Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lone Ranger Christianity?

You've heard it, I've heard it -- "There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian!". The statement is a sound one, reminding us that we are all part of a body, each member having gifts and ministering to others. There is also protection that comes from fellowship with other believers -- protection from error, protection from attack by the enemy as well as from those who would wish us ill.

But the reminder is often one that is given to those who seek to avoid fellowship. Those who have such an independent spirit that they wish to keep their autonomy. Open rebellion, an unwillingness to be subject to someone else. That is not what I'm addressing.

What I'm addressing is what is becoming increasingly frequent -- at least in my neck of the woods. That is a more or less “compelled Lone Rangerism".

Church size has nothing to do with it; Small churches can freeze you out if you don't go along with whatever they want to push. Going to a larger one? Then you have to do everything through a "small group" and the results are the same. If you want to do a ministry, it may have to "be approved" or you may have to minister through something already established...and deal with leaders who just won't listen to Biblical reason. One church I attended was a little "all the above" with the added twist of leadership that wanted to support xxxchurch.com. No, I don't think so. "Ok, we have the local XYZ Denominational church with female leadership". Equally, "No!".

So, inevitably, you try all the available options. If, like me, you live in a smaller town (35,000 or fewer) your options are quickly exhausted. You also realize that most, if not all, of the local pastors are members of a town "ministerial association" which includes Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses or whatever else is out there...and of course they all "work together" to get the town more "spiritual". Once you know that (most all) the local pastors are members of something like this, you get to where you simply throw your hands up in the air.

Nothing left? I feel your pain -- that is precisely where my wife and I are. What you don't want to do (and neither do I), is isolate yourself. You need accountability. All of us do. You aren't crazy, things are probably as bad as they appear. But that doesn't mean you can't reach out to someone, even if it is another Christian who's life has some credibility. You say they live near you? Great! Get together to pray and study. No one said you have to meet in an established church. The Scriptures don't describe a set liturgy. And while it is certainly best to have a mature "brother" who can take on leadership to help keep things from getting "strange", that may not be an immediate option.

Just be sure that you have exhausted all your alternatives. Remember, I'm not saying "If you can't find a church like John MacArthur's, then pack your bags and start your own thing". I mean try everything reasonable first. I'm not saying "attend a church even if it is willing to coddle gross sin openly". It's kind of like a "reverse church discipline" situation where since you can't turn the sinning brother over to Satan (see 1 Cor. 5) because the founding members won't have it. So you separate yourself from the situation.

If you end up having to go "independent", then be sure to get some accountability somewhere. Even if it is over the phone from someone you trust that has a very high view of Scripture. I've had to do that many times in the past, even while attending an established church....because the leadership was a wreck. Many times I'd pray about some issue, come to a conclusion based on Scripture, then call two or three leaders that I deeply respected. If they were in unanimous agreement with what I had concluded then I went forward. If not, it would be time to rethink my thinking.

This is precisely the situation my wife and I are finding ourselves in. It can get very lonely.

As many of you are aware, for some time now I've had a poll running on this blog asking "Is your pastor an expositor". And to be quite frank with you, the results have surprised me. It would appear that there are more expositors out there than I had figured. Of course, it is possible that there are inaccuracies in some of the responses; perhaps someone's pastor isn't as "expositional" as the person thought. However, because I have no way to know that, I'm taking the results at face value -- it's not a 'scientific' poll anyway.

For those of us with less-than-scriptural leadership, there may have (if not already) come a time when, for one reason or another, you are convinced that it is time to "come out from among them". Maybe it's because you just can't deal with some issue such as PDL, Seekerism, Emergent or the leadership. As you already know, I've been there.

For that precise reason, I've started a new poll. It's geared for those of us who are thinking of leaving a traditional church behind or have found themselves with nowhere else to go. Think of it as a way to go public and say "I've got a struggle at one level or another and I need help!". None of us can go it alone. We aren't made that way.

In today's church climate, I find it hard to believe I'm all alone. I'm thinking that there are others who are dealing with the loneliness and challenge of being without the fellowship of a local established church. You've found one church after another to be the same as the last -- go, find out it's going to be another fight against the error of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels or something else only to find yourself in the awkward position of seeking fellowship, even if it is the "fellowship" of others who just don' t understand why lack of truth bothers you. It is a very tough place to be in.

What I want to do is this -- encourage others to say "Yes, I'm struggling with this" and find encouragment that you are not alone. I also want to use this post and the comment thread to try to find a way we can "fellowship" around our common struggle and perhaps help one another so that all the temptations that come with this experience don't overwhelm us.

No, we aren't supposed to seek autonomy. However, there are times where a genuine believer may find him or herself isolated instead of surrendering a key truth or principle. These are the brothers and sisters I am addressing.

Anyone else interested?

15 comments:

jenny said...

I just discovered your blog this morning. Thank you so much! I came here by way of "Rick Warren apologizing to Allah", read your post on the subliminal messages in the "seeker" church which I thought was very good, and now have read this post.

My husband and I recently left the church we attended for almost 25 years. We had approached the pastor about our concerns about being a Willow Creek affiliate church and basically we were asked to leave. We had been very active in the church all of our married life and had raised our children in the church, but this was very much the will of God in that He wanted us out. He has blessed us tremendously. We are currently worshiping in a home church with four other families who care for each other deeply.

Paul said...

Tim,

The empty feeling one gets on leaving a church overrun with PDL & Hybels does indeed give an amount of desolation and depression. BUT, God is faithful and lifts us out of this dispair.

I thank the Lord that He carried me through this and led me to a church that is Christ centered and Bible driven. When I first started looking for such a church, it seemed like a hopeless task. And I repeat, God is faithful.

Tim Brown said...

Jenny:

Welcome to the blog, and thanks for commenting.

Your story sounds similar. in 2004, the wife of our worship team leader told me that if I didn't like the music, I should leave. Mind you, she was a "pastor" from a presbyterian church (but out of work), she was just visiting...but basically spoke for her husband...Then it got worse.

Then there were two other churches, the last one we left in September. Founding members running things, not wanting anything to change. The pastor even made jokes about my name...claiming he couldn't remember it. After a while that got really old. And that is just the surface.

It's encouraging that your home church is working out. Thanks for the feedback. It helps.

beaconlight said...

Hey Tim,
This is Brandon from over at A Peculiar Pilgrim. Just last year i experienced the painful process of separation from my old AOG church turned PDL. I am now attending a large SBC church.
First, I must say, my new church home is a major upgrade, at least in terms of gospel preaching and teaching, but it isn't perfect. I don't think the preaching and teaching goes very deep. Theology and doctrine as a whole are not emphasized much. And I may be one of the only Reformed attenders there, which can be a great challenge, especially in Sunday School! My pastor is a Calvinist, but I would call him a 'stealth Calvinist.' He never overtly declares any of the 5-points or teaches them, but you can gather clues from the way he preaches that this is what he believes. I realize it is a controversial issue, especially in the SBC but I don't think we should veil our beliefs. I have frustrations and sometimes feel very alone in my biblical convictions. I hardly know anyone who is Reformed - not friends (save perhaps one) and especially not my family. Most just shake their heads in disbelief and pity when I try to expound the scriptures regarding these glorious doctrines. In church, when I witness shallow and aberrant teachings concerning both God and man I feel the necessity to speak up and expose them for what they are. I realize this will make me unpopular with many of the church members but I think we should mature from milk to solid food because of the abundance of false teachings that have infiltrated evangelicalism. I have a tough road ahead and I know I can use as much support and encouragement from fellow believers that I can get. I'm here for you Tim, anytime you want to talk you can comment on my blog or email me at brandon.lucas71@gmail.com

Blessings in our Lord Jesus Christ

Jeff said...

Tim, thanks for this post. It was a comfort.

What you describe is not solely a small town phenomenon. My wife and I have been members of a large church in a very well-known "evangelical" town for ten years. If I gave the name, many would recognize it.

A year ago the senior pastor retired. Since then, there have been no candidates presented to the congregation. The preaching from the younger staff has been spotty at best.

This coming Sunday, an individual who signed the "A Christian Response" letter is scheduled to preach. My wife and I do not understand how anyone who signed such a document can be allowed to preach from what has been up until now one of the outstanding expository pulpits in the country. Yet it seems there are very few in the congregation or the leadership who are even taking notice.

With great sadness, my wife and I are beginning to think the Lord is leading us to a new church home. It grieves us beyond words, since two of our children have grown up in this church, and we have many dear friends there.

It is an encouragement to hear that others have experienced similar things. The Lord is faithful!

Tim Brown said...

Hi Jeff:

I'm sorry to hear about your church, although you're right...I'd probably recognize it. It's far too common. There was one large church in Tennessee that has since gone purpose driven. I remember there was a rather large fight over it. I'm sure the fomer pastor would be rolling in his grave.

No, it's not limited to small towns or churches...and changing pastors is a dangerous process any more.

It underscores, to me, the utter importance of raising up leaders from within the church. Strange how we are willing to bring in perfect strangers to lead us all-the-while not helping those we know grow to take those positions.

Jeff said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts and for posting on this topic, Tim.

Keep up the good work re: the "Christian response" letter. It is completely beyond the pale of orthodoxy.

Jenna said...

Thank you for your post about this as I can really relate. My husband and I are currently looking for a different church after we discovered our church was a member of willow creek association and also taught some pdl ideas. We met with leadership in the church, and after that, there was no doubt in our mind or heart that God was telling us that it was time to move on. This is hard as some of our best friends attend there. But God has recently brought people into our lives and we have been immensely blessed and encouraged by them. God is so faithful and good!

Jay said...

Tim,
You're definitely not alone out here. Sit in a crowed church feeling totally alone, with a bulletin full of feel good events and ministries to get "connected". Constant reminders to discover my "shape", to become "wild at heart" and "purpose driven". Yet feeling utterly alone in my pain, watching people who are such professing christians and who are so caught up in the world and the things of the world.
I'm sure there are many, many more Lone Rangers out here, sitting unnoticed on the fringes of the "in group" of the church.

Billy Edwards said...

The only thing I would recommend is to not get too many people in your home church - just 2, maybe 3 couples. If you get more than that, you're bound to include someone with imperfect theology. Then you'll have to sell your house, move, and again search for those with perfect theology. And as you have discovered, there are only a handful of you.

Tim Brown said...

Just wondering if any of you go out to do evangelism as a part of your "worship". In other words, do you have your (excuse my terminology) "worship time" then do something like have lunch then go out and do evangelism?

Seems to me that this is a great idea...

Tim Brown said...

Billy:

Though I do not know you or your heart, it would seem that your comment reflects the very attitude that led so many of us to leave established churches.

From your website, you seem rather sympathetic to postmodern "Christianity". Therefore, what you have to "offer" us are things which we believe to be fundamentally contrary to what Scripture teaches.

Contrary to what you are implying, we don't seek to stay small or grow large. We simply seek to meet and worship Biblically and obey the Lord more consistently. If God gives an increase, so be it. He will build His church. And at least in the case of my wife and I, our decision to meet at home is based on the issue of core values, and essentials, such as "what is the Gospel".

You appear to be saying that there is an "us four, no more, shut the door" attitude. I find that ironic. Many of us are "on our own" because we were shoved out of "seeker/Purpose Driven" churches because we wouldn't go along. That is not speculation, but fact. So, the "us four only" mentality seems to be what we came from, just on an "us four hundred" or "four thousand" scale...we disagreed so we were expendable. Rick Warren has even verbalized support for this.

So who is the guilty party?

You err by trivializing the reason for our separation. And you err by not seeing how the seeker, purpose driven, market driven churches do the dividing...for all the wrong reasons.

The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus not for their stand on theology, but the fact that they elevated their own traditions and additions to the Law. Those who would not go along with them were pushed out. The Purpose Driven and Market Driven seeker churches tend to be the same...they have their new traditions and those who won't go along are pushed out.

All we seek to do is know the Scriptures and obey them and by God's grace, we will continue to do so.

Tim Brown said...

Note: Billy did respond, but I have chosen not to post his comment. If you wish to see an example of Billy's type of "discussion", click here.

This thread is, and will continue to be, dedicated as a "quiet place" for discussion and support for those who have suffered the blows dealt by contemporary "Christianity", not by discourse exemplified by this.

While his post is not going to appear in this thread, I do have the content he submitted for posting, and I reserve the right to post it as a new subject for discussion, which I think is more appropriate.

Thank you.

PuritanReformed said...

Thanks, Tim. Good article. Exactly my thoughts.

Jfranklin6 said...

And I thought it was only me until recently. Left the church in which I was saved because of the seeker friendly, PDL type of gospel. Even was told not to involve myself in the evangelism committee because of being in the vein of WOTM. Now my family and I are striving for a New Testament fellowship, though now it's only us. And we worship and have Lord's supper as a full meal, though I'm the only one who goes and evangelizes people, but I think that idea of all three is great. Pray for us, God will give us all fellowship in His time.