The following article, again written by Pastor Greg Stiekes, is a “casual post script” to the article I posted by him yesterday. In it Pastor Stiekes responds to comments here by Brian McCrorie and Kevin Mungons (a.k.a. “Kevin 3”), as well as a comment made by “Pastor Joe Roof” at Sharperiron.org.
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I appreciate those of you who responded to my recent article. Although I do not have the time to “blog” with you, a few of your posts have shown that my comments are in need of some clarification. Permit me to reply generally here and then bow out for now.
1. To Brian McCrorie: Hello! It’s good to hear from you. You say that the reason many of you are adverse to the integrated church is because of its Presbyterian foundations (postmill, theonomy; and I could add patriarchalism, covenantalism, pedobaptism, etc., etc.). Yes, I gathered that from reading the FBFI resolution last year. There’s something you should know. I came to some of the same conclusions as the integrated church position on my own as a pre-mil, pre-trib, Dispensationalist. At the time, I was absolutely unaware of any person, let alone an entire organization, who thought this way. It may be that Doug Philips and those like him came to some of the same conclusions I did for similar reasons, but are now using their theological grid to justify their position and teach it to their adherents. (Don’t we all do this?) I am actually preparing to write my ThM thesis on an exegetical analysis of Eph 4, in which part of the application stage will be a justification of the integrated church approach that transcends either theological system. So it is possible to concur with aspects of the integrated church paradigm without agreeing with the way some reason to that conclusion. You may, in fact, not concur with aspects of the integrated church. However, I would urge you and others to not dismiss this approach to church ministry out of hand merely on the basis that it is championed by those who explain and defend it by a doctrinal system we may not espouse.
2. To Joe Roof: Joe, it’s been a long time since our days at BJU! I trust you and your church and family are doing well. I can tell by your comments that we are worlds apart in some respects. However, I resonate with your desire to reach our battered and broken families for Christ. I want to assure you that I have not neglected this part of the equation in my thinking about the church. However, as you seemed to complain that my article was long anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving some things unsaid. I was addressing how we rear our own (believing) children in the church, not how we reach the lost. In order to reach the lost, we must go into the world. We go astray in making decisions about how to conduct ministry to Christ’s church when we try to adjust our ministry so that the unsaved are comfortable in an environment of regenerated people. I assumed that Aaron’s article was speaking to our own children in the church as believing parents.
However, I ask you to consider the following: It occurs to me that if we would not have adopted an approach to church ministry over the past century which set us on a track to downgrade the spiritual maturity of our members, the church would be in a much better position today to reach the world for Christ. As I suggested in my response to Aaron, we may now be forced into a recovery mode where there is no ideal. Maybe this was unintentional on your part, but I discerned a deprecation in your tone toward the ideals of families such as those who home school and those for whom it is still possible for the father to bring his entire family to a worship service to sing and pray and listen to the Word of God preached. If I could caution you, that attitude sounds very skeptical; and what is skeptical is very close to what is cynical; and what is cynical is very close to what is lacking in faith. When we go into the broken world, which we all must do to fulfill the mission of the church, we must beware that we do not let the many broken homes and lives we encounter taint our appreciation for a family that is not broken in that sense, lest we discourage parents who are still able to ascend to higher planes. Besides, it is one of the ironies of history that it is usually those who rebel against the prevailing culture who often end up rescuing the culture.
There is a vast difference between evangelism and discipleship, if evangelism is defined as preaching the gospel to the lost and discipleship is defined as growing believers to maturity. What you are suggesting (and what is commonly done) is mixing the two together. Let’s use Jr. Church as one example. There may be a kind of Jr. Church that can be used as an outreach ministry, but because I am a believing father who takes seriously the biblical nurturing of his children, my children should never need such a thing as Jr. Church. Why should I put them in a less mature environment to learn about God when I am trying to instill in them a reverence and awe of God through a responsible worship service, including the mature preaching of the Word under which children in generations long ago grew and flourished? (How have we possibly made it this far without Children’s Church?) I should be encouraging them forward in their knowledge of Christ, not placing them in an environment that brings everyone to the same level of spiritual mediocrity. Let me use a real-world example. Tonight (Wednesday night) our church hosted our regular Awana program from 6:45-8:30. I have received feedback from some wondering why our church can have an Awana program and a time for young people if I am sympathetic to the integrated church model. However, our Awana program is for evangelism, not discipleship. In fact, we have only a small percentage of children from our “church families” who even attend this program. Through the years, this ministry has given us the opportunity to lead many to Christ. And the concurrent group of young people who meet is designed with discipleship and accountability in mind, and all parents of the young people involved are encouraged to attend as well. But tonight while Awana was going on, my own children were with me and my wife and others in our church gathering in a home for fellowship, Bible reading, and prayer. I think you are right, Joe, when you argue that we cannot expect unbelieving families to get in step with an integrated ministry church. But this is no reason why we need to risk downgrading the spiritual development of our own children by placing them alongside unbelievers in a peer environment.
No doubt I have left many things unsaid here, once again. But I want you to know that I have given much thought to evangelism in my model of the church; only, not at the risk of the spiritual downgrading of our believing children.
3. Kevin 3: I don’t know who you are, but I really liked your application of my thesis to the “music wars.” I think that is an excellent suggestion. It is sometimes helpful to lift a philosophical argument out of one context and place it in another. Your retooling of my statement to apply to music is right on target. If I had the time, I would love to demonstrate that the cultural model that best allows us to accomplish those biblical music goals is the model that was already developed in church history within the responsible community of faith. What I am speaking of is true hymnody. This, however, would be a definite digression from my original topic.
4. We could continue this discussion for weeks and weeks. But let’s cut to the chase. I made the statement in my article that I was hoping someone would challenge: It is “universally acknowledged that young people and adults in our North American evangelical churches, even Fundamental churches, are less devotional in their walk with God, less committed to Christ, and less likely to enter into Christian ministry than their predecessors.” Is that observation true or false? If you generally agree with it, then the next question is why is it true? Is it because we’re teaching a different doctrine than we used to? Not to any great degree that I can see. Is it because we are not doing the kinds of things a church is called to do? Are we not singing together or praying together or reading the Scriptures or preaching or counseling? We may need encrouagement and growth in these areas, but in most cases these kinds of activities are still valued and practiced in churches. Is it because of the wickedness of the world? No, the church has overcome the world through Christ. We dare not admit that we are held hostage by the world, lest we admit that our faith is in vain. What, then, is the reason? Is it not true that the church becomes like the world when it imitates the world? Do we not learn this from church history as far back as the church of Corinth? Could it not be that we have unwittingly been imitating the world in aspects of our church ministry? I contend that, after several decades of doing ministry (especially ministry to young people) that looks strangely familiar by comparison to the kinds of models we see in public education, we have reaped the results. I am not wise enough to say exactly what needs to change. But I do believe something needs to change. Unless we change the process, we will never change the product. I hear many today continuing to defend the peer group ministry model we’ve come to think of as “traditional.” If that is your position, however, in the context of this debate the burden of proof is heavily upon you. Not only is this model very new in the context of church history, but it has also been in full operation while the church has drifted closer to the world in spite of the fact that the biblical aspects of our church ministry, including our doctrine, have remained in tact. I do not want to overstate the case, but it seems to me that we may have been all these years trying to figure out the best way possible to do the wrong thing.