Singapore churches are preaching the half gospel

Lord anoint your servants to preach the good news of JesusI find Michael Horton’s books invigorating. I have read his “Putting the Amazing Back into Grace” and “Power Religion” of which I would warmly commend the former. But I have not read his more recent books titled Christless Christianity and the Gospel-Driven Life but they should be thought provoking stuff.Michael is currently the  professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, and the author of many books. Recently he was interviewed by Mark Galli from Christianity Today.

I am posting excerpts from this interview on some issues raised in these recent books to strengthen my claims that preaching in Singapore is too man-centered and imperative-driven and needs to return to being God-centered and indicative-driven or gospel-driven. What people have been receiving is a half gospel. The interview will clarify what I mean.

Here are some excerpts from there:

ARE OUR SERMONS IN CHURCHES TODAY CHRISTLESS:

What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: “These are God’s commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?” Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: “You can be happier if you follow God’s principles.” All of this is said with a smile, but it’s still imperative. It’s still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it’s law rather than gospel. I don’t even know when I walk into a church that says it’s Bible-believing that I’m actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I’m going to hear about how I should “dare to be a Daniel.” The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don’t.

But aren’t many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn’t gospel. The gospel isn’t “Follow Jesus’ example” or “Transform your life” or “How to raise good children.” The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on “What would Jesus do?” rather than “What has Jesus done?”

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It’s our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation.

ON WHATS A GOSPEL-DRIVEN LIFE (IS HE TAKING A DIG AT THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE?):

What specifically do you mean by “a gospel-driven life”?

Because I live in San Diego, I think of a sailboat decked out with all of the latest equipment that tells you where you are and where you need to be. It plots your course, but it’s a sailboat, so you need wind in your sails. You start out, and it’s a beautiful day with wind in your sails. You’re out in the middle of the ocean when the wind dies down. You’re just sitting there dead calm. And your radio tells you that a hurricane is approaching. But all of your sophisticated equipment will not be able to get you to safety. What you need is wind in your sails.

A lot of Christians, especially people who have had dramatic conversion experiences, go sailing out of the harbor with wind in their sails. They are so confident in Christ and what he has done for their salvation, and that gospel wind is in their sails. Yet after two years, they have heard just one imperative after another. They have lots of course plotting, lots of books on how to do this and that. They’ve read every manual on spiritual disciplines. They have heard their pastor tell them they need to pray more, to read the Bible more, to evangelize more. Now they are dead in the water. There’s no wind in the sails.

Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation until we are glorified. Calvin once said we need the gospel preached to us every week, and the Lord’s Supper to ratify that promise, because we are partly unbelievers until we die.

‘Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion.

In The Gospel-Driven Life you use news as a metaphor. Why?

I stole it from the apostles! Their dominant metaphor for the gospel message is “good news.” The content is that God has done all the saving, no thanks to us. Someone asked Martin Luther what we contribute to salvation, and he said, “Sin and resistance!”

The gospel is not even my conversion experience. If somebody asks me what the gospel is, I’m not going to talk about me; I’m going to talk about Christ. All of the testimonies we find from the apostles’ lips are not testimonies about what happened in their hearts. They are testimonies about what happened in history when God saved his people from their sins. That’s the gospel. Although the gospel makes all sorts of things happen inside of me and gives me the fruit of the Spirit, the gospel itself is always an external word that comes to me announcing that someone else in history has accomplished my salvation for me.

Someone comes with instructions and says, “Here’s what your life could be like if you do x, y, or z.” Good news is, “Let me tell you what has happened!” The gospel is not good instructions, not a good idea, and not good advice. The gospel is an announcement of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So what is the first step in living a gospel-driven life?

Become a recipient again. Mary and Martha, the two sisters and disciples of Jesus, had different relationships with Jesus. Martha busied herself with many tasks, and she was getting mad at Mary for making her do all the work. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from him. Jesus rebuked Martha for criticizing her sister and said Mary had chosen the better part.

First and foremost, disciples are recipients of Jesus Christ’s teaching. His teachings are really teachings concerning his person and his work. He has accomplished our salvation. He has accomplished our redemption. So first, allow the gospel to soak in again.

Then allow the imperatives that arise out of that to be our reasonable service. Instead of trying to live the victorious Christian life, instead of trying to get into God’s favor by following tips and formulas, let’s receive the gospel and then follow the commands of God’s law when it comes to directives. Then our sailboat is perfectly equipped. Now we have the wind in our sails—the gospel—and we also have God’s own wisdom to guide us in that gospel-driven life.

If we understand what Michael Horton is saying in this interview, we will understand why our churches of full of tired Marthas running around on an empty tank in the kitchen, and who will end up in churches that cater for Marys.

For the full interview go to Christ the Center article in online Christianity Today.com.

And read a related article which I posted recently on the indicatives and imperatives of the gospel.

Involvement in house churches

house churchBarna Research asked survey respondents about house churches by defining them as, “part of a group of believers that meets regularly in a home or place other than a church building. These groups are not part of a typical church; they meet independently, are self-governed and consider themselves to be a complete church on their own. Do you participate in such a group, sometimes known as a house church or simple church, that is not associated in any way with a local, congregational type of church?” The response to this inquiry consistently generates just 3% to 6% of all adults saying they have been involved in such an assembly during a typical month. Broader definitions of a house church generated “yes” answers from up to 33% of respondents. Barna Research reported in 2006 that 1 in 5 adults attend house churches. A follow-up study by Center for Missional Research commissioned a Zogby study that asked. “Do you meet weekly with a group of 20 people or less to pray and study Scriptures as your primary form of spiritual or religious gathering?” 26.3% of the 3,600 Americans polled answered “yes”.-Barna Update 31 Aug09

Chuck Swindoll wary of ‘corporatization’ of church

I have been pastoring since 1980 and there is a trend that I have observed: an increasing “corporatization” of the churches in Singapore. This is partly down to the fact that many lay leaders come from the corporate background and are successful in the MNCs or big local companies. When they are appointed leaders in the church they naturally think that what works to make the company a success must surely make the church a success too.

Some of the so called “best practices” of companies actually have spiritual parallel in biblical values. Forming high performance teamwork is a case in point. The church is the body of Christ and the members perform different functions according to the grace given by Christ. They work together, complementing and respecting one another, for “high performance” and growth of the community. Leadership in church should work well with a good gift mix and deep respect and mutual submission in the team.

However, there are some practices that do more harm than good when introduced from the corporation to the church. I shall not elaborate on these. For now, just read what Chuck Swindoll, respected evangelical pastor, best selling author, seminary president and mentor of pastors has to say on this:

I have discovered three principles and three imperatives I believe all churches should examine and apply. The first principle is this: clear, biblical thinking must override secular planning and a corporate mentality. And the imperative? Think spiritually! However well-organized our churches become, we must give priority to biblical rather than to secular thinking. In the first-century church, there were no secular organizational structures or church politics. There was no guru of authority or “chairman” of anything. There were no power grabs from control freaks. There were no personal maneuverings, infightings, financial squabbles, or turf protection. Instead, it was a place where a spiritual emphasis took precedence over the world’s way of doing things.

What does this look like when applied today? For starters, our teaching needs to be biblically based and spiritually inclined. Our Sunday school classes, adult fellowships, and small-group instruction gatherings need to center on the teaching of the Bible and spiritual lessons. Our songs and our hymns should have spiritual content. Our counseling ministry needs to be derived from the Spirit’s revelation in the Scriptures. Our relationships with one another need to have spiritual priorities—intimate fellowship where people can trust one another. The church ought to be the one place where spiritual thinking overrides everything else—all those battles we fight within the marketplace. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. The church is a spiritual entity.

To read more go to his blog post HERE.