Monday, November 22, 2010

How Churches Decline...

Carl Trueman has launched a series of reflections at Ref21 on why so many churches decline into theological liberalism.

The first danger I want to highlight is that of the celebrity pastor who is ultimately so big as to be practically beyond criticism. Some pastors are just so successful as communicators that, frankly, they are placed on a pedestal and become, in both their precept and example, authoritative sources of wisdom to their followers. In part this is because many rightly think that thankfulness, not criticism, should be the appropriate response to seeing the Lord bless a ministry. Who really wants to criticise a man who brings so many the good news? Yet in an age where sheer numerical success and the ability to pull in the punters and keep them enthralled is often assumed to be a clear sign of faithfulness, there are dangers of which we must be aware.

The successful pastor, like every other one called to ministry, must honor his ordination vows concerning what he teaches, and abide by the laws and processes of the church of which he is a minister. Ironically, in our secular celebrity culture, the more famous and wealthy someone is, the more boorish the behaviour we tolerate from them, and the quicker we are to forgive. We must not allow this worldliness to pervade our ecclesiology so that, the more successful a pastor is, the lower the bar we set for doctrine, life, and behaviour. Paul's words on the eldership do not somehow cease to apply once a pastor is invited on the Larry King Show, or passes the 2 000 mark in terms of church membership.

The pastor should also make his local church, his Sunday ministry, and his denominational duties his ministry priority, however mundane and lacking in glamour they may be; and his fellow elders and congregants must still constantly test his teaching by scripture to see if it is faithful. Furthermore, if he is a figure of stature in the wider church community, he must take very seriously his responsibility to that larger constituency which looks to him for wise guidance. If he tells people that justification is no big deal, or that it is fine to have a loose doctrine of scripture, or even if he simply shows by his actions that this is what he thinks, then guess what? People will tend to believe him and act accordingly, and orthodoxy will fade away like the coda at the end of a Bee Gees' track.

Even more seriously, if such a revered pastor sets in place successors who are heterodox or too concessive on crucial doctrines, then, however orthodox and faithful he may personally be, he will be responsible not only for the damage done by such poor appointments while he is alive, but also that done by the same to generations as yet unborn. Praise God for preachers whose ministries are extraordinarily blessed; but let us hold them to the same exacting standards as Paul held the super-apostles in Corinth. Celebrity ministers who act as influential lone rangers in constituencies where there is no accountability can prove remarkably dangerous. And if they do not come up to snuff on standards of life and doctrine, let us not pretend otherwise, or trade off fidelity for eloquence or stage presence. Make no mistake: tomorrow's church will be the epitaph of today's leaders.
Read the entire post HERE.

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