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The Power of a Whisper

The Power of a Whisper

by Rick Shrader

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This book is a prime example of today’s anemic Christianity trying to walk in every way except by the Word of God. Hybels gives a detailed history of his own ministry and how (he believes) God talked to him through “whispers” all along the way. This is not just the usual “I believe God was saying” statement that many have used, but that he heard “syllable by syllable” (p. 158). Hybels led his church to have women ministers because God whispered to him that he should do it (p. 151). He also speaks highly of God whispering through mother Teresa and Oprah and claims that even Jesus needed whispers from God. He says God whispered to him that all children on earth were His “kids” (p. 225). Rated GG (“Good Grief”).

 

Things that Peep and Mutter

Things that Peep and Mutter

by Rick Shrader

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?  To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:19-20).

 

The problem of believers seeking information from extra-biblical sources is certainly not new.  About a hundred years ago, chief of Criminal Investigation of Scotland Yard, Sir Robert Anderson, wrote, “Tidings reach us from all lands that earnest and spiritual Christians are being deluded, and thrown into a frenzy of exultation, by the meaningless mutterings of what is called the ‘gift of tongues,’ or by other proofs of a spiritual presence from the unseen world.”1 Nor do such conclusions about the canon of Scripture come from one particular denomination or theology, and certainly not just from fundamentalism or dispensationalism.  In the early 1800s Andrew Fuller wrote, “I concluded that we ought not to look for any new revelation of the mind of God, but to rest satisfied with what has been revealed already in his Word.”2 Around the same time John Newton wrote, “Now as God only thus reveals himself by the medium of Scripture truth, the light received this way leads the soul to the Scripture from whence it springs, and all the leading truths of the word of God soon begin to be perceived and assented to.”3 Jonathan Edwards wrote, “But now, when the true religion is long since introduced and the canon of the Scripture completed, the use of miracles in the church ceases.”4 Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The canon of revelation is closed: there is no more to be added.  God does not give a fresh revelation, but He rivets the old one.”5 And many more such quotes could be added.

Today we have the same problem with a more “Christian” dress.  The longing for more revelation from God is not limited to the cultic writings of self-proclaimed prophets such as Mohammad or Joseph Smith, nor to the flippant emotionalism of Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave experientialists. Now this hankering for a fresh word from God is quickly becoming the norm in main stream Evangelicalism.  Fundamentalists play with the same language but usually lag a few years behind until it is accepted well enough not to be criticized.

The new peeping and muttering comes from phrases like casting a vision, hearing God’s whispers, having the gift of prophecy, or experiencing God’s miracles.  The use of these has gone beyond the innocent everyday language of years gone by.  Most Christians have probably used such words to describe a spiritual moment or leading of God.  But it is becoming obvious that many authors mean something different when they use these terms.  A writer may use  terms such as “I have a vision” or “God told me” and the reader thinks he merely means spiritual understanding or human insight, but these days the writer may mean much more than that.  While using a common expression he is probably referring to a more supernatural communication with God.

A recent Barna poll6 confirms these concerns.  American believers believe God communicates with them in the following ways.  52% by connecting with their emotions; 41% through a Bible passage; 36% by providing a sign; 34% through a sermon; 31% through miraculous or inexplicable circumstances; 31% through someone speaking for God; 18% through secular material; and 16% through an audible voice or whisper.

In a recent series of articles on the differences between cessationists (those who believe miraculous gifts have ceased) and continuationists (those who believe they continue today), Central Seminary President Kevin Bauder rightfully comments,

Once an allowance is made for the continuation of phophecy, how can anyone say whether any particular prophecy is actually from God, short of its explicitly contradicting Scripture?  This is not merely a hypothetical question.  In 2009, David Wilkerson prophesied that an earth-shattering calamity was about to engulf New York City, spilling over into New Jersey and Connecticut.  In response, John Piper opined that Wilkerson’s prophecy ‘does not resonate with my spirit,’ that it doesn’t ‘smell authentic,’ and that elements of it seemed ‘too prudential.’  These words exhibit the kind of dilemma in which some continuationists find themselves.  On the one hand, they cringe from crediting this kind of prophecy.  On the other hand, they cannot simply dismiss it.  The result is that their criteria for judging prophecies give every appearance of being made up for the occasion.7

This same dilemma is forced upon all believers when they have to decipher common language used in equivocating ways.

 

The Whisperings of Bill Hybels

In a 2010 book titled, The Power Of A Whisper:  Hearing God.  Having The Guts To Respond,  mega-church pastor and author Bill Hybels claims that God has always whispered answers, directions, and words of encouragement to him.  At times Hybels seems only to mean what anyone may mean when they think God is directing them.  For example he says, “Although I hadn’t heard an audible voice, the refrain of that impression washed over me again and again that day.”8 Yet on the next page referring to the same incident he says, “What we did have was the confidence that stems from receiving a clear whisper from God” (94).

At one point in the book where Hybels is explaining whispers, he says plainly, “God Speaks.”  This is followed by these words, “Not only does God draw near to his children and seek them out when they’re having a rough go, but also he speaks words to them—words of comfort, insight and peace” (156).  Two pages later he says, “I received my begged-for direction in ten profound but simple words.  Syllable by syllable, here is precisely what the Holy Spirit laid on my heart that day:  ‘You are a treasured child of the most high God’” (158).  The book is filled with such ambiguous statements.  At one moment it is just a “prompting” or something that he “sensed.”  At another moment it is something God “revealed” or specifically “said” to him.

Chapter 4 of the book is titled, “How To Know When You’re Hearing From God.”  Here he gives five “filters” for discerning whether your whispers are really from God.  #1, “Is the Prompting Truly from God?”  seems like a bit of begging the question!  #2, “Is It Scriptural?”  would appear to be the most important.  However, later in the book Hybels tells of the process his church went through when the leadership decided to allow women ministers.  Two hundred families were leaving the church over it.  But the example is used in the book because in the midst of this controversial time he records, “God whispered a much-needed message my way,  ‘You might take a hit for what you’ve advocated, Bill, but every little girl growing up in Willow’s family for generations to come will be the beneficiary of your strong stand.’” He then adds, “It was precisely the assurance I needed, from the only One whose approval I sought” (151).  Of course, my own thoughts went directly back to filter #2, Is it Scriptural?  But what we learn is that to the person receiving these kinds of “revelations,” their experience takes immediate precedence over any other revelation God has given (a Christian version of the Islamic rule of abrogation—the last thing that was said is the most authoritative).

The concern here is the mixture of traditional Christian ways of saying that they felt “led of God” or similar things, and the crossing over the line of the supernatural reception of revelation from God.  If God has actually spoken in whispers or by other means, we may have to apologize to Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and the rest.

 

The Visions of Andy Stanley

In the same vein as whisperings, I have had a long time concern with the newer uses of the word vision.  I was first alarmed in reading George Barna’s many books where he would urge leaders to seek their own personal vision from God for their ministry.  In Andy Stanley’s 1999 book Visioneering:  God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision9, the case is made for leaders to seek a “personal vision” from God which will be that person’s special direction from God for his ministry.  The handy thing about this new doctrine is that the leader can’t be judged by any other authority including chapters and verses.  If God has given him his own personal information, who can disagree or oppose him in his ministry?

As with Hybels’ whispers, the word vision has been used in many ways by God’s people.  Generally it has been used to mean an idea or a plan for a certain project.  At first Stanley talks in terms of “your destination in life,” and where you go “on purpose.”  But quickly, by page 24, he is speaking of “a divinely ordered vision” and “your personal vision” and “God’s vision for your life.”  He says, “All divinely inspired visions are in some ways tied into God’s master plan.  Whether it is loving your wife, investing in your kids, witnessing to your neighbor, launching a ministry, or starting a company, every divinely placed burden has a link to a bigger picture” (26).  Notice the combining of divine revelation and mere burdens.

As a footnote, I’ve also been amazed at how evangelicals use mother Teresa as an example of God working through us.  Stanley (p. 186) and Hybels (pp. 109, 157) both do this.  Are we to evaluate God’s revelation by a Roman Catholic nun?  In explaining “vision casting” Stanley says, “She cast her vision to the Vatican and two years later the Missionaries of Charity was officially sanctioned by the Church” (186).  This is another example of an immediate revelation from God taking precedence over Scripture itself—unless evangelicals are ready to accept Catholic doctrine of ongoing revelation as biblical.

Because space prohibits, allow me to only briefly give two more.

 

The Prophesies of Wayne Grudem

Theologian Wayne Grudem, in his book, The Gift of Prophecy10, presents the idea that God is still giving prophecy to people today.  To guard against being aligned with outright charismatics however, Grudem proposes that God divinely gives revelation to people, but He doesn’t protect the dissemination of that revelation.  Therefore the modern prophet is not protected from error and the modern recipient is not sure whether he has received it from the prophet as God gave it to the prophet.

The Miracles of C. Peter Wagner

Peter Wagner was the partner of John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement.  Wagner believed that God gave miraculous power to believers today in order to combat the power of Satan (“signs and wonders”)11.  Wagner (and others) proposed that “Western” Christians don’t see the “excluded middle” tier of supernatural phenomena that takes place all around them.  Only those from an oriental “mystical” culture understand such things.  That’s why most of us do not take advantage of the power over demons and other Satanic authority.

And So . . . .

Cessationist Ernest Pickering wrote, “While theoretically God could bestow any spiritual gift He wished, He does not and will not do so in contradiction to His revealed purposes.”12 The struggle for a clear, once-for-all revealed Word of God continues today.  The issues will become cloudier rather than clearer.  The Bible believing Christian must be discerning!

 

Those Vision Statements

Those Vision Statements

by Rick Shrader

Using the word “vision” these days is like Mother Hubbard’s dress, it covered everything and touched nothing.  But once a certain tool becomes popular, everyone has to have one.  In fact, these days if you don’t have a vision statement for what you are doing, you are surely a failure, a follower, or at best a poor leader—and we will avoid those labels at all cost.  Once the highly “successful” person attributes his “success” to his obtaining of a “vision” (especially a divine vision), all who desire “success” will quickly follow the pattern, hoping for similar results.

According to Mother Goose, Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone, but when she got there the cupboard was bare and so the poor dog had none.  We, too, read the vision statements that are supposed to have come from God and walk away unconvinced that it is scriptural and from God at all.  They may range from cookie cutter style to wildly imaginative, some claiming absolute divine intervention and others being merely good advice.  If you lack imagination, you may easily borrow from hundreds online.

As with many contemporary subjects, we may read what we want to read into vision statements.  Some writers use the word as a synonym for a good idea or even a burden to get something done.  Others include “divine” or “God-given.”  For example, A.B. Bruce, an older writer, in his commentary on Hebrews uses the word as merely insight, “For this sad state of matters there is but one radical cure: clear vision of the ideal, vivid realization of the grace wherein believers in Jesus stand, insight into the incomparable value of the Christian faith.”1 But Andy Stanley, in his contemporary and wildly popular book, Visioneering, repeatedly uses phrases such as, “a divine vision,” “a divinely-ordained vision,” “God’s intervention,” “a God-given vision,” leaving the reader wondering just what he means by “vision.”2

There is an obvious difference in how contemporary writers describe God’s part in the individual’s vision and how many other writers describe it.  George Barna says, “When God raises up leaders, He has a specific vision for the people those leaders have been called to mobilize. . . This entails developing a vision statement, which is a brief, punchy declaration of the unique purpose for which God has allowed that specific ministry to exist. . . . Vision, in short, becomes the centerpiece of the ministry—and of the leader’s life.”3 On the other hand, John MacArthur writes, “They are undermining the Bible when they do not regard it as the single authority.  Those who believe God speaks regularly with special messages for individual Christians trivialize His Word.”4

I know many will say that writers like Stanley and Barna do not mean that God actually speaks to them, and others will say that writers like MacArthur are only talking about Charismatics.  But this is the problem.  Those of us who read English can read what Stanley writes, and unless he intends for us all to be imprecise postmoderns, we have to take him for what he says.  On page 56 of his book he is describing the virgin Mary’s vision from Gabriel.  On the next page he says, “Think back for a minute.  Can you remember one Old or New Testament story in which the responsibility of figuring out how a divine vision would be fulfilled fell to the men or women to whom God gave the vision?”  He then uses Moses, David and Jesus as examples.  On the same page he writes, “If we were talking about good ideas, that would be different.  Good ideas are limited to our potential, connections, and resources.  If you are simply pursuing a good idea, then you need to devote a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out how to pull it off.  A divine vision, on the other hand, is limited only by God’s potential and resources. . . When God gives you a vision, there’s a sense in which you stand back and watch it happen.”5 Now, how is the reader of English supposed to take Stanley’s use of “vision” when he compares the believer’s “vision” to Mary, Moses, David and Jesus?  And yet in other places he calls loving one’s wife, raising one’s kids, and witnessing to one’s neighbor as “divinely inspired visions.”6 Such comparison of apples and oranges in dealing with a single subject is amazing.

In his fine book Escape from Church, Inc., E. Glenn Wagner takes issue with the current trend toward personal vision by leaders.  The problem, as he sees it, is that there is an unbiblical emphasis in the ministry on leadership rather than on shepherding.  This has caused men who should be humble shepherds to strive to be successful visionaries.  He writes, “A leader’s effectiveness is built on vision, not trust or character.  Shepherding is just the opposite.  Shepherding is built on character, with vision growing out of earned trust.  That means the number one goal for a pastor is not to articulate a great vision but to help his sheep trust him and know him.”7

Terry Conley (MCR, CCIM, and husband of our contributor, Debra Conley) has successfully navigated the business world for many years as a believer.  He replies in an email, “A lot of the current thinking about vision is being driven by a book that was published a few years ago, Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  One of the main themes is that you need to get the right people ‘on the bus’ and in the right seats before your vision for the future can take hold.  In the book he mentions various ways to get people either on the bus or off and if on, into the correct seats to support your vision.  I have even heard his term BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) used in sermons when talking about the future of the church.”

Unfortunately many pastors are using their “vision” as a way to get the church to adopt what they wanted to do in the first place.  After all, if this vision is from God, who are the laymen to oppose it?  If pressed for proof that this vision is from God he can disclaim any real divine activity, but when in need of extra clout he can press the divine element as authoritative.  The vote of the congregation becomes simply an affirmation of the pastor’s closeness to God.

The problem as I see it is an elastic use of the word “vision.”  Especially in Andy Stanley’s Visioneering, the author jumps back and forth between prophets and apostles receiving direct communication from God and average believers seeking God’s will.  No distinction is made between the two.  Though he is careful not to use charismatic-type lingo, there is still a definite proposition that God will give you your own vision.  As I have already shown, no safeguards are placed on just how God does this sort of thing.  Here are a few notes that I have written down.

First, if people really receive information from God which becomes the basis for their life, then God is still in the business of giving revelation and we have nothing to say to the Charismatics or the cults.  Second, the vision can become the basis for the Bible rather than the other way around.  For example, one website has it, “We envision all of our people constantly growing in their knowledge of the Bible.”  Think about that.  The vision tells them to study God’s Word.  Third, if, as Stanley says on one hand, every thing you determine to do in life is God’s vision for you (loving your wife, raising your kids) then everything in life is a vision.  But then, of course, nothing could be a vision.  Fourth, Stanley uses Mother Teresa as a great example of having a vision from God.  Evidently then, theology (specifically salvation) doesn’t matter in God’s selection of vision recipients.  Fifth, it would be better to call most of these things God’s will, or God’s calling, or God’s leading rather than to force these into divine communication language.

This would be a good place to include some Biblical data about the word “vision.”  There are basically four Hebrew words that are translated with our English word “vision” and only one Greek word.  All of these words have meanings such as appearance, sight, dream, revelation, seeing i.e. vision.  These occurrences  ALWAYS speak of miraculous interventions.  The great majority of them are in the prophetic passages of the Bible.  22 are in Daniel alone and 13 in Ezekiel, both highly visionary books.  Its only use in the Gospels is from the transfiguration when the disciples are instructed not to relate what they saw until after the resurrection.  12 of the 17 New Testament usages are in the book of Acts and, again, all relate miraculous communication from God.  In other words, if we would be completely Biblical in our vocabulary, we would only use the word “vision” to speak of times when God communicated His Word directly to revelatory writers and speakers.  Such limited usage would eliminate confusing definitions and manipulation.  However, seeing that this will not be the case, I would only encourage believers to use the word “vision” in the plain sense of burden or desire.

A final illustration will serve as a reminder of these thoughts.  In the late 1700s William Carey and his fellow Baptist Pastor Andrew Fuller were burdened by God to do more for world-wide missions.  Through their efforts modern missions was born.  Carey became the missionary and Fuller was the president of the mission board, apologist, and theologian.  In fact, Spurgeon called Fuller the greatest theologian of his day.

If ever men could have used the word “vision” to express what God had laid on their hearts, it would have been Carey and Fuller.  Rather, in Fuller’s voluminous writings he argues for just the opposite.  Among his many writings are personal letters, diaries and theological correspondences with various people of his time.  In one correspondence addressed to a prominent member of his own church he wrote

After a while, I began to suspect, whether this way of taking comfort, or of casting it away, or of judging of future events, and regulating my conduct accordingly, were either of them just or solid.  And in a little time I perceived that I had no reason given me in Scripture to expect the knowledge of my own state, or of the state of others, or of any future events, by such means.  I knew that the prophets and apostles had extraordinary revelations made to them, being divinely inspired to write the Holy Scriptures; but, vision and prophecy being now sealed up (Daniel 9:24) and woe being denounced upon the man that should add or diminish (Revelation 22:10), I concluded that we ought not to look for any new revelation of the mind of God, but to rest satisfied with what has been revealed already in his Word.

Indeed, I did not formerly suspect that I had been carried away by a supposed new revelation; but, seeing my impressions came in the words of Scripture, thought it was only the old revelation applied afresh by the Spirit of God.  But, upon examination, I found myself mistaken; for, though the words of Scripture were the means of the impression, yet the meaning of those words, as they stood in the Bible, was lost in the application.8

In the end, Mother Hubbard became subject to the dog she was trying to help.  The last line of the long poem reads:

The dame made a curtsy,

The dog made a bow;

The dame said, “Your servant,”

The dog said, “Bow-wow.”

Notes:
1. A.B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Minneapolis, Klock & Klock, 1980) 405.
2. Andy Stanley, Visioneering (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1999) 12,63,71,75 respectively.
3. George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church (Nashville:  Word Publishing, 1998) 164.
4. John MacArthur, The Master’s Plan for the Church (Chicago:  Moody, 1991) 26.
5. Stanley, 56-57.  6. Stanley, 26.
7. E. Glenn Wagner, Escape From Church, Inc.  (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1999) 148.
8. Michael A.G. Haykin, ed. The Armies of the Lamb (Dundas, Ontario:  Joshua Press, 2001) 117-118.

 

Are You Managing by the Book of the Mont...

Are You Managing by the Book of the Month or by the Book? (part 2)

by Terry Conley

A business perspective on Church as a business

Terry Conley is Executive Vice President of Primrose Schools Franchising Company in Atlanta and has 30 years of experience in corporate real estate and strategic development.  He is a member of Shiloh Hills Baptist Church in Kennesaw, GA.

 

In building a business, the brand has to be established.  But what exactly is ‘the brand’?  Some may argue that it is a product, colors, signs, or designs.  It is all those, but more than anything, it is a set of promises, expectations, and lifestyle issues.  It identifies a place among the competition of the market.  Users gravitate to the particular brand because their needs change or they aspire to be like someone else or be something other than what they are.  In a business, the brand can and does evolve with the changing demands of the market, but can the Church do this?  Should people attend a particular church in order to feel good about themselves or feel like they are part of a particularly attractive group or those ‘in the know’?  Of course not!  This is something that a church can’t do because the demands or needs of the human soul do not change.

In building the brand position, the commercial company I help manage takes a very narrow look at the market. Our company positions itself at the top, limits the opportunities, and requires a high price and definite commitment.  The result?  We have waiting lists and people who move cross country to gain an opportunity to buy one of our locations.  They see the difference and are willing to pay the price.  The parents who place their children in our pre-schools also see, appreciate, and pay for the difference.  This is the case with most of the top performing and successful companies.  Should anything less be expected for the Church? The church can and should adopt this principle of being the best in its business.

But churches sometimes make the same mistake businesses do in placing an undue amount of importance on immediate results.  In his book Heretics/Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton states, “There is nothing so weak for working purposes as this enormous importance attached to immediate victory” (page 6).  As apparent as it was to Chesterton, it is much more so today because today, if groups are not growing fast, they are considered to be failing.  Sometimes, quantity overrules quality.  In the business world, this can open the door to mis-management and eventual disaster and the same results are usually seen when the same path is followed in the Church.  Clients, customers, and members expect and sometimes demand immediate fulfillment and demand so regardless of the method, whether by lower costs or cheapened products.

This immediacy has the unfortunate quirk of changing from day to day.  What was important yesterday is no longer important today.  Enterprises that try to respond to the immediacy of fads find themselves with a tremendous amount of left over inventory of yesterday’s treasures that very quickly become tomorrow’s trash.  It is marked down or given away as a discounted value and in the consumer’s mind, anything that is cheapened by a sale or given away will never attain the original market position of uniqueness or value.

Knowing Your Core Values

The belief that the role of the Church continues to be unchanging does not preclude the use of sound operating principles.  These ideas are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are Scriptural.  Lasting value in any endeavor is established by quality.  Quality is established in the organization by having a system of beliefs and practices in place that are stable, non-changing, and provide solid guidance.  This means the organization will react the same way and promote the same message each time there is a decision to be made.  If this anchor is there, the customer, client, or member will feel secure with the product.  Again, we can look to the business world for this direction.  Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last states that with all the world coming down around them in their personal and business life, “…people run the risk of having their moorings ripped away if they only depend on the external structures” (page xx).  He suggests that the only truly reliable source for stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything except that core.  This same idea was put forth forty years ago by Thomas J. Watson, Jr., former CEO of IBM.  It was in his 1963 book, A Business and Its Beliefs where he discussed the idea of corporate and personal beliefs.  He stated, “ I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions….Beliefs must always come before policies, practices, and goals.  The latter must be altered if they are seen to violate fundamental beliefs” (page 75).

The business world recognizes the importance of these core values, spending time and effort to make sure they accurately reflect the corporation.  In an interview quoted in CPN, a real estate industry magazine, Peter Roberts, CEO of the Americas for Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc. is quoted as saying: “…it is important to have strong core values and to stand by them.  (They) provide a bedrock against which strategies can be laid.”  He went on to say “But having them is not enough.  If you don’t (stick to them), you’ll be in a lot of trouble when problems do occur.”  As important as this idea is to business, it is much more so for the Church to have this solid, unchangeable position.

Establishing a Vision and Its Mission

Building from the core values, the vision of the enterprise tells us why it exists.  The vision is an informed and forward thinking statement of purpose.  It is a statement of ambition for the enterprise that tells us where we want to go but not how we will get there.  It is the mission statement that relates to the specifics to be accomplished in support of the vision.  It is ambitious and emotionally compelling and should provide benchmarks to keep everyone on track.

Fortunately, the Church does not have to spend much time in analyzing and deciding about such things.  These have been established by the founder and are unique in that they are unchanging regardless of how the world changes.  We do not have to worry through the decision process, we just have to execute on them.  An example of core values for the Church is found in I Corinthians 13.  They are faith, hope, and charity with the greatest being charity.  And what greater vision can be set than when Jesus said ‘I will build my Church’?  This is followed up by a compelling, clearly stated mission statement found in Acts 1 when Jesus commanded His followers to “Go into the world and preach the gospel.”  We are to reach the uttermost part of the world with the gospel.  It is not narrowed to a specific generation or demographic, just the entire world.  And yet if you visit some services, it appears that these are no longer accepted or a ‘new version’ or application has been found.  It should be of no surprise to read that the Barna Research Group continues to report that the majority of pastors are content with the way things are going in their ministry.  In fact, the larger the church is, the more likely the pastor is to feel pleased with his performance as its leader, even though more than half of his congregation may not be saved and see no need to be.  Is it amazing that only 2% of the pastors themselves can identify God’s vision for their ministry!  Yet they feel competent enough to restructure God’s original plan.  Catering to seasonal trends and emotional whims as businesses do is not one of the ways the church should copy business. Businesses in this kind of market are short-lived or struggling at best.

Avoiding the Shifting Sands

Because the church represents or reflects the current profile of the population, it is facing some of the same associated questions and uneasiness. For the church, as well as successful businesses, the foundation can’t be based on anything but a solid, unchanging position. One of the reasons people tend to argue for change is related to the ongoing demographic changes in the market. Most of the time, these demographic changes point to the younger population and its trends.  Does change relate to age, or lifestyle, or generation?  The erroneous assumption is made that a new group will act like the last group at that age and doesn’t take into consideration the attitude and environment that formed them.  You should take great care that you do not set a church or a business on a confusion based on age related trends versus a generation related trend. If you very specifically target a demographic segment, you may become so narrowly focused that you miss the real, solid growth opportunities.   Don’t make the mistake that the future attractive demographic will be attracted to the same type of product or service as they are today.  You will end up constantly looking for new ways to attract that particular demographic or special group, potentially building upon confusion, and not clarity of message.  The importance of this is brought out by a September 29, 2003 USA Today TV review for Joan of Arcadia in which the reviewer makes the point that ‘the show would not appeal to everybody but that was okay.  To appeal to everyone, you can’t be anything, think anything, or demand anything’.  The message becomes garbled and confusion abounds.  If the business world can see this, why can’t the church?

It is evident that the message is becoming garbled with the results being seen in various studies conducted by the Barna Research Group.  They indicate that Americans identify faith as a key factor in their life, with large majorities claiming that their religious faith is very important in their life.  They describe themselves as deeply spiritual, born again Christians who own a Bible and know all of the basic teachings.  But those same studies revealed that less than half of the people who describe themselves as Christian also described themselves as absolutely committed to the Christian faith.  After claiming that they know the basic teachings and claim to be born again, they say Satan does not exist, the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol, and that eternal peace with God can be earned through good works.  To them, truth becomes something that is only understood through reason and experience.  From a business standpoint, it sounds like the brand should go through a major focus group study to find out why the perception is so dramatically different from the reality.  In retailing, when the consumer is this confused, it means the message is not getting out clearly.  In its drive to be all things to all people, the real message is lost.

The church is not a business to be measured by worldly standards or customer whims.  Jesus used no benchmarks in establishing a vision and mission statement for His Church.  His demographic was the unsaved and His target audience was the lost.  He did not pick the best business model of the day to copy and His message cannot be adjusted to fit the marketplace.  There are no discounts and half off sales.  He established no separate visions or values for the various ages, ethnicities, or income levels.  Rather, Jesus’ message rose above the noisy demands of the marketplace.  His was a message of constancy and commitment with a set of core values, vision, and mission statement that set the Gospel apart.  Jesus did not come to earth as man to die on the cross to fill up auditoriums.  He came and died that man might know God and be transformed by that knowledge.

 

Are You Managing by the Book of the Mont...

Are You Managing by the Book of the Month or by the Book? (part 1)

by Terry Conley

A business perspective on Church as a business

Terry Conley is Executive Vice President of Primrose Schools Franchising Company in Atlanta and has 30 years of experience in corporate real estate and strategic development.  He is a member of Shiloh Hills Baptist Church in Kennesaw, GA.

 

Everyone wants to be the industry leader, but I have worked with some companies that appear to manage by the newest business book on the shelf, changing their strategy as often as the book of the month. The problem is that this leads to confusion, so the question is posed: Do we want to manage by the heart and mind of the latest guru or from the heart of God?

Managing by the vision, mission statement, and core values is one of the hot ideas in business that has been adopted into the church. This in and of itself is not wrong, but sometimes the application is, because the original vision and mission statement have been done away with or changed. But the very important difference between a business and a church, that of ownership, should give us pause to reflect. If the owners of a business want to change to match the business climate or the latest market demographics, it can be done and should be done. But with the church, the ownership and the message never change because the owner is constant and consistent. He is everlasting and unchangeable, and so is His Word. His Word also clearly states that we are the stewards, not the designers. Stewards, by definition are caretakers or those who serve the desires of the owner. So why do we, as stewards, not being in an ownership position in His business, even think we can manipulate the vision, mission statement, or core values? With an all knowing, never changing owner, we as His stewards are challenged to stay the course regardless of how the winds of change blow.

In the business world, everyone benchmarks against the leaders. In my world of corporate real estate, some companies try to execute their real estate plan exactly like McDonald’s because they are so successful. Of course the problem is that no one is exactly like McDonald’s. Personally, I think it is better to excel and lead than to benchmark and try to be like everyone else. There is no challenge in copying or following the crowd, but it is easy to get caught up in these ideas, thinking that you can become something more than you are organized to be or that your organization can be. If you have to be convinced that this is happening within the religious organizations, just take a look at the super-churches or TV mega-stars to see how often their styles, mannerisms, and performance is copied from the smallest start-up ministry to the largest congregation. This philosophy can create problems and lead to ruin.

After 30 years of business involvement creating and directing change along with dealing with the associated difficulties, I can see the beginning of similar problems in the Church. In its rush to become something that is acceptable to the world and to meet them at their level, the church has been absorbing many of the ideas of the business world without a lot of selectivity or in some instances, a lot of thought. This approach has proven not to work in business and this wholesale adoption or absorption of these ideas by the church has led to many of the current problems we see developing in the church. Of course, the excuse is that everyone is seeking a new truth that is more in line with today’s world and thinking. In order to appear current and make the message relevant, many church leaders are looking for a newer, more up to date model. The only problem with that thought is that the new truth is not truth at all. It is just bits and pieces of the original Truth with the ‘truths’ for today (refer to Aletheia, July ’02, Compromise Is Always A Synthesis).

One of the current ‘new truths’ is the idea that running a church should be managed and cultivated more like a business. The proponents state their position with a finality that allows no argument. While it is true that there are some sound business principles that should be involved, a church is not a business that is set up or measured by worldly standards. When the Church was established, Jesus did not do so with His eye towards the best business model of the day. He picked out the strong spirited people willing to forego all for the vision. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, we have looked at what God has established and said, “You know, we want what the world has”. We are guilty of looking beyond God’s goodness and perfection and settling for less than He has given us. We say, along with the Children of Israel ‘We want a king like they have’ (I Samuel 8:19,20).

Looking in, it appears that many of the business principles absorbed into the church are a direct result of a very real fight for a position of recognition in the world and to increase their customer base. As business does, the church is seeking ways to connect to the customer who is reaching out for something to anchor to and insights that will enhance his life. Some think that organizations that can read the culture, translate core principles into relevant practices and products, and provide value will be taken seriously and grow. Many believe and teach that the more effective Christian communities become at tying their faith principles to lifestyle choices, the more appealing they will be to potential audiences. But at what cost? The marketing that is done to create and support the brand deals with ideas such as the look, feel, and ambiance. It is selling or creating the sizzle, not the reality. Unfortunately, it seems that there are many who do not understand that the Church does not have this latitude. It has to deal with the reality of life today and of that yet to come, but after viewing some of the large, seeker sensitive worship centers, this is not on their agenda. The question needs to be asked: can these things be done without compromising the mission? Is this what the church should strive for? If you believe all you see, all the successful churches have reached that elevated plateau by offering an ‘updated Gospel for today’ making it more appealing to the new audience and being more sensitive to the needs of the ‘seeker.’ That is why the current flock of TV evangelists are busy selling recently revealed diet plans, financial management plans, leadership programs, reading and entertainment programs. Is this why we notice that the church has become an exercise salon, a dating service, a divorce counseling center, and more? Each is important as a part of Christian support but they are not to be the driving reasons for existence.

Who is the seeker we are trying to persuade? In Judges, the Bible speaks of a new generation that grew up neither knowing nor respecting the ways of the Lord and traditions of the elders. This being the case, it appears that there was a breakdown at two levels. The passing generation failed in one of their obligations to teach and pass along the basics of their beliefs. The younger generation failed to take advantage of the knowledge and experience that was represented by the elder. In the business world this approach will eventually lead to a loss of focus on the business of the business. Mistakes will be repeated and growth stymied. It is all about mentoring. This is a topic given much publicity but little execution. A mentor is a trusted counselor, guide, tutor, or coach. It is an Old Testament and New Testament teaching that we are commanded to fulfill. The world has adopted and uses this idea. If you are a golfer, who do you go to for advanced knowledge and teaching? Not to someone on your level. You go to a coach, someone who knows the game or the course. If you are new in an organization, you seek out someone who knows the ropes. Recent activities in the local Church seem to point to the fact that the Church has chosen not to follow this Biblical and business principle. There are many voices saying very forcibly that the elders need to get out of the way for younger, newer ideas that appeal to today’s market. Some think the ideas and times for the elder generation have passed. The process is upside down. In this instance, the Church does need to be more like the world. It appears that both sides need to reconsider. Too often the elder generation becomes angry and drops out and the younger generation continues to push. The elders need to be concerned enough to teach the younger generation of believers and the younger generation must be respectful enough to learn.

Perhaps the new seekers have to be taught just like we teach new business customers. If the business world makes little effort to teach them or to reach them, they will take their business elsewhere. But that does not mean we should let the customer set the course and take us somewhere we may not want to go. It does mean that the more experienced should take the less experienced under their wing to mentor and train them in the way they should go. The business world does not always execute on the idea well as the result of human feelings of jealousy and fear. As Christians, we should not be driven by these feelings. We should be driven by the love and concern for our fellow believers. These younger believers should be able to draw from and call upon the elders, those who have been there and built the brand in the market place. Of course, this works both ways. The younger believers need to be aware of the older, more experienced believers and look to them for direction, thus following the admonition found in the Scriptures.

Are these changes being made out of fear of failure or ridicule, or to keep up with the church next door? What determines success and how is it rated? Where does it all stop? Is bigger better? Is it market share, bottom line, EBITDA, or is it the approval of God and changed lives? Being seeker sensitive, we say – “I am like them; try me, I’m just like they are.” If this is the case, there is no reason for the customer to make the life changing commitment God demands. Where is the conviction that our product is top-notch, that what God gave us is perfect and needs no changing? What does the Bible say about this way being narrow but the rewards being tremendous? And, what about the command to come out from among them? There is a reason God made this a command, not just a recommendation or suggestion. Meeting people “where they are” sounds good, but the problem with meeting people where they are is that they may be keeping you there. Why not turn that around and elevate the lifestyle choices to the level of the faith principles?

What is the role of the church today? Has the mandate given us by God changed? Has the rock Jesus founded His church upon been found to have a base of shifting sand that changes with the tide and needs to be shored up by the hands of man? The role of the church today is as unchanging as its owner.

 

The Vision Of The Traditional Church

The Vision Of The Traditional Church

by Rick Shrader

The 8th century Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision has, ironically, become popular today as a modern “Celtic” hymn.  In my opinion, the irony lies in the fact that so many people today do not make the Incarnate Christ the subject of their vision at all, but rather seek for an individual vision from Christ.  This is typical of the modern twisting of normal language and doctrine.  But it is not a new phenomenon.

In his book, The Anabaptist Story, William Estep points out a problem that existed in the 14th century church:  “Failure to distinguish between the Anabaptists, inspirationists, and rationalists has led to gross misunderstanding of the entire Radical Reformation.”1 The “inspirationists” were those such as Thomas Muntzer and the Zwickau prophets (like the later Quakers) who sought spiritual visions and revelations.  The “rationalists” such as Faustus Socinus, placed too much emphasis on reason and rationality.  But “For the Swiss and south German Anabaptists, the final authority for the Christian life and the faith and order of the church was the New Testament, in particular the life and teachings of Christ.”2 There has always been a conflict over the nature of “vision” for the church and the believer.

One suspects that the current love for the “Celtic” hymns (I am pronouncing that with a hard “C”, though I am still a fan of the Boston “Celtics”) is actually more a love for the mystical and medieval than for the historic incarnation of Christ.  This was true of the “inspirationists” who sought mystical self-revelatory guides for their life, as opposed to the core of independent brethren who searched the Scriptures for their direction.

I think there is a growing impreciseness today over what we mean by “vision.”  Some may simply mean new ideas, but others obviously mean revelations from God.  Most, I suppose, are somewhere between these two and yet speak as if God has given them something unique and individual.  It is not uncommon to hear of someone getting their own vision from God for a particular ministry.  Each person’s vision is different from another’s but each is authoritative for their life and calling.

The danger is that these individual visions become the real directive in a Christian’s life, while the Bible serves merely as a general set of principles and values to guide the vision to its finish.  No matter how orthodox one claims to be, this kind of thinking is alarming.  George Barna, for example, writes, “Our task is to grasp and articulate God’s vision for our future and to facilitate the change necessary to create that future.”3 For Barna, this vision is given by God to a Christian leader for his specific ministry and is not to be taken as a guide for anyone else’s ministry.

The Traditional Church has always been skeptical of such language.  It is used too flippantly by some and too loaded with mystical meaning by others.  Proverbs 29:18, Where there is no vision, the people perish, is often used to support individual revelations (even Barna uses it this way), but we must agree with Alden when he writes, “Vision here does not refer to one’s ability to formulate goals and work toward them, nor does it mean eyesight or the ability to understand.  Vision instead is a synonym for what a prophet does.”4 Without our thoughts and actions being grounded in God’s Word, we will “perish” in our ministry for God.

I would like to offer five aspects of the vision of God’s churches.

The Reception of the Vision is Historic

Jude wrote his short epistle that we should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).  Peter said that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet 1:21). Both of these verses speak of the church possessing the finished revelation from God and it is a dangerous thing for Christians to talk of receiving new vision from God.

Spurgeon wrote, “I have heard many fanatical persons say the Holy Spirit revealed this and that to them.  Now that is very generally revealed nonsense.  The Holy Ghost does not reveal anything fresh now.  He brings old things to our remembrance.  ‘He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you.’  The canon of revelation is closed: there is no more to be added.  God does not give a fresh revelation, but He rivets the old one.”5

We would be much better off if we could see that God has given us all the vision we need in the Incarnation of His Son and in the written revelation of His Son.  The Holy Spirit, then, is our resident Teacher to convict and remind us of things that are written.  He may burden us in a way that is compelling for us to act, but He always convicts, and we always act scripturally.

The Content of the Vision is Universal

The inspiration of the Scripture which contains the incarnation of Christ, IS the vision for EVERY believer!  The writer of Hebrews said, God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his son (Heb 1:1-2).  Peter said that the Bible is a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed (2 Pet 1:19).

Believers all over the world and in every generation have had the same vision given to them in the Scripture.  This is what has given unity to the Body of Christ.  Wherever you might find believers in this whole world, you can count on them believing and doing the same things you believe and do.  If you differ, it is due to hermeneutics, not to subjective mystical experiences.

Many movements have departed from this universal foundation into subjective experiences.  John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement, wrote, “I assumed that Bible study, especially as approached in evangelical seminaries, was the key to being equipped and empowered to do God’s work….but I no longer see it as the sole avenue to being equipped and empowered to do God’s Work.”6 Peter Wagner, Wimber’s life-long associate in this “signs and wonders” movement also wrote, “In the early years….I focused mostly on Bible study….Now I know more about worship, reverence, and praise.  I seek a daily refilling of the Holy Spirit in a way I can actually feel his presence….I am beginning to distinguish the voice of God from my own thoughts and to allow him to speak to me directly.”7

These modern “inspirationists” should not set the pattern for Bible-believing people.  This was Jude’s fear that we would not contend for the “once for all” faith.

The Goal of the Vision is Discovery

Since we have God’s vision for us, and we know it is for all of us, we should be diligent about studying it to find truth for today.  It is the Postmodernist who tells us that truth is not discovered but created.  To him, all history is obsolete and only new information can be true.  I am not saying that all “inspirationists” are postmodernists, but that we may be influenced more by the culture than we think!

R.A. Torrey wrote, “It is not by seasons of mystical meditation and rapturous experiences that we learn to abide in Christ; it is by feeding upon His word, His written word as found in the Bible, and looking to the Holy Spirit to implant these words in our hearts and to make them a living thing in our hearts.”8 Jesus said, Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).

One of those early Anabaptists who was converted under Zwingli but broke with him upon further study of the Bible was Conrad Grebel.  He wrote, “We were listeners to Zwingli’s sermons and readers of his writings, but one day we took the Bible itself in hand and were taught better.”9 A man’s vision of what needs to be done will always fall short of what the Bible itself will show us by diligent study.

The Result of the Vision is Practical

Zwingli was the spiritual father of a number of young students in Zurich.  The October Disputation of 1523 brought the group of young reformers into conflict with the city council.  Zwingli had promised that he would stand with the young men to oppose the Christmas mass and ask for freedom to observe the simple Lord’s Supper.  When Zwingli bowed to the council’s wishes, betraying his young students, one young man, Simon Stumpf, excaimed, “Master Ulrich, you do not have the right to place the decision on this matter in the hands of my lords, for the decision has already been made, the Spirit of God decides.”10 Estep explains that “Zwingli next delineated the difference between truth as determined from study of the Scriptures and the implementation of truth by the council.”11

Bible believing people have always held that the Bible is the basis for practice as well as faith.  In the Scripture we do not merely have what is “described” for us but  what is “prescribed” for the pattern of the church.  We do not leave the doctrinal matters with the Scripture and find the practical matters in visions.  Both faith and practice come from the Word of God.  As Bruce Shelley described, “Little groups of Anabaptist believers gathered about their Bibles.  They discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament.”12

The Priority of the Vision is Submission

All is vain unless there is a willing conformity to this changeless Body of truth.  The Word of God has a way of humbling the individual to the point of denying his selfish interests for the sake of revealed truth.  Paul commended the Thessalonians  by writing, When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 Thes 2:13).

We need not bow to the cultural pressure of being perceived as great visionaries who have received special direction from God and must, therefore, insist that our people follow without question.  Our people ought to question such self-serving attitudes in leaders.  Paul chided the Corinthians for being duped in such a way, For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. (2 Cor 11:19-20).

No great man ever wanted to be great!  He wanted to be like Christ and was thrust into service.  Most leadership training today is ego-building based on common business principles.  The sad thing is, it will work in most churches because the price of submission to revealed truth is too high.  As G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”13

And So . . .

God grant us the ability to walk by faith and not by sight, and may our anchor hold, steadfast and sure, to the One who is entered within the veil, where authorities and powers are made subject unto Him.

Notes:
1. William Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 21.
2. Estep, 22.
3. George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998) 98.
4. Robert Alden, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983) 202.
5. Charles Spurgeon, “The Comforter,” Understanding the Holy Spirit (AMG, 1995) 179.
6. John Wimber, Power Evangelism (San Francisco: Harper, 1992) 91.
7. Peter Wagner, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit (Ann Arbor: Vine Books, 1988) 129.
8. R.A. Torrey, How To Pray (Chicago: Moody Press, nd.) 68.
9. Estep 20.  10. Estep, 16.  11. Estep, 17.
12. Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995) 248.
13. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994) 37.

 

Experiencing God

Experiencing God

by Rick Shrader

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This is one of those books, because of its popularity, you have to read in order to answer the questions and comments about it.  Experiencing God is now a seminar course, a tape series, a workbook and even a study Bible.  My comments are in a positive and negative form.

Positively.  Blackaby (the primary spokesman) is to be commended for approaching a needed topic—how to relate a daily life of faith to a static Book.  Blackaby often refers to our Biblical basis for faith and the need to hold that securely.  I like his emphasis on paying attention to our prayers and expecting God’s answer.  I also like his caution of the traditional view of spiritual gifts and proposal of a more natural viewpoint.

Negatively.  Blackaby uses many statements that, taken at face value, Bible believers would be cautious about using.  Either he has a traditional viewpoint on receiving revelation from God and simply includes unguarded statements or he is advocating receiving “voices” from God and departs (at least semantically) from even his own SBC roots.  For example, he writes, “But only the Holy Spirit of God can reveal to you which truth of Scripture is a word from God in a particular circumstance” (p. 139).  Or, “You never discover truth; truth is revealed.  When the Holy Spirit reveals truth to you, He is not leading you to an encounter with God.  That is an encounter with God” (p. 142).  I think these kinds of statements may be misleading to the average Christian studying these materials.

I actually enjoyed the book.  But I think the title has been the key to its success.  We are anxious today to meet God by experiences.  But experience must always be guided by Scripture, a principle Blackaby says he believes.

 

Vision and Revision

Vision and Revision

by Rick Shrader

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart

Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Irish hymn, c. 8th century

 

Vance Havner said, ‘‘A leader is a person with a magnet in his heart and a compass in his head.’’ We are living in a day when prominent leaders seem to be people with one index finger on a statistics manual and the other held up in the wind. In a day when a proper and precise vision is vitally necessary, there seems to be as much muddle as mettle.

The information age puts at our finger tips the goals and dreams of nearly all the world’s prominent leaders. We can access the vision of Sears, Penney, Walton, and Iacocca or any number of Christian leaders as well. Now, it seems, everyone has his own unique vision statement modified slightly from everyone else’s. One author even advocates getting alone with God and praying that He will reveal a vision tailor made for your ministry. The few dozen or so that I have read seem to be general statements that often could be translated, ‘‘We believe in doing what the Bible says,’’ which, I am about to argue, is what we ought to plainly say. (Let me insert here that I know we need to have better focus. My point will be that we cannot maintain focus without maintaining the large, constant vision which God has already revealed.)

One of the greatest steps in my Christian walk was taken years ago reading (as a textbook) Alva J. McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom. McClain proposed that the two-fold theme of the Bible is the King and His kingdom. The goal of our personal character is to be like Christ, the coming King and the goal of our stewardship is to emulate the coming kingdom in the age in which we live. In Philippians three, Paul says, ‘‘that I may win Christ;’’ ‘‘that I may know him;’’ ‘‘I am apprehended of Christ Jesus;’’ and at the same time says, ‘‘I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead;’’ ‘‘I press toward the mark for the prize;’’ ‘‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’’ This way of looking at the whole scope of God’s revelation gives us the Christian vision to which we put our hands constantly to the plow. The Lord commanded us to ‘‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’’

We have seen the effect of the Christian vision in history. Western civilization is a history of Christian principles lived out by society.  From the Reformation to the Great Awakening, industrious changes and progress were made because the Christian work ethic was eternally (kingdom) based. Self government and individual moral behavior were the norm because the Christian individual goal was the righteousness of Christ. The present resistance within us to Eastern mysticism and African spiritism is not a resistance to people who look and sound different. It is a resistance to a non-Christian world view that has proven to be disastrous economically, politically, morally and spiritually.  Human efforts to build anything worthwhile without the Christian vision will eventually fail.

G.K. Chesterton painted it this way. The naturalist (or antitheist as Ravi Zacharias calls him) sees no meaning or life beyond the world in which we live. To him, this earth is his only vision. It is large and awesome, acting as his mother, his instructor and his spiritual advisor. The supernaturalist on the other hand, sees this world as a waiting station to the next world. It is smaller and secondary.  It is at best his sister instructing him of its Creator who is waiting to meet him beyond the world’s limits. To the naturalist, the world is his vision, constantly changing and being updated. To the supernaturalist, the world is the canvass and God is the vision.

When an artist paints a portrait he expects the subject to remain constant throughout the process though he himself may change or destroy many canvases. His vision is his subject and that must not be changed but the canvas necessarily changes until it is the best the artist can make it. Now if the artist has a different subject every hour, what is the use of starting anything on the canvas? His vision changes too often to produce anything. So the naturalist sees the latest product of evolution as the latest and only vision. There is nothing to emulate beyond that. It is no wonder that such artists reduce their vision to defeated abstractness where the only vision is within themselves.

If our analogy squares with our theology, it makes sense that our job is to make continued and varied efforts to paint a picture of a constant vision, the King and His kingdom. It is because our vision remains forever the same that our efforts must constantly be scrutinized and sharpened. We may change a method or a brush stroke, but to change visions every hour is to admit that we have no vision. In that case we will begin to produce abstract Christianity that resembles only ourselves.

Are we not painting this picture so that others will see a true presentation of what is eternal? It is not our concern that they see themselves. They have mirrors for that. It is not our concern that they see us. We don’t need a vision for that. It is not our concern that we make a name for ourselves in the art of ministry. The fact is, we were employed by the Subject of our picture to bring glory to Him. Rembrandt was only ‘‘successful’’ because he represented his subject as no one else could do.

Gutson Borglum was the sculptor who carved the massive figures of four American presidents on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. When asked how he produced such an amazing work, he replied, ‘‘Those figures were there for forty million years. All I had to do was dynamite 400,000 tons of granite to bring them into view.’’ So it is that our King is the same yesterday, today and forever and His kingdom is forever!

 

Miracles

Miracles

by Rick Shrader

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I just read this 1947 book by Lewis as a part of a study on present day Charismatics. Among more recent books on the miraculous, this was a pleasant discovery and a refreshing engagement. Though you have to read Lewis in low gear, the slow journey is always worth it.   Chapter fourteen, ‘‘The Grand Miracle’’ on the resurrection is the best I have read on the probability of Christ’s resurrection. Lewis presents the Incarnation as the root from which all other miracles grow. Appendix B is also the best chapter I have found on the correlation among prayer, free will and the intervention of God. ‘‘Most of our prayers,’’ says Lewis, ‘‘if fully analyzed, ask either for a miracle or for events whose foundation will have to have been laid before I was born, indeed laid when the universe began.’’ And yet he believes prayer changes things!

Lewis’ uniqueness can be felt in statements like, “Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) that men make coarse jokes, and (b) that they feel the dead to be uncanny.”  What he is saying is that man knows he is a less than perfect being and that there is something waiting for him after death!

Go back and read an old book!

 

The Power of Vision

The Power of Vision

by Rick Shrader

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I have profited from George Barna’s books that have dealt with statistics and polls concerning the church in this decade.  That is obviously his field. Barna made an attempt with this book to deal with the topic of vision from a biblical perspective but, I think, unsuccessfully.

Actually the book comes from more of a business perspective than from a biblical ministry perspective.  Few scriptures were even included and those were just to gain a verbal effect.  On the opening page Barna quoted Prov. 29:18 from two versions and then, without even dealing with the important meaning of the word “vision,” he then proceeded throughout the book using the dated definition of the word.

Much is made of establishing a “vision statement” as a guiding light for a man’s ministry.  Though I agree that we need goals, this was more like something from Robert Schuller’s visionary approach to creating your own future.  The example vision statements were basically, “Here’s what I really want to do in this church.”  Statements like “To know Him and to make Him known” and “Win the lost at any cost” were negatives.

Barna also pushes targeting a segment of society.  Most of the examples were of reaching the upwardly mobile unchurched.  I do not see a biblical basis for this approach (cp the Philippian Church).  I think it is a selfish way of only dealing with people you find attractive.  The whole thrust of a N.T. church is to span those differences together.  Don’t pay the $16.