Col 1:28-29 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Eph 4:11-14 And he gave…the shepherds and teachers… so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
This post is an update on what I’ve learned since entering seminary nearly four years ago. I went to seminary to help Charismatic and Pentecostal churches become more stable, not grandiosely thinking I was going to fix everything, but hoping to help in whatever way I could. If you don’t know the history of the “Spirit filled” church, it is reckoned to have begun in the early nineteen hundreds. Since then it’s grown by over three million a year, during a time when other streams of the church were shrinking or dying. The Charismatic church is extremely fruitful. On the other hand, in my fifteen years I’ve seen so many leaders fall away or get involved in scandals, been in a church where hundreds of people left at once, had friends simply stop going to church, and so on.
Fruitful, but a mess.
What if we could maintain the fruitfulness without all the blowups? That’s the goal. Here are some things I’ve learned that I believe are necessary to achieve this goal:
1. Well run churches – Initially, I went to seminary to become a scholar, thinking that more Charismatic scholars would strengthen the church. Now I believe having well run churches is even more critical. It doesn’t matter how well certain believers know the Bible if there are no structures in place to apply and enforce the Bible. Study church government. What role does the congregation play in church government? How are elders selected? How are they exonerated or removed? How are decisions made? Is there authority above the elders (bishops, other elders)?
2. Make sure pastors are qualified, particularly regarding character and knowledge – Leadership in modern America is more about who you know and how winsome you are than about maturity. Elders are to have solid character and be able to teach and rebuke those who teach or act falsely. If they don’t have those qualities, well that’s where you fall back on number 1, the congregation should remove them.
3. Creeds, confessions, and statements of faith – If leaders are going to rebuke false teaching, and their teaching is going to be held to certain standards, the church’s beliefs need to be clear. I’ve been part of several churches where beliefs were fluid; you never knew exactly what the leaders believed or even if they agreed. A ten point belief statement isn’t going to cut it. You need to confess the creeds – the statements of faith the Church has held for millennia. You need to have an extended belief statement, say 150 points or so. In my tradition that’s the Westminster Confession, which has several hundred total. If you’re Baptist, you could use the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Lastly, brief statements of foundational doctrines your church believes are helpful to let people know what your church stands for.
4. Connection to the Historic Church – The Church didn’t begin with us. I used to think it was me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit. In reality, we are heirs of thousands of years of great thinkers and leaders God intends us to learn from. Frankly, given the sinking educational standards in modern culture, those who came before are almost certainly wiser. Nearly everything has already been thought and tried before. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from those who’ve already been through it.
5. The Knowledge of God – It sounds strange, but knowing God isn’t considered terribly important in evangelical churches. Look up the top scholars on the doctrine of God and you won’t find any Protestants on the list. Of course, we talk about knowing God, but by that we typically mean an emotional connection with a being we have at least partially made after our own image. Evangelicals need an objective knowledge of God. All other doctrines flow from our understanding of who God is and what he does. Yes, we need a personal relationship with God as well. Both right thoughts and right emotions about God.
6. Don’t Give Up on the Charismatic Church – Some friends of mine, having grown frustrated with the instability of the Charismatic church, and seeing the stability and wisdom of more traditional conservative churches, have embraced their more cessationist worldview. Don’t forget – we need the power of the Spirit. And we need the gifts of the Spirit. They are given for the building of the church. It’s not ok to reject them in theory or practice, even given the failings of some who advocate their practice.
May God bless his Church!