(Photo: Elevation Church)
South Carolina Pastor Perry Noble came to the defense of Elevation Church and its pastor, Steven Furtick, amid criticism that the church is not preaching a biblical gospel.
Noble, pastor of NewSpring Church, addressed thousands attending the Code Orange Revival Tuesday night and responded to "rumors" about Furtick "that he don't preach the Bible."
"I don't even know where that one came from," Noble said.
Rejecting the rumor, Noble asked those in the audience to stand up as proof that they had grown as Christians because of Furtick's preaching. If "over 15,000 people have met Jesus" at Elevation, he noted, then how could that rumor be true?
Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. The nearly six-year-old church has gained a lot of attention for its explosive growth in a city that already had a church on almost every corner. Along with recognition, however, Elevation has also gained critics.
Chris Rosebrough, apologist and host of Fighting for the Faith, has been a long-time critic of the theology and practices of Elevation. He has been following the 12-night Code Orange Revival and was critical of some of the happenings, including Noble's talk.
"How is this a revival when they are talking about Steven Furtick and not the Christ?" he posed to The Christian Post.
Rosebrough expressed frustration and outrage in a Wednesday podcast over what he sees as a twisted gospel being preached at a church making much of its pastor rather than Jesus.
The apologist specifically addressed Noble's talk from Tuesday night where the NewSpring pastor "hijacked" a biblical passage about Christ and made it about Elevation and Furtick.
Noble cited Matthew 13:16 ("But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear") as he reiterated to attendees that they are blessed. He prefaced his message with this statement, "I believe God sent me here tonight to encourage you."
Outlining the history of Elevation and how Furtick has grown the church over the last six years, Noble centered his talk on reasons why he believed Elevation to be a blessed church.
He said the first reason they were blessed is "because of what you have seen."
"You've gotten a little flak from some good friends or some family members [who say] ... 'Oh, you go to that church,'" Noble told attendees. "They don't understand why you're so excited about your church."
But the truth is they can't see what those at Elevation see, he noted, such as the thousands who got saved at Elevation during last year's Christmas services.
Noble also said that Elevation was blessed "because of what your ears have heard," such as negative rumors spreading about the church and its pastor. Again, Noble pointed to the growth in the church as evidence of God's blessing.
Rosebrough told CP that Noble is missing the point and using a straw man argument. He said that no one is actually saying Furtick doesn't preach the Bible; "what they are saying is that he twists the Bible."
Pastors like Furtick and Noble, when criticized, often "point to numerical growth and transformed lives as proof that God is behind their ministry," the apologist argued.
While he sees nothing wrong with people overcoming addictions or being successful, what he does see as wrong is pastors equating those successes as "fruit of the Holy Spirit, and proof that what they're doing is from God."
Dr. John Hardin, a writer for 9Marks, a D.C. organization that helps "church leaders define success as faithfulness to God" rather than numbers, told CP that much of worldly success today is measured by "how much money do you make, how many inches is your television, how many customers do you serve, how many members do you have? If something is shrinking in size, we think its failing. We measure quality by quantity, and so do these modern churches. "
He said for these types of churches, "it's much easier to measure and communicate success by reporting 50 baptisms instead of the details of transformation in one person's life."
But for Frank Turek, author and President of CrossExamined.org, the transformation of people's lives through the message of the Gospel needs to be a focus for churches.
He told CP that the church has to have some sort of program to disciple people who stay. If they are "just going to get the same 'Come to Jesus' message every morning, they probably need some way to get into the scriptures themselves."
"Even [Bill] Hybels (founder of Willow Creek Community Church) admits that the seeker movement had not made disciples and has taken steps to change that," Turek pointed out.
Rosebrough emphasized the need "to look biblically as to whether or not something is a move of God. You don't point to numerical growth as an indicator of whether or not something is of God. You have to listen to the content of the message that is preached."
He said if numbers were a sign of growth and blessing from God then that would mean Islam is blessed since it's the world's second largest religion.
For the apologist, the only way to tell if God is truly involved in a movement is "if Christ and the Gospel are rightly preached and sinners are confronted with their sin."
Earlier this week, Rosebrough blasted Elevation for "censoring" a sermon preached by Texas Reformed pastor Matt Chandler. Chandler's sermon – which Rosebrough believed was a biblical one as it focused on Jesus and God's renown – was not rebroadcast on the Web as other speakers' talks were.
Elevation's spokesperson, Tonia Bendickson, told CP earlier, "We decided to do prayer time live during the first rebroadcast time. We were getting so many requests for prayer."
Chandler, who has also expressed concerns with Furtick's preaching, had cautioned Elevation members in his talk last Friday about who they give their praise to amid growth. "Just be careful," Chandler said. "Israel never did well with blessing … I'd rather that not be your story."
Elevation members and revival attendees responded to his talk with a standing ovation.
His sermon is now on YouTube, Elevation announced Thursday. An official podcast will also be released from the church.
The Code Orange Revival continues through Sunday. Chandler and Noble were among 11 speakers invited to speak at the revival.