10 Contemporary Sacred Cows That Need Tipping

My grammar school days were lived out in a plush Philadelphia suburb.  My first taste of culture shock came just before I entered high school, when my family made a cross country move and settled into a cul-de-sac home in a nice new development in a then-more-rural area outside Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  It was in Oklahoma that I had my first exposure to the game of cow tipping.

Now, I confess, while I have gone cow tipping I have never actually seen a cow tipped.   I know several who claim to have tipped their share of beef, but I myself have never accomplished this feat, nor have I ever actually seen it done.  It is because of this that I come to accept the prevailing notion that you cannot actually tip a cow – sleeping or otherwise.  (See Snopes.com: here and here.)   But the fact that one cannot actually tip a cow does not diminish my enthusiasm for joining Jared Moore in the cow tipping venture he wants to get up.

Jared is a Baptist pastor in Kentucky.  A few weeks ago on his blog, ExaltChrist,  Jared declared that there are a few cows he wants to tip – Sacred Cows.

What is somewhat unusual about the cows Jared wants to tip is their age.  They are not old. Usually sacred cows are  marked by traditions that have no Biblical warrant but have yet been around for a long time.  No doubt there are many such old bovines in the church that need to be toppled.   But the sacred cows Jared wants to tip are not old but young – new practices that are embraced by folks who seem to want to be on the cutting edge of church growth.  And like Jared, I’d like to see these young heifers upended.

Here are the names of the 10 Contemporary Sacred Cows Jared wants to tip, and his his explanations:

1. Entertainment-based Sermons
Pastors/elders/teachers want to be liked. Some want to be liked so much that they’re willing to entertain their hearers while preaching the Bible. They wrongly assume that because people enjoy their sermons, they enjoy Jesus as well. The problem is that if we’re seeking to entertain our hearers, then we don’t believe God or Scripture can hold the attention of God’s people. In other words, you may say “the Bible is worthy of your attention,” but if you’re using entertainment to communicate this, then you’re undercutting your message with your methods. If the Bible is worthy to be heard because God is its Author, then you shouldn’t have to use entertainment to get Christians to listen to it. You just might be entertaining your hearers to death.
2. Bribing People to Attend Church
Easter Sunday was just a few weeks ago. With the heightened cultural interest in the resurrection of Christ, churches pulled out all the stops to persuade attendees. Churches gave away cars, money, ipads, food, etc. Should churches bribe sinners to attend worship services? Here are four realities about bribing sinners: 1) Bribing people to hear the gospel is absent from Scripture. 2) Bribing people to attend a worship service encourages them to attend worship for sinful reasons. 3) Bribing people to attend a worship service communicates the opposite of the gospel. 4) Bribing people to attend worship does not make disciples.
Due to these reasons, I think Christians bribe sinners to hear the gospel because they’ve reversed the order of the two greatest commandments: First, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and second, to love your neighbor as yourself. Bribing people exalts loving one’s neighbor above loving God, because the purpose of evangelism is to glorify God, not to glorify sinners or Christians.
3. Revivalistic Quotas
Numbers, numbers, numbers, that’s what’s emphasized throughout evangelicalism. Is there anywhere in Scripture where Israel’s strength or the church’s strength were in numbers? No. Is there anywhere in Scripture where God evaluated His church or their ministry based on numbers? No. So, why is there a huge emphasis on numbers today? The answer is because in the Western part of the world, bigger is better. Some also argue that numbers are important because souls are important, but if you really care about souls, you’ll labor to make disciples, not to merely baptize unrepentant, salvation-ignorant people who do not understand the lifelong commitment they’re making.
The Great Commission has been redefined today as baptizing those who confess Christ as Lord, with the Great Omission being the command to “teach these Christians everything that Christ has commanded” (Matt. 28:18-20). Repentance and faith in Christ is the beginning of Christianity. When a believer is baptized, he or she has just begun his or her public identification with Christ. In order to truly fulfill the Great Commission, the local church must take these baptized believers and teach them everything Christ has commanded.
4. Selfish Motives in Worship
Have you ever heard another believer say about worship, “I didn’t get anything out of that.” Next time you hear this, say, “It’s not about you.” God alone deserves to be glorified in worship. The only time we shouldn’t get anything out of worship is when God isn’t glorified. If the word of God was sung, prayed, and preached faithfully, and you didn’t get anything out of worship, then repent and worship because God is worthy of worship. Worship is not about us. God is the center of worship, not us.
5. Atmosphere-induced Nostalgia
The goal of worship is to glorify God, not to feel good. Have you ever read the Psalms, the hymnal of God’s people for thousands of years? They’re not always happy or joyful. In other words, they’re not nostalgia-inducing. Today’s worship in the local church is largely about an atmosphere that encourages worship. The test of “true” worship is often how good one feels when he or she leaves the worship service. Specific lighting, styles of music, sentimentality, singing phrases over and over, etc. serve to create a euphoric feeling that hearers will long for for the rest of their lives. The problem is that the feeling, the nostalgia, becomes the god the believer longs for instead of the true God who is worthy of worship when believers feel like it and when they don’t.
6. Relevant Sermons
There is such a large emphasis on preaching “relevant” sermons today, which often translates to sermons that “meet people’s needs,” regardless how selfish, narcissistic, and godless these needs may be. The preacher’s goal is not to make the Bible relevant, but to help his hearers see how relevant the Bible is! The Bible is the Word of God and is timelessly relevant! The Bible transcends all societies, cultures, fads, etc. If you’re “making the Bible relevant,” then change your name to “the Holy Spirit.”
7. Relativistic Interpretation
There’s an emphasis in our culture on being tolerant of other individuals and their ideas. This mentality has infiltrated the church as well. Various interpretations of Scripture are tolerated, often based on the perceived sincerity of an individual instead of the intrinsic social, historical, and grammatical properties of the text itself. The text does not have multiple meanings, but one meaning that has multiple applications. We cannot act like interpreters have more authority than the author who originally penned the words. It doesn’t matter what we “think” or “feel” about the text. What matters is what the author meant, what his recipients understood, what the Holy Spirit intended, and how all these truths apply to our daily lives. Don’t jump authorial intent to make yourself the “new author” by applying the text beyond the meaning of the text.
8. Parenting and Ministering for Man’s Applause instead of God’s Glory
Something that’s interesting about much of children’s ministry and youth ministry is that ministers are terribly concerned with being liked by these immature Christians or unbelievers. They’re desperately concerned with their hearers enjoying their songs, prayers, and sermons. Furthermore, parents are very concerned with whether or not their children enjoy going to worship at a local church. What happened to truth? What about God? What happened to “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”? Ministers and parents everywhere, for sake of hearing the applause of children and youth, are compromising the truth on the altar of being liked or possessing an easy life.
I realize if a child hates church that every worhsip service you attend will be a battle, but that doesn’t free you to give your child another reason other than God to attend worship. Furthermore, if you’re a minister, don’t believe children and youth love Jesus because they love entertainment, and you’re trying to communicate the gospel through entertainment. How can you get a selfish person to see the value of Jesus and their need for Him by appealing to their selfishness? If children and teenagers are saying, “I don’t care if God has spoken or not, I won’t listen to Him unless you entertain me,” then they neither love God, Jesus, His Word, or the local church.
9. Unchristian Love
Love has been radically redefined in the local church as being “accepting of all, while holding no one accountable to Biblical faithfulness.” How many churches consistently practice Biblical discipline? Very few. Even though God has always held His people accountable to His Word, and even though Biblical discipline is commanded in Scripture, local churches have redefined Christian love to include “tolerance of unrepentant sin,” while excluding “loving accountability to God’s Word.”
10. Demigod Evaluations
If you and I evaluate our ministries, defining them as “successful” or “unsuccessful” based on our own arbitrary observations, then we’re making demigod evaluations. A demigod is a deified mortal. In order to truly evaluate our ministries as successful or unsuccessful, we must have God’s all-knowing evaluating ability. In most conferences and denominations, those who are held up as examples are those who have large churches. They’re often held up as examples because of demigod evaluations carried out by those in various leadership positions. These ministers may be more successful or they may not be.
The truth of the matter is that we cannot accurately evaluate our ministries or other people’s ministries beyond the Word of God, as if we know the hearts of everyone who attends these churches. In other words, faithfulness to Scripture should govern and motivate your ministry, not a demigod evaluation made by you or others. Pursue faithfulness to Scripture in light of Christ’s redeeming work, not arbitrary ego-boosting or “calling of God” destroying submission to demigod evaluations.
Jared, I’m in!  I agree. These cows need tippin’.

4 Possible Paradigm Shifts for the 21st Century Church

I am not sure in what context or venue he said this, but billionaire financier Warren Buffett is credited with having noted:

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

Whatever the initial context, there is much wisdom in this insight that can be applied to any endeavor that is no longer functioning.  This includes the Church – especially the mission of the church.

To deny that the Church as a whole has a declining influence would be naive.  While this lack of potency is not the case overall, as Christianity is exploding in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is almost unarguably true of the Church in the West, including the USA.  The declining percentage of those attending weekly worship, and empty rooms that used to be filled with people gathered for prayer meetings, reflect Buffet’s imagery of “leaking boats”.   No question change is needed.

Yet what is subject to change?  Should everything be up for grabs?  There is no lack of suggestions and examples of what people are changing in the name of reigniting the church. And many have increased the attendance of their respective congregational gatherings using a variety of techniques. But is mere pragmatism really the answer? If it “works” is it of God? Is having more butts in the pew (or whatever kind of seat) equal to making more disciples? After all, some of the techniques employed by “cutting edge” congregations are raising some eyebrows – not to mention raising some ire.

I do not recall which of his writings I read it in, (I think it was Building a Bridge to the 18th Century,) but Neil Postman pointed out that not all inventions are actually to our advancement.  Postman says that for something to be an advancement it must meet an actual need.  While Postman was speaking of technology, the same principle applies to institutions, including the Church.  (I know some will object to identifying the Church as an institution, insisting that the Church is “organic”. But in one sense it is. It was “instituted” by God…  Marriage is also an institution “instituted” by God.  But that does not mean my marriage is stoic and stodgy and inorganic.  Marriage and Church are both “organic” and “institutions” at the same time – or, when at their best, organic institutions.)

OK. Back on track…

While some novel ideas are showing clear evidence of drawing crowds, one question must be asked: “At what expense?”  In other words, what might we be sacrificing, what would we forfeit, for the sake of increasing numbers?

It is vital that we remember Psalm 127.1:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.

When I consider Postman’s concern along with this truth, I cannot help but thinking that while some innovations unquestionably advance attendance, those not in accord with God’s blue-print do so at the expense of not actually being the Church.  I do not know what such a congregation is, but God says all their creative efforts are in vain. To be church we MUST be built by God, and upon God’s design.

Now, I do not want to be suspect of being an ecclesiastical Luddite.  I am not against creativity, innovation, or change.  I agree with Buffett that energy expended constantly patching leaks would be better spent on changing to a new vessel.  But Buffett’s illustration does not imply changing modes entirely. He does not say, for instance, that if your boat leaks then buy a car.  He suggests we renew our mode.

For the Church this means that we reaffirm what it means to be a Church. We must do this in every detail: doctrine, church government, misson. We do not just employ trendy organizational practices, and then teach the Bible, and call it a church. We embody everything God says a church is – and has always been.  And then we take a look at where the leaks are coming from, and what is causing them.  Then, and only then, do we consider possible innovations in our methods.

In short, I believe we must consider innovations, but that we must only employ those that are consistent with all that it means to be Christ’s Church, of which Jesus is the Head.

In line with this premise, Felipe Assis has made a few paradigm shift suggestions for the future of the church that I find intriguing and promising, and worthy of consideration:

1. Incarnation over innovation

2. Environments over processes

3. Movement over expansion

4. Flat over hierarchical

Assis develops these premises at Redeemer City to City.  To read his assessments and explanations click: Part 1, Part 2

Advantages of Pleasing God More Than People

The following dozen points are about the advantages to us in seeking to please God, instead of living for the approval of other people. They were originally written by the great English Puritan, Richard Baxter.

I have attempted to clean up the language a little, hopefully without dulling the wisdom:

1. If you seek first to please God and are satisfied with that, you have but one to please instead of multitudes; and a multitude of masters are harder pleased than one.

2. And God is one who puts nothing upon you that is unreasonable, as far as quantity or quality.

3. And God is one who is perfectly wise and good, not liable to misunderstand your case and actions.

4. And God is one who is most holy, and is not pleased in iniquity or dishonesty.

5. And He is one that is impartial and most just, and is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34

6. And He is one that is a competent judge, who is both fit and has authority, and is acquainted with your hearts, with your every circumstance and every reason behind your actions.

7. And He is one who perfectly agrees with himself, and does not subject you to contradictions or impossibilities.

8. And He is one who is constant and unchangeable; He is not pleased with one thing today and another contrary thing tomorrow; nor is He pleased with one person this year, whom he will be weary of the next.

9. And He is one who is merciful, and never requires you to hurt yourselves to please him: Nay, he is pleased with nothing from you except that which tends to your ultimate happiness; and displeased with nothing except that which hurts you or others, just as a father that is displeased with his children whenever they defile or hurt themselves.

10. He is gentle, though just, even when he disciplines you; judging accurately, but not harshly, nor making your actions out to be worse than they are.

11. He is one that is not subject to the irrational passions of men, which blind their minds, and carry them to injustice.

12. He is one who will not be moved by tale-bearers, whisperers, or false accusers, nor can be perverted by any misinformation.

7 Rules for Self Discovery

A.W. Tozer has a wonderful way of cutting straight to the heart of things.  This is true of his writings whether he is speaking about the Attributes of God, about Worship, or about knowing ourselves.

Tozer postulated 7 Rules for Self Discovery. I have adapted Tozer’s rules and put them into the form of questions. Regularly ask yourselves:

1. What do I want most?
2. What do I think about most?
3. How do I use my money?
4. What do I do with my leisure time?
5. What company do I enjoy? or What kind of friends do I enjoy most?
6. Who and what do I admire?
7. What do I laugh at?

If we know these things about ourselves we are taking great steps toward knowing ourselves.  Once we know these things, the next question, which is an important question, is to be able to answer “Why” to each of these things.  This question will reveal our values, and our idols – to which the gospel can then be applied. But in answering these questions we should be mindful of what Jeremiah 17.9 cautions us about ourselves:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

Don’t doubt this truth for a second. And don’t underestimate the effects of your lyin’ deceitful heart.

Christian Leaders Learn to Think Theologically

Here is an important thought for my fellow pastors, and other ministry leaders. It is also important for shaping what church members should value in and expect of their pastors and Elders:

Few ministers and priests think theologically. Most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological and sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry. Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists… They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.  But that has little to do with Christian leadership.

~ Henri Nouwen, from In the Name of Jesus

Wading in the Gospel Deep

The message of the gospel is shallow enough for a child to wade in and yet deep enough to drown an elephant, and to grasp it we suggest following the summary of the gospel story through the four narrative acts of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. As each act of the drama unfolds, it’s important to keep in mind that the gospel is first and foremost God’s story.  Though it has important implications for our lives today, it is a story written and conceived by God himself.  It describes how his created beings committed cosmic treason against his just and loving rule, and how he took the loving initiative to rescue his people out of their rebellion and from the consequences of our folly, guilt, and certain death.  The full story of the gospel communicates the compelling truth about God, what he requires of us, and what he has done for us. It tells us the truth – about our world, about who we really are, and about our destiny.

~ Tom Wood & Scott Thomas, from Gospel Coach

A Thought for Mother’s Day

A thought for Mother’s Day:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine, desert us when troubles thicken around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

~Washington Irving

Living & Loving to Please God

Steve Brown, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and president of Key Life Network, penned a marvelous word picture of the motive and expression of a life gripped by God’s grace:

When I became a Christian, two things happened. I got saved, and I got loved.  I got loved so deeply that it still amazes me when I think about it. Because I got loved so deeply, I want to please the One who loved me that much. I may not always please him – sometimes I even run in the other direction, because his love can really hurt.  I may chafe against pleasing him; I may not even speak to him. But I’ll tell you something: I want to please him, and when I don’t please him, it hurts. Now if I really want to please him, I must know what pleases him. I find that out by reading the Word and listening to his commandments. When I know what he wants, I want what he wants. Love does that to you.  But I must know what he wants. That is why we must never soften the teaching of the Law of God. Holiness is a very important teaching as long as it is given in the context of God’s love.

~ from When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough

Same-Sex Marriage: Some Suggested Reads

Ever since President Barrack Obama mad his announcement about the Great Reversal, and his renewed support of Gay Marriage there has been no lack of opinions posted… well, pretty much everywhere.  I considered writing something up, but other pressing matters left me without the time to formulate words to express my opinions.  But I did take the time to read the takes of a number of others.  Some of those I appreciated most are posted below.  I will likely add more to this post as I run across anything poignant on this polarizing issue.

Of special note, I think Mike Horton’s two articles are tremendous. The first is as pertinent for Christians to consider as it’s title is provocative.

Living By Vows

While going through pre-marital counseling during our engagement, one of the things our pastor, Dr. Donald Hoke (here & here), required Carolyn and me to read was a little booklet written by his dear friend, Robertson McQuilkin, Living By Vows.  This short booklet chronicled a period in the life McQuilkin shared with his wife, Muriel – the last part.  It was a striking illustration that has stayed in my mind more than two decades later.

Now as a pastor, and as one who is given the privilege of preparing others for marriage, I have often included this little booklet as part of the required reading for those whom I counsel.  For a long time I have thought about posting McQuilkin’s story here on my blog. Now I finally do so.  Please read this and consider the example Dr. McQuilkin embodies of a godly husband (or spouse).  Let his heart compel you to renew your own commitment to your spouse.  And please share this with others.  I would love to see Dr. McQuilkin’s little booklet go viral one day.  ~ WDG


After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, college and seminary president Robertson McQuilkin found himself torn between two commitments, two divine callings.  Here he shares the story of his struggle:

It has been a decade since that day in Florida when Muriel, my wife, repeated to the couple vacationing with us the story she had told just five minutes earlier. Funny, I thought, that’s never happened before. But it began to happen occasionally.

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You Will Never Regret Loving This Much

Wedding season will be in full bloom within the next few weeks. But there is never a season when those already married or those contemplating marriage would not benefit from tending the soil of their souls by renewing their understanding of what marriage is and what marriage demands.  As I say at the beginning of every wedding I officiate:

“Marriage is an institution ordained by God, regulated by His commandments, and has been blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore marriage should be held in high honor by all.”

In this video of a Western Pennsylvania couple, Ian & Larissa Murphy, we see a unique but much needed perspective the essence of what God wants marriage to be; what he designed it to be.

…And if while watching this video you are not tempted to tear up… Check your pulse. You are either dead, or like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz you have no heart.

For those interested in learning more, here is a link to Larissa’s story: Part 1 – Why We Got Married; Part 2 – Learning Contentment in Suffering.  I love the way she opens part 1:

“You will never regret loving this much.”

10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

Researcher Thom Rainer warns of signs of a church that is so inwardly focused that it has ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ and has become, at best, a museum to (assumed) past glories, in which the membership makes up the board of directors.   Rainer writes:

Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

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Ordo Salutis Illustrated

John Bunyan has a wondrous grasp of the theology of the Christian Life.  Pilgrim’s Progress is evidence of that.  In this classic literary masterpiece, Bunyan uses allegory to illustrate the reality, and the perils, of life in this world for God’s redeemed people.  And in the illustration above someone has taken Bunyan’s allegory and writings and made a poster of some of one of the more complex theological issues, the Ordo Salutis – or the Order of Salvation.

Why should anyone care about the Ordo Salutis? Well, a Biblical understanding of the way God has laid out our salvation not only will offer us comfort in time of our discouragement, it will move you to worship the God of our salvation when you ponder the amazing grace he has orchestrated.

I have enjoyed reflecting upon this map.  It evokes deep questions to ponder, which are also answered and illustrated on this map.  But the picture above is difficult to read clearly. To see the map in full size, or even blown up, download it by clicking: Bunyan Ordo Map