I Had To Meet Them At Their Level

Chuck Morley

     I have just finished viewing a portion of a YouTube video (http://www.rsfgc.org/level.wmv) featuring a popular pastor of one of the country’s leading mega-churches. To the church pragmatist, purpose driven or seeker friendly the following quote may seem somewhat logical. It may also seem like a sensible formula in church planting or enhancing church growth. The problem arises in the fact that this pastor’s “formula” and theology is neither biblical, nor is it even logical in the light of scripture.

My intention in this article is not to personally attack him or to demean him in any way; however we must hold up to the light of scripture every word of those who claim to speak for Christ.

“So I rang door bells, ‘Are you an active member of a local Church?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Good, God bless you, good-bye.’ By the time I rang three thousand doorbells I found out that not a single unchurched person was asking for what I was offering; namely expository sermons from the Word of God, preached with fervor and stern admonition. And not a single one was asking for the Wednesday night prayer meeting. - I had to meet them at their level (emphasis added).

The Barna Research Group gives us this definition: “The following is how we define an unchurched adult for our research: an adult (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).” (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=38)

However, this pastor defines them as those who are not “an active member of a local church,” regardless of any time element, holidays, special events or age group. Since he describes them as having no desire to hear the Word of God (whether preached with fervor and stern admonition or not), as well as any drawing to prayer, it seems feasible to assign to them a definition according to biblical standards, rather than using a politically correct or a popular post-modern term such as “unchurched”. In reality, they are the lost, those who are dead in their trespasses and sin, the unregenerate. They are neither “pre-Christian”, nor by his definition could they even be considered “seekers”. They are in fact, the enemies of God.

        That being said, it should be no wonder to any Bible believing Christian why this attitude of rejection of the things of God exists. The life of one who is “lost” is usually void of any worthwhile understanding of God. He will not accept the things of God, he can not understand them, nor does he have any desire to pursue them (1Corinthians 2:14). The God of the Bible does not enter into the equation of his life. He is basically consumed with himself, his wants, his desires, his interests and his ways. Anything else only steals his time and plans to fulfill himself, and this pastor justifies and enforces this unbiblical perception. If, by chance, a spark of religion does exist, it is usually so watered down and out of context that it becomes little more than an instrument to aid him in his personal gain. Or an opiate to help him relieve his religious conscience, i.e. “God is love” or “Judge not lest ye be judged”.  This pastor sums it up when he wrote, “Self-love is a crowning sense of self-worth. It is an ennobling emotion of self-respect... an abiding faith in yourself. It is sincere belief in yourself.”
“It comes through self-discovery, self-discipline, self- forgiveness and self-acceptance. It produces self-reliance, self-confidence and an inner security, calm as the night”
(Self-Love, The Dynamic Force of Success, p. 32). 

I wonder where God enters into this celebration of self? Let’s see; abiding faith in self, sincere belief in self, self-discovery, self-forgiveness, self-reliance, self-confidence, and inner security. Since there is no mention of God, I may be lead to believe that I don’t need Him! “I’m everything I hoped for, I’m everything I need, I am so wonderful – TO ME! – CAN’T YOU SEE?

He writes, “What is that basic flaw? I believe it is the failure to proclaim the gospel in a way that can satisfy every person's deepest need - one's spiritual hunger for glory. Rather than glorify God's highest creation - the human being - Christian liturgies, hymns, prayers, and scriptural interpretations have often insensitively and destructively offended the dignity of the person...” (Self-Esteem, p. 31 emphasis added).

“… every person's deepest need - one's spiritual hunger for glory”. The problem here is that this “deepest need” is not a godly need motivated by the Holy Spirit, but rather is prompted by the spirit of the age to fulfill man’s flesh, to present himself as an equal with God rather than a servant. A person who walks with God is dead to himself, Paul told the Corinthians, “… I die daily.” He knew that within himself (flesh) he could do nothing to add one soul to the kingdom of God. It is all under the control of the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. “I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing. neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1Corinthians 3:6-7)

                Yet most ministers will gladly accept any and all credit (glory) for any semblance of success. If you will read the bios of many ministries offered on their web sites or their hand outs, the glory almost always points to a person rather than to our Lord. I’ve listed an example below, but there are many, many more. I have deliberately omitted names.

“A founding member of _______ Church, ________ initially served as an elder and associate pastor. However his appointment as senior pastor marked a turning point in the history of the church, which started experiencing growth at an accelerated rate never before seen in its history. Under ___________ leadership, the church congregation has grown by a hundredfold — from about 150 to more than 15,000!”

If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t it Lucifer’s spiritual hunger for glory that resulted in his eviction from heaven? “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high” (Isaiah 14:12-14).

When we take God out of the equation and replace Him with ourselves we have committed the same act of treason Lucifer was guilty of.

“Classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be ‘God-centered’, not ‘man-centered’” (p. 64).

Oh, the god of self, how deceitful and wicked he is! The “classic theology” he speaks of is none other than the Word of God. The entire Bible is God-centered, from Genesis to Revelation! If this can not be realized as one reads through scripture, I’m lead to believe he has fallen victim to Satan. “But is our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

In an interview with Time Magazine March 18, 1985, the pastor said, “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ, and under the banner of Christianity, that has proved to be more destructive to human personality – and hence more counterproductive to the enterprise of evangelism – than the crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. Man is not basically bad he is simply uninformed about how good he is. Guilt is a loss of self-esteem.”

This quote should give us a good idea of what he replaced “expository sermons from the Word of God” with; the gospel of self-esteem. The sad part is that Biblical salvation can not be obtained through this gospel, for it is no gospel. It has eliminated Christ as the center of man’s focus and worship, replacing Him with self. Albeit, his organization has experienced growth and in all probability may continue to do so, but the kingdom of God has not been effected. The truth remains that saving faith can only be received by the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of self. (Romans 10:17, Matthew 10:7, 27, Mark 16:15, Luke 4:18-19, Luke 9:60)

The Time Magazine quote is an antithesis of the Word of God. If man is not basically bad but simply uninformed about how good he is, why would Paul, the greatest Apostle, describe himself in this wise? “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all expectation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of who I am chief” (1Timothy 1:15). "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 7:18-20)

If man is not basically bad but simply uniformed about how good he is, why didn’t Paul know that? Was he contradicting God? He tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And again in chapter 5 verse 12 he says, Wherefore, as by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

In Acts 2:38 the Apostle Peter proclaims, “…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” If man is not basically bad but simply uninformed about how good he is, why preach repentance? Again Peter said, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19). These verses call for repentance of SIN (rebellion against God) not low or no self-esteem towards oneself.

If man is not basically bad but simply uninformed about how good he is, the apostle John missed it also. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1John 3:5).

Maybe these men were just victims of bad teaching. After all, in their day they did not have the New Testament. They may have been brought to the point of having to repeat what everyone else was saying.

John the Baptist’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And didn’t Jesus just pick up where John left off? Repentance was Jesus’ first and last sermon. Commanding six out of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to repent. If they had had the books, CD’s, DVD’s, tapes etc. we have at our disposal today, I’m sure they would have easily come to the conclusion that, “Man is not basically bad he is simply uninformed about how good he is.” If Jesus had only received this simple revelation, the cross would not have been necessary.

Today it has become increasingly fashionable to redefine, reinvent and reconstruct Christianity, the Church, the Cross, Jesus and all other doctrines in order to make them fit into certain group’s sphere of unbelief. Rather than the Cross being the ultimate sacrifice made to a holy God for the sin of mankind, it has been redefined as follows: “The Cross sanctifies the ego trip. For the Cross protected our Lord's perfect self-esteem from turning into sinful pride” (Self-Esteem p. 75). According to the The New World Dictionary of American English, an ego trip is defined as, A trip or experience, that gratifies or indulges the ego. It defines the ego as, The self, the individual as self-aware, egotism; conceit. This is in fact SINFUL PRIDE he speaks of. To imagine a holy God sanctifying sin is not only ridiculous, I believe borders on out and out blasphemy.

How many of us have ever considered the ultimate purpose of the cross? If you were to ask the average church member for whom did Jesus endure such great suffering, I believe most would in unison answer, “For me”. Although we do reap the benefits of the cross with salvation, forgiveness, etc., you and I were not the ultimate reason for the cross. Jesus surrendered himself to a criminal’s death for the Father in order to appease the judgment and righteousness of a Holy God.

Our pastor believes, “The cross Christ calls us to bear will be offered as a dream... an inspiring idea that would incarnate itself in a form of ministry that helps the self-esteem-impoverished persons to discover their self-worth through salvation and subsequent social service in our Savior's name...” (Self-Esteem, pp. 22, 117-19)  The purpose of the cross he describes and the gospel he preaches brings all glory and focus to man. But Jesus warns us, “Then Jesus said unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall he give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) Do these words of Jesus reflect any portion of the pastor’s description of bearing our cross? No, of course not! This is a false gospel! It caters to and justifies the sinful condition of the enemies of the Cross. It demeans the substitutionary death and atonement of Jesus Christ, as well as sidetracking a life of holiness, righteousness and godliness through and in Christ Jesus.

If man is not basically bad he is simply uninformed about how good he is what would be the need of a savior? What would necessitate a mediator or high priest? If you think about it, everything he has said so far, could easily be accomplished on our own. That’s why it’s called self.

He closes the video with what many would probably consider a very profound and caring statement. “I had to meet them at their level”.

The question arises, what is the standard the pastor uses to determine the (spiritual) level of the (lost) “unchurched”? To bring us into his understanding of self-esteem and the innate goodness of man, the understanding of sin, Jesus Christ and salvation must be redefined. Let’s look at a compilation of quotes put together by Biblical Discernment Ministries at (http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/, from his book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation).

What is Sin?

“What do I mean by sin?

Answer: Any human condition or act that robs God of glory by stripping one of His children of their right to divine dignity. ... I can offer still another answer: ‘Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem’” (p. 14).

I have tried, but I can not find anything in the Word of God that comes anywhere close to this definition. The truth is, sin is not an offense against me, it is a deadly act of rebellion and offense to a Holy God and its penalty is sure and true. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).  “The soul that sinneth, it shall die …” (Ezekiel 18:20). “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“Classical theology defines sin as ‘rebellion against God.’ The answer is not incorrect as much as it is shallow and insulting to the human being. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity even if he or she is a ‘rebellious sinner’” (p. 65).

Again, the “classical theology” he speaks of defining sin as ‘rebellion against God’ is the scriptures. He calls it “shallow and insulting to the human being.” When you think you are on the same level as God, I would imagine you would be insulted. But you are not God – you are deceived.

“The core of original sin, then is LOT -- Lack of Trust. Or, it could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a ‘negative self-image,’ but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness. ... positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability” (p. 67).

                The core of original sin is not LOT – Lack of Trust. It is RAD - Rebellion Against God. Read the third chapter of the book of Genesis. I do not know how he defines “positive” Christianity, but this I do know, “BIBLICAL” Christianity does hold to, does declare and does continually confirm human depravity and not human inability! "As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one:" (Romans 3:10). "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23). "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts" (Proverbs 10:4).

He goes on to say, “Any analysis of ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘demonic influence’ or ‘negative thinking’ or ‘systemic evil’ or ‘antisocial behavior’ that fails to see the lack of self-dignity as the core of the problem will prove to be too shallow” (p. 68). No sir! As we have seen in scripture, Any analysis of ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘demonic influence’ or ‘negative thinking’ or ‘systemic evil’ or ‘antisocial behavior’ that fails to see the lack of self-dignity as the core of the problem will prove to be BIBLICAL.

“... the core of sin is a lack of self-esteem. ... Sin is psychological self-abuse. ... the most serious sin is one that causes me to say, ‘I am unworthy’. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.’ For once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ” (pp. 98-99). The core of sin is not a lack of self-esteem, it is rather a lack of God- Esteem, a lack of respect, honor, admiration, veneration and obedience to God and His Word. The following is a good example of two men who came to God in prayer. One comes rapped in the robes of self-esteem, the other esteeming the author and finisher of his faith.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house being justified rather than the other: for everyone who exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).

He adds, “The most serious sin is the one that causes me to say, ‘I am unworthy. I may have no claim to divine sonship if you examine me at my worst.’If this is your opinion of yourself, you will leave the presence of God as the Pharisee did – unchanged, unfulfilled and unforgiven. The Publican went away justified!

“For once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” (Self-Esteem, p. 98)

The truth is we cannot really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ until, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, realize that we are just that; an ‘unworthy sinner.’

“No man can come to me (Jesus), except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). The Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin, is a prerequisite for receiving God’s forgiveness and salvation. It is a divine, supernatural act of love and grace sent by God to man in order to reveal his sinful and rebellious condition in light of a Holy God. Its purpose is to draw him to Christ. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you. And when he has come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go unto my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (John 16:7-11).

What is Salvation?

“We are born to soar. We are children of God. ... The Fatherhood of God offers a deep spiritual cure for the inferiority complex and lays the firm foundation for a solid spiritual self-esteem” (p. 60).

“I am humanly unable to correct my negative self-image until I encounter a life-changing experience with non-judgmental love bestowed upon me by a Person whom I admire so much that to be unconditionally accepted by Him is to be born again” (p. 67).

“To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image -- from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust” (p. 68).
Who is Christ?

“Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate” (p. 135).

“Jesus never called a person a sinner. ... Rather he reserved his righteous rebuke for those who used their religious authority to generate guilt and caused people to lose their ability to taste and enjoy their right to dignity...” (pp. 100, 126). (Biblical Discernment Ministries, http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/schuller/quotes-se.htm)

It’s obvious that the god of this theology is not the God of the Bible. It is nothing more than SELF that is exalted. This is religious humanism at its zenith. However, this is the gospel that has become the norm in much of today’s evangelical church. Whether we are bold enough to proclaim self as god, or we refer to it as meeting felt needs, or teaching life principles. God is just a means to and end and self becomes the focal point. So, by what he has said, we might conclude that his idea of the level of the unchurched could be nothing more than, “Man is not basically bad he is simply uninformed about how good he is.”         

However, God describes these people a little differently. According to the Word of God the lost are:

Adulterers, Fornicators, Unclean, Idolaters, Witches, Contentious, Indignant, Full of Jealousy, Sedition and Division, Heretics, Murderers, Drunkards, Rioters, Liars, Thieves;

They are Faithless, Unbelieving, and Sorcerers – (drug addicts). All are Abominable (disgusting in the eyes of God).

Lovers of their Own Selves, Covetous, Boasters, Proud, Blasphemers, Disobedient to Parents, Unholy, Unthankful.

They are without Natural Affection, Trucebreakers, False Accusers, Incontinent, Fierce (savages), Despisers of those that are good.

The lost are Traitors, Heady (rash), High-minded (lifted up in pride), Lovers of Pleasure more than lovers of God.

They have a Form of Godliness but Deny the Power Thereof.

Their end is an Eternal Punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Their only hope is the Christ of the Bible – the “ancient of days” who can not be redefined, reinvented or reconstructed. Only through Christ and the preaching of the truth of His Word can salvation be received; the uncompromised, unsettling, unapologetic WORD OF GOD.

My advice to all who want to meet the unchurched LOST on their level is to probably start back the Wednesday night prayer service. Call a solemn assembly of our pastors, elders, deacons and their families. Cry out to God in repentance for those we’ve mislead and condemned to hell.

Forget about the religiously feigned carnal fervor and stern admonition and bury our faces in the carpet until the Lord anoints us with His Holy Spirit, His power, and His unchanging Word.

“Woe unto You Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)