|Photo courtesy of Ryas|
On the evening of the first day of this conference Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church, gave a talk entitled "The Eclipse of Christ in the World and His Church." Without going into too much detail about his talk I will summarize it by saying; throughout history, and particularly today, Christ has been shoved into a secondary role in the Church. He used Gnosticism, Sacramentalism, Rationalism, Historicism and Liberalism as examples of ways that Christ was removed from His throne and put in the back seat in favor of some fad of human wisdom. While Liberalism may be one philosophy that effects the Church today there is another that is, perhaps, a more sinister invader and it is one the evangelical community has embraced many times. What I'm talking about is the "Church growth" models. I'm sure many of us have heard of the Saddleback church, the Willowcreek Community and I'm sure each of you could name one or two in your own area.
Now before you quit reading because I've just maligned your favorite place of worship let me explain what my beef is. I'm not saying these churches or the pastors thereof are sinister people out to supplant the name of Christ. In fact, I think overall they are probably trying to exalt the name of Jesus through their ministries. Here is what happens though, everyone sees what is going on in those churches so they try to emulate their method believing that it is the method that brings growth. Re-enter pastor Lutzer. In his talk on the eclipse of Christ he made this statement which received a hardy round of "ooohhhhs" from the audience;
What if a church grew because Jesus made it grow and there was no other reason or book to write?
Take a moment and just let that sink in. What if a church grew because Jesus made it grow and there was no other reason or book to write? Can you imagine a church that, rather than toning down their Christianity so as not to offend anyone, boldly and unapologetically made much of Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection? What if we looked to the book of Acts for our church growth model. I just read in Acts 2 this morning about Peter's post-Pentecost sermon and he did not hold anything back, nor did he water down the facts surrounding the crucifixion of Christ. He says to the men of Israel;
this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and Him to death (Acts 2:23).
After continuing for another twelve verses the Bible tells us;
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37)
Then down in verse 47 we are told;
And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
I understand that we should find creative ways to address culture in church and with our message. I understand that there are those who have been hurt by the Church and this is an indictment against us. However, I can find no Biblical basis for compromising, or hiding the truth in the interest of getting people into church. In fact, the real issue may not be "How do we get people into church?" but rather, "How do we get the church to the people?" I don't mean that we "dumb-down" church in order to take it to their level. I mean how do we actually, physically go to the people? That may be the challenge to the Church in America today.
I digressed ever so slightly but please allow me to return to the topic at hand. The point Pastor Lutzer was making was this. Why can't we see a church grow simply because Christ has ordained that it grow? There would be no book to write and sell to all the other pastors who want a growing congregation. There would be no special formula to follow or model to imitate, it would just be Christ giving the growth. We can see that Paul as dealing with a similar issue in the church in Corinth. Evidently, both he and Apollos had a hand in founding and establishing the church there and people, naturally, became divided between the two (It is so refreshing to see that churches don't get divided over the like or dislike of certain pastors these days...oh wait). Anyway, Paul nips this controversy in the bud with these word of reprimand;
For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:4-7).
He goes on to say in verse 11;
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
If we begin to lay a foundation for our church that is based on the wisdom and models of men it may grow magnificently at the outset and that may continue for years to come. However, there will come a time when that foundation begins to crumble and when the foundation that has been laid in people's lives begins to fail. However, if a church is founded on the unshakeable bedrock of Jesus Christ; if a church sets out to make much of Jesus and magnify His name for His glory, the growth may not be as rapid or as flashy as another church but it will be genuine and it will come from Christ alone. No, there won't be another book to write about this model for church growth because it has already been written and guess what...it's already a best seller.
The question for us in America is this, Will we place Christ at the head of our Church? Will we allow Him to be King of King and Lord or Lords? Will be allow Him to bring the growth to our churches as we faithfully proclaim His gospel and the whole council of God? I believe the problem we have with this is that we must relinquish control. When we buy into a model for growth we are in control because the method is supposed to work by following some steps that worked for another church in another town. If we trust Christ to cause the increase we are completely and utterly out of control. This, I believe, has at least two important benefits. 1)It strengthens our faith in Christ and 2) it means we can't take any credit for it. God gets the glory and honor. We stand in awe of Him when amazing things happen in our congregation rather than in awe of the guy who wrote the book that we followed. Here is the equation, Christ brings the growth = Christ gets the glory, and that is ultimately what matters the most.