Americans pride themselves on their ingenuity and know how. We’re a country that likes to think of itself as being able “to get things done.” There’s a significant blessing in such a self-image. It motivates. It stirs. It drives and propels. Thinking of ourselves in this way inspires us to think of possibility, invention, and creativity. Those are good things.

But, like everything else in a fallen world, good things also have unintended and sometimes unforeseen consequences. Usually there’s a soft underbelly to ever superhero, an Achilles’ heel to every ideal. The American cultural ethic is no exception.

Starting with the Wrong Question

Here’s one significant problem with our tendency toward ingenuity, know how, and getting things done: It prompts us to ask the wrong starting question. We begin by asking “How?” and very seldom ask “Why?”  And because the church exists in this milieu, the church and her leaders often exhibit both the strengths and weakness of the American cultural ideal.  We don’t often see it, or stop to ponder it.  But it’s at work in us all.

Therefore, the most necessary first-order question for pastors and people to ask and answer when it comes to living out the faith is “Why?” Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that? Why does the Bible instruct us to think this way and not that? Why does this example inform our practice or this precept prohibit that practice?  Why do we believe certain teachings and reject others?

Not asking the why question and delving for a rock solid answer, leaves us open to pragmatism.  Pragmatism is that philosophy, crudely stated, that says “Do what works.”  It is an answer to the “why” question, but it comes in the form of a “how.”  It says, “We do this because it works this way.”  There’s a place for that; it’s just not at the level of first principles.  Pragmatists assume that a satisfactory answer to “how” provides a self-evident reason for “why.”  That’s the problem.  And the pragmatist is genuine when they say “they don’t see the problem with their practice” when the critic says, “But why?”  They really don’t see the problem with their practice or decision because they’ve chosen to allow “how” considerations to drive all the other questions.  (By the way, “I don’t see it” is not a good retort in disagreement.  It’s a statement about our vision, not about the merits of an argument)

Too Much Attention to “How”

That’s what I fear I see in the discussion about multi-site churches.  They’re not from the devil, but they’re not clearly from the Bible either.  And it seems to me, their adoption reflects the pragmatic concerns of “how to handle growth” in some cases, or “how to plant churches.”  A really big “how” squeezes out careful reflections on “why.”  Why intentionally organize bodies of believers in such a way that pastor-teacher leadership remains absent?  (I know that’s not every multi-site, but that’s the one I’m addressing).  Why choose the strategy of broadcasting video interstate and sometimes across national borders when the NT clearly establishes the pattern of local congregational leadership? Why not raise up a “good enough” preaching pastor to serve that body and “particularize” (if I can borrow language from my presbyterian friends) that body as soon as you can and as soon as is healthy?  And are the answers to the “why” questions so compelling that we can set aside biblical precedent?  If not, we’re pragmatists of the worst kind, even if we’re theologically orthodox on so many other important issues.

Here’s how the “why” questions help us: They root us to the text of the Bible (assuming one uses the Scripture to answer the questions) and drive us toward faithfulness.  How questions really turn on the principle or value of effectiveness.  We all want to be effective at preaching and spreading the gospel and making disciples.  Nothing wrong with that.  But the primary principle for evaluating Christian ministry and Christian life is not effectiveness; it’s faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1-3, for example).  ”It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”  Required.

Our Lord’s parable of the talents does not overturn this didactic principle from the epistles.  They lie in harmony.  And the parable of the talents, which seems to require fruitfulness (which we all want), actually depends on faithfulness.  Did the servant prove faithful to employ or unfaithful in burying the stewardship entrusted to him?  The Lord produces the increase.  We must be faithful.

Asking tough why questions and pursuing rich biblical answers keeps us from becoming unfaithful to our Lord.  And asking “Why” also has this happy benefit: It then informs the “how.”  It’s possible to get effective how answers while completely missing the why; but it’s more difficult to miss good how strategies when we’ve nailed the biblical why.  When we’ve nailed a biblical why and chosen a suitable how, we sleep like the farmer who planted his seed and new the harvest would come in God’s time.  We sleep; we don’t cast around anxiously or aimlessly looking for the next great “how.”

“Who” Is on Third

Now, the other way pragmatism rears the ugly side of its head is by prematurely asking “Who?”  That’s what I fear I see in the Elephant Room invitation of Jakes and others.  In the course of last week’s events, the stated purpose of the Elephant Room morphed.  It changed from a conversation among Christian brothers to a conversation among leaders.  In all honesty, I think that was a decision made with the best of intentions in order to make comfortable the most people–a potentially embarrassed Jakes who might be uninvited, potentially uncomfortable panel members who might not wish to endorse Jakes, and a potential viewing public that might view the Jakes invitation as an endorsement of Jakes as orthodox.  I think the ER folks were trying to serve multiple important needs.

But what’s the real problem?  It wasn’t their earlier purpose statement.  The real problem was asking the “who” question before really taking heed to their original “why”–to foster unity among Christian leaders who differ methodologically.  Had the organizers of the event stuck firmly to that why, rooted in a careful articulation of biblical command and precept, the “who” would have been dictated by the “why.”  Jakes would never have appeared on the short list because a historically orthodox definition of “Christian” would have required clear adherence to the Trinity.  But the pragmatic “who” superseded the foundational “why” with the resulting controversy that followed.  We might also argue, as others have (here, here, here, and here), that a robust biblical answer to the why’s of pastoral ministry might have pre-empted the invitation of Noble and Furtick, whose ministry philosophies appear to depart significantly from biblical pastoral practice.

As I stated in another post, MacDonald and Driscoll may invite anyone they wish to their events.  But isn’t that a rather pragmatic, free-wheeling answer to a problem caused by pragmatic free-wheeling decisions?  It would be better that all our invitations be rooted in our Master’s instruction (Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11).  Why invite a man to share your platform who could not be an elder at a biblical church?  Notice we’re back to “Why?” not “who?”  Our deepest problems are settled by faithful answers to “Why?”  When those answers ring true to the Bible, the follow-on questions of “how” and “who” get so much easier and serve only to strengthen, not change, the “why.”

A Parting Prayer

Now, some may wish to interpret this as an attack on MacDonald and others.  Such an attack is the farthest thing from my mind and heart.  I’m not judging MacDonald.  Each man stands or falls with his own Master.  The Lord knows us all, and He will reward us properly and graciously.  This isn’t written to ridicule or embarrass.  It’s written with the prayerful hope that we all might grow in faithfulness to our Lord.  It’s written in the recognition that we all need help in growing in faithfulness; I know I do.

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37 thoughts on “The Most Important Question is “Why?” Not “How” or “Who?””

  1. Ps. Anyabwile:

    I would like to interject one very important Scriptural consideration in the whole discussion of Driscoll/MacDonald giving Jakes a national platform. The Apostle Paul in his farewell to the Ephesian elders said,

    Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears,” (Acts 20:28-31).

    Paul left the elders with a solemn warning: to protect the church from wolves on the outside and what I will call termites on the inside. To put Jakes on the platform makes it entirely possible some unsuspecting or novice believer just might be drawn away to his aberrant theology and be ruined by that exposure.

    If Pastor MacDonald were to truly shepherd his flock he would take up the staff and keep the wolf from entering in to tear and rend the flock.

    LM

    1. Jamie Robertson says:

      Lou, to play Devil’s advocate (b/c honestly I agree with you), I think MacDonald & co. would defend themselves saying that they aren’t inviting Jakes to preach at their churches (though MacDonald did give Furtick that platform…), and thus not in violation of Paul’s admonition.

      JR

      1. JR:

        You raise an important consideration in regard to Acts 20:28-31 and I’d like to address it.

        I agree that Jakes is not being brought into an actual local NT church to speak from its pulpit to a local assembly of believers. It’s actually worse than that.

        Today, with the explosion of the Internet with all of its social sites like Face Book and Twitter MacDonald is bringing Jakes before an immense number of members of the body of Christ. A number well beyond those who might hear jakes if he were only in the pulpit apart from a media broadcast.

        The Internet gives heretics of all sorts access to unlimited numbers members of the body of Christ. Consider this: most believers attend church once, maybe twice or three times a week. They are, however, open to exposure through the Internet 24/7 to all sorts of aberrant theology. Tragically, some of them are having their theology shaped by what they read and hear on the Internet, some may be good and edifying, but with character like Jakes it can be dangerous. The person in his/her home does not have their pastor nearby to detect and correct some element of heresy that the new or unsuspecting may not be able to discern. Why do you suppose we turn the JW and Mormon missionary away from our door? Because the Bible commands us to and to not give so much as a greeting. (2 John 9-11) Shouldn’t we be just as diligent with what we bring in to homes through the Internet?

        Brother MacDonald is a pastor, a shepherd. He is the overseer. With Jakes he (MacDonald) is using a medium that he controls to give a ravening wolf access to his sheep, and the sheep all across a broad spectrum of Bible believing Christians.

        We have a man (Jakes) who is a heretic of the first order and we have a very clear command from God on how we are to respond to the heretic, Titus 3:10. REJECT! There are no venue considerations here, only to reject.

        Hoping this brief reply was helpful.

        LM

  2. Bridgett says:

    “They are not from the devil, but they’re not clearly from the Bible either.”
    I don’t know how this statement, nor your parting “prayer” shows any kind of graciousness.
    Can we just give it rest? I think you can make your theological points, in this post and other ones, without drawing attention to specific brothers in Christ.
    Seriously, this is just turning in to one big very public pile-on and that doesn’t seem at all to be “from the Bible.”

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Bridgett,

      Thank you so much for visiting the blog and for commenting on both this and other posts. I appreciate the risk of faith and love you took to share in all of this. And I appreciate your appeal for “a rest.” I think we all want that!

      I certainly did not intend this post to be a “public pile-on.” Honestly, I didn’t expect the response the previous posts received. But having written publicly, I did feel it important to also explain my comments when questioned and to even share my reflections as the Lord, I trust, has granted them to me. Today’s two posts were just the fruit of further reflection on the events of the last week. They’re not a pile-on (at least they’re not intended to be) as much as they’re an explanation of what I think are some of the underlying issues that open the way to these kinds of (mis)judgments. The sentence you quote was just an attempt to say again that I wasn’t being literal in the “from the devil” title of the multi-site post. The hyperbole was lost on some who read that post, so I wanted to plainly restate that I was not being serious with that label, while I was raising a critique about the biblical warrant for the practice.

      I wrote this post hoping the reflections, explanations, and clarifications might profit others in some way. I’m profiting from comments like your’s and from the entire dialogue. May the Lord show us yet more grace. All for Jesus who gave all for us,
      T-

      1. Bridgett says:

        Pastor,
        Thank you for your response.
        The part of that sentence I found ungracious was not the part to which you refer. I’m talking about the use of the word “clearly.” To say something (multi-site, in this case) that your fellow brothers in Christ are doing is clearly unbiblical is just…well, not helpful, to put it as kindly as I possibly can. And to put it not as kindly, seems self-righteous.
        Ironically, the blog post to which you pay homage with your “devil” title, (which, BTW, I get it, I’m not offended by it, I understand your point) didn’t mention one congregation or one pastor which inspired that particular blog post. That writer was able to state his theological position, without pointing fingers. And all the readers were able to learn, without being distracted by an air of disharmony within the Body of Christ.
        On the other issue, you’ve said that because the announcement of a person being invited to speak was made public, that gave you the permission to publicly denounce such invite *and* the person doing the inviting.
        The idea of what “public” means in today’s world–the land of Internet, able to be shared with the entire world and its content to exist just short of forever–is not what I think the Bible meant when it gave people the right/mandate/permission to “call out” a fellow brother in Christ.
        So it would seem that your view of what constitutes “local” in the Bible in regards to the local church, and what your view of what constitutes “public” in the Bible, are clearly not held by every follower of Jesus Christ. So now what? Can we agree to disagree without calling each other unbiblical in front of the entire universe to see?
        How we as Christians are to conduct ourselves, and interact with each other, in this highly technological world…it’s quite humbling for me and is my main/ultimate/only concern in all this dialogue.
        Until now, I’ve not commented on blogs like these–I’ve stayed “local.” Now I know why! :)

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Bridgett,

          I’m feeling the same way when it comes to now knowing why I’ve always stead local! :-) Right there with you! :-)

          Just two responses solely in the interest of clarity. First, I have not denounced MacDonald. I count him a brother in the Lord, however much I disagree with this or that. I love the brother. None of my statements are denunciations of James or calls for anyone else to do so. I think his public statements and promotion of the event grants anyone permission to comment in return. That’s the generally accepted rule of academic and other settings.

          Second, by “not clearly from the Bible” all I mean is that we can’t turn to chapter and verse to derive either a command or example for multi-site. It’s not as clear as “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” for example. The strategy requires work to justify in a way that having a local pastor does not. That’s all I mean. I’m not trying to be unkind or self-righteous (though I am demonstrably capable of it!). We just need to be able to say some things are clear and others are disputable (Rom. 14-15).

          You’ve been gracious to comment and respond to responses. Thanks for contributing!

          T-

  3. Highly insighful post. I don’t see anything about this post as “piling on” in the least bit but offering wise counsel to prevent the same type of error in the future. A true shepherd does not want to just rebuke an existing error but lead the sheep away from the same type of error in the future. Ot to use a parent and child analogy, I don’t want to just tell my child, “That is wrong!” But I want to explain to him the reason behind their error and help them avoid it in the future. This is very gracious and scriptural.

    Thabiti, I appreciate your wise, corrective and conciliatory words.

  4. Josh says:

    i find this so funny.

    when is enough, enough.

    have you really written 3 posts in one week jabbing at another faithful minister of the Gospel and then spent untold hours and thousands of words responding to comments?

    Does Pastor MacDonald deserve that?

    regardless of whether or not multi-site churches are biblical or inviting T.D. Jakes was the right thing to do, is this the proper response?

    are you hoping to push him out of the coalition? hoping to provoke to him an angry response? shamefully grasping at blog hit counts?

    You are treating him like an unregenerate false teacher…

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your comment. No, I have not written three posts “jabbing at another faithful minister of the Gospel.” I’m sorry you see things that way.

      And, “no,” MacDonald does not “deserve that.”

      And, “no,” I’m not interested in “grasping at blog hits.”

      And, “no,” I’m not trying to “push him out of the coalition” or “hoping to provoke him to an angry response.”

      James has never been anything but gracious to me. He’s a man that understands that Christians agree, even brothers in the common pursuit of winning the nations to Christ. The ER is premised on that very notion. As I state in an earlier post, the most sobering and painful part of any of this is the possibility of a strained or lost relationship, or the possibility of a fruitful coalition losing its way. I don’t want to lose a relationship with any brother or group of brothers laboring for the glory of our Lord.

      But here’s the thing: Nor do I want to (a) silently stand by while an important and possibly harmful event takes place involving a brother, or (b) fail to think through such an event and learn from it. That’s what’s up with these posts. We all have to be mature enough to wade through the relationship-issue-trust dynamic that sometimes emerges in situations like this. No one is helped by silence when speaking is required. Nor is anyone helped by relationships that don’t allow the blows of a friend. Love exists in the tension that holds relationships together in truth. And open rebuke is better than secret love.

      This blog, like every blog, contains the writer’s personal ruminations and reflections. That’s what these posts contain–one man’s reflections on things that concern him. I don’t want any reader unnecessarily upset or divided. That’s why I’ve offered responses to comments rather than leaving folks guessing about what I think or my motives. The risk is offending further. The reward is winning brothers and sisters. I’m daily praying for the second. Would you join me?

      Grace and peace in Christ our Redeemer and Master,
      T-

      1. gv720/ JUsher says:

        Is it worth remembering that we have many good faithful brothers and sisters in Christ outside the Gospel Coalition?
        Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the members of the coalition council could not reconcile on some strategy, and had to go separate ways.
        They would not have broken fellowship with each other. They could still have very good relationships with each other. They could speak at each others Churches, or at the same conferences.
        To take a concrete example – would any member of the coalition council feel uncomfortable sharing a pulpit with Darrell Bock, or William Lane Craig? I wouldn’t have thought so.
        To debate which way the Gospel Coalition should go is not to debate who is or isn’t Reformed, or Evangelical, and certainly not who is saved. It’s just a debate about which strategy is wisest, and if certain strategies are compatible in the long run.

        This isn’t a debate about any council members faith or character. And that’s a very good sign. We just need to keep a little perspective here. The Gospel Coalition is not the Churches last stand, nor is it the vanguard of the next generation of Christians. The Gospel Coalition is simply a very good resource for Christians like me, who happen to agree with the statement of belief. And it is a good resource for many leaders.

        It cannot be, and must never become, the source of our Christian identity.

        Once we realise that, this debate looses much of its sting.
        gv

  5. Dave. says:

    Now, some may wish to interpret this as an attack on MacDonald and others. Such an attack is the farthest thing from my mind and heart. I’m not judging MacDonald.

    Sorry Thabiti. — I call BS on this paragraph.

    You have spent a week of your life doing only exactly that. Attacking and Judging. A gracious posture when pulling a trigger doesn’t make the result any different.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dave,

      I have not spent a week of my life attacking and judging anyone. I’ll have to leave you to your perspective, and try to learn from it. But as best as I know my own deceitful heart, that’s not what’s up. In one post I critique a strategy and the sinful aspects of our hearts that might be mingled with that strategy. In another post I respond to an invitation that at best appears unwise. And when I thought something could really legitimately be construed as a personal attack, I offered a public apology.

      You can reject the paragraph and question its truthfulness. I respect you for saying so. And I don’t think you’re attacking me or passing unrighteous judgment. You’re obviously looking at things you think are inconsistent and based on that information and point of view rendering an assessment. I respect that. I’d simply ask that you might allow that what you’ve done might also be what I’ve tried to do in my posts–render an assessment based on what I’m seeing without attacking or passing unrighteous judgment.

      That’s my intent, brother. Much love in Christ,
      T-

  6. Jamie Robertson says:

    Am I one of the only ones who finds it sad that when a faithful pastor like Pastor Anyabwile writes in defense of Christ’s (not our) church against giving an influential platform to confirmed heretics (wolves, as Paul calls them), that certain overly-sensitive souls cry foul?

    Calling men who have a modicum of reputation for being faithful who are perpetuating the error of allowing such wolves to account and to refute their poor arguments with love and gentleness is a heavy but necessary responsibility for men who have been given the imprimatur of the gospel and called to be Christ’s under-shepherds of His flock.

    You who say “do not judge!” Do you not judge those who are calling those responsible here into account? Christ said, “You shall know them by their fruit,” and what is going on here in wider evangelicalism is a tacit refusal to do so. It is only right that faithful men like Pastor Anyabwile give a response and stand behind their words.

    Pastor, you have my thanks for your sober and thoughtful words on this subject and I’m praying you continue to do so in faithfulness and gentleness to Christ.

    JR

    1. mandie says:

      i couldn’t agree with you more.

    2. Henry says:

      Agreed! I can’t understand the bitterness towards Thabiti of so many who have left comments here. Thankyou for being willing to speak the truth in love Pastor, and please don’t be swayed by some of the negative comments here.

  7. Shawn says:

    Thabiti,

    Thank you for taking time to write on this matter, again. It has been reasonable and clear, regardless how others interpret your posture and tone.

    I think the past week or so (and really this has been brewing for some time now) has revealed an ever increasing divide in the “general, I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation” world. It began to show itself during the MacArthur/YRR series and this Elephant Room debacle is only proving it more.

    In a world with Coalitions and Together-ness, the divide is increasing. Is it simply about celebrity pastors and ordinary pastors? Is it the pretentiousness of things like The Elephant Room? Is it pride? (Yes?) Whatever it is, it is unfortunate.

  8. gv720/ JUsher says:

    First of all, I’d like to comment on the Pastor/teacher relationship. I teach religious education to High School students in Northern Ireland. Being an evangelical teacher in Northern Ireland’s “bible belt” means that I have had to spend a considerable amount of time explaining evangelicalism in class (although there is much more to my job than that!) I am also part of the School’s pastoral care team.
    My School has decreased in size from around 500 to 260 students over the last five years. As it has done so, our Principal was under pressure to reduce staff. He decided, instead, that smaller classes would be the School’s greatest resource.
    The quality of my teaching has improved tremendously – I know my students better. The quality of my pastoral care has improved tremendously. I know my students needs. The stronger my relationship with my students, the stronger my teaching.

    There is bound to be a lesson in this for Pastors.

    gveale

  9. gv720/ JUsher says:

    Second
    I would like to reiterate that Pastor Anyabwile has shown tremendous grace. He has listened to bloggers and interacted with critics.
    Multi-national church plants cause incredible ill feeling – it can seem as if we are being colonised by Americans who care nothing for their own history, never mind ours, and who know nothing about our needs. But they can put on a good party and steal away young people (for a period of time.)
    Not everyone will react that way to a multi-site, but enough do to cause division. So Pastor Anyabwile is actually trying to put a stop to wider division in the Church. An exchange on a blog is absolutely nothing compared to a spat in the real world!!!

    And enough people think that multi-sites are such a bad idea that it would do no harm to put on the brakes for a year or two. See how the current batch pan out; then we can review the situation with wisdom and hindsight.

    Is that asking too much? Just a short break, and then we can return to this debate with more information and experience?

    GVeale

    gveale

  10. gv720/ JUsher says:

    Finally, I hope that I have said nothing to annoy Pastor Anyabwile when I have written in support of his messages. I think that he has shown incredible wisdom and leadership; I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader, as I sense that this would embarrass him. And I hope that nothing that I have said has stood in the way of his message

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear GVeale,

      Thank you for your comments and contributions to the dialogue. I give God thanks for all that’s been shared and learned.

      I don’t feel folks need to defend me–though I’m very thankful that you and others are willing. This is a conversation between friends and brethren, and sometimes family conversations get a little fevered! You should gather around me an my siblings! I’m the youngest of eight rowdy rascals who know how to throw down! ;-) So, everything is cool. I’m grateful for you.

      By the way, I had the privilege of serving at the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention a few years back. Do you know it? I found the hospitality of the saints in N. Ireland as warm and encouraging as any place I’ve ever been! The Lord send forth His Spirit in that land!

      T-

      1. gv720/ JUsher says:

        Thank you Pastor.
        I never attended the convention; but my wife often attended. It’s a big part of NI’s evangelical culture, and I’m not sure why I never made it.

        I think that a lot of Church members (including me) need to remember that every close family has plenty of squabbles. In fact, the closer we are, the franker we are, and the more squabbles we have to deal with. But when our brothers and sisters need our help, we’re there in a flash.
        That’s the measure of love, to my mind. What we’ll sacrifice for one another.

        Graham
        (I am sorry about using “gv720 and Jusher as pseudonyms, but I had a nasty experience with online impersonation recently!)

  11. David Biel says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    Whereas I do appreciate the motivation behind what Bridgette (way above) said, hoping that personal dialogue between the leaders with the public platforms who make these decisions could take place, I also understand that there is a real need and burden that you must carry to defend the church, which is the “Pillar and Buttress of truth.” So I pray the Lord will provide three things:
    1. An open line of communication between leaders who have platforms and make decisions, not isolating, but making them together. And for truth and love to reign there.
    2. For continued grace and boldness for those who must come along side the church to defend it when that communication and submission fails to take place.
    3. Grace for church leaders to become far more “local-minded” and skip the celebrity advantage thing. As far as Carl Trueman has taken this thing, him and everyone at REF21 are right about this plague of Christian Celebrityism.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear brother,
      So grateful for your prayers! That’s precisely what we need. Thank you for being faithful to seek the Savior’s face!
      T-

  12. Thabiti,

    I’ll add my sincere thanks for this series, and my voice to those frustrated and disappointed over some of the lack of thoughtfulness and determination to take offense in the comments. (My voice would have been shriller had you not been modelling a better way. :) )

    A friend and I were talking recently about the history of the emerging church and the response of the Reformed church by way of things like the “missional” movement, the multi-site movement, the revival in worship music, even the return to “gospel-centered” preaching. All of these movements seem to be themselves a response to lifeless fundamentalism – not, perhaps, of the kind that one brother commenter has been advocating. But I”m thinking specifically of the kind of fundamentalism that declares its practices Biblical by some kind of fiat, and actively rejects and rebukes those who quietly (or even with charitable, friendly joking) respond with “why”? Not the “why” of a rebellious child, but the “why” of an inquiring mind, wanting to submit everything, even church practices, to the Lordship of Christ.

    Growing up, being forbidden to ask “why” actively turned my heart away from God for many years. Now, that same fundamentalist practice is rearing its head in our own circles, the very ones we built to stand against it.

    So God bless your faithfulness to ask hard, but always necessary questions, and God grant us all grace to receive them as meant for our good, and God’s glory.

    1. gv720/ JUsher says:

      That’s an interesting train of thought Rachael – emergents react to the mega church; the reformed react to emergents. Have we reacted by “tweaking” the mega church? Won’t that lead us back to the original mess?

      gv

  13. Alan says:

    I am thankful once again Thabiti for your clarity, faithfulness and graciousness. As for a few of the comments above, I don’t understand why the ER debacle should just be left alone now. (a) Jakes’ views on the Trinity and the prosperity Gospel are still a problem; (b) the event means he is still being treated as a ‘leader’ worth listening to (on these issues!); (c) those who disagree with the wisdom of the celebrities are dismissed (as …); (d) the change in purpose for the ER after the initial uproar does nothing to encourage confidence; (e) the ER planners have linked themselves to TGC in the context of this event.

    The problem remains. Your posts, however, seek a way forward.

    Thank you for exemplifying Titus 1:9 Thabiti.

  14. Bob says:

    Thabiti, It would help me if you could give me/us an example of a Multi-site church that you believe is doing it well. I am concerned that you and TGC are opposed to all of them. Is it possible to be evangelical, reformed, biblical and Multi-site? I would love to see examples of churches that are multiplying and reproducing which are biblical, Multi-site with campus pastors that preaching/elders and yet connected to many sites.
    Blessings,
    Bob

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Bob,

      Thanks for the questions, brother. A couple quick responses:

      1. My comments here must not be construed as representing TGC. There are multi-site pastors inside TGC. I’m certain they would disagree with my conclusions and perhaps some of the problems I think exist with the approach. I want to honor their right to do so and their ministries. So, TGC is not opposed to all multi-sites, or even any multi-sites for that matter.

      2. I think it’s possible to be evangelical and multi-site. Whether you can be “Reformed” and multi-site is another question. That depends on what you mean by “Reformed.” Consider this thoughtful post by Michael Horton: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2011/09/30/popes-populism-or-presbyteries-evaluating-the-multi-site-church/. Horton argues that multi-site absenteeism looks more Roman Catholic than Reformed. Is it possible to be multi-site and “biblical”? Again, that depends on how you understand the Bible to define “church.” Many multi-site proponents characterize the strategy as “one church in many locations.” That sentiment can be supported by what we see in the Bible. It recognizes a broader spiritual unity. But is the multi-site approach with televised preachers what the Bible means by “church” or what we call “local church”? I don’t think so.

      3. Examples. Because of my view of what constitutes a “church,” I wouldn’t use the language of “multi-site.” What I would describe as “biblical multi-sites” would really be more akin to local churches with local leadership connected by association in some way. There are different ways of doing that, and there are many examples of faithfulness and fruitfulness. But, many “multi-site” proponents would not call them multi-site and might even dismiss them as “traditional.” Much of this turns on how we define “local church.”

      Take, for example, the East Caribbean circuit of Baptist churches. There are three congregations or local churches in the circuit. They share three teaching elders who have a primary church they shepherd but who also rotate to the other churches to teach and shepherd. They share resources and cooperate in various ways. They recognize a unity beyond their local level, but they regard each congregation as a church. That’s one model. We’ve long had pastors serve multiple congregation in rural areas, for example. Again, these might not be touted as “multi-site.” But that’s because the definition of “church” would vary.

      In the comment thread a questioner asked me about Lon Solomon in the No. Va area. I don’t know what they do now, but back in 2001 when they were renovating a second campus Solomon preached at all 5-6 services in both locations. They had one eldership and regarded themselves as one church. Worked for me.

      I could cite others. But, again, we’d have to clarify whether or not we’re using the same definition of “church.”

      Hope that helps with where I’m coming from, brother. Grace to you,
      T-

      1. Bob says:

        Thabiti, Thank you. That helped me a bit. I think a lot of the discomfort I am feeling about the negative thoughts about “Multi-sites” has to be seen through the lens of each church. I believe it can be biblical, local and reformed. I love the Pastoral networking, preaching, accountability and unity that it brings. Our campuses have “live” preaching almost every week. Thanks again for taking the time to clarify.
        Bob

  15. David Murray says:

    Thabiti,

    What you’ve said and the way you’ve said it beautifully models Christian conduct in a necessary controversy:

    1. Clear and unmistakeable language
    2. Full explanations of the “Why”
    3. Friendships not given priority over truth
    4. Remove as much of the personal as possible
    5. Apologize when over-stating in any point
    6. Gracious responses to critics of the criticism
    7. Love for the church (and souls) placed above personal comfort and peace

    I believe much good will yet come out of your brave stand for the truth.

    1. Anna K says:

      I echo your observations David. Thabiti has shown exactly the kind of grace, wisdom, boldness, humility, and love with which all Biblically justified, discerning, rightly motivated criticism of other Christian leaders should be made.

      Thanks you Thabiti for this series. I have been growing more and more alarmed with a number of issues reflecting the seeming lack of discernment amongst popular, respected Christian leaders today in decisions that could be loosely categorized as ones of (1) promotion of (as opposed to mere association with) other leaders whose orthodoxy, orthopraxy, or pragmatic methods are clearly lacking when held to Biblical scrutiny, and/or (2)choosing the “how” over “Why” (whether they are asking Why at all, or the right “Why” in the first place) to the detriment of the Gospel and of the Body of Christ. I appreciate your wisdom and discussion of both of these matters…especially when it seems so few are willing to speak the truth in love in hopes to reverse the course we seem to be on. Praying for you!

      Anna

  16. Ted S. says:

    “The Most Important Question is ‘Why?’ Not ‘How’ or ‘Who?'”

    Gee, it sounds like you could be accused of “sinning through questioning.”

    See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html?pagewanted=4
    /

  17. henrybish says:

    Brother Thabiti,

    Although I agree with you on multi-site, some would say you do not go far enough? Consider this piece someone from the Brethren tradition recently wrote to me:

    Yes, one of the concerns would be clericalism. I am Brethren as you are aware and modern Brethren tend to have a variety of views re the pastorate. I believe that Scripture allows for full-time elders who labour in preaching and teaching, what concerns me is the institutionalising of this gift to such an extent that often the only person who preaches is the full-time salaried pastor and the rest of the congregation are effectively pew-fillers. The higher the view of the pastorate or ministry (he must be formally trained and ordained) the less likely it is that the average member of the congregation has a good knowledge of Scripture. This seems ironic for the purpose of a high view of the pastorate is that the people will be better taught. However, where the mentality is that ‘we pay the pastor to do the preaching’ the less seems to be the felt need to know Scripture for oneself; a clergy/laity divide seems to me to encourage an uneducated ‘laity’. There also seems to be in the system an endemic a failure to use the various gifts given to the church. This, Brethren would say, is a failure to give the Spirit his proper place in the church. We stifle gift and its development by a system that really makes room only for a few who are formally trained.

    By contrast, where the church recognises gifting but has no formal clergy/laity divide there tends to be a greater knowledge of Scripture by the average church member. The reason is a generally higher engagement with Scripture is encouraged as gifts are recognised in the body. Young men are encouraged to discover their gifts. Opportunities to contribute in a short message, a reading, a prayer, announce a song etc are there in the Open Worship communion service. In the mid-week prayer meeting a young man will lead and open by prayer, song and short word. These opportunities and the absence of a yawning gulf between the pastorate and the pew tend to encourage in young men the desire to know Scripture for they know that from their ranks a good number are expected to have verbal gifting that requires them to speak publicly and the opportunity exists for this gifting to reveal itself and develop. In our own church of about 200 we have seen 8 go to Theological college and further training in recent years.

    Of course someone like Piper is a great example of a pastor-teacher. I believe he is keen to provide training in preaching in his own church seeing the local church as the primary source for the development of gifting. This is very close to Brethren thinking. I don’t know enough about the dynamics of his own church to comment on how ‘clerical’ the mentality is. In my view the sooner churches develop their own gift locally and then use this gift locally whether it is paid (full-tiime) or unpaid (hold down a secular job) the better. The idea that a church calls in a stranger and hires and fires him as it sees fit, is a travesty of how God sees the church. As I see, especially in States, the adulation of pastors and the creation of a celebrity culture in preachers, I feel again we are far from the NT pattern.

    I do not say these men seek celebrity, not at all, but the system encourages it. Piper seems to eschew celebrity status.

    I also find that churches expect the impossible from their pastors. The burn-out is appallingly high. Again, I feel this is in part a function of a system that puts far too much responsibility on one or two men. In addition churches become preaching centres. The preacher gives the church ‘identity’ and when the preacher goes the church struggles. Westminster Chapel was a classic example. When M Lloyd-Jones retired the church more than halved in number. I find the recent practice of churches existing where video links connect to the mother church quite appalling. Men rather than the Spirit of God pointing to Christ become the focus.

    His view certainly bears more resemblance to the pattern of meeting found in 1Cor14 than most churches today, wouldn’t you say?

  18. Dwight McKissic says:

    Thabiti,

    Is it your belief that T. D. Jakes is not a Christian based on your definition of a Christian, and your knowledge of Jakes’ beliefs?

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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