|Interior of a Megachurch|
|Assemblies of God Headquarters|
in Springfield Missouri
Recently however, in Springfield Missouri, the Assemblies have changed their style of worship, moving away from their traditional Pentecostal church model in favour of the more contemporary Evangelical Megachurch approach. Speaking in tongues, words of knowledge and prophecy, all the traditional Pentecostal flair, has been replaced with a more entertaining worship service, consisting of pop praise and worship bands, some even using massive video displays and fog machines. All the core Pentecostal beliefs are still there, mind you, but one is more apt to find such things as "speaking in tongues" expressed in private study groups associated with the main church, rather than in the main church service itself. This formula has attracted tens of thousands of new members across the Ozarks. Many Baptists and Evangelicals have switched over to the Assemblies of God, mainly because of this new worship model. Even a good number of traditional Protestants (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.), and even a small number of Catholics, have joined this Assemblies Megachurch movement.
|James River Assembly|
Okay, now that you've become acquainted with the large influence the Assemblies of God has on this region in which I live, I'll go on to the article/sermon my friend forwarded to me. It's really very fascinating, and at the risk of raising a few eyebrows, I will call it "prophetic." The article/sermon was delivered by David Wilkerson here at the Assemblies of God Headquarters (Blue Vatican) in Springfield Missouri. It is entitled "The Dangers of The Gospel of Accommodation." As best as I can tell, it was originally posted to the Internet in July of 2008, before the collapse of the stock market later that year and subsequent great recession to follow. Here is the link if you would like to read the whole thing. I would also like to call your attention to another article published by the Christian Science Monitor about a year later, that warns of a similar thing using statistical models and trends. The article from the Christian Science Monitor predicts the coming collapse of Evangelical Protestantism within about 10 years or so. The article/sermon by David Wilkerson very deftly tells us why. The following is a excerpt from the Christian Science monitor...
(Christian Science Monitor) - Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
The real message behind the Monitor's article however is truly brought out in David Wilkerson's own article/sermon published a year prior. When we consider how much Pentecostalism overlaps with Evangelicalism (and this includes many Baptist churches) we can see the big picture. Here in Springfield Missouri, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have become virtually indistinguishable. In truth, the average Catholic couldn't tell them apart, and neither could the average non-religious person. The overlap is bringing about a convergence, and in a way, we could consider the whole thing one movement now. For the sake of simplicity I will simply refer to it as the "Protestant Megachurch Movement." David Wilkerson's article/sermon was addressed specifically to the Assemblies of God, but I think it's so profound, and so darn accurate, that it applies to the whole Protestant Megachurch Movement entirely. Here are some abbreviated excerpts from Wilkerson's article/sermon...
A New Gospel
Accommodate means to adapt, to make suitable and acceptable, to make convenient. A gospel of accommodation is creeping into the United States. It’s an American cultural invention to appease the lifestyle of luxury and pleasure. Primarily a Caucasian, suburban gospel, it’s also in our major cities and is sweeping the nation, influencing ministers of every denomination, and giving birth to megachurches with thousands who come to hear a nonconfronting message. It’s an adaptable gospel that is spoon-fed through humorous skits, drama, and short, nonabrasive sermonettes on how to cope—called a seeker-friendly or sinner-friendly gospel.
To begin with, those terms are unscriptural. The gospel of Jesus Christ has always been confronting—there is no such thing as a friendly gospel but a friendly grace.
This new gospel is being propagated by bright, young, talented ministers. They have come upon a formula which states you can go into any town or city; and if you have the right formula, within a short time you can raise a megachurch....
Paul warned of the coming of another gospel and another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4). He warned the church that it’s really not another gospel but a perversion of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. If you hear any other gospel, he said, let that preacher be accursed. In other words, no matter how pleasant, how pious, or how sincere, if the message is not the death of sin through the cross of Jesus Christ, let it be accursed....
Paul said they are going to glory in the flesh, in their bigness, their numbers, their influence, and their contemporariness. They will boast they are contemporary, that there is a gospel that is out of style that doesn’t reach human need anymore. They will glory in the world’s acceptance. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The context of that warning was: “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it” (verse 14).
His warning was to beware of the wolves who are going to say it’s really not that narrow and straight—they are going to come posing as submissive sheep. Jesus put His finger on the cause: ambition—ambitious ravening wolves. In the Greek it means “starved for recognition and quick gratification, quick growth.”
Jesus left no doubt about His meaning. For example, He was addressing a struggling pastor who has worked for years and hasn’t seen the kind of growth he wants to see. A young man with an accommodating gospel moves into town and and within a very short time has a megachurch. People are flocking there because there is entertainment; it’s a gospel of fun. I’ve been in some of them. It’s the gospel of entertainment that has no conviction whatsoever. There is very little in their gospel that speaks to sinners of repentance, brokenness, and cross-bearing. A Christ is preached, Jesus’ name is mentioned, but Paul said their’s is another gospel, another Jesus.
Paul warned that if you are caught in this trap, if you want that hook of entertainment, that hook of sudden growth, this is the hook: The enemy will put in your path a teaching....
What the Gospel of Accommodation Does
I see three things in the gospel of accommodation:
- It is the accommodation of man’s love for pleasure.
- This gospel of accommodation accommodates all man’s aversion to self-denial.
- There is an accommodation of man’s offense to the gospel.
It’s cruel, pastor, to lead sinners to the Cross, tell them they are forgiven by faith, and then allow them to go back to their habits and lusts of the flesh, unchanged and still in the devil’s shackles. If the preaching of grace doesn’t have as its goal the producing of a walk of righteousness, then it’s another gospel, another Jesus....
Protestantism itself began as a kind of "new gospel" that accommodated the social trends and lifestyles of the time period. When Martin Luther rejected Catholic teaching on Purgatory, indulgences, the sacraments and the authority of the pope, he was accommodating not only his own aversion to certain aspects of the gospel, but he was providing a way to accommodate the same aversion in others. Let's face it, Martin Luther wouldn't have amounted to much in Germany, if there wasn't a new type of affluence there that found his new gospel appealing. The same type of accommodation gospel would be realised in Geneva under John Calvin, and then in England under Queen Elizabeth I. Century after century, the process has been repeating itself, with one accommodation after another, resulting in one great Protestant movement after another. Today there are thousands of Protestant denominations, sects and affiliations. During 20th century America, one could easily find a Protestant church to fit any theological fancy. However, over the last 30 years or so, the Protestant Megachurches have arisen, and as a result, there has been a kind of consolidation of these various traditions into one big entertainment/motivational "worship" service. Quite frankly, as a former Protestant and now Roman Catholic, I find the whole thing quite natural. It was inevitable that Protestantism would end up this way, and it is inevitable that it will soon find itself in crisis because of it.
David Wilkerson is right, but I think he doesn't realise just how right he is. The Gospel of Accommodation has been around for a very long time, and what he may not realise is that his own tradition (which he considers "traditional") is itself a form of accommodation from another Protestant tradition in the past. Because if we are really frank with ourselves, those of us who know history are quite aware that Protestantism has always been an accommodation.
That being said however, they're still Christian. As long as they continue to accept the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement, we Catholics can, and should, continue to call them "brethren." That's what the Catechism teaches anyway. So the best thing for us to do is to know our own faith, and know it well, so that we can teach them what we're about gradually. When the collapse of the Protestant Megachurches comes -- and it will come eventaully -- perhaps some of their members will remember us, and return home to Rome in the process. Until that day comes I'll continue to stop by for the good coffee, comfortable lobbies, excellent wifi and good conversations.
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