A recent article in the “Faith & Family” section of the local Saturday newspaper reported on a research study. 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).
Who could fathom Christian clergy who do not believe in the cornerstone teaching of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? Of these people Saint Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17). Saint Peter refers to “the ignorant and unstable” who “twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures,” the points in Saint Paul’s epistles that are hard to understand. (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
Finding Comfort in the Consistency of Truth
Like most human beings (naturally averse to change), the growing churches are attracting those averse to unwarranted change: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). When it comes to faith, 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 join a church espousing no doctrine at all! The vehement attacks against such churches by liberal Christians and the groups they comprise crystallize the divide between the two. When Orthodox clergy and laity pray twice in the liturgy for our hierarchs to rightly divide the word of truth, compromise is no option.
To be sure, there is always a pastoral dimension. Today, so many are raised in dysfunctional circumstances, exacerbated by an amoral (if not immoral) world, that it is difficult for churches to maintain the high bar that Scripture sets. Even the Orthodox Church’s canon law (like every system of law) has a mechanism to relax its rules called economia (a means of mercy as the best course of action to restore a person back into the faith and observance of the rules that had been relaxed). By comparison, a judge may relax (but cannot abrogate) the law, granting clemency to someone on trial, believing it to be the best course to render the person law abiding again.
What is not allowed is rewriting Scripture in every generation to suit the social mores of the day, as if God is clay to be fashioned in the image of man and not the other way around (Is. 45:9; Jer. 18:5-6; Rom. 9:20-21). We refashion God every time we rewrite Scripture to suit ourselves. We are playing God at this point. Very dangerous!
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 him or her. 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, for purposes of this article, to change the Bible because modern man rejects the unmistakeable doctrine stated in it. We can only accept it or reject it.
Today, the systematic reduction and even elimination of doctrinal teaching and dogmatic statements found in the Bible is, so we are told, a necessary component to peaceful coexistence on earth. This attack now comes even from liberal Christians for whom God’s unconditional love is license to sin (no consequences). In former times, children who were raised like this by their parents were labeled ‘spoiled brats.’ We knew well that unconditional love included unconditional expectations to rules or pay 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 them for it. This is a major reason why the family unit in particular and society in general is highly dysfunctional today and increasingly violent in its intolerance of those they deem intolerant of it.
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 as practiced in a moral way of life.
The Foundation of Faith
Orthodoxy has been compared to the three-legged stool of 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 functionally has no identity and is however each of us perceives deity (is this not doctrine). Without morality, worship and doctrine become rote ritual and hypocrisy. Immorality cuts us off from the Holy Spirit and renders true godly spirituality impossible because the Holy Spirit, who alone sanctifies, will not sanction immorality but labors to turn the immoral back to holiness and godliness. 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) in the hopes that we will be like the prodigal son who “came to his
senses” (Lk. 15:17).
Sadly, as mentioned above, 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 inclusion, 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 influx social gospel, because for them doctrine is divisive and dogma is food ‘for the dogs.’ But for us traditional Christian dogs, this ‘food’ is not only good but good for you. DINOVITE !!!