Does your church emphasize experiencing Jesus over teaching doctrine? Do they insist you must know Jesus, yet offer little doctrine?
Erik Raymond, a pastor in Omaha, recently wrote about a meeting he had with a mega-church pastor. Raymond was surprised to learn that this pastor often sends people who want more teaching and doctrine to his church, Emmaus Bible Church. The pastor basically outsources the teaching of doctrine to Raymond’s church. He does that because, according to him, when it comes to doctrine, “it is outside the scope of trying to help people know and experience Jesus.” Raymond writes:
If you downplay teaching and elevate experience then what are the experiences tied to? By default, they become your doctrine. They are the authority. It is painfully ironic that this is exactly the type of thing that Paul was warning against and aiming to prevent as he charged Timothy to be a faithful pastor who teaches his people the Bible.
This situation reminds me of the condition of some the mega-churches here in Hawaii. The mega-churches here have a similar mentality. They are content with their church being a “seeker-sensitive” church. They know full well that people come to their church to “experience Jesus” and then eventually leave their church to find a church that teaches more doctrine. I know from personal experience that they justify this by saying that their church is like one part of a larger body. They are like the “hands and feet” while other smaller churches are the “arms and legs” (all with Christ as the head of course). They believe their job is to effectively draw people to Christ while other churches will effectively help them grow.
Two things are wrong with this picture. First of all, you cannot separate the experience and doctrine of Jesus Christ. Both the church and the attendees are wrong to think that you can have any meaningful experience with the living God without learning the truth about him. In fact, if you have an experience with God without knowing much about him, what exactly are you experiencing? Is it possible to have saving grace apart from understanding the true work of the cross? Can you deepen your spiritual life without deepening your understanding of the Trinity? More importantly, how is your spiritual experience any different from the spiritual experience of another religion?
The Body of Christ
The other problem with this picture is that a church was never meant to be a member of a larger body of churches. That would be the wrong application of 1 Corinthians 12. There, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth saying that Christians in a church are supposed to be like one body with different members. The members there shall not all serve the same function. Sadly, this is exactly what some mega-churches say they do. They say evangelism is their strength and primary function and their Sunday services are focused on attracting non-believers a.k.a. “seekers.” Are churches really supposed to have particular strengths and, for that matter, particular weaknesses? Is that what the body of Christ is supposed to look like? My brother and pastor says it best: “Each church is supposed to be a full representation of the body of Christ.” Churches must be faithful in evangelism, discipleship and teaching doctrine. I believe God has equipped them to do so.
Seeking the Truth
“Seeker-sensitive” is an ironic distinction because these churches may end up keeping seekers from finding what they are seeking. After all, what are seekers really seeking? Are they seeking a spiritual experience (which can be found anywhere) or are they seeking truth (which can only be found in good doctrine). All Evangelical churches should be teaching doctrine. I have a serious concern for both “seekers” and “seeker-sensitive” churches. I want people to seek the right things and churches to offer the right things. I pray that people are drawn to church because they are drawn to the gospel. I pray churches are drawing people to church with the gospel.