I was so supremely naïve about so many things when I first wrote about the North American Christian Convention – my assumptions about desiring sound doctrine being just one of them. There is no concern for sound doctrine within the NACC – at least not when compared to the supreme importance given to drawing a crowd. The fact is, attracting an audience is something in the nature of monomaniacal. Everything is subservient to attracting, maintaining and expanding the crowd – a methodology Jesus was, himself, wary of adopting. The bible says in Luke that large crowds began to follow Jesus, prompting him to say something sectarian like, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
Guess what happened to the size of the congregation – let’s just say the result was “not cool” using mega-church movement criteria.
Jesus’ evangelistic manner notwithstanding, the cynical, performance-oriented, lowest-common-denominator-theology is the philosophical road we are being led down by today’s NACC directorate. In the September 2014 edition of the Christian Standard, and in response to an open letter Dr. Peter Rasor, Christian apologist, posted online about the inconsistent/false doctrines that were on display at last year’s convention, former president Tim Harlow writes, “The simple truth is that people are interested in the real Jesus and his teaching.” Because apparently, according to Harlow, the real Jesus would agree with him about doctrinal issues being counterproductive and “judgmental.”
Well let’s be clear about something: not only was the real Jesus factional when addressing large gatherings, his purpose was to thin out the crowd. How else can one interpret these words spoken to a throng of followers, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. The NACC framework was badly in need of overhaul and updating. Many of the stylistic changes and modern methodologies have, no doubt, helped us reestablish a cultural familiarity for the world we are trying to reach. And so I agree with Tim Harlow when he reminds us that we have him, Mike Baker and the cadre of mega-church pastors on the committee to thank for bringing us out of “the 80’s.” After all before they came along, he writes in the article, “We (Tim and Mike) weren’t even sure whether the Restoration Movement was going to make it.” Fortunately, they arrived just in time.
Still, I can’t help but think that Dr. Rasor was on to something in his original post. We are being inured to a form of evangelical universalism. Many of the average attendees are frustrated by the theological chimera they are forced to behold and accept. And anyone with the temerity to question this reality is treated to the seldom omitted refrain of “stop criticizing and get involved” – a hollow platitude. Meanwhile, the near obsession to bowdlerize sound doctrine has us rushing inexorably toward the hard reality of, at best, blissful ignorance – at worst, false doctrine.
For example, I sincerely wanted to support the convention this year – but when I saw Jodi Hickerson, Teaching Pastor of Mission Church (who, although officially listed euphemistically as “Programming Director” by the NACC, is in the regular preaching rotation within her congregation), I felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. For years, I have had to defend God’s Word from the feminist movement, teaching that women are equal in essence but different in function. How could this spotlight not cause me more headaches and possible division in my congregation? (Keep in mind that women serve communion in my church, are in the majority among ministry leaders, and make up most of my paid staff.)
You see, for me and many others in this movement, there is a moral question involved in inviting Jodi to speak. But in a triumph of personal detachment – the scale of which can only be experienced by a celebrity pastor – unless it affects him, why should president Mike Baker be concerned with what others are experiencing? Clearly, this decision was not an act intended to unify a movement. I mean the question I have for Mr. Baker is, what are your credentials to establish that this is okay? Those in this movement who have made it their life’s work, Jack Cottrell for example (here and here), disagree with you, and you wipe away 2000 years of precedent by saying it’s a bad position to take for church growth. All theologians and students for all time have always maintained that just because someone feels the desire to do something – it doesn’t make it right – regardless of popularity. Of course, some will applaud Jodi’s courage to stand before what will surely be a curious audience. But objective courage is not necessarily admirable. It takes courage to lie or steal. Some will, in fact, in a shameful act of narcissism, be applauding their own courage for having the courage to applaud a de facto apologist for feminist activism – but to do so is to break faith with our covenant.
That is why Dr. Rasor opined that our movement is in trouble, because our “leaders” refuse to acknowledge unpopular doctrines, and when you refuse to acknowledge truth you are, when everything is said and done, unfaithful – size of crowd aside.
The true meaning of our time is our loss of sound theology. Without sound theology there is not grounding for our movement. And, as we are witnessing, where there is no grounding the voltage fluctuates wildly, wantonly, always searching for the path of least resistance – which in this case is to do nothing. For those like Harlow and Baker who cut themselves off from sound doctrine, our great tradition, it is not important that people are being enslaved by their own narcissistic desires. They have no ear for such trivial matters as these. They stand in the way, when taken seriously, of the crowd building frenzy which they see as the only object of the Christian experience.
I understand that the NACC and the Christian Standard, seemingly a house-organ for the mega-church movement, cannot exist without the financial aegis of our large churches, but there needs to be balance. We cannot let celebrity aristocrats prescribe for us false standards, or debauch our theological patrimony. We must not allow our apologists and theologians to be sent to Coventry. We must ALL, regardless of church size, be represented among the highest levels of the NACC and cooperate in the maintenance of our standards – something the NACC continues to prevent us from doing.