This is one of those stories where you see that not all the news is bad. While we are unquestionably in the throes of an apostasy blowing through the Church with the power of a tsunami, in this piece my friend Michael Miller of the Peoria Journal Star introduces us to the labor in Christ of Jon Wenger.

A return to the basics with an emphasis on cross

By Michael Miller

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jon Wenger has helped build several churches in the Peoria area.
Now he’s building one in spirit to counter what he sees as a self-demolition of evangelical Christianity.

The pastor of Heritage Christian Center, which holds services in Ottawa on Wednesdays and Sundays and in Peoria on Saturdays, has worked construction since 1972. In that time, he has helped to build nearly 300 homes in the Peoria area as well as several churches, including Bethany Missionary Church in East Peoria and Faith Christian Centre in Washington.

But he’s also been in ministry since 1985, serving as youth pastor at Faith Christian Centre until 1990, starting the Peoria Outreach Center on Main Street in Peoria in the late 1980s, then working as senior pastor at Praise Center in Ottawa, and assistant pastor at a LaSalle church.

But it was in 2004 that he and his wife, Debra, started Heritage Christian Center as an effort to call Christians back to what they say the faith is supposed to be about in the first place: the Cross.
Wenger said movements like the emergent/emerging church, church-growth/seeker-sensitive, contemplative prayer, the Purpose-Driven Church, and psychology have distracted Christians from the basics of their faith and are even leading, in some cases, to apostasy.

And, he admits, he bought into some of those things until about 1993.

“I bought into the psychology lies in church counseling,” Wenger said. “It never solved anything. The power of the Gospel is the message of the Cross.”

The Wengers call the evangelical church of today a “Laodicean church,” referring to Revelation 3:14-22 in which Jesus talks about an ancient congregation of lukewarm believers in that city in Asia Minor.

Besides psychology, Wenger said, one of the main culprits hurting evangelical churches is the emergent church movement. That movement encourages churches and ministries to engage postmodern culture, which emphasizes relative truth. But the Wengers, like other critics of the movement, denounce the emergent church movement for its involvement in things like mysticism, which Wenger called “demonically inspired,” and its willingness to interact with or even adopt practices or teachings from other faiths.

“We know for a fact it’s unscriptural,” he said.

He made a point of attending a day-long session at Riverside Community Church in August featuring one of the key emergent church figures, Leonard Sweet. Far from having a sweet experience, Wenger said he was “sickened” by what and how the theologian taught.

Wenger said he is “amazed that the men I know are embracing this” brand of Christianity.

What Wenger is doing at his two congregations now – the Peoria group meets at 6 p.m. Saturdays at the Lakeview YWCA and the Ottawa group at 10 a.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Wednesdays at 128 E. Madison St., Ottawa – is getting back to basics, he said.

“I’ve thrown out how I normally do church by man’s methods,” Wenger said.

That means dealing with addictions and other problems through faith rather than psychology, he said. People being helped at Heritage Christian Center are “putting their faith in what Jesus has done,” Wenger said, not in what man has thought up.

“There is an apostasy, there’s a great falling away,” the pastor said. “I believe God is giving us a message to stand up and be counted.”

MICHAEL MILLER covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to mmiller@pjstar.com. Comments may be published.

Copyright 2006/Peoria Journal Star/Reprinted With Permission
No further reproduction by any means permitted.