November 26, 2020

A Reformation Day Meditation

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12

On the way to preach at the evening chapel service, I drove past a church building here in our little village. There were probably 30 cars out front, a good crowd on Sunday nights here in the mountains of southeast Kentucky, but especially good because, just a few weeks ago, this building was empty. A few families have left a large Church of God down the road and come down here to start services in this building. Now they appeared to be up to probably 50 people or so. A quick start.

The church that had worshipped in this building before had grown from nothing to several hundred in just a few years. Now they have moved into an elementary school that the board of education vacated, and I expect they may be the largest church in the county right now. The “First Baptist” Church in the county seat runs about 150 on Sunday mornings. This is easily twice that and growing rapidly.

Pentecostal/Holiness churches dominate our county. I’ve never been entirely clear as to how they got such a foothold in such a short time, but they are the clear winners to appeal to this culture. I know that, at one time, Baptist and Presbyterian churches were strong, but in the last 50 years, the Presbyterians have almost vanished and the Baptists have barely held their ground. Pentecostals, Holiness and various kinds of Charismatic, non-denominational churches have flourished and multiplied. I work at a Baptist school, but probably a third of our staff goes to some variety of a non-Baptist, usually Pentecostal-Holiness, church.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to know what is going on in those churches. It is impossible to miss them. They are all over the television and the radio. Our cable system has 6 religious channels, all generously populated with local church and religious programming. The weekend radio is wall to wall Pentecostals and Holiness “worship” and preaching. I’ve visited the local Church of God and the local Charismatic Church several times. None of it is any surprise to me anymore.

You see, this morning, at my Presbyterian Church, I preached to 12 people. That’s not unusual. Several of my folks weren’t there, but I rarely preach to more than 25. We have a Reformed worship service that does everything we believe is important in a God-centered, God-honoring service of public worship. We are a Bible-saturated church. We read it. We sing it. We say it. We pray it. I preach it from lectionary texts and in verse by verse exposition. You’d have to drive a long way around here to find someone more committed to serious reformed worship and preaching than I am.

We don’t have a band. We don’t anoint with oil. We don’t shout. We don’t fall over in worship. We don’t speak in tongues. We don’t clap and jump. My preaching is intelligible, organized and earnest. I apply the message. I am careful to preach the gospel. There are no strange prophecies or emotion-laden prayer groups. We worship decently and in order. We do the Christian year. We say the creeds. I teach the confession.

I’m pretty sure that our church will die in a few years. I’m just as sure that most of the churches in our community that don’t embrace the Pentecostal-Charismatic style of worship will decline, and that many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Holiness churches will grow and prosper. I am certain that Biblical preaching means less and less to the average Christian every week in our community. It is a famine, and I am watching it happen in my lifetime.

The average Pentecostal-Charismatic preacher/pastor in our community has no education at all, and it shows very obviously and quickly. Ignorance is not a problem here. Being unintelligible, even bizarrely, dangerously ignorant of the Bible or Christian doctrine is not an issues. What matters is if you have the Spirit, at least as it’s judged here. I am not being prejudicial or bitter when I say that nothing approaching the Gospel is preached in most of these churches. The messages do not understand or beging to explain salvation by grace through faith by Christ. It is not a matter of a distorted or incomplete Gospel. It is religion without the Gospel. It is emotion that is genuine, and communal life that makes life easier in a hard place, but the Gospel, as a message and a truth to be believed, is almost never heard.

You hear a lot about prayer and what it can do. You hear a lot about repentance. There is a call to be holy and to live different. There are many warnings about the devil. You’ll hear assurances that God is on your side and that the Lord can give you the victory. Everything that God wants to do for you will happen at the altar when the Holy Spirit gets ahold of you. There is much said about family. Demons and spirits are very real. Emotionalism is encouraged, but the Gospel and the faith are almost never taught.

Faith? You’ll hear Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts’ version of faith, but you won’t hear sola fide anywhere. The Gospel of grace? If you are lucky, and find your way into one of the Baptist or Presbyterian or Methodist churches, you will hear about a gracious God who saves us in Jesus, but this is only a handful of churches. In the majority- the Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic majority- the Gospel of Grace is no more likely to be heard than a review of Russian novels.

You will hear the Christian’s responsibility to change the moral condition of society. Our community has a lot of anti-drug crusading going on these days, and the churches are very involved. Our local churches love the Ten Commandments fight, the prayer in schools fight, and the gay marriage fight. Mobilizing these churches for conservative political causes is easy work. They are ready to vote against alcohol and they are ready to march against drugs. If reforming society by getting Christians to vote and march is your passion, the churches here are wonderful.

In these churches, most of what you will hear that is worth believing about Jesus will be in the music. There’s music everywhere. Contemporary worship choruses. Mountain bluegrass. Country gospel. It’s on the television, on the radio and in every church. It seems that every church has 4 or 5 musical groups that love to sing. Music touches mountain people, there is no doubt about that. I’m not immune to it. I enjoy much of the mountain music, even as I recognize the uneven truths of the Gospel in it. The music is full of songs about heaven, mama and the need to repent. I am grateful for the times the Gospel shows up in some of this old music, however, because it is frequently more clearly stated in some of those songs than in the pulpit.

You can hear the Gospel preached clearly if you know where to look. There are national radio ministries that reach into our county from another county. (Thank God for them.) Of course, there are the usual con-artists and charlatans from the Word-faith side of the fence. Some of the Baptist ministers here have discovered John Piper and are reading and preaching the Gospel more clearly. We have some good men here in some churches that have little interest in a true Biblical ministry. Pastoral turnover is very, very high. Mountain people want their preaching to be emotional and confrontational. They don’t like a paid, professional ministry and they are suspicious of education. They hardly recognize the power of the Gospel as it is presented in Romans. They value authenticity, but they do not recognize the Biblical deficiencies in their definitions of it.

An educated ministry has a hard time relating to an uneducated culture. I’ve learned this many times. This is a place where feelings and emotions are the currency of religion, and the minister who seeks to emulate Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones will have a difficult time. What works at Piper’s church or Dever’s church won’t work here.

The parking lot of the Pentecostal Church reminds me that I live in the midst of a famine of the Word of God. Like Luther’s time, the truth of the Gospel has been lost under the rubbish heap of mountain religion. The decline of a culture often catches the church asleep, and before you know it, the ability to even explain the Gospel is in perilous distress.

I have friends- good, educated, Biblically committed friends- who go to these churches. They are well aware that they seldom hear the Gospel and almost never hear Biblical messages. They go for the music, the children’s programs and the atmosphere of believing that God can and does act in people’s lives. They have adjusted just fine to sitting under a ministry that has little need for the Gospel or Biblical preaching.

It is discouraging. I drive past that parking lot- a scene that is repeated all the time in our community- and I wonder if I live in an anomoly or in the beginnings of the end of a kind of Biblical Christianity in our culture. While I know there will always be places where the Word and the Gospel are loved and valued, I am living in a place where the truth is dying, and what is replacing it is not the Gospel at all.

I often wonder if I should change? Should I embrace the local culture somehow and try to find a “reformed” mountain Christianity. So far, it stifles me. I cannot see where to start. Maybe it is right in front of me, and I am just afraid. Maybe I and other pastors here are carrying the light until another generation can take it up and shine it brighter in this place.

As it is, Reformation Day has come and gone, and the parking lot at the newest Pentecostal church in our county is full, while my church grows emptier.

Am I to blame? I end this Reformation Day wondering if I have furthered the famine or if I have done the best I can do to ease it. I do not know. God will have to be my judge. I dream of a church that is full, but every time we sing a reformed hymn, I am looking at faces that want to be elsewhere where the songs are recognizable and the atmosphere is familiar and informal. A few years ago a new family came with relatives to our church . They tried. I tried. We simply couldn’t keep them. I couldn’t be that mountain preacher. They couldn’t be those reformed Christians. There was a Charismatic church that suited them. It was a sad day when they left, particularly because they left me not with certainties, but with doubts.

“We long to see your churches full” wrote the hymnwriter. That is my desire, and as my time in ministry grows shorter, I want to see the Gospel loved and the Word of God hungered for among God’s people. I pray that I see a Reformation Day when there is evidence that the famine is lifting, and God’s Word is doing its work once more.


  1. About 2 years ago I had to go church hunting. The Pentecostal Church in my backyard hosts 3 services because their sanctuary is too small for one service. The kids at school told mine that the attendance is so high because the congregation loves the sermons and the pastor even tends to prolong his messages. I did not even visit the church, while I was church hunting, because it was too much of a change from what I was formerly used to. Yet my neighbour and I did wonder at the reason for the large attendance. You see they are tearing up green space behind our homes to pave over for parking needs for when they expand their sanctuary, to seat about 1200, such that they can go back to the one Sunday morning service again.

    The large attendance…. could it have something to do with the reason that the thousands flocked to Jesus and followed Him around? While the Pharisees had their proper way for worshipping God, they complained when the multitudes laid down their palm branches and worshipped Jesus in their work clothes, and in the streets at that. We, my neighbour and I, did consider that possibility. But we do not really know for sure.

    I settled with a Baptist church, that has a regular attendance of about 600 people, lively worship services, good preaching which I pay close attention to, and the usual works that goes into making a church a church. Not your normal regular everyday Baptist church, but probably the largest Baptist congregation in the area. Another large congregation is also Pentecostal, but the largest one, by far, in the area is a Bible Church with about 3000 regular attendees. The pastor at the Bible Church is renown for his preaching and can now even be heard on the internet.

    So what makes a church grow?? Is it the music?? Is it the preaching?? Is there a spiritual revival happening??

    When all is said and done, I love good sound reform Bible teaching, but will not choose a church only for its good Bible teaching.


  2. I attend a Pentecostal church. Our pastor has a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary; he’s not Reform (and neither am I), but he’s very much into biblical exegesis and teaching sola fide and sola scriptura. And he also believes in speaking in tongues.

    We’re likewise small.

    Most of this is because the congregation won’t get off their behinds and evangelize their neighbors, or even get to know them. He has to do this alone, or with a very few dedicated volunteers. The families are “too busy,” the local Christian college students have “too much homework,” and the elders have “too many responsibilities.” The mid-week prayer meeting usually consists of the pastor, the pianist, the sound guy, the PowerPoint operator (me) and four staff members who have to be there anyway.

    Is it any wonder that growth isn’t happening?

    I’m not saying that prayer is a formula that, when followed, produces a growing church. But there is a connection between doing what God told us to do, and God’s blessings. We aren’t evangelizing or praying. So we aren’t growing. All our doctrinal purity is doing for us is condemning us for not doing our job, because we know better. God honors our obedience much more than He honors our doctrine.

    So I’m discouraged about my church too… especially since I realize that it’s our own bloody fault.

  3. “The parking lot of the Pentecostal Church reminds me that I live in the midst of a famine of the Word of God. Like Luther’s time, the truth of the Gospel has been lost under the rubbish heap of mountain religion. The decline of a culture often catches the church asleep, and before you know it, the ability to even explain the Gospel is in perilous distress.”

    i agree with your premise partly.

    i would add this: is it possible that the decline in the Church is mirroring the decline in the culture of the West? something similar to what was happening to the Church around the fall of Rome?

    i have been thinking about this a lot and i think that this famine of the word is a sign of a larger issue. that being that the church in the west is in exile (think OT Israel in exile). maybe that is my covenant/reformed presup coming out – we the church are the branch added on to the people of God, the new covenant people.

    just as when the OT folks lost their sense of awe and wonder for God and sought after idols, we the church have done the same – we chase after fads, we have degraded our worship, and strangely, we have neglected the widow and orphan and chased after the idols of consumerism and relevance.

    i was a pastor once (uneducated) and in a small Presbyterian church (i wasn’t ordained due to my lacking an MDiv) and i saw our people leave for the flashier, fancier churches with more relevant, more “excited” services.

    so my heart goes out to you.

  4. Michael,

    You may be the first person who will be able to explain to me how a church’s STYLE of worship is affected by its REFORMED THEOLOGY. I’m asking this because I really want to know if I’m doing something wrong in my position as a student minister in a relatively large (900 attending) SBC church in the Nashville area. I consider myself a SOLID reformed Baptist in the mold of Spurgeon, Piper, etc., and am quick to present the gospel every Wednesday, teaching high school students expositionally. I’ve hired a worship leader to build relationships with a small groups of students and start a worship band (which he’s doing well), but made sure he was reformed as well before we brought him on. Worship with our students contrasts greatly with adult worship (“traditional with a twist” is how the pastor would describe it): video, small group discussions … but also not different: scripture readings, scriptural prayers, etc. We are careful to choose theologically sound choruses and hymns (though hymns are often rearranged to a new melody). My question: is this kind of worship not in alignment with my theology? Do I have to worship like I”m from the 1800’s just b/c my favorite preacher worshipped that way?

  5. John Haddon says

    I take much comfort in Isaiah 55:10-11,

    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
    so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

    I get discouraged to see folks like Joel Osteen drawing 30,000 with unbiblical, feel-good preaching while reverent, faithful men of God who are committed to the Word and the proclamation thereof can scarcely attract a handful of congregants. But, I must believe that even though the churches that teach and preach the Bible are nearly empty on Sunday mornings, God’s Word is still accomplishing that which God purposed, and it shall succeed in the thing for which he sent it. Although to our finite eyes, it appears that the Word is going forth and falling on empty pews, we can take comfort that ultimately, God will not allow it to return to him empty.

    Keep preaching the Word, brother!

  6. I might mention that I’ve hardly gone overboard in the liturgy department, but any conscious effort at liturgy is a lost cause. If Brother Billy Bob gets up and tells jokes, describes Aunt Sally’s stitches, comments on Friday night’s football game and otherwise acts the fool, it is acceptable liturgy. We have been specifically criticized by visitors for the Lord’s Prayer, Congregational Confession of sin, and of course, the evil that is the Apostle’s Creed.

    We have a lot of educated people in certain quarters of our county. But one of the worst of the No-Gospel/TBN strangeness churches has a large population of doctors. It’s a great discouragement to me.

    Another issue is that, down here, Presbyterian=gay marriage and gay ordination, and you can’t get past that. The shenanigans of the denomination (PCUSA) and the MSM’s coverage of those topics makes a huge difference in perception.

  7. RLT:

    I’m not sure what worship from the 1800’s looks like. It could be any number of things, all quite different. SPurgeon, for example, had the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day.

    I think Reformed Theology approaches worship with a Scriptural regulation in mind. THere are differing schools on that, but if you look at what Piper is doing, you are seeing one way. If you look at Redeemer Presbyterian, or any other good PCA church, you see a slightly differnt way. Dever’s church in DC is a good presentation of an SBC way of doing it.

    The gist is to judge all things by what scripture commands and prohibits, and to be cautious with other things. For instance, using a lot of scripture is obviously good, but how it’s used can be dynamic or dull. Making a liturgy dynamic- even dramatic- is part of being a Reformed worship leader.

    I would also think that looking at SBC worship with a critical eye is part of it. Things like the altar call don’t survive scriptural scrutinty. The entertainment flavor of a lot of music ministry. The flippant attitude of many ministers.

    I think the discussion gets into a lot of things like technology, etc. But it doesn’t have to be an “1800’s” matter. Really, I’d prefer to use the liturgy of Calvin (very very simple) or the early church. Remember that the Reformation crowd was usually all about simplicity.


    A piece on the regulative principle

  9. Michael,

    I ran across a quote that might interest you:

    On Adapting Worship to the Tastes of Culture

    “Jesus taught his disciples that God wants to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4: 23). A great deal can be said about the spirit of modern Christian worship, and we shall turn to it later. But here truth is at stake. It ought to be clear that we cannot have both syncretism and truth in worship. The two are mutually exclusive. Syncretism is a part of the twentieth-century mood, but truth is part of the nature of God. If we want our worship, or attempts at worship, to mean anything, we have to strive to conform it to the nature and will of God, and not to the mood or taste of the twentieth-century.

    In twentieth-century America, with its millions of well-intentioned but fuzzy-minded “good Christian people,” we rejoice—in certain circles, anyway—when church attendance rises, and are concerned when it declines. This is a mistake. Throughout our fair land, a good many of our churches are in the position of the Philistines’ temple at Ashdod. They are trying to worship two or more deities, which are not mutually compatible. The God of the Bible cannot coexist peacefully in the temple with a Dagon—-either Dagon will wind up in pieces, or God will leave, or both….

    It is often warned that the doctrinal foundations of Christianity are under severe and prolonged attack, and that we must rally to their protection. That is true. The neglect of doctrine is fatal. But even sound doctrine must be put into practice—that is its whole purpose—and from the nature of Christianity it must be put into practice in the worship of God. Until we recognize and act upon the principle of truth in worship, we are in danger of creating a new Ashdod instead of the New Jerusalem.” (Brown, Harold O. J., The Protest of a Troubled Protestant, Arlington House, 1969, pp. 31, 43.)

    Look at the date of the quote.

    We don’t need Reformation….we need Reformers!

    David Craig Kanz

  10. This is not, I’m afraid, a merely “mountain” phenomenon. And it’s not just a “charismatic/pentecostal” problem, although they typify the style of worship that abets this famine.

    I always hear about friends who spend months and months looking for churches that are well-grounded and preach the Gospel regularly. My alma mater’s IVCF staff worker and her husband spent *a year and a half* looking in central Ohio for a good church, and that was back in the mid-90’s!

    The appeal to emotion in church is not just a problem in your area. And perhaps there is not as much wrong with an appeal to emotion as uptight TR types might think. But what are they focusing their emotions on? On Christ and His Gospel, on the ways He communicates Himself to and with us – the Word and the Sacraments? Or is our emotional focus on how we feel about our love for God, how much we like and are affected by the music, or all the goodies He brings us? No matter how much emotion things like that generate, they are distractions from the real truths that need to be heard.

    What is needed is a clear, simple, proclamation of the Gospel, and a call to rediscover the paths the Church throughout history has trod – the Liturgy, the call to discipleship, the call to be faithful. God may, I pray, bless such faithfulness. Or He may not. At any event, we will have done what is required of us, and can rest in His promise of ultimate reward (Ezekiel 33).

    You’re doing the right thing. Stay the course.

  11. Michael:

    That lack of the gospel you talk about is not just a
    problem in your part of the country. I see it here
    in the northeast. It not only takes the form of the
    hyper-emotional charismatic style, but also comes in
    the form of mainline churches who’ve taken the
    “social gospel, there’s many paths to God, etc” approach.

    Maybe this is a just sign of the times.

    II Timothy 4:3 talks about people who
    “… gather around them teachers who will tell
    them what their itching ears want to hear.”

    (I often wonder if people through the ages
    have read this verse and said that it’s a
    sign of their time.)

    I’ve been reading your stuff for quite a while
    now. I get the impression that you do your
    best to seek the Lord’s will and walk closely
    with Him. It doesn’t sound to me like you’ve
    contributed to the famine. Stay the course.

  12. Maybe, nearly 500 years after Luther nailed his theses to the door, the Reformation is ending? Over the past 250 years, we’ve seen Protestantism spin in three main directions: to emotionalism and strange sects, to liberalism and cultural Christianity-only, and back to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The smartest of orthodox Protestants have been those who knowlingly admit tradition’s (obvious) role in shaping their beliefs and services. Literalism and other anti-traditon methods of exegesis only end in schism, liberalism or syncretism. Only certain “high church” Anglicans and some Lutherans have really been able to successfully hold their Protestantism with their sense of tradition. Many will leave to places where their ideas of solid Gospel-teaching, liturgy, etc. do not require such troubles of potential double-mindedness. There is little room for the truly Reformed, though. Where do you go? Rome, the East and even the traditional Anglicans are hostile to Calvin and his successors.

    People my age (including myself) are increasingly leaving the Protestant world. Why? It’s a wasteland and getting drier. The fight is lost in most places. This is probably not your reality, but it’s the reality from where I stand, having been raised entirely since the advent of this brave new world of Christianity-without-Christ. I am sounding a note that will probably be unpopular here, but I think it’s worth noting: what does the Reformation still offer?

  13. Evan M. Day says

    Speaking as a guy of 24 who’s trying to find a decent church that is both “Confessional and Catholic,” I can feel some the pain. Growing up Campbellite then Baptist, it’s quite a change and I feel like I’m stumbling along most of the time. I visited a small PCA Church that does have some young leadership, and some very good elements, but there were a few things I just couldn’t get over. The big one was that they only took communion once a month. I recall being so disappointed to find that out. You have the apostle’s creed or the nicene creed, responsive psalm reading in beautiful fashion, solid Biblical teaching and yet you’re only taking the sacrament once a month?

    I’ve been visiting an Anglican Province of America church in Indianapolis lately. They meet in a Moravian church. When I first showed up, nobody was under 50 that I could tell. In the past few months, we’ve had some other young people show up thanks to the power of internet, so far I’ve met two Douglas Wilson loving presbyterians, and a cradle raised Reformed Episcopal, and a few others from various backgrounds, all 20-30. It’s odd really, it’s like the whole baby boomer generation was raptured or something.

    I’ve noticed what seems to be a substantial young calvinist presence on the web, which I’ll admit may be deceiving. One problem may be that there’s a tendency of the Reformed to be rather anal, which I’m sure everyone here is aware of. When I read Augustine, I sense a humility there that I just don’t see in many of the Reformed people who claim him. We’re just too fragmented right now to mount an effective counter offensive on the moneychangers. I guess I’m a little more optimistic that things will all come together in the end, but that’s my nature.

  14. “People my age (including myself) are increasingly leaving the Protestant world. Why? It’s a wasteland and getting drier. The fight is lost in most places. This is probably not your reality, but it’s the reality from where I stand, having been raised entirely since the advent of this brave new world of Christianity-without-Christ.”

    I have to second that, as someone else in that age group. Practically every serious young Christian I know is on somewhat of a Rome-or-East-ward trajectory, if not quite there yet (of course, my social circle overlaps to some degree with Kyle’s, so that may not be surprising). I am sticking with Anglicanism’s via media at the moment since I do think the Protestant tradition has some things to offer, but with the Anglican experiment on the verge of utter ruin, I’m not sure how much longer that will remain an option.

  15. radioalarm says

    Today in my college chapel, I felt on the other side of this. Everyone was emotional, dancing, singing, and I felt so out of place because I didn’t find the words of the songs to be edifying, or particularly God-focussed.
    Throughout the message portion, I could help but think how cliche and un-Gospel centered it was.

    I realized today that the fight for the Gospel as supreme in church is an uphill battle. I, for one will walk up that hill with you. If I lived within 50 miles of your town, I think I’d go to your church.

  16. I must tke a moment to correct you about the late Kenneth Hagin. Whether you agree with some of his teachings or not, the fact is that he was very clearly NOT a Pentecostal holiness teacher. He was very solidly sola fide, teaching justification by faith alone in Christ’s finished work on the cross and sanctification by faith, not by works. However, like Reformed Christians, he too realized that true Christians would not want to sin, would repent and good works would be borne out of the Holy Spirit’s work in them. Most of the leading WOF teachers are also not Pentecostal holiness.
    You might be confusing the Third Wave Charismatics (read that Toronto,Peter Wagner, and especially Tenney, etc.). Many of them ARE holiness-people. Taht is you can lose-your-salvation-easily-so-you-better-do-stuff-to-retain-it theology. And of course, you must do what they say to reatinit…LOL. The old time holiness people were “Don’t Do These Things” people. The “new” holiness people are “keep feasts, fast and pray, seek God, do radical worship, etc. But voerall, terrible theology.

    By the way, your post made me sad. I am so sorry to see this. I am a Reformed Pentecostal/ (yes there are a few of us around and quite a few of us are bloggers on the blogroll, Reformed Charismatic Blogroll). Surprisingly, the two can meld.

  17. I did not say he was Pentecostal Holiness. I said his view of faith- “how to write your own ticket with God” i.e. Word-faith heresy- is common here.

    You may be the first person I’ve ever heard call Hagin doctrinally “solid.” How many discernment ministries have pointed out that Hagin was a mind-science teacher, a purveyer of the “Jesus reborn in hell” nonsense, and a prosperity teacher of the worst kind? If he was incidentally correct on some aspects of salvation, his errors outweigh anything else. D.R. McConnell’s book “A Different Gospel” exposes the Godfather of the TBN gnostics quite well.

    I appreciate the comment, but Hagin is a dangerous false teacher.

  18. Michael,
    I love your writing. I’m reformed (PCA), but I’ve been listening , reading and watching Catholic stuff for a few years. I have a real attraction to the Catholic church now and there’s a real battle going on in my mind/heart. I’m just wondering… how reformed pastors/teachers of your caliber can read and study the history of the Church and remain protestant?

  19. As a confessional Lutheran, I found much in common with your diagnosis. God willing, the prognosis will not be overly grim. I also gave you props from my site:

    In connection with this, if you’d like to use it, you’re invited to grab and display the (coveted) Aardie: The Golden Aardvark Award:


  20. My opinion:

    A. The “Gospel” presentation that you think is so vital is based on a paradigm from the past that no longer works. Do you really think there are still people in America that have not heard the “by faith alone” message in some form? It causes eyes to glaze over. It is based on a steady narrowing of the Reformation message, but the entire situation that spawned the Reformation is dead and gone. We are in a completely different cultural situation.

    2. The 1950’s style of worship with a hymnal and a piano is dead and gone. The only folks who like it are old people. And it wasn’t what the historical church did anyway.

    3. I think you have 2 choices. Go real high church and historical: chanting, liturgy, etc. something akin to E Orthodoxy. Or 2, go charismatic and modern. I think the old way is more mystical, attractive, and solid than the awful piano, or the modern wasteland.

    Read the Fathers, become more small c catholic. Forget trying to create Geneva or Westminster. Those models have failed and are withering away.

  21. I’d really love to respond to the above comment- which has some merit, btw- but I’m going to restrain myself because I tend to be a friend of the emergent church, and I don’t want the stereotypical rhetoric above to be misconstrued.

    If what we’re after is basically “trendy Charismatic worship” or paleo-orthodoxy for the sake of _______________, then where is the Bible? I mean, if I just wanted to escape being “boring,” I’d give up Christianity for secular entertainment with the occasional moral platitude.

    I thought this all had something to do with, like, that GOD dude.

  22. What in liturgy or charismatic worship is contra the Bible? I don’t think either form meliorates against the Bible anymore than dull old hymns embrace the Bible. Where in the Bible does it say to sing Wesleyan hymns?

  23. Joel….

    I don’t quite know why you are talking about style. The point is, of course, content. The content of hymns, choruses, litrugy etc must be the content of the Bible’s presentation of God of Jesus Christ revealed in the Gospel.

  24. First, where in the world does this wholly unbiblical notion that full churches equal success come from? The Jesus of the Gospels would predict that faithful preachers would encounter fewer willing hearers than precisely itching ears ready to have their personal musical tastes catered to through spiritually vapid music, and “good people” eager to get advice on how to save themselves by their own moral exertions.

    Is there anybody who hasn’t heard about salvation by grace, for Christ’s sake, though faith? Not the uestion. The question is how many understand their own need for it in a culture in which most preaching is a moralistic exercise in egocetric works righteousness. Instead of crushing people witht he Law, and so preparing the way for the Gospel, American folk religion flatters our fallen natures by teaching us how to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps.

    What is unbiblical about Pentecostal worship? Leaving aside the unbiblical notion that God has promised to reveal Himself apart from the external Word, there is the relentless focus on me, my feelings, my emotions, how much I love Jesus, and how much I am doing, or am going to do, this, that , or the other thing. Reformation worship centers on God, on His Word, and on what Christ has done.

    You can’t motivate people to do evangelism through guilt. Evangelism is about gratitude. But of course, the American “gospel” gives us precious little to be grateful for, being all about what I am supposed to do.

    Don’t lose heart because you’re encountering precisely the reaction Christ did, and predicted that His faithful followers would. A servant is not greater than his Master. In the Kingdom of God, success is counted in faithfulness, not numbers. Now, if the world were gobbling up everything you did or said and packing the pews on Sunday, then would be the time to worry.

  25. Michael,

    You have not addressed what I wrote about, and what Joel has hinted at: Is the Protestant Reformation still alive? Luther’s original complaints are nearly all non-issues as far as the RCC is concerned, now. And as the gap between “East” and “West” also has more bridges built, where does that leave Protestants? When if Rome takes back a portion of Anglicanism (which seems likely with the Traditonal Anglican Communion), what will that mean? Descendents of the Protestant Reformation will be able to say, “You can come back now, it’s fine.”

    Theologically, what really divides us all is soteriology. Old-school RCC soteriology (be a member in good standing or suffer eternal, etc., etc.) is dying off in that church, Greek soteriology is gaining respect in the West (a whole new vocabulary is being built and rebuilt!), Lutherans/Anglicans/RC/Orthodox are able to talk to each other, etc. Calvinism is really the “lone gunman,” here. And its numbers are shrinking. And if Calvin is wrong, there is no Reformed church- it is entirely based on the viability of that soteriology.

    The political/cultural/logistical conditions that allowed the first major schisms in Christianity are fading, and there people- young and old- who see hope for a newly unified Catholic Orthodoxy in Christianity. (Truly, this would be a great witness!) The Reformed ideal really is radically incommensurable with this, all because of the influence of one man and his followers against the majority of Nicene Christian thinkers. Is the Reformed church a sect? This is a difficult question for me to ask, some of the thinkers I most admire have been Reformed- though I have learned it has been largely non-standard Reform thinkers I have admired.

    As someone who has been reading your site for years and who respects you immensely, I really want to know your answer to these questions: What does Protestantism have left to fight for? and, what is the defense for the ‘peculiarity’ of the Reformed church?


    These are my two IM pieces on my own relationship to ROman catholicism.

    I’m not an apologist for Protestantism vs the RCC. If you’ve read my work, then you are aware that I don’t have any ax to grind with Catholicism and I’m not the person to draw into an RCC/Protestant debate.

  27. I’ve read those articles, and this still doesn’t answer my question, I’m not asking you to oppose the RCC or the Orthodox or anyone, I’m asking you, “What still distinguishes you from them?” I’m not trying to grind an axe with Protestantism, I’m asking- why do we still fight? If Reformed soteriology isn’t an absolute issue, much of this seems terribly futile, especitally in a time when pseudo-Christianity is rapidly taking over much of our culture. And if it is an important make-or-break issue, I really want to know why.

    I am saying: In light of the gaps closing, the Protestants spinning off into liberalism or pseudo-Christianity, and the healing of the ancient schism of East and West, why is it important to cling to the Reformation banner? You published this post on Reformation Day, and it was obviously not without reason. How is the Reformation still living and growing?

  28. k.b.—I guess I’m just too distracted by stuff going on in my life right now to be up for theological discussion. Sorry.

    The evolution of Protestantism is a pain. If I could be reborn and choose to be a Catholic, I would in a minute. I truly wish that would have been a choice for me. But I was born into Protestantism, with every man a pope and every man a Bible authority. I can’t defend it, because I am too much a part of it.

    THere may be no reason for Protestantism, but I’m 49 and I have made the existential choice to stay where I am, a little “c” catholic.

    Maybe someone else can be more helpful. Sorry again.

  29. I can understand this, because I’ve heard (and felt!) these sentiments before. I was raised a Kentucky Protestant, with mountain preachers in my family, and in the Church of God (Anderson). Some people would say that converting early in life makes it easier- but I cannot. The pain, the feelings of seperation, the familiy disapproval and sense of “letting people down” that I felt as I’ve journeyed from the CoG, through Anglicanism, and finally to the Eastern Orthodox Church nearly tore me to bits. If I came on as too hard, I repent, but I thought my questions were completely within the bounds of this discussion.

    I think, however, that I do understand a little better after this- which was what I wanted even more than your “answers” to some of the very questions that brought me to where I am, I suppose.


  30. If content is the issue: check out Sovereign Grace Ministries, (C.J. Mahaney). They have contemporary stuff with good content. Almost all liturgical stuff is strong on content.

    Whoever mentioned crushing people with the law needs to read N.T. Wright or anyone else from the last 30 years. That is part of the problem – people HAVE heard that message ad nauseum. It is in the DNA of America. We need the Nicene Creed.

  31. late comment but i’m a newcomer 🙂

    Michael – this reminds me of some work a friend of mine did while working on a missiology degree at Asbury. He’s from Costa Rica and did a thesis on indigenous folk religion there. It’s an amalgam of catholicism and indian/folk traditions. I bring this up because a similar evolution may be occuring in the mountains of E KY and elsewhere? Is the growth of a Pentacostal/ Holiness/ Charismatic religion a kind of indigenous folk religion?