Friday, January 25, 2008

For a more balanced approach

To my readers,

I really weary of progressive posters who think that all of us in the middle-of-the-road preach for dying and shrinking churches. It is absurd and false to think that all the growth among us has been among the progressives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I spoke earlier of two church plantings nearby. Both happened among the mainstream, neither among the progressive. Both are growing well, and we thank God for them (Heritage in Franklin and Spring Meadows in Spring Hill). At the same time I have seen nearby progressive churches lose large numbers of members.

According to Yeakley, the more progressive the church, the more likely they are to lose their teens. I am not really surprised. Once you start down the road of compromise and self-made religion, it is hard to keep your kids from going one step further than you have gone. What I do weary of is the constant harping by progressives that mainliners won't keep their children. The fact is the ones who keep their kids best are the middle-of-the-road churches.

What was also important is that the attendance to membership ratio and the giving to member ratio were so outstanding among members of the church. To assume this is only progressive churches goes against the grain and my experience. Why is it that progressive publications can hardly stay in print, while the mainstream and conservative ones last on and on?

Forgive me for a shameless plug but Think magazine, now in its third year is booming! It is the first publication among churches of Christ to enter into the larger religious market. It is a high-quality and well-designed periodical. You can find out more about it at Yes, I have a column there. Whatever happened to Image or Mission magazine?

Now the stats showed that in America we gain 4,000 congregations yearly and lose 7,000. A net loss of 3,000. I understand there are about 350,000 churches of all kinds in the USA. If the net loss of American congregations from 2000 to 2006 was 18,000, I maintain the loss of only 69 congregations among the 12th largest religious group and the fourth most congregations is not all that bad. One must also wonder how many of those losses were not losses but mergers.

Well, it will be interesting to see what else we learn from these studies.


Some more pertinent statistics

According to Flavil Yeakley, who presented this material at FHU recently, one can say these things about churches of Christ:

  • 12th largest religious group in America
  • 6th fastest growing church in America
  • 4th in the nation in the total number of congregations
  • 5th in the nation in number of counties in which there is a congregation
  • 1st in the nation in distribution of congregations
  • 1st in the nation in weekly attendance
According to a survey by Barna about five years ago, churches of Christ were first in donations among religious groups (for our size).

When you consider that we lost only 69 churches (2000-2006) and yet are 4th in the number of congregations throughout the US is rather remarkable.

The call for changing doctrine or die is premature...


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pertinent Statistics

A denominational website ( gave these statistics:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Four thousand new churches begin each year, but over seven thousand churches close their doors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Eighty percent of pastors surveyed spend less than fifteen minutes a day in prayer.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
Whatever we think of these statistics, it is clear that many, many preachers have serious personal and spiritual problems. While the source of this information probably comes from outside churches of Christ, there is no doubt that these problems occur among us as well.

After reading this statistic, I want to pray a whole lot more.


PS. Churches of Christ have lost 69 congregations (2000-2006). This is eleven per year. How many of these were mergers is hard to know. Two new plants have taken place near my home since 2003 (Heritage in Franklin and Spring Meadows in Spring Hill).

Monday, January 21, 2008

What is Legalism?

Postmodernists and progressives have for some time now worked hard at redefining legalism. They quickly label anything they don't want or don't like as legalism. Out of one of their mouths they talk obedience as necessary to salvation; but out of the other side of their mouths they depict anyone who would actually require obedience as a fanatic Pharisee.

A Pharisee legalist is not a person who obeys the laws of Jesus but a person who tries to enforce man-made laws. He is the one who develops his own standard and requires everyone else to live up to it. Do not confuse obedience with legalism.

Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for keeping the Law scrupulously. He condemned them for binding their oral traditions on others (Matt. 15:1-14; Mark 7:1-23). For instance, the progressive calls one who correctly restricts the meaning of baptism to immersion a legalist and Pharisee for expecting people to do what the word means. It does not occur to them they ought to hear and obey what the Lord teaches (the word baptism, after all, refers to immersion and is a burial), they can only call names at the person who will not give in to their side-stepping the truth by adding the human practice of sprinkling. It is easier to try to make the obedient into the bad guy than it is to admit their self-made religion.

So when you can't win the debate on the issue, make the argument ad hominem, argue against the man. Label him as unkind and ignorant of the grace of Christ. (Such arguments stain whether they are true or not--the main thing is to make the obedient look bad.)

The fact is, obedient people value the grace of Christ. They love God enough to simply do what He says to do. They realize hearing and obeying the commandments is how we love God (John 14:15). They have learned righteousness and godliness from grace (Titus 2:11-14). They do not presume upon the grace of Christ by inventing their own doctrines and practices. They do not make laws but simply obey the laws God has given. They believe in loving lawfulness. Love for God is shown listening to God, not presuming one can do what one pleases and relying on the grace of God will bail him out.

The progressive by his very nature is wanting to move beyond obedience into the realm of popular religion, so that he doesn't have to face censure from those who do not practice the truth. He has to find a way to embrace those in error, so he does it by slapping the person who values obedience. He thinks he has a better handle on grace than anyone. His grace is not a valued gift but his presumed excuse for license. Anyone who objects to the progressive agenda just doesn't understand grace, so they say. What nonsense!

Faithful Christians obey the Lord from the heart; they do so genuinely and are not dominated in their thinking with how they appear to their religious neighbors. They don't have to blow the trumpet when they do something religious. They don't have to please the mainline denominational community; they are more interested in pleasing God.

Faithful Christians love sinners and work hard to lead them to love the Lord. They follow the Great Commission by teaching them to "observe all things" the Lord commands. They work so hard because they understand and value the grace of Christ.

for the Truth of the matter,

Friday, January 18, 2008


A new survey of U.S. adults who don't go to church, even on holidays, finds 72 percent say, "God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists." But just as many (72%) also say the church is "full of hypocrites," reports Additionally, 44 percent agree with the statement, "Christians get on my nerves." The survey was conducted by LifeWay Research, the research arm for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why would the unchurched call Christians hypocrites who get on their nerves?

First, it is probably because some are. Many religionists in the days of Jesus were hypocrites. A hypocrite is a person who pretends to be what he does not intend to be. Think with me how this might look to outsiders who have not heard the message in a while:

  • a church that sends its members all over the United and protests the death of soldiers, claiming this is God's judgment against our nation over social ills (especially homosexuality). Their judgmentalism gets on everyone's nerves. That's God's place. Who doesn't remember Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker?
  • a Christianity that turns its worship services into an entertainment venue, featuring and honoring many artists whose moral lives do not reflect the Christian life (folks, I live within a few miles of where 90% of Christian music is recorded)
  • a Christianity that does not always forgive its penitent--the cult of the older brother (Luke 15) is alive and well among some.
  • some Christians practice "in-your-face" evangelism in an irritating way, building up barriers before they can get to the heart.
  • God knows that flaky and worldly churches are a discredit to the community and to his Name. Cults and commercialism capture the media today. Unbelievers aren't always exposed to genuine faith and true piety. What they see are the flakes, the cults, and the compromisers. Christians in the media are nearly always pictured as fanatics or hypocrites. It is hard to find a true Christian on television.
  • Then there are pseudo-prophets who speak of a 700 ft.-tall Jesus, or the end of the world in 2012. Do you really think the world sees a difference between such deceived deceivers and genuine Biblical Christianity? not always.
  • Many unbelievers cannot distinguish the sensational disbelievers who are trying to restore Gnosticism from what they term as manipulative traditional Christianity. Others cannot distinguish Biblical Christianity from the pomp and ritualism of Catholicism.
Second, some outsiders mistake weakness for hypocrisy. The most genuine Christians I know still struggle with some weakness or another. They are humble enough and courageous enough to admit it. Christianity is not some guarantee against tempted; we all face temptation. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). A Christian does his best out of love to do right but still fails at times. A hypocrite neither loves nor intends to do right; he merely wants to cover his wrong ways and true motives in order to appear righteous. We must not confuse being human with bad motives.

Third, some outsiders make this claim (not because it is always true) as a defense mechanism to keep the focus off of their own lifestyles. If they can make everyone believe all Christians are hypocrites, then they feel free to live as they please with impunity. It is easier to point the finger than it is to repent.

You might come up with some other reasons. I know this is not exhaustive. But as I end this little essay, let's also give some culpability to the devil. He steals the word so that some never hear and obey (Luke 8), he leads people astray from a pure devotion (2 Cor. 11:2), he and his servants disguise themselves as servants of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15), and he has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).

Are they right about Christians? yes and no. If we see hypocrisy in our selves, let's not give the enemy an opportunity to blaspheme the Name. Let's repent.

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." (1 Pet. 2:11-12).


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Should Faith Matter in this Election?

Should faith matter when it comes time to elect a president? We have some unique choices this time around. Should we carefully weigh the things that shaped the thinking of each candidate? Of course!

Now, it is good Americanism to throw out race, color, and creed when it comes to rights. Should people of all races, colors and creeds have an opportunity to be president if they qualify? Yes, we would affirm their right.

Is it wisdom in such an age to elect a man whose experiences arise from influences that could be damaging to the country? That is a different question. In voting for president, we want the man who follows God's will and will do what pleases our Father in Heaven. How wise is it to want a man who grew up in an atheist home? How wise is it to elect a man who has grown up in a Muslim home? Is it wise to want a man who grew up thinking he could become a God and rule his own planet?

What we believe shapes who we are, how we think, what we value, and where we want this country to go. Faith matters in the making of a man. People don't grow up in a vacuum, and people are NOT all alike.

When we have a choice, it is utter foolishness to support a candidate whose primary values are against what we believe. Jotham's fable ought to speak to us all. Do we really want a bramble bush to rule over us?

Israel in rebellion to the Father clamored for an earthly king and got one. We must be careful what we call for, we may get it.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Change! but what kind of change?

As the political year heats up, it is clear the word "change" is becoming ever more popular. "We need change!" is said in the same breath as "we need unity." The suggestion is that the current trend of the day is one of division.

The more selfish people become, the more they will be divided. The more they rely on human authority, the more they will vie for power. The more they emphasize diversity the more they will leave out some and alienate others. So much of what lies at the base of political correctness is the desire for power. The desire is to overthrow the established and create a new order.

We are seeing that in families. Some seek to overthrow the traditional family of marriage and replace it with other types of unions: same-sex and even polyamory unions (more than three of both sexes).

We are seeing it in religion. Some have done everything they can to dismiss and forsake anything Christian and yet in the same breath allow eastern religions. Some fearing Islam's violent reactions seem to leave it alone while they trash the Judeo-Christian values.

The loss of absolutes in our society has set it in a spin; many things are upside down. Those who thirst for power are no doubt doing all they can to take advantage of this confusion. Using words like "change" is not helpful. Such glittering generalities do not reveal their real agenda. We then ask, "what kind of change?"

Hopefully, this will become more evident as the presidential race develops. I, for one, am planning to keep my eyes and ears open. I frankly do not trust those who holler for change but say little about what changes they want.

Watching and talking with progressive inclusivists over the last couple of decades, I hear the word "change" often. What I would also like to hear is an honest statement about where they really want to go, rather than veiled threats about church growth (if we don't "change.") When the Bible is set aside for popular religion for the sake of "church growth," I don't buy the need for change. I frankly wish those who clamor for change could present a cogent Biblical reason for it larger than "we'll lose our young people, " and "the grace of God will cover it."

What does God desire? That question is very different from "what do I think God will allow?"

May we keep to the first and throw out the second.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Season of Loss

Since the first of December, we have recorded in our bulletin and on the newsline close to twenty deaths of loved ones to our members. Today we received word of two more. A dear friend told me Wednesday night that he and his wife had attended the funerals of fifteen friends and family members in the last few weeks. I cannot recall in nearly forty years of ministry such a season.

As I reflect on this season, I am reminded of our common mortality. Death has indeed passed on to us all. We must all walk that singular path. It would be foolish indeed for us to waste our lives and not prepare for the journey. What we shall find at the end depends on whether we are prepared (Matthew 25:1-13).

Some are easier to bury than others. It is easy to remember the good and loving, when people have lived that way. I have been so thankful to have known so many good people, and their loss is deeply felt. When a righteous and faithful person passes, we cannot mourn for the future of that person. We rightfully mourn, but we mourn for our loss not their gain. To die is gain for them (Phil. 1:23). We could not but for our own sake wish them back. We take hope in where they are now and thank God for His immeasurable grace.

It was said of wicked king Jehoram that he died at age 32 with no one's regret (2 Chron. 21:20). Most of the folks I know are not such people.

Mourning our own teaches us compassion for others who have suffered loss.

Mourning teaches us that our lives matter. Mourning reminds us there is a limit to our time on earth, and we must make the most of it (Eph. 5:15-17).

Mourning reminds us of our accountability to the Lord. We are not our own; we belong to Him. He will reward each of us according to our deeds.

As we begin the new year, let us think of what record we are making for ourselves. Let us make it for good and for the Lord. Let us draw near to the throne of grace and live as saved people who have a hope.

kindly and thoughtfully,