Posts Tagged ‘traditional church’

1 Samuel 4:1b-11 (Part 2 of 3)
The Phillistines Capture the Ark

Those of us who attend contemporary, non-traditional church often rag on traditional, denominationally oriented churches because they seem to be so stuck in their traditions. Church pews with padded cushions. Hymn books filled with traditional songs that were written anywhere from 150 to 200 years or more ago. These hymn books are stored in that little rack on the back side of the pew in front of you. The back side of the pew in front of you will have also those visitor cards that look like they were designed at least 40 years ago. There are envelopes for your tithes and offerings of course. And at the end of the pew of some traditional churches you have the attendance pad that you fill in a line and past down.

And those little pencils. Remember the little pencils where the eraser had been worn off it had an eraser at all. Most though were those little tiny eraser-less pencils. Some churches have the name of the church on those little pencils. Stained glass windows. Balconies. Carpet. Pulpits that are massive and are works of art unto themselves. Choir lofts and choir robes. Large cross in the background above the choir. Elders chairs behind the pulpit. Chancel rail around the pulpit area where we need down to take communion. Those little tiny holes in the chancel rail where you put your little tiny glass communion cups after you have partaken of the “wine” that represents the blood of Christ. Of course, you take your communion cup for a silver or gold somewhat fancy communion tray as the pastor passes by. And remember those communion wafers. Everything in here means something and is symbolic in nature. The cross is brought into the church and an acolyte follows to light the candles. At the end of the service the cross is then taken out of the church and “into the world.” During the service, there are responsive readings that date back to the 1600’s. Hymns are segregated in the hymnal by the season of the Christian calendar. Pastors wearing robes with stoles that match the Christian calendar’s chosen color. Pastoral robes have markings on them that indicate the level of education of the pastor.

The lobby or narthex as it is called is where you will find fancy mahogany furniture and paintings or photos of the hall of fame of the church – previous pastors, significant deacons and benefactors of the church. Ushers with bulletins containing the announcements for the coming week and the order of the service for today. Educational buildings with sometimes multiple floors of classrooms that are all of the same size and shape. Classrooms that are claimed by various age-graded Sunday school classes. Some age groups have had their particular classroom so long it is decorated permanently with their stuff. Classrooms are often named after people who were significant in the church who have passed on.

You go into any town of any size anywhere in America and you will find this church, this traditional church. When we begin to worship the traditions of the traditional church and if you change any of it you may cause a church split. We in contemporary churches may fun of them for all their symbolism and tradition and how it is all seemingly about the buildings, the bricks, the steeple, the traditions, than it is about attracting new people and making disciples.

It was that thought of how we make church all symbolic sometimes and how we have our traditions and all that stuff that often becomes more important that Jesus himself. It becomes about us worshiping our symbols and traditions as much or more than God. With that in mind, let’s read the passage now:

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. 2 The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it[a] will save us from our enemies.”

4 So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. 5 When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

6 “What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the Lord had arrived, 7 they panicked. “The gods have[b] come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! 8 Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. 9 Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

In this passage, we see that the Ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, a sacred part of the Tabernacle that only the high priest could enter once per year. Eli’s sons desecrated the room by unlawfully entering it and removing the Ark. The Israelites rightly recognized the great holiness of the Ark. However, they thought that they Ark itself – the wood and metal box – was their source of power. They began to use it as a good luck charm, expecting it to protect them from their enemies. A symbol of God does not guarantee His presence and power. Their attitude toward the Ark came perilously close to idol worship. When the Ark was captured by their enemies, they thought that Israel’s glory was gone and that God had deserted them. God uses His power according to His own wisdom and will. He responds to those who earnestly seek Him with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

Contemporary church was a reaction against the traditions and the symbolism and the bland spirituality of traditional church. It was a jolt to the system. Every few hundred years the church has become so enamored with its own self that God sends a jolt to the system. It was the Protestant Reformation. It was the Great Awakenings. Now, it is contemporary church. But now that we are about thirty years into the future from the meager beginnings of the contemporary church movement back in the 1980s, we have developed our traditions too. Contemporary church has become so predictable now that there are even parodies of our style of worship.

See this link. It’s so funny

Contemporary church has developed its traditions as well. Starbucks wanna be café in the atrium. Bookstores filled with merchandise with the church’s cool logo on them. No pews. Couches and seating areas in the atrium. TV with cool stuff about the church. Ministries with one name titles that captures and idea. The church slogan on everything. Coffee mugs for new visitors of which there are always plenty. Then in our services there are predictable markers there too. No pews because the worship center is a multiple purpose event room. Just nicely arranged seats. Or if there is permanent seating they are typically theatre style seats and the worship center has an upper deck and a lower deck. And then there are the lights. Contemporary churches probably invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in lights and audio systems. Then there’s the pastors on stage. Skinny jeans wearing. Shirt tales hanging out. Scruffy, I haven’t shaved in two weeks facial hair. Subtly spikey modern hair. Maybe a tattoo. Temporary lectern or high top table with chair from which the edgy pastor preaches. He walks around stage and preaches instead of standing still. Always in motion. Although we disdain the old style same ol’ same ol’s “order of service” in traditional church so we disdain bulletins but we have our order of worship too. The stage personalities and the tech team all have the order of service so everybody knows what to do when and what things that need to be cued when. Most contemporary churches will play out like this every Sunday in every town in America that has one. There will be a countdown to the service starting on all TV screens. Then there’s the opening song. The greeting. One more song. The giving talk. One more song. Bumper video. Sermon. Closing song(s).

So, we too in contemporary church make look different and have their own style and feel and logos but we often do things the same way in the end. We too in contemporary can get so married to the way we do things in modern church that it can be hard to break out of the routine. Sometimes, we too in contemporary church feel like we have to do things a certain way because that is what modern churches do. We were born to give to Jesus’ church a jolt, a kick in the pants, to revitalize it, to make it about Jesus again. But we as modern church can easily fall into the same patterns as the generations past. We can get just as married to our symbols and traditions as traditional church. We can be just as susceptible to worshiping our own edginess. We can begin to worship our growth. We can begin to worship our logos. We can begin to worship how big of a celebrity that our pastor is. We can begin to worship our technology that makes us look cool to the modern world. We can worship our production values that rival any professional television production. We can worship our one word ministry names that seem so awesome. We can worship our coolness.

However, God honors those who honor him. God honors those who pursue him. God honors those who spread the gospel. God honors those who whatever your style maybe (traditional or contemporary) who make it all about Jesus and about making disciples. Although my church is a modern one and we have our predictable modern church patterns in architecture, names of ministries, and Sunday morning productions, but I must say that everything about our church is about getting people in the door in ways that will force them to consider Jesus Christ as Savior and not as a self-help guru. Everything about our church is passion about getting the gospel message out in our community, region, and world. Everything about our church is about growing disciples once they have accepted Christ as their Savior. We don’t get it right always. We are still learning. This attraction vs. discipleship thing was something we had to correct course on. We make mistakes. But one thing is for sure. We have a collection of people that are in leadership in our church that love the Lord with all their heart. To the last man and woman. We have a team that simply loves the Lord together. God will bless that and God will honor that. And he has already in so many ways.

What is your church about? What is it that is the most important thing to your church? When people think of your church, what do they think of first? If it is not about your church being a church that is known for loving God and loving others then there’s work that must be done whether your church is traditional or modern.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (Part 2)

True and False Prophets


In preparation for a “week-long intensive” as they call it in this, my semester of my first year of three years of my doctoral program, I had to write a research paper about leadership styles and organization methods in churches. I wrote about the fact that most traditional churches are organized in a bureaucratic style whereas the “emerging church movement” or “modern church movement” that began in the 1990s where megachurches are popping up all over the place are often organized around a charismatic, pastor-led style.


The emergence of independent, non-denominational churches or churches that are tied to their denomination in the loosest sense of the word is the new wave. Often these new churches have charismatic leader who is a powerful presence in the church. Most of the time, there is nothing more than advisory committee to this charismatic pastor to hold him accountable. Such committees have little if any power to do or change anything about the path(s) the senior pastor chooses to take. The pastor of the new wave of churches which are pastor-led see this type of management as the best thing because many of them “grew up” professionally in traditional churches where it takes an act of congress to get anything done. Traditional churches get bogged down in their bureaucracy and their committees and it takes six months to change a light bulb. New wave churches with their pastor-led management style can react quicker to the needs of the church, react quicker to opportunities that present themselves, react quicker to changes in the community. If the church needs to add buildings, the pastor-led church can react reasonably quickly to that. If the church sees an opportunity to plant a new church, it can react quickly to that.


Pastors at independent, non-denominational or loosely denominational churches can preach the Word of God with its sometimes cutting sword just as they have always dreamed of rather than worrying about whether the board members were going to get offended and run them off as might happen in a traditionally organized church. It all seems to be the best way to organize a church. The statistics speak for themselves. Traditional churches and denominations have been either holding steady or losing membership since the 1990s. At the same time, our nation’s population has grown by 29.7 percent (29.7%) since 1990 (see During this time of stagnation and decline for traditional churches amidst the population growth, we find that there are churches all over the place of the new wave pastor-led church style that are booming. Church growth rates of 18% per year are not uncommon in the 100 largest churches in America. These pastor led churches must be doing something right, huh? Traditional churches just can’t seem to get out of their own way as they bog themselves down in their own bureaucracy and their inward focus. Pastor-led churches with their charismatic leaders seem to be the way to go.


Just look at the phenomenal growth of the pastor-led churches. These are churches that growing and planting and growing again. Many of these churches have pastors who are nationally known in Christian circles and some who are recognizable to the general public at large as well. You tend to associate these names with the churches they pastor and run. Their name and their church are often synonymous. Here are just a few of the pastor/church combos that you might know:


  1. Andy Stanley – North Point Ministries (Atlanta, GA)
  2. Chris Hodges – Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL)
  3. Clayton King – NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC)
  4. Rick Warren – Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA)
  5. Bill Hybels – Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL)
  6. Steven Furtick – Elevation Church (Charlotte, NC)


These pastors are the hot commodities of the Christian world. They speak at conferences. They write books. They have book signings. They appear on television talk shows. Some might say that these guys are celebrities. They are like rock stars of the Christian world. Shouldn’t they be? They seem to be doing it right in a church world that is on the decline in the United States. These guys seem to be visionaries in the church world that desperately needs visionaries. They seem to be saying to the rest of the church world, “throw off your bureaucracy and glacial ways of doing things and do it our way! It works!”


It was this idea of these new wave church pastors being considered celebrities and rock stars of the Christian world that came to mind when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, one more time this morning. Let’s read through it one more time together now:


15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”


17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”


21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.


Why do I bring this passage up when talking about celebrity pastors and their megachurches? It is because there is an inherent danger in these celebrity pastor-led churches that can be detrimental to the flocks they lead and to Christians at large. There are two recent examples of the dangers in such pastor-led churches that demonstrate the point.


You will notice that Perry Noble’s name is missing in the above list. He was the founding pastor of the wildly successful and third largest church in America now, NewSpring Church, based in Anderson, SC. Perry started to come unraveled several years ago with sermons like “ten suggestions” and it was an indication of his lack of accountability within his own organization. He went off the rails with alcohol and other activities that were said to have strained his marriage. Luckily for NewSpring, they were able to right the ship with the appointment of Clayton King to be senior pastor – a celebrity preacher in his own right. Not so lucky was Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area, WA. When Mark Driscoll was exposed by his church leaders as having become a despotic dictator of sorts and was kicked out, the church imploded. Mars Hill, once one of the top 20 largest churches in America just five short years ago, now, no longer exists. The church was so wrapped up in the identity of its superstar pastor/author/speaker, Mark Driscoll, that it could not survive his departure. That brings us to the question that we must ask ourselves that of those top, largest churches that I mentioned earlier where the preacher’s name and their church are synonymous…Would that church survive if that charismatic, nationally known, pastor/leader walked away from that church or suffered some moral failure and was forced out?

That’s also the question that we must ask ourselves about our own churches. Most of us don’t go to a large megachurch but we must ask the question just the same at our own church. What is our church about? Is about our preacher? Is it about our governing boards or our committees that we hold in traditional churches? Is it about us being members of the cool new church with the cool new charismatic pastor? What is it about?


As in the days of ancient Israel, where there were false prophets who gathered many followers, we must use the same standards today when it comes to the pastors of these new wave churches and for the pastors of our medium sized and small churches and for ourselves as members of these churches. We must always compare everything that is said and done to Scripture. That is our measure. Everything must be consistent with Scripture.


I am not saying that megachurches and the low-accountability that these pastor-led churches have for their celebrity pastors are inherently bad. There are some that carry it off quite well like Rick Warren at his church and Andy Stanley at his. Both these guys are doing it the right way and have done it the right way for a long time. However, we must always hold pastors and ourselves as church members accountable to Scripture. We must never stray from it.


When it is all said and done. Traditional churches can stray from the point. Megachurches can stray from the point. There is no perfect church form when things go off the rails from the point. When we take our eyes off Jesus then we have gone off the rails. If our churches are not about Jesus, then we have gone off the rails. If I choose a church because of who the celebrity pastor is rather than does this church preach and act out the gospel, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because we want to be seen there, we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because that’s where all the wealthy power brokers go, then we have gone off the rails. If we go to church because I can be a big frog in a small pond, we have gone off the rails.


Let us make sure that our churches are about bringing glory to Jesus Christ through attracting people to the gospel message and then growing them up into mature Christ followers who then attract others to the gospel message. That’s what our churches are to be about. Megachurch or small church. New wave church or traditional church. Celebrity pastor or just a pastor known locally in his community.




Amen and Amen.