Guest column by Harry Wood

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? (This week we feature a guest column by Harry Wood)


Ken Schenck said...

We are almost never in a position to invent "the church" completely from scratch. We are almost always in a dialog with a past of some sort, whether it be denominational or cultural past.

If we were set on a different planet that had never heard anything about Christ or Christianity, I believe we would build the Christian ethic for that planet on the dual principles of love God and neighbor. We would need a robust understanding of love that included a strong sense of justice. The trickiest of all is knowing what it means concretely to love God beyond loving our neighbor. Do we disbar homosexual relationships under the heading of obedience to the one God, for example?

The danger in "cutting loose" and "pulling back" as the mode of operation is that it is based on reaction, rather than radicalization.

James Petticrew said...

mmm you complain the church has a dose of the world in it, immorality, character flaws, claiming divine inspiration for what is clear of the flesh, I am sure I have read about churches like that before? oh yeah it was the church in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, John's community probably in Ephesus.

Anonymous said...

Wow Harry, you are a pretty good writer.

A couple of points:
1. The body is a family. Not every family functions alike but parents who care deeply about their babies and children invest in them personally...they do fun things together, laugh and play together, eat together, have devotions together (sometime even eat donuts and drink coffee during them) and the like. They try to keep the kids happy and growing emotionally, physically and spiritually until they can stand tall and fight the wolves themselves. What is wrong with trying to grow the whole person into the full stature...vs. just breaking the power of sin in their lives, or just being holy????

2. Folks go only as far as their leaders can take them. If the church is lacking, if the body is lacking, don’t blame the smelly sheep. Obviously, the shepherds lack hands-on experience, maturity and nurturing skills to properly and fully care for/grow them. And don’t forget the emotional and spiritual maturity, not just the physical and intellectual. (By the way, it is only slightly less than remarkable when the sheep can get out of the play pen when the shepherds can’t! And face it, there are more shepherds in the play pen than anywhere else!)

3. Part of maturing is allowing yourself to accept the fact that the way you were taught and what you remember about your roots being so great came from immaturity and the enjoyment of having your lower-nature needs met favorably. I bet if folks think back, their parents or others had the same or similar complaints.

4. Why use puked-up, holiness focused lesson plans vs. the entire Bible alone. I know a lot of folks that know a lot about holiness and I was taught a lot about holiness. But one day it hit me, it ain’t all just about holiness. God is a lot more than holiness and he demands a lot more than holiness. The piety of holiness has destroyed and rendered more folks useless than it has created vessels of honor for God. By the way, I don’t believe piety is a Scriptural word!

Bill Barnwell said...

"Ultimate group hug".... LOL

Holiness is great as long as it doesn't retreat into a pseudo-piety that demands retreat from the world. We can not love the evil things of this world while still being a force for good within the world. I used to be a "Christ Against Culture" advocate until I realized the model has never worked and gives such Christians themselves a false sense of superiority. But as to the broader points of this column, it is correct. I don't think Christians are being challenged enough in general on most issues pertaining to the Christian life.

chad said...

The aging boomers who deconstructed their parent's list of no-no's (like going to movies or eating out on Sunday or wearing shorts at youth camp) argued "these are not biblical requirements" now seem to want to close the door behind them on the next generation who are using the same arguments on alcohol or lottery tickets that boomers used on movies. Will the most liberal generation the church has ever known turn into conservatives now? -chad

Anonymous said...

I want to begin by saying this is a very well-written article and that I appreciate its message, I'm sure we all need to hear and pray over what is shared here.

However, I disagree with it's basic premise that (in my own words) "Today christians are justifying sin in an effort to accomdate sinners" and I feel like it paints an extreme picture of where the church is today. With regard to the sin the church is faced with confronting within, I would argue that a lof of these are simple symptoms of our age. Who had to battle internet pornography 20 years ago? No wonder you never heard about it then. Were there really gay activist pushing their agenda in the 70's? The reason it's an issue in the church today is because it's an issue in culture. If we had our head in the sand, you wouldn't be hearing about it, thank God his church is facing these issues head on.

Granted there is certainly a real effort underway to present the Gospel in a reasonable and apolgetic fashion to the unchurched, but the Church has made attempts at this as far back as Justin Martyer in the 2nd century. It's nothing new.

As far as the practical effectiveness of this new wave in evangelism, I would beg for time. The seniors had to reach their generation, the boomers theirs, let the emergents have a fair shot an our own... what has been tried in the last 20 years may not work in the next and issues change with time and culture.

Sometimes when we attack the sin in the church, what we're really attacking is the sin in the culture. We're in this ocean we call the world, we might be on a rock, but we're still in it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Harry: Thanks for your timely articale. I believe that what you are raising isn't about generational constraint or lack there of... as some nof the comments have said, but an adherance to Biblical truth. I applaud you and the wisdom of age and experience you bring to the discussion. The only "disagreement" that I would have with you is the premise that the church has ever really impacted the culture in as broad a manner as has been reported. In our time or in times past. (See Dean Merrill's, "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Church")

glennknepp said...

"Only someone who finds the courage to be different from others can ultimately exist for others, for otherwise he exists only with those who are like him and that is not much help to them."
-- Jurgen Moltmann

Now what should we do next.

Anonymous said...

"The Church in the Hands of Angry Sinners." :P

Scott Hendricks said...

Interesting. I am currently in a class and practicum on Evangelism, and this article added another question to my list that I should be making.

While our church is going through a transition of leadership, five ministry students in our church have been given the charge to begin a program for evangelism and outreach. In my mind, this article raises an important issue: how do the holy associate with the unholy (like Jesus) without becoming unholy themselves (as happened to Israel; "Bad company corrupts good habits")? And if "friendship evangelism" is the new "method," how do we maintain holy love?


Thanks for this article.

Wondering Wesleyan said...

As I read the comments, I am reminded of the fire I had when younger against an article such as this. I now wondered if I have gotten older and wiser or just tired.

I am also reminded of a conversation my then senior pastor and I had on a weekly basis. What would happen if we treated led today's church the same way Paul had to in the first century? He had no "churched" people. Many times, he came into a community and had to start from scratch. Of course there were always a few good Jews who joined the effort. We would wonder what would happen if we actually gave our recently converted pagans some responsibility and just tried to help them "work it out" as things came along. What if we could somehow circumvent the membership requirements?

Of course, we never "manned up" and did it. Yet I still wonder. I also wonder if that's not even an option anymore because we've got 2000 years of development behind us. Perhaps we are on the right track?

churchplanter said...

In almost every city Paul went he did not start with the world but in fact started with the "churched." His procedure was to enter the synagogue (the most churched people in town) speak his gospel then split the synagogue by leaving or getting expelled, then he led off the (mostly) Gentile God-fearers (who were regular "churched" people the synagogue) and with this core group he would plant his new church. I was surprised when I discovered that my romantic notion that Paul started churches "from unbelievers" was mostly fiction.

He did depart from this procedure in Athens. But, in Athens he did not produce a church either.

Wondering Wesleyan said...

Church Planter,

Thanks for the reminder about how it really happened. Having attempted to plant a church myself, I too had the romantic notion that I would build a great church composed entirely of unbelievers. I have many good friends who did the same thing with the same ideas. None of our churches made it.

I wonder how that fact can be interpreted in light of this discussion?

Roger VanDonkelaar said...

I think that it is one of the most thoughtful, articulate, and correct evaluations of what the church is experiencing right now.

We just are not prepared to deal with the real deviant issues that people bring with them into the church and our embracing them doesn't mean that we embrace their sin nor do we actually help them.

I am dealing with a couple that wants to stay together but internet pornography is destroying the couple to say nothing of the family.

The drug of choice is Vicodin and I have more than a few hooked on that because it is cheap and doctors prescribe it like candy -- so it can't be wrong and/or illegal, so they think -- until it destroys the rest of the family.

The short of what my heart is saying is "Let's start a denomination and let's preach heart holiness." That ages me since the best days in my memory and in ministry was when the teaching and the urgency of holiness was the main thing. Dr. W. Taylor preached, "Holiness is the Christian's Adornment." I agree. It has become quite ugly since we journeyed away from it.

John Mark said...

It has been suggested by a number of writers that "we" once knew what worldliness was, and now we don't. David Wells was quoted somewhere as saying "Worldliness is the attempt to make sin look normal and righteousness look strange." I personally believe that whether you agree with every nuance of Mr. Woods article, the church must always be vigilant about keeping the faith. In the little town where I pastor, the local ECUSA church has just declared themselves Anglican, and a member/friend told me just yesterday how glad she is they are no longer affiliated with the "apostate church." As best I understand it, the troubles in the ECUSA began with the relatively recent critical approach to Biblical scholarship, not with the lifestyle issues that have brought the whole thing to a head.
I believe Dr. Schencks comment on his own blog-concerning alcohol, I think-wherein he suggested that we respect our tradition even if we don't agree with it is sage advice. It seems to me that the temptations of license and legalism (or self-righteousness) are equally compelling. I speak from some personal experience here :). My hope is for some sort of revival or renewal in the Wesleyan movement, hopefully one without the excess that often comes with it, fueled by a genuine desire to be holy. Let it begin with me.

worked up now said...

Dr. Wood has pointed out exactly what has been going on in my denomination where we have abandoned a commitment to entire sanctification and are trying to loosen up the membership requirements so members can drink a few beers on their way to a pastoral vote.

It is not that a few beers will send a person to hell, it is that these people value a few beers more than they value the church or tradition. It is exactly like Ken Schenck points out (I think he was quoting Dr. Steve DeNeff)-- Of course Jesus would not drink alcohol if He joined today's conservative denominations--Jesus Christ would never put a few swallows of alcohol ahead of loving and submitting to a community.

Lets be honest in our discussions about membership rules. Those who want to lower them are not so all-fired concerned with the Bible as they claim. What they care about is creating the world in their church, "a place where grace prevails" and people can celebrate their worldliness and sin and still feel they are OK with God.

Who cares? These are not real churches anyway. They are not outposts of Christianity on the edge of the world, but outposts of the wold on the edge of the church. If they want to have their people act just like the world then fine--do it. Just don't call yourself a church.

Dr. Willard said...

Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ.


P.S. For more read my book Spirit of the Disciplines

Anonymous said...

P.S., read God's book of Romans!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something here, but when I look at my own denomination I don't see rampant sin and immorality running lose in the church.

There is a concerted effort to reach lost people with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and granted, some of the lives of the unchurched are messed up, (thankfully!) not all who visit our church are born again and living clean, but no one is lowering any biblical standards to to call them "Christian".

Are they really doing this in the Wesleyan church? Smiling on homosexuality, winking at pornography, throwing up their hands at adultery and divorce? If so, maybe we're all in worse shape than we think we are.

But if what pastors and churches are doing is fighting a battle against such vices with the love and grace of God, calling them to repentance through the power of the Spirit... why cast a stone at them for getting their hands dirty and their pews a little stained?

First we evangelize, then we disciple. Jesus didn't shrink away from sinners, he felt called to reach them.

Anonymous said...

That should be read:
"*Thankfully* not all who visit our church are born again and living clean"... not "some of the lives of the unchurched are messed up *thankfully*"... big difference there! :-)

Pastor Rod said...

I don't know if the recent post was from the real Dallas Willard, but I find his approach to these issues right on target.

We need to be tough about calling people to seriously follow Christ and to take his commands seriously.

But all too often we focus on things like drinking, dancing, smoking, movies and jewelry neglecting things like blessing those who curse us, loving those who persecute us and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit.

I agree that we must have higher expectations in our churches, but these bear little resemblance to the historical prohibitions of the holiness movement.

When a leader lacks patience, we pass it off as an expression of a type-A personality. When a leader lacks humility, we overlook it because of "all the good they do for the kingdom." When a leader lacks self-control, we say that "you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet."

I believe it was Newbigin who said (as best I can remember), "The church has no business drawing lines and saying that 'the light' stops here. But it should be saying here [Jesus] is the source of the light. If you move toward it your life will be full of the light and goodness. However, if you move away from it, you can be sure that your life will be filled with darkness and emptiness."

(I wish I could remember the quotation better.)

In my opinion, this is exactly where the church has fallen short. We have been so concerned about trying to draw lines determining who is in and who is out that we have not been drawing people to Christ.

Newbigin also mentioned that missionaries have historically had problems when they try to tell their converts exactly what obedience to Christ should look like. They usually include things that should not be included and overlook things that should be included.

I would like to see us get more serious about following Christ and less concerned about rules and definitions of "holiness."

And while I respect Ken Schenck's position, there is a down side to "unnecessary" rules. When we expect people to follow extra-biblical rules that grow out of other (previous) cultures, it dilutes the seriousness of the expectations to follow the commands that really matter.

If we had people who were becoming more loving, peaceful, joyful, patient, kind, gentle, good, faithful and self-controlled we would have little need for rules about drinking, smoking or gambling. And we'd have little difficulty with evangelism, I suspect.


ViaMediaHaze said...

I wonder...The Bible clearly tells us that as the church we are too visit the prisoners, provide for the poor, take care of the widows, and feed the hungry. I wonder how many churches have at least one of those minstries and if they do have one I bet they don't have 2.

Churchplanter wrote:
"In almost every city Paul went he did not start with the world but in fact started with the "churched."

Every person in the culture had some exposure to religion whether it was synagogue or worshipping the gods but what Paul did was start churches of people who just encounter the saving message of Jesus Christ. Now I wonder how many of our churches who increase in number actually are bringing new converts into the church or are getting church transfers? I do understand that when planting a church you need a good base of people and many would probably be from other churches but that should not remain the standard.

A great pastor friend of mine looks at it this way. He said "we want in our church the people that no other church wants. I don't want church transfers, I want the people who just got out of prison, I want the homosexual, I want that person who is ridiculed and I want to change their life with the Gospel Message"

I hope and pray that will be our mission, taking the person that no one else wants. That is what Christ did!

Rev Erik said...

via: I believe you are right that most of the people coming into the church are transfers, not new converts. Isn;t this why we need to "lower" the standard to let them use alcohol? New converts happily drop habits from the world. People transferring from other churches are the ones who insist on continuing whatever practice they were allowed to do in their former churches. I believ youi have pointed out the central problem of the alcohol issue: growth by transfer.

Rick Jones, St. Louis said...

Many of these comments dramatically illustrate the depth of our crisis. We know not, and we know not that we know not.

We must never surrender our calling to evangelize the lost. But it is just as important that we pursue peace and holiness with the same fervor. We are called to love and we are called to be holy.

At John Wesley's death only 2/3rds of 1 percent of Britain were Methodists, but they changed the course of history. That's the power of purity.

Erin Crisp said...

After letting this article percolate for a few days, I have to share my personal experience with church members who were trying to live in stark contrast to the world around them. When my church-going, Christian mom and dad divorced in 1974, I was four years old. I watched my mom sink into depression that would last throughout my childhood. I watched as she felt increasingly aliened and rejected by the one Body that should have been full of reassurance until she quit associating with church people altogether. She always encouraged my personal relationship with Christ, but had lost all confidence in the institution of the church.

I find myself wondering why an article like this one sits sourly in my throat for days, and I think I know why. While I absolutely believe that God has called us to live holy lives as followers of Christ, in my experience, church practices that make marginalized members of our culture feel like outsiders do nothing to move those people closer to a transformational relationship with Christ. I don't want to speak for all Gen x or Gen Y'ers, but it may help to understand the pendulum swing of our generation to remember that many of us watched as the church rejected our parents when they could not seem to make the holy union of marriage work. At a time when my mom was lost, searching and hurt, the church turned its back on her- not with angry words of condemnation, but with dismissive silence. I hope to be a part of a church that looks to extend arms and words of friendship and compassion to hurting people, regardless of their transgressions.

Matt said...


Anonymous said...

I quote the writer from above regarding his church..."abandoned a commitment to entire sanctification and are trying to loosen up the membership requirements so members can drink a few beers on their way to a pastoral vote".

Interesting isn't it, when the church abandoned love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and the like nobody cared. Let the church think about changing membership requirements and rules to something "more" Biblical and shift the focus to the entire Word of God and all of His requirements and not just the one's we choose to put in the forefront, and folks get bent out of shape. (By the way, it says, a little wine is good for the stomach -- doesn't mention beer though!)

Could it be that the challenge to what one has been taught is more than some are mature enough to deal with and that they are so lacking in their full-scope knowledge of God's demands and personhood that it is totally unbearable and confusing to them???

I liken it to the writer who talked about his divorced mother! Could it be that the church is treating those who would dare to question how their denomination derived its rules and regulations as they did those in earlier years who did not meet the marriage standards?

I've seen one-doctrine focus destroy many folks and it is in all denominations and covers many "one-doctrine" issues. For instance, if one is holy and upholding the law of holiness, then s/he has to be doing the will of God and how others are treated in the upholding of that holiness standard matters not, even if they are destroyed in the process and turn them from God. Afterall, if they really belonged to God in the first place the would never have crossed the do-not line and as a result they deserve to take any crap you dish out to them.... Bologna, that again is spelled: BOLOGNA! And it ain't kosher either! It says, if "you" (let me be specific: YOU, the one who caused the breach) cause one to turn away, you are in deep doo doo, not them!

By the way, let me remind you, the religious zealots were "upholding the holiness of God" when they wanted to deal the perceived blasphemy ... or so they thought! Oh how we humor ourselves with our importance and interpretations!

Will we never learn from the mistakes of others. Those who determine not to, continue the cycle of destruction, ignorance and pain and do it while cloaking their wicked butts in their "fake" righteousness of God!

By the way, it appears that the one-doctrine focus is not christianity-specific. It appears the muslims are dealing with this issue big time! By the way, they claim holiness and righteousness as well.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way, look up the word breach...it is a mind word and reflects the fact that if you make someone angry with you, cause dissention or deep hatred and aversion to you, you are responsible for the breach and there is a prescribed judgment according to the text. It does not say if they have the breach within themselves against you because of what you did, they are guilty of sin! (as christianity and psychology have taught in recent years)

It says if you cause the breach. Elsewhere, it says if you are angry with your brother w/out cause, you are guilty....so there is cause for anger at your brother according to the Word.

And further, it says, be angry but sin not!

So, all the divorced and other folk who have been taught by leadership that they are wrong to be angry at the leadership for a non-Biblical breach, you are within the bounds of the text as long as it does not become sin -- and that, as defined by the text and not that of self-serving, haughty leadership.

My heart goes out to the writers mother....there are so many more just like her!

Keith Drury said...

The discussion is certainly not finished but is only just beginning. It will continue in hallways, front seats of cars, homes and finally at general conferences of denominations, including my own, in the coming years. There are two distinct approaches (as one sees here) and they are increasingly dissatisfied with the other side and intent on prevailing.

Anonymous said...

Well Keith, that is the problem. Both sides are intent on winning and God loses!

Remind me again, why is it that the church exists?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Wood, Dr. Willard and others for your comments.
I have long believed that the church, particularly in the past two decades, has developed an incredible ability to run the ball down the field, but we just can't get it into the end zone. The definition of the problem and the solution are not complicated.
"The shepherds are senseless AND DO NOT INQUIRE OF THE LORD; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered." Jeremiah 10:21.
I still believe God has the answer. Perhaps we should ask.
The state of the church today as represented by the comments in this column reminds me of Joshua Chambelain after the Civil War. He said,"How could we keep falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all?"

God have mercy on us.

Autumn Mom said...

It is not how we treat the unchurched that behave in these ways (name the sin, I don't care) that concerns me. We can and should be reaching out to them in love and hope with the goal of life changing salvation. The Bible is pretty clear when it says how we are to treat the unsaved. It is also pretty clear that we are not to wink our eye at those who are calling themselves christians and behaving like the world.