Sep19ThuSeptember 19, 2019
We live at a very interesting time in the history of the church in North America. Dr. Michael Svigel, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, studied the past century of ‘the Church’ and observes that many Bible-believing, outreach-focused congregations are currently going through a midlife crisis. It may seem odd, but consider the trends that he recorded.
In the beginning of the 19th century, evangelical churches were reacting to the ‘liberal’ movement which was sweeping across universities and long-standing institutions. This worldview set aside doctrine and authority structures and encouraged people to use reason, emotions and conscience to ‘be their guide.’ Church leaders chose to either double-down on their denominational confessions or break away and form independent churches. They saw liberalism as a force to reckon with and took up the banner of fundamentalism to ‘take back Christianity.’
Decades later, new radio ministries, mission organizations, Bible colleges, and publishing groups sought to call people back to the ‘plain reading’ of the Bible. At the same time, evangelistic crusades grew in popularity and influence. ‘Altar calls’ and new resources for individual Bible study filled many churches. Much of this was very good! The Lord used these methods to save many in the boomer generation. However, three residual side-effects occurred. 1) People began to exalt the preacher, publisher, or professor to an unhealthy level. 2) Many church goers lost sight of deeper theological beliefs and Biblical church practices. 3) Church leaders sought to synthesize the gospel with political movements in order to bring the nation ‘back to God.’
Towards the end of the 19th century, many congregations had no clear sense of identity. They wanted to be relevant within a rapidly changing, media-saturated culture. They wanted to fill church buildings with people who were still ‘searching.’ Yet, they also wanted to stand against the current of liberalism which was still pervasive. How can the church ‘be relevant’ and yet ‘stand firm?’ Varying, and often contradictory, answers to this question were being offered. In addition, deep tribalism grew between local congregations as each sought to find their own, unique way of ‘doing church’.
This reality has left many congregations deeply confused about how to be the church. In his book ‘Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,’ Mark Dever reflects, “On the one hand, the culture to which we would conform in order to be relevant becomes so inextricably entwined with antagonism to the gospel that to conform to it must result in a loss of the gospel itself. On the other hand, it is more difficult for nominal Christianity to thrive.” Butby God’s grace, there has been a resurgence among evangelical Christians on ecclesiology (i.e. how the Bible describes the structure and function of the church). Dever’s work has risen to the forefront in many denominations. He recommends that “we must rehear the Bible and reimagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s Word.” I fully agree.
Therefore, between now and December, our Sunday morning studies will be focusing on many of the ‘marks’ which the New Testament describes as necessary for healthy church life. Many of these are ones which FMC has done very well over the years! Yet, they are still worth revisiting. If you want to learn more, I recommend that you read ‘Nine Marks of a Healthy Church’ or ‘Understanding the Congregation’s Authority.’
Let’s study God’s Word with a desire to see the Church be as distinctly beautiful as Jesus wants her to be!
what New Testament actually says about how to ‘do church’ and a desire re-discover the church’s distinctly beautiful characteristics in a way that is neither ‘fundamental’ nor political in nature.