Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Do As I Say, Not As I Believe: Unbelieving Preachers

I found this story about a number of Christian Pastors who do not actually believe in Jesus extremely alarming. I first saw it at "The Church of No People". From Baptist Press:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as a nearly "invisible phenomenon" of "unbelieving clergy."

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many religious leaders for at least a century.

"God is many different things to different people, and since we can't know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all," the authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn't draw any reliable generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don't even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn't even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it's the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his "ability to earn a living this way."

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.
"Here's how I'm handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing," the pastor said. He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he'd leave the ministry right away.

"'Preachers Who Are Not Believers' is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind," R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in March."

In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, 'On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.' In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. 'These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.'

"If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them," Mohler wrote at "If they will not 'out' themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to 'out' them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?"

Even though the study didn't rely on statistical data, I'm not placated that there are no hard numbers on this. I believe there are most likely a number of deceitful false shepherds leading flocks out there, which is why I'm asked "What's the best denomination?" or "What church should I go to?", I don't shoot off a simple sentence. I advise people to not jump in to belonging to any church, or remaining at a church for years out of habit. No matter what church, you should know who is leading it. Make an appointment with the leaders. Be prepared to ask questions. And evaluate their answers. Were they Scriptural? Attend a number of services to get a feel of the assembly. Many churches today are so "seeker-friendly" that they really have no meat to offer serious, committed Christians. It might be a great place to visit, but if you're not going to grow there, why join? Don't be fooled by a great praise and worship team or choir. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE music and enjoy praising God. But that should not be the sole criterion for joining a church. Nor should the childcare, youth activities, or community/volunteer opportunities.

Do they have Bible studies? Offer classes to grow in the faith and knowledge of Christ? Are there times for prayer? Is it a church you can (and will) get lost in? Meaning you're just a number with no accountability? No one would ever even notice you're gone? What is their teaching on salvation? Jesus? Christian living? Are they into the Prosperity Gospel? Are they legalistic? Do they add or subtract from the Bible?

A lot of questions? Yup. Because I believe the choice to join a church is important, whether it's a little house church, a mega-church, high-church, charasmatic, Reformed, Orthodox or whatever. My mother imparted this wise piece of advise to me a long time ago, one that I share with others: "KNOW THE BIBLE FOR YOURSELF. KNOW GOD FOR YOURSELF. IN THE END YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR SOUL." No matter what the preacher believes...


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