Hey, Calvary Fremont –
Could we be living in the days of the Protestant Deformation? What do I mean? The Protestant Reformation had its definitive beginning in April of 1521when Martin Luther stood before Emperor Charles V to defend his writings and teachings. After being called upon to renounce his teachings that were at odds with the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a monk) he said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
The spirit of the Protestant Reformation is mirrored in this quote from Haddon Robinson found in “The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching.” He writes, “…the authority for the sermon does not lie with the preacher, but in the text.” Both Luther and Robinson call us to recognize the authority of the Word of God over against the words of men. If the Protestant Reformation had its birth in the authority of God’s Word, the Protestant Deformation has its birth in considering the authority of man to be greater than that of God’s Word.
Unfolding today in the life of the Evangelical Church is not a Hard Liberalism where theologians undermine the authority of the Bible by questioning its truthfulness and accuracy. What is unfolding today in the life of the Evangelical Church is a Soft Liberalism where the authority of God’s Word is undermined by people elevating their pastors and leaders above the Word of God. Why do churches tolerate sexually impure pastors? Why do church boards not fire pastors they know to be morally compromised? Why do some men have huge followings among professed Christians when their moral failings have been in the news for a long time? Though God’s Word declares that these men have been disqualified for ministry (at least for a season), why do many in the Church ignore this and continue to prop up morally compromised ministry? There are at least three reasons I can think of – and maybe you can think of more. Why is the Evangelical Church drifting towards Deformation?
We live in the Age of Biblical Illiteracy. Some pastor friends and I were lamenting this very thing last week at a meeting we had. We are Calvary Chapel – we teach the Bible verse by verse and when we’re done with the book of Revelation, we go back and do the whole thing again. We love the Bible and are exhorted to read our Bibles daily. Yet I am constantly amazed, as are my pastor friends, at the extensive Biblical illiteracy in the family of churches we serve and Evangelical Christianity at large. Biblical ignorance sets us up for the next dynamic of deformation.
We live in The Age of the Expert. I have to go to an expert for my medical care, dental care, car maintenance, etc. Since there is so much I don’t know, I have to yield to the expertise of the scientist, the doctor, the mechanic, the historian, the philosopher, the theologian, the pundit, etc. Since I don’t know what my Bible means, and my pastor or favorite teacher studies hard, I defer to him. I let him tell me what the Bible means – he’s the expert.
We live in The Age of the Celebrity. We love our rock stars, whether they have a guitar strapped around their neck or they’re carrying a Bible in their hands. We look around and see all the adoring, upturned faces in rapturous wonder and say to ourselves, “Yeah, something’s going on here.” Charisma and fans and popularity and social media exposure are powerful persuaders and create an aura of authority. How can this many people be wrong? I feel good in the presence of the celebrity and the community gathered around him. To go against the celebrity is to invite the wrath of the crowd – and who wants that?
Through the Age of Biblical Illiteracy, The Age of the Expert, and the Age of the Celebrity a Soft Liberalism has been creeping into the Evangelical Church undermining the authority of God’s Word and investing more and more authority in man. This Deformation can undo the Reformation if allowed to fester and spread. Here’s the fear: If moral failure disqualifies the leaders, I’ll be left without my experts and celebrities. I must support my leaders even when they are living in gross sin. A Deformation is the strategy of Satan against the Church. Balaam couldn’t curse Israel and so he taught Balak to draw them into moral failure. It worked! God in His holiness moved against His flawed, fallen, and failing people.
What should I do? Know your Bible – don’t be Biblically illiterate. Be led by the Word of God. If the church you are in sets aside the truth of Scripture in order to follow a man – leave that church. Don’t allow your conscience to be co-opted by an expert. Don’t allow your conscience to be lulled to sleep by a celebrity. Investing more authority in a pastor than in the Biblical text is part of today’s pastoral crisis and a symptom of the Protestant Deformation. The Protestant Reformation began by recognizing the greater authority of text over that of the Church. The Protestant Deformation reverses this.
Be part of the continuing Reformation of the Church and not its Deformation. Some who are reading this are in a crisis of conscience about the church they’re attending. Examine your church by the criteria spelled out earlier in this post. Are they playing fast-and-loose with the moral teachings of Scripture? Are they expecting you to yield to the deeper knowledge of the expert? Are they violating your conscience by an appeal to celebrity status? The appeal to God’s blessing and ministry success are part of this coercion. Follow the example of Luther and the advice of Robinson and recognize that the text of Scripture has greater authority than any man or group of men. Whether one has been a pastor for 40 years and has tons of experience or one has a PhD with tons of education – the Word of God has greater authority.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim