Honest Answer to Honest Questions, and Open Dialogue Wherever Possible

Dialog & Discuss

Boyce College professor, Denny Burk, has posted an interesting warning about a common tactic employed by some with theological agendas – especially those with liberalizing theological agendas.  His post is titled:  Should Churches “Dialogue” About Sexuality?

Having read through it a couple of times I find myself appreciating Burk’s concern.  Burk notes that many a subtle debate may begin with a seemingly reasonable appeal:

“…with the liberals calling for more dialogue about the issue.”

Then, citing conservative writer Rod Dreher:

Ah, the old “conversation starter” or “dialogue” trick. Any time you see a progressive member of your church try this, you must understand that this is the wedge that they will use to pry the orthodox out. The “conversation” will be one-sided, and will not end until the orthodox have surrendered or left, because the progressives will never, ever take “no” for an answer.

While I am not one who is overly concerned about debate, or about being drawn into compromised theology, I have seen this tactic employed.  (For the sake of fairness, I must admit that I have seen the technique attempted by both those on the theological left, and by some on the far right.  It just seems that those on the far right are more likely to quckly show their hand, their agenda.)  So I agree with Burk, we need to be mindful of this, and encourage the people in our churches– or at least our church leaders – to be mindful of this ploy.

However, what Burk is addressing is not the biggest challenge to the church I serve.  Our congregation is pretty well rooted in sound theology and conservatism.  (NOTE: These are not always the same thing, especially when the conservatism is more political than theological.)  For most of our members it is not difficult to get them to accept the authority of God’s Word on any particular subject.  Our  commitment to deep, rich, historic, orthodoxy is one of the primary reasons they are part of the church.  And while we have many who are doing inspiring works throughout our community, it is far more a concern whether we can get some of the others to love and engage their neighbors – most of whom are likely to differ with us on any number of social issues – than it is whether they will be susceptible to trendy Spirits of the Age.

So while I appreciate Burk’s wisdom, I believe we also need to prepare people to “dialogue”.

Dialogue is how we engage people, without requiring that they agree with us as a precondition of  being welcome in our church or wanted as a friend.  Dialogue is one way we are able to express and cultivate love for our neighbors.  Dialogue may be the only way for some to hear what God has to say about a particular subject, as we appropriately bring our understanding of the Word into the conversations. Dialogue about issues in which we (at least) initially differ may be the means by which some hear the gospel for the first time – as the gospel does apply in some manner to all matters.

No doubt some readers will be uncomfortable with my call to dialogue with unbelievers and with theological compromisers (- which usually qualifies them as unbelievers).  But I am convinced that somewhere, somehow, we need to cultivate environments that encourage dialogue – and we must do this for the sake of the gospel.

I don’t feel alone in this thought. It is what Francis Schaeffer called for a couple generations ago.  In his Two Contents, Two Realities, the second content was: Honest Answers to Honest Questions.

I agree that we must be wise, and that there are times when conversation should be cut off – such as when it is apparent that the “dialogue” is not honest but rather a cloak over a subversive agenda. This is what Burk has in view, and so it is why I appreciate his thoughts.  But, just so there is no mistaking Burk’s counsel as an invitation for Evangelicals to hide out in the fortress of the church, I also feel compelled to contend for genuine dialogue, since it is the only way we will have opportunity to hear Honest Questions from our culture to which we may offer Honest Answers from God’s Word.

Grace & Peace: The Song

This song from Sovereign Grace Music, that shares the same title as this blog,  is a three verse meditation on Romans 1.7:

Verse 1

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / For lawbreakers and thieves / For the worthless, the least / You have said, that our judgment is death / For all eternity / Without hope, without rest / Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery/ That Your grace has come to me

Verse 2

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / The matchless King of all / Paid the blood price for me / Slaughtered lamb, what atonement You bring! / The vilest sinner’s heart / Can be cleansed, can be free /  Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery / That Your grace has come to me

Verse 3

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / Let songs of gratefulness / Ever rise, never cease / Loved by God and called as a saint / My heart is satisfied / In the riches of Christ / Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery  / That Your grace has come to me


Oh, what an amazing love I see / What an amazing love I see / That Your grace has come to me / Oh, what an amazing love I see / What an amazing love I see / That Your grace has come to me

© 2013 Sovereign Grace Worship

Small Church, Big Church

Small Self Righteous

In a post yesterday I indicated a disappointment with the prevailing tendencey to use size of  a congregation as a measuring stick of the value or vibrancy of a church.  It would be easy for some to assume by this defensive posture that I am among those who despise large churches.  Not so.

My home church is a large church – a very large church.  3000-plus members; and roughly that same number in weekly attendance.  It was this church where my wife and I met.  It was in this church where my relatively new faith began to take on roots, and where I learned the importance of global evangelization.  This church is faithful. This church is fruitful. And this church is flourishing.  I am proud (in an appropriate way, I hope) to have been sent out by this church, into ministry.

It is not the size of the church that matters to me, but whether it is faithful, substantive, and bearing fruit comensurate for it’s capabilities.

It is those churches who believe growth itself is the primary objective that disturb me; those who seem to feel that they are doing God some favor by packing people into seats, willing to serve up anything that will draw a crowd, even at the expense of the gospel, and then call itself an expression of the Body of Christ.  I hold such places with no esteem.

On the other hand, I get equally chagrined when I encounter those from small congregations who assume they are somehow better for no more reason than they are  small. (Like the cartoon above.)  While small is not necessarily a vice, neither is it necessarily a virtue.

To paraphrase Paul from Galatians 5.6:

Big congregation or small, it makes no difference. The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.

More Than Numbers

Miracle Gro

Here is a needed reminder:

I’m not so sure God cares how big your church is. Seriously. If your numbers aren’t “growing,” so what? I’m also not sure that the sign of a vibrant healthy church is ever-increasing growth, significant growth. It seems to me that the sign of a vibrant, healthy fully alive church is one where God’s people are growing in love, knowledge, and insight, not numbers. I’d rather be in a church like this than a church that is “growing” with greater numbers of people with shallow faiths who do not love well.

Where did Paul ever rebuke a church because their numbers were not growing by some set of hoped for percentage points?

Great point. I would add: Or Jesus, in his Letters to the 7 Churches in Revelation 2-3

I get the church growth rationale.  And I agree with some of the foundations of it, at least as it was originally developed as a mission strategy. But the American obsession with Bigger is Better has distorted much – maybe most – of the good that the original proponents of church growth may have intended.  Many of us have misapplied the whole concept of growth and mistaken it as the measuring stick for God’s blessing.  Size of a congregation is about as good of an indicator of being blessed by God, as is wealth an indicator of worth; or better still, as height an indicator of greatness.  (In other words, not a valid standard at all.) Consequently, faithfulness and substance is often subverted by gimmicks and pragmatism.  Whatever works to get them in… right?

Years ago, while I was servivng a fast growing congregation (that a year later showed the evidence of serious fractures), a good and gifted friend was “languishing” in a church that could not quite break the 100 barrier – even on Easter.  He was discouraged –  to put it mildly.  To encourage him, I offered a parallel thought.  Knowing of a huge community college in his city, I asked about the number of students who attended the school. He said he estimated 50,000 – 60,000 students.  So I observed that the school must be some impressive, prestigious place.  After all Harvard has only 6000 or so students.  The guy who is president of that community college must be thought of as having had 10 times the success as the guy who can’t lead a school any larger than Harvard!

He got the my point of my sarcasm.  It is a ridiculous analogy to compare a community college with a school with the history, the resources, and he selectivity of a Harvard.  Size is no indication of anything.  And neither is size any measure of a church.


To read the whole short post I quoted at the top, click: A Healthy Vibrant Church May Never Be Big