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Here we have a truly tragic tale: a church once on fire for the Lord, once filled with believers willing to forsake all for Christ, once head over heels in love with God; but now loveless - a pathetic caricature of the congregation Paul the Apostle once rejoiced over. I find here in the story of Ephesus much that has gone wrong with the Evangelical church over the last thirty five years or so.
Pop culture is frequently more attuned to the mood of the times - its zeitgeist - than the church. What the church can't see or hear, at least initially, pop culture often resonates to with an ease that's startling; and so it was in the late 1960s at the onset of the Jesus Movement - and so it is today.
Bridge over Troubled Waters
It was in 1969 that Simon and Garfunkle first sang their smash hit "Bridge over Troubled Waters." Simon had written it in the summer of 1969 while Garfunkel was in Europe filming "Catch-22." It picked up on and amplified the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a whole generation. And though Simon did not at first cop to it, he eventually acknowledged it was based on a gospel song made popular by the Swan Silvertones in their 1958 song "Mary Don't You Weep." Garfunkel said that when he performed it at a 1972 Madison Square Garden benefit concert, as part of a one-off reunion with Simon, the atmosphere was "biblical." (Press on the picture or this link to hear the song "Bridge over Troubled Waters.")
The chorus lyrics were taken almost word for word from Claude Jeter's line "I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me" - meaning, of course, "trust in Jesus." Moreover, everyone who heard "Bridge over Troubled Waters" for the first time - whether saved or unsaved - knew right away it was, at heart, a gospel hymn - with Jesus the "Bridge over Troubled Waters" and the church the "Silver Girl." There is perhaps no other song that more powerfully captures the "feel" of the Jesus Movement - including the many songs that later arose from out the Jesus Movement itself. Well over six million singles were sold world-wide.
Catholics Put Evangelicals to Shame
How is it that a Roman Catholic prelate is bolder and more clear-sighted than most evangelicals - most especially evangelical leaders? Not all, but most!
It's certainly true that the Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge the prophetic significance of Israel or the imminence of the Lord's return - that, therefore, Roman Catholics do not set the momentous events now transpiring here in America and throughout the world within an eschatological context. Nevertheless, the American bishops are far more willing than most evangelicals to (1) concede that Christians face a secular culture that is growing ever more hostile, and (2) that it's the duty of Catholic leaders to bluntly and sternly warn their followers to buck up and face that hostility without flinching. (Read an article I wrote several months ago on this very topic. Press here.)
I've reprinted parts of a column taken from the Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2013, describing Cardinal Francis George's blunt assessment of what lies ahead, the perilous future Christians face, and the hard-hitting and straightforward rebuke he's hurled at his secular critics.
Excerpted from the Wall Street Journal - Aug. 23, 2013
In late July, eight Illinois state lawmakers signed an open letter criticizing Cardinal George, among others, for threatening to end the church's financial support for a rights group. The church had rebuked the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, because the group came out for the legalization of same-sex marriage in May. The politicians - all Catholic Democrats - said the threat of a funding withdrawal was "not worthy of the church we know, love and respect." They said Cardinal George and others were using "immigrants and those who seek to help them as pawns in a political battle.
In response to the politicians and other critics, Cardinal George - never one to mince words - took to the pages of the archdiocese's newspaper, the Catholic New World, to respond. "It is intellectually and morally dishonest to use the witness of the church's concern for the poor as an excuse to attack the church's teaching on the nature of marriage." He reminded the politicians that "the church is no one's private club," adding that in a few years they would "stand before this same Christ to give an account of their stewardship." He went on to say, "Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid.
In an earlier February video interview with the Catholic News Service, he criticized the Obama administration for behaving "as if a right to free contraception were now a constitutional right" that presumes to supersede "the genuinely constitutional right of freedom of religion." In this, Cardinal George announced, the church "will simply not cooperate.
When warned by a reporter that his stand might incur the displeasure of powerful politicians and influential segments of his own following, Cardinal George responded, "The bishop has authority to teach. And he has authority to teach you.
Still earlier, in November, 2012, he thundered from his pulpit that, "The greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making 'laws' beyond its competence."
Asked about what lies ahead for himself, he responded, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."
With but a few notable exceptions, most evangelical pastors shy away from taking notice of the ever mounting hostility the church faces. And even if they do so privately, they refuse to preach on it publicly. Instead, it's "business as usual." And the result is predictable: the church is losing its credibility in the public square; it won't go there anymore - preferring instead to build ever higher walls to "keep the 'flock' safe." That's not the church I grew up in during the Jesus Movement, nor is it the church I pastored for so many years; but it's the church that now exists - again, with a few notable exceptions. It's the Laodician Church. (Watch this video for a teaching I just posted on the seven churches in the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. A major focus is the Laodician church and the features that define it.)
In Matthew 24, Jesus clearly warns believers to expect a gulf to open up within the church during the Birth Pangs Era, the precursor of the Tribulation - with the faithful on one side and the faithless on the other. The gulf will eventually widen during the Tribulation itself to the point that the one, the faithless, will begin to betray the other, the faithful (Matt. 24:10).
How can it possibly come to that? And is it happening today? And if so, what is its cause? What is its underlying dynamic?
For almost 400 years - ever since the Mayflower Compact in 1620 - American Christians have, by and large, found themselves immersed in a secular culture that fully embraced the moral absolutes of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secular culture was congenial at best and benign at worst.
The Ten Commandments were posted not only in churches, but in secular institutions as well - on court room walls, in the hallowed chambers of legislative bodies, in gubernatorial offices and presidential suites, and, of course, in class-rooms throughout the country. In short, an ethical consensus blanketed America.
What your church isn't telling you ...
... that we're on the cusp of the Tribulation!
The whole world is turning upside down. And yet the question most churches are avoiding - the question most pastors are going out of their way to sidestep - is "What's the prophetic significance of it all?"
The Bible gives us an answer to that question - an answer that will keep us from stumbling, from losing faith, and from being misled. An answer that in these troubling times will make us both a help and a blessing to our families, our friends, our fellow-believers, and most especially to God. That's what this conference is all about - and so much more …
Poster for the Conference
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Just recently, a young Christian student attending a public high school here in Sacramento wrote a paper on the ever growing acceptance of "gay rights" among her peers. It was in response to an assignment she was given to draft a "persuasive article" dealing with a controversial subject. It's a paper many of the pastors here in Sacramento and throughout the country should read. It puts to shame the compromises so many of them are making for the sake of not "rocking the boat." But "rock the boat" is exactly what they need to do - and it's exactly what this courageous young woman has done. If pastors won't pick up the cause of Christ, then God will raise up others to do so - others like this young woman.
Are some of our leaders wimping out, compromising important doctrines of the Faith in an effort to keep the boat from rocking? The answer is "Yes." Clearly not all leaders, however, far more than anyone could have guessed just a few years ago! The most recent example: Pastor Rick Cole of Capital Christian Center, a church at one time overseen by Rick's father, the late Glen Cole, one of the most revered and respected pastors in northern California. How can it be that evangelical pastors have laspsed into this kind of heresy.
(3) The Blind Leading the Blind
OMG! Dominionism! Hermeneutical malfeasance on a grand scale! Nothing less than that. A hodgepodge of harebrained teachings most of us thought had been consigned to the scrapheap of debunked doctrines many years ago - back in the 1980s. That's what lies behind an upcoming "revival" conference scheduled for October 25th here in Sacramento - whether by design or simply because its sponsors are so terribly naive. Who could have guessed that dominionism would resurface! But it has. And this conference proves it!