Thursday, April 12, 2012

Addressing the cult of harmony in the church

In Fragile Hope Tom Bandy talks about the "Cult of Harmony" that has pervaded the Christian church.  We prefer harmony over mission and even truth.  We don't want to offend anyone so we allow everyone an opportunity to vote on every matter whether they are informed on the issue or not, and we often are willing to give veto power to a small, vocal minority who might be upset over a different direction for the church.  Few churches are willing to enact any kind of church discipline over disruptive or contentious people because they don't want to appear to be mean-spirited.  Wanting to promote harmony in the church, too many churches are willing to allow such people to hold the church hostage and keep it from moving forward.  The cult of harmony even impacts what many pastors are willing to say from the pulpit.  In this politically correct world in which we live pastors don't want to risk saying something that might offend someone, so they preach messages designed to soothe the consciences of their listeners, ignore some Scriptures completely, and water others down to make them virtually meaningless.  Rather than preaching the truth they proclaim an easy, greasy gospel that goes down smoothly but poisons their listeners.

One of the things needed in many of our churches are pastors who are not afraid to speak the truth as found in Scripture.  There needs to be a boldness in the pulpit that is not found in every church.  Such boldness will be based upon the belief in the absolute integrity of Scripture.  We need fewer pastors who say, "I believe..." or "I think...." and more who will say "The Bible says...."  One of the things that always impressed me about Billy Graham's preaching was the number of times he would say, "The Bible says...."  He never intended to purposely offend anyone, but at the same time he never backed away from telling his audience what the Bible said about any topic.  The result was that thousands of people responded to his messages in ways that changed their lives forever.

The Bible isn't always politically correct.  In fact, it will often be offensive to those who disbelieve it or would prefer to not accept the truths of its teachings.  I have found that those who are often most offended become upset when the Scriptures challenge the life choices they have made.  That was true in the times of Jesus Christ and it remains true today.

I want to make sure that my readers understand that I am not advocating that pastors begin beating up their listeners with their sermons.  A good friend of mine called me several months ago complaining about the sermons their pastor was preaching.  He said that he felt he was beaten on every week.  In a few weeks I visited that church and understood exactly how he felt.  For 45 minutes that pastor hammered the people and after the invitation ended he started in again by chastising them because no one came forward.  I was exhausted when I left there and vowed I would not return to that church again.  My friend and his family left soon after.

We don't have to hammer the people with the Scriptures.  We just have to teach them without apology and allow the Holy Spirit to convince people of their truth.  We can do that in a positive way that will be much more effective than using the Scriptures as a sledgehammer.  As God begins to convict people of the truth they have heard He will lead them in the changes they need to make.  From personal experience I can assure you that many people will resist those changes, but it's hard to resist God for long when you are regularly exposed to the truth especially when that truth is presented in love and with an obvious concern for one's well-being.

I argue in one of my books that the most important decision someone can make is what they believe about the Bible.  Some disagree and say that the most important decision is what we will do with Jesus Christ, but I counter that we base our beliefs on Christ by what we read in the Scriptures.  If we decide that the Scriptures are not the infallible Word of God then we can't be sure that everything they say about Christ is true.  If that's the case, then how can one make a decision to make Him the Lord and Savior of one's life.  If the Scriptures are not infallible then the 10 commandments may be nothing more than 10 suggestions for how to live and each person is free to pick and choose which ones he or she will follow.  That means that any choice that anyone makes is right for him or her. 

Many years ago I read that early in his ministry Billy Graham went into the woods to pray.  In his prayer he told God that until he could be certain that the Bible was true he could not continue to preach.  After a prolonged time in prayer he returned to his home convinced that the Scriptures were inspired by God.  From that time on he could preach "The Bible says..." with a conviction that led to many lives being changed.  That same conviction is what we need today in every pulpit if we want to see revival replace the cult of harmony that now exists in too many churches.

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