Concerns about Elevation Church

(Note: Before we released this article we sent it to Elevation church with the hope of opening dialogue about these concerns and learning from Elevation church and Pastor Furtick more about the things of which we were concerned. It has now been nearly a week and we have not heard back from them.)

The evangelical world is buzzing with concerns about the practices of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick (Click here for one article). Let us begin by saying that we are grateful for every good thing that God has done through Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church. Their zeal to see lost people saved is truly wonderful. And, we want to say with the Apostle Paul that we rejoice anytime the gospel is preached (Phil 1:15-18). Having said that, we do want to raise questions about whether or not the reported practices of Elevation Church are inconsistent with the gospel. We have hesitated to write about another pastor or church for many reasons, and we know that in doing so we open ourselves up for critique. Even so, we felt it necessary to raise these concerns for several reasons: first, we are concerned for our brother Pastor Furtick, and for his church. Second, we have members in our churches who are interacting with this story on social media, and we have a responsibility to address these issues as their shepherds. Third, since Elevation has sought to distribute their guide to spontaneous baptisms to other local churches (Click here), this is a public issue that affects more than one local church. We see some deep theological problems in these reported practices, so we want to raise some questions in hopes of helping our churches wrestle with what our practices communicate:

1)    Do our practices reveal a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel?

If a church follows these spontaneous baptism practices (click here for the How-To Guide), then it might reveal a lack of confidence in God’s Spirit and the gospel. At Pentecost, Peter didn’t plant people in the crowd to respond to the sermon. He didn’t assign people to “smile and clap,” create a “HUGE and over the top celebration,” or “pick young energetic people” to go first in order for God to perform a miracle (all direct quotes from the guide). Instead, he simply stood in the power of the Spirit, proclaimed the simple gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and a miracle happened. These types of practices sound very similar to what Paul references in 2 Corinthians 4:2 when he says, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul didn’t manipulate miracles. He trusted in the power of God to open blind eyes through the message about Jesus (2 Cor 4:1-6). (Note: It is also concerning that no where in the “How-To” document do they instruct potential churches who they are encouraging to follow their pattern to interview candidates about the gospel or give their testimony. In fact, the words “gospel” and “testimony” are not found in this document. This is no minor oversight because it could imply that regeneration is not necessary for baptism.

2)    Do we pull the verses out of context for our own purposes?

There seems in integral places to be misuse and poor interpretation of the Bible. One simple example is the coloring sheet (see the coloring sheet here) that uses Romans 13:1 to teach the kids at Elevation to submit to “the visionary,” Furtick. Romans 13 talks about the government not the pastors of the church. Certainly there are verses that talk about following pastoral leadership, but Romans 13 isn’t one of them. In addition, check out this blog (read blog here) about Furtick’s troubling use of “I Am” to also refer to human beings not just Yahweh. This is potentially dangerous teaching that sounds close to prosperity theology.

3)    Do we believe in the priesthood of the believers?

Repeated statements about the authority of pastor Furtick’s vision from God seems to communicate a pope-like role for the pastor (contra 1 Peter 5). The Elevation Code seems to have no place for the Priesthood of the Believers; instead, the priesthood seems to lie with the Visionary alone. Elevation Code 4 states, “We are united under one vision: Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” This is quite problematic for two reasons among others: 1) The Scriptures indicate that all Christians can hear from God and know his plans for the church as outlined in the Bible. 2) We don’t need a priest to mediate these things to us because there is One Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).

Yes, the pastors are called to lead the church in accomplishing God’s mission (Heb 13; 1 Pet 5; etc.), but God in his goodness has also given a voice in decision-making to the congregation (cf. Acts 6; 13; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2; Gal 1).  Church leaders and the congregation hold one another accountable and serve on mission together.

4)    Do we believe that a pastor should shepherd his people?

There seems to be a wrong understanding of the role of the pastor in regard to the church at Elevation. In the Elevation Code (read the code here) it states, “We need your seat:  We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.” And in another clip on YouTube (Watch clip here), Furtick says “if you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you.” On the surface, both of these statements seem right. Our mission – like our Savior’s – is to seek out and see the lost saved. However, these statements fly in the face of the Biblical witness. Paul told the Ephesian elders otherwise, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This doesn’t mean catering to personal preferences; it means that you have a weighty and high calling to protect, exhort, rebuke, encourage, pray for, and equip your sheep because you will give an account for them (Hebrews 13:17).

Yes, the church should be focused outward, but at the same time the pastor and the church should be focused inward to care for members (i.e. obey the one another commands). To say that we must choose one or the other is a false dichotomy not presented in the Bible. The early church’s love for one another was part of their corporate witness that led to people being added to their number daily (Acts 2:42-47).

5)    Where are the Bereans?

Finally, where have all the Bereans gone (Acts 17:11)? Why don’t more church people question what their pastor says to see if it squares with the Bible? Why does the coloring page not shock more parents? Why are more people not asking, “Does planting people in the crowd not violate 2 Corinthians 4?” Church members need to search the Scriptures to see if, as this graphic (View graphic here) indicates, what the Lead Pastor hears from God truly comes from God and is in line with the Scriptures.

These are important theological questions for all of us to ask ourselves. Do our practices reveal any of these theological concerns? It may not be our spontaneous baptism plan that lacks confidence in the gospel, just our lack of passion to share it. It may not be a coloring sheet with the pastor on it that shows a misuse of the scriptures, but we all have agendas that we will be tempted to paste a verse over. Out of concern for the witness of Christ’s church in the world, the clarity of the gospel and our own local churches, we need to answer these questions to the benefit of our own churches and ministry.

Nate and Jon Akin

 

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Nathan Akin

Nathan Akin is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the Liaison to the Churches for SEBTS. In addition, he serves as the College Director at Open Door Baptist Church. Nathan has a BS in Political Science and a Social Sciences teaching degree from Murray State University, where he also played basketball (Go Racers– The 30th best basketball program since ’85 according to espn.com).

22 thoughts on “Concerns about Elevation Church

  1. Thank you so much for this article. There are MANY of us Southern Baptists out here who are concerned about this, and it is wonderful to see a SBC entity FINALLY addressing it.

  2. Missouri Synod Lutheran here. Way to go, and thank you. I predict Furtick will eventually leave SBC and claim that you’re holding him back and that his mission (assigned directly by God, doncha know) cannot be impeded by people without vision or imagination – something along those lines. He will pose it as a choice between God and the SBC, and obviously he will have to choose God. He cannot risk slowing or stalling his ca$h juggernaut. He’s all in, and I think he is also seriously disturbed – to the point that he actually believes his own rhetoric. And now he’s under attack, hunkered down, and behaving quite vindictively. All of which I think will only serve to spur him on to greater self-regard and self-styled spiritual nonsense. And the troubling thing is, thousands of people will likely follow him wherever he goes. Tragic.

  3. Thanks for the post and the caution. It almost seems like Elevation is serving as a logical fallacy, an appeal to Hitler. What is going on there is so egregious that it almost becomes irrelevant to the common SBC church. But Furtick has taken many practices of very prominant SBC churches to the extreme. I think it is wise to examine ourselves on the lesser examples of the same heart issues. Do elder ruled congregations leave space for legitimate, humble Berean concern? Are baptismal candidates appropriately interviewed – for their own good? Are we more concerned with the next guy than the last guy in the ministries and programs of the church? Very good questions for all church leaders, not just the extreme ones.

  4. No reason to fan any flames here but why is it that these types of articles seem to come out a few years too late? None of these concerns are new.

  5. Baptist21 brothers – In the same spirit of humility and genuine concern that I believe you composed your post I would like to offer a reply. Much like you, Nate and Jon, I feel compelled to raise a few questions based on similar criteria to the ones you mentioned. 1. I care for you my brothers. 2. I am concerned for individuals God has allowed me the privilege to shepherd who interact with your blog and 3. because this blog is public and linked to/from various social media outlets your opinions are far reaching and influential on a multitude of readers.

    (NOTE: I applaud your effort to reach out to Elevation Church before publishing this post but I might ask why you only waited “close to a week” for their response. Given the current media assault on Steven Furtick and Elevation Church do you expect an expedient reply? Every email, letter or printed document they release is being scrutinized for error. And let’s not forget the day to day operations of the church must continue as well.)

    1. Do our blog posts reveal a lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit?

    I do not dare minimize the role of pastors, elders, deacons or ministry leaders but I do wish to highlight the role of the Spirit (John 14:6; Romans 8:14-17). Those given charge over the church are to take their responsibility serious and will be judged accordingly. Yet, I must also exercise extreme caution when I utilize my influence to shape the views of those I lead. Unfortunately, I have too often made definitive statements about things that fell in the proverbial “gray area” rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to lead those entrusted into my care. If a false Gospel is being proclaimed then I have a responsibility to speak against such teaching. But that is not the case with Pastor Furtick as you indicated in your initial celebration of what God has done through the church.

    (Note: I fully acknowledge and receive the critique that I have built a case against my own reply. Some may respond that I should trust the Holy Spirit rather than post this lengthy response. Received and noted but as a point of clarification let me add that trusting the Spirit does not reduce one to never holding an opinion. I am only urging caution when publishing blog posts on the basis that many receive opinions from their leaders as Gospel truth.)

    2. Do we pull sound-bites and quotes from sermons out of context?

    I have discovered that many individuals offering criticism have never listened to the entirety of the sermon they quote from. Judgement is handed down based on snippets of audio that do not reflect the intent of the message. Such practices are not fair and need to be rejected. Rumors swirled concerning the Apostle Paul (Acts 9) and believers incorrectly passed judgement based on bits of information they had heard.

    If one is truly concerned then they ought to at least listen to the whole sermon. In the case of Elevation, they upload each week’s sermon on their website. It is inexcusable to build posts around youtube clips and others editorial comments of a previously delivered sermon. If one does not have the time to listen to the entirety of a message, then perhaps silence is the best practice.

    3. Do we believe in the autonomy of the local church?

    This issue may be one of the hardest to address based on continued advances in media and technology. It is an exception to find a church in the United States without an online presence. Most congregations have a webpage that provides information about their location, service times, etc. Additionally, many include a section that hosts the sermons from previous weeks readily available for download. It is an amazing time in the history of the Church! Thousands upon thousands of sermons and church resources are a click away but the accessibility comes with a costs. Individuals entrusted to our care may be exposed to various theological views and ecclesiological practices. When the methodology and ministry practices of another church conflict with ours there is a temptation to respond with criticism and call for conformity to an extra-biblical standard. But one of the Baptist distinctives is a strong belief in the autonomy of the local church. One of the documents Baptist21 affirms on their website is the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. Section VI. of the BFM seems clear on autonomy. (http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp) Do our posts call for methodological conformity or do they celebrate and embrace a variety of ministry approaches? I am free to evaluate the practices of other churches but I am out of bounds when I expect them to adopt my preferred way and posts my disagreements as Gospel concerns.

    4. Do we believe a pastor should shepherd his people?

    There is agreement on the answer to this question but not necessarily its application. I am amazed at the push-back that arises from Elevation’s commitment to evangelism. How does a pastor exhorting and encouraging his congregation to reach their friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members with the message of Christ get accused of not shepherding his people? I am persuaded that we need many more shepherds leading their people to the fields that are white for harvest!

    Pride is deceptive and makes its way into my life in the most unlikely places, including my attempts to write a reply to a blog post! Please do not mistake my disagreement with disdain. I stand with you as a brother and believe we can do far more for the honor of God united together than we can divided. Steven Furtick labors “So that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ”. Nate you “Desire to see lives changed by the Gospel”. Jon you give your efforts toward creating “gospel-centered people who grow in community and serve on mission together”. May it be that each vision is fulfilled and that our posts be filled with grace and truth.

    1. Jody,

      Appreciate your response. Obviously you feel that discussion in the public realm is permissible for believers and agree with why we chose to do so. Your response indicates as much.

      We couldn’t wait forever to respond bc of the reasons given in the intro. We understand busyness but some kind of response even indicating reception and that they will get to it would’ve been helpful.

      1. While we didn’t accuse pastor furtick of preaching a false gospel, we do question whether the gospel is being blurred by these practices. That’s why we chose to speak.

      2. We didn’t build an entire post on sound bites. We built it on disseminated documents from the church. If someone will point us to a context in which the two sound bites mentioned in the post are misunderstood or misused by the writer then we would be happy to retract.

      3. Yes, we believe strongly in autonomy. But autonomy doesn’t mean that a church is untouchable from criticism or discussion of whether their practices are biblical. This is true especially when the church disseminates their method to other churches and calls them to go and do likewise. Also, we never call for methodological conformity. We merely ask if this specific baptism method obscures the gospel.

      4. There is no push back from us on pastor furtick’s evangelistic passion and leadership. There is pushback for the unbiblical dichotomy that assumes a church cannot both be evangelistically passionate and keep its flock at the same time. We couldn’t agree with you more that we need pastors leading their people into the white harvest fields.

      Pride is deceptive so we need other people to speak into our lives and ministries. We would welcome any input into our ministries from outside people. We appreciate your reply and the opportunity to further clarify and discuss these things. Indeed we should all examine ourselves.

      I know that you are close with him, which can cause us to read things differently for sure, but are none of these things concerning to you?

      Jon Akin

  6. Jon – Thanks for your reply! I did not intend for this thread to monopolize your time so I am grateful for your feedback.

    I do find discussion in the public realm permissible provided the parties involved operate under the banner of grace and humility. It is difficult to avoid assigning emotion to textual interactions that may/may not have been the intent of the author. This fact is particularly true in our discussion since we do not regularly interact face to face. With that in mind please read the following with the mental image that I am smiling as I write my responses. Bald-headed bearded guy smiling behind the screen may be more than you care to imagine but I think you get the picture (no pun intended).

    1. I am thankful we do not have to discuss whether or not Furtick preaches the Gospel.

    2. The reasoning behind having volunteers move during the invitation to follow through with baptism is logistical not manipulative (multiple campuses = multiple directions individuals need to go to get changed, etc.)
    Another brand of criticism I have heard aimed at the spontaneous baptism is over the assignment of particular tasks; smiling, clapping, creating an OVER THE TOP celebratory environment. Reaction to these assignments may seem warranted at first but consider the volunteer training the majority of churches with which I am familiar lead. Do we not teach our greeters to smile, engage each guest, direct them to available seating, etc.? Let us be fair in our analysis.

    3. In the youtube clip you linked, heralded by many as anathema, Furtick states at the very beginning, “We preach so that people can come to faith in Christ and we want them to get in a small group and serve so that other people can meet Christ.” Sounds a lot like evangelism AND discipleship to me. Reproduction is in the DNA of the disciple from the very outset of the process. I see no dichotomy present.

    Regarding concern – I readily admitted in my email correspondence with baptist21@gmail.com an awareness that I have biases because of my relationship with Steven. But after hearing the concerns expressed I do not understand why “The evangelical world is buzzing with concerns about the practices of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick” I am certain you understand my position since you are closely related to individuals that are continually under observation.

    I am grateful for helpful communication that seeks understanding from varied viewpoints and understands that unity in the body can be maintained even when there is disagreement.

    1. Jody,

      I know you’re busy, and we are too, Jon is overseas and I’m preaching Sunday. And no doubt we could go back and forth and continue to disagree.

      But the questions for me remain. Do none of these things concern you?

      1. We aren’t criticizing logistics. We are critiquing a created hype that is intended to prime the pumps for people to respond. Do you not see the concern that the language of the manual might create this impression? There are other ways to handle logistics instead of having people walk from the back to the front. Why not have them already at the front?

      2. Are you not bothered that in the How-to guide it never instructs the church to ask the candidate to explain the gospel?

      3. Is the coloring page coupled with “the visionary” language not troubling?

      4. You question why the evangelical world is concerned. Many are. It’s been mentioned many places. This does raise the question of whether or not you’re too close to see the concerns?

      I’m with you, my aim is partnership in the gospel, and believe you have best intentions and I have been thankful for your spirit in this dialogue. But I still think our concerns remain and haven’t been answered.

      Nate

  7. This article is right on. Me and some friends were just discussing the problems with churches like this that water down the Gospel. Everything from the Baptism sermon (“I Have Decided: Spontaneous Baptisms”), to the manipulation tactics documented are deceptive.

    It is also scary how people run out to defend Furtick and are not willing to say he may be wrong in his methods. Defend Jesus, not Furtick. Defend the Gospel, not Furtick. Kids need to learn foundational truths in church, not to get in line behind the Dear Leader and color pictures og him. Very weird and way out of context in his sermons. Reminds me of the sermon I watched of Perry Noble preaching at Elevation. He also took the scriptures out of context by saying the people of Elevation were blessed by what they had seen and heard because they have Furtick.

    It is scary the manipulation tactics that are put in to practice, not just at Elevation. Get temperature right, get mood right, beg people to come down, plant people, etc. The only thing that turns people’s heart’s from stone to flesh is God. Not gimmicks! I envision alot of people at these events who checked their box and are on the wide road and will be confused as to why Jesus says “Depart from me I never knew you”.

    People need to hear the Gospel, not your best life now stuff.

  8. I have a couple of simple comments that came to mind;
    1.) If Elevation is not interested in keeping the people they reach then why not refer these new converts to get involved in a local bible centered church that can nurture and grow them? Is Mr. Furtick a pastor or an evangelist? I think that these are two different roles that God has ordained men for. A pastor is a personal shepherd that tends to each member of his flock and who would leave the rest behind to go find the one who wandered away. An evangelist preaches God’s word in dynamic way to wake people up and perhaps draw them to salvation. But then God expects them to continue by associating with a body of believers under the guidance of a pastor.
    2.)As for the graphic of the reasons to work for Elevation church; my husband is a pastor and I work with him for God not “the lead Pastor.” I would have a problem making a statement like that in any aspect of God’s ministry. It sounds like something a Pharisee would come up with. And we know what their role in the crucifixion was.

    Finally, I know it is old school but, many years ago Steve Martin was in a film called Leap of Faith. This whole situation reminds me of that movie.

  9. Jon and Nate,
    I am grateful for your time and thoughts. Answering a reply to a blog post while overseas or preparing to preach is beyond expectation! Final reply for me here on the blog. I remain open to continued conversation if you desire. I have sent a message to the Baptist 21 email with my contact info.

    Although my comments have not answered your concerns adequately I am thankful for the conversation. Connectedness through mutual friends assures me that your concerns are heart-felt and I hope that is a reciprocal feeling. Thanks for your commitment to advance the Gospel to the ends of the earth!

  10. I, too, am deeply concerned about this church/cult. Especially with the church’s recent LARGE gift to a homeless ministry in Charlotte, it seems they are trying to buy our silence and the goodwill of the larger philanthropic community. There are frightening echoes here of Jim Jones and the days of his ministry in California before he fled, under scrutiny, to Jonestown. Sadly, in religion as in politics, money can buy silence and goodwill.

  11. I am concerned that our denomination is devolving into a “cult of personality” mess. Our overall numbers are static, as the mega churches slowly drain the numbers of the older, smaller, traditional churches. It’s musical chairs for Christianity, with many ‘trading up’ for the designer coffee shop and charasmatic leader in the designer suit.

    Jesus is put on the back burner, because the truth can be inconvenient.

    This is the same problem that I have with Mark Harris running for Senate. Mark has a responsibility ordained by God, and it is not to argue about budgets or Obamacare. Obviously, there are only so many hours in a day, and the ones that Harris spends on being a politician are hours that are being removed from other responsibilities. Right? Please don’t say that Harris is running for Senate because God wants him to… God doesn’t need the help, nor desire the misdirection of resources.

    Harris is running for Senate for Harris.

    Cult of personality.

    In BOTH cases.

  12. Nate and Jon,
    Can you please elaborate in how you have used Matthew 18 as a way to decide when it is okay to publish an article addressing the issues of Elevation Church? I am concerned that we as believers have a different process when it comes to Social Media. So please shed some light on how Matthew 18 and Social Media go hand in hand.

  13. 1. “You are looking for 1 or 2 great stories in your group. When you ID those individuals, place a “black wrist band” on them so that the video crew can interview them after they are baptized.”

    Ok, I understand that if the goal is to baptize that many people there isn’t time for everyone to share their testimony, but to pick out 1 or 2 “great” stories? This is downplaying the power that the gospel has in all of our lives, especially for people who might already feel as though they don’t have an amazing conversion story. Either let everyone tell their story, or no one tells their story.

    2. “Some of them may have given their life to Christ”

    *May have* given their life to Christ? Isn’t baptism meant to be an outward sign of an inward reality? Since baptism doesn’t save you, shouldn’t it be a requirement for someone to be baptized that they would have already given their life to Christ? I would hope that all in line to be baptized would have made the decision to follow Christ with their whole lives.

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