Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, August 07, 2005

What a disgusting message...

I just arrived home from an event hosted by a local church (not my own), and I'm grouchy. The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Turns out this event was hosted by one of the two "Word-Faith" churches in the Fredericton area. I didn't know that when I came, but found out upon arrival. As it was free, I decided to stick it out and see how things went.

First, during the worship music time, one of the musicians made a statement to the effect that the "old hymns" aren't great for today's worship. Now, that's intelligent - a hundred years from now, someone might disparage the music you're playing as passe.

I have no objection to writing and singing comtemporary worship music. Even Isaac Watts' great hymns were contemporary in his time, right? But this woman's comments betrayed a lamentable lack of historical awareness. The old hymns and anthems of the church represent a priceless trove of Biblical teaching and commentary. They are a treasure! We don't sing them enough these days - and the results are sad, as much of the music we play in church today is more shallow and simplistic than the Sunday School songs I grew up with. We could use more of the old hymns, I think - maybe the distressing lack of basic Christian theology evident in the church today might be alleviated somewhat.

That was just the beginning, though. The attendees were handed some papers when they came in - a flyer describing the sponsoring church, which included a "Prayer for Salvation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit," another flyer advertising an upcoming event, an offering envelope, and some other documents.

The period of singing ended, and the period of offering began. I say "period," because it took at least half an hour. The male head pastor of the church got up and held up one of the offering envelopes, asking us to turn to the packages we had been given. He declared firmly that the envelope was the most important thing in that package!

Now, anyone familiar with the Word-Faith movement knows its unhealthy obsession with money and "seed" offerings. It isn't called the "Prosperity Gospel" for nothing. But this is the most blatant and sickening statement of the like I have seen or heard. In that same package was a flyer with a "prayer for salvation" (I don't think it was a good prayer, but I'll get to that in a minute, and it's beside the point here) - a prayer that is designed to introduce an unbeliever to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and yet that pastor dared state that the offering envelope was the most important document?

Absolutely shameful. If you're reading this, and you're not familiar with Word-Faith teachings, this is a great example. This "church" exists to spread the "gospel" of positive confession and worldly wealth, not the Gospel of salvation from sins. At least that's the message I get when the pastor places an offering envelope higher in importance than a salvation message.

The male pastor then handed over to his wife, his "co-pastor," who spoke at length about God's desire to bless us financially and materially, as well as spiritually and physically, and who promised that God WILL return our "seed" offering in blessings to us. Again, a patently unbiblical message. We give not in hopes of being rewarded - this would reduce God to a metaphysical investment package, or worse, a cosmic vending machine! - but in gratitude and humble recognition that everything we have is from Him. We give as a sacrifice - not to earn favour or buy God's affection, or to "plant seed," but as a lesson to ourselves that God deserves the firstfruits of EVERYTHING we do. We give as a regular reminder that God is the source of all blessing.

The last thing that really irked me was reading through the "salvation prayer," and hearing the pastor's call at the end for unbelievers present to be saved. The written prayer simply noted Acts 2:21 and asked Jesus to come into the heart of the one praying and be Lord of their life, followed by the reading of Romans 10:9 and a confession for the reader to state that Jesus was raised from the dead and that He is Lord. It then transitioned into a declaration for the reader that they are now Christians!

What's wrong with this? It misses the entire point of salvation - that is, being saved. What is the reader being saved from? The prayer doesn't say. There is not one mention of sin, or of iniquity, or wickedness, or wrongdoing - certainly no mention of hell and judgment! Not even a mention that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin! The prayer is simply a declaration that Jesus is Lord and then assures its reader that he is "born again."

One cannot put true faith in Christ unless he realizes that he is helpless and lost in sin; that he cannot save himself (again, this helplessness isn't mentioned at all); that Christ died in the place of sinners; and that His righteousness is reckoned to us by way of our faith. The prayer mentions that the reader is now "righteous," but it doesn't say how or why, much less why this is somehow a change from the reader's initial condition!!

You cannot, CANNOT, EVER preach the Gospel without stressing sin and the need for repentance. This "salvation prayer" falls far short of the mark. And sadly, this is not a problem confined to Word-Faith circles - it is endemic to the evangelical church today.

I'm tempted to take back what I wrote above - that offering envelope was probably far more useful than this prayer. Such a "prayer of salvation" runs a serious risk of giving assurance of salvation to a person who never has geniune faith or understanding of Christ.

I left shaking my head and lamenting the condition of the modern church. If this focus on the physical earth and its material blessings and prosperity is to become the norm in the church, and especially if the lack of a coherent Gospel message that induces awareness of personal sinfulness remains our evangelical focus, then we are to be ashamed. No doubt our Lord will hold us to account.

Kyrie eleison...


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