Monday, April 25, 2011

Church Growth and Conservative Theology

This week our church had its largest Easter services ever—about 650 people worshipped at Bethany Community Church .

The growth of our church is exciting and a little overwhelming. It is overwhelming as we consider the enormous responsibility each of us has to care for those who are new to our flock. It is exciting to realize that one of the main reasons our church is growing is because of the thirst people have for our Lord Jesus Christ.

In an interesting blog by Al Mohler this week entitled, “Why Conservative Churches are Growing: David Brooks and the Limits of Sociology,” he discusses a recent article by Brooks in The New York Times. In the article, Brooks maintains that Americans “have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments.”

These are the hallmarks of more liberal theology. However, Brooks continues, “Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.”

As an example of the effectiveness of conservative churches, Brooks relates a personal anecdote: “I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.” In other words, the more conservative churches proclaim a message that is more effective in creating true heart change.

Sometimes when discussing church growth, people confuse means and ends. The assumption is that perhaps churches should be more conservative so that they will experience greater growth. But vibrant, biblical theology is not the means to the end of church growth. Rather, theology’s end is the glory of God.

My hope is that our church is growing not simply because we are conservative in our theology. My hope is that our church is growing because people are excited about their Lord Jesus Christ and are experiencing the joy of the Lord as we worship Him corporately for His glory!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Morality and Cleanliness

To what degree do outside influences, such as the media, influence how you think about morality?

Some Christians contend that media does not influence their thoughts or opinions. The basic gist of their argument is that because they are aware of the potential negative influence of the media they are somehow insulated from its influence. They are "guarded" in what they allow to affect them.

While "taking every thought captive" is certainly a means of protecting the believer, it is dangerous to believe that vigilance alone will guard our hearts and minds.  We fail to take into account how ealisy persuadable we actually are. We are not quite the critical, independent thinkers we give ourselves credit for. Even little things change the way we view the world around us, consciously and unconsciously.

In his article "Cleanliness is Next to Priggishness," published in a May 2010 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Barlett writes:

We like to think that our opinions are based on reason. We’ve thought something through and arrived at a conclusion. We’re not easily swayed, overly emotional, or wildly inconsistent. We are more or less rational.

But maybe we’re fooling ourselves. A new study titled “A Clean Self Can Render Harsh Moral Judgment” found that opinions on social issues like pornography, adultery, and drugs were affected by whether people had washed their hands prior to being asked. Participants were told to rate their feelings on social issues, like the ones mentioned above, on an 11-point scale from “very immoral” to “very moral.” Those who lathered up beforehand were significantly more likely than those with grubby palms to find, say, profane language immoral.
The researchers found that participants were also more likely to deem some practices immoral if they simply thought phrases about physical cleanliness.

In a second experiment, some participants were simply told to think of phrases like “My hair feels clean and light. My breath is fresh. My clothes are pristine and like new.” Meanwhile, another group was told to think “My hair feels oily and heavy. My breath stinks. I can see oil stains and dirt all over my clothes.” The groups were then asked, using the same 11-point scale, to rate [different immoral acts]. . .
I gain two insights from that study.  First, I now have a spiritual justification for my obsessive hand washing.  Second, is it any wonder that Scripture calls us to be so very careful with what goes into our minds? As Paul says in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Let us follow Paul's exhortation carefully, realizing that we are creatures that are influenced--sometimes, strangely so--by the world around us.