“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Last week, I shared with you my review of the first part of the on-going sermon series at Mavuno Church, “The Sex Files: Living in an R-Rated World”. I received a lot of heat from the review, mainly because it appeared to be presumptuous, presenting a verdict on the introduction of a series, even before hearing the rest of the story. But there was a reason why I did that. All that anyone needs to discern the prevailing worldview in any sermon series is listen to any sermon in the series, not all of them. But then again, it is not the only sermon I’ve ever listened to from Mavuno or by Pastor K. Anyway, before I proceed to review the second part of the series, there’s a few things I thought I should clarify.
First, this is not an attack on Mavuno’s leaders, pastors or teachers. I am hating the game, not the player, and it is important to draw this distinction. This is a doctrinal, not a personal matter. That is why I have chosen to review this second sermon while referring to the preacher only as the “speaker”, rather than by name as I did last week.
Secondly, this is not an attack on how Mavuno “does” church. It is not a critique on their ecclesiology, but a critique on the overarching theology. I am aware that the basics of the faith and the Gospel are addressed rather comprehensively in Mizizi, but if this means that the Gospel does not need to be revisited on the pulpit, then there may be a problem even with the Gospel presented in Mizizi. This could be revealing that biblical doctrine, for Mavuno, is merely part of a program rather than part of the continual lifestyle of the people. Please take a look at my post on The problem with Half Truths in Preaching for a clearer understanding of the folly in leaving out the Gospel in preaching.
Thirdly, there’s a lot to commend, admire and learn from Mavuno as a church. Their passion for social reform is a passion that ought to be shared by the whole Body of Christ. Their focus on cultural engagement is an area that many conservative congregations ought to pick decent leaves from. Their functional ecclesiology in terms of drawing people in from the Sunday services, taking them through Mizizi for Basic Christian foundation-laying and then assigning them to home Life Groups is more than commendable, it is worth emulating. However, unless all these are grounded in the supremacy of Christ in salvation and sanctification, the redemptive centrality of the Gospel in preaching and an overarching biblical worldview, they may simply be church programs to get through rather than a Christian lifestyle to be lived.
Now, onto this week’s sermon, paradoxically titled Do It Yourself. I highly advise that you go through the whole sermon before proceeding with this review. The speaker begins by pointing out that the reason why we have a new and perverted normal in our understanding of sexuality is because we have believed the lies around us. And this lie is a perpetuation of the initial lie in the garden of Eden:
“I believe the fundamental issue for doing things for yourself spiritually is that there is a lie. This is a lie that affects the way we live our lives spiritually. The serpent brings out this lie blatantly.”
Taking Lucifer’s lies as a basis for a precedent, the speaker proceeds to outline some of the modern-day examples of lies about our sexuality from the media, friends and many other external influences:
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
With regard to instant sexuality I think he [satan] is still asking the same question today –
- God really say that you must wait for your spouse in order for your need to be met?
- Did God really say that you have to wait for a later date to find full sexual expression?
- What are these organs for if I cannot use them now to bring me sexual pleasure?
- What if I am not having sex with anyone – isn’t it OK to use my creative imagination to prepare the way for my bright sexual future?”
Having illustrated some of these popular lies, the speaker then goes on to present the truth. God is not out to get us, but out to do what is best for us. Appended to this is what seems like an explicit reference to the redemptive and reconciliatory role of the Gospel. However, the reason why I am saying that it only “seems” like that is because of the context within which the life and death of Jesus Christ is presented.
“The serpent was wrong. God intends the best for us. That is why, in order to fix the situation He sent His Son to come live and die in our world in order to restore us to himself.”
Jesus came to live and die in our world to restore us to God because God intends the best for us. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there’s a lot of reference to “us” and “people” in this series, which makes me wonder if the speaker is even concerned about drawing a distinction between the sheep and the goat. Some biblical truths or principles do not apply equally to believers and unbelievers. But this does not seem to be the case in this, and many other Mavuno sermons, including the sensationalized Finders Keepers relationship series which was popular both to believers and unbelievers. It is amazing how the series managed to remove the offense from the Gospel. But then again, the only thing you need to do in order to effectively remove the offense from the Gospel is to remove the Gospel from the message.
The speaker then proceeds to talk about Spiritual death. I couldn’t help but feel like this was a last minute addition to the sermon – probably out of the consciousness of my last review. It seems parenthetical at least, an afterthought at best. I have two reasons for thinking this way. First, the way the speaker introduces the subject of Spiritual death appears like a side-step from the general flow of the sermon. He says, “Eating the fruit brought both physical death and spiritual death into our world. People started dying after that believing that lie,” then he gives a nutshell definition of spiritual death, “Spiritual death is eternal separation from God,” and then proceeds to connect spiritual death with sex, “Sexual selfishness draws our attention away from God and his plan for our lives.” That’s too simplistic to be a product of careful contemplation.
The second reason why I think the reference to spiritual death was parenthetical and an afterthought is the solution the speaker offers to the problem of spiritual death. “How can we avoid this spiritual death? We avoid it in many ways but I would like to take our cue from God’s word. We can counter the lie by shutting down the lie and sticking to the truth.” The problem with this suggestion is that, if spiritual death is “eternal separation from God” (which it is) and it took place in Eden, then all post-Eden humanity is spiritually dead, eternally separated from God. How can they avoid this Spiritual death? They can’t. God has to intervene. He has to come in and resurrect (not revive) them. The Gospel. But this is not what the speaker even implies, he seems to imply that people can overcome spiritual death by outweighing Lucifer’s lies with God’s Truth.
This is the classic “power of positive thinking” reasoning:
“How can we avoid this spiritual death? We avoid it in many ways but I would like to take our cue from God’s word.
We can counter the lie by shutting down the lie and sticking to the truth. We must fill ourselves up with the truth at every instance we can. The ultimate truth is God’s Word. At Mavuno we say that God’s word is the true North, the compass which sets the direction for our life and belief.
When we are faced with the lie of the devil then we must confront it with God’s truth.
Jesus modeled this for us when he was faced by the same deceiver and tempted in much the same way. He countered the lie – with God’s word. Every lie and accusation Satan brought He used God’s Word to counter it.
In the same way we must fill ourselves with the truth and shut out any lie we find.”
I propose that such an approach to God’s Word is essentially [albeit subliminally] unbiblical for two reasons:
First; the Bible is not merely a utilitarian set of truths that we ingest, but the expression and revelation of the person of God. We don’t quote scripture merely because Jesus quoted scripture. Yes, Jesus set a precedent in doing this, but it wasn’t a blind and mystical precedent. Jesus wasn’t merely quoting Scripture in the mystical ignorance with which Ali Baba said the “Open Sesame” phrase, He was quoting the Word as something He understood, believed and embodied. Therefore, we should always be careful to consider our convictions about biblical truths before blindly proclaiming them just because “they are in the Bible.” I am not saying that we take only what we agree with, but that we claim only what we understand and seek to understand that which we don’t through the various means of Grace availed to us; such as teachers and pastors.
Secondly, the illustration given at the end of the sermon depicting how God’s Word cleanses and sanctifies us without necessarily being rightly understood confirms the new age mysticism that continues to plague a lot of emergent churches and liberal theology. The illustration implies that, we don’t really know how exactly God’s Word works, but the important thing is that it does. You just keep reading it. You don’t have to get it. It will get you.
“Son, that’s what happens when you read the Bible. You might not understand it all or remember everything, but when you read it, it will change you from the inside out.”
What is so different between this and the [now abandoned] Roman Catholic tradition of reading all scripture in Latin irrespective of whether or not the congregation actually speaks Latin? They believed that the word of God was sacred and therefore able to mysteriously and mystically work in our lives, irrespective of whether or not we understood and grasped the doctrines therein. The protestants like Tyndale, those who dared to claim that the Bible must be translated and made understandable, were burnt at the stake.
Furthermore, whenever God speaks about overcoming evil with good [overcoming lies with the truth] in the Bible, He doesn’t talk about the literature we read but the lifestyles we lead. “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1Peter 3:9). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). And these verses are actually speaking about overcoming the evil without, not the evil within. The evil within can only be overcome by the Gospel. Which leads me to wonder? What is the current series of “bold conversations” about sex aimed at achieving? Is our focus primarily the social reform of sexual activity or the spiritual redemption of sexual beings? You tell me.
I decided not to really go any deeper into this week’s sermon. This is also the last of these reviews. I don’t think I need to listen to the third part, but I think the message that I was trying to communicate is now clear. For a more apologetic presentation of what I find dangerous about half-truths in our attempt to appeal to the world, please read my post on The Problem with Half Truths. Then you may probably understand more clearly where I am coming from and where I’ve been trying to lead us with these two sermon reviews. Please note, I am not saying that God won’t use these sermons to change lives and lead people into a more intimate knowledge of Him. However, the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over our imperfect preaching is not a reason to stop striving for clearer biblical understanding and Christ-over-men exaltation in preaching.
A final thought, isn’t it ironic how nobody today ever looks at or refers to the Bereans in a negative light for second-guessing Paul, a super-apostle who taught the very Word of God? How come what the Bereans did is perceived as something positive and not negative? Can’t one argue that in doing that, they were bringing the character and integrity of the “man-of-God” into question? The reason why anyone continues to admire and emulate the Bereans is because he or she understands that the character and integrity of God is much more important than that of mere men. May we seek to uphold the true and unadulterated word of God, despite our allegiances and affiliations.
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.
[1 Thessalonians 5:19-21]
In His service and for His glory,