Pushing the Envelope...

Why Revival Must Tarry!

It has become a trademark of recent conferences in the Philadelphia vicinity that those who organize them brag on how broad a range of theological thought is represented by their speakers and topics. It is more than generosity or an olive branch being extended to those who are at or beyond the frontiers of fundamentalism. It is a form of dangerous brinkmanship with the sole purpose of seeing how far they can reach beyond fundamentalism to the Neoevangelicals and Ecumenicals and still consider themselves within the fundamentalist camp. History will demonstrate that the so-called pushing the envelope” has always gravitated towards compromise and the selling out of sacred Biblical principles. There has never been, indeed, there never will be found among them, a press towards the marks of holiness and piety, except in a passing admiration of quaint Puritan figures and writings from long ago. It has ever been the lost soul of compromise to hunger for the good effects without honoring the true cause. As such, there is no foundation within such conferences and their attending personalities from which any Revival can spring, because there is far more arrogance and pride found amongst those who test the norms and limits than the necessary brokenness of heart and humility before God from where genuine revival fires can be kindled. Some of the Push can be seen in the contemporary worship movement, with all of its theatrical trappings and technology. According to an industry report for 2006, some 900 churches reported spending more than 500 million for projection equipment alone. In fact, similar reports show an expenditure of more than 4.6 billion for all kinds of audio and sound equipment over the past year. Even allowing for those who broadcast church services or have a significant ministries employing such equipment, there is still a considerable making merchandise of local church ministries that has driven them towards dazzling entertainment and amusing goats more than preaching and feeding sheep the whole counsel of God’s Word. Indeed, the sheep have been soundly fleeced by a whole new market now opened in the religious community that barely existed 30 years ago. It behooves us to follow the money trail to investigate where agencies, schools and local churches have redirected the sincere gifts of many for the advancement of the Gospel to raise monuments to the handiwork of men. Furthermore, these things beg the question whether such huge resources could be better invested for the spread of the Gospel? The “Push” can also be seen in the adoption of a social agenda above a Gospel outreach. Witness the recent controversy within the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) whose vice president for government affairs, Richard Cizik, has bought into the Global Warming pseudo-crisis as the paramount issue facing evangelicals today. The only noteworthy protest to his actions has been from within the Association, from Dr. James Dobson, whose only real concern is that there are many other social issues besides Global Warming that the NAE must address. The battles fought against the Social Gospel back in the 20th century have never really ended. The labels and names may have changed over the course of history, but the agenda has been consistently the same. It is the words of men above the Word of God. It is concern for the here and now above the concerns for the eternal destiny of men. It is a denial, therefore, of the cardinal doctrines of the Bible that must be defused by redefinition, cultural relevance, or limited to figurative speech, to escape their demands for total conformity and absolute obedience. More recently, the Push has also revealed evidence that the Ecumenical cause has been neither asleep nor derailed. For example, at the Evangelical Theological Society’s regional conference this March, outside Philadelphia, major presentations were made on behalf of the Emerging Church movement. A main speaker, Dr. Allen Roxburgh, who is vice-president of Allelon (www.allelon.org) spoke of the progress his organization has made over the past year to gather together 24 Seminaries to discuss their mutual interests and desires to be part of the Emerging Church movement (www.allelon.org/projects/schools_participants.cfm). The organization has deep pockets, an attraction to any college or seminary, but the eager interest from the schools in this movement marks their readiness to take the next logical steps in their evolution through Neoevangelicalism and Evangelicalism to Ecumenicism. It is the only reasonable expectation of what happens when you perpetually “push the envelope” of theological tolerance and unprincipled reasonableness. Besides the schools listed on Allelon's website, Westminster Theological Seminary asked to be included in the meetings held last year and was welcomed with open arms. Biblical Seminary of Hatfield PA was the host for this ETS conference and has reportedly written off its “old guard” professors, founders and alumni in anticipation of attracting a broader clientele among its students and more widespread financial support. You can read President Dunbar’s “vision” for the missional church on their website (www.biblical.edu/index.asp). Biblical is one of the schools listed by Allelon as interested in the Emerging Church movement . The list is broad, including Lutheran, Nazarene, schools as well as Grand Rapids Seminary. Overall, the list also reveals that the Emerging Church movement has already made significant inroads into the Presbyterian Churches of America (PCA). No one should really be surprised, if you had followed it through its successive steps of compromise (i.e. “pushing the envelope”) over the past 20 years. Which brings us to Chuck Swindoll, who has pushed the envelope by employing street language so much in his radio ministry, Insight for Living, that at least one radio station has dropped his program because the crude language and references became more offensive than could be tolerated. Lest you think it was an honest mistake, or that it was an isolated incident, consider his wife’s defense, excerpted from a letter Cynthia Swindoll wrote July 11, 2002: ..Chuck feels that we must be real, in order to meet real people in their real world. In other words, if people won't come to the sanctuary because ‘it's not relevant to my life these days,' then we must make it relevant by delivering a message with which they can identify. Whether they live in the mansion on the hill or the inner city, the message must be capable of reaching BOTH or it misses the very souls who have the greatest needs... To those who still feel the need to press the limits of toleration and appeasement, may we state clearly that the Clintonesque bad boy personality has no place in the work of the Lord. It may play well in politics, but it needs to be kept out of the churches and schools at all costs. Unless, of course, you consider politics and the pursuit of wealth and power as a legitimate pushing of the envelope in the Church. There is no spirit of revival in the worldly church, neither can there be revival where God's Holiness has been recast in the mold and image more like Hollywood than Jesus Christ. There is no excuse for pushing the envelope unless you measure success by the Biblical principles trampled under foot, while leaving a glittering but empty heritage to the following generation. As Baptists, ours is a rich heritage worthy of being passed on to succeeding generations, but we dare not hand them less than that which we have received and hand them a serpent for a fish or a stone for a loaf of bread. Some of our younger brethren seem ill equipped to tell the difference, and churches always pay the price for the lack of discernment amongst church leadership. In time, the monuments of an envelope pushing generation will only mark the failures of men who have tried to immortalize themselves by gaining the world, but losing the souls of men. In the end, pushing the envelope will leave us with little more than a very nice looking bag full of holes.

Dr. Charles L. Dear