9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church

There are 34 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

I believe DeYoung is unbalanced here:

I’m concerned when a congregation gets tired of hearing about the Trinity, the atonement, the new birth, or the resurrection and wants to hear another long series on handling stress or the 70 weeks in Daniel.

The whole council of God certainly includes a great deal of prophesy, so why not spend some time discussing it? Reformed folks seem to spend very little time on prophesy, and that's a shame. I believe that, in some respects, that's the result of a pendulum swing away from the excesses of some dispensationalists - who seem to live and breathe nothing but prophesy. Still, not spending appropriate time on prophesy results in an unbalanced diet for the people. It's there. Preach and explain it. 

Guess what? You can also add the Trinity, the atonement and the New Covenant in there, because they tie into the God's program for Israel in the 70 weeks. Imagine that! 

This is a good article, but I think it betrays a downgrading of prophesy that, ironically, is a bit unhealthy! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Couldn't agree more Tyler. The current trend to relegate prophecy to "things indifferent" is really unfortunate. The sheer volume alone of prophecy necessitates its teaching.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Coming from churches and conferences that spent inordinate amounts of time on parsing Revelation and trying to figure out the date of the Rapture, then factoring in the fascination with books/movies like the Left Behind series, I understand that comment. For every expositional Gospel centered message, I heard 5 about who the whore of Babylon and anti-Christ would be, and most other messages were topical. 

I think it is now safe to say that Henry Kissinger is not going to be the anti-Christ.

I'd say his list of warning signs are accurate. One or two issues may be temporary problems because hey- humans. But visible and ongoing problems of instability or lack of transparency and accountability are A Big Clue that more is probably going on under the surface.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think what you described is exactly what DeYoung was warning about. That kind of thing is unbalanced.

On the other hand, I wonder how much time Reformed churches do spend on prophesy? Any Reformed folks out there want to chime in? Do you wish your Pastor could walk through Daniel's 70 weeks with you, or have you never heard a sermon which explains it? Does your Pastor avoid prophetic passages? Does he sort of wave them away and make snide comments about the Left Behind series whenever the topic comes up, in an attempt to deflect?

In other words, does your Reformed pastor broad-brush Biblical prophesy and try to hurry past it the same way a dispensationalist deals with (1) whether (and how) the New Covenant is in effect today, or (2) why there will be sacrifices in Ezekiel's temple in the Millennium?! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

With all the nuttiness one can find among fundamentalists, he gets worried about 70 weeks?  :^)  

Seriously, majoring on the minors is a HUGE issue in fundamentalism, and it's a big bummer that he doesn't hit on something that's more common.  So i take his general point very well (OK, it was something I was thinking already, yes), but am puzzled at his example.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think dealing with prophesy is unavoidable. The church we are visiting is Reformed, and last year the pastor finished preaching through Matthew. Prophecy was part of that, and he didn't shy away from it at all. If a pastor/teacher is avoiding prophesy, then they would have to hokey-pokey through the Bible, which would look very strange.

I think the reason some enjoy an emphasis on prophecy is that they can disconnect from it. Revelation can be like reading a scifi novel while under the influence of mind-altering substances, and I can imagine that some people look at it like any other post-apocalyptic tale, which are always hugely popular, and make me wonder why we as a society are so fascinated with the concept of global destruction. But that's another topic entirely. 

Wayne Wilson's picture

TylerR wrote:

I believe DeYoung is unbalanced here:

I’m concerned when a congregation gets tired of hearing about the Trinity, the atonement, the new birth, or the resurrection and wants to hear another long series on handling stress or the 70 weeks in Daniel.

The whole council of God certainly includes a great deal of prophesy, so why not spend some time discussing it? Reformed folks seem to spend very little time on prophesy, and that's a shame. I believe that, in some respects, that's the result of a pendulum swing away from the excesses of some dispensationalists - who seem to live and breathe nothing but prophesy. Still, not spending appropriate time on prophesy results in an unbalanced diet for the people. It's there. Preach and explain it. 

Guess what? You can also add the Trinity, the atonement and the New Covenant in there, because they tie into the God's program for Israel in the 70 weeks. Imagine that! 

This is a good article, but I think it betrays a downgrading of prophesy that, ironically, is a bit unhealthy! 

I suspect that when you reject the basic tenets of prophecy through an A-millennial approach to Scripture, it does become a peripheral issue. Whole swaths of the Old Testament become murky metaphors instead of comforting and riveting truth about a Covenant keeping God.

Bert Perry's picture

What Wayne says.  If one views most of prophecy in the covenant theology way of assuming the church is Israel and all that, it's awfully hard to get that excited about it.  That said, I remember going through Daniel a while back with a friend who was all into prophecy, and it struck me that what I needed to do was to get him out of "science fiction mode" and ask him what it meant for his own life.

Lots of quiet moments when I asked that, but I think I got through to a degree.

Speaking of this kind of thing, what really makes me cringe is stuff like Hagee's "Four Blood Moons", which appears to be little more than a loose correlation of astronomical events with current events and not much Biblical basis for it.  More or less the fundagelical world's answer to the NSA's spying on us trying to find statistical correlations.  Yuck.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

If this was my list of unhealthy signs, I would have included the church bent on looking to the secular culture to learn how we should do church and accomplish ministry. I don't know how pop culture can help the church offer better worship music to God. I don't see the pop culture helping the church with strategies for counseling people through their struggles with sin. What advantage is it to the church to embrace secular approaches to getting unchurched people to attend services? Really? Don't we have a better resource for how we should live out Christianity? Doesn't the Bible tell us how to disciple and how to worship? Once a church looks to pop culture for wise leadership, it has begun the process of being reached by pop culture instead of reaching it with God's truth. Pragmatism will take over, and the unhealthy church will shrivel and decline in its spiritual vitality.

donovankrebs's picture

Darrel- amen to this "If this was my list of unhealthy signs, I would have included the church bent on looking to the secular culture to learn how we should do church and accomplish ministry." 

The church isn't a mirror of secular culture, it is to be set apart!

Andrew K's picture

Wayne Wilson wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

I believe DeYoung is unbalanced here:

I’m concerned when a congregation gets tired of hearing about the Trinity, the atonement, the new birth, or the resurrection and wants to hear another long series on handling stress or the 70 weeks in Daniel.

The whole council of God certainly includes a great deal of prophesy, so why not spend some time discussing it? Reformed folks seem to spend very little time on prophesy, and that's a shame. I believe that, in some respects, that's the result of a pendulum swing away from the excesses of some dispensationalists - who seem to live and breathe nothing but prophesy. Still, not spending appropriate time on prophesy results in an unbalanced diet for the people. It's there. Preach and explain it. 

Guess what? You can also add the Trinity, the atonement and the New Covenant in there, because they tie into the God's program for Israel in the 70 weeks. Imagine that! 

This is a good article, but I think it betrays a downgrading of prophesy that, ironically, is a bit unhealthy! 

 

 

I suspect that when you reject the basic tenets of prophecy through an A-millennial approach to Scripture, it does become a peripheral issue. Whole swaths of the Old Testament become murky metaphors instead of comforting and riveting truth about a Covenant keeping God.

I'm Amillennial and I do not reject "the basic tenets of prophecy." Whatever that means.

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

I think what you described is exactly what DeYoung was warning about. That kind of thing is unbalanced.

On the other hand, I wonder how much time Reformed churches do spend on prophesy? Any Reformed folks out there want to chime in? Do you wish your Pastor could walk through Daniel's 70 weeks with you, or have you never heard a sermon which explains it? Does your Pastor avoid prophetic passages? Does he sort of wave them away and make snide comments about the Left Behind series whenever the topic comes up, in an attempt to deflect?

In other words, does your Reformed pastor broad-brush Biblical prophesy and try to hurry past it the same way a dispensationalist deals with (1) whether (and how) the New Covenant is in effect today, or (2) why there will be sacrifices in Ezekiel's temple in the Millennium?! 

As a Reformed guy, I love Biblical prophesy. My favorite sermon series is one preached on Revelation by Arturo Azurdia. Excellent stuff. Kim Riddlebarger is good on Daniel as well. You might not agree with his interpretation, but you can't deny that he gets into the text and is more than willing to deal with the difficult sections.

My own church is rather SBC in flavor, not particularly Reformed, and I think they actually talk far less about prophesy than many Reformed churches I've known.

Bert Perry's picture

.....is, per what Jim noted in the thread about how to lead change effectively,   I'd phrase it as "my way or the highway" leadership, or as a still member of a church I've left noted, "there can only be one leader."  Well, yes, but isn't that leader supposed to be Christ?

Really, dictatorial leadership is a key factor in all nine of the marks mentioned by this article.  Really, if a leader cannot point to an authority outside himself or "consensus" in what he does, you've probably got this problem.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

RickyHorton's picture

Darrell Post wrote:

Doesn't the Bible tell us how to disciple and how to worship?

It certainly gives us the principles of discipleship and worship, but it doesn't necessarily give us the methods.  In other words, we aren't told to worship in song with piano and organ and disciple through Sunday School. 

Darrell Post's picture

RickyHorton wrote:

 

Darrell Post wrote:

 

Doesn't the Bible tell us how to disciple and how to worship?

 

 

It certainly gives us the principles of discipleship and worship, but it doesn't necessarily give us the methods.  In other words, we aren't told to worship in song with piano and organ and disciple through Sunday School. 

My point is the church is on a fool's errand if it goes to the very culture we are trying to reach searching for the principles or methods to reach it. This pop-culture we are in will inevitably suggest principles and methods that run contrary to Scripture. We should expect no less. Unbelievers have no spiritual discernment and have no business being the fountain of wisdom for Christians trying to live out Christianity.

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, agreed 100% with what you say, and I think Ricky's caution may be born of experience with churches which assume that their way is the Scriptural way, while in reality it's just what pop culture said to do 50 years back.  It's a gotcha that we've got to watch out for no matter what our churches do.  

To draw a picture, to listen to some, you would think that the apostles started out by driving a school bus around the streets of Hammond, or were discovered by Christ as they fiddled around with their electric guitar with the amp turned all the way up to 11.  Trying to conform the church to our own biases is a powerful temptation.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

However is fleshes itself out, the foundation for what we do as a church must be Scripture. That is our starting place. When a church starts by exploring what "works" in our culture, and pragmatically puts in place the suggestions of the very people we are trying to reach, then the culture inevitably reaches the church instead of the church reaching the culture.

Larry's picture

Moderator

This pop-culture we are in will inevitably suggest principles and methods that run contrary to Scripture.

Darrell, would you say then that there is no common grace in unbelievers that might inform believers as to how to reach them? In other words, is there any baby in the bathwater?

Larry Nelson's picture

Larry wrote:

...would you say then that there is no common grace in unbelievers that might inform believers as to how to reach them?

 

THAT'S an article begging to be written for SI.....my mind is reeling from the implications of it.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Larry wrote:

 

...would you say then that there is no common grace in unbelievers that might inform believers as to how to reach them?

 

 

 

THAT'S an article begging to be written for SI.....my mind is reeling from the implications of it.

 

If we are to become all things to all people that we might win some to Christ, then it would follow that, within the bounds set by Scripture, we ought to be willing to engage with some of the hallmarks of the cultures we're reaching out to.  No?  My now seven year old son helped an Indian couple come to Christ by being held as an infant, and it was also important ot this couple that those reaching out would enjoy a cup of tea Indian-style.  (if you've never experienced it, you should--the tea is spiced and sweetened, and the whole thing takes about an hour if you do it right)

Not that we ought to sin, but I think Paul clearly modeled that we ought to go into the cultures we're serving.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Bert, if you remember my "Whatever it Takes..." SI article (the one about Eagle Brook Church), that passage was central in my conclusions/findings about the culture of Eagle Brook that makes them very effective at reaching the lost.

Darrell Post's picture

Larry wrote:

This pop-culture we are in will inevitably suggest principles and methods that run contrary to Scripture.

Darrell, would you say then that there is no common grace in unbelievers that might inform believers as to how to reach them? In other words, is there any baby in the bathwater?

Common grace means unbelievers don't always do the worst possible things that they could do. Common grace means unbelievers can experience blessings in life--they don't get the immediate judgment they deserve. But the unbeliever's actions are always tainted by sin. The unbeliever's wisdom is always worldly wisdom because it lacks a connection to God's revelation and His personal work of grace. Now it is possible through common grace for an unbeliever to stumble into some truths that also happen to be Biblical truths, but they get there in spite of their worldly wisdom, not because of it, and they don't arrive at truths that the believer couldn't get from Scripture otherwise. So I remain resolute in the position that it is a fool's errand for the church to leave the Bible closed, and open its ears to the wisdom of the world to learn how to do ministry, how to worship God, how to deal with sin, and how to live the Christian life.

So why would the church put its hands in the filthy, dirty bath water of the world looking for a baby in there, when the pure, clear water of the Word is available and sufficient for faith and practice?

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell

This may or may not be the place to do so, but perhaps it might be illustrative if you fleshed out what you're getting at.  What kind of methods are we talking about when we refer to "filthy bath water"?  Are we talking about maybe opening a moonshine bar in the foyer, or are we talking about using an electric guitar on stage to accompany a song?  Or are we talking about going from the metric Psalms to ungodly hymns?  Keep in mind this last bit was a big deal to our Puritan/Separatist forebears, who really didn't get into hymns until the 1800s if I remember correctly.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

I am talking about the Scriptures being sufficient for faith and practice. It is the Scriptures that tell us how to live out the Christian life and not secular world that we are trying to reach. I won't be trapped in a discussion about moonshine or other such things. I am talking about the church that brushes past the Scriptures and is eager to survey the secular culture to find out what they want, and then set out to give it to them--and then call it good. I am talking about churches eager to embrace and implement the latest fads in our culture with little reflection, pause, or concern about locating a Biblical foundation for such decisions. This is a question of which way the feet of the church are pointed. It is always the right time for the church to be firmly affixed to the Scriptures and say to the culture, "Here we stand," instead of asking the culture, "where do you want us to go?"

I am not suggesting the church shouldn't be wise. The Scriptures tell us to be wise and discerning, and so we minister in our communities with understanding, and that will flesh itself out a little differently in every location. But once we look to worldly culture for wisdom on how to reach that culture and how we live out Christianity, we have already surrendered as the culture is well on its way to reaching us.

Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, the problem is that your argument can be used properly, as in excluding that which is actually sin from a church, or it can be used (as is usually the case in my experience) as a bludgeon to enforce the personal preferences of those in leadership.  So you really need to flesh it out.

For example, you mention pop culture. OK, what portions of pop culture are sinful?  Given that the great hymns all were at one time expressions of what was popular in contemporary music, do we exclude them because they were once that filthy bath water?  How long does music need to go before it transitions from filthy bath water to Evian? 50 years?  100?  What about today?  Is a song sinful because it features the 12 bar blues as its backbone, or do we have to point to obscene lyrics to do this?

To draw a picture, I've heard a "Patch the Pirate" song built on a tango beat.  Do we call that song from BJU "dirty bath water" because to those who actually know what tango is, it points to a rather sensual dance?

So like I said, you need to flesh this one out.  1 Corinthians 9 indicates pretty clearly that Paul, who had visited the pagan Areopagus and was willing to buy meat and wine from the markets after it'd been sacrificed to the Greek "gods", was one who clearly used the societal cues of his host cultures to reach people for Christ.  

And for what it's worth, I am one who would love to hear more of the really old hymns (pre-1800, often composed originally in French or German) along with the metric Psalms in church.  I think a Psalm in the original Hebrew could be great special music.  So I'm not a huge fan of modern Christian music--in fact I can't stand most of it.  But given that Psalms 149 and 150 talk about percussive instruments and dancing, I can't go along with the idea that music with a beat is in itself wrong.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Common grace means unbelievers don't always do the worst possible things that they could do. Common grace means unbelievers can experience blessings in life--they don't get the immediate judgment they deserve. But the unbeliever's actions are always tainted by sin. The unbeliever's wisdom is always worldly wisdom because it lacks a connection to God's revelation and His personal work of grace. Now it is possible through common grace for an unbeliever to stumble into some truths that also happen to be Biblical truths, but they get there in spite of their worldly wisdom, not because of it, and they don't arrive at truths that the believer couldn't get from Scripture otherwise. So I remain resolute in the position that it is a fool's errand for the church to leave the Bible closed, and open its ears to the wisdom of the world to learn how to do ministry, how to worship God, how to deal with sin, and how to live the Christian life.

Thanks, Darrell. Hopefully I am not speaking past you here. I am sympathetic to what you are saying, though much less sympathetic than I used to be, however. I think you have a bit of a limited definition of common grace, or least a limited application of it. Grudem has a helpful section on this. I think common grace in this particular situation is better seen as the fact that while sin has tainted man's intellect and moral sense, it has not destroyed it. Therefore, God's common grace enables them to think about certain things in certain ways. Yet until we ask them what they are thinking, we don't know what part of Scripture to use in reaching them. Until we understand how they think, we are ill-equipped to reach them. This is part of the science of ethnography. We must understand the people we are trying to reach.

I would suggest that you are a bit contradictory when you say that their wisdom is always worldly and yet they stumble onto truth that is biblical. Biblical truth is not worldly wisdom. I think a better way to put that is that their holding biblical truth is inconsistent with their worldview. So a Christian businessman can use biblical wisdom by common grace even though he might deny the Bible, or not know where that wisdom comes from. Wisdom is worldly or biblical because of its truth, not because of its proponents. Perhaps a semantical point, but a needed one, IMO. To me, understanding a person can help us to point out that they believe something they have no reason to believe.

I think Acts 17 gets leaned on awful hard at times, but nonetheless, I will lean on it here a bit. Paul's comments on the altar to an unknown God are possible because Paul understood what they were doing. He knew it by conversation and by observation. Common grace meant that these people had a moral and religious sense though their sinfulness meant they expressed it in sinful ways. And Paul tapped into that moral and religious sense to know what specifically from Scripture to say. In other words, on that occasion, Paul knew where to poke because he took his cues from them. 

If "taking our cues" means saying what they want to hear, then absolutely not. But I think there is a side that perhaps you are not considering. It's part of the idea behind Stott's book on preaching "Between Two Worlds." It's a good read. In that books, he speaks of a bridge, and notes that the bridge has to touch down in both worlds (the world of the Bible and the world of the hearer). But we can only touch down in the world of the hearer if we take some cues from them about what their issues are and how they think about things.

So why would the church put its hands in the filthy, dirty bath water of the world looking for a baby in there, when the pure, clear water of the Word is available and sufficient for faith and practice?

Because the "clear pure water of the Word" won't tell you what your neighbor is struggling with, or how they process information, or how they think, or learn. It won't tell you their cultural habits or perspectives. And the "filthy dirty bathwater" might not be as filthy and dirty as it might be because of common grace. Common grace means people can still think correctly and process information. They have questions about the world around them. If we don't ask them and engage them, we don't know the questions they have, nor the ways that they think.

Think of the difference between ministering in a theistic culture vs. an atheistic culture. If you treat an atheistic culture as if they already believe in God and just need to believe in the right God, you will miss the boat. Yet in our American context, we rarely have to convince people that God exists. That would not be true in places like China, or India. But we don't know that unless we take some cues from them.

I think we actually do this more than we think perhaps. In a personal conversation with someone, we are quick to pick up on what's important to them, particularly what troubles them. And if we have any spiritual sense, we are looking for ways to bring the Bible to bear on that. We might have a friend who is experiencing grief over a loss. We probably are sensitive to that and try to bring the Scripture to bear on that in some way. If we have two friends with grief, we do the same thing. But if your community has 100 people with grief, it's looking to the world for cues if a church have some class or seminar on grief? I don't buy it.

So I think your cautions are in order. I think they are a bit overstated though.

Darrell Post's picture

As I said before, it is beyond my point to get involved with arguments about moonshine, patch the pirate, or other such things. If a pastor or a church uses the "sufficiency of Scripture" as a bludgeon to enforce personal preferences, then that pastor or church is wrong. They have not understood what the sufficiency of Scripture is all about.  

My point, as I have stated several times, is that the church must be concerned with the personal preferences of God, who very clearly gave us what we need for faith and practice. A church is in error when it concerns itself with the personal preferences of secular culture over the personal preferences of God as revealed in Scripture. Furthermore, every NT writer from Romans through Revelations warns very harshly about the dangers of the world system in which the church is placed to be salt and light.

Romans 12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Titus 2:11-12 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

2 Timothy 4:9-10a - Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 4:4 - You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

1 John 2:15-16 - Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life-- is not from the Father but is from the world.

1 Peter 1:13-16 - Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Jude 1: 3-4 - Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:17-19 - But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions." It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

So it is safe to say that the world is no friend of the church, and certainly not a fountain of wisdom to teach the church how to worship God, battle sin, and reach sinners with the gospel.

You asked the question "OK, what portions of pop culture are sinful?" A better question is, "what portions of pop culture provide better wisdom for Christian living than the Scriptures?" This is really the question I have been addressing all along here. And the answer to that question is None of it. I have already conceded that it is possible, through common grace, for pop culture to produce something wholesome, but this is done in spite of its sinfulness, not because of the value of worldly wisdom.

Your question is an invitation to debate which things culture produced are sinful and which are not. Again, this is not the point of discussion I am raising. I am saying that a mark of an unhealthy church is looking to the culture as a fountain of wisdom for how to worship God, how to battle sin, how to live the Christian life and how to reach the lost. That is a bankrupt position that inevitably leads to the culture reaching the church.

 

 

 

Darrell Post's picture

"Until we understand how they think, we are ill-equipped to reach them. This is part of the science of ethnography. We must understand the people we are trying to reach."

I have already stated we are to be wise and ministry to people with understanding. That is not the point.

Darrell Post's picture

"Because the "clear pure water of the Word" won't tell you what your neighbor is struggling with, or how they process information, or how they think, or learn. It won't tell you their cultural habits or perspectives."

Actually the Bible does tell us quite a bit about how sinners think and how they view the world, but beyond that, I have already stated that the Christian is to be wise and understanding in dealings with sinners. We should be well aware of their cultural habits...but this is so far beyond the point I was making, which was that a church is foolish to receive the instruction of culture and build ministry on it, instead of on the Word of God.

Pages