopes expressed by J Lee Grady, and those he quoted, are still relevant and pertinent, not only to the USA but to Australia and Christians everywhere. They are worth considering carefully, prayerfully for both personal and community/congregational/denominational implementation.  Read the comments again and take a closer look – what, in them, applies to you? 

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(First published in TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, Vol. 29   No. 4; Aug-Sep 2008)