When I saw they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? -- Galatians 2: 14 (NIV)
I want to take us on two journeys today before getting to the heart of the matter. The journeys will show us the backdrop needed to have a frank discussion of a plague in the church today where people put in charge of the flock of God are more concerned about playing church than they are with the sheep they have been entrusted with. I guess this is one we should have easily seen coming with the shift in the church away from sound doctrine and towards this purpose driven slop. It is a simple matter of cause and effect. When the pastor is shifted from a shepherd to a CEO there should be expected consequences. Make no mistake beloved, this is what has happened in the past few decades. Mega church heretic Andy Stanley has said on record that we should not even use the term shepherd anymore because it is no longer culturally relevant. This is the same line of reasoning the unsaved use to excuse modern day sins. Things that the culture of today have deemed acceptable the church should adapt to. Andy is of course dead wrong. The Bible does not need to be adjusted based upon the whims of modern culture. It transcends culture.
The expected outcome however of turning the church into a business that must be led by a vision casting CEO pastor-dude is that the sheep become customers. They are marketed to. They are focus group tested. Ultimately, if they do not like your product you say sayonara and Godspeed. After all, there are plenty of other church products they can buy, aren't there? In the Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren teaches up and coming pastors that this principle is known as "blessed subtraction." That the individual sheep no longer matter in light of the overall vision. That if some sheep do not wish to come along for the ride, just let them leave. Encourage them to leave in fact. We saw the extreme example of this at the now defunct Mars Hill Church is Seattle where former pastor Mark Driscoll gleefully preached about the "pile of dead bodies" he was leaving in the wake of the "Mars Hill Bus." The inference being that those that disagreed with him and his vision were summarily kicked off his bus and promptly ran over.
So it is not surprising then that there is a detached sense of indifference from pastors towards the very sheep they are entrusted with. Sure, they will have time for the sycophants and yes men, but for the everyday sheep? Just try getting an appointment! Try having a theological discussion or point out something that may have been preached in error. You will be blessedly subtracted so fast your little sheep head will spin. The CEO Pastor-dude writes it off as not a big deal. They are there to sell a product, not tend to actual people anymore. Under the purpose driven paradigm, the loss of one sheep is not as important as potentially gaining two goats to replace them in the pew. Individual people are then expendable in favor of overall numbers. So if a church "blessedly subtracts" 200 people last year but they added 400 overall to attendance then that pastor views it as a net gain of 200 bodies and has thus "grown the church." God however does not agree:
Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. -- 1Peter 5: 2-3 (NIV)
What can we learn about this passage regarding how God views the role of pastors? The first thing is that despite how Andy Stanley feels, the role is that of a shepherd. What does a shepherd do? He tends to his sheep. He is not constantly scouring the horizon for new sheep. He is not blessedly subtracting any from the flock. In fact, Jesus uses a parable of a shepherd leaving the 99 to pursue the one. That is how important every single sheep is to the Lord. So under our example from above, yes there are 200 more people in the church but there are also 200 other sheep wandering the countryside; vulnerable, unprotected and potentially slaughtered. According to God in these verses the pastor is responsible for their care. He is responsible for watching over them. Not because he must but because God wants him to. He must not make merchandise of them for dishonest gain. He must not lord himself over them but rather he should be an example. An example of what? Of what the Bible says. He is to represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both words and deeds. When he ceases doing such he ceases being a pastor. He also then forfeits any protections, considerations, or honor associated with such a monumental call. A pastor who does not care about the sheep he is entrusted with the Bible refers to as a hireling. Let us not lose this point from these verses as well. These sheep are entrusted to them. God is entrusting their care to the pastors. This is like when you ask a babysitter to watch your kids and when you come home she says, "Little Bobby was such a pain tonight, so left the door open and told him it was OK to leave. But look! I found you two other kids that wandered in!" Would you consider that a net gain or would you wonder what happened to little Bobby? Do you honestly think God our Father is not concerned about the sheep we have allowed to leave the flock? All of the hurt and abused sheep? All of the confused sheep who were never taught the Gospel correctly? Oh beloved, how far have we fallen from the will of God!
So let us take the first journey. This one takes us back in time when the church was first starting. Jesus Christ has risen and now the Apostles were spreading the Good News in the face of great opposition. Their greatest enemy, Saul of Tarsus has been reborn as the Apostle Paul. After some expected resistance, Paul became accepted by the Apostles. Paul however was faced with a dilemma. It seems Peter had been eating with the Gentile believers until certain men from the circumcision party had come to town and then he separated himself from them. The other Jewish believers followed Peter's hypocrisy, including Barnabas. So essentially, Peter was acting one way towards the Gentile believers when no one was looking and then another when he had his fellow Jewish believers surrounding him. Place yourself in the sandals of Paul for a moment. He was the outsider. He was the man who persecuted the church and presided over the deaths of Christians. After over a decade, the Apostles have finally accepted his rebirth as real and that he was one of them. Peter is revered amongst the Christian community. Does Paul sacrifice what he knows is right for the expediency of Kumbaya Christianity? Does he look the other way because of the popularity of Peter? Does he give a wink and a nod because after all, Peter is his co-laborer? Not even close. He rebukes him. He does so publicly as well in front of all I might add. Far too often Christians hide behind the method of personal reconciliation found in Matthew's Gospel for incidents that are not personal in nature. Peter's offense is not to any individual, who should then seek him out privately first. His offense is to his calling and the Gospel. As Paul says here to the Galatians, they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.
Do we understand that today beloved? Paul understands his calling. It is not to protect Peter. It is not to protect the "Apostle brand." It is not to consider the servants over the sheep. His responsibility and calling are to the Gospel and Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. Period. Is this what we see today across the Christian landscape? When we see a preacher not acting in line with the Gospel, either in word or deed, the reaction is quite different. The propensity is to protect the hireling instead of the sheep. If the departure from the Gospel is in the preached Word, we hear a chorus of "don't judge" or calls for false unity. There is no unity with false preaching. The Bible instructs us to treat anyone who preaches a different Gospel as accursed! Let them be accursed!
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. -- Galatians 1: 6-8 (ESV)
So when we see someone flash a smile and preach about our best life now while avoiding any talk of the need to repent -- let them be accursed! When we see someone preaching that we are destined to reign while in the same breath teaching that God does not care about sin anymore -- let them be accursed! When we hear a pastor preaching babble about anointings, impartations and mantles that take the focus off of Christ and place it onto us -- let them be accursed! Instead however these heresies are embraced or at the very least, ignored. Meanwhile there are real sheep sitting under these teachings that are being either led away from Christ or being promised a salvation they do not truly have. This is what happens when you change the unsaved into the unchurched. Your measurement for success moves from the salvation of their souls to their weekly attendance in a building that cannot save them.
If the departure is in deeds that are contrary to the Gospel we are greeted with pious calls for prayer for the preacher and virtually no consideration for the sheep. This is not what Scripture teaches. When Simon the Sorcerer was revealed as operating on behalf of God with impure motives there was no call for prayer. He was immediately rebuked and no longer considered as a viable teacher within the Christian community he was associated with. The same goes for every mention of straying believers. From Hymaneous to Alexander the Coppersmith. The Gospel is what matters. So when we see a famous preacher support a convicted mega-church pastor guilty of bilking 50 million dollars from the sheep, we do not invite him to speak at our annual convention. When we see another steal $200,000 in tithe monies to further the sales of his book, we do not rejoice when he opens a new church just a blink after the old one collapsed. We do not support a man who is allegedly restored after being caught sleeping with his secretary because he now divorced his wife to marry the secretary. Nor do we support anyone who supports such behaviors. Why? Because the Gospel is the only thing that matters and their actions are not in line with the truth of the Gospel. When faced with this same dilemma, Paul did not give a wink and a nod. He recognized the Gospel is of paramount importance. We ought to do the same.
Now let us go on our second journey. This one is present day but halfway around the world to Singapore. There was an up and coming darling of the charismatic circles named Kong Hee. Pastor Kong presided over a huge church which in 2010 boasted over 23,000 attendees each week. He had 29 affiliate churches and six Bible schools in Asia. Kong built this empire by preaching the prosperity gospel, where he promised material and spiritual wealth for people giving to his church. He taught that God uses wealthy Christians to impress the pagan world. As if this was not bad enough, along the way to mega stardom, Hee decided that he wanted his wife to have a secular pop music career. That would cost a lot of money however. So he stole 24 million dollars in church monies to try and create this pop career for his wife, including provocative music videos. Once he realized that he was in danger of being exposed, he used another 26 million of church dollars to try and cover up his misdeeds. These are not my opinions beloved. These were the criminal findings against him, for which he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. So what we have here is simple. This is a man who claimed a pastor calling yet whose words and deeds did not align with the truth of the Gospel. Many in the pastoral world might call for prayer for Mr. Hee and I do hope in prison he truly encounters God. I am more concerned however with the fact that one-third of this congregation has left City Harvest Church since the scandal broke. That is over 7500 sheep, slaughtered at the hands of Kong Hee. Their money stolen. Their hearts broken. Their faith destroyed. Where is the Christian concern for these? Where is the modern day Paul to stand up to Peter and say, no! Not only to the likes of Kong Hee but to those who would insist on standing with him instead of standing with the Gospel.
One such supporter is Phil Pringle of the huge Australian mega-church, C3. Now, one probably should not expect any better from Pringle, who is worse theologically than Kong Hee could ever hope to be. Perhaps that is why Hee routinely referred to Pringle as his mentor. The other very vocal supporter however is generally more respected and his name is AR Bernard. He is the pastor at the Brooklyn mega-church known as Christian Cultural Center. With over 35,000 members, CCC remains one of the largest churches in NYC. Bernard has also been very active in the world. He sat on the NYC Economic Development Corporation Board, The NYC School Chancellor's Cabinet and was a member of both Michael Bloomberg's 2001 and Bill DeBlasio's 2014 transition teams into their respective Mayoral terms. In 2008 he was recognized as one of the top 25 most influential leaders reshaping New York by Crain's Business. To say he is accomplished would be an understatement and up until he got involved in Singapore maybe there were no concerns. The problem is none of that is relevant anymore. Paul teaches we are to run the race with endurance. The whole race. We cannot rest on yesterday's laurels. AR Bernard was a full throated supporter of Kong Hee during his flourishing years as a prosperity preacher and while that would be troubling enough, he then doubled down after the conviction. Bernard is on record as saying after the verdict that the "facts and the truth are not always synonymous." That sounds as parsed as Bill Clinton testifying under oath what the definition of "is" is. Bernard would go onto pretend this case was about government control over religion. No AR, Kong Hee stole 50 million dollars that did not belong to him. That is what this case was about. He has been convicted by the prevailing authorities of his country. There are 7500 slaughtered sheep in his wake and anyone who stands with that is not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. Period.
So why do I bring this up? Because instead of distancing ourselves from the likes of AR Bernard, as is clearly outlined in Scripture, we continue to wink and nod and pretend that we are Sargent Schultz from the old Hogan's Heroes show. We see nothing. Bernard was in fact the keynote speaker at yesterday's annual Assemblies of God Network Conference for New York where he had the gall to speak about integrity. I have 50 million reasons to not believe him. He also imparted to the New York leaders of AG that there are "no small churches, just small thinkers." More purpose driven nonsense that flips the Gospel on its ear. So we come full circle. The schemes of church growth have taught pastors that individual sheep do not matter. That we measure success with human metrics and carnal wisdom. Yet two quick journeys show the folly of this. We saw in the days of the Book of Acts that Paul had to rebuke Peter when his life was not lining up with the truth of the Gospel. We saw in modern day Singapore a devastated mega church that was taught for over a decade that if they just give enough money then God would pay them back with interest. The whoring out of God. Little did they know that at the same time that same man was stealing their money to try and build a pop music career for his wife under the ridiculous guise of evangelism. Thankfully Singapore takes things like this more seriously than our own country or even our own church. Because the men who facilitated this robbery still stand with the convicted and thus against the slaughtered sheep. We saw over 7,500 sheep at a minimum wounded or potentially dead. There were 15,000 at Mars Hill Church. These people matter to God beloved. Each and every single one of them. We should not be supporting someone convicted and spending eight years in prison for wreaking this kind of havoc in the body of Christ. Nor should we be supporting anyone who refuses to stand with the Gospel and instead stands with those who are not aligned with the truth. We certainly should not be inviting them to speak at our conferences on Christian leadership. Bernard said yesterday that we have to first win people to ourselves if we expect to win them to Christ. No we don't. Jesus does not need us. The Gospel does not need us. We are not some transition bridge between saved and unsaved. We are conveyers of the Gospel message; not the message itself. The Gospel does not need our personality. It does not need our wisdom. It just needs to be preached and for those charged with preaching it to stay in line with the truth it contains. Period.