Friday, February 10, 2012

Truth in Advertising

In the aftermath of James MacDonald's recent Elephant Room, the focus has been on T. D. Jakes and whether he affirmed the Trinity rejecting his Oneness background, about whether Mark Driscoll pushed him hard enough, and that no one challenged him on the Prosperity Gospel. There were other sessions, or "conversations" however that are worth following up on that had nothing to do with the latest Internet-driven evangelical celebrity fracas.
One in particular caught my eye. "With a Little Help From My Friends" The session is described as follows:

Is there a future for denominations? Will networks simply replace them, or will they reinvent themselves? What can denominations offer that networks of churches cannot? Describe the health of world missions and missionaries as you see them serving around the globe. Is the model of sending missionaries through a mission agency still effective? Or is church planting through healthy churches the way to go? Is there a lack of accountability plaguing most missionaries? How can that be changed? How does para-church help or hinder the local church in world missions?

Of course there hasn't been any controversy over this topic, so other than some random quotes I picked up on Twitter, I haven't heard anything more about it. And that's a shame, because this is a very relevant topic for our churches today.

Attendance in traditional denominations has been on the steady decline for a number of years (decades in some cases). Church planting networks, like Acts 29, are all the rage as are missional networks like Verge. In the meantime, American Christianity (TM) continues to follow the trends of megachurches, where a church is known more by the books the pastor sells than the doctrine they actually teach.

But is this anything new? In the 60s/70s the fear was campus ministries and other parachurch organizations were going to replace denominational churches. The campus ministry movement didn't replace denominations, but instead forced them to evolve.

I'm personally interested in this topic as my own church, sprung out of a traditional denomination transformed by the campus ministry movement, recently shed its denominational structure in place of a "co-op" where churches maintain their autonomy, but there is coordination with respect to conferences, publications, and world missions. Sounds a lot like a network, doesn't it? But is that the right model?

When I first came across Acts 29 I was intrigued by what they were doing. But it took a lot of digging to find out anything specific about their doctrine. At best I found out it was started by Driscoll, which led me to Mars Hill to dig into what they believe. Yet another case of a megachurch being known more for its pastor than its doctrine.

Consider the standard online "statement of faith" pulled from a local church:
  • The Bible came into existence through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is God's complete revelation to man. It is inerrant and has supreme authority in all matters of Faith and conduct.
  • There is one living and true God, eternally existing in three Persons, The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit. These three are identical in nature, equal in power and glory, have precisely the same attributes and perfections, yet execute distinct but harmonious offices in the work of providence and redemption. Deuteronomy 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:14
  • God, the Father, is an infinite personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, justice, wisdom, power, and love. We believe that He hears and answers prayers and that He saves all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who became man without ceasing to be God. He accomplished our redemption through His death on the cross, and our redemption is made certain through His bodily resurrection from the dead.
  • The Holy Spirit came from the Father and the Son and convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian, seals them until the day of redemption, and is our present Helper, Teacher, and Guide.
  • Man was created in the image and likeness of God but through sin became alienated from God, acquired a sin nature, and came under the judicial sentence of death.
  • Salvation is the gift of God offered to man by grace and received by faith in Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. Genuine faith will manifest itself in works pleasing to God.
But does that tell you anything? Would it describe your church? Chances are, it would describe any traditional church. Yet it doesn't tell me whether they are Charismatic or cessationist, follow Calvin or Zwingli, are Reformed or Restoration.

You're probably asking what does that have to do with the question above regarding denominations and networks? Personally, I think denominations are stuck in traditions- doctrinally and culturally, and are destined to die unless major changes occur. But... at least you know what you're going to get. When I drive by a First Baptist Church, I know what that is. When I drive by a church called Spring of Life Church, I have no earthly idea.

But is the only value in a denomination truth in advertising? What do you think?

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