In a recent article in the “Faith & Family” section of the local Saturday newspaper, a research study was reported on. A sociologist and historian teamed up in Canada to find growing mainline churches by focusing on data from 2003-2013. They defined “growing” and “declining” as an average of two percent or more per year in either direction.
The researchers asked four key Canadian denominations (Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran) to list their growing congregations. They encountered a problem: “Few, if any … were actually growing … A few had experienced a little bit of growth in one or two years in the past, but for the most part, they were holding steady at best, or actually in steady declines.”
The researchers then sought out growing churches in general and found to their amazement that growth was not pegged to adapting to social change but adherence to basic Christianity, prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism. Some of the findings of growing Christian churches revealed that:
Pastors are more conservative than congregants (opposite in declining churches).
93% of clergy believe that Jesus rose from the dead (56% in declining churches).
83% of lay people believe that Jesus rose from the dead (67% in declining churches).
46% of pastors believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life (0% in declining churches).
100% of clergy affirm the need to evangelize (50% in declining churches).
100% of clergy believe in miracles in response to prayers (44% in declining churches).
* Above taken from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Saturday, December 10, 2016 (timesfreepress.com/life)
Like most human beings, these growing churches are attracting those averse to unwarranted change: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). They do not want to change with the times or be “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), or to be associated with a church espousing no doctrine at all! Everyone seems to have something to say about the Bible. Many are less concerned with what the biblical authors intended and more driven to take Scripture out of context to support their own views. The Gospels are no longer according to the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but according to me, myself, and I.
The Bible is a book that begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation. No one has the right to censor it or decide what it means to me. Creations and inventions of all kinds say something about its creators and inventors, they tell a story. Prose, poetry, music, art, to name but a few, are express images of the writers, poets, musicians, and artists; their work says something about them and what they believe and the convictions and values that define them. We can agree or disagree with them, accept or reject their views, but we have no right to tamper with their work or, purposes of this article, to change the Bible because modern man rejects doctrine.
In our world today, the systematic reduction and eventual elimination of doctrinal teaching and dogmatic statements of the Judeo-Christian tradition as promulgated in the Bible is, so we are told, a necessary component to peaceful coexistence on earth. This attack now occurs even from those liberal Christians for whom God’s unconditional love in Scripture is license to sin (i.e. no consequences). Children who were raised like this by their parents became ‘spoiled brats.’ The rest of us knew well that unconditional love included unconditional expectations to rules or face the consequences. The rules were an integral sign of our parents’ love. You could not separate the two without hurting the whole. This is why children who grow up without this oversight have more difficulties in life and blame their parents for it, while those raised with this oversight thank and honor their parents for it. This is a major reason why the family unit in particular and society in general is ‘messed up’ today.
In light of the societal chaos we experience, the Canadian sociologist and historian cited above are finding that Christians and the unchurched (12% in their findings) are attracted to Christian assemblies that promote worship of God as understood in traditional Christian doctrines and practiced in a moral way of life.
Orthodoxy has been compared to a three-legged stool. The three legs are worship, doctrine, and morality. Take any one of the legs away and the stool falls over. Without a commitment to worshiping God we end up worshiping something else (work, leisure, money, to name a few). Without doctrine, God has no identity and is however each of us perceives deity. Without morality, worship and doctrine are irrelevant because true worship and true doctrine are vehicles by which we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit: “those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24). Immorality cuts us off from the Holy Spirit and renders true godly spirituality impossible because the Holy Spirit, who alone sanctifies, will have nothing to do with the immoral save to turn them away from it and back to God. Self-gratification is the mother of immorality and takes root when we turn a blind eye to the truth (Rom. 1:18-25). In the end, according to Scripture, God’s only choice is to give us up to the base things we crave (Rom. 1:26-32).
Sadly, increasingly, the assault against Christianity is coming even from Christians whose Christianity is not seated upon the “three-legged stool” of worship, doctrine, and morality but upon the ‘snow sled saucer’ of societal shift, ‘shooshing’ down the hills and contours of generational change that equate traditional Christian doctrine with exclusivism, bigotry and hatred, but its rejection as love and compassion. The consequence of it all, if the researchers are correct, is the increasing attraction of traditional Christian churches rooted in specific time-honored beliefs and the decline of those who have abandoned this stability for an in flux social gospel because for them doctrinal teachings and dogmatic statements are divisive, or, you could say, doctrine and dogma are food ‘for the dogs.’ DINOVITE !!!
Holy Father John the Righteous, disciple of St. Gregory of Decapolis; Euthemios the Enlightener of Karelia; Cosmas, Bishop of Calcydon; John the New Martyr of Epiros; Athanasia the Wonderworker of Aegina