"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Willow Creek Gets Doctrine?

    In 1987 when I was a student in China, a few friends and I took a train to do some traveling around the northeast of China. One of our destinations was a little town called Shanhaiguan which is situated on the east coast. The main attraction of the town was that this was the place where ancient ruins of the Great Wall comes down off the mountains and ends in the ocean. Much of the remains of this 2000 year old wall were still intact but they were largely piles of gray rubble. it was beautiful though and incredible to stand upon a piece of history.

    A few years later I had the opportunity to go their again, this time as a stop over on a business trip. I was anticipating the opportunity to see the ruins of the wall again and I was telling the people I was with what a wonderful spot this was. We approached the ocean to see the wall but when we arrived there had been drastic changes. The ruins had completely disappeared and were replaced by a brand new flawless wall ... just rebuilt. How greatly disappointed I was that such a decision had been put in the hands of someone who had no sense of history and had instead decided to commercialize the place and in doing so utterly ruined everything that was good about it. Thinking a new wall might enhance the tourist trade someone laid waste to the beautiful historic ruins. How utterly senseless, I thought to myself. This would be like going to Athens Greece if someone decided to bulldoze the Parthenon and replace it with a brand new replica of the original. AAArrgh

    To hit even closer to home, I propose to you that this is essentially the same thing that has happened to a sizable portion of modern evangelicalism - a faith which has largely dislocated from the historic Christian faith. The seeker model has often wiped out any reference to the importance of history and apostolic doctrine by exchanging it for a rootless American religion which has very little to do with all that went before it. These are serious charges so lets get specific. Last week I posted a piece on this blog which explained that Willow Creek took a survey drawing from 200 churches and 57,000 people; The result revealed that many "mature" believers were leaving the churches in droves because they’re not being challenged enough. So based on this research, Willow (and other churches based on their model), have decided to bring back more doctrinal teaching for discipleship and growth. Our first response to this might be "great!" but upon closer inspection it is evident that no real changes have been made whatsoever - which shows they have learned nothing. Why? Because this decision was derived from a poll and not the word of God. It is obvious that the consumer is still sovereign in Willow churches. And as long as they are sovereign whatever new doctrinal teaching that they plan to implement is already deeply flawed at the outset. Until the Word of God drives the content of church, including the reason and pattern of doing church, then you have dethroned God and set man in his place. This philosophy of worship assumes the Pelagian view of man that believes Christianity is just a product like any other product and that sold in the markets. Biblical preaching, in this model, is not what God uses to raise up the dead, but rather, Christianity is decided by a democratic vote. This is disastrous to the faith and, if evangelicalism has any hope of surviving, must be confronted lovingly but firmly so that we recapture the truth of the gospel.

    Posted by John on April 14, 2008 01:12 PM


    Great insight. Happy Blogger appreciation day. I enjoy the monergism page and now the blog. Good job.

    Very true article. It makes me curious as to whether or not Willow Creekers will touch on the subject of Calvinism, and whether we'll see big divisions in the attendees. Let's pray that a bunch of them get driven to churches where the word of God is preached!

    upon closer inspection it is evident that no real changes have been made whatsoever

    What, exactly, are you talking about? What doctrines, how were they taught and how do they only appear to have changed?

    Your post has a lot of heat, but sadly, no light.

    I couldn't get the trackback feature to work, so I'll link to my comments:

    Excellent post, especially this finding: "The result revealed that many 'mature' believers were leaving the churches in droves because they’re not being challenged enough."

    I was in an "independent" Bible church in the 1990s that turned to this approach and it drove out the "mature" believers, including some who had founded the church in the 1950s! Now the "younger" people in the church are saying the church's approach was fine "for the 1980s and 1990s," but they want a more "emergent" and "modern" approach! What you sow you reap. The Biblical foundations this church followed two decades ago have been wiped out thanks to the fascination with innovation.

    It is a tragedy, and a warning of what happens when churches are blown "to and fro" by the culture.

    Some of us who came to faith in that setting have since either returned to "Reformed" roots or found the Reformed faith anew, in part because of church plantings.

    Thank you for your commentary.


    Thank you for your comments. The changes that Willow Creek intends to make are driven by its poll findings, are they not? This being the case, then, ask yourself, is the "consumer" sovereign here or not? Is not the consumer driving their decisions of "how to do church"? In other words is the direction being determined at a grassroots level or is God's word authoritative here? In the future when there is unhappiness in the ranks, will they do another poll to set sail in another direction? How do you figure these statements are merely "heat, and not light". I am open to dialoging about it. If I have missed something, please share it with all of us.


    In response to your comment, "In Acts 1, the Lord uses the casting of lots to guide the disciples in choosing a replacement for Judas. If the Lord can use lots to reveal his Will to people, why can he not use polls?"

    Answer: Because God has already fully revealed to us how He intends for us to worship Him: the preaching of the word, the sacraments and church discipline. It is through the cross and the weakness of preaching that God says the kingdom will advance (Acts 2:42; 46-47). God has already clearly told us that doctrine is important. We do not need a poll to tell whether or not this is the way forward. It is the way whether we vote for it or not. We are in real danger of putting "strange incense" on the altar when we determine how we will worship God especially when it contradicts God's own revealed pattern. In light of your answer, how do you know that the Lord is not using the Pope to bring the word of God to the current generation. With all due respect, even Roman Catholics have better exegetical grounds for doing so than you do for a "will by majority" method. If ours is to truly be a reformational church community, it must begin with the rejection of any notion of self-founding, either in church, in creation or in redemption. The promise is not only for us and for our children, Peter says, but "for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39). And how does he call them? Through the preaching of the gospel. It is God's working, not ours; God's means of grace, not our programs, plans, or achievements that extend the kingdom. The apostles took very seriously the reality of false doctrine in the church. It seems today that few pay attention to this and a poll certainly is the fastest way to bring about teachers who tell us what our itching ears want to hear rather than the truth. People are changeable and finicky by nature. The original polls Willow did determined that doctrine was out, now its back in. Were both polls right? How do we determine? We know because we have someting much more authoritative than man's fickle opinion. God's word.


    2 points I noted in your post. It took me many years going around the block before I realized only be grace I can enter. I was taught to believe, repent and you will be saved. Yeah! Sure wants to avoid hell. I did it with my mouth but not my heart. Deep inside, there was some doubt,confusion, disbelief to quest for more. 5 years ago, God used reformed theology to pierce my heart. My journey does not end with salvation. I believe God gives the desire for believers to seek Him and they will eventually find Him because He reveals Himself to them.

    I realize you post a lot about preaching lately. Thank you for that. I go to an interdenominational church that preaches 100% Christ centre sermons. I am well-fed as I see myself growing. Any off-Christ focus messages will not satisfy His sheep.

    It is interesting about your mentioning of the historical Great Wall and building a brand new one. I want to share about my experience working with some children in a developing country... I was teaching a bunch of kids in the orphanage about a story of a flying old bus. The book is written for American children in mind. The book portraits an old bus turned old and had to be sent to junk and it was replaced with a brand new one. The children in the book were so sad. The children in this orphange, however, love the new bus, they do not see why one cries for the old junk. Living in a developing country, I realize for those who are poor, the old things have no sentimental value to them. Everytime there is a new item, the new simply replaces the old. Sometimes, they wear a pair of shoes until so torn but still wearing because it is not an option. Once there is a new pair, the old is dumped. Chinese like new stuff, every new year,one MUST wear new things and chinese are face conscious too. Chinese suffered from poverty for a very long time. Certainly Great Wall could not be compared to a pair of old shoes. My point is as much as we need His grace to give us a new heart to appreciate Him, mainlanders need time and the right people to educated them the right values and see beyond the facade of skin-deep beauty of a brand new wall.

    Florence said, "My point is as much as we need His grace to give us a new heart to appreciate Him, mainlanders need time and the right people to educated them the right values and see beyond the facade of skin-deep beauty of a brand new wall."

    Good point. There are millions of well-intended Christians in the seeker churches. The poll revealed the true longing and affectionfor truth that God has placed in many of their hearts. In light of your point and this reality we must be patient and understanding of our friends who are struggling in this movement so we can point them to where true beauty exists, in a winsome and respectful way. I personally receive many emails from folks who are in these churches but have no where else to go, and many others who go to our church now who were once deeply involved in these churches. Indeed when our heritage has been forgotten, it will take time to point one back to it. But when true Christians are not being fed by their shepherds, they will not produce wool, so to speak. We must gently point them back to the True Shepherd, who will feed and nourish them with True food.

    Mr. Hendryx,
    You have no idea what an incredible blessing Monergism has been for me. I was saved in highschool 1988, and was thrust into Word Faith, Vineyard, "Prophetic Words", Arminianism, Charisma Magazine, etc. I received a BA in Theology and had a great Reformed Professor for Theology and Church History...but alas, since it was a Pentecostal Arminian College his hands were quite tied! I was needing some good doctrine and didn't know who to trust. I wanted to learn about the true Reformed Faith. John, you have been such a spiritual father in the church. God has led me to trust your know that you research everything before you feed His sheep. My husband and I trust you and love you dearly for your faithfulness. I was getting caught up in a hypercalvinist site, and as a new Calvinist, was devastated. I go to your site everyday! I have learned so much, especially from your humble spirit. You definitely stand upon the shoulders of giants...your vision is amazing. :) Thank you for your great part in helping to mature the saints! Your hard work is greatly noticed and appreciated from many.

    The Darr Family!

    Sadly, in America today everything is supposed to be "decided by a democratic vote." Even truth is decided this way in most people's minds, including "Christians."

    I can understand this in the minds of unbelievers, but in the minds of those who are supposed to be followers of Christ, this mindset is very disturbing.

    The only reason they are changing is because they were loosing people and they want them back so their numbers will make them look successful. They aren't changing so as to bring themselves into alignment with the Word, but rather they are changing so as to bring the numbers back up.

    You're right John, this change is superficial only.

    How timely your commentary is on Willow Creek. They claim they are going to change and focus on doctrine. I'm sure you know that this past weekend (April 11-13) Willow Creek had Brian McLaren as one of the main speakers at a "reach the youth" conference that they presented. If this is the doctrine they are going to focus on I'm afraid the cure might be worse than the disease.

    Thanks for your post John, showing that this Polling is simply catering to man's felt need is very helpful and insightful.

    Though I agree with what you say and it resonates with me, I'm starting to get the feeling that reformed folk get their jollies out of not only exposing the errors of other churches, people, what not, but then pointing to it and saying "how foolish! Don't the know the Gospel???" Well, obviously they don't (or know it well, at the least), but who's going to teach them? Obviously there is a time and a place for severe warnings and exhortations (i.e., Galatians - when apostasy is on the line; modern equivalent is many Emergent Church people) but I find very little help on many reformed blogs concerning HOW we can love, care, and exhort our brothers and sisters who have deeply flawed views of teaching, spiritual growth, evangelism, etc.

    You mention this "confronting lovingly" at the end of your post but then you end. But that's what I want to know to do - How do we confront Seeker Driven churches lovingly? Yes it is sad and alarming to see people constantly being deprived of the deeper things of God, but how are the historically rooted reformed men and women going to bring this to light to Willow Creek type churches? The reformed have already established why Seeker Driven churches are erroneous; what are they going to do about it? Or can we do anything about it?


    You make a very important point. I think we start by doing so in our own communities. The Internet has essentially made easily available the positions that each group may take on this, but we need to work with the people God places in our lives and do so lovingly but firmly. I don't know about you but we encounter new friends coming out of these churches all the time and some of them are now in our men and women's groups. The polling reveals that a LARGE number of persons in these churches are disgruntled and want to leave but don't know where to go. Perhaps we may not be able to persuade the leadership but it would appear that the laity may not need a great deal of persuading. They are already there. They just need to know that you care about them and that there are God-honoring alternatives. I don't think we should stop pointing out clearly what the word of God is. That is the most loving thing we can do even if it is confrontational. The medicinal cure to a disease is not always pleasant but we don't blame the doctor if it goes down heard do we. All we have is of grace, and that means we too must take the cure for the disease on a daily basis. We have nothing over anyone else. But the cure we must all take.

    No Jollies here Nate. We love the word and fear God. When God is being maligned or misapprehended I believe the Scriptures clearly say it is our duty to warn people away from worshipping idols. And not only our duty but the overflow of our hearts' which have been stirred up to love God. The Scriptures emphasize this over and over. The prophets in the OT were hated by their own people more than anyone else because they spoke the truth. They did not do so for jollies but because they feared God and loved the bretheren. It is sad today, as was then, that people did not think this was done out of love.

    How do we do it with love? We start by recognizing that everything we have is by mercy alone in Christ alone. .i.e applying the gospel to ourselves before we bring it to others. Start by acknowledging our own weakness. So, in other words, we can pray for and exhort others while always keeping in mind our own need for prayer and exhortation.

    "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. " !Tim 1:15, 16

    Please consider the following Scripture
    "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. " 1 Tim 1:3-5

    This text teaches that Paul wanted Timothy to remain in Ephesus to tell people not to teach false doctrine and the reason for his opposition to false doctrine is what? The text says his main reason was LOVE. Love is the primary motive for exposing what is false and pointing to what is true.

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