A friend recently sent me an article regarding the Mars Hill Church where Mark Driscoll serves as pastor. The article gave a sense of overall disdain for the process of discipline. It even associated the practice of discipline, albeit loosely, with the concept of a cult. Now I do not know anything about the specific case that provoked yet one more controversy involving Mark Driscoll. That is not my point. My point is the individualistic, autonomous thinking that serves to govern the thinking of most Christians in the current era.
The visible church has become so broad that it is nearly impossible to refer to the church with any real meaning. For example, take a look at this. This is supposed to be a worship service. And again. Is it any wonder that Christianity has become an anti-intellectual, undisciplined, hedonistic religion in some western cultures? Here is a parody of the modern church service that drives the point home. The modern, young, hipster pastor sees himself as far more profound that he actually is. When one examines these worship services what they find is 99.9% entertainment and .1% something else. Couple the young hipster movement with unbelief in modern biblical scholarship and you end up with dogma and praxis that resembles nothing like the Christianity described in Scripture. The young hipsters seem to want to dismiss every effort of exegetical work that has gone before them and start over. Moreover, they are far more interested in God making them feel good about themselves and providing them with a platform to continue to engage in their hedonism. The conscience seems completely seared, closed off to historical orthodoxy in just about every way. Contrast this with this and if you can’t tell any difference, then I recommend you place your faith in Christ immediately and beg God to open the eyes of your heart. Again, compare this with this. Finally, compare this with this.
Persecution, imprisonment, death, beatings, and threats all failed to deter the Church in its pursuit of service to her King. She strengthened her resolve to follow her Master. Atheists and ungodly philosophers have been opposing the Church for centuries with no progress. It seems that all the outside threats the world has ever launched against the Church have all been turned back, and successfully resisted. It is the internal threats that have always posed the greatest threat to the fabric and integrity of the one true Church.
The apostle Paul pointed to this threat very early in the history of the Church. In Acts 20:30, Paul says that “from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things.” The teachings of wicked and deceived men lead to pernicious dogma and wicked behavior. It was a strategic move of Satan to persuade the Church a few years back that doctrine was not important. Of course, Satan did not just convince men of this. He mixed this wicked lie with truth. He convinced the church to focus on relationships, which they should do. But he convinced them that doctrine stood in the way of relationships. Men believed the lie and now, some 30 years of this thinking has brought us to the place where Ozzie Osborn, Journey, and other secular songs have replaced Amazing Grace in our worship service and we have men in the pastorate who are too spiritually dense to recognize why this is wrong.
The Church has a structure that has been put in place by God. In the above passage, Paul refers to the Ephesian elders as bishops over God’s flock. This word bishop involves a kind of guardianship. The episkopos, in Louw-NIda’s words must be viewed in balance between service and leadership. These men possess an extension granted to them so long as they remain within the confines of God’s law. God has charged bishops with the care of the believing community. Both Protestants and Catholics seem to have abandoned the biblical view of the relationship between the bishop and the congregation he is responsible for guarding. On the one hand, Protestants have adopted a radical individualist approach to everything, including their place in the body of Christ. Both pastors and individual believers see themselves as having complete right to formulate their own hermeneutic, exegetical method, and system of theology without any requirement whatever to subject it to the oversight of anyone. This thinking produces the kind of nonsense previously mentioned. On the other hand, the Roman Catholics argue for an authority of the church and a guarantee against error that simply is nowhere to be found in Scripture. In her effort to defend herself, she ends up arguing in a vicious circle, appealing to the authority of the Church in order to establish the authority of the Church. Rather than guard against error, what the Catholic dogma ends up doing is to guard against recovery from error. After all, how can you recover from an error you were guaranteed not to have fallen victim to?
Paul informs Timothy that some will fall away from the faith in the last times. They will give their time and attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. The word prosecho means to consider carefully with the possible implication of agreement. Acts 8:6 says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.” The modern church is repelled by the very notion that any teaching could be deceptive. In fact, I listened to a debate today on the subject of textual criticism and the moderator told the audience they did not want to even call it a debate or an argument. They preferred to refer to it as a dialogue. We have lost our stomach for confrontation. We have lost our nerve in modern culture. The self-esteem movement has resulted in the neutering of truth. However, Paul had strong words for false teaching and false teachers. The second thing these people will pay attention to is demonic teachings. Now, this must mean there are demonic teachings that exist. Paul said as much. Yet, in our culture, no one calls a teaching a demonic teaching. Moreover, I can’t think of a faster way to marginalize yourself than to accuse someone of propagating doctrines of demons. This culture has removed the essential presuppositions necessary to accept the exclusive claims of Scripture. This is no less true in the visible church than it is the world.
The rejection of authority and the widespread ignorance in the modern church of the doctrine of sola scriptura has opened the floodgates to deviant behavior and doctrines of all kinds. The true church of Jesus Christ must find the intestinal fortitude to stand up and defend the apostolic tradition, the faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever if she is to please her Master. True believers truly want to serve the one true God with all their being. The rest see community as one more way to fulfill their hedonistic way of life. True Christians know they have lost their lives and found them only in Christ. The degree by which the church has put off Christ and authority varies. In the above links, some of this is rebellion and hedonistic behavior is obvious. However, religious masks come in all forms. In the end, Christ is the head of the church. He has revealed God to us in the incarnation and given us the authoritative Scripture to serve as our standard. But to one degree or another, the visible church has replaced that standard with popes, bishops, cardinals, pastors, elders, deacons, boards, and presbyteries.
Clearly, the greatest threat to the Christian community is the visible church with all her heresies, her power hungry pastors, elders, bishops, cardinals and popes. These leaders create a rich soil and fertile ground in which all sorts of ungodly teachings, pernicious behavior, and blatant rebellion can flourish all in the name of Christian freedom and liberty of conscience. The modern hipster pastors seem to me to be rock-star wannabes. And even in the more traditional churches we see leaders far more interested in avoiding conflict and pacifying wicked hearts in order to keep the giving and attendance up. There seems to be no length to which the visible church will go in order to sustain itself. Given these links demonstrating the condition of contemporary worship serves today, one is left to wonder what she will look like 10, 20, or 30 years from now.