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Apr 17 2013

The Most Destructive Error in the Church

doxology

Soteriology is a word that comes from the Greek word soterios, which means “to save.” Doxology comes from the Greek word for glory and names the single stanza hymn. While many have heard the Westminster Confession that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” fewer have understood that doxology is the highest purpose for church. Doxological is a good descriptor for the mission of God’s glory. Placing evangelistic mission above the mission of God’s glory is the single most destructive error in the church today and the one from which many other errors fall out. God’s own glory as the priority for your church and every church needs no reflection on our part, only obedience. Glory is not a threat to reaching lost people but is actually the most biblical and God-honoring way to get there:

    • Yes, God is passionate to see the elect brought into the church.
    • Yes, God honors the efforts of those committed to scattering the seed.
    • Yes, God calls us to let down the net for a catch as fishers of men.
    • Yes, God is “not wishing that any should perish.” (2 Peter 3:9)
    • Yes, God “desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3–4)
    • Yes, “whosoever shall call,” and “God so loved the world,” and “we are ambassadors for Christ.” (Romans 10:13 KJV; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20)

The statements above are biblical fuel on the fire of evangelism, but the Scripture also puts parameters on how far that zeal can go.For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17). When soteriology becomes a higher priority than doxology, much is done “to reach people” that grieves the Holy Spirit and forfeits manifest presence. Like a man paddling across the Atlantic with a hole in his boat, God’s glory can be briefly neglected, but if not soon corrected, we will find ourselves in a place where the only choice is to sink. Neglect of glory is not a small oversight but the hinge on which God’s glorious favor swings in or out in any church. The error of failing to make the glory of God your highest priority is very difficult to address in a horizontal church because they believe their mission is “winning the lost, end of story!” If that horizontal mission results in numerically successful outcomes, the methods will be considered “above reproach” ipso facto, and that is the great disaster. Even where churches have doxology in their mission statements, it is too often assumed. Those resistant to what I write might reply, “Of course God is glorified in our efforts to reach people for Him, why would He not be?” Possible answers:

  • Because preachers are not carnival barkers, and Jesus is not a midway prize. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • Because some methods use content that offends God’s holiness—ask King Saul if sincerity is an adequate reason to disregard God’s holy reputation. (1 Samuel 15:22)
  • Because some methods reveal the wisdom of humans and not the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4–5)
  • Because some methods provoke people to praise the strategy, not the God who saves. (Jonah 2:9; Acts 13:48)
  • Because Ichabod can become a reality just when everything looks to be going great!

How did the church get this way? I don’t know the whole history, but I do remember the impact of a book that came out in 1980 titled The Complete Book of Church Growth by Elmer Towns, John Vaughan, and David Seifert. It lists the top 200 churches in North America by attendance. Interestingly, in 1980, the largest two churches had about 5,000 attendees. By the time they got down to the 200th church, they had gone under 2,000 in attendance. As of 2011, there were 1,200+ churches in America with attendance over 2,000; more than 100 churches that have attendance over 5,000; and more than 25 with attendance over 10,000. But wait! It’s a trick, because during that same time the population has grown by more than 40 percent and the total number of people actually attending church has fallen by greater than 15 percent. Bottom line: in real numbers, millions of people who were worshipping Christ in a Protestant church in 1980 are not doing so today. So who are we kidding? Horizontal, soteriologically driven church is not growing the body of Christ as a whole. Even if you are seeing a “win” on your side of town, we are a “loss” collectively. Do you care? Regardless of size, every Bible-believing, gospel-saturated church, and those that want to get there, matter to God. Just because a few churches in big cities are flooding with people does not mean that those methods are helpful to the church as a whole. What if Satan allowed a few churches to burst at the seams, knowing that selfish shepherds everywhere would mimic those horizontal methods and plunge churches from coast to coast into a vortex of decline?

Sadly, many who read this believe that pursuit of the glory of God is an abandonment of evangelistic impact, when in fact the opposite is true. Check back Friday for some evidence. :)