Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Choice Between Regulating Church Growth Methodology by Scripture or by Silence

The panel discussion for the 2011 Word of Truth Conference on Ecclesiastical Separation is now available to play or download at our conference website.   You may now read the post.


For church growth, do you think it would be better to follow Scripture or silence?  When I say silence, I'm talking about something about which the Bible says nothing.  Usually the argument goes like this:  "the Bible doesn't say it's wrong to give candy as an incentive for church attendance."  Since the Bible says nothing about giving out candy to motivate church attendance, then it is permissible to do that.  This is called "silence equals permission."  Does biblical silence equal permission though?

On the other hand, is the Bible even silent about methods of church growth?  Scripture obviously has something to say about church growth.  But that isn't the point.  The same people would argue, "We really want to do what the Bible teaches about church growth, but we think it's also permissible to do things to build the church that the Bible says nothing about."

Do we have a basis for regulating church growth only with Scripture?  Is Scripture enough to tell us how a church should grow?  First, the Bible is sufficient and perspicuous.  It says everything we need to know about church growth.  And since Scripture is plain, that is, we can know what it means, then we can know everything we need to know about church growth from the Bible.  Is it wrong then to add to what God's Word says about church growth?  By adding to it, are we challenging its sufficiency, assuming that it doesn't have everything in it that we need to know about church growth?  When God tells us His Word is sufficient, we are to believe that it is.  We are to do only what it says for the church to grow.

Second, the Bible also does repudiate wrong methods.  We might do God's work our way, but we don't get away with it.  Part of glorifying Him is doing things the way He prescribes.  It tells Him that we have faith in Him, even if we aren't seeing the results we want to see.

Men justify their extra-scriptural methods in so many ways:  how well they are working, how many people "are getting saved" through them, how much "love" they show toward them which are lost, or how much sacrifice they are.   I hear doctrinal reasons too:  missional, contextual, and incarnational.   These are new buzzwords in church growth that are used to justify extra-scriptural or unscriptural methods.

Because the Bible doesn't say anything about many specific, modern church growth methods, some turn them into "Romans 14 issues," which Romans 14:1 in the King James Version calls "doubtful disputations."  Others call them "liberty issues."  The idea is that if the Bible doesn't say anything about it, then you have liberty to do it.  Do we have liberty to "build a church" different than biblical prescription?  Is the point of Christian liberty to find out what the Bible doesn't say and then do that?

Scripture should regulate our lives.   That's why God gave it to us.  He didn't give it to us to read between the lines, especially in the doing of His work.


Joshua said...

This touches all the controversial issues. Clothes. Music. Bible Versions. Parachurch organizations. "give me one verse that says I can't do _________". There is no arguing with someone who thinks that's a compelling method of regulating their activities.

Rather, the slate should be wiped clean, and the Christian should approach the Bible saying "show me Lord what I should wear/sing/read/preach etc". Find all the verses that apply, then build from there. Look for the spirit of God behind his precepts, rather than demanding the letter of the Law to restrain or else it justifies absolute indulgence.

Biblical Christians are hated everywhere for doing this, because it reproves the worldliness of their professing "brethren", who start with their culture then dare all to correct them - trusting in their legal skills with the Word to ensure they have a ready made rationalization.

Another good post Pastor. There is so much relief and blessing in accepting that you can just follow the Bible and it will please Christ. It is true Christian liberty and freedom. Appreciate your consistency on this topic.

God bless,


Jon Gleason said...

Kent, thanks for these articles.

I agree pretty much 100% with where you are going, but I'm not sure I agree with how you are getting there in this particular article.

The Scriptures do not tell us to use the Internet, for example, but they tell us to teach the Word, and the Internet can be an effective way to do that (within some limits, obviously). People in our church who miss a meeting because of illness, travel, or work can still get some of what they missed. I'm pretty sure this isn't the type of thing you have in your gunsights here, but what you've said could certainly be read as opposing the use of the Internet, as well. Are you going to zap your church website? Why not?

The Scriptures tell us to preach and teach, to proclaim the Gospel. The exact methodology of doing those is not always defined. It is no violation of Scripture for me to print a copy of an article, passage of Scripture, or some notes on a particular passage, and hand that out to people in our church. Yet, the Scripture doesn't tell us to do that.

The Scriptures don't tell us to have a building, or to meet at a regular time, or to call someone "Pastor Brandenburg", or use instruments, or sing without instruments (now we're stuck, which should we do, with or without?), or 100s of other things.

In this article, you've targeted methodology, but I would suggest that in many ways, we do consider silence to be permission when it comes to methodology.

The real problem with the "church growth" rubbish is not that they are doing things the Scripture didn't command, but that they are twisting what the Scripture commanded, for both the proclaiming of the Gospel and the purpose of the church, into something far different from what God said.

Christ is no longer the Head of the church -- the new head is "evangelism" (as they have defined it). The church is no longer the Church of Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glory, but rather the Church of Fill the Seats, to the praise of the glory of the preacher or the church growth guru. Inevitably, the Gospel is twisted as well, even if there is enough truth remaining that many people become truly saved.

The whole thing falls far short of the glory of God.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Joshua and JG,

I liked both the comments.

JG, I agree with your evaluation. I think the post falls short in the way that you described. If I were to alter it from the way it presently reads, which I might even still do, I would say that I am talking about methods categorically, not their circumstances. Scripture doesn't say anything about passing out tracts, but that method finds itself in the category of a biblical element. Tract distribution proclaims the Word of God in print. Certainly, the kind tract and what is written in it would need to also fit with the Bible.

We don't see the elements of modern church growth methodology in the Bible. This would need to be fleshed out more and your comment challenges the way I'm arguing this in a helpful way.

Terry Reed said...

I agree with the two previous writers. There are many things we do in church that are not mentioned in the Bible and they are fine. We're not told to print Sunday school books or have a Vacation Bible School, but many churches have used these to the glory of Jesus. I do agree with the spirit of your article. Just because a certain thing is not specifically prohibited in the Bible does not make it something we should use.

I think the key is prayer and a knowledge of the principles laid out in Scripture. Following these will help churches avoid gimmicks while using all at our disposal to reach a lost world for Jesus.

Terry Reed
Small Church Tools

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Kent. I agree with what you've said about "methods categorically, not their circumstances." I might say it differently -- that our methods should be firmly grounded in fulfilling that which is commanded in Scripture. If our method has a purpose (or an effect) which is not based on a clearly taught Biblical principle, we've gone astray.

But I think we're saying the same thing, just using different words.

And I agree entirely with Joshua's post, as well. It's hard to do, because we are so conditioned by culture and tradition, but if we can manage to just wipe the slate clean and say, "What does the Bible really say?" it will change a lot of things. Joshua mentioned some areas, I'll add others, such as education, entertainment, how we do things like Sunday School, marriage roles, dating, "special music", the way we run church business meetings, etc, etc, etc.

Are we driven by our culture and/or traditions, or are we driven by Scripture?

That's way off topic, but I blame Joshua for starting me down that path. :)

Unknown said...

Our methods (whatever they may be) must reflect the purity of our goals, then there has to be a right consideration of all its implications. In certain cases God's blessings are bestowed "in spite" rather than "because of" our methodology. And we are sure that God's judgments are bestowed "because" of methodology. We really do need to think about our methods, and ask ourselves if we are contradicting our desired end-goal with the way we are seeking to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, many within Christendom don't even know what the chief end of man is to begin with, therefore at the very rudimentary level there already exists grave errors and sin. Consider this, what we are winning people with is what we are winning them to. "CCM" is glaring on this, and a "misguided" children's ministry is just as bad. Does this mean that music or children's ministries are bad, no. We need to carefully examine our methods in light of Scripture to ensure that we are obedient to God. The "results" (whatever they may be) are really up to God.

Jon Gleason said...

Kent, as we think about methods, how we are to build the church, etc, I want to back up a little. While I challenged you somewhat on this post, you've got a point, too. What the Scriptures DON'T say can be very interesting compared to what church growth experts (Hyles variety or Warren / Willow Creek variety) emphasise.

I posted this list yesterday of ten things it doesn't say:

1. The Bible doesn’t tell us to invite unsaved people to church.
2. It doesn’t tell us we need to get people saved.
3. The Scriptures never mention attendance numbers at any meeting of the church (unless you want to stretch a point to include I Corinthians 15:6, but that is talking about witnesses to the truth of Christ’s resurrection).
4. The Scriptures encourage evangelism, but never condemn anyone for not being evangelistic, not even in I Corinthians or in Revelation 2-3, which together describe almost everything that could be wrong in a church.
5. My Bible doesn’t anywhere tell any church to start a particular program to target reaching a particular group of people.
6. It never says we need to get more people into the church. It never says we need to get more young people into the church.
7. The Word of God never says we need to make our church services appealing to unbelievers when they visit. It only suggests, in I Corinthians 14:23-24, that our message is to be clear enough so they can understand it if they do visit.
8. The Bible never mentions how many people Paul or any other person led to the Lord.
9. The Bible never tells us how many churches Paul, Peter, or anyone else started.
10. The Scriptures seem to say more about removing people from the church (I Corinthians 5, II Thessalonians 3, Matthew 18, Romans 16:17, etc.) than they do about bringing people into the church.

Food for thought, perhaps. We may be able to do a lot of things that Scripture doesn't lay out in detail, but our emphasis should be on what Scripture stresses.

I'm talking myself into liking your wording (from your comment)better than mine. We should limit ourselves to Biblically defined methods (as to category), though with great freedom in the circumstances of the methods.

Thank you again for the thought-provoking posts.