I’d like to talk to some people about a rabid sin running rampant and unchecked throughout the American Evangelical church. Maybe if you’re reading this today I’m meant to talk to you. This is, I believe, one of Satan’s most powerful devices for separating our people. And yet, this sin runs so deep and is so approved that it carries back to some things we hold sacred such as denominations… probably 50% of non-denominational churches founded in the past century are the result of this sin.
That sin is personal preference.
An unfortunate consequence of Modernism as a life philosophy is this concept that you cannot worship in a place you disagree with on some levels. Adopting modernistic thinking as a religious way of thinking has lead to nothing but personal preference sin disguised as “acting on theological conviction.” Whether that preference is musical instruments during worship vs. no musical instruments in worship or modern music vs. traditional hymns or small groups vs. Sunday School or even Arminian vs. Calvinist, forms of church governance, women in ministry, preaching styles, baptism, on and on.
One day, either today or yesterday, a person decided that they simply could not live with that compromise to their integrity or vision or desire and decided to leave a church to start their own. I am convinced that many of today’s churches were founded because someone got ticked off enough to take their friends and start a “new and more pure expression of worship.” If you’ve ever had a meeting with a wide-eyed green church planter you often hear this notion as their primary justification for planting a church.
You may be uncomfortable with how I’ve phrased that. So let’s give some examples:
- Meanwhile in Scandinavia, disenfranchised Lutherans (commoners) who were persecuted by the King’s people over tons of issues separated and started meeting outside of official worship services sanctioned by the King. Eventually, they could not reconcile and the Free church movement was born in Scandinavia.
- The Brethren church movement is born out of a personal preference issue on baptism in the early 18th century. That groups has fractured further ever since… it’s in their DNA! Some of them have split of theological interpretations of things like eternal security, or whether baptisms indoors counted, or to start Sunday schools.
- There so much independence bred into the Baptist church movement that no one can even agree on what makes a baptist a baptist or where the Baptist movement originated. Many of my students in Romeo will remember how we read an 80 year old tract in my office called, “What real old regular baptists really believe.”
- These are the tribes, and decedents and fractures of those tribes, that form modern Evangelicalism in America. In other words… we are a people divided for centuries on an unspoken belief that our personal preferences should divide the Bride of Christ. Division over personal preference is our unfortunate heritage.
Let’s state the problem more clearly in your front yard. Modernism has long hated contradictions and mystery. While that is a noble hatred in science and has led to the greatest innovations of our day, it has decimated the church. People presume that their personal preferences are more significant than the church doctrine of unity.
As believers, every one of us would agree with this statement: The church body is a unit. (Singular) And yet, we divide over non-essentials all the time.
- Style of baptism.
- How a person is labeled a member.
- How a person is labeled a believer.
- What types of sin a person can be involved in and still lead and/or be a member.
- Who can vote and for what.
- How we learn best.
- Worship best.
- Give best.
- Serve best.
- Read our Bible.
- How we dress.
- How we act.
- How we pray.
Rather than live in those tensions, struggles that fully represent the “the body of Christ,” we chose to divide and group with who we feel most comfortable with.
Largely, on Sunday morning we go to churches who are lead by people we feel comfortable with, who preach to us things we want to hear, who say things to our kids we agree with, who look like us, sing like us, dress like us, and serve in ways we approve of. When I hear complaints of my friends or when I complain about my church it is almost exclusively about crap that doesn’t even matter!
We have been lead to believe that tension in church is bad. I believe that it’s time to call the church back together. I believe that when we chose to take our flocks and submit them to one another in submission to Jesus, who longs to break down walls that separate, that we will see God do amazing things.
I hear a lot of friends openly wonder why the American Evangelical church is not gaining more ground in our society. And yet we, as American Evangelicals, refuse to deal with our personal and institutional sins.
I’ll quiet this rant by proposing a question. Friend, I covet your response.
If there were a young friar in a monestary today composing 95 charges of sin against the Evangelical Church, what would he nail to the Wittenberg Door?