Friday, May 25, 2012

Restoration Education: Beware!

History is a great teacher.  Often dismissed as dry as dust and something to be ignored, it still has much to say about our present and our future.

Training a faithful ministry is of critical importance to me.  Not only as my 'profession,' but now even more so as I want my children and grandchildren, and their children to hear the truth of God's Word proclaimed.  My interest in this subject did not begin with a blog written months ago or its subsequent publishing in the May 2012 Restoration Herald.

Now my thoughts have turned to reviewing the historical perspective of higher Christian education in the Restoration  Movement.  I'm convinced as I read some of the literature that we are witnessing the very same things as our Restoration forefathers experienced.  I'm going to share a few of these highlights in this blog.  I could wish I had a wider audience, but perhaps it will circulate beyond a few, and cause many to ask similar questions, and motivate them to take action to stem the tide of liberalism in once faithful Restoration schools.

Let me at the outset give credit to the classic Restoration History textbook, Christians Only by James D. Murch (Cincinnati, Standard Publishing, 1962).  I've been glad to dust this old book off and read anew his history and assessment of the Movement.

Bethany College was chartered in 1840, welcoming the first students on Oct. 21, 1841. (145)  The first commencement was held on July 4, 1843. (146)  Listen to Murch's assessment of the quality and impact of those early graduates:

Soon a steady stream of well-equipped ministers of the gospel was flowing out to give leadership to the churches from coast to coast.  These men reflected a methodology in preaching that was peculiar to Bethany.  They carried their Bibles with them and their great familiarity with the passages pertaining to salvation and the pattern of the New Testament church amazed their listeners.  The gospel which they preached was characterized by simplicity.  All abstruse and metaphysical theology was put aside and "Christ and him crucified" was exalted in every sermon....  If a "thus saith the Lord" could not be produced for the preacher's teaching, it was forthwith rejected by the elders and the people who came to the services with their Bibles and "thumbed the references" to "see if these things were so."  People from the community marveled, and said, "We never heard so much Scripture in sermons anywhere." (146)
 Something strikes me about the dates.  History is going to teach us something!  Bethany College first received students in 1841.  By the early 1900's the Liberals were already attacking and taking over many schools.  By 1912 formerly stalwart schools were turned liberal by "higher education."  J. W. McGarvey, president of College of the Bible in Lexington, KY died in 1911.  Murch sadly notes what happened to that school upon McGarvey's death:
The liberal strategy at Lexington was exactly the same as that used by educators in all Protestant denominations.  They insisted that the educational standing of the College needed to be improved.  There were too many students who had received improper preparatory training.  Some men were beyond the 'teaching age.'  Teaching methods in use were obsolete.  Professors were needed who could lecture and conduct 'cooperative' inquiry between student and teacher, with much reading and broad research on 'all sides of a question.'  There ought to be much freedom of discussion (as if there had never been any) and stimulation of students to come to "their own conclusions."  Motive and viewpoint in studying the Bible had changed, and the "new approach" was essential if the school was not to be "typed" and ostracized by the accrediting agencies.... (242)

 Yogi Berra was right.  This is Deja Vu all over again!  These early schools went from training faithful preachers to worrying over what the accrediting agencies would say!  Think of other schools that began in the 1940's who in 2012 are now concerned more with secular standards and requirements than training a faithful Gospel ministry.  In 1919 the Christian Standard called out the Liberal strategy.  It noted, "Instead of forming a training force sufficient for a great Bible ministry, our colleges are too largely spending their energies in feeble rivalry of State institutions, under secular and not under Scriptural, standards of efficiency." (247)  Schools once "set for the defense of the Gospel" are now seeking mainstream secular acceptance, acquiescing to worldly academic standards, relegating Bible education to a place of lesser prominence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Methods and Motives of Ministry

Occasionally I’ll hear of something innovative being done by a church somewhere and think “that’s a great idea. Wish I had thought of that.”  Many times I’ll hear of something innovative and think “that’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” 

The Rogue’s Gallery of “Preachers in it for the money” is a lengthy one.  It’s easy to talk about the Televangelists who plead for money for Jesus’ work and then you hear of their fleet of luxury cars, and the infamous “Air conditioned dog houses.”  I often say that my dog Murphy has an air conditioned house too.  She just agrees to share it with Mary and me!  Because of the excesses of some preachers my dad never had a very high view of preachers.  On more than one occasion he referred to preachers as “leachers and stealers”!  Nice.

We often condemn those who are in it “just for the money.”  We become suspicious of those whose methods are different or new.  We tend to view ourselves as defenders of the true faith, and distrust those things which we’ve not done before.  I’m currently shaking my head at the trend to provide first class coffee & bagel service to those who come through the church doors.  I picture the list of staff in the bulletin like this: Lead Pastor, Youth Pastor, Barista {pastor of all things breakfast?}, and Secretary.  Yet though I may shake my head at the method, when it comes right down to it, it may not be my method, but is there really anything wrong with it?  Probably not.  I should probably just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the bagel (yours truly has never learned how to drink coffee!)

We want to be righteously indignant at those who preach with less than pure motives.  So we decry the extravagant lifestyles of some preachers, or those we dislike, or the ones that seem to do things that just irritate us.  We might search the Scriptures to find something that supports our disdain for whatever new method someone is trying.  Usually, however, Scripture remains silent on the methods.  So to bring up 1 Cor. 11:22 which speaks of having homes to eat and drink, in an effort to shut down the bagel bar, is probably a gross misuse of Scripture.   It offends me more to be out of context and abuse the Scripture than it does to rail against some method that seems questionable to me.

I did find a passage that speaks to those who are ministering with impure motives.  Not surprisingly, it comes from the pen of the apostle Paul.  Paul was compelled to preach Christ.  He often preached without pay.  He worked his “tent making” trade to support himself so he would not be a burden to others.  Surely this self-sacrificing apostle would have something  hard-hitting to say about those who were in it ‘just for the money,’ or the ones who just wanted a big following.  And indeed he did.

Paul writes to the Philippians and says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will… the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15, 17 NASB).  You might expect that Paul is just about ready to lay into these teachers who just want the money, or who just want to be popular.”  One might smile and think, “Go get ‘em, Paul!”

But he doesn’t!  He doesn’t say anything about making them stop, or kicking them out of the church, or really any kind of “discipline” for them whatsoever.  Surprisingly, he basically gives them a pass!  What?

He says, “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).  Really, Paul?    They just want a big paycheck and you’re ok with that?  They just want to have the biggest Church and the biggest following, and you’re going to let them off the hook?  What gives??

The answer is simple:  Christ is being preached!  The Gospel was being shared, and people were coming to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Paul is very much OK with that!  The motives seemed to matter little to Paul.  The results seem to matter a lot.

I’ve quoted the following poem so many times I probably owe somebody a huge check in royalties.  Though very brief, the lesson is huge.

“Methods are many, principles are few; Methods always change, principles never do!”

You could make a huge list of methods that have come and gone all in the name of preaching Christ.  Some might seem very foreign, or out of touch to us, but in their time they were quite effective.  Think about the Tent Revivals that would last for weeks; then they were shortened to a week; then for a weekend.  Many congregations that used to have big revivals don’t even have them anymore.  Think about the bus ministries that brought in many who would otherwise not have attended.  Some might remember the old Jules Miller filmstrip lessons (just consider how the last 2 generations don’t even know what a filmstrip is!  And yet it won many to Christ, myself included!) Think about the styles of worship that have changed, or the use of a particular translation that seemed more readable than the one of decades ago.  Think about the use of fancy graphics, video clips, a sound and light show that would rival a rock concert!  Methods are constantly changing, and they will until Jesus returns. 

Let us be careful, however, not to assign motives to those who employ different methods than the ones to which we are accustomed.  They want to preach Jesus and change lives.  Time will demonstrate whether the method was effective, a dopey gimmick, or just an idea that was a flash in the pan.  I don’t know that Paul, however, would have complained much if a new method was used, as long as the message was still Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

I will say, however, that Paul doesn’t give any indication that the content of those teaching with impure motives was lacking or in error.  They may have had less than pure motives, but their doctrinal content was not in error.  Doctrine still matters!  And Paul had no problem confronting anyone, including the apostle Peter, when the doctrine was wrong.   He didn’t want to oppose Peter but did so because the truth of the Gospel was at stake.  For Paul, that was worth taking a stand.  And he did so in an unwavering fashion.  That’s an example worth following.

I believe it is both unfair and unscriptural to condemn those with different methods of presenting the Gospel.  However, it is fair to question (dare I say ‘judge’) those who teaching incorrectly.  I believe that God will deal with those whose motivations were not the best in preaching the Gospel.  How He chooses to do that is up to Him, and that works for me!  Doctrinal purity, as much as some have disdain for the concept, is worth the fight!

So if someone wants to put out the full breakfast spread every Sunday morning with a certified barista at the helm, I can live with it.  If the preacher wants to stand up there in torn jeans, a faded Van Halen t-shirt, and an array of tats & piercings, I’m not going to say much about it.  But if their teaching is wrong, then I will.  I believe it is my duty as  Christian.

Case in point.  I recently took a lot of flack about objecting to the term ‘pastor’ for what used to be called the “Minister,” or the “Preacher.”  It is using the term incorrectly when one is not an elder of the congregation.  And even then he is “a” pastor, and not “The” pastor.  Is it a new method, or is it teaching something which is not found in Scripture?

Several years ago (and I wrote about this in an earlier blog) a church was advertising “Baptism Sunday” to take place about a month from the time it was announced.  Again that doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of the Philippian jailer, or the Ethiopian Eunuch.  In fact, it seems to de-emphasize it as a condition of salvation altogether.  I think that is worth pointing out and criticizing as an unscriptural practice.

I have to work on my tendency of ‘assigning motives’ to those with different methods.  I think at times I’ve been in error on that subject.  I can learn to like and accept new things.  Yet I also need to stand firm, prepared always to defend the truth of the Gospel from those who would seek to undermine its authority. 

May my motives be pure, and my methods effective to share the Gospel of Jesus.

C’mon, Murphy, let’s get out of your air-conditioned house and go outside!