I had my time periods of being extremely anti-name-&-claim and anti-word of faith movement.
What good is seminary?
As a devout Christian, after graduating with my Master’s Degree in Christian Studies from a theological seminary (and by the grace of God with a 4.0 GPA), I feel I am adequately equipped to answer this question.
Some believe that seminary is where to go if one wants to become a “professional Christian”. They believe that to go to the next level of belief and faith in God, that one should go to theological seminary or to bible college. They believe that one cannot know all there is to know about God, the church, and the Holy Bible without going to seminary.
The university from which I matriculated had four levels of seminary. There was an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate program. Some might feel that until one attains the highest level of seminary that one is not a good enough, or well-equipped for ministry Christian. I will tell my opinion about that towards the end of this blog post after I tell a few benefits that come from attending seminary.
For starters, if you hope to be a bible teacher one day, it helps to be taught by others who have spent a lifetime of studying the Bible. Some people spend their entire adult life studying the Old Testament or the New Testament or even just one book of the Bible. Therefore, if you want to teach others about the Bible at your church, it would prove beneficial to be taught by this particular person.
Some people feel as if Bible study is unnecessary. They feel that the Holy Spirit Himself can teach them all they need to know about the Bible. That is true. The Holy Spirit can teach you whatever God wants you to know. But the reality is that because of our strong traditions that come from our church or denomination or family, we will always FILTER God’s truth through mankind’s teaching. And much of that teaching might be faulty. It is hard to drink purified water through a dirty glass. Sometimes, seminary can clean the glass so that you can rightfully receive what God is telling you about the Bible.
For example, many Christian partake of the Daniel Diet. This is the diet that we read about in the book of Daniel wherein Daniel only ate particular foods and did not eat the Babylonian food that was offered to him. Today, for ten days many Christians will refrain from eating meat and sweets as a way to get closer to God. BUT seminary can teach you that many of the foods we eat in America were not even around in Babylon, so if we were hoping to eat just like Daniel, then would not be doing exactly as he did. Also, Daniel’s purpose for eating those particular foods was not to get closer to God, but rather it was to avoid eating the unclean food being offered to him by the Babylonians. The Israelites only ate Kosher clean food, and because Daniel was a Hebrew, he could not in good conscience eat their food. And Daniel did not only eat the right food for 10 days as we do, but he ate that way his entire life. But because we are not Hebrews in Babylonian exile, we should not feel bad that we cannot do the Daniel Diet as Daniel did because we should only be trying to grasp the principle of the matter which is to hold fast to one’s convictions even under dire circumstances. These are things one might only learn in seminary. Do you see how your information determines your actions?
Another important function of seminary is when one is confronted with false doctrine. My seminary professor of Church History 1 taught us many of the false doctrines/heresies that were condemned in Councils by the Orthodox church in the first few centuries of church history. So when a friend invites me to their church or tries to convince me to believe in some false doctrine, I can automatically dismiss it because I know it as being closely related to a condemned teaching that has returned in the last one hundred years or so to deceive others. Theological seminary can be helpful in recognizing and rejecting false teaching.
I have also found theological seminary to be very helpful in me worshipping God in TRUTH. Believe it or not, but your theology will affect your praise and worship. For example, if you think of God as some cosmic Joe Jackson who is scrutinizing your performance waiting with a celestial whip with which to cast you into hell at the slightest mistake you make, it will greatly impact your relationship with Him. If you think of God as the deists who believe that God simply created all humanity and then left it alone to its own devices without any interference, then it will greatly impact your prayer life. But if you know God’s true character which is a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and who chastises those whom He loves as sons, then you will have a better relationship with Him and therefore worship Him in truth. Seminary has theology classes that teach you accurately about God and His nature.
One last thing I’ll mention about the importance of seminary is that it tells you not simply WHAT the Bible says but HOW to read the Bible. We know that many a cult is begun by one charismatic leader telling an ignorant congregation EXACTLY what to think and believe. But this is uncommon in seminary. I attended a seminary that had students and teachers of different denominational backgrounds, and we were not always told WHAT to believe, but we were told HOW to read the Bible. The problem with the 33,000 – 38,000 Christian denominations is that most of them attempt to tell their members WHAT to believe. And doubtless they are being told what to believe by one imperfect human being. So whatever that one imperfect person teaches them is now believed by them and taught to their children. If the originator of the teaching was wrong, then everyone who believes everything he says is wrong too. And that is how cults get started. For example, one might teach their congregation that women must wear stockings and closed-toe shoes. Even though this is not in the Bible, it will be passed down to all generations as the truth. However, it is not true, but merely tradition and preference. Seminary will help one to see whether or not a tradition is actually and accurately based on a Bible verse or principle.
The Bible tells us to RIGHTLY divide the word of truth. It does not tell us to blindly swallow whatever we are told. And seminary has taught me that. I have learned to prayerfully read the Scriptures with illumination from the Holy Spirit; I have long ago ceased to accept everything I am told even though I know the Bible says the opposite or otherwise. Seminary has not made me a better Christian or a more godly person, but it has cleared my mind of the traditions of men that are not rooted in the Bible so that I might be more clearly influenced by the truth of God. If nothing else, seminary can serve as type of detox for tradition clutter.
“The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does recognize or distinguish or desire it…The world upon whom grace is thrust as a bargain will grow tired of it, and will not only trample upon the Holy, but also will tear apart those who force it on them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you’ve been raised in the American church any length of time, you’ve heard of or experienced the traditional and time-honored “Altar Call”. This is a call that is administered typically at the close of a church service after the sermon and before the offering. This call is a petition – a beckoning if you would – of the lost souls in the church to come down the aisle and to stand at the altar to do business with God.
In the church settings in which I was raised, one would seldom do just one altar call in their life. If you were like me, my cousins, and my sisters when we were young, we went to the altar to get saved just about every few weeks. Guess it was like a bad perm – it didn’t take the first time. But yet in spite of the fact that it may not be sufficient to save you once and for all, altar calls are very popular and expedient. But are they EFFECTIVE? Do the people who respond to altar calls “STAY saved”?
Usually it is people of Pentecostal, Charismatic churches who have repeat offenders respond to the altar call. But what do we know about the origins of it? Who executed the first altar call? Believe it or not, It wasn’t done in the New Testament; it was first done by a man by the name of a Methodist evangelist named Charles G. Finney in the early 1800’s. He was the first to ask people to come forward to the pulpit – as well as the first to refer to his services as “revivals”. He also popularized the after meetings and the spontaneity style of preaching in young pastors.
Many will admit that gospel presentations have become more diluted and brief over the years. The appeal may be just as urgent, but the message is not as detailed. In other words, instead of telling people who would come to the altar the extent to which their lives much change if they so choose to follow Christ, evangelists sometimes give a brief one-minute review to save time. But is this time-saving technique the reason for so many false converts?
Billy Graham is well-known for his altar calls of old. He would ask people to come to Christ at his huge evangelistic meetings, and over the time of his ministry doubtless thousands have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
While doing a research paper and reading the book, “The American Church Experience” by Thomas A. Askew and Richard V. Pierard, I stumbled upon an interesting paragraph. Referring to another evangelist – not Billy Graham – it said, “In a series of meetings held in Boston in 1906, he is said to have won 2,550 “decisions” for Christ. By then it was customary to judge a revivalist’s success by the number of “decision cards” turned in during a campaign.” Wow. That’s pretty interesting. So it was common for evangelists/revivalists/soulwinners to tally up the decisions for Christ? So, could it be that if it was seen as a competition for some, that perhaps some might do anything for a response just to get their tallies up?
I believe it is important to see how the altar call MIGHT have been created from a biblical idea. Perhaps verses such as “behold, I stand at the door and knock” gives one to think that we must knock on the door of someone’s heart by giving an appeal to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Perhaps the verse “The day you hear His voice, harden not your heart” gives one to think that it is the job of the evangelist to make sure sinners hear God’s voice and to encourage them to respond to an altar call. But what has history shown about the effectiveness of altar calls? Do they “work”? Is the proof in the pudding? Let’s look to none other than the founder himself. What had he to say about the effectiveness of the altar calls he made during his ministry?
Charles Finney, at the end of his life, rejected the fruits of his altar calls. He said, “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction and into a state of temporary repentance and faith. But falling short of urging them up to a point where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in him they would of course soon relax to their former state.”
Wow! Really? Did the founder of altar calls turn his back on his own “invention”? And could we have we worked out the kinks yet from the first model?
(Side Note: Now I do understand that this could taken at the risk of making the logical fallacy known as genetic fallacy. This fallacy is a line of reasoning that concludes that if there is a defect in the origin of a thing or claim, then that should be used to discredit the claim or thing. In other words, someone might argue, “Just because the founder of altar calls realized that HIS altar calls were ineffective, that does not have to mean that all altar calls done by any person after him are also ineffective.” This is similar to the ad hominem fallacy that would reason that if Charles was ineffective then anything he did was effective.)
One of his contemporaries (a man who worked alongside him in ministry) said, “During 10 years, hundreds and perhaps thousands were annually reported to be converted on all hands. But now it is admitted that Finney’s real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself that the great body of them are a disgrace to religion. As a consequence of these defections, Practical evils, great terrible and innumerable are in various quarters rushing in on the church.”
Wow! Another quote that speaks disparagingly of altar calls due to their dastard results of false converts. His contemporary seems to imply that in spite of the joy of reporting the number of decisions for Christ, evidence is apparent that only a few of those great many were actually converted. And of the false converts, they have remained in the church wreaking havoc as lost souls would be expected to do.
A letter was written to Finney by another co-labourer in 1834 stating – “Let us now look over the fields where you, and others, and myself have labored as rival ministers. And what is now their moral state? What was their state within 3 months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields and have groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches have fallen – and fallen very soon after our first departure from among them.”
Yet another quote of dismay about the altar calls’ effectiveness. Seems as if after weeks or even a few months of someone walking down the altar to “get saved”, they become as dogs returning to their own vomit and pigs returning to the mire. The Bible says it is better to have never known Christ than to know Him and then to turn one’s back on Him. Is this what altar calls have been doing? Leaving people in a worse state than they were in when they first came? This man is not just hypothesizing; he actually went to visit the converts. And they were not any better and were probably left worse. Let’s look at one more quote:
B. B. Warfield said of Asia Mayhem long-time friend of Charles Finney: “That everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad, subsequent lapse. The people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited. The pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power And the evangelists among them all and I was nearly personally acquainted I cannot recall a single man who did not after a few years lose his unction and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor. Thus the great western revival ran out into disaster over and over again. When he proposed to revisit one of the churches delegations were sent him or other means used to prevent what was thought of as affliction. Even after a generation had passed by (Warfield notes) these burnt children had no liking for the fire.”
I heard of an interesting metaphor that reminds me so much of this quote. It was by one of my favorite preachers, the late Dr. Adrian Rodgers. He said that when someone first hears the gospel, they are on fire like dry wood. They blaze bright! If you have heard the gospel the second time, you’ll still catch fire, but you won’t be as bright because some of the wood is already been burnt. On the third try, they’ll flicker like and ember, but no flame. But after a few more times, their heart will be hardened like a charred piece of wood or coal. It will no longer light or even flicker. And that is what this man says of the great revivals of that period. They left it impossible for someone to be relit. Here’s one more quote:
“…involving a high rate of apostatizing (90+% according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). So that means that out of the thousands of people who came to the altar at a Billy Graham crusade, only a few were saved or stayed saved?
Seems to me that the turnover rate was very high. I would even call it a recidivism rate. Many of these sinners spent a little time in reform only to return back to a life of sin. It turns out that even in the very beginning of the altar call practice, the altar call was not very effective. I wonder why. I think there are a few reasons the altar call has not been effective:
- It is not biblical. Evangelists did not ask people to come forward in a synagogue to repeat a sinner’s prayer. And because God did not sanction altar calls, He is not obligated to move during them or to cement what is done during them.
- It is not detailed enough. These evangelists only give a very brief summary of Jesus and salvation. If it was more detailed, 99% of the people coming up would have stayed seated or sat back down instead of repeating the prayer and becoming false converts. The way is narrow and hard, and most people are not interested in living as God commands.
- There is not enough being done to disciple these “converts”. Many of them will leave that church after saying the sinner’s prayer and will not return for follow-up. After birthing a new believer, he must then be raised up by discipleship. A baby left to his own defenses will be a casualty in no time.
- Salvation comes by the faith in the saving work of Jesus – not in walking down an aisle and reciting a 12-second prayer. If you really believe the gospel in its entirety, you do not have to repeat a prayer that was made up less than 200 hundreds years ago. The people in the early church did not have to recite a prayer before all. They just knew in their hearts that the gospel message they heard was true. And there are people reciting the sinners’ prayer who do not believe the entire gospel so they will not be saved regardless of what they recite.
- Many altar calls as used for bragging rights to show off how many people responded to one’s impressive preaching style or fire and brimstone, fear techniques. This means that the main concern is not the work or move of God, but the work of man. As Finney said himself:
“Salvation is the work of man.”
So how did the early church of the New Testament lead people to Christ? Was it a quick introduction to Jesus Christ? Was it done at a pulpit with emotional music? Let’s look at one of my favorite examples in the book of Acts which gives great insight about how to bring souls in to the Kingdom and the church. There are MANY other examples, but for the sake of time and length, I’ll just post one passage. But I am working on another post with the other examples.
Acts 2:37 NOW when they HEARD THIS they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what SHALL WE DO?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our GOD CALLS to himself.” 40 And WITH MANY OTHER WORDS he bore witness and CONTINUED TO EXHORT them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.42 And they DEVOTED themselves to the apostles’ TEACHING and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the PRAYERS.
In Acts 2, we hear that only when people HEAR the Word of God, only then will they be convicted enough to ask what they must do in response to God’s Word. We also hear that it is necessary that God FIRST call them to Himself. You don’t come to Him on your own. You don’t initiate; you only respond. And this is what I like most about this passage that I think many preachers leave out in their evangelistic appeals. Verse 40 says, WITH MANY OTHER WORDS they witnessed about Jesus. They didn’t do a one-time, hitter-quitter altar call. They spoke plenty about Jesus’ identity and work and also CONTINUED to exhort them about saving themselves from the lost. We see that ONLY after receiving the word of the preacher did they become baptized and added to the heavenly roster. And those who did believe, repent, and get baptized didn’t just get bored and walk away after a few weekends. They DEVOTED themselves to the teaching and fellowship and prayers! It wasn’t a quick decision that as we say, “Will only take a minute.” Not only will it not just take a minute, IT’LL TAKE YOUR WHOLE LIFE! Your whole eternity even! We try to rush through the altar call as if we’re impinging upon the rest of the sinner’s Sunday plans. But the truth of the matter is this: If they don’t want God impinging upon their Sunday dinner plans, they’ll not be pleased with the fact that He’s about to hijack their whole life! If they’re too busy to spend a couple of hours discussing the One who they approached the altar to give their souls to, then they obviously do not have the desire to spend the rest of their life serving them. And you cannot have a full relationship with someone in five minutes. Let those in a hurry forget about it; you’re wasting their time, and they’re wasting yours. And like any other healthy relationship, you have to be DEVOTED, have FELLOWSHIP, and COMMUNICATE with the person you are in relationship with. Nowadays, we seem to just tell people that they just have to recite some words and their relationship can never be broken. FALSE. Relationships MUST be maintained. You can’t have a relationship like that.
In closing, I am not against altar calls per se. I am a “product” of several of them. But I believe something must be made clear. 1. If you believe the gospel and fully intend to respond as God requires to it, then you are already saved without repeating the sinner’s prayer.
2. You must know that it does not stop here; it’ll take a lifetime of obedience and self-sacrifice and faith in Christ.
3. Do not think that the reciting of a few sentences made you born again. The most it can do is testify to the fact that you already are.
4. Because time does not permit the evangelist painting the picture of the entire gospel story, please make sure to get an understanding of the entire picture because you might not even want to become a Christian once you hear all that it entails. (Remember the story of the rich man who was unwilling to sell all he had to follow Jesus?)
This is a YouTube video link to the quotes I used:
“A truly evangelical sermon must be like offering a child a fine, red apple or offering a thirsty man a cool glass of water and then staying: ‘Do you want it?’ We must be able to speak about our faith so that hands will be stretched out toward us faster than we can fill them.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1 Corinthians 11:17 – But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.
Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”
How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).
In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.
1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.
1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
Or it could mean both.
But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?
I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.
(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂
Acts: 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…47…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Seems like the order here for church membership is 1. Knowing for certain that God made Jesus Lord and Christ. 2. Asking a believer what your response should be. 3. Repent. 4. Be baptized. 5. Receive the Holy Spirit. 6. Be added to the church after being saved according to the LORD’S recognizing you as being saved.
At a supervisor’s meetings several months ago, my pastor said something very interesting. He said it was his job to pastor sheep, but instead, he’s been feeling like he’s supposed to be a zookeeper. How profound! The Bible often uses shepherding terminology when referring to God’s people. So the pastor is supposed to shepherd the sheep of his pasture. But instead of him tending to docile sheep, pastors lately appear to be shepherding a bunch of wild animals! Must be hard! Especially since we know that pastors are not qualified to keep zoo animals.
But WHY are all these zebras, lions, giraffes, apes, snakes, and etc. found in churches so much nowadays? Sure, the churches of the New Testament contained their share of a wild one, but it was not characteristic of the church to be FULL of them to the point that they outnumbered the sheep!
I hadn’t thought of the reason why until one of my seminary professors talked about the topic. The truth was so common sense, but it was so unlike how I had been raised to believe. So it was shocking to me when I first heard what he had to say about people joining churches. A few of my seminarian classmates disagreed, but what my professor said made so much sense. He said that at his church, they did not extend the “right hand of fellowship” to just any ole’ body.
You mean to tell me that if at a Sunday morning service someone were to walk down the corridor and ask to join the church that you would turn them away? Sounds pretty harsh, wouldn’t you agree? But that harsh response would actually be the most appropriate response. Why on earth would you grant a total stranger total access to all the precious members of your church? Why would you allow a person you know absolutely nothing about to be considered a member who is allowed to join whichever ministry or auxiliary s/he chooses so that they can unleash whatever they please?
Would you employ this method of giving a stranger access to your home? To your job? To your car? To your children? To your husband? Wouldn’t you want to at least know an adequate amount of information about a person before you give them the keys to your apartment or vehicle? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the lady you just hired as your babysitter or the teen you just hired as your dog sitter? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the sexy lady your husband is considering hiring as his secretary? Wouldn’t you want to know something about the roommate you chose from Craigslist? Most certainly!
However, we are much more lax about who we let join our churches. We figure, “I caught them, and I’ll let God skin them!” (Thinking of them as fish.) We figure that regardless of who or what they are, if we get them to come to biweekly services, that God will fix whatever issues they have. Unfortunately, God has not promised us that in His word. He did not say to let any and every one who walks down the aisle and who fills out a membership form with their name, address, email, phone number, etc. and that He will some day make them sheep regardless of whatever kind of snake, wolf, or dog they came in as.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely know that God can change a person’s nature. He changed mine! But what I am saying is that we should take some time to see who we are granting access to in our churches. Be careful not to be letting a lifelong pedophile to join the children’s ministry. Be careful not to let an undelivered homosexual, adulterer, whoremonger sign-up to do independent counseling for people struggling with the same issues. Be mindful not to let a liar and a thief work in the finance department. I don’t care how full of tears their eyes are when they come to join the church, GIVE THEM TIME TO SHOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE! Because after the tears dry, their true nature will come out and wreak havoc in your church.
Remember the order of being BIBLICALLY saved according to this passage in Acts 2. It didn’t say 1. Here a vague, incomplete mention of Jesus. 2. Agree that as your grandmother said, you ought to be going to church regularly. 3. Go the altar to publically acknowledge you are joining the church for whatever reason. 4. Fill out the church’s paperwork. Now if you already KNOW the person who is coming up to join, that’s fine because they know what your church is about and what your church is against, so they will have no surprises and neither will you. But if you let a stranger join, they will have joined prematurely only to regret it because they know nothing of your church’s practices or doctrines. And they on week three of being a member, they are upset because they don’t believe women should have to wear dresses or that men can’t marry other men or that they have to give 10% of their paycheck to your church. Let them go to your church’s orientation first so that they can make sure that this is the fellowship they want to join.
I notice in the Acts 2 order that God did not add any to their group any who were not saved. Any who did not show evidence of belief. But even this detailed account does not give enough information about the significance of what occurred the day of Pentecost. There were many Jews who traveled back to Jerusalem for the holy day/holiday known as Pentecost. They had come from many different nations. And when they arrived, they encountered this Christian sect of about 120 members. And they overheard Galileans speaking in their 17 different languages. They were amazed. So they were all ears when their “main guy” began to preach about Jesus Christ. And they were so impressed that 3,000 believed that the same Jesus that the Jews had crucified was in fact the Messiah about whom the Old Testament had prophesied. So they asked what should they do in appropriate response. Let’s revisit the passage to see if he gave them a brief, incomplete gospel message or an adequate amount of information to prove to them that Jesus was indeed the Christ:
Here are a few observations I gleaned from these passages about church membership/qualifications: 1. It must be based on a true, biblical belief in Jesus Christ. If your view of Jesus or gospel of Jesus is not biblically sound, then it cannot save anybody, let alone put them into God’s true church. 2. This biblical gospel will lead to conviction in one’s heart. It cannot just be head knowledge; it must be acknowledged in one’s heart of hearts which only the Holy Spirit can do because only He can convict. 3. This heart conviction will inevitably lead to an immediate response of asking what one should do which the answer is repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit because the Lord has indeed called them to Himself. 4. Once that happens, one should – as Peter did – “with MANY other words bore witness and CONTINUED to exhort them”. This says to me that we should not give some perfunctory introduction to Jesus and expect people to truly understand what they should know because they commit the rest of their lives and indeed their eternities to Him. 5. Once and only after the words of the gospel are received should the listener be baptized because baptism represents a public acknowledgment of a personal belief and transaction with God. Because first a personal transaction has occurred (conversion of one’s soul), then a person can be considered as being a member of Christ’s body, the church. AFTERWARDS, these persons should be devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship with the other true believers. And as verse 47 says, people were only being added to their number as they were saved (and might I add BIBLICALLY saved).
Enough is enough! We ought to stop granting people membership in our churches just to get them on the roster so that we can brag to other churches about how many hundreds of members we have. So what if you have the fewest members of your friends’ churches? I’d rather have 200 sheep than 1,000 wolves in sheep’s clothing raising hell in God’s church. Be content with your faithful few. And why do you want so many members anyway? Do you just want them for bragging rights? Do you want to be considered a mega-church pastor? Do you want their tithes and offerings? Many churches will only ask for a person’s tithes after they have been added to the church membership roll. So is that why you want them? Certainly one can pay a mortgage off faster with 1,000 tithers than 200 tithers. But will it be worth it? All the heartache, all the low retention rate, all the scandal? Do you want to be known as the church full of fools wherein “ain’t nobody saved in that church” or the church where “all the members sleep around”? So when you attend these church growth seminars, just know that it’s not God adding to His church, rather it is you adding to YOUR church. It’s not God adding saved sheep, but rather it’s YOU adding a bunch of “zoo animals”.
I don’t see a problem with these wanna-be/future members visiting however often they please, but just let them visit until they get saved for real. THEN add to them to your church.
2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
This is one of the most quoted Bible verses during a worship service during the offering segment. God loves a cheerful giver. Usually when people hear this, they try to act more cheerful when giving to their church. I mean, who doesn’t want to be loved by God? But let’s not forget the preceding verse. It reads each one MUST give as he has decided in his heart. You MUST do this. You MUST give this way. You MUST give as you decided to give.
Apostle Paul goes into further detail when he says you must not give reluctantly. The Greek word used here for “reluctantly” comes from the Greek word “lype” which means:
- sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance, affliction
- of persons mourning
In other words, let’s say that when the church requested $50, you felt annoyed, angered, bothered, grieved, worried, anxious or any other negative emotion. You should not give with those feelings. If giving it would bother you, you shouldn’t give it. How many times have you been in a church service and they ask for a “small amount of $200” and your eyes roll or you elbow your friend beside you or you raise your eyebrows or drop your jaw in unbelief. That is NOT the attitude you should have behind giving cheerfully. If it doesn’t bother you and if you want to, by all means GIVE IT! But if you do not, DO NOT! This is not the gospel according to me, it is BIBLE. Paul used this Greek word for a reason.
And if we use the English dictionary definition of the word “reluctant” it would mean that you thought twice about giving what you’re giving because you did not want to give it for whatever reason. That means with your pen paused a centimeter above the check you were writing, you reconsidered giving that higher or lower amount of money. Let’s say you are asked to give $50, but as you pull out your checkbook you write the date, sign your name, put the name of the church, and put the intentions of the check on the “For ___” line. And then as you go over to the dollar amount side of the check to the right, you wonder if you really want to give the $50. You decide that you would rather give $20 because you won’t have enough money to put gas in your car after church. Or you decide that your account only has $50 dollars in it and you are yet waiting for an earlier $5 check to clear. Or you just decide you don’t trust what this particular church is going to do with the $50. If you are reluctant to give the $50, but have no problem giving $25, $35, or even $49.99, then you should give as the Bible says, as Apostle Paul says which is as you decide in your heart.
Or let’s say on your way to church, you decided that you would love to give $100 to the church. If you decided that in your heart, then give that. BUT if you feel reluctant, you shouldn’t give it. It doesn’t say God loves a reluctant yet generous giver, but rather that God loves a cheerful giver. And listen, this is not saying that you should give an amount reluctantly, but paste a fake smile on your face and pretend you are enjoying giving it. If you give $20 with joy in your heart, but the $50 with resentment and regret, then God will not honor that gift above the $20. Now the pastor or church might appreciate it for bills’ sake, but not God. And we are giving as God would have us to give which is cheerfully, as we decided in our heart, and not reluctantly.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also says that we are not to give out of compulsion. The King James Version uses the word “of necessity”. Whichever version you prefer, the Greek word they all used is “anagke” which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance means:
- necessity, imposed either by the circumstances, or by law of duty regarding to one’s advantage, custom, argument
- calamity, distress, straits
In other words, you must not give just because there is a necessity imposed because by the circumstances or because you have it to give or because it’s just custom. Let’s say a particular church needs $100 more after they raise the initial offering. And then they come back saying they need $100 more. Let’s say you are the richest one in the service and they all look to you to make up the lack. You don’t have to give just because they need it or because they have it IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. Now if you want to, by all means, go ahead. But don’t do it because there’s a need or because you have it especially if you do not purpose in your heart to do so and if you will regret it and if you will not give it cheerfully. That is not how God wants you to give. It’s not my opinion – IT’S BIBLE! Paul used this Greek word for a reason.
But I believe that just as important as these two verses is the verses above in verse one that give the CONTEXT for this instruction on giving. This passage in 2 Corinthians 9 is referring to Apostle Paul asking the church in Corinth to give donations or contributions to the Christians of a poorer church. Here are verses 1 and 2 which give us the background information for verse 7:
For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many.
These verses are referring to how Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to minister to the Saints financially. He knew how great givers were in Corinthians, so he even bragged about them to the Saints in Macedonia how that the Saints in Achaia were ready to give a year ago. He even says that their zeal for giving provoked many more others to want to give like them.
See even here in the previous letter what Paul wrote to the same church at Corinth about giving to the poorer Saints:
I Corinthians 16: 1-3 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.
Here we read that Apostle Paul had not only told the church at Corinth how to give, but he had also given orders to the churches in Galatia how to give. And the directions were as follows: On the first day of the week, he wanted them to have some donations ready according to how God had blessed them. He would come once a week to get the donations. This did not have to be money because God might have prospered them with animals or crops. He wanted them already laid up in storage so that he did not have to wait around for them to bring all the things to him when he got there; he wanted the things already gathered. And when he would come, he would have whoever they selected – whose names would be written within their letters – would be sent by Paul to bring their liberality to Jerusalem. So either it was the Saints in Jerusalem who needed the donations or perhaps Jerusalem was to be the “distribution center” for the donations. Either way, we know from verse 1 that the collection was for the Saints. It was not to be stored up for the pastor or the church to just have. It was to be immediately distributed to the Saints in need. Interestingly, it did not say it was for poor Jews or poor pagans, just for Saints.
Now let’s go forward into Paul’s second letter again, but let’s go to verses 3-5 of 2 Corinthians 9:
But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.
These verses seem to confirm that perhaps the church at Corinth had an issue with being READY with their collections. Verse 3 says “be ready”. Verse 4 says “not ready”.
David Guzik says in his commentary about verse 5:
“Paul was very concerned that giving be a matter of generosity and not a matter of grudging obligation. God Himself never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we. To be generous, in the Biblical idea of the word, has more to do with our attitude in giving than with the amount that we give.”
That is why he kept telling them to have it ready because he felt that if what they had purposed was already set aside beforehand, he wouldn’t have to worry about the brethren begging for them to give a certain amount or for them to give more than they would have given had they not asked. Imagine this. Let’s say that an hour before church service begins, the pastor asks each member to pray about and to decide what they will give beforehand and write it on a check or on the envelope. Then when offering time comes, he does not ask for a particular amount; he simply passes an offering basket around wherein people put their previously filled-out offering envelopes. This beforehand preparation will not leave room for he pastor to beg for more or to tell them how much he needs. So he will not come across as greedy. All he has to do at this point is RECEIVE. He does not have to auction out blessings or employ scare tactics or give a 30-minute rant about the importance of giving to the church. So the people leave trusting their pastor is not money-hungry and the pastor is doing offering God’s way and encouraging his members to be cheerful givers whom God loves. (However, I understand that this can be anxiety-provoking for a pastor who has a high mortgage note and who knows how much he needs to raise each week in order to pay the bills.) There may be other bible verses that speak to giving to pay the church bills, but this is not one of them.
So pastors and church members, when we hear these two passages from 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9, remember that they refer to giving to poor Christians. The principles still can apply to giving of any contexts, but we should not forget these passages in their original contexts. We should not manipulate others to give more than they purpose. If they want to give 2 pennies, don’t beg for more. If they give sparingly, they’ll reap sparingly, but that has nothing to do with you. That’s between them and their pocketbook and God. Yes, you may prefer more offerings because the mortgage or utility company needs it regardless of cheerful giving, but spiritual giving has nothing to do with a high mortgage that you chose or with the utilities. It has to do with giving to needy Christians. And if your offerings aren’t even been giving to the poor Christians, you need to consider giving more to the poor anyways.
2 Peter 1:20-21 – knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Aren’t you glad that Peter was used of God to tell us some important information about prophecy? I mean, if not for these two bible verses, we would have to worry about being deceived by false prophecies being produced by the will of man. We would also have to worry about random people misinterpreting God’s word or what they CLAIM to be God’s word. This way, we will not be deceived.
Peter says that NO prophecy – not a single godly prophecy – NOT A SINGLE ONE – comes from any human being’s interpretation. Not an evangelist’s, not a prophet(ess’), not a pastor’s, not a bishop’s. The interpretation is not up to US, it is up to the Holy Spirit. Both verses say “no prophecy”. That means that if anybody claims to have a new, personal interpretation of Scriptural prophecy or prophecy in general, then s/he is a liar. God will not reveal one thing in Scripture only to have some man or woman come by 2,000 years or so later to change God’s mind. Sometimes, you will hear televangelists come up with fancy, cute interpretations to tickle your fancy. For example, I remember hearing one very popular televangelist who said that Adam could fly in the Garden of Eden. Nowhere in Scripture can that be verified or substantiated. This claim has not been supported or even hinted at by any preachers for the past two millennia, yet this man decides that someone opened this truth up to him. His reason behind this claim was that Adam was given dominion over all the animals and that Adam couldn’t truly have dominion over birds if he could not go (or fly) to where they could fly. Foolishness! This interpretation was produced by the will of this man. (Inbox me if you’d like to know his name and I can even lead you to the audio clip where he said this.)
The thing about prophecy is this: It does not come “horizontally” but “vertically”. It does not from within, or internally, but it comes externally from God. Contrary to popular belief, a prophecy does not come just because you invite a popular evangelist or prophet to come to town to your church to raise money. God does not send words because someone got an invite to your church. God sends a word to who He wants to send a word to. He’s not “on dial” as many suppose.
I know of a prophet who was recently exposed of “producing prophecy” of his own will. He knew this lady had a particular disease, so he looked online some information about her or her condition and then latter prophesied to her. Now, I’m not saying that 100% of this man’s prophecies or visions or revelations were false just because he made up that one (and likely many others), but I am saying that that particular prophecy was not spoken of God through this man as he was moved by the Holy Spirit. Now, the truth of the matter is that because this man received so many invites because of his gift of prophecy, he felt that if he did not come up with some prophecy whether from his own will or interpretation or God’s, that he would stop receiving invites and his money would dry up (because he was being paid a portion of the offerings from that night). So this is partly the fault of the one who invited him, the fault of the people who packed out the church venue to hear him prophesy, and the fault of the prophet making up prophecies to tickle their fancy. This all happens because people seem to think that just because someone has a prophetic gift that God gives them a constant stream of prophecies to hand out depending on who wants them.
But think of this: the prophets of the Old Testament could not pack out a church. In fact, most people wanted to silence them. Most people wanted them to leave their presence. Most people would not pay them a generous offering to give a word from the Lord. And the reason is this, because most people in the Old Testament knew the prophet was coming to tell them something they did not want to hear. The prophets of the Old Testament were not going to tell a wicked priest that God had a brand new home waiting for him if he paid a 30 shekel offering. The prophets of the Old Testament would not tell an adulterer that God would bless them with a new and higher paying job. Rather, the prophet would tell that wicked priest and that adulterer that God was very displeased with their behavior and that if they did not repent from their wicked ways that God would execute His harsh wrath on them. An Old Testament prophet would not ignore your blatant sin in order to promise you blessings falsely.
But how different are these prophets today! They will come in your church and tell the most wicked church member that God is going to give them a raise. They will come in your church and tell a home-wrecking missionary that if they sow a $100 seed that God will pay for their college tuition. Now if God is saying this through them, then absolutely tell them whether they be wicked or not, but I just feel it isn’t true to God’s nature to tell unrepentant persons that blessings are on the way especially if they have shown no contrition. So I guess the question is, DID GOD SAY IT?
I’m not saying that God’ won’t prophesy blessings to unrepentant sinners. Perhaps that prophecy will mark the turning point in their life. But wouldn’t it make more sense for God to tell the child molesting youth pastor to repent and THEN to tell him that God will send him the wife of his dreams? And in that order? But to make a church full of people think that God overlooks sin and blesses the reprobate all because God chose to prophecy to him publicly before people who know his true corrupt character is not a good look.
As the verse says, the prophecy comes as men speak from God as carried by the Holy Spirit. Again, I repeat, prophecies do not come just because there is a mic in your mouth and a large group of people with a pocketbook full of money. If you can’t share your godly prophecy in a parking lot to a homeless man, I don’t suppose you’ll have it in a church setting as long as people have money.
Prophets and prophetesses, only speak as God leads you. Do not make up prophecies because that’s what people expect of you. Do not make up prophecies because you know you can make thousands of dollars that night if you do. Do not make up prophecies to remain “relevant” in the charismatic church world. ONLY speak as God’s vessel IF God gives you to speak. Do not make up prophecies and say, “Thus saith the Lord” just because you know saying God said it gives you false credibility. Because of what you say does not come to pass (and if it comes from you, it usually won’t), then people will be looking at God crazy because He didn’t fulfill your false prophecy when He’s only to be expected to fulfill His OWN prophecies. Stop trying to be popular and relevant and work YOUR GIFT and get out of YOUR FLESH.