What the church offers the world is either the greatest thing anyone could have or it is the biggest scam ever perpetrated.
Or, I should say, what some churches offer the world. Some only offer a sense of community or a warm do-gooderism. Some offer personal inspiration or self-help empowerment.
What we have to offer is much more than this: the Kingdom of God.
If we call ourselves orthodox, we dare not deny this or water it down. In the last article of both the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds we affirm the life everlasting or the life of the age to come. The Bible speaks frequently of the same.
We are not merely in the career advice business or the relationship enhancement business or the get my kids to mind me business.
We in the eternity business.
Yes, I know. Lots of people don’t like the word “business.” Pick another if you like. The point remains.
The resurrection of Jesus was not a metaphor for the way things get better after they go bad. It is a promise, the first fruits, of a general resurrection of the dead, who will stand in the judgement — the righteous to eternal life and the unrighteous to the lake of fire.
And, yes, how we work and how we relate to each other and how we live in non-Christian society are all important. There is a reason Jesus and the Apostles taught us about these things, but these things are not the main thing the church offers the world.
The church offers the world the Word of God, the body of Christ, the bread of life, the cup of salvation, the keys to the kingdom, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Either this is true or we clergy are a pack of scam artists.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
How are we doing in the “seeking and saving the lost” department?
As a denomination, how well are we doing?
I read two stories recently about United Methodist congregations. One story is pointed to by theological liberals, who say it shows that we don’t care about fruitful ministry. The other story is pointed to by evangelicals, who say it shows what will happen if the denomination does not get its house in order. Both stories are about churches that have grown in size, but neither story tells me much about how many of the lost were saved at either church. This is what I really want to know.
Without this information, talking about these two stories is a bit like comparing baseball teams by discussing their success in selling tickets. This information is important, but it does not really tell you what matters most.
How are we doing?
When Francis Asbury arrived in America, he was distressed by the state of Methodism in the northern colonies. Joseph Pilmore and Richard Boardman – who Wesley had sent before – had confined their ministries to the urban centers of Philadelphia and New York and let Methodist discipline slacken.
In his biography of Asbury, John Wigger describes Pilmore as worried by the spectre of sectarian religion and reluctant to close the door to anyone. Asbury, on the contrary, thought that Methodist discipline about class meetings and love feasts were crucial to the spiritual work of Methodism. Only a disciplined society could foster the spiritual atmosphere necessary to nurture growth. Only in a love feast where all had proven their desire for higher spiritual gifts could true sharing and unburdening of hearts take place. When everyone was let in, the function of the feast was destroyed.
Pilmore looked over a church whose pews had been emptied by Asbury’s insistence on discipline and lamented the loss. Asbury said he would rather have a small but truly Methodist gathering than a large but undisciplined one.
Are we more like Pilmore or Asbury today?
(This post was original published in 2009. Question still seems relevant to me.)
Preacher Rich answers the question: What do you do with a church that wants to die?