I have never been preoccupied with Biblical prophecy of the end times, as some Christians have been.
I don’t look for sinister combinations of European countries, nor do I assess each famous political person as to whether he might be the anti-Christ. I do not recall ever preaching a series on prophecy or the end times since I usually preached through books. Even when I preached through Revelation, I shied away from timetables and confident predictions of actual events, and instead focused on what this great letter revealed about God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Although I live with the expectancy that the Lord might return at any time, as all Christians should, I have never sat on top of a hill to wait. Yet, with the events taking place in the Middle East, I cannot help but believe that our time is short. Pain, power, and perplexity in the Middle East swell like a rapidly rising tide and seem to be greater than any other time in history. Fulfillments of prophecy cluster in the shadows, waiting only for the coming of Christ for His bride, the church. Most troubling of all, prophecies about the apostasy of the church appear to be close to realization. Paul warns Timothy that the last days will bring perilous times with them. The chronicle of symptoms he shares sounds like an accurate diagnosis of our age. In 2 Tim 3:2-4 (NASB) we read,
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .
Paul could not give Timothy a more accurate description of today’s world. After charging Timothy to “Preach the Word,” he warns him that hearers will not receive his message warmly. Paul tells him in 2 Tim 4:3-5:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
Again, it almost seems as if doctrine is a dirty word in the church today. According to 2 Peter 3:3-5 (NASB),
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.
These are enough passages to remind us that our world mirrors the troubling passages in the Bible concerning apostasy. Will we be prepared to handle apostasy when it comes? Some of our own evangelical leaders seem perilously close to drifting away. I make no judgment about him, but the hermeneutics George Barna uses in his latest book, Revolution, astounds me. He actually holds that the Bible does not teach the importance of the local church, but only teaches about the universal church. He says groups of committed Christians do not need the local church and he very favorably commends the trend he has detected.
Andy Stanley believes, as reflected in a recent interview in Leadership Journal, that we should stop thinking of pastors as shepherds. He has never seen a shepherd and has no clue what they do. He would much prefer to think of a pastor as an executive. So much for the Lord being our good Shepherd!
And so it goes. Pastors today experience a subtle version of Chinese water torture. There is the drip-drip-drip of the washing away and diluting of Biblical teaching until nothing is left. We wonder who holds to Biblical teaching. Certainly many of the Christian celebrities seem to be leading us in the wrong direction. Some of our people, fortunately few in churches served by Village Missions, prefer to be entertained rather than instructed from God’s Word.
I would suggest two responses.
First, we simply need to persevere, despite the frustration and discouragement. Would we want our hands to be off the plow if our Lord returns? Do we have the right to give up because most only want their ears tickled? The Lord told Jeremiah his listeners would fight against him. The Lord promises Jeremiah that they will not overcome him. Isn’t that a promise for us as well?
If we are in the end times, is it reasonable to expect great popularity and success? Why give up when the Lord might be just around the corner? Shouldn’t the fulfillment of prophecies about apostasy steel us and not weaken us?
Second, we need to deepen our commitment to ministry that reaches the lost and builds disciples. Some of what we do in the church seems to be wasted effort or trivial, especially if we are in the last days. We should be especially devoted to clear expositional preaching that calls for a response. We must respond as well, for we will need a strong, steady walk with the Lord if all around us are falling off the path. Using wise leadership, we must evaluate what we are doing in terms of eternal results. We should be even more earnest about our church becoming a Biblically effective congregation.
If we respond in these two ways, we will be as ready as we can be for the end times. Moreover, if the end times are not around the corner, we still will glorify the Lord by persevering and deepening our commitment to ministry.
George Barna, Revolution, (Wheaton, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2005) Some quotes: “The key to understanding Revolutionaries is not what church they attend, or even if they attend. Instead, its their complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in the light of biblical principles.” (p. 8) “Being in a right relationship with God and His people is what matters. Scripture teaches us that devoting your life to loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul is what honors Him. Being a part of a local church may facilitate that. Or it might not.” (p. 37) “Again, one artifact of the mini-movement phenomenon has been that millions of people who are growing as Christians and passionate about their faith have come to recognize that the local church is not—and need not be—the epicenter of their spiritual adventure.” (p. 58) “So if you are a Revolutionary, it is because you have sensed and responded to God’s calling to be such an imitator of Christ. It is not the church’s responsibility to make you into this mold.” (p. 70) “If you mention that millions of deeply devout Christians whose lives are centered on knowing, loving, and serving God live independently of a local church, you can count on criticism from the church establishment.” (p. 112) “The Bible does not tell us that worship must happen in a church sanctuary and therefore we must be actively associated with a local church.” (p.114) “True Revolutionaries agree that being isolated from other believers—i.e., the Church (note the capital C)—is unbiblical. However, while they may not be integrated into a formal church congregation, they are not isolated from the Church. They may not belong to a specific collection of saints that engages in routines and customs at a particular location and under the leadership of a specific individual or group. However, neither are they spiritual untouchables who have no connection to the global Church.” (p. 116) “In the great awakenings of America’s history, the pattern was always the same: draw people into the local church for teaching and other experiences. In this new movement of God, the approach is the opposite: it entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God.” (p. 127)
My response: As I said, his hermeneutics takes my breath away. He ignores the fact that almost every NT letter was written to a local church. How could church discipline be conducted in these loose affiliations? Would elders and deacons be selected? How about the preaching of the Word? Barna makes some good points about the church not producing committed Christians, but, mercy, how can he say that the NT does not teach the importance of the local church?
Leadership Spring 2006 Vol. XXVII Number 2 Interviewed by Marshall Shelley and Eric Reed, Stanley was asked, “Should we stop talking about pastors as ‘shepherds?’” Stanley replied, “Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds, because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, ‘Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,’ no. I never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant anymore. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a facet of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.”
Stanley was then asked, “Isn’t shepherd the biblical word for pastor?” He replied, “It’s the first-century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to ‘feed my sheep,’ but he didn’t say to the rest of them, ‘Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.’ By the time of the Book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.”
My response: Stanley criticizes “shepherd” as being culturally outmoded, but then he uses two terms, “elder” and “deacon” that are equally outmoded. What kind of view of the inerrancy of Scripture is this? When God directed the writing of His Word and the use of figures of speech such as “shepherd” did He not anticipate our culture? Isn’t it our duty as a faithful student of His Word to understand the term “shepherd?” Nathan and Molly Sahlberg, Village Missionaries, sent me an adaptation of Psalm 23 in light of our current difficulty in understanding the term “shepherd.” I love it!
“After reading Brian’s letter in the recent VM mailing, we were saddened that Andy Stanley thinks that pastor’s should be thought of as “executives” instead of shepherds. After thinking about this awhile, Nathan and I took this “executive model” of leadership a bit further and thought we’d see how well it worked if it was applied to the 23rd Psalm. Hmmmm, just doesn’t seem QUITE as comforting as “The Lord is My Shepherd.” But, all in fun. . .we had fun being creative.”
Nathan and Molly Sahlberg An Adaptation of the 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century American Ecclesiastic Executive (Formerly Pastor) “The Lord is my CEO, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in greenbacks. He leads me beside Starbucks. He restores my 401k. He guides me in the paths of power management practices for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of corporate tax law and shareholder meetings, I fear not declining stock values, for thou art with me; Thy cell phone and Thy Blackberry they comfort me. Thou dost prepare a buyout before me in the presence of my competitors. Thou hast anointed my head with monopolies. My stock options overflow. Surely wealth and prosperity will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in a mansion in Palm Springs when I retire.”