23 October 2009

Theology on Tap: Follow-up

I've heard a lot of feedback, good and bad, from my article Theology on Tap, as well as comments on articles that offered a similar view. Some are appalled that I would dare challenge a supposed "Christian" ministry. The most common argument is that "Jesus meets people where they are" so we should do the same. I agree, Jesus does not require us to clean up our lives before we accept Him as Lord and Savior. However, we sure as sugar better be working on getting ourselves cleaned up after we've come to receive the free gift of salvation, and that is a lesson that I fear these "pastors" of "Pub Theology" are failing to teach. "Jesus came to save the sick and dying sinner, but He did not participate in their sin as a means to reach them and to preach Truth. Now, I do not believe that having a glass of wine or a beer in the evening is necessarily a sin. But for many people it is because they are plagued by addiction and have turned alcohol and its effects into their own personal idol. For these people, having one drink turns into two, turns into three, etc etc. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I'm going to theoretically wager that many of the congregants of "Pub Theology" are regulars at this particular bar and that they likely do not have healthy self-control over their worldly desire for alcohol. That being said, when they see a "pastor" spending his Sunday evening (part of the Lord's Day that should be revered) sitting in a bar and drinking, they are led to believe that this type of behavior is okay and that it can go hand-in-hand with the Christian life. This is where I bring in Matthew 18 and Mark 9 where Jesus says, "[...] whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." In the MacArthur Bible Commentary, Dr. John MacArthur explains this verse this way, "[...] fellow believers should not lead others into sin, directly or indirectly. One would be better off dead." I'm inclined to infer that the "Pub Theology" audience is comprised of unbelievers and, at best, very "young" Christians who are immature in their faith. Watching a pastor take part in these worldly behaviors would undoubtedly cause confusion for these "little ones." So are we to sit by as we watch these "pastors" cause these "little ones" to stumble and sin? In the words of Paul, "May it never be!"

Allow me to wander off the path just slightly here for a moment and speculate. Perhaps these problems with evangelism lie in the fact that many churches and pastors fail to teach that we must receive Christ not just as Savior, but as LORD. In fact, I would argue that it is necessary to receive Him as LORD first, and only then can you truly recognize the immensity of His role as Savior. But when we approach Jesus as only Savior we are missing a vital element. It's easy to feel warm and fuzzy because He's forgiven our sin, yet without the awe and reverence that comes from worshiping Him as LORD, we will be lacking in our recognition of our sin and depravity and lacking in our repentance of our sin, all of which leads to a terribly fruitless Christian life, if it leads to a true Christian faith at all. Now, back to my main discussion...

Indianapolis-area pastor Larry DeBruyn offers additional thoughts on the Herescope blog concerning this particular "ministry" that has deceived its way into his city. His words are perhaps a bit gentler and more refined than mine, and he states our shared concerns quite well:

Some thoughts on "Pub Theology."

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

As he begins to rip into "a screaming guitar solo," a band member sarcastically yells out at the audience, "Let's go to church boys!"[1] Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, Pub Theology is "a Sunday night show that's one part church and one part party." Among other posters on the barroom walls, one alludes and adds to the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, "Faith, Hope, Love and Beer." WARNING: The biblical text reads, "But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).[2]

Being "shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art," members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church's "worship team" on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock 'n' roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to visit the bar and buy beer during Sunday night "church." Initially skeptical about hosting Pub Theology on Sunday nights, the bar owner now admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.

Regarding this new outreach -- the mega-church's ministerial staff approve of doing Pub Theology -- one of the band's members says: "We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer. I think that is real," he continues, "and I don't think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that." Sure . . . in contrast to "drunkenness, carousing," one fruit of the Spirit is "self-control" (Galatians 5:21, 23).

Relates another band member: "I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus."

Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (That's an acronym for "preacher's kids."). Having been a former pastor, their father has now become the band's "roadie" (That's a term which refers to the managers and technicians traveling with the band.). The members account for the band's existence and approach to ministry for reason of their holier-than-thou Wesleyan upbringing -- you know, "I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't go to R-rated movies, I don't dance."

On this point, and as a rebellious child of the '60s who too was raised in the legalistic environment of Western Michigan, let me say that I understand and somewhat sympathize with the band members' rejection of legalism. But all rebels ought to be cautioned that "rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23). We ought to be reminded that God doesn't make Christians from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Though one's Christianity is defined by inner faith not outer works, Paul did write that Christians are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

Works are the issue of faith. Thus, we must not assume the opposite attitude from legalism, that of antinomianism (i.e., that God's grace cancels out any need to obey His moral and spiritual law). For as Paul asked: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Contradicting antinomianism, the writer of Hebrews orders us to, "Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14-15, NKJV).

Nevertheless, the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for, as the reporter asks, "Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar -- a spiritual one-night stand?" All the band's claims of "doing ministry" notwithstanding -- they do field questions about Christianity from the audience and callers-in, give inebriated individuals rides home, and have even seen one rescued drunk baptized a few days later in their church -- Pub Theology shows every symptom of being a carnal "one-night-stand." (Note: I do not use the word spiritual.)

First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where's the reading of Scripture, the apostles' teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord's Table? (Acts 2:42) But on this point, we can be certain that the band will avoid any impression of being too "churchly or preachy." But beer steins are no substitute for communion cups. In fact, to the true church the Apostle Peter announced that "the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3).

Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band's opening song was Joan Osborne's one-hit wonder, "What if God was one of us?" The lyrics add, "Just a slob like one of us."[3] Imagine . . . God being a slob like the rest of the inebriated crowd at the bar. Given such a humanizing of God, what we're dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry. "[T]he glory of the incorruptible God" is being exchanged "for an image in the form of corruptible man" (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne's lyrical questions in any way resemble or affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament? (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these cited passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub theology band sing them? I'd think they'd estimate that the lyrics of these biblical hymns are far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the "boys" at the bar! If the song "What if God was one of us?" gives any indication, probably none of the other music the band plays includes "psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs."

Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. The Apostle Paul would not have employed carnal means to attain spiritual ends.[4] You can't fight fire with fire. He wrote: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels "drunkenness" a work of the flesh). The Apostle also ordered the Ephesians: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:18-19). To the Roman believers he added that, "It is good not . . . to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (Romans 14:21).[5]

So we conclude: Given the atmosphere surrounding Pub Theology, the description of love as it exists on a poster at "Sunday-night-church-in-a-bar" might be parodied to read: Now abide these four, "faith, hope, love, and beer," but the greatest of these is beer!

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are taken from Robert King, "Faith, Hope, Love, Beer," The Indianapolis Star, September 27, 2009, A1, A14. Article may be viewed online. See Faith & Values, Robert King, "Pub Theology conveys Christian message in Broad Ripple," Indy Star.com, September 27, 2009, http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009909270384.
[2] Wisdom testifies: "Every word of God is tested . . . Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6, NASB). Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Revelation 22:18-19.
[3] Lyrics online at: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/ifgodwasoneofuslyrics.html.
[4] Those interested in pursuing the matter of the Christian and alcohol consumption are invited to read, "The Wrath of Grapes: The Christian and Alcohol Consumption." Online the article is available at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20071105160759.
[5] On this point, readers are invited to check out website article, "Was Paul a Pragmatist?" Online the article may be viewed at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20080513102433 or at Herescope http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/05/was-paul-pragmatist.html

Pastor DeBruyn is the author of the newly-released book UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality, available from Discernment Ministries 903-567-6423.

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