Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"The Church of What's Happening Now"

     In the 1970's when my husband and I were newlyweds and also new in the faith, we lived in the busy city of Columbus, Ohio where my husband attended the College of Optometry at Ohio State University.  Within the same community,  there was a church called "The Church of What's Happening Now" run by the "Reverend" Leroy Jenkins.  The people met at the Ohio Theater for their gatherings, and Jenkins became famous for his pronouncement to everyone that "There is somebody up there that loves you."  He was on radio and T.V. for a brief period of time and his charismatic brand of Christianity attracted a large following.  However, his life did not demonstrate a solid grounding in the Word which he proclaimed to his followers.  Instead, he based his own faith on an experience which he said changed his life.
A pretty flowered weed...but a weed none the less.
     Jenkins had been a Presbyterian businessman in Atlanta, GA when he had a nearly severed arm in an accident.  A healer named A.A. Allen prayed for him and his arm was healed.  This began what Jenkins felt was a call from God to preach.  He began in a tent ministry and ended up in the Ohio Theater.  Later, he moved his ministry to Greenwood, South Carolina and started "The Spirit of Truth" Church which later burned down.  It was discovered that this highly insured property had been purposely destroyed and Jenkins was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to injure a local newspaper reporter.  He spent two years in prison of his twelve year sentence.  During the course of his ministry, he argued with his associates, divorced his wife and was arrested numerous times for drugs and alcohol.  The fruit of his life and ministry leads me to the conclusion that he was a false teacher not adhering to the Word of God but basing everything on emotion and experience.
     Throughout history, there have been false teachers who have arisen and drawn large crowds.  This is nothing new, but there is something else at work within the evangelical church today that concerns me and it is something we all need to pray about as well as guard against.  I believe that many in the present day church have forgotten our roots much as the Israelites began to forget God's mighty deeds on their behalf.  Moses had warned the people (Deut. 6:12):  "...then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" because he knew that the people would easily and quickly forget what God had done.  This is one reason God had them set up memorial stones in the book of Joshua so they would look at them and remember.  In fact the Bible speaks of the importance of remembering over and over again lest we forget and fall into sin.  We know the children of Israel did that often.  Despite the covenant they had with God, they slowly slipped away from God and forgot what He had done for them.  The entire book of Judges is filled with such examples.  The people sinned.  The Lord allowed the people to experience the consequences of their sin, and then, they turned, repented, prayed and God sent a judge to deliver them again.  His mercy knows know bounds!
     In our present day churches, we have, in some respects, forgotten or put aside the sound guidelines found in God's Word for worship and practice in favor of modern trends.  Instead of Christians demonstrating their unique worldview by being salt and light, we are more often influenced by our culture instead.  As a result, we have seeker sensitive church initiatives when there are "no seekers" according to Scripture:  "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:10b-11).  Some churches have brought in worldly entertainment (i.e. wrestling matches with a Christian theme, celebrities and Christian rock concerts) all in the name of attracting a crowd.  Still others have accepted the culture driven "youth" emphasis to the point where intergenerational contact happens very little within the teaching and preaching of the church.  All of these elements and many others are slowly infiltrating the church to the detriment of sound teaching.  Today we have many who are ignorant of Christian doctrine as revealed in the Bible.  They are ripe for deception by those like Leroy Jenkins who espouse a religion of feelings and experience over a faith built on the solid Rock of God's Word.
     Scott T Brown, Pastor and head of the National Center for Family-integrated Churches, has written an interesting book which I am currently reading entitled "A Weed in the Church".  He maintains that many young people come into our churches and attend our youth groups, but leave the church ultimately as they reach college age and beyond.  Further, he feels we do a great job of entertaining young people but do not do a good job of thoroughly discipling them.  This is where family and worshipping in an intergenerational way will help to pass along the solid values and tenets upon which the Reformation took place.  He quotes John Knox who said:  "All worshipping, honoring or service invented by the brain of men in the religion of God, without His own express commandment is idolatry."  The main premise of his book is that the culture of age segregation is harming the next generation, fragmenting the family and dividing the church.  Certainly, he has made some valuable observations on the current state of affairs within evangelicalism.
     Our home group is currently studying "The Truth Project" put out by Focus on the Family.  My husband and I have acted as discussion leaders for this series a number of times and each time our eyes are opened more and more to the realities of how the world has crept into our thinking.  Unfortunately , many of us have been like that frog who was placed in a kettle of cold water.  The heat was turned on and little by little that frog was cooked before he knew what was happening.  As believers, we need to be as gentle as doves and as wise as serpents when standing for the truth of God's Word.  Our churches need to be places of instruction in the doctrines of grace so that we are equipped for the work of service.  Without discipleship, preaching and teaching, we will be no different than our pagan friends when it comes to values, standards and ethics.   Let me conclude this by ending with this quote from Scott Brown's book:
     "Modern evangelicals are often willing to proclaim the sufficiency of Scripture for matters that are purely doctrinal, but dismiss it for the practical matters of church and family life.  We are like the Pharisees, who 'laying aside the commandment of God...hold the tradition of men' (Mark 7:8).  It has come to the point that many people operate in matters of theology and lifestyle with a double standard.  They might say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation and other important theological matters, but they assume that it is not sufficient for other areas of life.  They think that most areas of life are left up to personal preference or creativity, even such important things as education, church structure, clothing, music, entertainment, and choosing a spouse."  God's Word is all we need for life and godliness that we can be conformed to the image of His Son.  My prayer is that our churches will be squarely centered on the Word of God rather than entertainment, seeker sensitive initiatives and youth driven activities.  Instead, they should be a refuge for family worship together built around the teaching of the Bible and the sacraments.  "The Church of What's Happening Now" no longer exists in Columbus, Ohio.  Its foundation was not built upon the Rock but upon the sand of experience.  May we take a lesson from the fall of this house so we do not experience the same in our own Houses of Worship.  Selah!

Encyclopedia of Evangelicals by Randall Herbert Balmer   "Leroy Jenkins" pg. 302  found at Google Books

Scott Brown, "A Weed in the Church"  


Christina said...

Barbara, thank you so much for writing this. I wonder how many churches have started off right but end up like "The Church of What's Happening Now" bent on entertaining rather than equipping and nurturing. May God give the church in the West grace to repent and turn and seek God in spirit and in truth. Experience and feelings come and go but the Word of God is eternal. In these perilous times how can we withstand if we are not on the Rock? I also agree with the principle of including our young children. It all ties in with living in covenant community and not apart from one another. While many of our churches fail in this area - it is important that we keep looking upward to Christ, the head. Love you and appreciate you more than I express in words. God bless you!

Barbara Thayer said...

Thank you for stopping by to read this Christina. I value your insight, friendship and great comments that you leave. I pray that churches will be delivered from going on seeker sensitive or experience modes. Help us Lord to stand fast on Your Word and include the whole family in worship!