Is Bigger Always Better?

Seems like everything is getting bigger these days. Soft drinks that used to come in 12-ounce bottles or cans are now available in ˝-liter or larger bottles. Cities are building sports complexes that can hold more people than made up the entire population of the city where I was born and raised. People who buy what we think of as compact cars often opt for the sport utility version of their favorite 'little' car. We can buy extra large deep-dish pizzas and hamburgers with three large meat patties.

The bigger is better theme is evident in religion. Islam is big; there are about 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. While there are some 2 billion professing Christians today, it would appear that the great majority of these are Christian in name only. The apostate Catholic Church, for example, claims some 1 billion members. The foundational doctrines of a number of the churches considered to be Protestant are in conflict with the Scriptures.

At the local level, many church leaders appear driven to build ever-larger congregations. We see churches claiming 10,000-15,000 members. I have watched as a number of public access television or storefront churches began with a handful of members and grew into quite large congregations. I cannot imagine that a pastor, no matter how devoted, is able to effectively shepherd a congregation of 15,000 souls. Sure, he will have elders and assistant pastors to help in this, so that he might devote more time and energy to running the business of a mega-church.

How far we have come since the days when churches met in local synagogues or members' homes or on a riverbank. For many, it seems, church has become business and, in common with other businesses, growth becomes the purpose for its existence. When this happens, church leaders tend to become goals-oriented and audience-driven. No longer do they teach sound doctrine. Instead, they teach carefully-selected 'proof texts' in support of church growth doctrine. To bring in new members, churches become recreation centers. No longer does pastor preach a solid expository sermon; those are too long. Get people in and out quickly, or they'll find another church where the pastor is not so long-winded.

I recall being told, in my first-quarter homiletics class, that a 'good' Sunday morning service should include 20 minutes of musical praise and worship, followed by 20 minutes of church business and taking up the offering. The final part of the service should be a 20-minute sermon. The sermon was to be the last part of the service, in order to prevent something pastor might say from having a negative effect on offerings. How different from the example of Paul and other early Apostles and evangelists, who devoted whole days to preaching and teaching in local synagogues and public areas.

A few years ago, Christian apologist James Sundquist wrote an article in which he put the theology of one of the Church Growth Movement's leaders under the microscope.

Though James Sundquist's article deals with the Church Growth Movement in evangelical Protestantism, some of the points he makes apply equally to some of the things we see going on in the Roman Church. For this reason, I am re-posting James' article here, with his permission:

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Willowcreek Church & Bill Hybel's Theology

Biblical Christianity or the Church of Laodicea?

By James Sundquist

We have removed the Ten Commandments from Public Schools and now we are reaping what we have sown--children shooting children, consciences seared like a hot iron. Now, we are being asked to remove the Cross from the church. Of course, you don't have to have a Cross in a church to be fervently evangelical or God-fearing. It has much more to do with the REASON the Cross is being removed—the theology and philosophy behind this epidemic movement which has infected even the most conservative denominations and seminaries.

This "seeker" or sinner friendly church growth movement theology suggests that the church needs to be conformed to the image of the world. But, Christ and His Apostles write that we (and the world) are to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ is a rock of offense to the world and we are trying to make Him appealing. Decorate and disguise Christ, and then you can reach "un-churched Harry and Mary" and draw people into the Kingdom? Entertain people into repentance?

Whatever happened to the scriptural commandment, “come out from among them, be ye separate?” Christ was willing to become publicly humiliated (not decorated), scourged, disgraced, shamed, pulverized beyond recognition for us. But, we have to apologize for the Gospel in order not to offend anyone.

The Church in Smyrna was one of only two churches in Revelation which Christ commended and had NOTHING against. Why? Because they were faithful even to the point of death. (Revelation 2:10). These saints were willing to be (and were) martyred. At the end of time, we see again saints who “loved their lives not unto death” (Rev 12:11). In fact, even in the Twentieth Century, there have been more saints martyred than since the foundation of the Church. Christ commends Christians for overcoming this world by the blood of the Lamb, not by some clever marketing plan or “felt needs.” This whole theology is a reproach to Christ and the persecuted and martyred saints throughout the ages! And again, Hebrew 11:37, 38 tells us that the destitute, persecuted and mistreated saints of this present world, the world was not worthy of them. Paul says earlier: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

I have read one of their theory papers on small groups in churches. This paper suggests that we need to remove "religious words" in our efforts to reach the community. Well, it is with these very Biblical religious words that we confess our faith. What religious words used by every major and minor Prophet in the Torah and by Christ and his Apostles would you suggest we remove? It is with these very Biblical religious words that we praise His Holy Name. Heaven and earth are hung by the "religious word" of His power. Jesus used religious words when he called forth Lazareth from the grave. The halt, the lame and the blind went bounding through the streets with religious words after being cured by Jesus or the Apostles.

Religious words are precisely what Noah preached to those who all perished in the Flood because they did not fear God and hearken unto his words.

Religious words are what Jonah preached to turn 120,000 people (the entire population of Nineveh) to repent..."repent"... another religious word. These Ninevites were not only not (post-Christian era), but their culture NEVER heard the Gospel or had any Biblical form of religion. There was NO modification of the message or methodology simply because they were unchurched, but Jonah used the very same message in that age and nation as we need in this present age and every nation, and that message is simply "Repent". And guess what? It worked!! God's Word was NOT defective and did NOT return void!

“Born again” is a religious word. But Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he can NOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus used this religious word, so why shouldn't we? How do you carry out the Great Commission without using religious words in Scripture to proclaim the Gospel ... another religious word? “Saved” is a religious word to every tribe and nation to the ends of the earth, to every generation throughout the ages. And, once again, what does the Bible say? “Whosoever believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, even on His name shall be saved.”

Jesus used religious words on the Sermon on the Mountain whose audience was both churched and unchurched Harry and Mary--same message for both audiences! Religious words were spoken in the upper room at Pentecost. If it is good enough for the 120 who started the church in the First Century, it is good enough for me in the 21st Century. Are we now to go into all of the world and preach the Gospel (of repentance unto salvation and fear God and give him glory) without using religious words?

Market research--and I am very familiar with the techniques in marketing and public relations in my businesses---tells you what zip code to build your church. But, Christ would have built one of His churches in the worst zip code. This paper on the theory of small groups (and this epidemic disease) further states that, "There was a time in the early 50s that people could build small groups completely around the disciplines of Bible study and prayer.” Once again, if it was good enough for the early disciples and founding fathers, it is good enough for me. Jesus overturned the money changers' tables in the Temple in righteous anger, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful and holy. If a church remains at three people or becomes 3,000, that is God's problem.

The Scripture does not say “seek the fellowship (or church growth movement) and I will supply the light.” It says “seek the light and I will supply the fellowship.” “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-8).

Friendship with the world is enmity with God. In the Book of Revelation, the Church of Pergamos was condemned for its marriage of the world to Christ. Christ commended the saints “who loved their lives not unto death.” So much for a politically correct church whose doctrine is Tolerance.

In II Corinthians 4:14-16, Paul says that our procession is a stench of death to the world which is perishing, but a pleasing fragrance to the Lord. Paul counted himself (and the other Apostles) scum and refuse to the world. But, we have now made the church a pleasing aroma to the world, but a stench to the nostrils of the Lord.

What we need in this country is a New Reformation--a New American Revolution. As the Prophet Jeremiah preached: “When you have lost your way, go back to the FORMER paths.” But, what we hear today is," this is the 90s,” and now, “this is the 21st Century!”

This sinner friendly theology like the Church of Pergamos has married the Bride of Christ to the unholy world which has a form of godliness but is bankrupt in spirit. This spiritual harlotry God will judge. This epidemic in the church has given birth to the Church of Laodicea (neither hot nor cold) whom Christ will spew out of his mouth.

It is time to trust the Gospel. It is time to trust that God's Word will NOT return void! “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself.” And, how was He lifted up? He was lifted up on the Cross. It is time to get back to preaching the Cross and Him crucified. “Except for the shedding of Blood, there is NO remission of sins.” Oh no ... another religious word.

“Whatsoever is not of the faith is sin.” “All Scripture is profitable (including every “religious” word in the Scripture) for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”--I Timothy 3:16, 17

Not using every word (religious word) of Scripture renders us and anyone we teach spiritual cripples unequipped to do the work of the ministry and lacking the full armor of God to fend off the fiery darts of the enemy, fight the good fight of spiritual warfare. and run a good race. That, my friends, is the true Gospel. Oh foolish Americans, who hath bewitched you? This seeker sensitive theology is not the Gospel of Christ, but a theology of apology. It is a faith without armor, incapable of withstanding the fiery darts of the enemy. It is a fleet of boats in a sail boat regatta, when what we need are battleships in formation for a spiritual war against the principalities. What we need are spiritual World Trade Center tragedy firefighters who are running up the stairway to Heaven who brave the Gates of Hell that none would perish. Repent while God is still giving you a season to repent!

© 1999-2002 Rock Salt Publishing, Used by permission.

*********** End of James Sundquist's Article ************

For those interested in learning more about the Church Growth Movement, Kirk Wellum, pastor of the Sovereign Grace Community Church of Sarnia, Ontario, has written an excellent study. You can read it here

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