Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Reformation Project: Analyzing my Visit to Watermark Church

In my previous post, I described my visit to Watermark Church. In this one, I will provide some analysis of that visit. Because the prior post is foundational to this one, I would recommend that the reader look back at that one prior to proceeding here.

Watermark Church, with a reported average attendance of just under 9,000, is the 9th largest church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, according to data compiled by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The nondenominational church was founded in 1999 with a determination to evidence authenticity of their faith in Jesus Christ. That focus on authenticity is the reason for the church's name. While the church is not a part of a formal denomination, its beliefs are baptistic and dispensational.

While some of the music used in the service contained good content, it seemed overwhelmed by the performance focus of the service. In fact, the entire service, from the pop style performance music to the emotionally anxious lead singer to the preacher clad in untucked shirt telling 10 minutes worth of jokes before giving practical advice from the Bible gave the appearance of a giant youth retreat. That is not to suggest that all that happened here was bad; it is just that the service, for better or for worse, had a vibe to it.

So, the minister on this Sunday offered up practical advice on the subject of marriage. This is something that the Scripture certainly addresses, and to the pastor's credit, he utilized a lot of Bible passages in his sermon. Even so, the sermon left me with a somewhat vague sense of uneasiness. In thinking through it later, I realized that the uneasiness largely came from the realization that the minister over promised: that is to say, in his zeal to offer therapy in the midst of our therapeutic culture, he stated assurances in a way that goes beyond what God has promised to us.

Consider the following ideas expressed in the sermon:

  • If the church started getting marriage right, it would be the most earth shattering thing that the church could do;
  • Marriages can't be made right unless the Gospel enters the marriage; and
  • In a list of characteristics of successful marriages, he stated that they radically depend on Christ.
While no one should doubt that good marriages among Christians would be a positive for both church and world, the first of those bullets is biblically false. Jesus himself pointed out that even if one rose from the dead that many would not believe, and the truthfulness of that statement was demonstrated in the aftermath of his own resurrection. If the resurrection of the dead and the proclamation of the gospel lack earth shattering impact, what makes us think that our marriages would have the same? We should encourage one another in our marriages without giving to ourselves such a sense of self-importance.

The second and third bullets are demonstrably false. All of us, I suspect, know non-Christians with wonderful marriages, and we likely know Christians that have struggling ones. None of this is to say that the believer's relationship with Christ makes no difference to his marriage, nor would we deny that the Bible offers practical guidance in this area. However, in this age of the already and not yet, God's common grace to all men frequently permits them to enjoy happiness in marriage, just as the incompleteness of the sanctification of believer's often means we do poorly at marriage in this fallen world. Again, none of this should be used to excuse Christian failures (I certainly don't want to be guilty of excusing my own). However, the situation is simply more complex than the minister described it, and all of the above thoughts need to be included in wise pastoral counsel.

Good pastors should give wise counsel from Scripture about our family life. The Scripture, and the preaching of law and gospel, form the center of the pastor's message and expertise. Getting the gospel right is the most potentially earth shattering thing that the church can do. This is what must be offered to both the church and the world.

In my next two posts I will conclude this portion of the study by looking at the tenth of the largest churches in this region.

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