A Response to
This article is being written in response to a dear Baptist brother’s blog entitled “Fundamentalists and the M Factor.” I am not a blogger (or even much of a reader of blogs), but this article has been brought to my attention too many times to ignore. Since it was posted in public, and since our young people have been affected (and confused) by it, I felt a need to respond. As a believer who is not ashamed to be identified as a fundamentalist (one who believes in, teaches, stands for, and contends for) the fundamentals of the faith, I not only disagree with my brother, I believe that the message of this blog is dangerous to the well-being the Body of Christ in general and to Millennial Christians in particular. I do not doubt my brother’s good intentions in writing this blog, his concern for young people, or his love for the Lord. But I have serious questions about the wisdom of the pathway he is encouraging. And since young people from Salem Bible Church have been influenced by it, as a shepherd, I feel the need to respond.
I share Pastor Fuller’s concern for the fact that many young people today who go off to college (even Christian colleges) never return to their home church. Many stop going to church altogether. Many others find their way into one of the pop culture churches; but I do not share my brother’s assumption that someone or something else needs to be found to blame. Modern American thinking loves to take the blame and responsibility off the individual and portray the guilty party as a “victim” of circumstances beyond his control, and find someone else to blame. While that kind of thinking may be common in our modern culture, it is not Biblical. In the Scriptures, the reason the prodigal son left home is to be traced to his own personal sin and rebellion (Luke 15:13). It was not the fault of his brother or his father – or the economy. Responsibility for wandering away is first and foremost to be laid upon the shoulders of the guilty party.
I disagree with his attempt to lay the blame on outside influences (many of which were less than desirable) rather than on the internal mindset and choices of the recent college grads, now young adults. But I take great umbrage when the blame is placed upon those who are trying their best to stand against the dumbing down of the churches. It is good to stand against that which diminishes the spirit of reverence and holiness in the worship of an infinitely holy God. The blame does not lie upon those who are trying to maintain standards of decency and purity, or with what Spurgeon called the “downgrade” of Christianity. The blame lies squarely upon those who are departing from those ways. The best way to help the Millennials is not to lower the standards of the church to suit the tastes of the youth, (when that is the case the youth are actually leading), but rather to teach them who God is and how to approach a holy God. The church is to be led by elders not the youth (I Pet.5:1-2; I Tim.5:17). Rather, the youth are to be taught and helped to grow into spiritual maturity and discernment (Phil.1:9-10; Eph. 4:11-15).
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a prophet to see where modern Christendom is headed. Today’s “conservative evangelicals” (we used to call them Neo Evangelicals) seem bent on undermining the doctrine of separation and minimizing doctrinal differences in general. And for some strange reason, they are being accepted more and more in fundamental circles. Changing name from “new evangelical” to “conservative evangelical” doesn’t change their nature.) There has also been an odd (even bizarre) mixture of some extreme Calvinistic views with charismatic sign gifts and charismatic worship (what would Calvin do?). This has been spearheaded by a gradual tolerance of and outright promotion of CCM music (pop culture music) in churches that had once been considered solidly fundamental. Along with the loose stand on music have come loose standards in dress and behavior. It is not uncommon today to hear of those who claim to be Christians drinking alcohol, going to virtually any Hollywood movie, going to rock concerts, dancing, wearing bikinis at the beach, miniskirts and skin tight clothing to church. We certainly don’t want to nick pick over each tiny step in that direction. But he who has eyes to see can see where this is headed. It is Spurgeon’s “downgrade” gone wild! It is what Darby called “the church in ruins.” The church that began as a chaste virgin is headed towards the Harlot of Revelation 17. Every dispensation ends in failure, and the church is no different.
Knowing what the Bible says, and what godly saints (like Spurgeon and Darby) have noticed in their generations, we should not be surprised if godly saints today observe the same thing. The difference is that today the younger generation is taking the downgrade much further down the cliff and much faster than ever before. A tectonic shift seems to be occurring right under our noses – a shift away from Dispensationalism towards Reformed Theology, and a shift away from fundamentalism towards “conservative evangelicalism”, and a shift away from standards of decency towards an “anything goes” attitude. This cannot be good for the Body of Christ.
I am sure that the brother who wrote the blog under discussion has no intention of aiding this downgrade, but I am afraid that that is the effect – regardless of his good intentions. Whether intentional or not, the blog served to pit younger believers (Millennials – sometimes called “generation X”) against the older church leaders in their local assembly. In the Bible, the older more mature believers were often considered to have wisdom worth listening to, and the younger less mature (Proverbs uses the word “simple” – Prov. 1:4,22) were encouraged to listen. The younger ones were expected (commanded) to hear the older, more experienced believer and to take heed (Prov. 8:1-21).
Let’s consider how each group (young and old) was described in the blog. First, the Millennials:
· “These young people were in many ways more spiritually minded that many of us seasoned saints.”
· “They love the gospel; they love Jesus.”
· They have “hungry hearts.”
· They are likened to the zeal, courage, and purity of “John the Baptist.”
· They are “all about the gospel.”
· They are (implicitly) “great before the Lord.”
· They have “more zeal for Christ, His Church, and the Gospel” than anyone else in the church.
Now contrast his description of the Millennials (20 somethings) to his description of the older saints who are trying to stand against the downgrade of the church and maintain standards they believe are honoring to God:
· The older folks are the “culprits” behind the exodus of the youth from fundamentalism.
· The older church leaders have “judgmental, Pharisaical attitudes.”
· In many ways, the older “seasoned saints” are “less spiritually minded” than the 20-somethings.
· The older saints are like the “inquisitors.” (really?!)
· The older fundamental church leaders “were producing some of the very problems we were critiquing.”
· “Guilty of dismissing the very answers to prayer…”
· The implicit effect of the older saints’ standards on the Millennials is that they are “squelching their love for God and lover for others.”
This kind of language is extremely divisive, harsh, and (in my opinion) unfair. It seems to pit one group in the Body against another – which is not helpful, or Biblical. We are ONE Body (I Cor. 12:12).
Does our brother think for one moment that the 20 somethings didn’t notice this comparison? It was clearly designed to exalt and empower the youth (in their minds?) and rebuke and abase the older, mature church leaders. I can only imagine the content of the texting wired back and forth among the Millennials after reading this article! (“We won!” or “Let’s go full steam ahead in making our changes. It’s time to radically transform the churches!”) Whether it was his intention or not, this article served as a huge green light to the 20 somethings to continue listening to pop culture music and to bring it into the church, to continue dressing down for church, and to continue dismantling the standards established by the “Pharisaical inquisitors” who don’t love the Lord as much as the younger generation. I trust that that was not our brother’s intention, but I also know how most young people (and some older folks too) interpreted his blog. What other churches choose to do is none of my business. But when blogs, books, radio shows, etc. begin to affect and infect the thinking of folks at Salem Bible Church, as a pastor/shepherd, I am responsible before the Lord to step in to warn and protect the sheep (I Tim. 4:6).
My problem with the blog is not a personal offence. My problem is the message it sends to the youth with respect to the standards in fundamental churches. The tone and tenor of this blog make it even more difficult for the pastors who are trying to maintain high standards of decency and holiness for the local church. Granted, standards are not Scripture. And it is true that some fundamental churches have gone way overboard with them. But the answer is not to abandon standards altogether. While some standards established by church leaders are not applicable in other assemblies, and while some may not be necessary in another country, in most cases there were good reasons for having established standards in the first place. I would contend that in a culture in decline, like ours, they are still necessary.
In light of the fact that many young ladies today do wear very short skirts and skin tight tops, standards in the church are needed. Obviously this is not true of all. Many young ladies today have high standards of dress and desire with all their hearts to please the Lord and not to be a stumbling-block to the men (I Cor. 8:9). Many young Christian ladies today desire to be like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10. God will honor them for honoring Him (I Sam. 2:30). (Please see article on Standards in the Church on church website – salembible.org). But it’s no secret that a large percentage of young ladies today are not all that concerned about modesty in their dress. We can only expect this downgrade to wax worse and worse as time goes on (II Tim.3:13). Standards are falling worldwide.
Our good brother also used the illustration of John the Baptist and his parents (I believe erroneously) to demonstrate that parents and older folks often wrongly judge the youth for clothing they consider “unconventional and non-traditional”. Certainly John the Baptist’s clothing was unconventional, but not in the way that the 20 somethings’ clothing is unconventional. John’s clothing was different from what most young men wore in his day. He was not trying identify himself with the in crowd in the world. He wore the garments of a prophet like Elijah (II Kings 1:8). John’s motive in wearing the clothes that he wore was not make him fit in with the world or to be relevant. In fact, his clothes actually separated him from the world and identified him as a prophet of God! That was the real reason for John the Baptist’s so called “unconventional” clothing. Would to God more young people today wore clothing with the same heart attitude as John: seeking to be different from the world and identified with the Lord!
The illustration (in my opinion) served as green light to the youth to wear whatever they want to wear to church and implied that it was the parents and church leaders (by extension) who were ignorant on this matter. That’s not a healthy message to send. We don’t want to make more of clothing than is warranted. By FAR the most important thing is the heart (Prov. 4:23), but what we wear as believers is part of our testimony before the world and in some ways is a reflection of our heart attitude. While it is true that our culture is changing, people still dress up in North America when they are attending something important. Our representatives in the Senate and Congress dress up for meetings at their “House.” Shouldn’t we as believers show at least the same level of respect for the House of the Lord? Those who seek to maintain high standards in the local assembly should not be labeled as Pharisees and Inquisitors; they should be thanked, encouraged, and supported. (see article on clothing on salembible.org)
· I Timothy 3:15 – “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
· I Corinthians 14:40 – “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
· I Corinthians 8:9 – “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”
Our brother’s blog also seemed to give a green light to young people to radically transform the music ministry of the church by bringing in CCM, pop bands, etc. He stated that the changes in music they desired were really nothing more than a change of (his word) “packaging,” implying that the packaging doesn’t matter. Music DOES matter. Music, even apart from the words, sends a message. It is a language of emotion; and music conveys all kinds of emotions: joy; fear; anarchy; romance; rebellion; carefree; sensual; etc. Music is far more than mere packaging for the words of a song. Virtually every rock and roll (artist?) will tell you that rock music (even apart from the words) is all about rebellion and sex. It sets the tone. Surely some “packaging” is a completely inappropriate partner for God’s precious words of grace and truth. Madison Avenue and Hollywood know the power and emotion of music. Everyone seems to know these things except evangelicals seeking to justify the radical changes in music that have recently been introduced to “fundamentalism.”
Changes in the music ministry begin with small steps. I normally quote from the Hebrew proverbs, but there’s an old Chinese proverb worth quoting: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” A few steps in the wrong direction musically can lead a ministry very, very, far away over time. Once things start rolling, it is like a snowball rolling down a mountain; it picks up speed, gains momentum and size, until it is unstoppable. Usually well-meaning folks who start tinkering with the music ministry of a church begin by introducing “just a little” CCM. They never intended for it to take on a life of its own or to end up with a pop/rock band and the whole nine yards, but that is what happens. And it is happening all across the country. I don’t know who said it, but there is much truth to the saying, “As goes the music so goes the ministry.” Music creates a mood and an atmosphere. Without question, there is a new attitude abroad in Christendom today. This new attitude has its own new music, creating a new mood, influencing new standards, new forms of worship, new concepts of what church is, etc. We know where this is headed. Give it another decade or so (if the Lord tarries) and it will result in new doctrines and new lifestyles too.
As a pastor I don’t want any part of the tectonic shift in evangelical/fundamental circles that is all around us and seems to have accelerated in the last few years. Of course, change can be good – but only if it is an improvement and moves closer to the truth, and encourages reverence and holiness before God. I fear for the next generation of believers; for most of the changes today are going in the wrong direction. The last thing the Millennials need is a green light to continue heading down that pathway. What they really need is a big red light – a clear, firm, unambiguous warning to avoid that road (Acts 20:31), accompanied by sane and sensible teaching from God’s Word… from church leaders who are trying to maintain high standards for the spiritual good of the whole Body… from shepherds who love the sheep and want nothing but God’s best for them.
We want to encourage our young people as Jeremiah did in his day: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). Yes the old way is a bit restrictive and narrow, but is by design for our own good (Matt.7:14). It leads in a much better direction. We trust that there will be many godly young Millennials who will find true rest for their souls where God said it is to be found: by walking in the old path… close to God and separate from the world. By God’s grace they will become future leaders in solid, sound, fundamental churches. Let’s pray for them! Let’s not pit the young against the old. How much better it is to work and worship together as ONE BODY, just as God intended. Great things can be accomplished when we follow God’s plan. The youth bring their zeal and energy to the table, and the older saints bring their wisdom and experience, and with every member working together, the Body functions as God designed (I Cor. 12:7). When that is the case, souls will be saved, saints will be edified, and God will be glorified. Our witness in and to the world is enhanced not by becoming LIKE the world, but by being different from the world. There ought to be a clear line of distinction between light and darkness (Matt. 5:13-16).
We don’t want to drag the standards of the church down to the level of the youth. A much better approach is to lift the youth up to the place of maturity, wisdom, and discernment. When that is the case, we won’t refer to them as generation X, but generation X-cellent!