As promised, today I am making public another email exchange that I expect will challenge, instruct, and encourage all. This week, in response to a message I had given at Watermark on July 10th, I received an email from someone who had been in attendance and very kindly asked me to clarify some comments that were made in regards to different Christian denominations. Below you can see the emails. Read, be reminded of truth (or informed of it for the first time), and share it with others who may need to know where our hope comes from!
From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
Sent: Monday, July 11, 2011 9:41 AM
Subject: Sunday’s Service
Dear Pastor Wagner:
Yesterday’s service struck a chord that I can’t seem to shake and I wanted to reach out to you for clarification. Did I understand you correctly when you said Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and Catholics aren’t Christians? Is that how you feel? I found it highly offensive that you would say Baptists and Methodists aren’t Christians. I’ve been going to some other denominational churches in town and they are definitely Christians that believe Jesus died to save our sins. This isn’t the first service that you have put down other religions such as Muslims and Jews and I want you to know that I find it a real turn-off when you start bashing other religions. What is the point?? I really felt like Watermark might be different from other churches I’ve attended over the years. I discovered WM through your Divorce Care Ministry. As mentioned, I had been going to another church, but was so impressed by the way DC touched and changed my life in such a short time that I felt like I needed to give WM a real shot and have been attending Sunday service for the last two months. Honestly, I feel like I owe WM my life with the transformation DC did for me. And I really want to find the right church to call home. But I’d really like to know how you feel and if I heard you correctly yesterday.
I appreciate your sincere response.
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:44 PM
To: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
Cc: Jessica Gober
Subject: RE: Sunday’s Service
Xxxxx…thanks for reaching out and asking. I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt and taking the time to make sure you heard me correctly before you left discouraged or represented to others your understanding (Proverb 18:13). May that humility and wisdom continually mark both of our lives.
Now to your questions. I think you must be referring to my comments about the fact that we have had a long list of presidents (and other governmental leaders) who were “members” of Churches but who have not consistently represented a Christian worldview, and I was making the case that this was because of lack of discipleship, accountability, and leadership both within and from the church. In other words, our problems nationally, governmentally, locally, in our families, and in our individual lives are not that we are or are not Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, etc., but rather that too many are professed “Christians” by either affiliation or aspiration but not in practice. You would not hear me say that Methodists/Baptists/Episcopals/Presbyterians/Catholics are/are not Christian any more than you would hear me say that because someone goes to Watermark they are/are not a Christian. Note: I am not diving into or addressing the much more complex issues of denominational dogma and shifting positions because not everyone who attends any given church subscribes to, or even is aware of, official church positions, some of which are thoroughly unbiblical and thus call into question the entire foundation of the denomination…but that is not your question.
To your question about who is and who is not a believer…that is not my position to decide but the Lord’s, so I only want to direct you to Scripture. If you look at Romans 10:9-10 and John 5:24 you will see what it is that defines salvation. There is obviously nothing mentioned in these verses about a denomination or association with anything other than a personal trust and confidence in Jesus. One thing that cannot be missed in Scripture is that belief is never mere intellectual assent or profession. It is about responding in faith, trusting in His provision for your sin and recognizing and following Him as Lord. We don’t “accept” Jesus, we don’t profess Jesus, but we follow Jesus. This is always what belief means in Scripture when related to salvation. There is an eternal difference (and to my point on Sunday, there is tremendous present day consequence) between a said faith and a saving faith. Biblically speaking, heart change always results in life transformation and increasing conformity to Christ. Any exceptions to this, if they even exist, are tragic and filled with both eternal and present life consequence.
To this point, what I wanted to communicate Sunday was that the leaders of many churches have failed to shepherd the flock of God among them and help them understand what true faith, humility, and obedience look like. The result of a compromised pastorate and weakened church has been devastating to us individually and nationally. My job (as both a pastor and follower of Christ) is not to “see through people” (to see who is or who isn’t saved) but rather to “see them through” to greater obedience, joy and faithfulness in their relationship to Christ. If you were in the 11:00 service on Sunday, you may have missed this quote by A.W. Tozer that I shared in the other services. It speaks to the same point:
“Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church. It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them. Each generation of Christians is the seed of the next, and degenerate seed is sure to produce a degenerate harvest not a little better than but a little worse than the seed from which it sprang. Thus the direction will be down until vigorous, effective means are taken to improve the seed….
To carry on these activities [evangelism, missions] scripturally the church should be walking in fullness of power, separated, purified and ready at any moment to give up everything, even life itself, for the greater glory of Christ. For a worldly, weak, decadent church to make converts is but to bring forth after her own kind and extend her weakness and decadence a bit further out….
So vitally important is spiritual quality that it is hardly too much to suggest that attempts to grow larger might well be suspended until we have become better.”
The Set of the Sail by A. W. Tozer, p. 154-156.
Below are some messages I have done in the past on the topic of salvation in general that I think will help further communicate my heart…hope you get the chance to listen and are encouraged:
Finally, you also asked about my thoughts on belief systems that are fundamentally non-Christian. Though I hope that I have never been perceived as “bashing” others who don’t believe the same things as I do, I do not mind being understood as representing what Scripture represents, specifically that there are not multiple paths which lead to the same “mountain top”. There is absolute truth and anything which contradicts this truth is by definition false or untrue. Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through faith in Him (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Sadly, this means that those who follow the tenets and beliefs represented in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Judaism, etc. are separated from God and in need of transformation by grace through faith. This does not mean they are our enemies humanly speaking, but it does mean they are enemies of the gospel whom we should pray for, love, speak truth to, share the hope of Christ with, remind, reprove, and exhort with great patience, kindness and humility. I have many personal friends of all these faiths who are kind, loving, sincere, and moral whom I love deeply and discuss differences freely with gentleness and respect. Sincerity (mine or theirs) never defines reality/truth. Truth defines truth and because I am their friend I pray for them and labor with them that they might come to know the truth that Scripture says will set them free.
What it all boils down to is that, no matter what religious affiliation one may have, if we truly place our trust in and follow Christ, believing He is the only way to have a relationship with God, then we are reconciled to him (Romans 5:1) and it is our role in His Kingdom to lovingly share the hope of the gospel with others in word and deed (1 John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Very grateful for the work that He has done in your life through Divorce Care, and I pray that He would increasingly transform you into His likeness. Please let me know if we can be of further service to or if there is anything Watermark’s staff can do to get you further connected here. We would count it no greater joy! I’ve CC’d Jessica Gober here, who I am confident you may know through Divorce Care, so that she can help serve you in any way as well.
Thanks again Xxxxx…hope that is helpful and grateful for the chance to clarify. I look forward to hearing your reply.
Todd Wagner | firstname.lastname@example.org