We Were Warned

by Dale Holzbauer 

I was astounded at the question she asked. An older lady, a godly woman and faithful part of a Christian church had called me. She was leading a Bible study in her home and had done so for several years. Her question: “What do you think of our group studying a book and the accompanying DVDs by Perry Stone?” Perry Stone’s teachings include his own visions and prophecies (some of which he receives from the dead), divine healing and miracles wrought through prayer cloths and the taking of communion (which he sells), generational curses, a corrupt view of demon possession, the use of Bible codes instead of solid hermeneutics, a wrong view of the place of modern-day Israel, etc. How is it possible that this dear lady could not see through the non-biblical and anti-biblical teaching of Stone? May I say at the outset that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9)? The reader will find that the issues dealt with herein have been faced by the Church of the Lord Jesus for a very long time. Only the names and dates change.

What do church attendees really believe?

We must consider the place of sound doctrine – right belief – in the Church of the Lord Jesus. “Is this a necessary topic?” one might ask. A challenge: take an anonymous survey in the church you serve and/or attend. Keep in mind some terms will have to be very clearly defined. Some questions deliberately touch on concepts in earlier questions to elicit clearer responses. Ask questions such as…

  1. Is the Bible inspired, inerrant and infallible?
  2. Is Jesus Christ the only Savior of the world or are there other paths to salvation? 
  3. Does absolute truth exist or is it possible that truth depends on circumstance(s) and is therefore relative?
  4. Is hell a real place and will people go there for eternity?
  5. Are other religions, if sincerely held, adequate for one to be acceptable to God?
  6. Since cultures change, does the Bible need to be continually re-interpreted for succeeding generations?
  7. Does the Bible contain errors?
  8. Does one’s experience(s) equal truth for that person?

I have done what I suggested, seven times to date, in churches I have served either as the preacher/lead minister, or where I have been hired as a consultant to come alongside leadership and help a local church. To say that I have been astounded at the results of the surveys is an understatement.

From modalism to the Word of Faith movement, to so-called “progressive” Christianity, to the various cults, to issues that once-great denominations have compromised over (the ordination of homosexual clergy, homosexual marriage, abortion, the authority of the Bible, nature and source of salvation, etc.), those dear people who are members of Bible-honoring, Christ-exalting churches are confused and being led astray simply because, in many cases, they do not know better. Someone, many “some ones,” has/have dropped the ball.
 
To paraphrase Edward Hallett Carr, it is wise to study the historian before one studies history. A brief introduction is in order. I have been in the Christian ministry for 54 years beginning when I was 19 in a youth ministry in Cincinnati. I have five earned college and seminary degrees, including a doctorate. I have served as preaching minster for over 35 years and have worked as a college and seminary professor. The issues raised here have been known for years.

Two excellent books that I would recommend on this topic would be “A Grand Illusion” by Dr. David Young and “The Faith Once For All” by Dr. Jack Cottrell. 

We Were Warned

Both Testaments contain abundant and familiar warnings against false teachers and false prophets.  God spells out exactly what He will do with the false prophets of Ezekiel’s day in Ezekiel 13:9. Through Jeremiah (23:16), the people were told not to listen to those prophets who would fill them with false hopes. Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:24 that false prophets and false Messiahs would appear and deceive many. Paul, writing to Timothy, said that the time would come when people would not put up with sound doctrine but would embrace myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Acts 20:28-30 is a sobering passage wherein Paul warns the Ephesian elders that “savage wolves” (see also Matthew 7:15,16) would come in and distort truth for the purpose of taking followers for themselves. First John 4:1-6, 2 Peter 2 and Jude come to mind as do many other texts, situations and authors. We get the point and we note that in both Testaments, false teachers/prophets are called out by name (2 Timothy 4:10, 1:15, 2:17; 1 Timothy 1:19,20; 2 Chronicles 18:10,11; Jeremiah 20:1-3, etc.).

Recent Trends in the Wrong Direction

In the interest of time we will briefly consider some of the more recent trends which are contrary to clear biblical teaching. This list is nowhere near exhaustive. It is merely suggestive of the root of the problem, that being a departure from a proper understanding of clear biblical teaching. It should be a concern to all Christians that careful study of hermeneutics, languages, context, etc., are often derided by those who distort the Bible.

A term of derision (from the political right) is “social justice warrior.” A trend in the wrong direction is to see the Christian faith primarily as a belief system which calls one to enact social change, resulting in justice. Of course there is merit here, but Christians see the upending of priorities in this approach.

Arguably, the worst trend in the wrong direction is the re-ordering of sexual ethics and mores. I was labeled on Facebook by a young man who attends a Christian church (but rejects the label, “Christian!”) as a “follower of Satan” because I espoused the biblical teaching that sexual expression was to be limited to one man and one woman who were married to each other. To imagine that the ordination of practicing homosexuals is even an issue, is staggering. 

To gain a deeper understanding of the issues and the incursion of relativistic/postmodern thinking into the church, see the Pew Research Center, Barna, and Gallup on, “What do Evangelical Christians think about” these topics: absolutes, the existence and source of truth, the Bible’s accuracy and reliability, sexual ethics, marriage and ordination, the exclusivity of Christianity, etc. The results of such research will be shocking.

What Must be Done

Reject the notion that all that needs to be taught, emphasized and believed is simply the resurrection of Jesus. This sounds good on the surface, but obviously neglects much that is necessary in Christian life and doctrine. Some of the back story here is the old liberal canard that Paul and Jesus are at odds or, at best, Paul has less authority than Jesus. It is likely that many Christian teachers and preachers have heard, “Jesus said nothing about homosexual behavior.” Though, at face value, it is true, it is a blatant misdirection and ignores the fact that Jesus clearly laid out His expectations in multiple encounters. First, He fully upheld a “traditional sexual ethic” when He quoted from the Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 in Matthew 19. Additionally, He expected the woman caught in adultery to “leave [her] life of sin” (John 8:11). 

Re-establish classes in the church that teach substantive doctrine, whether Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or other times good for your congregation. Said classes should be taught by people who have a good understanding of biblical chronology, biblical theology, the holy life, etc. These classes can be put online. Teachers can be properly prepared and released .

Re-establish “life recruit” weeks at our Christian camps. This is critical. These camps should be staffed by preachers and teachers who have proven themselves in Christian spiritual warfare.  Yes, it is war.

Appreciate and insist upon biblical preaching. Biblical preaching is sometimes controversial and sometimes includes topics, texts and themes which are absolutely counter-cultural. No Bible preacher should feel intimidated when he preaches biblical truth.

Teach separation from the world. I am well aware of the problems associated with hyper-fundamentalism. I am also well aware of the problems associated with compromise with the world. Christians need to be reminded that we are in, but not of, the world – that we are pilgrims and aliens in this world.

I wrote this in the sincere hope that the reader will be aware of the issues the Church is facing in our culture and will, within his or her sphere of influence, make a difference for the cause of Christ.

May we all be strong salt and bright light.

Church … FAMILY

by Jared Johnson 

A picture speaks 1,000 words.  Have you had occasion to send – or receive – a picture like this recently?  I have. 

There are over 50 “one-anothers” in the New Testament, and just like biological families, church families are hard.  Forgiving, submitting to, praying with, and honoring each other are hard; always have been and they will remain so. 

Back in June, before many churches had resumed “embodied” worship – being back in the building on Sunday morning – Barna Group reported that roughly ½ of all “practicing Christians” in the US had not participated in online worship for at least a month.  I haven’t seen a hard number more recent than that, but the anecdotal evidence seems unrelentingly negative.  “I’m leaving that church – can you believe what they just decided?!”  After a couple recent conversations, I gave some thought to reasons that I’d leave my home church of 25+ years.  

I could come up with only 3.  I would leave my home church if…

  1. …it closed.  I don’t mean “we won’t be meeting here at the building for a time because of the pandemic” closure, I mean liquidation.  If they ceased to exist “as a going concern,” then I wouldn’t attend anymore.  Obviously, I couldn’t, even if I wanted to.  But that’s the point; just like death separates us from our biological family members and we can’t interact with them anymore, a congregation’s closure would mean I couldn’t be part of that church any longer.  
  2. …the leaders “un-invited” me from the congregation.  If my brother or parents said I was no longer welcome in their homes, I’d be grieved, but I would comply.  Again, same goes for my church relationship.  If I were “cut” from that family of faith, I wouldn’t return.
  3. …I heard or saw evidence of a pattern of covering up unethical behavior by leaders.  If a major scandal broke in the local news of a staff member behaving badly, it likely wouldn’t change my impression of the elders and staff as a whole.  If a story, however, came to light about habitual malfeasance – if multiple staff and/or elders were involved in making a problem “disappear” – then I would disappear.  In Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings, he describes people who are wise, foolish, and dangerous.  The dangerous individual, he says, should simply be dismissed from an organization.  I am not a leader at my congregation, “just another guy in the pew.”  As such, if my leaders demonstrate that they are among the dangerous, it’s not my place to remove them, so I would remove myself. 

I like the approach my home church has taken throughout 2020, but if it were completely the opposite, I think I’d still consider myself part of the church.  I might not attend in person; I might adjust my Sunday morning routine in painful ways to work around it, but I’d still think long and hard about how I could still participate.  Beyond such temporary concerns, if my church changed the way we did outreach, small groups, discipleship, order of worship, communion, or any number of other things, I still think I’d consider it home. 

A devil’s advocate might be quick to throw down the “BUT DOCTRINE!” gauntlet.  I disagree.  Here’s how and why: if I thought my preacher began spouting nonsense, I’d ask to chat with him.  If he didn’t like what I had to say, I’d ask one or a couple of the elders to chat with us.  Three of our present nine elders literally watched me grow up in this church.  A fourth elder was at the same college I was for two or three years, graduating just ahead of me, and he has been at this church ever since as an intern, staff person, lay leader, and now as an elder.  The shared history and relational capital are too much to toss aside flippantly.  If our preacher was, to my ears, no longer biblical, and all that relational capital with those elders was spent in my quest to “set him straight,” I have to believe the elders would un-invite me from the congregation.  They’d be perfectly justified to do so, since at that point, I would sound a whole lot more like “a divisive person” (Titus 3.10) than I would sound like a prophet. 

There are so many reasons to fight right now in 2020 America – and by reasons I mean excuses.  Isn’t Jesus bigger than all of it?  Paul wrote multiple letters to Corinth.  The Corinth church had some guy living with his stepmom and bragging about it – at least, we can only hope it was “just” his stepmom!  People in the congregation were suing each other back and forth, fighting and bickering in front of pagan Roman judges.  Other people were getting drunk on communion wine while others never got to participate in the commemorative meal.  And we think we have it rough when the guy next to us wants to vote for the other guy!  Well, near the end of Paul’s first letter to that rowdy bunch, he began drawing his thoughts to conclusion with this: 

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me.  Christ died for our sins, must as the Scriptures said.  He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Cor. 15.3-4, NLT) 

That’s the definition of “what’s most important,” per Paul. 

Politics?  Not important.  Well, at least, not most important.  Supreme Court Justices – which is still politics – not most important.  Masks?  Not most important.  Physical distance from my fellow worshipers?  Not most important.  It’s not like we were greeting each other with holy kisses back in February!  

Instead of fixating on divisive topics that, by design, get our blood boiling, let’s focus on and make much of what’s most important, per Scripture.  A former pastor of mine and friend would frequently remind us “if all your stories about God’s involvement in your life are from 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, you need some new stories.”  Is the Spirit evident in, around, and through us?  It’s obvious when someone is drunk on alcohol.  Is it obvious that you and I are under the influence of the Spirit?  Do we freely share stories of our good Father’s incredible interventions and involvement in our lives?  Or are we consumed with merely ranting about the scandal du jour? 

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life.  Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit… (Eph. 5.18, NLT) 

For every blood-boiling news story that we hear any given day, we should have 10x more God stories.  I’m just as guilty as the next guy of fixating on the mundane and pointless.  But Scripture points us in the other direction. 

And while I keep learning that lesson just a little bit more every day, I’m going to stick with my family of faith, come what may.  They’re worth it. 

Developing the Leader Within You

by Jeff Metzger 

I face a big leadership development challenge.  You do too!  There are three arenas of my life where I am continually trying to grow the leader within me:  I want to be better at organizational leadership, people leadership, and self-leadership.  All are challenging, but the biggest challenge is the self-leadership challenge.

Self-leadership is Vital

Developing the leader within you starts with self-leadership.  Don’t just take my word for it.

  • Harry Truman said, “You cannot lead others until you first lead yourself.”
  • My business coach, Michael Hyatt, says, “How we lead ourselves in life impacts how we lead those around us.” 
  • Paul is calling for self-leadership when he calls for continuous, habitual self-examination in 2 Corinthians 13:5 MSG, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted.  Give yourselves regular checkups.”
  • Dee Hock, creator, founder, and CEO emeritus of Visa said, “People should spend 50% of their time leading themselves.”

Wow!  Do you spend any time, let alone half your time, deliberately leading yourself?  Being a leader at home, at work, at school, or at church requires that first we learn to lead ourselves.

How Do You Grow Your Leadership? 

What can you do to lead yourself?  What can you do to lead others?  There is no greater example of effective leadership than Jesus.  Discovering and applying the leadership practices on display in Jesus’ life can help grow the leader within you.  Invest time in learning to lead like Jesus.  Do it to be a better disciple, not just a better leader.

To be and lead like Jesus …

Grow Your Character – Be Your Best Self 

Work every day to make sure these self-leadership character qualities of Jesus are part of your life.  Explore the records of Jesus’ life to see his character on display.

  • Integrity (No Shortcuts!) – Matthew 4:1-11

When Jesus began his ministry, he was tempted to take shortcuts to influence.  In every case he said no.  Every leader faces a variety of temptations.  The best leaders live with integrity.

  • Passion (Live with Spirit) – Luke 2:46-47

At the age of twelve Jesus’ passion for God was already on display.  What are you passionate about?  What do others see us get passionate about?

  • Communication (Listen and Share Well) – Mark 1:22

Rarely do we think about our ability to communicate – to hear, understand, and engage with others – as a character issue, but it is.

  • Decisiveness (Do the Right Thing) – Matthew 3:15

In every situation Jesus acted decisively.  At his baptism, in saying “no” to the devil, in engaging other leaders or teaching Jesus took responsibility for doing right.  Leaders always do.

 

Grow Your Concern – Help Others Thrive

The best leaders improve the people around them.  Read Jesus’ biographies to see how he developed people and helped them thrive.

  • Mentor and Coach People – Mark 3:13; Luke 11:1

Leaders grow people.  Jesus poured into people, especially the twelve.  He was with them and for them.  Who are you with and for?

  • Build and Unleash the Team – Luke 10:1-2

Two are better than one.  Jesus expanded his leadership by unleashing teams.

  • Value, Love, and Encourage Everyone – Matthew 9:36; 20:29-34

Jesus loved people, all people.  Do you?  Great leaders value people greatly.

  • Give Great Rewards – Matthew 4:19; Matthew 19:29

Jesus rewarded people by unleashing them to make a difference now and forever.

 

Grow Your Impact – Produce Positive Results

Jesus went around doing good (Acts 10:38).  He produced positive and beneficial results everywhere he engaged.  Leaders make things better.  Investigate how Jesus produced lasting change.

  • Clarify the Win – Mark 10:42-45

Jesus knew his mission.  Do you?  He was clear about and committed to his purpose.  Are you?

  • Make Good Decisions – John 7:1-10

Jesus knew when to step forward and when to pull back to achieve his purpose.  His decision making was always designed to advance his kingdom agenda.  Great leaders make great decisions.

  • Think Big but Act Small – John 13:1

In the upper room, Jesus was ready to die for the world.  But, he was also sharing with twelve good friends – big and small.

  • Go the Distance – Matthew 26:36-39; Luke 22:39-46

Jesus was unwilling to quit.  He persevered – even to the cross!

  • Live “All In” For the Mission – Luke 9:57-62

Jesus lived this way.  He calls us to do the same.

None of us will ever match Jesus’ character, concern and impact.  But, there are lots of ways to become a better leader in life.  Doing something every day to be more like Jesus is one of the best.  Where will you start to be more like Jesus today?

Moral Authority

by Ken Idleman 

Let’s be honest and admit it.  We all know it’s true.  No one can effectively lead, in any context, without authority.  You have to have it to both endure and to be effective as a leader.  So what is authority?  In short, it is the power to influence others.  And while this may be a good, concise dictionary definition, it forces us to ask questions of ourselves.
 
So how do you get this intangible, yet indispensable, leadership commodity?  
 
It is not a set of techniques you learn. It is not a personality adjustment you make.  It is not a particular style you adopt. Deference is uniquely the by-product of genuine morality.  Your most important authority as a leader is moral authority. 
People don’t necessarily follow someone just because he/she has the highest salary, the corner office or their name at the apex of an organizational chart.  We have all seen people who have been conferred with lofty titles, honorary degrees and monetary perks who have not endured; nor have they been truly effective.  In fact, they often fail spectacularly because of the organic lack of followership that results from being perceived as secretive, insular and self-serving.  
 
But, by contrast, people naturally defer to someone they admire, someone they trust, someone who is perceived to be genuine, someone who is believablesomeone who is good.  

Jesus Christ is Exhibit A.  He did not take the political, military, fiscal or popularity path to exert His influence and change the world.  He took the pathway of humility and righteousness.  He chose to quietly and patiently love, serve, teach and extend grace to people.  And throughout the ages since His death and resurrection, right up to the present, more people freely bow their knee to Jesus as Lord of Life than any other.  
 
His secret: “He faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  He is the incomparable Leader of Leaders because “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every Name” (Philippians 2:8-9).  People instinctively follow those that they consider to be morally underpinned and personally sacrificial.

There is a reason why every single one of the ‘qualifications’ for a church leader/elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are character qualifications, except one – the ability to teach.  Jesus wants His church to be led by righteous men, moral men who embrace God-honoring holiness.  They were to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:5).  The Church is the one place where a man’s financial portfolio/net worth, academic credentials, business acumen, name recognition and connectedness in the community are simply beside the point.  We respect and select promise keepers to lead the church.  What are the commitments that the leadership candidate has dared to make and cared to keep in his life?  That’s it. 

So that was then … what about now?  Hebrews 6:6 clearly says that it is possible to ‘crucify the Son of God all over again and subject Him to public disgrace.’  This is happening most often today as Satan succeeds again and again in his quest to either immediately destroy or gradually erode the moral authority of the shepherds of Christ, church leaders, professed Godly influencers.

  • Gordon McDonald’s book, Rebuilding Your Broken World, is a personal testimony about the consequences of his loss of leadership because of his adultery. 
  • Jim Bakker was honest about the fallout from his moral failure and greed in his book, I Was Wrong. 
  • Jimmy Swaggart was nationally televised as he dramatically confessed through tears to his immorality, “I have sinned against you my Lord!”  His church and TV ministry tanked.
  • Ted Haggard, Robert Tilton, W.G. Grant and many other ‘leaders’ over the years have been publicly exposed for their sexual proclivities and financial improprieties.
  • Pedophile priests & cover-up cardinals have produced congregational disillusionment and incalculable financial loss for Catholicism.
  • Bill Hybels categorically denied the testimony of sexual impropriety by 10 different women and the abuse of power by several close coworkers… and then disappeared into thin air leaving behind a traumatized church.
  • Jerry Falwell Jr. has recently been indicted by pictures and videos posted online, along with his juvenile responses to his immoral choices, before walking away with $10 million of severance pay from Liberty University.  

Too ungracious of me to name names? Too much brutal honesty?  I am sorry, but we as the church have got to apply some kind of discipline to stop these 20th & 21st century public scourgings of the Lord Jesus.  We have got to do something to block these gut punches to the Body of Christ / the Church.  The perception of moral authority in Christian leaders has been and still is being undermined.

A Christian leader living a duplicitous life must repent!  A church leader involved in secret sin must repent!  The only other path is to resign and quietly slip out of the leadership yoke at least temporarily, if not permanently.  

Jesus and His mission for us – to lead all people everywhere to know His salvation and His loving Lordship – will suffer eternal loss if a leader fails to guard his heart and value his moral authority as the indispensable Christian leadership core. 

What Committed Elders can Accomplish

by Lynn Laughlin 

Growing up in a minister’s home can be a blessing or a curse, or a combination of the two.  Mine was an absolute blessing.  My father, Ernest Laughlin, was the minister at the West Side Christian Church in our brotherhood.  My father believed that the church would only grow if the eldership gave solid leadership and clear direction to those in their care.  His task was to help raise up men who understood and accepted that task.  He accomplished that goal over and over with dedicated men who responded to that challenge.  In return, our family was totally supported in every circumstance by those wonderful servants of the Lord.

I have lived long enough to know that at some ministers’ homes there are words that are spoken about elders that are rather derogatory and hurtful.  I also know that in some elders’ homes that Sunday lunch was about the minister and his shortcomings.  I can honestly say that we never had the elders discussed in a negative way at any time.  Because of this trust and bond between my father, the minister, and the elders, great things were accomplished for the sake of the kingdom.
 
In the late 1940s the church decided to build a large two-story educational wing to house an expanding Sunday school program.  After the building was completed, my father began to cast a vision to the elders about how to be better stewards of what God had provided for them in that building.  Standing idle for the larger part of the week was not good stewardship.  So the elders gave my father their blessing in sending him to the west coast to look at the possibility of starting a school centered on Christ in that new building.  The end result was the establishment of the Christian Day School which is still a part of West Side with a new name Springfield Christian School.  Today it has a pre-school and a K-8 with an enrollment of over 400.
 
There was another program that my father, through the elders, thought was important and that had to do with the establishment of other churches in the Springfield area.  Out of that push, three churches were started: South Side Christian Church, Monroe Street Christian Church which was an African-American congregation, and Bunn Park Christian Church.  Members of West Side were encouraged to go to these churches to help them grow and provide leadership for them.
 
In the late 1950s my father was stricken with Parkinson’s disease.  Slowly but steadily his health began to decline.  The elders were supportive in helping him continue his ministry at West Side with some limitations.  In the summer of 1962 my father went on an extended Holy Land tour.  While the group was in Rome, he had a nervous breakdown and my mother was contacted by the leader of the tour.  My mother immediately got in touch with the elders and together they planned out what to do.  My father was helped by a missionary serving in Bari, Italy that he had influenced to go to Bible college.  The elders sent my mother and younger brother to be with them in Bari until he was able to come home.  The elders prayed and made weekly calls to check on us just to make sure we were doing well.
 
We couldn’t thank them enough for all that they did during that time, and with the closing years of my father’s ministry at West Side.  The names of several of those elders are on my Ordination Certificate which I cherish to this day.  The rest of the names of those elders are written on the Lamb’s book of life.  West Side still has strong eldership who faithfully serve with their minister Eddie Lowen.  To God be the glory for the things He has done.