Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Halfway Measures

1662 began the modern church growth movement.  Not exactly, but sort of.  Church attendance was shrinking in the colonies, so Puritan pastor Solomon Stoddard concocted a new measure to increase the numbers, which was called the half-way covenant.  The half-way covenant provided a partial church membership for the children and grandchildren of church members. Puritan preachers hoped that this plan would maintain some of the church's influence in society, and that these 'half-way members' would see the benefits of full membership, be exposed to teachings and piety which would lead to the "born again" experience.

The half-way covenant attempted church growth by the invitation of unsaved people to church.  The idea was that if you got unsaved people into the church, into the assembly, they would get saved and the churches would get bigger.  Just the opposite occurred.  Churches turned worldly and then dead, because it brought the world into the church.  The world turned the church upside down, when the Jerusalem church had accomplished the reverse of that.

The short term effect of the half-way covenant was that the churches had more bodies in the pew and looked more successful.  Families were likely happier too.  It seemed like a good idea, one that today Stoddard could share in a church growth seminar.  It worked, so was "practical," and if you're getting bigger, you could say that "the Lord was working" or "blessing."

We can judge the long term effects of the church growth strategy of the half-way covenant.  Bringing more unsaved people into the church did not bring more true conversions, but deadened the churches.  Churches are not to bring the world into the church, but get it out of the church.  Rather than the saved people impacting the unsaved visitors, the unsaved visitors harmed the saved people.

In one sense, the half-way covenant was missional and contextual, terms you hear today as favorable in evangelicalism, as well as a new measure, to use the term of Charles Finney, for his innovations for church growth.  Scripture is sufficient in debunking modern church growth philosophy, but the half-way covenant provides historical documentation against it.

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