MARCH 94 INFORMED and REFORMED
By Martin Murphy
FROM THE PASTORS PEN.......................
Do you remember the television cartoon featuring the coyote and road runner? The elusive bird was forever being pursued by the cunning coyote. The pursuit would often end with the road runner standing on the precipice of a cliff. In his haste, the coyote would plunge to his fate at the bottom of the canyon. And, we all laugh.
This illustration reminds me of the evangelical church. First let me define the meaning of the word church. The true church has always existed in the mind of God and includes all the elect of all ages. However, for the purpose of this letter I'm referring to the evangelical church that emerged in the 16th century. More specifically, I'm referring to the evangelical church in the United States. The evangelical church was divided in those early days. Some believed that salvation was exclusively from God. Others believed that man must cooperate with God to bring about salvation. The division over matters of doctrine and practice have continued and for nearly five centuries the evangelical church has acted like the coyote. Always chasing the elusive "?", but never finding it. Many have gone over the edge of the cliff in search for the "?". The question mark is symbolic for any number of heretical ideas which were pursued by evangelical Christians through the centuries. What does the evangelical church want? Is the evangelical church standing on the precipice, about to fall over the edge as the road runner continues with a cheerful, beep, beep?
What does the church want? This question is addressed to those who call themselves members in good standing in an evangelical church, for the church is made up of God's people. The reason I pose this question is that the church seems to be searching for something. Whatever it is must be like the elusive bird, because it moves from one agenda to another.
One present agenda that is moving the church closer to the edge of the cliff is the church growth movement. The major proponents of the church growth movement are not interested in doctrine or theology. Instead, they are interested in "marketing the church." One church growth advocate said "the day of the churched culture is over. The day of the mission field has come." He made that statement at a church growth seminar in 1990. The only biblical doctrine discussed at that seminar was evangelism and it was arminian at best. That seminar was the beginning of my inquiry to research the beginning and development of the church growth movement within the evangelical church. Four years later I am more convinced than ever that the church growth movement is analogous to the coyote chasing after the road runner. The problem is that they will never catch the road runner with their methodology. The church growth movement takes many forms, uses many methods, is influencing ministers and laymen to different degrees, and is shaping the character of the church as it enters the 21st century. The end purpose of the church growth movement is success. To them mega people and mega bucks equal success. More likely than not, they are leading the evangelical church to the edge of the cliff.
The next question: Is the evangelical church standing on the precipice and ultimately about to make a plunge to its death? (Keep in mind that I'm thinking of the evangelical church in the United States. God's true church will never die, that is, cease to exist). This question becomes very important when we consider the spiritual health of the evangelical church today compared to centuries past. It has lost its passion for truth. Theology, doctrine, and truth were marks of the evangelical church in centuries past. The worship and work that took place through the church was measured by the word of God. There was an absolute universal standard. Today the worship and work of the church, to a large degree, is measured by "those things that work best" or "those things that seem best at a particular time and situation." The evangelical church has moved away from a God-centered ministry and has adopted a man-centered ministry. All factors considered, the evangelical church is at the edge of the cliff, but it is not in a maze. We can see our way to safe ground. We need to ask ourselves these questions:
1) Do we resort to the Holy Scripture to learn the work and worship of the church?
2) Do we have a passion for truth, especially for an understanding of God's creative work and redemptive plan?
3) Do we seek the glory of God as the zenith of our existence?
4) Are we a holy people?
5) Have we done all things according to God's Word?
There are other questions, but these are plenty to chew on for the time being. I not only want the evangelical church to survive, I want it to thrive, but not at the risk of hypocritical behavior and heretical deviations. Charles Spurgeon once said: "I am afraid many churches of Christ are not prospering. The congregations are thin, the church is diminishing, the prayer-meeting scantily attended, spiritual life low. If I can conceive of a church in such a condition which, nevertheless, can say to God, 'We have done all these things at thy word,' I should expect to see that church soon revived in answer to prayer. The reason why some churches do not prosper is, because they have not done things according to God's word."
Grace and Peace
Reprinted by permission of Informed and Reformed
Martin Murphy is pastor of York Presbyterian Church in York, AL. He is the editor and publisher of Informed and Reformed.
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