The Near-Beer Gospel
The Search for Pale Substitutes
By Orrel Steinkamp
The Plumbline, Volume I 2., No. 4, July/August 2007
Assessing Current Teachings, Issnes and Events with Scripture
In this issue I am going to highlight two examples of how the church is unwittingly calling for pale substitutes from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Each of these examples will be drawn from two movements, which are seemingly separated far from each other. But it is my belief that they both represent the same basic error, that the church itself can manufacture a Near Beer Gospel either apart from or in addition to the unchangeable word of God. In both cases the church has been shorn of God's actual glory as Sampson of old. The first of these could be called the "marketing and therapeutic" movement. In it's quest for cultural acceptance and numerical success, they have marginalized the "word of God" and imported marketing methodologies as the focus of ministry. Work the system and you will be numerically successful. It seems to me to echo the first half of Jesus reply to Satan when tempted in the wilderness. Rather than, man cannot live on bread alone, it has the feel of yes! we can live on bread alone, rather than every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. At the other end the spectrum, God's authorized word has been succeeded by a succession of new words from God at the hands of thousands of newly restored so-called prophets. Thus, the scriptures languish and are called by Tommy Tenney "old love letters." In the one the trust is in the new technology and tools of the culture. In the other the trust and dependence is upon a continual flow of so-called oracles from God at the hands of those who struggle to claim less than 50% accuracy. The above analogy of Near-Beer calls for some explanation. First Near-Beer. Near-Beer was originally a term for malt beverages containing little or no alcohol (one half of one percent or less by volume), which were mass-marketed during the Prohibition in the United States. Today the term "Near- Beer" has been revived by some people to refer to modern versions of non-alcoholic beer. By the use of this analogy I am suggesting the current evangelical church can be illustrated by the Near-Beer phenomena. It’s all about substitutes which only give the appearance of the real thing.
"Just Give'em The Bread"
The church growth movement has by now a long and evolving history. Donald McGavrans' 5 missionary work in India was the seed- bed of the missionary phase of church growth. As a missionary in Vietnam I well remember how "church growth principles" became if not our bible surely an accepted apocrypha. It was exhilarating that we had found a road map to ensure success in our challenging goal of making converts. Now for some decades "church growth" has also been applied to the American scene with all the same allurements to successful ministry. McGavran's thesis was that the Gospel must rely for its success on the social factors of the culture. In the American scene this has led to uncritically adopting the use of marketing and therapeutic theories as the key to success. If the people want bread, then give them bread. If not, they will not come to our church. If they don't come, our church will not grow and for too many ministers this means ministerial failure. Robert Schuler pioneered all this and he used a famous illustration. He said the church is like circus tent. The church needs a midway barker to get the people into their tent one way or another and then later we can transition (bait and switch) them to the Gospel. Maybe the motivation is good, but the outcome is troubling. The old dictum "the medium is the message" surely applies. D.A. Carson states: "When the cultural setting is prioritized, God's meaning is sought experientially within the culture using the Bible as a guide. [But] this model more fully assigns control to the context(culture); the operative is praxis (methods contra theology), which serves as a controlling grid to determine the meaning of Scripture (Carson, Don 1987, Grand Rapids, 213-257). Church and Missions contextualization. The goal often is to find what God is already doing in the culture rather than enunciating God's "Word" within the cultural context. Vincent Donovan in Christianity Rediscovered (2003) describes cultural reliance as a "treasure hunt that uses Scripture as a map or guide to discover treasures to be found
in the culture" But the claim of "all things to all people" too easily becomes a synonym for compromise, a gigantic cultural adjustment and surrender.
Cultural syncretism is "the conscious or unconscious reshaping of Christian plausibility structures beliefs and practices through cultural accommodation so that they reflect those structures of the dominant culture. Or stated in other terms, syncretism is the blending of Christian beliefs and practices with those of the dominant culture so that Christianity loses it distinctiveness and speaks with a voice reflective of its culture." (Van Rheenen, 1997, p.173) Syncretism is like an "an odorless, tasteless gas, likened to carbon monoxide which is seeping into our atmosphere." (John Orme, 2004) Cultural accommodation can go to unusual extremes. Perhaps the most extreme was the church that sold raffle tickets for a drawing for a new car. That is extreme, but other cultural enticements abound offering things not really a part of the gospel message. One Christian advertising agent, who both represented the Coca-Cola Corp. and engineered the 'I Found It' evangelistic campaign, stated the point brazenly: "Back in Jerusalem where the church started, God performed a miracle there on the day of Pentecost. They didn't have the benefits of buttons and media, so God had to do a little supernatural work there. But today, with our technology, we have available to us the opportunity to create the same kind of interest in a secular society." Put simply, another church-growth consultant claims "five to ten million baby boomers would be back in the church if churches adopted three simple changes: (1) Advertise (2) let people know about "product benefits" and (3) be "nice to people."
Accommodating seeker-sensitive churches do not deny the gospel as turn of the century liberals. But they don't feature the gospel. The Gospel becomes truncated and popular cultural themes become the operational core. The soul-saving Gospel rarely heard in a complete way and is drown out by the focus on a happier life and life fulfillment. So now the question is people are saved from what? To the degree we move the fulcrum in our presentation so as to give weight to the psychological benefits to that degree we remove the offense and the meaning of the cross. No wonder the people want it. It's the bread they seek, and the seeker-sensitive churches advertise and market the product. The tool-box of popular culture can be so apparently brilliant and effective that there no longer appears to be any real need for God. Os Guinness says the main question is: "If the church makes anything else (than scripture and the Gospel) the decisive principle of her existence, Christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising un-authorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel. Os Guinness relates:
Os Guinness says it all in one long quote: "The faith of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards,... Hudson Taylor, D.I. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Carl Henry and John Stott is disappearing. In its place a new evangelicalism is arriving in which therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all-consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical subculture." (Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 2003, 15)
"Just Give Them New Words From God"
As stated in the introduction, on the other end of the spectrum the prophetic sign-gift movement also auempts to redefme the cliureli. for them tt is not the ~gIve'm bread approach" but rather give them new words from God. It has developed "new authoritative words from God" into a methodology with the goal of providin~ God with an atmosphere in which the scriptures are added to with "present truth" and new words from God. This "present truth" suggested as the cause of revival and the success of the church in it's drive to take dominion in the earth. A well know proponent of this movement is Steve Hill. After a few years of celebrity status at Brownsville AOG he retreated to Texas. But now he is back.
Rev. Robert S. Luchow, in Vol.12 Issue 5, May 20(~7, in an article entitled "Here We Go Again" relates Steve Hill's new prophecy of the coming greatest outpouring the world has ever seen which was published by Charisma April, 2007, 14.1 will need to abridge this article for reasons of space.
"Allow me to refresh your memory concerning Mr. Hill. He is the individual who is often cited as God's instrument for the so-called revival at the Brownsville AOG (BAG) church in Pensacola, Florida.
According to BAG mythology, here is what they claimed took place. The Pensacola church had been divinely appointed by God to be the catalyst of [nation-wide] revival...In 1993 Dr. Paul Cho, pastor of the world's largest congregation in Korea, was in the USA and praying for revival. He did so and the Holy Spirit told him to point his finger on a map. As he did, he felt his fmger drawn to the Florida panhandle and to the city of Pensacola, "I am going to send revival to the seaside city of Pensacola, and it will spread like a fire until all of America has been consumed by it." said the Lord to Dr. Cho.. But what Cho allegedly received from the Holy Spirit did not come to pass. The fire did not spread throughout all of America, nor was all of America consumed by it. The revival did spread to certain charismatic and Pentecostal congregations and the fruit produced by it was nothing less than spiritual heartache, disappointment, church splits...
John Kilpatrick was the pastor of BAG during the revival. What he failed to tell people in the congregation was that he sent his wife and leaders up to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) prior to the actual date of the BAG revival. TACF was the North American vortex of enthusiasm and the holy laughter revival had already been in full gear for [a few years]... So Kilpatrick primed the pump.. Their leaders (unbeknown to many congregational members) had already bought into the TACF scene with its manifestations of uncontrollable laughter, spiritual drunkenness, being slain in the spirit for protracted times, shaking, hopping, arms flapping for hours and etc... To this day BAG, Kilpatrick and Hill declare what took place at BAG was completely different than at TACE. What they are reluctant to admit is that BAG leaders went to TACF and brought it back to Pensacola and simply waited for Hill to arrive. Nor does Hill admit that he himself received the "Toronto Blessing" while attending meetings at Holy Trinity Bromptom England prior to coming to BAG. The truth is that what took place in BAG was simply a extension of what was already happening in Toronto. The BAG revival was a fully coordinated and orchestrated event... [ all this contradicts the oft repeated claim that this was totally a sovereign move of God]. But once the crowds (and offerings) began to dwindle and the manifestations became passe', Hill was the first leader to abandon ship. Lindell Cooley, the worship leader at BAG was the next to leave and by 2003 Kilpatrick himself resigned... Cooley and Hill both became pastors of their own congregations and Kilpatrick started his own "evangelistic" association. I might add that the same thing took place at TACF when the fire turned into cold ashes. John Arnott resigned as senior past started his own outreach...
Now seven years later Hill is back and proclaiming that God is equipping His church for the GREATEST OUTPOURING the world has EVER SEEN! He says in his article that "a fresh anointing is about to rest upon true believers... [Hill asserts] in his article: "However we can't ignore those who are starving for fresh bread and fresh water from heaven. Their deep hunger pains can only be satisfied as we offer more of God's presence, power and prophetic insight. We can do this by allowing the Lord to show up (short hand for manifestations) in our church services... without restraint... We must provide the atmosphere and opportunity for miracles to take place.. I believe God is going to empower us by sending a new wave of revelation as a foundation for operating in the prophetic.
To begin with the world is not "craving for a touch from the creator."... Hill does not mention how "we" are to go about offering more of God's power and prophetic insight He does not mention the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). God's word is the infallible and totally sufficient prophetic insight, yet Hill calls for a fresh new revelation flowing from restored prophets... Hill says it is our job to provide the "atmosphere" and "opportunity" for miracles to take place. Just what does that mean? He does not state how we can create this atmosphere and opportunity for miracles... He goes on to [assert] what will characterize this next greatest outpouring. The "new and unfamiliar" ways that God will empower His people seem to be in the arena of making us peripatetic psychics:... "The spiritually sensitive are going to experience revelation knowledge... Hidden secrets will be revealed to the believer, and out of a heart of compassion he or she will share them (the hidden secrets) with the lost to prove Jesus is alive." [But] it is the word of God that reveals the content of men's hearts, not man mystically anointed. It is the seeming (to the world) foolishness of preaching the living Word of God that the Holy uses to convict the world of sin and draw people to Christ, not some demonstration of power. NEVER FORGET the Jews saw daily miracles for 40 years in the desert and yet they died there in UNBELIEF (Hebrews 3:19). Miracles do not create faith! Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of
God (Romans 10:17)... He closes his pron6uncement of the coming greatest revival by saying such "divine appointments" will be commonplace in the days ahead of us and that "these words fitly spoken, will literally shock the unbeliever into reality." What he is describing seems more akin to TV psychics John Edwards or Sylvia Browne than any biblical accounts of people encountering the reality of their sin in the light of God's holiness... My friends let me state unequivocally that unless a person is brought to despair through seeing themselves as sinful they will not cry out "God, have mercy on me, a sinner"(Luke 18 13)...
Does the Bible actually state that the Church and the world will experience a world-wide soul-saving revival or not? Are there any prophetic statements that (in their context) indicate a great sweeping (end of the age) move of the Spirit prior to the return of Christ? [I don't have the space to quote a number of scriptures that seem to suggest the opposite. These texts are: Matthew 24:10-12, Matthew 24:23-25, 2 Corinthians II; 13, Thessalonians 2:9-12, 2Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, 2 Peter 2:1-3, and I John 4:1].
In these passages do you read anything about a great world-wide soul-saving revival? I read of the love of people growing cold, of the danger of false Christs, false apostles, false teachers, and false prophets. Yet at no time in recorded Church history have there been as many people claiming to be either a restored apostle or prophet as there are today. Deceivers are going about seeming to work signs and wonders, which are not from God. Claims of holy laughter, spiritual drunkenness, heavenly jewels, [gold filled teeth and even angel feathers abound in thousands of congregations. People claiming to be ministers exploit those who follow them and make merchandize out of God's gullible sheep. Countless numbers of professing Christians have indeed heaped up teachers who teach them what they want to hear versus faithful teachers who will teach them what they need to hear. Hill's article does not mention one verse of scripture. Why not? The answer is simple, there aren't any for him to cite. He and others must declare that the "Lord' has given them "revelation insight" regarding the coming great soul-saving revival apart from the bible.... I would remind you of the old saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." No my friends, my advice is simply this - keep your eyes focused upon Jesus, the author and Finisher of our faith."
In both of these movements it appears that experience precedes biblical truth. In the church growth world the thrust is to experience growth and give them bread first. In the sign-gift, present truth prophetic movement experience comes first and is endorsed by purported new words directly from God. These new revelations though most often inaccurate become the basis of truth for the movement. Modem day prophetic revelations go back at least to the turn of the last century. In fact it was a "new revelation" by a so-called prophet that became the basis of the "Jesus Only" movement that severed from the more orthodox expressions of Pentecost as m the AOG. In the discredited mid-century Latter-Rain movement new prophetic truth, later called "present truth" was made the basis of the teaching of New Order of the Latter Rain. The AOG, who lost a lot of churches to the Latter- Rain, condemned the Latter-Rain as heresy. But later in the theological fog created by the Charismatic Renewal many of the teachings of the Latter- Rain were recycled and renamed. Today many of these teachings are found in a piecemeal way all over the spectrum. Charisma magazine surely espouses the validity of continual revelation. This represents a "paradigm shift" away from the Bible to experience in order to pave the way for the church to receive the revelatory leadership of restored apostles and prophets. But Jesus prayed to His Father to "sanctify them (his disciples) through thy truth, thy word is truth." (John 17:17). So the “Near Beer" has many labels, but is a pale substitute for the real thing.
My strong suit has never been punctuation and accidence. I lost my editor and so there may be errors of punctuation, like misplaced semi-colons, colons etc. etc. I hope this does not offend anyone. These newsletters are not designed for the print market and will never be catalogued in a library.
Dr. Orrel Steinkamp, Plumbline Ministries, 720 9th St. SW, Wilimar MN 56201
720 9th St. SW, Wilimar Mn. 56201, firstname.lastname@example.org