Counterfeit Gods

In his reletively recent book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller explains what a counterfeit god is and describes how to make one – as we are so prone to do:

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.  And idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.  It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing.  It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even sucess in the  Christian ministry.

Keller also asserts:

When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “codependency” but it is really idolatry.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”  Introduction, p. xviii)

I greatly apprecialte Keller delving into this subject. While few people are likely to identify themselves as Idolotors, it is an affliction that plagues us all.  

John Calvin was correct when he declared: “Our hearts are little idol factories”.  Understanding how we each make our individual idols, and identifying how they influence our actions and thoughts, is a major step toward diplacing them.

Is Church Growth a Biblical Expectation?

I was intrigued by the insights of Jay Childs in an article he wrote for Leadership Journal.  The article, titled Church Growth vs. Church Seasons, focuses on the American fascination with large numbers.  After telling some of his own story, Jay makes three primary observations:

  1. Our Situation is Not Unusual
  2. Non-Stop Numerical Growth is NOT a Biblical Expectation
  3. Healthy Churches Go Through Life-Cycles of Growth, Pruning, Decline, Blessing

While I appreciated the whole article, it was the insights of the second point that most resonated with me:

Ever since eminent missiologist Donald McGavran first published his seminal thoughts on church growth, American churches have often fixated on numerical growth. The basic assumption seems to be this: all churches should be growing numerically, all the time, and something is wrong if your church isn’t.

But as I’ve searched the New Testament and read countless other books on the subject, this assumption seems to be alien to the Bible. There is simply no biblical expectation that a local congregation will continually grow in size, uninterrupted. That seems to be an American presupposition forced onto the Scriptures.

If anything, Jesus told us to expect the opposite. He did promise that the gates of hell would not stand against the church, but he also commended the church in Philadelphia for standing firm though they had “little power.” He never criticizes any of the seven churches in Revelation for not accumulating numbers. He does scold, however, for moral and theological compromise.

Lesslie Newbigin writes in The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, “Reviewing the teaching of the New Testament, one would have to say, on the one hand, there is joy in the rapid growth of the church in the earliest days, but on the other, there is no evidence that numerical growth of the church is a matter of primary concern. There is no shred of evidence in Paul’s letters to suggest that he judged the churches by the measure of their success in rapid numerical growth. [Nowhere is there] anxiety or an enthusiasm about the numerical growth of the church.”

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