Several years ago I attended a one-day pastors conference in Columbus, Ohio. The featured speaker was a pastor from Florida whose church numbered well over 10,000 people. As the day progressed, I grew more and more concerned. This pastor taught church growth principles while sprinkling in some stories along the way, but any biblical content was totally absent. I knew there was going to be a Q & A session at the end of the day, and for the last couple hours, I debated whether or not I should say something. With my blood pressure rising and a growing sense that what I was hearing from hugely problematic, I knew what I had to do. When the Q & A time came, I rose from my seat and went to the microphone. My question went something like this:
“Sir, you have spent the whole day teaching about leadership principles that you have used in your church. My concern is that the Bible is nowhere to be found in your presentation.”
I will never forget how this pastor stood up and without hesitation said, “All truth is God’s truth! Everything that I have taught today can be found in the Bible.” He briefly expanded on this and when he finished there was a chorus of cheers and amens from several of the other pastors in attendance. I humbly took my seat, having nothing to say in response.
Since that time, well over 4 years ago, I have often thought about that experience. It would appear in this instance that we have a clear violation of the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. For those of you who are not familiar with that concept, it is Latin for “Scripture alone.” As Christians, we acknowledge that Scripture is the foundation of all truth and is the sole authority in our lives.
The London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) puts it this way: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
In short, Scripture is sufficient. This is not just a Baptist belief – this is a Christian belief. What is unfortunate is that most Christians (especially pastors) are willing to affirm Sola Scriptura in theory but not in practice. Going back to my introductory statements, this Florida mega-church pastor would no doubt hold to Sola Scriptura. But when it comes to growing a church, it is obvious he doesn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Instead, he has turned to secular leadership literature and the so-called “principles” he finds in the business world to grow his church. The question must be asked: is the New Testament inadequate? Is the Bible insufficient for our ecclesiology – for our understanding of the church?
Perhaps you are wondering, how do you get away with this departure from one of the clear doctrines of the Christian faith? Well, it starts when you take something that works in the business world and call it a “leadership principle.” Then you reason that if it works in the church (meaning: the church grows numerically) that principle is surely “tried and true.” Hence we have “all truth is God’s truth.” Admittedly, this is quite a leap, but for the past several decades, ever since the advent of the Church Growth Movement, this paradigm has been adopted by countless churches.
Just for the record, I don’t think it is wrong to read secular leadership books or even to attend secular leadership seminars. But the Word of God is always authoritative and it must serve as the filter by which we evaluate all truth claims originating from outside the Bible. All to often, pastors have been quick to label something “true” simply because it worked for them in their context. But this does not necessarily mean that these “principles” are faithful to the Biblical norm.
What is all comes down to is this – what is your foundation? Is your work built upon the sure foundation of God’s Word (Psalm 127:1), or upon something else? The pastor’s conference I attended several years ago was filled with worldly wisdom and pragmatic insights, but little (if any) biblical truth. This was justified with a flippant statement “all truth is God’s truth.” No doubt all truth is God’s truth, but we have to ask – is God’s truth really my truth? Is God’s Word my sole rule of faith and practice? One day every man’s work will be revealed for all to see (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Was it built upon the foundation of God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit? Or was it done in human strength and wisdom? On that great Day (Isaiah 7:18-25), we will know for sure.