11 August 2011

The Dangers & Symptoms of Nomadism

by Tony Miano (as told to Frank Turk)

Yes: I bumped Pecadillo's request for tourism help.  If you live in NYC, go to that post and tell him your favorite place to eat.  The rest of you, don't pretend you've been to NY.  You have never been to NY.  I can see the weakness in your eyes.

Those of you who missed DJP on Tuesday will miss him again today as Part 2 of 3 from Tony Miano on Evangelism and Nomadism fills in.  Those who missed Part 1 can find it at this link.

Submission and Accountability

Over the years, I have asked Christians, those who serve as street evangelists and those who don't, to whom do they answer—meaning to whom are they accountable in their life. Sadly, the answer I sometimes receive comes with a quick and angry retort. "Well, I don't answer to you! I answer to God!" They say.

They are correct on both counts, but yet, at the same time, their response reveals something troubling. Yes, it is true the people with whom I speak do not answer to me. And yes, it is true they answer to God. But their answer, I believe, indicates they see themselves as responsible to answer to no one but God. They see themselves as accountable to no one but God. Such a mindset is clearly unbiblical.

Yes, the Christian, and every person for that matter, is ultimately accountable to God. Every human being will stand before God and give an account for their lives. And Scripture leaves no doubt.

Jesus said these words: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37).

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19).

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).

“With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:4-5).

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

Yes, everyone is accountable to God. But Christians are accountable to other people as well, both inside and outside the church.

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7).

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17).

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

“He [an elder/pastor] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:9-11).

"My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).

Christians are not accountable to other people and human institutions instead of God or before God. Christians are accountable to other people and human institutions by the Word and will of God and in obedience to God.

So while the argument is valid that the ultimate authority in the Christian's life is God, the argument becomes fallacious when the argument is used to defend the unbiblical position that the Christian need not submit to earthly authority, either inside or outside the church—authorities which are instituted by God.

Any Christian who insists they answer to God and to God alone are not living by the parameters they've set for themselves. For if they truly see themselves as submitting to God's authority in their life and if they see themselves as answerable to God and as one who is actively obeying Him, then they would willingly submit to the earthly authority God has placed in their life—whether inside or outside the church.

The Christian’s accountability before God includes biblical accountability to secular governing authorities, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership of a local church. Yes, there is only one Lawgiver and Judge; there is only One who can save and destroy, and that is God (James 2:10). That being said, the judgment of Almighty God will include how Christians respond and submit to the earthly authority God has placed in their lives.

I realize this brief ecclesiological study is but a simple overview of the Church, both the universal Church and the local church. But in order to make the case against nomadism, it’s necessary to put forth a biblical representation of the local church and the believer’s accountability to the same.

The Dangers of Nomadism

The dangers of nomadism within the evangelist community are several.

As previously mentioned, those evangelists that take the unfortunate and unbiblical step toward nomadism open themselves to heresy. Pelagianism and Open Theism are just two of the heresies that seem to be prevalent among nomadic evangelists. The reasons for this are varied. But one reason is without the covering and accountability of the local church and her God-ordained leadership, the nomadic evangelist becomes his only teacher.

And when he heads down the path of error, there is no one to stop and correct him. He surrounds himself with only those who agree with him, theologically. Slowly and sadly, but surely, the nomad begins to believe his or her own rhetoric—the fallacious argument that there are no teachers who are faithful to the text of Scripture, at least not beyond the teachers in their own small spiritual enclave or not beyond the image of the teacher he sees in the mirror.

Evangelists that take the unfortunate and unbiblical step toward nomadism often become pharisaical and legalistic. They become a law unto themselves. They establish parameters of conduct under the auspices of personal holiness that exceed the parameters given in Scripture, resulting in self-righteousness and legalism. Over time, this may lead the nomad to drift toward other unbiblical teachings such as sinless perfectionism, the notion of completed sanctification this side of Heaven, and a works righteousness formula for salvation. If the drift continues unabated the nomad may begin to deny essential Christian doctrine, such as the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ or the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Evangelists that take the unfortunate and unbiblical step toward nomadism run the risk of becoming isolationists. This kind of isolationism may also lead to the nomad wrongly judging other Christians and assigning other Christians to Hell because they do not believe exactly as the nomad does regarding certain points of doctrine.

If such behavior remains unchecked, this could lead to the formation of cults such as “personality cults” or what I call “we’re the only true church” cults. One or more charismatic leaders typically lead cults like these. They convince their followers that they alone rightly divide, understand, and communicate the Word of God; and every other teacher is, therefore, in their mind, a false teacher. Such cult leaders also have a tendency to convince their followers that they have received new revelations from God that invariably contradict what the Word of God actually says.

A Growing Trend

Most recently, I have seen another alarming trend among some nomads, and it is the growth of various forms of neo-Gnosticism among them. Ancient Gnosticism taught, in part, that salvation was achieved through special, revelatory knowledge of the Holy. Some nomads also believe they receive special, revelatory knowledge from the Holy Spirit, which gives them the inerrant ability to discern true converts from false converts.

Some nomads wrongly justify this belief by misinterpreting 1 Corinthians 14:23-25.

“If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

Some wrongly assert Paul is teaching in this passage that believers have the ability of discerning the presence of an unbeliever because they have the gift of prophecy, according to how they believe the gift is described in the passage. A more glaring performance of eisegesis on the text might be hard to find.

In this brief but important passage, Paul gives us pictures of two churches—one in which all the members are speaking in tongues in a confused and disorderly manner, and the other in which all members of the church are prophesying—forth-telling (not fore-telling)—proclaiming the known truth of God’s Word, one-by-one, in an orderly manner. 1 Corinthians 14:31 affirms that it is this form of prophesy in which the church is engaged, with these words: “For you can all prophecy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.”

If an unbeliever walks into the spiritual chaos of the first church, he or she will likely leave thinking everyone in the assembly is crazy. But, if an unbeliever enters the church while all the members, one-by-one, are proclaiming the known truth of God’s Word, they experience conviction regarding their sins against God.

Paul says that the unbeliever is “convicted by all, called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed…” Those nomads who misinterpret this text to support the notion that all true Christians have the ability, even gifting, to infallibly discern true from false converts focus on the word “all” instead of the words “convicted by” and “called to account.”

The conviction and the calling to account the unbeliever experiences is not the result of specially gifted believers reading the minds and hearts of the unbelievers in their midst. Rather, the conviction and the calling to account the unbeliever experiences is the result of the power of God’s Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword and able to pierce the hearts of men.

The believers in the church don’t know with palm reader-esque, or gnostic-like ability the true spiritual condition of the newcomer entering their assembly and, as a result, call the unbeliever to account. It is the unbeliever who becomes aware of the true condition of his or her heart, as a result of the verbal proclamation of God’s Word, which brings about their conviction and their subsequent repentance.

Sadly, because many nomadic neo-Gnostics refuse to submit to the authority of leaders in a local assembly and arrogantly delude themselves into believing they are able to rightly divide the Word of God without the assistance of God-gifted and God-ordained Bible prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and/or teachers; they hear only their own voices and not from God’s Word. The result: a growing number of men and women (often young, both chronologically and spiritually) who, under the auspices of separating for the purpose of personal holiness and for the sake of the purity of the church, instead separate themselves from the only place of spiritual protection provided for believers in this world—the Church, the Body of Christ.

Arguments and Answers

There will be some who hear a message like this who will undoubtedly have objections to some of my observations and conclusions. While there is no way I can anticipate all of the arguments against my position, I believe I can anticipate at least a couple.

Argument #1: “I’m not part of a church because I can’t find a church that supports or practices biblical evangelism.”

Answer: If your church is not preaching the biblical gospel, then it is not a church. It is nothing more than a social club for Christians, both genuine and professing. If your church is not preaching the biblical gospel, leave.

However, if your church is preaching the biblical gospel, then the fact that your church does not presently support biblical evangelism in the manner you prefer is not a sufficient reason to leave the church. Remember, there was a time when you likely didn’t “get it” either. Be patient. Endure. Don’t quit. Love your pastor. Love your elders. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ, in your church. Stick it out. Keep encouraging your leaders and your fellow members to join you in the work. Come alongside your leaders in any way you can, any way they will allow, to bring biblical evangelism to your church.

Argument #2: “I’m not involved in a church because there are no biblical churches in my area.”

Answer: Needless to say, this is a difficult situation. Sadly, it is an all-too-common situation. But the situation is not hopeless. There are options.

One option is to travel outside your community and find a biblical church. I do not think that there is any distance, certainly in the United States, that is too far to travel. 25 miles? 50 miles? Before you say it is too far to drive, please take a moment to consider those brothers and sisters in Christ, in other parts of the world, who don’t drive but walk many miles to enjoy fellowship with the saints.

Another option is to do what a few men from India did. They contacted a large, biblical church in California and asked the church to help them establish a biblical church in their part of their country. The church put them in touch with a seminary the church established in India. Those men are now part of a flourishing, Christ-exalting, Bible-believing church.

Why can’t the same be done by and for Christians in the United States who live in areas that are void of biblical churches? Contact a well-respected church known for its work in missions and church planting and ask them to prayerfully consider sending a qualified church planter to start a new work in your area.

In light of the subject matter of this message, I make the next suggestion with a great deal of caution.

Yet another option is to start a church in your area, assuming you have a godly man (or men) on your team who meets the biblical requirements of a pastor/elder. That man (or men) should be examined by the pastors and elders of other churches to determine if the prospective pastor and/or elders are truly qualified and called by God to lead a new church. It is so very important to add that it should not be the man or men desiring to start a new church who determine whether or not they themselves are qualified to lead a church. No one is the best judge of their own character and spiritual qualifications.

What I’m about to suggest will likely be unpopular, especially among American Christians who have grown so accustomed to the “conveniences” of church.

If you cannot find a biblical church within driving distance of your home, and it is not biblical or practical to start a new church, then move. That’s right. If there are no biblical churches in your area, move to an area where such a church can be found.

Over the last 100-150 years, the church in America has moved from a “who we are” mentality to a “what we do” mentality. As a result, the corporate gathering of believers for the purpose of worship, teaching, and fellowship has been relegated to merely an aspect of most Christians’ lives instead of the central focus of their lives, around which all other aspects of life (work, ministry, recreation, etc.) revolve. One sure way to avoid Christian nomadism is to move to a place where one can enjoy the loving care and accountability of a local body of believers, under the godly leadership of pastors, elders, teachers, and yes, evangelists who have been truly called by God to serve in these leadership roles.

... To Be Concluded ...

Postscript from Frank: As I was editing this transcript to post here (that is, cutting it up into right-sized pieces), this last part of this post sort of stunned me with the irony: We have to tell evangelists that if you are preaching the Gospel, calling people into Christ, and you are not "adding to the church daily," because you yourself cannot be found to be added to the church, U R DOIN IT RONG?  


Stew on that before you go on with your day ...


Pierre Saikaley said...

"We have to tell evangelists that if you are preaching the Gospel, calling people into Christ, and you are not "adding to the church daily," because you yourself cannot be found to be added to the church, U R DOIN IT RONG?


That could've been the next 50 Words Or Less post.

Yet another excellent installment of this topic.


winslowlady said...

Thank you for getting readers thinking. I drove 3 hours every other weekend or more to church for three years. It amazed me that people sit in football traffic for 4 or 5 hours to see a football game, but I was all but tarred and feathered for driving 3 to spend my weekends filled with Christ, filled with friends who loved Christ, and being fed the word.
Another point--churches spend tons of money to take members to Africa, Russia, Mexico on mission trips, but just ask the pastor, staff, members to please go visit a shut in who needs Christ 5 minutes from the church! Never happened!
If every church member would put in the names of every unsaved friend or family member, and the church would actively pray and then find ways to have them over for dinner, reach out to those right in their own community, what would happen?
Another thought, one seminary thought is that the plants need to be in areas where there is absolutely no gospel. In my view, a corrupted gospel is just as bad if not worse, and we need strong churches in America. If we are not birthing strong believers from strong churches then the impact of foreign missions becomes weak.
Lastly, if there were godly men in an area, and godly men who could be a pastor/elder then we'd have a means for a church plant. The problem is that there are so few godly men who even know they are sitting under unbiblical teaching, and if they do, they don't have the hutspa to stand up and say something.

TheSaxonHus said...

Nomadism extends beyond evangelists. There are "nomad" Christians who visit churches but will not covenant (join) with them. Hence, they, too, are not under the responsibility of a local church and are in disobedience to the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

I could say that a number of these things in the article were true of me before joining a local church. Self-righteoues, legalistic, and I was convinced I was the greatest Christian walking the face of this earth.

To join a local church was probably the greatest turning point in my spiritual health. I needed it badly, and I met believers who could help me with my struggles. That was me before joining; essentially a law to myself, and after joining and gaining a little solidity, and I was far kinder to other Christians in my heart.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I certainly hope you are going to address the objection that the church members in our area have body odor. 'Cause that excuse is a winner!

St. Lee said...

This hits the nail squarely on the head, and as is hinted at (or maybe flatly stated - I don't want to take the time to go back and re-read), it applies equally to pastors of independent churches.

I have been firsthand witness to such a situation. It began with frequent changes of churches we associated with, which was accompanied by being "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." Eventually, as this post pointed out, there were strong hints of being the "only true church."

Now that we are members elsewhere we refer to that group as "the cult."

I was very impressed when, after a pastor change at our new church, the first thing our new pastor did was make himself accountable to the association our church belongs to.

The difference, as I see it, was one of Christian maturity.

Andrea said...

I was so glad to read the very sensible suggestion to contact a sound scripture-based gospel teaching denomination and ask for them to send a church planter to your area! What a great way to light a candle rather than curse the darkness!

Sir Brass said...

I will add this. Our deacon drives his family about 45 minutes to come to church. It's not a small family (5 children, including a newborn), and they make a day out of it, staying at church between the morning and evening services. Yet they do so gladly and we are blessed by their being a part of the church.

That's a case in point of point 1 which Tony made.

Mike Riccardi said...

Contact a well-respected church known for its work in missions and church planting and ask them to prayerfully consider sending a qualified church planter to start a new work in your area.

For those who aren't aware, this very thing has begun in a big way at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, through what we're calling Grace Advance. One of my dear friends is on his way to Columbia, South Carolina to pastor a developing church through this initiative. If you're in the position Tony describes, you might consider whether Grace Advance would be a fit for you.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. So what local church did the Apostle Paul belong to?

FX Turk said...

Andrew --

What I can't believe is that it took someone 10 comments to ask your question.

I will answer it 3 ways:

1. Unquestionably, Paul did not belong to one local church. Uncovering this condition of the apostle leaves the clever objector who brings this up with a different question to answer, however: how come Paul's evangelism created so many local churches? That is: it was his objective, after staying in a city for as long as 3 years, to leave it with elders and a self-perpetuating cycle of preaching, evangelism, discipleship & community. Why is are these nomad evangelists eager to be compared with Paul's lack of a home church but so vacant when compared to his overflowing results in establishing local churches?

2. Even if #1 is correct, the book of Galatians stands in the way of the churchless evangelist's self-assessment as a guy just like Paul.

I quote the Apostle:

{Gal 2:1-2} Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Even Paul had someone he thought was, to say the least, worthy which he used to check his Gospel and practice with.

3. And I say, "even Paul," because Paul has something the rogue evangelist does not have: the road to Damascus. That is: Jesus literally, personally humiliated Paul and drove him to repentance, and personally gave him both the task of evangelism and the words by which to evangelize. His example is unique. Saying you want to be "just like Paul" when it comes to your personal local church membership overlooks the substantial difference between you and Paul.

So thanks for the question: those are 3 ways to express the same answer.

Unknown said...

Great answer, Frank.

Anonymous said...

Heh heh. thanks Frank for putting up with me and in a good spirit.

I agree that Paul had a strong and intentional local church planting strategy - and if Roland Allen is right, many of Paul's churches would have been started and handed over to elders after only 6 months.

But I would also argue that Paul's ecclesiology was larger and wider than merely the existence of a local church. He often addressed the city-wide church in his letters which to me seems more like an unofficial network of inter-related house churches. That tells me that the city church and regional body of believers in their respective small groups offers a more accurate picture of Kingdom reality to the watching community as well as offering a more fool-proof system of accountability - avoiding the niche churches or cliche churches where one can choose a small group based on identical doctrinal or ethical or economic preferences [a problem perhaps more prominent that nomadism in USA churches]

thus paul rebuking peter, even though they do not attend the same local church, is a wonderful example of the deeper wider church in action, a submitting of one to the other, which is a sign of a healthy body.

my local church membership is at Austin First Baptist church. But because i am a missionary starting churches overseas, i am never there. Last year i was in 25 countries. For me to enjoy the benefits of the local church available to me and my family who travel with me, I need to see a bigger and wider body of Christ and adopt multiple communities of believers - both online and offline - to be accountable to and hold them accountable to following Christ.

If that looks like the symptoms of nomadism, so be it. I cannot see a better way to continue to fulfill the Great Commission in every nation and at the same time lock myself into weekly attendance at the SAME church in the same location.

unless i had enough money to fly away and return each week which some mission executives with a budget larger than mine actually do.

do any of your readers suffer the same frustration?

Unknown said...

Could it be said that Paul's home church was in Antioch? That is the church that sent him, and that is the one where he came back to give a report.