Rev. Bill Harrell
In our last post Brother Bill Harrell began a discussion of Contemporary Worship and Calvinism. It is concluded in this post.
William F. (Bill) Harrell, has been the Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta, GA for the past 30 years. He has served in many capacities in the Georgia Baptist Convention as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and has just completed his second eight year term on the Executive Committee of the SBC. Brother Bill, as he is affectionately called, was vitally involved on the Executive Committee during the years of the Conservative Resurgence chairing one of the main sub-committees through which many of the necessary changes were made. He is the preacher on Strength For Today, the television ministry of Abilene Baptist which has a potential audience of over two million people each week in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.
This casual approach is also affecting the preachers and staff members. Many preachers and musicians stand before their church each Sunday dressed in a way that my school teachers would not have tolerated and would have sent me home to change. My mother used to make me get new jeans if a hole came in the knee. “Boy, you can’t wear those jeans to school, they look terrible”, she would say. But, the casual, contemporary philosophy is that one cannot “reach” the people unless they are like them. Quite frankly, from what I have witnessed, those church leaders who hold that philosophy are insulting their members. Are they saying that they dress sloppily because their church members dress the same way? Sounds like it to me. The people of the world are looking for an example to follow, not someone else like them. Most unsaved sinners are sick of who and what they are and they are looking for something different….something to change their lives both spiritually and socially. But they are made comfortable with who and what they are when they see pastors, staff and church people who don’t seem to be concerned with what they are projecting. I am weary of being expected to condone the idea that the casual, contemporary model is setting the right example and is acceptable. What does the lost person who is looking for answers to life’s deepest questions think when he sees a preacher on the platform looking like he just washed his dog, put on a sloppy coat, left his long shirt tale hanging below his coat hem and rushed to the church to preach without even combing his hair? When the preacher and staff project the casual approach to Christianity that is what the people will adopt. Everything rises or falls on leadership and that is why a leader must make sure that he does not project the wrong thing.
The way people dress to attend church these days is downright dishonoring to God. When the pastor bites the bait of casual dress, it results in casual actions which breed a casual approach to God. Of course many in the contemporary movement will say, “God is interested in what’s on the inside more than He is interested in what’s on the outside.” Oh, really? Does one mean to say that because God cares about what’s on the inside that He does not care about the outside and how we come before Him? If one were called and asked to be in the Oval Office within two days what do you think he or she would do? If he did not have a suit and tie he would go to the expense of buying one so that he could go into the presence of the President of the United States properly attired. Likewise, a lady would not think of entering the Oval Office in shorts and flip flops. But these same people think it is permissible to come before the God of the universe with an appearance they would never deem appropriate for their president. I tell the people of our church that if a tee shirt and jeans are the best they have, wash them, iron them and wear them to church. That is just fine. But if the best thing one has is a fine tailored suit then don’t wear the tee shirt and jeans. We should come before God in the best we have. How can the pastor be a proper spiritual role model for others unless he sets the right example?
In the Old Testament God was very particular as to how the people constructed the Tabernacle. He outlined it specifically and the people followed his instructions. When it came time to give the instructions on how the Priest should be clothed, he designed the wardrobe very specifically. He told them how the head piece should be made. He designed the breastplate very intricately as well. Certain stones were used for particular reasons known only to God. The robe was of particular significance with the hem to be sewn with red thread. Now, why did God say He wanted red thread. First, the red thread is a “type” of the blood of Christ. Secondly, He said to have the robe hemmed with red thread because that is the way He wanted it and He does not have to make excuses for anything He says to do.
Everything about the design of the Priest’s garb was for a purpose. He was to come before the Holy God of the universe in a certain way. He stood out from the crowd. He set the example of how to present oneself before God. The people didn’t dress that way but they saw him as an extension of God in their midst. That is the way preachers should be today. They should stand out as an example and as an extension of God’s presence among His people. The same God that prescribed how the Priest was to come before Him is the same God who still sits on the same throne He occupied then. He is the God who does not change in any way so why do we think that He has now modified his approach as to how we present ourselves to him? He does not care which century we occupy. He does not care about social implications in today’s world. He is unchanging and I think He still wants us to honor Him by coming before Him in our best attire to signify our awareness of where we are and Who we are coming before.
The ultimate effect of the contemporary, casual approach to Christianity and particularly worship, is to lead the people to believe that they really don’t have to give up anything or change anything to come before God. They can dress in such a way that they don’t have to change clothes in order to go for an afternoon at the lake. One doesn’t have to give up their love for rock music, not even for one hour because we are going to give them the same style, volume and appearance while calling it “Christian rock”. One doesn’t have to be concerned about living the Christian lifestyle because we now tell them that social drinking is just fine according to the Bible. The bar is lowered so low that the world will be glad to come into our church because we will take them as they are and send them on their way as they are with the idea that because they came to church they will go to Heaven when they die. This casual approach leads one to believe that God is happy to take us just as we are with no commitment from us concerning a change in our lives. If the Bible says anything about Christianity it is that we must have a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ.
The Contemporary movement combined with Calvinism is, in my opinion, what is causing a decline in baptisms in the SBC. The Contemporary movement, in general, does several things which result in the decline in baptisms. First, it does away with the evening worship as an evangelistic event and replaces it with some activities or “educational” opportunities. What they have effectively done is to convert worship time into the old Church Training mode. Question: how many people in the SBC were saved in an evening worship hour? A significant percentage of our people were saved in the evening service. To remove it takes away an opportunity for people to hear the gospel and be saved. Second, it does away with revivals. Not all contemporary churches have ceased to have revivals but so few do that the effect has been that they are almost nonexistent in those churches. Question: how many people in the SBC were saved during a revival? I can assure the reader that many of them were. To do away with revivals is to limit the number of people who just might give their heart to Jesus. Are the contemporary church leaders saying that an office that is ordained of God, (the evangelist) should not be employed in our churches simply because what he is gifted to do doesn’t fit the casual church model any longer and simply won’t work in these days? I think this is exactly what is being stated overtly by many and implied by others.
This casual approach to Christianity also tells people that they won’t be asked to be dedicated and consistent in their attendance. The casual Christianity approach falsely assumes that people won’t come to your church if you demand anything of them. They are not asked to make a public profession of faith as Jesus tells us to do. In the New Testament one could not be a silent or secret Christian. They made the declaration of their faith in Jesus in a public way. Jesus told us to “confess Him before men” and that if we do He will “confess us before the father”, (Matthew 10:32-33). But if we follow the casual model the idea is that if one has to make a public profession of faith, they will not come to your church. Also, don’t place the visitors in any kind of situation in which they will feel uncomfortable in being welcomed. This whole process is a “you do it your way” mentality because we want to make sure that you come to our church even though you will be a “lowest common denominator” Christian and church member. My question is: is the “lowest common denominator Christian” really saved or are they being led astray? This movement is one of the major reasons that the baptisms in the SBC are falling.
Calvinism is contributing to the fall in baptisms as well. I won’t take the time to go into the theological reasons I think this is true but I will point out a simple truth. Calvinism, traditionally, produces few baptisms and smaller churches. This is undeniable and beyond debating. Now, I am sure that one can point to a few Calvinistic churches that are larger than some non-Calvinistic churches, but overall, what I have stated is true. When one weds these two things together, Calvinism and the Contemporary church model, the result will be fewer baptisms.
Casual Christianity is the model and mode of the day. This crude society in which we live has influenced even the pulpits of our convention and beyond. More and more, some “preachers” are willing to use crudities in the pulpit. They apparently think it is cute and that it communicates. Here again, if a preacher does such things as using crudities and “light” profanity from the pulpit, he is saying to his audience that they really don’t mind him doing that. He feels comfortable doing it and in so doing he insults the sensitivities of many people. The pulpit is no place for cursing or crudities. It is no place to be used to excuse social drinking. It is no place to speak of bodily functions or tell questionable jokes. God is nowhere within a million miles of such a thing. The world has been very effective in convincing the Lord’s Church to “let its hair down” and “quit being so stuffy.” And, the church has been willing to be convinced if the process will increase the numbers of people who will come. Many of the people who do come into the casual church environment are not coming to be changed. They are coming because the church no longer expects them to change and just because they have come they feel that when they walk out the door they have done God’s bidding and will be welcomed into Heaven when they die. Perhaps these will be in the company of those to whom the Lord says, “Not everyone who says unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We are in the Day of Apostasy, I fear.