Plumbline, Volume 10, No. 1, February/March 2005
The dictionary defines a fad as "a practice or interest followed for a
time with exaggerated zeal." This could just as well be a description of
congregational life of many Christian churches today.
is a new book, a new program or a new emphasis every year or so. It’s all
anyone can talk about; it's all the preacher preaches about - for a while.
Then, as quickly as it came, it's gone. As eagerly as it was received,
it's abandoned and forgotten.
to the Fad-Driven church.
first this might not sound like a problem. Some Christians can remember
when the Church didn't jump from bandwagon to bandwagon every year or two.
But for others, this is all they have ever known. For them, it is hard
to imagine what the Church would be like without the constant ebb and flow
of church fads. For them, the long list of church fads represents their
personal history as a Christian: Spiritual Gift inventories, Spiritual
Warfare, Promise Keepers, Weigh Down Workshop, The Prayer of Jabez;
the Left Behind Series, Becoming a Contagious Christian, a long succession
of evangelism and stewardship programs, and most recently, The Purpose-Driven
Life and 40 Days of Purpose. There are many Christians for whom
this list (give or take one or two) is Christianity. Some church
fads come and go, some come and stay. A few are genuinely harmless; most
contain serious theological error. All are popular - while they last In
the fad-driven church, "exaggerated zeal” has replaced "the faith
once for all delivered to the Saints."1
the course of hosting Issues, Etc. I've examined most if not all of the
recent church fads. I am always surprised - not by the fads themselves,
but by something else. I am always surprised by how uncritically churches
accept a fad, how enthusiastically churches embrace a fad and
how carelessly churches abandon a fad. That is why this article isn't about
the fads themselves, but about the kind of churches that accept, embrace
and abandon fads.
fad has a life cycle. The fad is first accepted, then embraced and finally
abandoned. For the fad4riven church, this life cycle is a way life.
cycle begins with acceptance. The fad-driven church is practiced at this.
Too close an examination of the fad at the outset might raise too many
questions. "After all, this book is a best-seller!" "Thousands of churches
are doing it, how can we go wrong?" Accept first, examine later, if at
all. This acceptance may come through the pastor's active promotion or
through grassroots popularity. Either way, the fad spreads like wildfire
in the congregation.
cycle continues with enthusiastic embrace. By "enthusiastic" I don't mean
excitement or emotion, although those things may be involved. What I mean
is that the fad-driven church embraces its latest fad with creedal intensity.
While the fad has currency, it is an article of faith. Belief in the fad
becomes a mark of loyalty to the church. During this phase of the fad's
life cycle, critics of the fad may be dismissed as unloving, judgmental
or unconcerned for saving souls. At the very least, they are viewed as
troublemakers and obstacles to the church's mission. During this phase,
in some cases, the fad may dictate what is preached, the content of bible
study or even the focus of congregational life.
life cycle ends with the abandonment of the fad. Some fads have a built-in
expiration date... most simply linger until something better comes along.
The fad-driven church may cling with a martyr's fervor to the fad while
it lasts, but everyone knows that its days are numbered. Sooner or later
it will have to be abandoned. Accept the fad, embrace the fad and abandon
the fad. This is the life of a fad-driven church. There are exceptions
to this life cycle. In a few cases a fad doesn't die; it grows into something
bigger than a fad. It grows into a movement... I have often been critical
of church fads at the height of their popularity. After several encounters
with fad defenders, I noticed something. The seasoned member of the fad-driven
church will defend his fad today. But he will happily abandon the same
fad six months from now. I realized that the fad itself is inconsequential;
everyone knows that it will be forgotten sooner or later. Christians caught
in the cycle of church fads must defend a particular fad, because by doing
so, they are defending their willingness to accept, embrace and abandon
fads in general. They are defending their fad-driven-ness.
Lack of Discernment
need of discernment in the Church is one of the most frequent admonitions
in Scriptnre.2 Paul's warning to the Ephesians is typical:
are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried
about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness
in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love we are to
up in all aspects unto Him, who is the head even Christ. 3
church is supposed to stand immovable against “every wind of doctrine."
By contrast the fad-driven church is a windsock. If you want to know which
way the wind is blowing, the latest teachings, the newest programs or the
most current methods, just look at the fad-driven church. If you want to
know what the fad-driven church will be doing next, just walk through your
local Christian bookstore or page through a Christian publisher's catalogue.
the fad-driven church, books, programs and seminars are evaluated primarily
by their sales, popularity and attendance records, rather than on their
theological merit "False teaching? Why would so many churches be
reading this book if it contained false teaching?"… Can millions of Christians
be wrong? Yes, they can.
the fad-driven church often excuses its lack of discernment in the name
of saving souls. It justifies its appetite for fads in the name of evangelism.
"Whatever it takes" is the creed of the fad-driven church. "Whatever
it takes to reach the lost" is supposed to be a courageous new strategy
for evangelism. But "whatever it takes" is not a strategy. "Whatever
it takes" is an admission that you have no strategy. Sinners aren't saved
by "whatever." Sinners are saved by what Jesus did at the Cross. "Whatever
it takes” is just another way of saying, "Whatever people want," or "Whatever
everyone else is doing." Rather than seeking the lost, the fad-driven church
is just seeking its next fix.
advocates of church fads take the "Eat the meat, spit out the bones" approach
to false teaching. They claim that practicing discernment means spiting
the “bone?” of error while eating the "meat" of truth. There are several
problems with this approach. First, it assumes that a church fad contains
only isolated false teachings, like so many bones in a fish. But many church
fads don't just contain false teaching; they are based on false teaching...
Second, the "bone spitting" approach assumes that the errors of the latest
church fad will be obvious to everyone. Often they are not. In the second
century, Irenaeus battled the fad of Gnosticism. He observed:
indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed,
it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive
dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced
(ridiculous as the expression mqy seem) more true than the truth itself.
"inexperienced" are still infants in the faith. Would you give an infant
a fish to eat knowing that there were bones in it?
the "bone spitting" approach fails to recognize that a continuous stream
of fads will erode the church's ability to discern truth from error. With
every new fad, the fad-driven church grows less able to recognize the truth.
In time, the fad-driven church is unable to discern the true Gospel. Paul
found this to be the case among the Corinthians:
one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached or you receive
a different spirit which you have not received or a dflfrrent gospel which
you have not accepted you hear this beautifully. 5
is the bottom line. A church willing to tolerate some false teaching will
eventually tolerate any false teaching - even a false gospel, a false spirit
and a false Jesus. For this reason, when it comes to false teaching,
Scripture's command isn't to "bone-spit," but to avoid it altogether. 6
Os Guinness has written about the "idol of relevance" and accurately
described the mentality of the fad-driven church:
And of course, whatever is next must be a great deal better still … The past is beside the point, outdated, reactionary, and stagnant. In a word that is today's supreme term of dismissal, the past is irrelevant. Everything Christian from worship to evangelism must be fresh, new, up-to-date, attuned, appealing, seeker-sensitive, audience-friendly, and relentlessly relevant ... "All new”, “ must-read”, ” the sequel that is more than equal"
the mentality is rampant and' the effect is corrosive. 7
than making the church more relevant this mentality only makes the fad-driven
church more susceptible to fads and more desperate;
Relevance without truth encourages what' Neitzsche called “the herd" mentality and Kierkegaard "age of the crowd" Further compounded by accelerated change.
itself is compounded by the fashion-driven dictates of consumerism, relevance
becomes overheated and vaporizes into trendiness. 8
final observation is an uncanny paraphrase of Jeremiah's lament:
is the condition of an institution that has ceased to b faithful to its
origins. It is then caught up in "a restless, cosmopolitan hunting after
new and ever newer things. 9
have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves
cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. [Jeremiah 2:11-13].
This explains the short life span of so many church fads. It is the
result of desperation. The fad-driven church's new cisterns are broken.
They can't hold water. Even while the last drops drain from the old cistern,
the fad-driven church must desperately dig a new one. But the new cistern
is as leaky as the old one, so the digging must go on.
to Offer; Nothing to Say
Inge said' "Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a
widower in the next." Take away the fads, and what of the Church is left
in the fad-driven church? In some cases, what's left isn't the church at
all, but a collection of principles, practices and ideas that don't add
up to anything resembling the Christian faith. Rather than "the pattern
of sound words”,10there are only the remnants of past fads.
the name of saving the lost the fad-driven is trading the saving message
of the Gospel for the newest gimmick. If such a church does reach the lost,
will it have anything to say that can save them? ...Will the fad-driven
church give Christians Jesus or Jabez, lasting forgiveness or the latest
for the member of the fad-driven church who has known nothing but fads,
will these fads leave her a Christian on her deathbed (or will she be left
wondering what that whirlwind of best-sellers, seminars, video
sermons and three-ring binders was all about?)
church that wraps its identity and mission around the evanescent desires
of finicky consumers, will run the risk of creating a church as ephemeral
as those desires.11 Will the fad-driven church remain the Church? In its
"exaggerated zeal for all things new, will it hold fast to the unchanging
message of the Cross?"
live in an age of pious distractions. We live in an age of church fads.
The fad-driven church has structured its life around the trends and innovations
of the day. Christian publishers and the megachurch gurus are ready
to provide something new as often as the masses demand it. But St. Paul
encourages and warns the Church:
the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and
the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this
charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct,
rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction For
the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead,
to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number
of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn
their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 12
Church has something better than any fad. The time has come. Ears are itching.
Ears are turning. The Church must take up Paul's charge. Now more than
ever the Church must preach the Word and ignore the fads.
in the fad-driven church believe that preaching the Word is impractical:
"If just preaching the Word worked, people would be lining up at the
door." Others in the fad- driven church believe that preaching the Word
is outdated: "It may have worked 50 years ago, but not today." Others believe
that preaching the Word is just too simple. Rick Warren has said as much,
all heard speakers claim, "If you’ll pray more, preach the word and be
dedicated, then your church will grow.” Well, that's just not true. I can
show you thousands of churches where pastors are doctrinally sound; they
love the Lord; they’re committed and spirit filled and yet their churches
are dying on the vine. 13
is nonsense. How can a church that is preaching the Word of God be "dying
on the vine?" Paul tells the Church to preach the Word not because it is
the most practical way, or the most current way, or the simplest way. Paul
tells us to preach the Word because it is the only way-
For since in the wisdom of God the world through
its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness
of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask
for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified,
to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who
are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom
of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness
of God is stronger than men. 14
Chesterton said "The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it
is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have
seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue." That key
is the Gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins purchased at the
Cross, with the blood of Jesus.
key is the Gospel proclaimed to every sinner every Sunday... Yes, this
Gospel is popularly believed to be impractical, outdated, and simplistic.
But it isn't. Rather, this Gospel is "power of God unto salvation for everyone
who believes. 15
this Gospel, the Church is at the mercy of every new fad. However, with
this Gospel, the Church really is beyond the times.
I write this, my 12 year old daughter is convinced that hip-hugger bell-bottoms
are the greatest idea in fashion history. I don't have the heart to tell
her that I used to think so too. She thinks her father looks old-fashioned
and lacks all sense of style. I don't have the heart to tell her that I
look back at pictures of my bell-bottom days and laugh. I don't have the
heart to tell her that someday she will do the same. The Church is an old
man who has been wearing the same clothes in the same style his whole life.
He refuses to change with the fashions. He simply lets the fads pass him
by. Yes, he seems behind the times. But look again at what he is wearing.
He is clothed in Christ.
This article is an abridgement of the longer article which can be found in man, Elt Journal, Vol 3, Nal, pp.4-
Thanks to Todd Wilten for permission to share this informatiort You can
access Issues, Etc at www.M.suesetc.or£
Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:29; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 1:8-11;
2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 4:6,16; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:13; 4:3-5; Titus 1:7-14;
2:1; 1 John 4:1; Hebrews 5:14.
Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, 1,2, in The Ante-Nicine
Fathers, vol.1, Alexander Roberts and James Donalson, ed., Hendrickson,
2 Cor. 11:4.
Gal. 2:4-5; 3:9; 1 Cor. 5:6; Phil. 3:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; l Tim. 4:6-7; 6:20-21;
2 Tim. 1:13-3:1-17; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:17-18; Rev. 2:14-16
Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance,
Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, pp.40,76.
8 Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil, The Mega- church Movement Flirts with
Rapids: Baker, 1993, p.63.
Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil p.63.
2 Tim. 1:13.
Philip Kenneson, James Street, Selling Out the Church, The Dangers of
Church Marketing, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997, p.20.
2 Tim. 4:1-4.
13Rick Warren, "Rick Warren Interview" at http://www.paston.eom/portal/lnew/
I Cor. 1:21-25, Also Matt. 24:14; Luke 24:46-47; Romans 10:17; 16:25-27;
2 Cor. 4:5; Col. 1:25-28.
74425 County Road 21
Renville MN. 56284