Friday, March 28, 2014

What Lessons Can Be Learned From World Vision's Flip-Flop?

One must wonder – and indeed many have – What were they thinking?

If they really did care about the Bible’s authority, how did they come to their conclusion in the first place? Such a basic understanding of sexuality and life is understood by the most immature of Christians…or so we thought.

First Lesson Learned: Conviction Is Needed Because Conviction Is Steadfast

If any one person does not have an unwavering commitment to the inspired, inerrant and sufficient Word of God, the conviction of almost anything will be subject to decay and evolution, if not entirely sucked out of you over time. This cannot be understated.

When speaking of the one faith in the one true and living God, Isaiah said, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (7:9).

Or in Psalm 119 we read, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (160). The eternality of the Word of God must be so if God Himself is eternal. If we really believe that God is eternal and immutable (unchangeable) then we have to concede that so are His instructions and laws.

A conviction of these truths will not wax and wane with the shifting sands of cultural trends because they are founded and grounded on the solid rock of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel. They are steadfast. The consistency of Scripture shines brighter as the world moves away from biblical morality.

The Apostle Paul told his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child […] wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:17-19).

Paul also wrote to the faithful church in Thessalonica, “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:4-5).

As my pastor once said, “A belief is something you hold; a conviction is something that holds you.”

When you truly have a conviction from the Word of God, you will not so easily be swayed by popular opinion and you will say with the Psalmist, “I shall have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your Word (119:42) and “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love (119:46-47).

Second Lesson Learned: Christian Theology Cannot Be Separated From Christian Operation

In Christianity Today’s article, “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages”, they shared that World Vision decides “to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.”

The President, Richard Stearns, said, “We’re an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church.”

This is one of the most pressing lessons we can get from all of this. This has become the tendency among many evangelicals. It is the hopeful step of neutrality that many Christians seem to think they can take without compromising their faith. In reality, it’s a cop out to making up your mind. There tends to be this idea that since feeding the poor (or other socially helpful ventures) is highly looked upon in the eyes of the world and of God, that both of these parties will then be able to overlook any matters of compromise in other areas like, in this case, biblical sexuality.

Suddenly, altruism becomes the new evangelism, but with an emphasis on the works of the altruistic individual, rather than the salvation of the hungry. It is all well and good to feed the poor, but if you do not share the Gospel with them, then they could still be heading to Hell with a blanket and a bowl of food. The real mission of the Christian Church is to provide temporal and eternal needs. The temporal needs help now, but the eternal need of salvation from sin lasts forever. Lots of people will like us for giving away free things to needy people, but we can’t consider that as an approval of the Gospel, as if we are fulfilling the Great Commission.

This may be an easy temptation to fall into when you are running Christian organizations, but with a personal conviction on biblical theology comes a proper application of biblical theology. Think about it from a personal and individual perspective. Can you merely be an Operational Christian and not a theological one? Of course not.

When you start drawing lines in places like these you end up in a precarious situation, which is exactly what happened with World Vision. In Christianity Today’s first article, they clearly stated where they were drawing their authority from: “This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues.”

As Dr. Al Mohler said in his first response on his blog, “These arguments are pathetically inadequate.”

He goes on to say, “The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.”

A Christian is, by nature, theologically informed. To do anything in the name of Christ while surrendering some type of personal responsibility to sound doctrine is delusional.

Is this harsh? Ask the Apostle Paul who directly linked a biblical view of sexuality with sound doctrine and sexual immorality, including homosexuality, as contrary to it (1 Tim. 1:9-10). Later in chapter six, Paul says that those who do not teach sound doctrine “understand nothing” and are “depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (6:3-4).

Finally, Paul stresses to Titus the importance of rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine, holding firm to the trustworthy word (1:9).

Third Lesson Learned: Flip-Flopping Reduces Trust

If World Vision had a firm conviction on representing Christ and upholding the authority of Scripture rather than the authority of “churches”, then this matter of the biblical view of sexuality would not have been an issue whatsoever in the first place. They didn’t hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so they contradicted sound doctrine by considering committed sexually immoral people as being right with God:

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues […] We are absolutely resolute about every employee being followers of Jesus Christ. We are not wavering on that” (emphasis mine).

This reveals the fundamental flaw in their real world-view. This is no accidental slip-up of semantics, or Biblical interpretation. They are making a theological statement by saying committed sinners can be Christians. Never mind what the Apostle John said: “No one who lives in God keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen God or known God” (1 Jn. 3:6).

Again, their deprivation of the truth shines forth.

Now, as we have seen, World Vision has recanted of their plan for the new policy change after threats of support withdrawal and backlash from the Christian community as to their capitulation from sound doctrine. Is it legitimate?

I don’t believe a true Christian leader committed to God’s word would ever have made this mistake. These men are old enough and mature enough to know this simple, basic truth.  It would be like changing their policy to say that “not all employees must believe in the resurrection of Christ because whether or not you believe that has no bearing on saving faith” and then two days later saying, “Oops, we didn’t realize that was usurping Biblical authority. We’re so thankful people pointed that out to us.”

Can there be true repentance? Absolutely and I hope so! Unfortunately, the damage has already been done with their reputation. They have already and legitimately cast doubt on their whole view of Scripture and the sudden withdrawal does not necessarily prove any spiritual change of heart has taken place.

This can be proven from Scripture, for there are two types of grief when confronted with sin according to 2 Cor. 7:10: 1) Godly grief that produces repentance, and 2) worldly grief that produces death.

One will feel bad for dishonoring God with sin, the other will feel bad for getting caught.

This is where we must continue to pray, in that this company makes it clear who their captain is, men or Christ? Do I seem skeptical? I admit, I am a little.

The reason is because of some of the bold statements already outlined, but there are a few more. How can such clearly articulated statements be said in the first place?

“Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We've got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity."
“This is also not about compromising the authority of Scripture . . . . People can say, ‘Scripture is very clear on this issue,’ and my answer is, ‘Well ask all the theologians and denominations that disagree with that statement.’”


"I hope it's a statement that says when Christ left, he gave us the Great Commission [to make disciples] and the Great Commandment [to love others as ourselves], and we're trying to do just that," said Stearns. "Bridging the differences we have, and coming together in our unity."


"I'm hoping this may inspire unity among others as well," he concluded. "To say how can we come together across some differences and still join together as brothers and sisters in Christ in our common mission of building the kingdom."


"I think we've got a very persuasive series of reasons for why we're doing this, and it's my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand it, and will agree with our exhortation to unite around what unites us. But we do know this is an emotional issue in the American church. I'm hoping not to lose supporters over the change. We're hoping that they understand that what we've done is focused on church unity and our mission."


The agenda is clear and it is theological – as much as they deny it. Gay marriage is merely an “emotional issue” that is “tearing apart the church” and they want to make the statement that people should unite together “in love” as “brothers and sisters in Christ”, gay or straight, based on their desire for unity and on the authority of liberal churches.

In a best case scenario, the leaders of World Vision lack even a moderate understanding of the implications of the Bible. The most frightening aspect is that they would consider people who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to still be allowed to commit to a sexually immoral lifestyle.

What this means is that when polygamy is the next hot topic, they will be forced to apply their same logic based on their perception of “unity in the church”. Perhaps, as long as a man and his three wives are all professing believers in Jesus Christ and they are all faithful to each other (yes, all four of them) then they would be granted employment as a Christian – of course without World Vision actually endorsing polygamy.

Stearns: “It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," he said.  "This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support."

Though the caveat in his statement that we may be reading into it too much is included, the very statements that Christians can live homosexual lifestyles and commit themselves in marriage as such reveals such a bankrupt understanding of Christianity that the implications to how wide reaching their world view may be and how that will affect their future decisions is cause for legitimate concern.

When a spouse cheats in their marriage, we would be suspect to an apology that included statements like: “I failed to seek enough counsel before I decided to cheat”, or, “I am broken hearted over the pain I have caused my spouse who saw this as a reversal of my strong commitment to my marriage.”

Again, World Vision believes many things that may be true, however with no conviction the future is depressingly unreliable.

Fourth and Final Lesson Learned: This Is Not About Ranking Sin

What tends to happen in a situation like this is that the sin in question gets so much attention that people will often banter about how other sins aren’t highlighted as much, so why bother with homosexuality? Are we ranking sin?

This is not about ranking sin. It is about Biblical fidelity. If someone is a professing believer in Christ, or an organization is a professing Christ-centered organization, then they have just accepted the standard that God has laid out in His Word. If the sociopolitical topic of the day was drunkenness, or disrespecting parents, then there would be much more time spent in Biblical exposition around that, but that’s not the buzz-word of our day. The world is pushing an agenda to normalize homosexuality, so the Scriptures will shine brighter on these areas that are being challenged.

It is not as if the Church started a revolution to prove a point on sexuality that was already largely accepted as morally agreeable in the world. No, as the demand for accepting homosexuality as “good”, rather than sinful, was increasing, so did the witness of Scripture on the subject. It is what it is. What would anyone expect?

When Paul wrote what he did in his letters to various churches on the topic, homosexuality was more rampant then, than it has ever been in America until today. This blows the cultural argument out of the water for anyone who says that the Bible is outdated. Only people who don’t know the real contextual and historical scenarios in the Bible would say that, so it is largely due to ignorance, but this is why a faithful representation of Scripture is so important. What was written then is still just as binding for us today.

My prayer for World Vision is that this rocks them so much that their personal convictions are awakened by the Holy Spirit to flow through the organizational convictions. I pray that they aren’t subjecting themselves to churches that have no conviction. I pray that the Bible is taken more seriously and personally, so that they will not consider it as separate from their business.

They will no doubt receive much negativity from the world for almost supporting them and then not, so this will not be an easy ride for them and may be what the Lord uses to shine the light brighter on purity in our country.

My prayer is that the leaders of World Vision don’t just feel a grief that is temporary and leads to death, but is a Godly grief that produces real repentance to salvation if it wasn’t there. How can we tell the difference?

“See what earnestness this Godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.” -2 Cor. 7:11-13

Why did Paul write his former corrective letter (1st Corinthians)?

Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief […]” (vvs. 8-9).

May it be so with World Vision.

In His Sovereign Grip,


Monday, March 24, 2014

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Cannot Create a "Worship Atmosphere"

The title to this post deserves some explanation. Better yet, clarification.

Undoubtedly, we have all heard the term “worship atmosphere” or “worship environment” used when making decisions as to how the lights should be set or what style of music should be played and then how loud. All of these decisions must be made, but it is important to consider them separate from that of what worship actually is. This is my main thrust in all of these worship leading posts – remembering the real meaning of worship and who worshipers are when throwing the word around for so many other things.

In case you missed Part 1, find it here: What a Worshipper Actually Is
While it is practically necessary to consider the options for lighting and what the music will sound like, I think it would do the Church some good to stop speaking about those decisions as if they will actually create some sort of tangible worship experience. To be more blunt, I think the thrust behind most music in churches today is to create an experience, rather than drive the minds and hearts and voices of men and women of God, to God. If the stress and mission of churches were to do the latter, then they would be talking much more about the lyrics in the songs, than the lighting in the sanctuary.

When we are making decisions on lighting (a very first-world issue) then we should be thinking practically about the greater good. Can all people see where they are going? Don’t forget that grandma and grandpa sometimes need all the help they can get to stay vertical. Don’t make it difficult for them for the sake of some preconceived notion that you are enhancing the quality or quantity of true worship(ers) with every decrease of wattage. We ought to be willing to give up our rights and freedoms for the sake of others. We would not suffer from it and we would only be benefiting others by it.

To think that we can actually make an environment more “worshipful” is a fallacy that our Lord made very clear when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. You see, when Jesus said that the time came for when God the Father was seeking true worshipers to worship in spirit and truth, He was saying this to directly and clearly correct the woman’s false view of worship, which was based on a notion that worship happened only at a physical place.

She said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (4:20).

In this passage, from verse 20 through 24, the word for worship is always proskuneo. In total, it is used about eight times. This word is where we get the word prostrate from. It means to bow, or kneel. It is a sign of reverence and showing someone honor and worth.

The woman said that their Samaritan fathers went to Mount Gerizim to physically bow down to God but that the Jews did the same thing in Jerusalem at their Temple.

It was at this point that Jesus said that the true worshipers (proskunetes) would proskuneo the Father in spirit and in truth. They could not just physically bow the knee and consider their act as sufficient in itself just because they showed up at the prescribed place. The true worshipers will show this reverence, honor and worth of God in their hearts, so that they will not be numbered with those who Isaiah said had mouths that drew near and lips that fronted honor, but their hearts were far from Him (Is. 29:13).

Where are the lights in this conversation? Was the time of day specified? The place? The frequency?

When something fills your heart and your mind and your soul and your strength, then it is indicative to what you worship. True worship means there is true reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28) and value ascribed to the true God defined in the Scriptures. To look again at John 4, Jesus also made clear that the Jews worshiped what they knew, at least, but the Samaritans worshiped what they did not know. That is unacceptable worship. This is why Jesus said that the true worshipers will worship in truth.

Your love and adoration of God can only be informed by God’s Word. The more you eat this eternal food, the more your heart will be full of it and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak, yes even sing (Lk. 6:45)!

This is why the lyrics in our music must also be based on truth. The lyrics are paramount! It unnerves me how little thought the lyrics are sometimes given when music is written and then selected. How many times do we hear a song and love it for the music more than for the theology? Admittedly, right theology put to really good music is one of the best compilations of all time. Bad theology put to good music is deceptive and heretical. Good theology put to bad music is a disservice to God and mockery of the theology. But accurate biblical theology put to good music – music that is easy to sing to and has a connotation of joy, is one of the sweetest gifts that God has given us to give back to Him over and over again. Our music must be based on truth – the truth of God’s written Word.

It is important to remember the fundamental definition of true worship so that we don’t con ourselves into thinking we can create an environment that can somehow stimulate it. The only thing that can stimulate true worship is the Word of God. It convicts us of sin and drives us to worship (1 Cor. 14:24). It humbles us and drives us to worship (Matt. 14:32). It gives us hope and drives us to ascribe praise and to worship (Ps. 119:7).

Only the people that come into our church building each week who have been feasting on the Word of God, the Bread of Life, will be the ones able to offer up true worship in song – even if the lights are turned all the way up! Perhaps there will be ones who walk in and though they couldn’t care less about the first couple of songs, they are convicted of sin through the means of the preaching of the Word of God and the next song sung is one that has never been sweeter in the mouth of that believer, or the ears of his God because it is finally out of a contrite and repentant heart.

There is nothing wrong with dimming lights, per se, but it can become wrong when we think we are producing more worshipers that way. Practically, people feel more comfortable singing in the dark. I can empathize with that. I’ve been there, but let me gently prod…  While it is indeed easier, is that a good thing to encourage? Shall we keep our light under a basket (Matt. 5:15) in our very own worship center?

In all corners of the globe, people are suffering real persecution and death for their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and only hope for salvation from sin and death. These people will whisper hymns with each other in a tight circle, hoping they are not caught and killed for it. These people will have bombs thrown through their windows of their meeting places and will lose their loved ones, but will continue living and serving the living and deserving God. These people worship God in spirit – the right heart – and truth – the Word of God.

May we do the same each and every week and not get caught up in the way our church looks, but in the way our church worships – in spirit and in truth.

In His Sovereign Grip,