Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"We want them to experience a relationship with God"

An article in the Chicago Tribune (free registration required, but worth it for the articles) caught my eye while on vacation there recently. On the surface, the story about some young newly-ordained Protestant pastors using their God-given gifts to bless other people is heart-warming:

The lights are dim, and the musicians are young and Latino, twenty-something dreamers creating magical jazz fusion sounds on bass, bongos and drums. The college-age crowd rocks to the beat, and the fresh-faced band rocks with them, improvising tunes that fill the small Pilsen cafe.

Few in the audience know that the performers are not just musicians, but newly ordained Protestant pastors, passionate men of God using music to bring their message to the music lovers and would-be artists in this traditionally Catholic enclave of Chicago.
This is a beautiful description of vocation- using our God-given gifts and talents in our daily lives, whether at work or play, freely sharing the joy of the gospel as the situation fits. Scripture tells methat only the Holy Spirit can work faith in the heart of anyone I meet; scripture also tells me to be ready to give an account of the joy I have in my heart.

They don't mention God during their performance, but Eli Orozco, Sam Menesses and Tony Escobar hope to spread the word of Christ to enough cafe patrons to cultivate a few potential congregants by October. That's when Community Christian Church, a Naperville-based "megachurch," hopes to launch its first urban satellite here

CCC leaders, aware of the potential for controversy, downplay the idea of competition. John Ferguson, one of the pastors, said the church is not coming to Pilsen to "impose our evangelicalism" on Catholics. Instead, he casts the young pastors' work as helping people "establish a personal relationship with Jesus."

Now the story of these young men and their work in the community takes a sad twist. They've gone into the community saying that they aren't trying to change the faith of the Catholics, yet they are clearly drawing a line in the sand with their definition of a true Christian. For many evangelicals, it is firmly (and falsely) believed that you will only enter the kingdom of heaven through your own act of establishing a personal relationship with God. That kind of reversal of grace, a misunderstanding of Romans 10, is an excellent example of what drove me to despair after twenty years of evangelicalism. God, in my despair, drew me to a church that showed me a God who cannot be contained. I learned of a God who is jealous for His own and ceaselously seeks them out like water seeks any hole in a cup. I learned of the power of His Word to save us, even as we attempt to deny it; His Word works on our hearts whenever it is proclaimed. I also learned that He works through the Water, as He promised He would, planting a seed of faith in the hearts of those who are baptized.

Noel Castellanos, president of the Latino Leadership Foundation and an evangelical pastor, said he thinks Orozco's technique is original and bound to be effective.

"They're saying, `We're going to come in and integrate into the social fabric of the community, and that's going to provide opportunities to engage with potential members,'" Castellanos said. "I think it's working."

The young pastors say their mission is to reach people who might be alienated from their own church, whatever the denomination, by getting to know them in a casual atmosphere, befriending them and inviting them, eventually, to a group function during the week.

"We're trying to get unreachable people, the ones who are burned out, disgusted and haven't been to church for years," said Escobar, the bongo player.

"We don't go there and preach," Orozco added. "We see them at the cafe, and then we meet in a small group later on in the week. It could be a sporting event, an art exhibit or Bible study. We might say, `Hey, let's go to the movies.' It just depends."

The young pastors techniques are hardly unique; they are doing what any Christian should do and I commend them for that. Luther also encouraged Christians to do the same 500 years ago. In Luther's Large Catechism, he introduced the fourth through tenth commandments in this way:

Thus far we have learned the first three commandments, which relate to God. First that with our whole heart we trust in Him, and fear and love Him throughout all our life. Secondly, that we do not misuse His holy name in the support of falsehood or any bad work, but employ it to the praise of God and the profit and salvation of our neighbor and ourselves. Thirdly, that on holidays and when at rest we diligently treat and urge God's Word, so that all our actions and our entire life be ordered according to it.

Likewise, here is my advice to anyone who wants to share the gospel with people: Start a band and share the joy of the gospel with your community as you sing. Get to know people because you love them with a love that comes from the joy of your own salvation. Find out why they don't attend church. Share with them the good news of our salvation through Jesus. Encourage them to take joy in their salvation and rejoice in the baptism of their youth. If unrepented sins weigh them down, remind them that scripture says we are to confess our sins and we will receive absolution. But please don't tell them that they must experience a personal relationship with Jesus. Work with the faith that God has already planted in their hearts through the word and the water; if none has yet been planted, continue to proclaim the good news and don't save it for later on. God's Word does not come back empty-handed. I also encourage those bright young pastors to find a new organization. From their home church website I find the following:

About a Relationship with God
Our inability to reestablish our relationship with God leaves us dependent on God's mercy. God graciously provided the means to reconcile this relationship through faith in Jesus Christ. Our relationship is re-established when we make a commitment to accept Jesus as God's son and our Savior and Lord. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. Practically speaking, this acceptance is demonstrated through both a private and public commitment. We demonstrate our commitment privately by faith (acting upon our belief that God has the power to save us) and repentance (turning back to God and depending on Him to control our lives). At the same time, we publicly express our commitment by confessing our acceptance of God's salvation and submitting ourselves in Christian baptism.

Here is what SCRIPTURE actually says:

Romans chapter 10 tells us that if we have faith, we can profess with our mouths and believe with our hearts that Jesus is Lord. Scripture also makes it clear that faith is a gift from God that we cannot possibly give or attain for ourselves. Share those passages that tell us that faith is not a decision we make (or a personal relationship we "experiene"), but a miracle worked in us by the Holy Spirit whom God gives to us as a gift of his grace: 1 Co 2:14, Ro 5:5, 1 Co 12:3, Eph 2:8.

Romans 10: 5-13

Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”


David Brazeal said...

This really is a great post. It's wonderful to see someone in the megachurch movement understand "vocation" as an important engine driving "evangelizing." Finally, someone seems to understand that proclaiming the Gospel needn't been disconnected from our "regular" life.

But the problem here is that they don't quite grasp the fullness of the Gospel, like you pointed out. The question we always have to ask ourselves is whether we are encouraging people to rely on Christ alone for their salvation. If we're telling them something that, on their death bed, will make them worry about whether they're really saved (did I commit to Christ enough?), then we're not really proclaiming the Gospel to them at all, but the Law. And the Law is good -- but it ain't the Gospel.

Bob Waters said...

To paraphrase Jesus, if your Gospel is Law, how great is your bondage!

TKls2myhrt said...

Can someone explain how we simulataneously have an inability to re-establish the relationship, yet we have the ability to make a commitment by accepting??? Did no one proof read this statement?

"Our inability to reestablish our relationship with God leaves us dependent on God's mercy. God graciously provided the means to reconcile this relationship through faith in Jesus Christ. Our relationship is re-established when we make a commitment to accept Jesus as God's son and our Savior and Lord."