It is good from time to time to take a step back and re-evaluate what it is to which God has called us—and Ernest Pickering helps us to do that in his book, The Tragedy of Compromisepublished by Bob Jones University Press.
He raises two questions:
- Was God’s primary purpose in revealing himself to man to bring honour to himself or to bring comfort to man?
- Is the Bible a theocentric book, or is it an anthropocentric book?
Although God’s revelation in his Son and in his word brings blessing and comfort to members of the human race, the primary purpose of revelation is not human blessing but divine glory.
We must stop reducing the God of the universe to something we can sell to people.
To this statement many pastors will say a hearty amen. Nevertheless, apparent success has a subtle way of convincing people that the methods employed are perfectly acceptable. “But . . . the nagging question arises: Is our reliance on church growth techniques or on the surprising work of the Holy Spirit?”
The whole concept of “church marketing” emphasizes slick sales techniques rather than dependence upon God’s power. Forgotten is the principle set forth by the Apostle Paul: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Os Guiness warns that the two most powerful cultural forces that have been accepted uncritically by the church are the managerial and therapeutic movements.
The danger is to address church renewal through managerial technique.
A “user-friendly” church, if by that we mean catering to the cultural and selfish goals of contemporary fashion, is an unfaithful church.
There may be a lot of people in the seats, but have they been confronted with the serious issues raised by the gospel (sin and grace) and the calls to discipleship?
The question every pastor must honestly face is this: Am I building a church that is honouring God and is according to the pattern set forth in his word?
Pastors must be careful how they build. This is the main point of 1 Corinthians 3:5-17. Paul is telling us how to build a church. As a “wise master builder,” Paul laid the foundation. Others built upon that foundation, and all who laboured as leaders of that church (and any other) must eventually give account to God for what they built. “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). That is, the quality of the local church will be tested on that great day when all workers and their work are reviewed. It is possible to build a large church that in men’s eyes may be eminently successful but that may not pass the final examination of the Lord of the church. The phrase “of what sort it is” emphasises quality and not quantity. We cannot make the gospel acceptable to a lost world, nor is that task our responsibility.
An analysis of what people are like and are accustomed to as a model for what the church should give them tends to minimize the head-on conflict that the gospel always has with the world.
One fails to find the “marketing concept” approved in Scripture. The apostles and early Christians simply preached the gospel in the power of the Spirit and God did the rest. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
It really comes down to this: What are we building?
If it is an empire, then the materials are readily available and relatively cheap, says Paul in1 Corinthians 3:12.
If it is the church, of which Christ is the Head, the materials are readily available but they can only be acquired at great effort and cost.
After your building exercise this coming Lord’s Day, remembering that, “each one should be careful how he builds,” may you look back on your efforts and rejoice to see what the Holy Spirit has accomplished through you.
Warmest Christian greetings,
Brian Stone (Emmanuel Baptist Church)