Okay, my turn to chime in. The Steven Furtick Baptism story continues to grow. Everybody wants to keep moving on, but like rubbernecking past an accident on the freeway, both Christian and secular media have latched-on to what is a peculiar yet not very surprising story. From local news outlets to the Washington Post, Elevation Church has received national attention surrounding the allegations of employing manipulative techniques to generate thousands of “spontaneous” baptisms. Furtick has now gone on the offensive, he says. “I felt God said ‘then don’t play defense, play offense.’ I thought about it for a minute … God said ‘shake it back off into the same fire. Feed the fire.” Following this statement he announced that he would be doing a special baptism service later that evening. The church reportedly baptized 400 people that night.1
Although the practice of baptism is at the forefront of the story, it is not the reason that the talk surrounding Elevation Church has received so much visibility. It has drawn widespread attention and scrutiny because it addresses fundamentals such as God’s sovereignty, church authority, as well as ethics and governance within the church. Dr. Joel McDurmon provided key insight into how the story reveals a logical outworking of Arminian soteriology. This may be difficult for some to hear but it needs to be wrestled with in the church today. This is truly the fundamental of all “fundamentals”. Apparently this and other fundamental doctrines of the faith are merely junk food in the mind of Furtick. After speaking of the multitude of recent conversions in his church, he boldly states,
“…if that doesn’t get you excited and you need the doctrines of grace as defined by John Calvin to excite you, you’re in the wrong church. Let me get a phone book. There are 720 churches in Charlotte. I am sure we can find one where you can stuff your face until you’re so obese spiritually that you can’t even move.”2
Unfortunately Furtick’s false dichotomy of doctrine vs. action is all too common. Right doctrine enables right action. Far from being a self-gratifying Twinkie-eating exercise, preaching sola scriptura and tota scriptura ensures Christ’s sheep are properly nourished for the work to which they are called.
Doctrines of Grace aside, I would like to deal here with another important fundamental. For anyone with eyes to see, things are truly coming down around us in our present culture. The good part in all of it is that people are now beginning to question their presuppositions more than ever. Right at the foundation of these presuppositions is the issue of sovereignty, ethical standards and how we relate to our creator. I would like to focus a moment on the latter. Our understanding of how we relate to our creator will ultimately affect everything in our lives.
When we read about what is going on at Elevation church it is important to realize that we are dealing with a covenant issue. This should help us to grasp something of the significance of what is going on in the story. Think about marriage for a moment. Many of us would be comfortable voicing caution regarding couples that are steeped in romantic bliss, rushing into marriage chapels in Las Vegas because we know what is at stake. When we read about the events at Elevation Church we have to stop and ask – what is really going on here with these baptisms and why does it really matter? What do they mean? What is at stake? These are the questions we as Christians are beginning to ask ourselves through new lenses.
We are entering a new era of the debate over baptism. Why? As I mention above, we are in a time when more people than ever are re-evaluating their presuppositions. Not only are they questioning more because of easy access to information, but they can also more readily dig for answers with the existence of the Internet. The rate of information exchange just a decade ago would have been unimaginable. It provides a forum to expose faulty arguments and practices like never before. The classic baptism debate has been largely inefficient. This is so because most people who are engaged in the discussion have not been addressing the fundamental issue – covenant. Give me a man’s understanding of covenant and I will trace a line to his understanding of baptism. This is why I wrote the book Baptism is Not Enough and why I believe it to be so important. The book, along with its truly unique and thought provoking companion DVD, has gained a good bit of traction since its recent release. They address the fundamentals.
I could go on about other fundamentals that are in view with the Elevation Church story but now is not the time. Just suffice it to say that staged baptisms fit in with staged worship services. Additionally, entertainment-oriented, man-centered worship is a manifestation of a compromised view of God’s sovereignty and the role of his Word within the church. The mainstream church is truly in need of a more reformed worship – one that is theocentric and thoroughly biblical. One unfortunate consequence of moving the locus of sovereignty from God to man is that some rather awkward and potentially dangerous symptoms arise. An example might be the Elevation Church children’s coloring book – The Code (no, really, that is what it’s called). Don’t miss the fine print at the bottom of the page.3
A good re-evaluation of the fundamentals is in order. Why not start with covenant and baptism?