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S. Michael Craven
Willow Creek Community Church located in suburban Chicago has become one of the most influential evangelical churches in America. Giving birth to the “seeker-sensitive” church model with its emphasis on attracting large numbers, it has helped shape the ecclesiology of a generation of pastors and church leaders. Willow Creek has also been the recipient of much criticism from many fellow evangelical leaders. Critics argue that the “seeker-sensitive” approach has produced the proverbial church that is “a mile wide and inch deep” referring to its lack of spiritual and theological depth. I tend to agree with this criticism.
Of course, this criticism requires some qualification. The phrase “a mile wide” implies that despite any other shortcomings the Church is still growing, when according to the American Religious Identity Survey; Christianity is actually shrinking in America and regardless of the numbers, there is no question that Christianity no longer exerts the same influence on culture that it once did. Furthermore, while mega-churches appear to be popping up on every corner, smaller churches are closing in record numbers. It could be argued that the mega-church rather bringing more people into the Kingdom is really only driving smaller churches “out of business” and consolidating Christian “consumers” in much the same way that Wal-Mart impacted small businesses.
Recently, Willow Creek published the results of their 2004 congregational survey entitled, Reveal: Where are You? The surprising results required the study’s authors, including executive pastor Greg Hawkins, to tell senior pastor Bill Hybels that “the church isn’t as effective as we’d thought.” In the Forward to the report, Bill Hybels makes an astonishing [and I think humble] admission, “…parts of the research did not shine brightly on our church. Among the findings, nearly one out of every four people at Willow Creek were stalled in their spiritual growth or dissatisfied with the church—and many of them were considering leaving.”
In the report, Willow Creek acknowledges that they have long-employed the “The Church Activity Model for Spiritual Growth.” Essentially, the premise was that as “a person far from God participates in church activities” they will eventually become “a person who loves God and loves others.” Now, this could mean any activity whether it be directing traffic in the parking lot or volunteering in the nursery. I call this the “faith by osmosis” approach—the idea that as long as people are in the church environment, they will grow spiritually.
To their credit, Willow Creek asks and answers the question as follows: “Does increased attendance in ministry programs automatically equate to spiritual growth? To be brutally honest: it does not. …Church activity alone made no direct impact on growing the heart…”
The problem begins when you embrace the belief that in order to attract people “far from God,” the church and all of its practices and traditions should change in order to avoid those things that outsiders may feel are “turn offs.” Once embraced, this would dramatically alter worship, preaching and ecclesiology in general. Under this new paradigm, everything in the institutional church that was formerly directed toward and reserved for those who were baptized believers was now redirected toward unbelievers or, in Willow Creek’s language: “seekers,” thus the term “seeker-sensitive.”
Practically, this would mean that traditional expository preaching, which emphasized theology and doctrine would be replaced with topical preaching addressing the felt needs of the listener. Worship would center more on the audiences’ experience and satisfaction rather than the glory and majesty of God—not that both can’t be achieved but the former should follow the latter. And, discipleship would be replaced by large-scale programs designed to train and deploy the newly “saved” in simplistic evangelical techniques and “programs.” In the end, the KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid) tends to govern everything, further adding to the anti-intellectual spirit that has rendered the contemporary American Church largely irrelevant.
The shortcoming of this approach is made apparent in the fact that the “most dissatisfied” group within the church, according to the survey, was those considered to be the most spiritually mature. Their chief complaints? “They desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see more in-depth Bible teaching”—the very things that the seeker-sensitive model diminishes.
Just to be clear, I do not think that Willow Creek or any other seeker-sensitive mega-church is, or was, purposely trying to undermine the church or water-down the gospel. Quite the contrary, I am willing to believe the best: that these new methods and techniques are genuinely motivated by a desire to “go out and make disciples.” Unfortunately, that has not been the case and this is, to some extent, Willow Creek’s realization.
While I don’t agree with all of Willow Creek’s interpretations of the survey results or the “consumer research” approach to ecclesiology, I do nonetheless appreciate Willow Creek’s courage in coming forth with revelations critical of their approach to ministry. This is honest and reveals what I can only believe is a sincere desire to serve Christ and His mission in the world better.
I do still think there is a whole way of thinking about Christianity in America and what we understand the church’s mission in the world to be that demands serious critique and reformation. For one, the Willow Creek report reveals that prior to this survey they believed that “spiritual activity” produced spiritual growth whereas today they understand that “spiritual growth is all about increasing relational closeness to Christ.” In other words, it’s all about following Jesus! I wonder how many other churches have missed this essential point!
It remains to be seen what Willow Creek and the followers of this model will do with the critical information revealed in this survey. It could prove instrumental in bringing about real and needed reformation in the American Church. I pray that is the case. Certainly, it will take great courage, strength of conviction and humility to confront the serious questions raised by the results. We should all be in prayer for Willow Creek and all of those who have followed her model as they wrestle with their response to these challenging revelations. I am personally thankful to my brothers and sisters at Willow Creek for their transparency. I pray all of us would examine how we “do church” and look once again to Scripture rather than “marketing experts” for guidance in carrying out the Church’s mission on earth for the glory of Christ.
What is pure is corrupted much more quickly than what is corrupt is purified. —John Cassian (AD 360-435)
The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.
The absence of church discipline is no longer remarkable—it is generally not even noticed. Regulative and restorative church discipline is, to many church members, no longer a meaningful category, or even a memory. The present generation of both ministers and church members is virtually without experience of biblical church discipline.
As a matter of fact, most Christians introduced to the biblical teaching concerning church discipline—the third mark of the church—confront the issue of church discipline as an idea they have never before encountered. At first hearing, the issue seems as antiquarian and foreign as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials. Their only acquaintance with the disciplinary ministry of the church is often a literary invention such as The Scarlet Letter.
And yet, without a recovery of functional church discipline—firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible—the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the “third mark” of the authentic church. Authentic biblical discipline is not an elective, but a necessary and integral mark of authentic Christianity.
How did this happen? How could the church so quickly and pervasively abandon one of its most essential functions and responsibilities? The answer is found in developments both internal and external to the church.
Put simply, the abandonment of church discipline is linked to American Christianity’s creeping accommodation to American culture. As the twentieth century began, this accommodation became increasingly evident as the church acquiesced to a culture of moral individualism.
Though the nineteenth century was not a golden era for American evangelicals, the century did see the consolidation of evangelical theology and church patterns. Manuals of church discipline and congregational records indicate that discipline was regularly applied. Protestant congregations exercised discipline as a necessary and natural ministry to the members of the church, and as a means of protecting the doctrinal and moral integrity of the congregation.
As ardent congregationalists, the Baptists left a particularly instructive record of nineteenth century discipline. Historian Gregory A. Wills aptly commented, “To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.” Churches held regular “Days of Discipline” when the congregation would gather to heal breaches of fellowship, admonish wayward members, rebuke the obstinate, and, if necessary, excommunicate those who resisted discipline. In so doing, congregations understood themselves to be following a biblical pattern laid down by Christ and the apostles for the protection and correction of disciples.
No sphere of life was considered outside the congregation’s accountability. Members were to conduct their lives and witness in harmony with the Bible and with established moral principles. Depending on the denominational polity, discipline was codified in church covenants, books of discipline, congregational manuals, and confessions of faith. Discipline covered both doctrine and conduct. Members were disciplined for behavior which violated biblical principles or congregational covenants, but also for violations of doctrine and belief. Members were considered to be under the authority of the congregation and accountable to each other.
By the turn of the century, however, church discipline was already on the decline. In the wake of the Enlightenment, criticism of the Bible and the doctrines of evangelical orthodoxy was widespread. Even the most conservative denominations began to show evidence of decreased attention to theological orthodoxy. At the same time, the larger culture moved toward the adoption of autonomous moral individualism. The result of these internal and external developments was the abandonment of church discipline as ever larger portions of the church member’s life were considered off-limits to the congregation.
This great shift in church life followed the tremendous cultural transformations of the early twentieth century—an era of “progressive” thought and moral liberalization. By the 1960s, only a minority of churches even pretended to practice regulative church discipline. Significantly, confessional accountability and moral discipline were generally abandoned together.
The theological category of sin has been replaced, in many circles, with the psychological concept of therapy. As Philip Reiff has argued, the “Triumph of the Therapeutic” is now a fixture of modern American culture. Church members may make poor choices, fail to live up to the expectations of an oppressive culture, or be inadequately self-actualized—but they no longer sin.
Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation—redefined as a mere voluntary association—has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members. Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience.
As Thomas Oden notes, the confession of sin is now passe and hopelessly outdated to many minds. “Naturalistic reductionism has invited us to reduce alleged individual sins to social influences for which individuals are not responsible. Narcissistic hedonism has demeaned any talk of sin or confession as ungratifying and dysfunctional. Autonomous individualism has divorced sin from a caring community. Absolute relativism has regarded moral values as so ambiguous that there is no measuring rod against which to assess anything as sin. Thus modernity, which is characterized by the confluence of these four ideological streams, has presumed to do away with confession, and has in fact made confession an embarrassment to the accommodating church of modernity.”
The very notion of shame has been discarded by a generation for which shame is an unnecessary and repressive hindrance to personal fulfillment. Even secular observers have noted the shamelessness of modern culture. As James Twitchell comments, “we have in the last generation tried to push shame aside. The human-potential and recovered-memory movements in psychology; the moral relativism of audience-driven Christianity; the penalty-free, all-ideas-are-equally-good transformation in higher education; the rise of no-fault behavior before the law; the often outrageous distortions in the telling of history so that certain groups can feel better about themselves; and the ‘I’m shame-free, but you should be ashamed of yourself’ tone of political discourse are just some of the instances wherein this can be seen.”
Twitchell sees the Christian church aiding and abetting this moral transformation and abandonment of shame—which is, after all, a natural product of sinful behavior. “Looking at the Christian Church today, you can only see a dim pentimento of what was once painted in the boldest of colors. Christianity has simply lost it. It no longer articulates the ideal. Sex is on the loose. Shame days are over. The Devil has absconded with sin.” As Twitchell laments, “Go and sin no more” has been replaced with “Judge not lest you be judged.”
Demonstration of this moral abandonment is seen in mainline Protestantism’s surrender to an ethic of sexual “liberation.” Liberal Protestantism has lost any moral credibility in the sexual sphere. Homosexuality is not condemned, even though it is clearly condemned in the Bible. To the contrary, homosexuals get a special caucus at the denominational assembly and their own publications and special rights.
Evangelicals, though still claiming adherence to biblical standards of morality, have overwhelmingly capitulated to the divorce culture. Where are the evangelical congregations that hold married couples accountable for maintaining their marriage vows? To a great extent, evangelicals are just slightly behind liberal Protestantism in accommodating to the divorce culture, and accepting what amounts to “serial monogamy”—faithfulness to one marital partner at a time. This, too, has been noted by secular observers. David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values remarked that “over the past three decades, many religious leaders . . . have largely abandoned marriage as a vital area of religious attention, essentially handing the entire matter over to opinion leaders and divorce lawyers in the secular society. Some members of the clergy seem to have lost interest in defending and strengthening marriage. Others report that they worry about offending members of their congregations who are divorced or unmarried.”
Tied to this worry about offending church members is the rise of the “rights culture” which understands society only in terms of individual rights rather than moral responsibility. Mary Ann Glendon of the Harvard Law School documents the substitution of “rights talk” for moral discourse. Unable or unwilling to deal with moral categories, modern men and women resort to the only moral language they know and understand—the unembarrassed claim to “rights” which society has no authority to limit or deny. This “rights talk” is not limited to secular society, however. Church members are so committed to their own version of “rights talk” that some congregations accept almost any behavior, belief, or “lifestyle” as acceptable, or at least off-limits to congregational sanction.
The result of this is the loss of the biblical pattern for the church, and the impending collapse of authentic Christianity in this generation. As Carl Laney laments, “The church today is suffering from an infection which has been allowed to fester. . . . As an infection weakens the body by destroying its defense mechanisms, so the church has been weakened by this ugly sore. The church has lost its power and effectiveness in serving as a vehicle for social, moral, and spiritual change. This illness is due, at least in part, to a neglect of church discipline.”
The mandate of the church is to maintain true gospel doctrine and order. A church lacking these essential qualities is, biblically defined, not a true church. That is a hard word, for it clearly indicts thousands of American congregations who long ago abandoned this essential mark, and have accommodated themselves to the spirit of the age. Fearing lawsuits and lacking courage, these churches allow sin to go unconfronted, and heresy to grow unchecked.
John Leadley Dagg, the author of a well-known and influential church manual of the nineteenth century, noted, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” If so, and I fear it must be so, Christ has abandoned many churches who are blissfully unaware of his departure.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The disappearance of church discipline has weakened the church and compromised Christian witness. The church’s abdication of its moral responsibility has also lead to public humiliation before the watching world. Any road to recovery will take the church through a rediscovery of the biblical and theological foundations for congregational discipline. The integrity of the people of God should always be a paramount concern. This story does not begin with the church, but with Israel.
Throughout the Bible, the people of God are characterized by a distinctive purity. This moral purity is not their own achievement, but the work of God within their midst. As the Lord spoke to the children of Israel, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” [Leviticus 11:44a] Given that they have been chosen by a holy God as a people of his own name, God’s chosen people are to reflect his holiness by their way of living, worship, and beliefs.
The holiness code is central to the understanding of the Old Testament. As God’s chosen nation, Israel must live by God’s Word and law, which will set the children of Israel visibly apart from their pagan neighbors. As the Lord spoke through Moses: “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to give your fathers.” [Deuteronomy 6:17-18]
The nation is reminded that it is now known by God’s name, and is to reflect his holiness. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” [Deuteronomy 7:6] God promised his covenant faithfulness to his people, but expected them to obey his Word and follow his law. Israel’s judicial system was largely designed to protect the purity of the nation.
In the New Testament, the church is likewise described as the People of God, who are visible to the world by their purity of life and integrity of testimony. As Peter instructed the church: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [I Peter 2:9-10]
As Peter continued, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” [1 Peter 2:11-12]
As the new People of God, the church is to see itself as an alien community in the midst of spiritual darkness—strangers to the world who must abstain from the lusts and enticements of the world. The church is to be conspicuous in its purity and holiness, and steadfast in its confession of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Rather than capitulating to the moral (or immoral) environment, Christians are to be conspicuous by their good behavior. As Peter summarized, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior.” [1 Peter 1:15]
The Apostle Paul clearly linked the holiness expected of believers to the completed work of Christ in redemption: “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach . . . .” [Colossians 1:21-22] Clearly, this holiness made complete in the believer is the work of God, and holiness is the evidence of that redemptive work. To the Corinthian congregation Paul urged, “let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” [2 Corinthians 7:1]
The identity of the church as the People of God is to be evident in its pure confession of Christ, its bold testimony to the Gospel, and its moral holiness before the watching world. Nothing less will mark the church as the true vessel of the Gospel.
The first dimension of discipline in the church is that discipline exercised directly by God as He deals with believers. As the book of Hebrews warns, “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” [Hebrews 12:5-7] As the passage continues, the author warns that those who are without discipline “are illegitimate children and not sons.” [Hebrews 12:8] The purpose of discipline, however, is righteousness. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” [Hebrews 12:11]
God’s loving discipline of his people is his sovereign right and is completely in keeping with his moral character—his own holiness. His fatherly discipline also establishes the authority and pattern for discipline in the church. Correction is for the greater purpose of restoration and the even higher purpose of reflecting the holiness of God.
The second dimension of discipline in the church is that disciplinary responsibility addressed to the church itself. Like God’s fatherly discipline of those He loves, the church is to exercise discipline as an integral part of its moral and theological responsibility. That the church can fall into moral disrepute is evident in the New Testament itself.
The Apostle Paul confronted a case of gross moral failure in the Corinthian congregation which included “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles.” [1 Corinthians 5:1] In this case, apparent incest was known to the congregation, and yet it had taken no action.
“You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst,” Paul accused the Corinthian congregation. [1 Corinthians 5:2] He instructed them to act quickly and boldly to remove this stain from their fellowship. He also warned them, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.” [1Corinthians 5:6-7a]
Paul is outraged that the Corinthian Christians would tolerate this horrible sin. Incest, though not literally unknown in the pagan world, was universally condemned and not tolerated. In this respect, the Corinthian church had fallen beneath the moral standards of the pagan world to whom they were to witness. Paul was also exasperated with a congregation he had already warned. Mentioning an earlier letter unavailable to us, Paul scolds the Corinthians: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually I wrote you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” [1Corinthians 5:9-13]
The moral outrage of a wounded apostle is evident in these pointed verses, which call the Corinthian church to action and the exercise of discipline. They have now fallen into corporate sin by tolerating the presence of such a bold and arrogant sinner in their midst. Their moral testimony is clouded, and their fellowship is impure. Their arrogance has blinded them to the offense they have committed before the Lord. The open sin in their midst is like a cancer which, left unchecked, will spread throughout the entire body.
The Apostle’s concern about the Corinthian church is a startling catalyst for concern about today’s congregations, many of which are following a Corinthian pattern of moral compromise. Paul’s letter is a poignant reminder of what is at stake in the recovery of biblical church discipline—nothing less than the church’s witness before the world.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul confronted a case of gross moral failure in the Corinthian church. In the face of such sin, however, the church had done nothing. So how should the Corinthians have responded to this public sin? Paul speaks in this passage of delivering this sinner unto Satan and removing him from fellowship. How is this to be done? To the Galatians Paul wrote that “if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1] This teaching is clear, indicating that spiritual leaders of the church are to confront a sinning member with a spirit of humility and gentleness, and with the goal of restoration. But what are the precise steps to be taken?
The Lord himself provided these instructions as He taught his disciples. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” [Matthew 18:15-17]
The Lord instructed his disciples that they should first confront a sinning brother in private. “Show him his fault,” instructed the Lord. If the brother acknowledges the sin and repents, the brother has been won. The fact that the first step is a private confrontation is very important. This limits the injury caused by the sin, and avoids a public spectacle, which would tarnish the witness of the church to the gospel.
In the event the private confrontation does not lead to repentance, restoration, and reconciliation, the next step is to take witnesses. Jesus cited the Deuteronomic law which required multiple witnesses of a crime for conviction. Yet his purpose here seems larger than the mere establishment of the facts of the case. Jesus seems to intend for the witnesses to be an important presence in the event of the confrontation, thus adding corroborating testimony concerning the confrontation of a sinning brother. The brother cannot claim that he was not confronted with his sin in a brotherly context.
If the brother does not listen even in the presence of one or two witnesses, this becomes a matter for the congregation. “Tell it to the church” instructed Jesus, and the church is to judge the matter before the Lord, and render a judgment which is binding upon the sinner. This step is extremely serious, and the congregation now bears a corporate responsibility. The church must render its judgment based upon the principles of God’s Word and the facts of the case. Again, the goal is the restoration of a sinning brother or sister—not a public spectacle.
Sadly, this congregational confrontation may not avail. If it does not, the only recourse is separation from the sinning brother. “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” instructed the Lord, indicating that the separation is to be real and public. The congregation is not to consider the former brother as a part of the church. This drastic and extreme act is to follow when a brother or sister will not submit to the discipline of the church. We should note that the church should still bear witness to this man, but not as a brother to a brother, until and unless repentance and restoration are evident.
What is the church’s authority in church discipline? Jesus addressed this issue directly, even as He declared the establishment of the church after Peter’s great confession. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:19] This ‘power of the keys’ is one of the critical controversies between evangelicals and the Church of Rome. Roman Catholics believe that the Pope, as Peter’s successor, holds the keys, and thus the power of binding and loosing. Protestants, however, believe that the Lord granted the keys to the church. This interpretation is supported by the Lord’s repetition of the matter in Matthew 18:18, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Here, the context reveals that the power of binding and loosing is held by the church.
The terms ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ were familiar terms used by rabbis in the first century to refer to the power of judging matters on the basis of the Bible. The Jewish authorities would determine how (or whether) the Scriptures applied in a specific situation, and would render judgment by either ‘binding,’ which meant to restrict, or ‘loosing,’ which meant to liberate. The church still bears this responsibility and wields this power. John Calvin, the great Genevan Reformer, believed that the power of ‘binding’ should be understood as excommunication, and ‘loosing’ as reception into membership: “But the church binds him whom it excommunicates—not that it casts him into everlasting ruin and despair, but because it condemns his life and morals, and already warns him of his condemnation unless he should repent. It looses him when it receives into communion, for it makes him a sharer of the unity which is in Christ Jesus.”
Calvin’s interpretation is fully in agreement at this point with Martin Luther, whose essay on “The Keys”  is a massive refutation of papal claims and Roman Catholic tradition. Luther saw the keys as one of Christ’s great gifts to the church. “Both of these keys are extremely necessary in Christendom, so that we can never thank God enough for them.” As a pastor and theologian, Luther saw the great need for the church to bear the keys, and he understood this ministry to be gracious in the recovery of sinning saints. As Luther reflected, “For the dear Man, the faithful Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ, is well aware that his beloved Christians are frail, that the devil, the flesh, and the world would tempt them unceasingly and in many ways, and that at times they would fall into sin. Therefore, he has given us this remedy, the key which binds, so that we might not remain too confident in our sins, arrogant, barbarous, and without God, and the key which looses, that we should not despair in our sins.”
What about a church leader who sins? Paul instructed Timothy that a church leader—an elder—is “to be considered worthy of double honor,” when he rules well. [1 Timothy 5:17] When an elder sins, however, this is a matter of great consequence. First, no accusation is to be received on the basis of just one uncorroborated witness. If a charge is substantiated by two or three witnesses, however, the congregation is to “rebuke [him] in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” [1Timothy 5:20] Clearly, leadership carries a higher burden, and the sins of an elder cause an even greater injury to the church. The public rebuke is necessary, for the elder sins against the entire congregation. As James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” [James 3:1]
The scandals of moral failure on the part of church leaders have caused tremendous injury to the cause of Christ. The ‘stricter judgment’ should be a vivid warning to those who would violate the Word of God and lead others into sin by example. The failure of the contemporary church to apply consistent biblical church discipline has left most of these scandals unresolved on biblical grounds—and thus a continuing stain on the church.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
When should the church exercise church discipline? In one sense, a form of redemptive church discipline is exercised whenever the Bible is taught and the truth of God’s Word is applied to the lives of believers. The convicting power of the Word of God is the first corrective in the hearts of Christ’s people. Nevertheless, a more personal and confrontational mode of discipline is required when sin threatens the faithfulness, integrity, and witness of God’s people.
The Bible reveals three main areas of danger requiring discipline. These are fidelity of doctrine, purity of life, and unity of fellowship. Each is of critical and vital importance to the health and integrity of the church.
 The theological confusion and compromise which mark the modern church are directly traceable to the church’s failure to separate itself from doctrinal error and heretics. On this matter the Bible is clear: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone come to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” [2 John 1:9-11] The Apostle Paul instructed the Galatians that “if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is accursed.” [Galatians 1:8-9]
The letters of 2 Peter and Jude explicitly warn of the dangers presented to the church in the form of false prophets and heretics. Jude alerts the church that “certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who long before were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” [Jude v. 4] Similarly, Peter warns “there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” [2 Peter 2:1]
The church must separate itself from these heresies—and from the heretics. The permissive posture of the church in this century has allowed the most heinous heresies to grow unchecked—and heretics to be celebrated. Francis Schaeffer was among the most eloquent modern prophets who decried this doctrinal cowardice. Schaeffer emphatically denied that a church could be a true Christian fellowship and allow false doctrine. As he stated, “one cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world can see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community.”
 The visible community of the true church is also to be evident in its moral purity. Christians are to live in obedience to the Word of God and to be exemplary in their conduct and untarnished in their testimony. A lack of attention to moral purity is a sure sign of congregational rebellion before the Lord.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul chastised severely: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” [1 Corinthians 5:9-11]
When Christians sin, their sin is to be confronted by the church in accordance with the pattern revealed in Scripture. The goal is the restoration of a sister or a brother, not the creation of a public spectacle. The greatest moral danger to the church is the toleration of sin, public and private. One of the greatest blessings to the church is the gift of biblical church discipline—the ministry of the keys.
 The integrity of the church is also dependent upon the true unity of its fellowship. Indeed, one of the most repeated warnings found in the New Testament is the admonition against toleration of schismatics. The unity of the church is one of its most visible distinctives—and precious gifts.
The warnings are severe: “Now I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” [Romans 16:17-18] Writing to Titus, Paul instructed that the church should “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and sinning, being self-condemned.” [Titus 3:10-11]
A breach in the unity of the church is a scandal in the Body of Christ. The church is consistently exhorted to practice and preserve a true unity in true doctrine and biblical piety. This unity is not the false unity of a lowest-common-denominator Christianity, the “Gospel Lite” preached and taught in so many modern churches, but in the healthy and growing maturity of the congregation as it increases in grace and knowledge of the Word of God.
The ongoing function of church discipline is to be a part of individual self-examination and congregational reflection. The importance of maintaining integrity in personal relationships was made clear by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, as He instructed the disciples that anger against a brother is a deadly sin. Reconciliation is a mandate—not a hypothetical goal. “Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” [Matthew 5:23-24]
Similarly, Paul warned against participating in the Lord’s Supper amidst divisions. The Supper itself is a memorial of the broken body and shed blood of the Savior, and must not be desecrated by the presence of divisions or controversies within the congregation, or by unconfessed sin on the part of individual believers. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” [1 Corinthians 11:26-29]
The ‘discipline of the table’ is thus one of the most important disciplinary functions of the congregation. The Lord’s Supper is not to be served indiscriminately, but only to those baptized believers who are under the discipline of the church and in good standing with their congregation.
In the twenty-first century, the great task of the church is to prove itself to be in continuity with the genuine church as revealed in the New Testament—proving its authenticity by a demonstration of pure faith and authentic community. We must regain the New Testament concern for fidelity of doctrine, purity of life, and unity of fellowship. We must recover the missing mark of the church.
The modern age has been the age of revolution, and the world we now inhabit has been shaped by a series of earth-shaking revolutions that have altered the cultural, economic, political, and personal lives we lead. Now, researcher George Barna declares a new revolution—a revolution on behalf of spiritual vitality, but at the expense of the local church. In Revolution, Barna never seems to take refuge in understatement. To the contrary, he demonstrates a marketer’s bravado when he declares: “Whether you want to or not, you will have to take a stand in regard to the Revolution. It is on track to become the most significant recalibration of the American Christian body in more than a century. Your response ought not to be based on whether you are comfortable with it, but rather on its consistency with biblical principles and its capacity to advance the Kingdom of God. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you must understand this Revolution of faith because it is already impacting your life, and it will continue to do so in the years to come.”
So there. Of course, from the very onset some may question the earth-shaking significance of a “revolution” announced in a 140-page book, no matter how shocking its cover and publicity. Of course, The Communist Manifesto was a short treatise as well, but this hardly seems a fair comparison.
When George Barna talks about the revolution he perceives, he speaks about “an explosion of spiritual energy and activity” that is “likely to be the most significant transition in the religious landscape that you will ever experience.” He begins his manifesto by illustrating his “revolution” by means of a conversation between David and Michael, two representative postmoderns. Both of these men, depicted as playing golf on Sunday morning rather than going to church, are described as having been “driven out of their longtime church by boredom and the inability to serve in ways to make use of their considerable skills and knowledge.” Beyond this, their response took the shape of two very different trajectories. David “decided to develop his own regimen of spiritual practices and activities in order to retain a vibrant spiritual life.” Michael, on the other hand, “chose to call a truce with God and simply get on with life, sans church.”
As Barna describes them, both think of themselves as “deeply spiritual” persons. Beyond this, both affirm the truth and reliability of the Bible and pray before meals. Both complain of being chastised by pastors for their failure to be involved in the local church.
Of the two, David represents Barna’s “Revolutionary Christian.” As such, he is “not willing to play religious games” and has little interest “in being a part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom.”
As Barna acknowledges, “We live in an era of hyperbole.” Evidently, he has decided to join in hyperbolic expression. He acknowledges that the very idea of revolution is one that has attracted the attention of marketers. He identifies the Revolutionaries as a group of relatively young adults, now numbering over two hundred million persons. They are frustrated with local church life, have grown to distrust ministry leaders, and are determined to do more than “go with the flow” of contemporary evangelicalism.
And who wouldn’t want what Barna’s Revolutionaries desire? “They are seeking a faith experience that is more robust and awe inspiring, a spiritual journey that prioritizes transformation at every turn, something worthy of the Creator whom their faith reflects. They are seeking the spark provided by a commitment to true revolution and thinking, behavior, and experience, where settling for what is merely good and above average is defeat.”
These high-demand Christians represent a threat to the established church. With an amazing lack of nuance, Barna consistently presents his Revolutionaries in a positive light and the local church in a negative light. When Revolutionaries are criticized by established churches, this is “simply because of their determination to honor the God they love.”
Consider Barna’s description of these brave souls. “Like their role model, Jesus Christ, they ignite fierce resistance merely by being present and holy. It is perhaps that holy presence that will get Revolutionaries in the deepest trouble they will face—and that will bring lasting healing to a culture that has rebelled for too long against its loving Creator. These Christian zealots are radically reshaping both American society and the Christian Church. Their legacy is likely to be a spiritual reformation of unprecedented proportions in the United States, and perhaps the world.”
Beyond this, Barna warns that Christians are not to judge these believers “who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people” when “they are true to biblical principles and commands.” There lies the main problem with Barna’s Revolutionaries and the revolution he so eagerly promotes. Where this revolution falls short is seen precisely in light of the Bible’s presentation of the normative Christian life and the means of grace whereby believers are shaped into Christlikeness.
We should be fair and open-minded in understanding the passions Barna presents as formative for the Revolutionaries. He identifies these as a desire for intimate worship, faith-based conversations, intentional spiritual growth, servanthood, resource investment, spiritual friendships, and family faith. While some might describe these passions with different language, no one can doubt that Barna is on to something when he points to these issues as the reason for the Revolutionaries’ dissatisfaction with so many existing congregations. Almost everything he says about the inadequacy of local church life is validated by even a brief acquaintance with the superficiality of American evangelicalism.
We should remember that Barna’s dissatisfaction with the church is not a new development. In 1998 he published The Second Coming of the Church, in which he warned: “At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe the Church in America has no more than five years—perhaps even less—to turn itself around and begin to affect the culture, rather than be affected by it.”
Still, something has gone tragically wrong when a marketing researcher declares that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is simply doomed—especially in terms of local congregations. “There is nothing inherently wrong with being involved in a local church,” he argues. “But realize that being part of a group that calls itself a ‘church’ does not make you saved, holy, righteous, or godly any more than being in Yankee Stadium makes you a professional baseball player. Participating in church-based activities does not necessarily draw you closer to God or prepare you for a life that satisfies Him or enhances your existence. Being a member of a congregation does not make you spiritually righteous anymore than being a member of the Democratic Party makes you a liberal wing nut.”
A closer look at that argument reveals a glaring non sequitur. It completely avoids the question of what the church should be, and it undercuts a basic biblical premise—that the local church is supposed to be the very place where Christians are drawn into the very passions Barna identifies—and into so much more.
The fatal attractiveness of his argument is found most clearly in this short paragraph: “Being in a right relationship with God and His people is what matters. Scripture teaches us that devoting your life to loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul is what honors Him. Being part of a local church may facilitate that. Or it might not.”
Barna wants to identify the Church at the “macro” level as the universal fellowship of all believers. But the local church—representing the “micro” dimension of institutional church life, is more often an impediment to spiritual growth, in his view, than a means of shaping Christians into authentic discipleship.
We must remember that Barna is a market researcher and not a theologian. Still, he has ventured into this territory and risks making sweeping theological statements that simply will not bear closer scrutiny. He implies that the Bible reveals no normative ecclesiology and that local churches, as known today, are simply “abiblical”—not addressed in the Bible at all.
He argues: “The Bible does not rigidly define the corporate practices, rituals, or structures that must be embraced in order to have a proper church. It does, however, offer direction regarding the importance and integration of fundamental spiritual disciplines into one’s life.”
That is true up to a point, of course. It is true that today’s pattern of church organization with publications, youth ministries, gymnasiums, and church buildings is not drawn directly from the New Testament. Of all persons, a marketer should understand this reality very well, since he is best positioned to understand how the challenges of the modern world have been met with organizational responses at the local church level.
What George Barna misses is the big picture of New Testament ecclesiology—a picture that identifies congregational life as the very means whereby believers are shaped into Christlikeness and Christian maturity through the ministry of the Word, the fellowship of the saints, and the normative patterns of church life. Barna’s Revolutionaries may be involved on spiritual quests that have added dimensions of meaning to their lives, but what they lack is the accountability, deployment, mutuality, and koinonia of the local church as envisioned in the New Testament.
Only the briefest of glances at the New Testament, looking particularly at the book of Acts and at the various letters to the churches, would reveal the centrality of preaching, discipline, congregational fellowship, and the central practices of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Barna offers genuine insight when he points to the larger cultural trends of generational transition, the rise of a new view of life, dissatisfaction with irrelevant structures, the impact of technology, the importance of genuine personal relationships, direct participation in reality, and the quest for deeper meaning. Still, one must wonder about Barna’s nearly complete lack of nuance. What are we to make of Barna’s claim that “Jesus Christ is the focal point of the life of every Christian Revolutionary today. It is His call to revolutionary living that beckons us and guides us on this path?” Are the Revolutionaries never wrong? Beyond this, Barna’s definition of spiritual transformation seems amazingly superficial. “Spiritual transformation is any significant and lasting transition in your life wherein you switch from one substantial perspective or practice to something wholly different that genuinely alters you at a very basic level,” he writes. That’s all?
He points to a cluster of what he calls “spiritual mini-movements” as indicative of where the Revolutionaries are at work. These mini-movements are, he argues, reshaping the shape of Christianity in America, from the emergence of cyber-churches and house churches to a new emphasis upon family and home-schooling.
Part of the problem undoubtedly lies in Barna’s marketing approach to the church. A look through Barna’s many books—all widely read and helpful in understanding larger cultural trends—reveals that he has never articulated anything close to a New Testament vision of the local church.
In God in the Wasteland, David F. Wells points to the problem of approaching the church from the angle of marketing. “A business is in the market simply to sell its products; it doesn’t ask consumers to surrender themselves to the product. The church, on the other hand, does call for such a surrender. It is not merely marketing a product; it is declaring Christ’s sovereignty over all of life and declaring the necessity of obedient submission to him and to the truth of his Word. When the church is properly fulfilling the task it has been assigned, it is demanding far more than any business would ever think of asking prospective customers. Simply put, the church is in the business of truth, not profit. Its message—the message of God’s Word—enters the innermost place in a person’s life, the place of secrets and anguish, of hope and despair, of guilt and forgiveness, and it demands to be heard and obeyed in a way that not even the most brazen and unprincipled advertisers would think of emulating.”
As in the past, George Barna has served the church by describing and documenting trends that are shaping the culture and in revealing the superficiality and failings of all too many local congregations. Regrettably, his prescription is even worse than his diagnosis, for minimizing the importance of the local church runs directly counter to the Bible’s vision for the Christian life. The real answer to Barna’s concern is the recovery of biblical ecclesiology—a recovery that would relativize and revolutionize the entire landscape of contemporary Christianity in America.
The revolution we truly need is a recovery of the New Testament vision of the local church—a comprehensive embrace of the totality of congregational life, including all of the functions and marks revealed in Scripture. This is the great task to which this generation of Christians is called—and we will need Barna’s Revolutionaries in order to make this happen. Channeling all these energies into a comprehensive recovery of the biblical vision for local churches would be a revolution worth joining—and worth celebrating. Viva that Revolution!
Most Protestant clergy say Christians are biblically mandated to tithe to the local church, but less than half of the laity in Protestant churches agree, a new research study released Thursday revealed.
Ellison Research conducted two studies on Protestant church ministers nationwide and people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. Released for the first time on Facts & Trends magazine, findings showed some clergy believe in the 10% mandate to the local church, others believe in the mandate but not necessarily to the local church, and still others believe Christians are under no mandate to give anything. People in the pews largely do not believe in giving the 10%.
Among all Protestant ministers, 56% believe Christians have to tithe to the local church. On a denominational level, 92% of Pentecostal clergy agree along with over half of Southern Baptist and Baptist leaders. Less than half of the ministers in other denominational groups agree.
Similar but smaller proportions were seen in laity attitudes on tithing to the local church with 55% of Pentecostals, 51% of Southern Baptists, 30% of Presbyterians agreeing and 25% of Methodists agreeing.
“What’s really sad is that six out of ten churchgoers told us they believe the Bible commands them to tithe 10% or more of their incomes, yet other studies have consistently shown that under one out of ten actually do that,” said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, according to the report. “In other words, at least half of all Protestants are clear on what they believe they’re supposed to be giving, but consistently don’t give it.”
More than heads from other denominations, Presbyterian ministers believe tithing does not necessarily have to go to the local church and very few Southern Baptists say the same. However, among congregants, more Southern Baptists hold the same belief while few Presbyterians do.
The study also surveyed Christian heads and laity on giving with most saying that support does not have to be limited to religious causes or organizations. Only 3% of clergy and 1% of laity feel that Christians should only support Christian causes. And three out of ten clergy believe giving should be directed toward Christian causes or organizations.
More than half of each group surveyed has given money to a non-religious organization in the last 12 months. According to the study, 55% of all churchgoers feel Christians should be free to support any type of cause or organization, regardless of whether it has a religious connection, and 33% of all clergy feel the same way.
“When we work with individual charitable organizations, there’s often an assumption that Christians support Christian ministries over non-religious organizations,” said Sellers. “This study conclusively shows that assumption to be false, and that in fact over half of all Protestant churchgoers don’t even give any preference to Christian organizations in their giving decisions. It’s critical that Christian organizations really understand this about their target market.”
Much of the giving was directed toward the slate of disasters that hit America this past year. Americans’ contributions to last year’s hurricane relief efforts reached a record number of over $3 billion. Eight out of ten ministers and a little over half of laity have personally supported an organization working in disaster relief. Other causes popular among clergy are evangelism, denominational causes or programs and specific schools, colleges or universities. Less popular causes include individual political candidates, veterans’ causes, cultural, the environment and animal welfare.
Laity has supported fewer causes outside their own church over the past year than their church leaders. Disaster relief is the only cause that received support from a majority of Protestant churchgoers. Behind disaster relief are evangelism, veterans’ causes, denominational programs, health and educational causes.
The study on clergy took a representative sample of 811 Protestant church ministers nationwide. The other was a companion survey of 1,184 people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month.
Protestant ministers and churchgoers were asked what they would do with an unexpected financial windfall in a new research study. Results showed unmatched top priorities between the clergy and the people in the pews when it comes to spending.
Released Wednesday, the study was conducted by Ellison Research, which took national samples of Protestant church ministers and lay people. The ministers surveyed were found to prioritize building, expanding or updating their church buildings and facilities as their top spending choice. In comparison to the 31 percent of clergy, only 17 percent of churchgoers agreed with making facilities their top funding priority.
Laity instead placed their first priorities on paying off debt and increasing social programs such as helping with homelessness or education. Updating facilities fell third on their list.
“It is particularly interesting that laity are three times as likely as clergy to say their first priority would be spending on social programs, and considerably less likely to put buildings and facilities as their top priority,” said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, in a released statement. “This doesn’t mean one side or the other is wrong – just that each group probably needs to understand the priorities of the other group more clearly. For instance, ministers may need to do a better job explaining why improved facilities should be a budgetary priority and will further the ministry effectiveness of the church.
“In the same way, members of the congregation may need to do more to facilitate church spending on social programs – including volunteering their own time and leadership to make this kind of outreach happen more often.”
Ministers said they would next spend the financial windfall on increasing community evangelism activities (16 percent), paying off debt (12 percent), and adding staff (10 percent). Laity did not list evangelism as high as clergy. Eight percent of the surveyed lay people listed it as a top spending priority. Giving to foreign missions were at similar percentages with seven percent of clergy and eight percent of laity.
According to the research, pastors focus primarily on their local community with 16 percent versus seven percent who prioritize foreign missions and three percent on domestic evangelism. Overall, 26 percent of pastors say their first priority would be spending on evangelism and outreach of some type.
Lay people showed a more evenly divided percentage of around eight to nine percent among all three. In total, 25 percent placed evangelism and outreach as their first priority.
By denominational group, evangelical pastors were found to put a high priority on better facilities than mainline pastors who prioritize social programs more highly than the evangelical group. And pastors from larger churches are considerably more likely than others to make paying off debt a top priority.
Sellers concluded that pastors place the church before themselves especially when it comes to spending.
“Only one percent would raise staff pay or benefits, or increase staff training and education, as their top priority,” he said. “Virtually all ministers are thinking first about their church, their community, or the world at large before their own needs or desires.”
Research results are being released in Facts & Trends magazine, a bimonthly publication by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The studies were conducted on national samples of 504 Protestant ministers and 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more.
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — For generations, church bells here have called worshippers to service, joyfully announced weddings, noted the noonhour or pealed in sadness at a death. But they’re largely silent these days.
The trend is away from the bells, and those that remain tend to be in the more traditional churches.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church has two in its 100-foot tower to let the faithful know it’s time for Mass...sometimes. They were put there when the church was built 75 years ago, said Father Charles Dreisbach, who has retired. “I have not found in any of the history any mention of where the bells came from,” he said, adding that there is nobody in charge of ringing them. A bell cord drops into the vestibule. The tower is locked because it tempts children to climb it.
Klamath Lutheran, according to member Barbara Mann, stopped ringing its chimes after a complaint from a neighbor who worked nights.
The carillon at First Presbyterian Church hasn’t worked for a year.
In its early days the bell at the United Methodist Church was in the church tower of the building taken down in 1926. The tower in the new church couldn’t support it so it sat in the hallway of the basement near the door and was rung from there. It’s now in the church’s front yard and rung only on special occasions.
Newer churches here, which tend to be cross-denominational, tend not to include bells.
Plans for the Klamath Christian Center don’t include one and neither did the United Evangelical Free Church.
Church architect and planner Dwayne Brittell of Newberg has created plans for numerous community or evangelical churches in Oregon since 1972, says bells tend to be out. But he says he sees more striking entrances with spires and towers—with clocks that don’t chime.
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lakeview has a bell but uses it rarely.
The Tulelake Community Presbyterian Church has one but uses it just to mark the noonhour.
Cindy Magee, an employee of Chime Master of Lancaster, Ohio, which manufactures, sells and installs bell-ringing equipment, said use of church bells varies by community preference.
“We are finding a trend toward churches wanting more real bells, but in the new wave churches, its less common,” she said. “They are more into bands.”
Sales representative Jack Kruk says he sees opposing trends. Those who are Baby Booomers and younger, he said, tend to reject traditional liturgical worship the bells represent and favor an upbeat style, rock beat and more video. On the flip side, he said, since 9/11, some cherish stability in a changing world and said bells may make a comeback. “Our bell renovation business has increased dramatically. Bells reach out and touch peoples’ souls the way no other sound does,” he said.
Bells still ring supreme in the Bible Belt of the South, MaGee said. Cost can be a factor when electronic systems can run straight up from $2,000, she said. She said some churches appear to prefer using the money to get people involved in church activities.
Amid critical reports of churches becoming less effective in evangelism, LifeWay Research measured some of the top Southern Baptist churches that meet the evangelism criteria.
The new study found only 22 out of 43,000 SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) churches met the criteria of baptizing at least 26 people per year, overall attendance growth and a membership-to-baptism ratio of no more than 20 to 1 over the last 10 years.
Most common among the standout churches is the role of the senior pastor. While a study earlier this month by Ellison Research found that 39 percent of American pastors are not highly interested in expanding outreach programs, researchers at LifeWay found the churches that are growing have pastors who prioritize evangelism as the most important. And the pastor strongly sets the tone of the church.
“These pastors do more than stress the importance of evangelism, they lead by example as they are personally passionate about and involved in sharing Christ both from the pulpit and through personal interaction with the unchurched and lost,” said Brad Waggoner, director of LifeWay Research, in the report.
The pastors of the top churches were described as “highly relational,” “personable,” “caring,” “passionate,” “humble,” “strong leader,” “a shepherd,” and “very authentic.” according to the study.
Also, nearly all churches are pastor- or staff-led and are characterized by a strong sense of teamwork, those interviewed said. “Shared leadership” with staff and even lay people is also common and key to the church. Overall, the church has a high level of trust in their pastors.
The study further noted that the average tenure of the pastors is 15 years.
Another common element is the overall atmosphere of the church. These churches were described as “exciting,” “dynamic,” “energetic,” “upbeat,” “friendly,” “welcoming,” “warm,” and “positive.”
“Clearly these churches possess an environment conducive to reaching people for Christ,” Waggoner said. “The members of these churches are enthusiastic about their church and thus are quick to invite their unchurched friends to visit.”
Across the 22 churches, pastors also stress the importance of preaching the gospel and providing opportunities for lost people to respond. More than two-thirds say they make an altar call at the end of every service while others have people fill out a decision card.
Pastors are generally intentional in outreach. Most of the churches have frequent visitation or follow-up strategy. And pastors and staff fill up the church calendar with events designed, at least in part, to reach people for Christ, the study highlighted.
Still, the growing churches have their differences. One-third of the pastors indicate they preach topically and almost half use expositional or textual preaching.
While the style of preaching varies, Waggoner noted that all of the pastors “possess an evangelistic fervor and provide some sort of evangelistic appeal” during most of their sermons.
Most pastors say their worship style is “contemporary,” “informal,” and “casual.” Others say theirs is blended in terms of music and only one pastor described his church’s worship as “traditional.”
In more detail, four of the churches consider their worship services to be “seeker-driven” or “seeker-targeted.” One pastor of the four said his church is a “Willow Creek type church” and another indicated his church is a “Saddleback model church.”
When it comes to evangelism training, half the churches use formal training programs such as FAITH. The other half has occasional classes and uses the pulpit to train believers.
Small group strategies also differ among the churches. Eleven use on-campus Sunday school as their primary fellowship groups, while six meet in off-campus small groups, and two have a mix of on and off-campus groups, the study found.
“When looking at both the similarities and differences of these long-term evangelistic churches, what can clearly be celebrated is that the churches in this study can be a great source of encouragement to any pastor, staff member or lay leader who dreams and prays to be part of a church that is effective in reaching the lost,” according to the research report. “As we can see in the leaders of these evangelistically effective churches, passion, commitment, focus, and intentionality can lead to celebrating the regeneration of many souls.”
Of the 22 churches that met LifeWay’s criteria for the study, 19 agreed to have staff members and lay leaders participate in interviews. Some of the churches that participated in the study include: Cedar Creek Church, Aiken, S.C.; Fellowship of the Rockies, Pueblo, Colo.; Highlands Fellowship, Abingdon, Va.; Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles, Calif.; NorthPointe Community Church Fresno, Calif.; Seoul Baptist Church of Houston, Texas; and Northside Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C.
A Lutheran congregation is grappling with how to deal with a convicted sex offender who says his church attendance is an important step toward rehabilitation.
Clergy and members at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd say they’re in a quandary over how to protect their children while following in Christ’s footsteps and welcoming a stranger.
“Clearly, we are called to love,” said the Rev. Rebecca Schlatter, associate pastor. “But is it safe to love this particular person up close?”
The church has offered a covenant of 17 conditions to Calvin Brugge, who says he will sign it. Among other restrictions, he can only attend the 7:30 a.m. Sunday service, and he’s barred from using the restroom or attending church-sponsored functions that include children.
Plans call for a support team to meet with him regularly and an accountability team to observe him while he’s on church property.
“I have enjoyed church community before, and I feel that it’s been something that has been lacking in my life, something that I grieve that I don’t have in my life,” Brugge said. He began attending church services in December.
“My only saving grace is to be open, honest and ask for assistance,” he added.
Brugge, 60, is on parole for five more months after serving eight months in a California prison for violating his parole in 2005.
He was convicted in California in 1989 and 1997 for sex offenses involving children, according to the state’s sex offender registry. Brugge has been identified as a tier three sex offender who poses a high risk of recidivism and threat to public safety.
Mary Carlson, a single mother of an 8-year-old girl, has fears despite the covenant. “He is a pedophile, and this pedophile might be fantasizing about this little girl across the aisle,” she said.
By Doug Giles
It’s been fun sparring with the atheists lately. I truly appreciate their blasts against God, Christ, Scripture and the church as they serve to shape up the intellectually flabby and spiritually indolent Christians who’re coasting through life picking lint out their navels instead of engaging our culture.
Therefore, muchas gracias mis hermanos del diablo.
Look, Christian, if it weren’t for the atheists busting our chops and asking us the tricky questions and bringing up the offensive aspects of Scripture, most of the church wouldn’t lift a manicured, uncalloused finger to investigate such topics and formulate a non-whacked answer to the gloves-off godless inquiries.
So, quit crying church, the atheists are good for you. Embrace them. They’ll put meat on your bones and hair on your chest, Nancy boy.
Frankly, the people who concern me—the ones I think are more malevolent than the obstreperous atheists—are the postmodern prevaricating pastors and priests who sidestep the stout aspects of Scripture because of the pressures of political correctness.
Correct me if I’m mistaken, brethren, but I’m pretty certain that Christ saved his most scathing invectives for the in-house boys who were ashamed of His person, works and word and who bowed to the crowd.
I was thunderstruck the other day at how far the church has moved away from preaching the raw gospel when I happened upon an old black and white Billy Graham crusade on the tube. It had to be at least 40 if not 50 year old footage.
Billy was in his prime. He was young, had dark wavy hair, and he was full of P&V. I’m thinking this is pretty cool. However, let’s check Graham out. Let’s see if he preaches Oprah verses Obadiah like a lot of postmodern therapeutic Tony Robbins wannabe ministers are doing in the pulpit today.
As you can imagine, Billy didn’t play. The man delivered the goods. He didn’t bee-bop and scat around the difficult sayings of Christ and the gospel. He clearly wasn’t on TV preaching to get rich, to sell his latest book, to be Christendom’s playmate of the month, nor to soul stroke an impenitent mob of vapid narcissists.
Graham simply stood up there with boldness and verve and delivered the gospel unapologetically. It was heaven or hell . . . turn or burn . . . that came rolling off Graham’s tongue. I was blown away by how non-PC Billy G was.
Here’s a list of what Graham touched on during his 40 minute sermon. You won’t hear this stuff talked about much anymore, especially by the TV and mega church ministers. Too costly. Too offensive. Matter of fact, why don’t you take this list to church with you this Sunday or have a copy handy next time you sit down to watch the next televangelist and see how many times they mention what the respected Graham did, namely . . .
• The holiness of God
• The fear of God
• Man’s innate depravity
• The heinousness of sin
• The wrath of God
• Our eventual death
• Our personal accountability to God
• Our pending eternal judgment
• The reality of Hell
• The commandment to repent from sin
• The death, burial and resurrection of Christ from the dead
• Faith in Christ being the only way to God
• The command to the repentant to radically obey Christ in all things
Graham hammered home all the above without an apology or some befuddled explanation. He didn’t attempt to dull down God’s holiness, lessen His terror, go easy on man’s sinfulness, throw water on God’s wrath, sweep everyone into heaven, or make Christ one of many ways to paradise. Nope, he was clear, convicting and convincing, and there was a marked silence in the crowd as he ministered. There was an incredible sense of awe. No, not awe. Awe is too tame. It was more like . . . let’s see . . . um . . . fear. Yeah, that’s it—fear. The fear of God.
Y’know it was interesting that Billy didn’t talk about . . .
• Your success
• Your prosperity
• Thinking positive thoughts
• Confessing positive things
• Your personal happiness
• Your purpose in life
• Your personal destiny
• Turning your dreams into reality
• Creating your future now
• How to be a super you
• Broadening your vision
• Developing a strong self-image
There was zilch, zero, zippo, nothing, nil, and nada about you-you-you. It was strangely Christocentric instead of anthropocentric. It was crazy.
If someone were to preach today what Billy Graham preached in that old video, he’d get tagged as an extremist or a hater as we have become so entrenched in the politically correct gospel of gooey goose bumps for impenitent altar tramps.
Face it gents, Scripture is offensive, and if you stand for the unprocessed and uncensored truth claims of the gospel you will be barbequed within our nation which has officially become nicer than Christ. Jesus himself promised it in John, remember?
“If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you. When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them.” (John 15: 18-20, The Message)
Matter of fact, Jesus said, “you’re pretty much eternally screwed (woe to you!) when all men speak well of you and you’re the big cheese. That’s how they spoke of the false prophets who loved to tickle the ears of the licentious listener” (author’s translation).
As you can tell political correctness bugs me more than atheism. I appreciate, in all sincerity, the atheist’s attacks. They have served to bolster the church by pushing it back into sound doctrine and practice and away from superficiality and selfishness.
Pluralism and political correctness, on the other hand, continue to weaken the church by removing or vilifying the very hard and exclusive truth claims of Christ that can truly save and change a person and a nation both now and in eternity.
These truths, to be sure, are offensive to the selfish, but they happen to be the very thing which brings about real and lasting transformation. And that’s what we need: transformation. A radical 180 from the direction we’re going as a people and a country.
So my advice is twofold: First, let’s continue to wrangle with the atheists. They’re only helping things by rapping our knuckles. If we embrace their verbal mace we’ll come out as better believers. Secondly, seeing that PC-riddled Christianity is more dastardly than uncut atheism, why don’t we call to account ministers who have drifted from the whole counsel of God and have substituted it for a different gospel, a different spirit, and are preaching a different motivational-type-Deepak-Chopra-Kenny G-with-a-beard-guru kind of Jesus?
Yeah, that’s it. No matter how popular the pastor, no matter how much they grin, and no matter how much they love puppy dogs and candy canes, let’s challenge the PC priests of the new millennium to quit preaching half truths, psychobabble, trite clichés, cutesy sayings, sweet ditties and hackneyed aphorisms from their amputated Bibles.
Let’s press ‘em to just deliver sound doctrine, please. Nothing fancy. No gimmicks, por favor. Tell them that you’ll get your motivational stuff from Tony Robbins or Donald Trump and that you’d really, really appreciate them giving you the ungarnished gospel of God. Be patient, as some of these guys haven’t preached the gospel in so long they might have forgotten it. However, if after correction they don’t get back on track after a few months, I’d leave that “church” and find a church that’ll deliver the goods as Graham and other great preachers of old did back in the day.
By Bob Burney
One of the most famous quotes in American history is the comical retort by Mark Twain (circa 1897) sent from London after he heard that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Let’s hope the obituary of the local church, written by some, is just as exaggerated.
In 2006, Christian pollster George Barna shocked the evangelical community with his book “Revolution.” In it he wrote the obituary of the church as we know it. In less than 200 pages he wrote of the many Christian movements that operate apart from local congregations while declaring the local church to be on its death bed with a fatal disease. In its place, Barna argued, would arise thousands of house churches with sincere people who have no loyalty to any church—only to Jesus.
Recently Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the successor of his famous father at the Crystal Cathedral, joined the growing list of those who believe the local church is doomed to die a slow, agonizing death. In an interview with the Christian Post, Rev. Schuller was asked: “So what do you think the future of the churches will look like?” In response Schuller said: “I think we’re in a new era in the church. And that era is ‘denominationaless.’ I think the Church is actually going to reflect what Jesus Christ has envisioned the Church being since day one. I think it’s going to be a body of believers, not necessarily congregated in a specific location, but those who have a sincere faith and a heart and love for Jesus Christ...” (emphasis added). He went on to state that this new Church will worship God in “unique ways that [are] yet to be determined and at different times.” Sadly, his comments echo the feelings of many people in America today.
For Rev. Schuller I suppose this would be a welcome trend. After all, far more people are in the Crystal Cathedral’s television audience than in the glass church itself. A body of believers with no set time or place to meet would fit nicely into a new paradigm of worship that favors an impersonal television congregation.
Here is my honest question: Is the local church a biblical concept or just a worn out tradition of Christianity that needs to be “thrown into a closet” somewhere with tie die shirts and button up shoes?
Obviously, there is not enough space in this column to present a complete and comprehensive argument for the biblical foundation of the local church, but allow me to simply suggest the study of two clearly biblical pictures of the church given to us in the New Testament.
The first picture is that of a “body” found in 1 Cor. 12.
The Apostle Paul likens the church, in unmistakable terms, to a physical body. Christ is the head and we are individual members—each of us uniquely gifted to be a particular part of Christ’s church. This concept requires a connectedness and intimate cooperation between all the respective members.
One could not imagine a body where each member simply did their own thing, and only when they wanted to do it. And yet, that is the model some are presenting today. (I realize the concept of the universal Church clearly exists in biblical doctrine, but the analogy of a body can only be fully realized in a local church.) Imagine trying to accomplish anything productive with one of your arms in one city, a foot in another city and an ear across the ocean! How can we truly make disciples of Christ other than through a local body? Consider just one example: church discipline. How can our church leaders faithfully “keep watch over … all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made [them] overseers” (Acts 20:28) except in a local body where all the members are striving together to live in harmony with scriptural accountability?
The second word picture worth considering is that of “building” the church found in 1 Peter 2:5.
Individual members are referred to as “lively” or “living” stones that make up a spiritual house. The picture is clear. The New Testament refers to Jesus Christ as both the foundation and the cornerstone of the church. Upon this foundation is laid “living stones”—individual believers. Together these stones make up Christ’s church.
This concept is used in Eph. 4 as well where we are told to “edify” the body of Christ. The term “edify” is literally a construction term that simply means to “build up.” The picture is meant to demonstrate that Christ is the foundation of the church; we are the living stones laboring to build each other up. Is any of that possible with a congregation that meets only through a television program?
The church may be sick and hurting. The church may need to be re-examined as to its methodology. The church definitely needs to be revived by God’s Spirit. However, the church is not dead.
There is no need to abandon a plan clearly revealed in the New Testament. The problem is not in the plan. Rather, the problem resides in those of us who are trying to implement it. Therefore, instead of declaring dead the local church, let’s pray that God would grant us wisdom and energy to help the church thrive in this postmodern age so that the next generation will say of the church: “Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”