Saturday, March 5, 2011

Evangelical Self-flagellation

Have you ever noticed, like I have, that evangelicals, when examining the church, seem to indulge in a bit of self-flagellation? Oh no, you say, self-flagellation is for some extreme ascetics in the Catholic Church or something, not for us who believe in salvation by faith alone! We do affirm sola gratia, all right, but we still see ourselves as sinners. I think this affects our view on the church.

Let me illustrate what I am saying. When a church grows very large and builds big buildings we have the tendency to assume that "they are all about numbers". We love to put down those who are very successful. It is assumed that the gospel is being watered down and the people are not being challenged.

Is it really right to draw this kind of a conclusion if we do not know the hearts of the leaders or the people of these congregations? Do we know for a fact that this is the case, or do we think that it must be this way for one reason or another?

It kind of reminds me of Hollywood's view of big business. A big corporation is often assumed to be successful because it is greedy, unscrupulous and even ruthless. But do these negative assumptions actually make sense? Why would others do business with those who are unscrupulous? I never did. When I ran my business I avoided the unscrupulous like the plague and so did other business people. You do business with others because of mutual benefit. Bald-faced greed will get you nowhere.

We have a prejudice against the big and successful. We Americans root for the little guy, the underdog.

Then again, we also have the opposite tendency, once again on the negative side. When we see declines in churches we assume the worst once again. It is because the ministry is not doing its job or the people do not want to commit to the truth. Once more, we should not jump to conclusions based on our general impressions. They are more often wrong than not.

I propose a measured approach to these things. First, let's not make unwarranted assumptions - either good or bad. Unless we have personal, and correct, knowledge of a situation, we should assume nothing. We need to realize that, in general, growth is a positive thing and decline is negative. But every case needs to be judged on its own merits. Churches go up and down for various reasons.

Some of those reasons are demographic. A church of largely old people is probably going to decline. A church where there is decreasing population will probably decline; a church where there is increasing population will probably increase. The Southern Baptist Convention (the largest denomination in the US) is declining. There has been speculation as to why this is the case. It might simply demographic. Southern Baptist churches are mostly in rural areas and older cities of declining population. Other churches may be growing rapidly because they are in places of growth.

I do not want anyone to think that I view the church with rose-colored glasses. I know that there are many problems in the church today. But let concentrate on helping and blessing the church we are in rather than unfairly criticize other churches we most likely know nothing about.

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