2005-04-27

much-ness and many-ness

Forget the homosexual issue, which is the ostensible topic of the story here. The bee that has taken up residence in my bonnet is something else entirely. If you listen to the audio, you'll hear a story about a particular Episcopal church in Overland Park KS leaving its denomination over the ordination of an openly gay bishop two years ago. About two thirds of the way through the story, there is a sound bite from an interview with a member of the church's vestry. Here's a quote...

"There are seventy seven million anglicans in the world. In the Epsicopal church it's two million. In 1960 the Episcopal church was six million members, today it's two. By the time this thing's done it'll be one. Our church has tripled in the last seven or eight years. Who's God blessing?"

Now, the man who said these words is probably a faithful man, perhaps even a nice man who I would enjoy spending time with. And I'm not really surprised at the completely misguided and bogus theology he betrays with his words because he is an American Evangelical Christian. And in America God's blessing is almost uniformly perceived to be based on numbers. The implication is clear-- God is blessing his church and their stance on__insert theological bugaboo of the week here__ because their numbers are going up.

Doesn't make any difference whether his church is good news (the meaning of "gospel," and "evangelism") to its community, whether the church is doing anything to contribute to the fullness of life of its congregation and particularly those on the outside. Even if the church is doing none of those things, God must be blessing it because attendance has grown.

Those of us who have the temerity to call ourselves Christians need to learn that numbers have almost nothing to do with God's blessing. This gentleman's church may indeed be experiencing a 'blessing' from God and it may be growing, but the assumption of an automatic link beween the two is a bad assumption indeed.

As I said, I don't blame the guy for thinking the way he does, he's probably had the numbers/blessing connection banged into his head so much over the years that it's simply automatic, top of mind. But if success and blessing are related to numbers, then Jesus was a miserable failure, as he left behind a tiny group of cowering followers who "said nothing to anyone because they were afraid." And I suppose every small church in this big successful country of ours is unblessed as well.

3 comments:

Eric said...

So, two questions for you:

1) Should churches or ministries attempt to measure "success"?

2) If so, what do you suggest is a better quantifier?

Jim said...

eric,

Two great questions. I shall attempt a coherent response and blog it on Friday. In the meantime I would refer you to Darryl Dash's website "The Dying Church" at www.dyingchurch.com. Today's posting frames a similar question.

Eric said...

Looked at it...all I saw were vague generalizations and more questions. I assume the book itself provides some answers, but I don't have it. I shall look forward to your response.