Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The church as a social organization

We have been living in Columbia, Tn for 3 years now. I guess the First Baptist church must have finished their new "Family life center" shortly after we got here. It has been instructive to watch all the other churches, including some churches of Christ try to compete with them. In these 3 years we have seen at least 6 other churches build something similar and one more is in the planning stages and I suspect another is moving in that direction--they just announced that they are demolishing the building directly behind their church building. They didn't say they were building a family life center, but I'm guessing they will.

The denominations have been one upping one another in this area for over 20 years in Texas. In the late 80's I preached a meeting in the small town of Vernon, Tx. The Disciples of Christ had just finished their new gymnasium complex. A prominent family in the town had two high school age boys who were both very athletic. They had already "joined" two other churches right after they had built the biggest "family life center" in the town and soon after they joined the Disciples of Christ because they now had the best. If people come to church for physical things--recreation, potlucks, etc. It will take more of the same to hold them and even that may only be until some other church opens up something bigger and better. And this is not a new problem; Jesus warned the crowds, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."(John 6:27) Rom. 1:16 tells us that the Gospel is God's power to save, not entertainment, recreation, etc.

I am appalled when I see churches of Christ trying to compete with the denominations. Obviously some of them see themselves as no different from the denominations, so I guess that is to be expected of them. After all, if you're competition to sell cars you have to meet or beat the competition and it seems many churches of Christ today feel they are in competition with the denominations. But then I see churches of Christ that will tell you they are NOT in competition, will NOT build even a kitchen, much less a gymnasium, but still depend on a whirl of social activities to bring members in, keep the young people, etc. While they Lord's money is not used in any of these activities I fear their emphasis is misplaced. Do I think it is important for Christians to spend time together? Most definitely, there is no other way to get to know one another and become the family that we should be. I had occasion to call some Christians in another state some time back on a regular basis. When I would ask them how the work was going there, invariably their answer was "great" and the details of their latest social gathering. My Lord did not come into this world, suffer all that He suffered, and die the death that He died so that we could play basketball or have potlucks.

Brethren, when the emphasis of a church shifts primarily to the social apostacy cannot be far behind. If you don't believe me, look what has happened to the "major" denominations, like the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans and so on. In the 1960's they shifted from preaching and teaching to social action and recreation. While that seemed to work for a few years they have steadily been losing members since the 1980's. Why? Because of their social emphasis and even they cannot compete with the Country Clubs, Discos, and other professional social clubs and entertainment organizations. No, what set them apart from these things before was their teaching about the Bible--when they lost that they lost their distinctive. Will we learn this lesson from history or have to learn it the hard way?


No comments: