Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Enculturation: Why The Evangelical Church Is Losing Its Soul

I remember being asked a question once, “How do you boil a live frog?” Though it sounded gruesome, I quickly realized that the question was given to me as a riddle. While it’s really difficult to place a lively frog into boiling water, if you place the frog into a pot of tepid water, he will swim around and enjoy it.  All the while you can turn up the heat, slowly cooking the poor unsuspecting amphibian—and he enjoys it.
Within any culture there is a chasm between societal norms and the gospel, but this canyon needs to be crossed. This is where the rubber meets the road concerning the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), the great sending of God. The church is sent out into the world to gather lost, broken, and sinful people. But somewhere along the way, the evangelical church has compromised. Jesus declared, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26a ESV). I fear, much like the frog, the church is forfeiting its soul, without even noticing it.
Striving For Acceptance
Enculturation; what is it? For some of you, this may be the first time you are hearing of such a term, and you may be thinking, “Please spare me the big ten-dollar words, save them for the theologians, and just spill it…” But while the word enculturation is indeed a big word, it is because of its all-encompassing meaning. Enculturation is defined as “the process whereby an existent, prevailing culture influences an individual or community (e.g., the church) to imbibe its accepted norms and values so the individual or community is pressured to find acceptance within society of that culture.”[1] In layman’s terms: enculturation is when you’re pressured to follow the crowd, the desire to be one of them—also known by teenagers as, extreme peer pressure. This is not to be confused with bullying, or even the emergent church movement, no—not at all. Enculturation is more similar to peer pressure because teenagers have a desire to be the cool kids, they don’t want to be left out of the in-crowd; especially if they’re ridiculed for not following. To validate, just in case you may be asking: what’s the difference between the church wanting to be relevant, or cool and hipster, compared to enculturation? Isn’t that the same thing? Actually, no, it’s not the same thing; enculturation is being pressured to accept society’s norms—the culture prevails by influence. This is not the same as the “when in Rome…” theory, which many emergent churches were attempting, for the sake of sharing the gospel.
Honestly, the church must be different, for so it is called. The cross has always been and always will be offensive (1 Cor 1:18). But so that we understand, a rudimentary analogy may work. Let’s take capitalism, which sometimes is the leadership model for the American evangelical church. In capitalism, a company provides a service, which is desired and does so intentionally to be different from any other. For the most part, this makes businesses successful, when they can maintain consistency, pricing and customer service, along with demand. A business provides a service, which the community needs. When the business does not follow through with providing a good product and service, it files for bankruptcy and dies.
Unfortunately, many evangelical churches believe in this model; that the church is deemed as a business organization and must provide something that society wants. Once again, they believe that the something is the gospel, and to help sell it to the culture, they fall prey of changing it to make it more palatable. And so, they fashion sexual immorality as not applicable, accountability to be non-existent, and the gospel to be either all grace (antinomianism), or Universalist (everyone gets in).
Unfortunately again, sometimes the cross doesn’t taste so good, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. For clarity, I’m not proposing that it’s the evangelical church’s music or liturgical styles that are its downfall; no, it’s specifically the enculturation of the church. The evangelical church is more than on a proverbial slippery slope—those days are behind us—it’s been pressured into acceptance, for when it does not then it’s labeled as intolerant. Anything which is deviant from the societal norm, and the church might as well file for chapter 11, right? Wrong. The church has lost its first love (Rev. 2:4)—its unyielding passion for Christ, its mission to be Christ and use the message of brokenness to reach broken people.
The Mission & Inculturation
Here we go again, another ten-dollar word—inculturation—not to be confused with enculturation. The word inculturation refers to the mission of the church with the gospel; to evangelize a culture by embracing how a society of people communicates, much like contextualizing. Inculturation could possibly be considered the “when in Rome” theory (possibly, depending upon how you view it). But because the church has its identity and mandate in Christ, the church is Rock-solid in its fundamental core; namely, the gospel. The church seeks the lost of all cultures and societies by telling them about Jesus in a way that doesn’t change the gospel, but helps them to understand it’s depth, richness, and truth. When the cross stops pointing out the sin of humanity then the cross is no longer about redemption.
Let’s briefly look at the Great Commission in Acts 1:8. Jesus proclaimed, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Why would Jesus give power to the church? Is it to conform to the world or to reach it? Is it possible that Jesus knew the cultural and societal divides in which the church was about to face? Assuredly it is. I believe Jesus knew the forces of evil, human sin and rebellion, coupled with the pressures of cultures and societies. For this reason He gave the church authority and power to stand strong and be authentic, in Him.
Authentic doesn’t necessarily mean different, but the Spirit of God must move it. There are times when the church needs to reach across its society by using application; to be able to communicate the gospel in such a way as to allow the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of people—to be on mission with God. For example, the Apostle Paul utilized some of the writings of Greek poets in his contextualization of the gospel to those in Athens (Acts 17:22-31).
Inculturation is how the church fulfills the mission of God among different people groups. However, in none of these circumstances does the gospel change, or the identity of the church. This is now at the core of what I believe is causing the evangelical church to lose its soul.
The Loss of the Church’s Identity
It is no secret that Christians believe that God created Adam in the image of God (Gen 1:26). In so doing, God gave Adam dominion and rule of the Garden; he commanded him to subdue the earth and be fruitful (Gen 1:28), to begin and spread a kingdom on earth. To make a long story short, then came along the fall of humanity and sin, so the Word of God became flesh to redeem and reconcile humanity. Jesus, the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45), being crucified for the forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), rose from the dead, was given all authority, and then gave that authority to the church (Matt 28:18-19).
The church exists only in Christ and has its purpose of fulfilling the mission of God as the image of God. As His body on earth, the church’s identity is solely wrapped up in Him, but by enculturation, the church is trying to separate itself from being the image of God; perhaps unknowingly. Rather than possessing Christ’s DNA (2 Cor 5:17), some in Christianity are more worried of being liked, than to be like Christ (Eph 5:1). If in Adam all have sinned (1 Cor 15:22) and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), then in Christ all of humanity can be reconciled and redeemed, but this is not possible when the church loses its soul and gains the world.
By enculturation the church is losing its soul, which has a catastrophic domino effect: the loss of identity causes the loss of the power of the cross, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the power from Christ. There is no longer any convicting influence from the Holy Spirit (John 16). The church becomes a mere extension of society, a feel-good gathering place of niceties. The church loses the power to confront personal sin. But more importantly, the church loses the power from Christ, which heals the brokenness, serves the poor, loves with compassion, and rescues the rebellious. While the enculturated church may be able to perform some of these duties—they’re not done in the love of Christ, but in self-pride.
Therefore, the gospel will not be good news because there’s never any bad news. A church without Christ’s identity is without Christ; therefore, it’s just an organization, a gathering of people void of the redemptive power and love of Christ. Love is not love is there is no discipline. Enculturation is killing the evangelical church, but unfortunately the church is swimming in tepid water, enjoying itself and oblivious to its demise. This is not about being judgmental, boisterous, or Bible thumping, but about holding on to the uniqueness of Christ—the beauty of the cross is its brokenness to a broken world. The church has only one identity, Jesus Christ—the very image of God. Let us not be like the world, but reach the world. Let us not love the things of the world, but the people within it.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26a ESV).  These words of Christ were not meant to be a suggestive warning or some type of symbolic format for how Christians view life, but a reality as to the impact of culture and society. Unfortunately, it seems the ears of the church have become desensitized. Even the pop-culture Christian rapper Toby Mac made this verse into a catchy tune; it’s become bumper sticker material, refrigerator Christianese, and anecdotal regurgitation—but it’s also becoming a realism of the church. Enculturation is how the church is losing its soul.

[1] Hastings, Ross. 2012. Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing The West. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 38.

Matthew Fretwell is married, has three daughters, loves Jesus, being a dad, people, and coffee. Besides being an author (Denied Desires; Identity Theft, Sanctificagious, 30:1 Manhood), he’s pastor of a 112 year old revitalized church planting church (Oak Hall Baptist) in Sandston, Virginia, and is the founder of Job 31 Ministries. Matt’s an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries, a global comprehensive Church Planting organization. He also writes for Church Planter Magazine. 
Twitter: @w84harpazo or Facebook

Thursday, October 16, 2014

3 Insightful Ways for Church Growth

It is my privilege and joy to be a servant of Christ. I have found such great love and witnessed a great fortitude among many within the church that I pastor. Recently, I shared with them the three vital keys to our growth. When I arrived at the church, almost three years ago, there was approximately twenty five active members; today, we are in the midst of an authentic move of God; a true conversion growth, with new members coming forward continually and baptisms. So, one might think this makes me more of an expert—hardly! So, what’s the formula? What’s the new program? Honestly, you’ll never hear or read that from me—as I believe that God innovatively works within each body of Christ to reach each community. However, I will provide the three keys areas that we focused on and continue to focus on, for growth.

Before, I divulge those; let me say that the vision that God gave to me three years ago is terrifyingly precise. I say terrifyingly because there is a love that Christ has for His church—make no mistake that this it is His—in that, He is unyielding with fervor, passion, protection, and strength. As the pastor, I passionately pray for the church universal and the one I serve, especially, as we engage our faith on either the frontlines of casual Christianity or brutal martyrdom. I pray for wisdom repeatedly—to lead with integrity and resolve and to lead by example. Everything we do is methodically and prayerfully conceived, thought out, and done with the aspiration of serving our King—everything that we do has purpose—from the way we worship, the style of worship, to the way our service is conducted and scheduled—these are all sought to honor God, exalt Christ, in the power of the Spirit, to edify the body. There is a vision and there is a mission. With that all being said, I’ll now address the three things, which propel us to move forward.

1. The Gospel:

This is my first love. When I was baptized years ago, the verse which I declared was Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation.” As well, I relate to the Apostle Paul’s words, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel…” (1 Cor 9:16). As the pastor, I am fully dedicated to the gospel—I will not waiver, I will not compromise, I will not sell out to worldly goods, satanic attacks, fleshly pride, prosperity, or coercion. One of my favorite pastors is now the president of the International Mission Board, David Platt; when he gave his last message before the church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, he said, “We don’t have time to waste on games in the church… resist comfortable, casual, cultural Christianity, because that’s not Christianity.” If our focus is on anything more than the gospel transformation through Christ—we’ve missed God’s will for our lives & our mission. Every week, the one constant that comes from the pulpit and is taught is the gospel.

2. Unity in Love:

When I arrived at the church, God gave me a mandate—that mandate was to love a people, but not just any love, a missional and Christ-centered love—to reach the hearts of the congregation and the hearts of the community. And so, I stress, WE MUST BE OF ONE ACCORD (Phil. 2:2)—inseparable—the time has come for the church to engage the faith in trith—we are THAT generation. Our forefathers faced hard times, and our fathers faced difficult times—it is now our time to face up to the challenge and do it in unison. Yet, one thing I know and have experienced, you may agree, churches never grow when there is division more than unity, tradition more than innovation, complacency more than passion, and love of self more than others. And so again, I as the leader, I have promised to defend them unabashedly, for the unity of love in the church, and if I ever see someone being divisive or attempting to cause division, by the power of Christ and the authority of the church, which was given to me, they can rest assured that their under-shepherd will protect the flock. I love them each very deeply and uniquely.

3. Worship in Heart: 

Worship is more than music; it is our walk, our talk…our thoughts. The word worship comes from worthiness or honor—God is rightfully due honor.  But we also honor God with our music. One of the saddest things I have witnessed in churches and assuredly the Lord has seen, is discord within His church due to worship styles—to me, it is an aberration of godliness…it is unacceptable. We have more important issues at hand—namely, the gospel.
When I arrived at the church, three summers ago, the music director and I sought the best possible way to incorporate the old hymns and the new music, for the sole purpose of the gospel, reaching across cultural, generational, and age lines—it was/is not an easy task. The current vision of the church stresses that we humble our hearts and raise our hands to God—for He has put a new song in our heart. We put aside our “comfort zone” with the understanding that church is not about me—it’s about the gospel—it’s about seeing true conversion growth. Our worship must come from the heart—whether from a screen, a hymn book, or something else—if it is not from the heart then it is all lip service—God will not reward lip service. Worship from the heart.

And so, I encourage you now, to love one another, serve one another, reach out to others, and allow the gospel of Christ to transform you. Seek how your church can find the pulse of its community is service, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) and doing so with one accord. While these three things have proven results for the church I serve, it is not a cookie cutter blueprint. Unity and the gospel however, I would stress are non-negotiables, but they can be expressed in differing ways. Seek how with the wisdom of Christ. If you want to email me any responses or questions, feel free,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Communication & Marriage

Over the last several years I have had the privilege of uniting couples in the bond of holy matrimony. Along with that privilege, are the pre-marital counseling sessions, which are attached to the previous months before they tie the knot—these sessions are imperative, and I won’t perform a wedding without them.  There are numerous reasons as to why I demand pre-marital counseling, and you may name some of them; covenant, vows, unity of souls, respect, money, children, etc., etc. But there is one aspect of every marriage that must be addressed to help sustain a long-lasting and healthy bond—that is communication.
I’ve witnessed couples that are blissfully engaged. They’re beaming with joy to sit in the pastor’s office and discuss marriage, dates, and ceremony possibilities. OK, some are not so joyful—some are actually nervous. But my job is to not only make sure that the two are not unevenly yoked (2 Cor 6:14) and understand the noble and big step they are taking, but my desire is to make sure that they can understand one another. Let’s be honest, it seems that women speak a different language than men. This can be a fatal flaw for the marriage—and it’s not that men don’t understand women, it’s that neither party understands, knows how to listen, or how to communicate. I’m going to share a few pieces of advice and one of the best exercises that I invented for helping two individuals communicate as one.
Married couples must pick up on the non-verbals; otherwise known as body language. I had one couple in the office regarding their conflict—this was years after marriage (btw, I did not marry them). When I brought up to the husband how the wife was crying out for his affection and attention, the husband denied my claim and declared, “But that’s just it pastor, she doesn’t want to get intimate, she just rolls over in the bed with her back to me.” I said, “No, that IS it—she’s screaming out to you—don’t touch me—there is a huge problem—but you’re not picking up on her body language.”
Body language is so important, and anyone who uses texting or social media understands this all too well—there is no tone, inflection, or gesture to display the real message. I’m the type of guy (sort of typical), that when I get annoyed, I clam up and my wife has to “pry” my emotions open. But I have learned over the years that she knows me so well—she sees the warning flags and I the same with her. When I observe a couple coming into counseling and they sit in separate chairs; one leaning towards the left and the other leans towards the right, with both crossing their arms, I think, “Oh boy, I have my work cut out for me now—Holy Spirit I need your help.” Why? Because they have already told me they’re not going to listen, are butting heads, and have no intention of going forward in humility—all they want is a pastor’s approval for their behavior. Crossed arms usually mean the person is guarding their heart or putting up a defensive wall. Watch for body language—learn what the other is saying or not saying. Observation goes a long way in love.
The Game
OK, I hate to divulge this information, as it is my favorite part of the pre-marital counseling, and those who I counsel may be reading this article. But I invented this game for the sole purpose of helping couples better understand one another. Plus, marriage counseling can be boring, didactic, and cold—I’m a people person and I want the couple to love one another and also to have fun. What I came to realize is not that guys communicate one specific way and that women only speak in one manner, but that each person is very unique (although there are some generalities).
At the end of the first session, I assign homework. I ask each person to go shopping and find three specific items (or use items from home). The three items are as follows: find one item that you believe represents you, one item that you believe represent the other, and one item that you believe represents the way people perceive you. Each person must keep the items hidden until the second session, when they will be revealed (this means you shop alone).
This game is a great exercise in teaching each person how he or she communicates. For instance, I had one man bring in a teddy bear to represent himself—loveable, dependable, never too harsh, and always willing to give a hug and snuggle—one of the “Oh, how cute,” moments. His spouse-to-be laughed, because she went to his home days before the exercise and hunted for the same teddy bear that he used! This was a good thing—in that both saw the person in the same manner. She, on the other hand, when choosing an item for herself, chose a diamond ring. I turned and looked at the gentleman and said, “Oh boy, you know you’re in trouble, right?” I advised him that she was a complex person, many-faceted (which she gladly agreed), a person who has been crushed previously in her first marriage, but wants you to know that she’s beautiful and has any sides to her personality. All of this from a diamond ring? Yes.
This exercise helped the groom to see that his bride was not going to always want the hugs and snuggles, or to talk things out, or be left alone—this was a complex person and we discussed what communication would like between the two. While I was excited to see them choose the same things for him, I was more excited that we were able to “cut, the problems of guessing, off at the pass.” Each item will inevitably tell the other person how they communicate. A teddy bear shows, “I’m not going to argue and will be passive as much as I can.” I had one woman bring in a chocolate chip cookie to represent her husband-to-be; “He’s hard and crusty on the exterior, but sometimes there’s a morsel of sweetness to be found.” I also had one guy bring in a rubber chicken for the bride—this was not going to go over well, I thought, but she loved it—because she’s a jokester. He knows not to take her sarcasm literally—but then we addressed why sarcasm can hurt. You see, all of these things are just exercises, but married couples must learn to communicate, whether non-verbally, or verbally. Learn how each person says, “I love you.”
Remember the movie, The Princess Bride, as Farm-boy said, “As you wish,” and this meant that he loved her and she understood that. Likewise, your spouse has a language that is to be loved and listened to—take the time to invest in your spouse—in grey areas of your relationship, expose them, develop them, and engage them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

King Jehoshaphat & 3 Examples of Godly Manhood

Ahab king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me to Ramoth-gilead?” He answered him, “I am as you are, my people as your people. We will be with you in the war.” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” ~ (2 Chron. 18:3-6)
This is an interesting story to say the least, but let’s look at it for the purpose of viewing three (3) applications for godly manhood.
1. Godly Men Are Uniters, Not Dividers.
Even though King Ahab is far from the godly example of Jehoshaphat, he would be our example of someone who left the faith. Nonetheless, Jehoshaphat sees that they are neighbors, originally of the same covenant, and brothers. Therefore, godly manhood recognizes the greater good and hopes to quell division. As Jesus stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matt 5:9). Israel and Judah had been at war for generations, since Jeroboam and Rehoboam.
Ahab was an interesting character to say the least. As the Scriptures reveal, “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). Yet, when he humbled himself before God with weeping and sackcloth, God saw his heart and delivered him (1 Kings 21:29). It is most likely that his evil wife led him astray. Regardless, perhaps Jehoshaphat saw the same heart? Either way, a godly man is one who wants to unite people, not bring division. In a way that we may apply this—how do we conduct our business—by trying to rule and reign over people or do we seek input and advice? People who are good leaders know how to unite people.
2. Godly Manhood Seeks Prayer Before All Things.
Ahab’s desire to convince Jehoshaphat to engage in a war with Ramoth-gilead doesn’t trump Jehoshaphat’s faith in the LORD.  A godly man knows that God orders his steps and he is content with walking in those steps.[i] Jehoshaphat shows us the importance of making godly decisions. Whenever we are about to be involved with something that we are not certain, or that may have consequences beyond our knowledge, it is imperative to seek the Lord. Needless to say, all things should be brought to the Lord first, but especially when we come up against life changing decisions. Godly people seek God.
Whether in your occupation, neighborhood, or community, before you dedicate yourself to a task or project, make sure that God is involved—even if it’s tearing out a new kitchen, making a community playground, or taking an promotion. These decisions will have an impact not only on you, but others around you. Seek God before all things.
3. Godly Manhood Displays Wisdom & Discernment
Ahab can see that Jehoshaphat is a godly man, so his intention is to bring about “prophets” that will speak for God. However, Jehoshaphat’s spiritual antennae go up, as he notices that something just isn’t right about these so-called prophets. Whether Jehoshaphat visibly observes something or has a gut feeling, he employs wisdom and discernment. He asks Ahab, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (18:6). Out of four HUNDRED men, Jehoshaphat doesn’t trust their intuition or their prophetic prowess. As it happens, Jehoshaphat was correct, as the story unfolds, but suffice it to say that godly manhood takes wisdom and discernment, and in this regard, specifically, spiritual discernment because it pertains to his and other people’s lives.
The message here relates to us in several ways. Let’s say that everyone in your office, family, or neighborhood is on board with a decision, this doesn’t mean that you throw out discernment or have to be the staunch lone vote. Who knows? Maybe you are the one person that staves off a disaster for the business, home, community, but Jehoshaphat was still asking about godly advice. Wisdom will ask for more time when important matters arise. A simple response as, “Can we take some time to pray about this first, or to seek someone who has been though this situation…” is using discernment. As well, spiritual discernment is vital sometimes and you may need to seek a mentor, pastor, or elder; the point, use the resources that you have. You wouldn’t build a house with only wood, screws, and a rock, but you’d wait until you had the correct tools.