Potential Church: The Problem with “Nothing But Scripture”

Potential church has a new series this summer called DiverseCity, with the subtitle, “Nothing But Scripture”. There is a synopsis of this series provided on their web site:

“Ni hao! Namaste! Dia Dhuit! Bonjour! Guten Tag! Shalom! Kon-nichiwa! Jambo! Hola! Hello!

Welcome to DiverseCity, the new series taking over Potential Church. What is DiverseCity? A place where every color, where every dream, where every sound and flavor, where every culture, language and dialect blend together as one. Where differences are not just tolerated, they are celebrated. Join us in July as we experience and embrace what makes Potential Church a global community—what makes us all unique, and all the same: DiverseCity.”

The sermon is introduced with a clip from the movie Braveheart. In the clip, the main character is giving an inspirational speech to his countrymen about the importance and cost of freedom. Once the clip is done, pastor Charles Hill from One Community church in Utah begins speaking about how the phrase “Freedom Isn’t Free.” He disagrees with it, saying that it may not be free for some, but it is for others. His sermon begins at 4:21 with a string of stories.

He talks about his grandfather being in the navy. He talks about his mom watching him preach over the internet. He talks about people who are persecuted for “doing what we are doing here (at Potential).” He speaks about what he does for a living, tying it in with how awesome Potential church is. He talks about how awesome Troy and his wife are and the staff there. He also provides a few statistics to support what he says. He talks abou, and how they are committed to spiritual freedom. He talks about how one of the pastors at Potential needs a girlfriend. He talks about a lady he knows that was looking for a church, and how she trusted in Christ. But he doesn’t explain what that means.

He then says that eternal freedom is a price we can’t afford not to pay, a price we aren’t worthy to pay, and a price we can’t pay. Here’s where it got exciting. I began to think that we were going to hear the gospel explained clearly. Mr. Hill then said that spiritual and eternal freedom was paid for by someone else and given to us, and that this person was Jesus Christ. But he doesn’t tell us what eternal and spiritual freedom really means, and why we need to be free, or why we can’t pay it. He supposes that there are those in the audience that have never been there before. What would they glean from, “You can’t pay for eternal freedom, but Jesus did for you”? It almost seems like he assumes people already understand his terminology. He then talks about how crazy Potential church is and admits that the church service opened up with a flash mob. In case you don’t know what a “flash mob” is, they are those people who disguise themselves in public places, and then at a particular time, they all begin to dance in unison. He also admits that the service was opened up with a song by Kesha. You know, the girl who becmae famous with her song about getting drunk and having unprotected sex. I’m sure they spiritualized one of her songs…

23 minutes later, at 27:09, he finally reads some Scripture. Now, I will say this – after he reads these two verses, he completes the last half hour or so of the service by only reading Scripture. He doesn’t say anything but Scripture. I’ll get to that in a bit. But, the first verse he reads is Galatians 5:1 –

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

Here, Paul is remiding the Galatians that Christ had set them free from a yoke of slavery. There were those among the church called Judaizers. These Judaizers were teaching that one would have to practice the works of the law to be a Christian. For instance, they were teaching that circumcision was a necessity. They believed that these works had meritorious value, making the Christian more holy. The only problem was that the law was never intended to justify a person before God, but to condemn them. Its intention was to expose the sin of a person, and give strength to that sin, so that it would drive the person to Christ.

But Mr. Hill explains that this yoke of slavery isn’t an attempt to meritoriously work toward one’s own justification. He explains that the yoke of slavery are like those sins that master us like money, sex, etc. Only, he doesn’t believe that those things are the problem. He believes that we are ultimately all enslaved to death, and that we live life in a way to avoid death. He then explains that death is a result of sin, and that sin was never part of God’s plan. And finally he says that we need to be set free from death, sin, hell, and the grave. It seems confusing to me. I can’t help but think about what the unbeliever is thinking about all of this:

1. Christ frees us from a yoke of slavery.
2. This yoke of slavery is death.
3. Death is a result of sin.
4. Even though God knows everything, and Christians say that He has a plan for everything, He still created everything knowing sin would be present.
5. I need to be set free from death. But how? And why? Don’t Christians still die?
6. I need to be set free from sin. But how? And why? To escape death?
7. I need to be set free from hell. But how? And I don’t need to ask why, because hell is pretty much self explanatory.
8. I need to escape the grave. But how? And isn’t the grave another word for death? And don’t Christians still die?

It’s very confusing, and it leaves unbelievers with more questions than answers. He then goes on to read Psalm 119:45 from the New Living Translation –

“I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.”

Here’s where it gets dangerous. This is the last thing he says before he launches off into about a half hour reading of just Scriptures pieced together from all over the Bible. He explains that in order to walk in freedom, we need to devote ourselves to God’s commands. He then says that he is going to shut his mouth and just read Scripture to let us know what God’s commands are that will set us free.

The reason I say this is dangerous is because without an explanation of the disctinction between the gospel and the law, this sounds like my freedom depends on the level of my devotion. For instance, if I simply read, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” you would stand condemned. And if you meditated on that Scripture, it would become a burden on you because you can’t do it. Anyone reading this sentence right now has not loved God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength from the time they woke up this morning. A ton of churches preach out of the book of Proverbs without preaching the fact that Ever since Adam had sinned against God, this sin had passed throughout all of humanity. It has enslaved every one of us. Everyone craves evil and is evil. They continuously break God’s laws day by day. But Christ was perfectly obedient to the law of God on behalf of His people. He gave up His own life, as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of His people. Being put to death on a cross, He satisfied the wrath of God on behalf of His people. His wrath justly loomed against them for their sin against Him. And as a result of their sin they deserve death and eternal punishment. But Christ saves his people from this. He nailed their debt against God to the cross – paying it in full. We can’t be more holy or closer to God or further from God because of personal disciplines. Christ has done it completely. God only looks to us because of the merits of Christ. Any attempt to add to that is blasphemous. Because we have been saved in this way, and because of God’s surpassing grace, we serve Him out of love and thanksgiving. When churches preach the book of Proverbs as life tips apart from the reassuring good news of Jesus Christ, they really do nothing more than lay burdens on the shoulders of their hearers.

Mr. Hill may have read a half hour of Scripture, but it was a cannon blast of jumbled texts that were read under the blanket of “In order to be free, I need to devote myself to God’s commands and here they are.” These Scriptures weren’t explained. And although he doesn’t come off as crazy as they do, his method reminded me of Harold Camping or William Tapley who just piece all kinds of Scriptures together but don’t just stick to a text. The purpose of the pastor is not to quote Scripture after Scripture, but to teach the Scriptures. Like I mentioned before, he assumes that there are people there that had never been before. Although he reads bits of the gospel, it all just comes out as confusing because he also reads law passages. Without an explanation, they are seemingly contradictory. Just stick to one text and teach it exegetically. Sure, a lot of people stood up and cheered, but  I can’t help but wonder if some of the noise was from people scratching their heads.