Saturday, September 10, 2016

Please Stop Supporting Affinity Churches: A Call to Behold the Glory of Biblically Healthy Churches

That's possibly my longest blog post title ever. 

It's late (early?). Maybe not the best time to publish a blog post but I have something to write about tonight and I hope you'll hear me out. 

At first you're going to think this is just another blog about 'affinity churches'. Well, it is that but it also much more. It is a plea for healthy churches across the board. I ask you to prayerfully consider what's below...

I saw another promo video over the weekend for an affinity based church in Arkansas. By 'affinity based' I mean a church plant that is strategically focused on reaching a certain affinity, connection point, group hobby, etc. 

At first I wanted to included the video in this blog but I think prudence wonout here. Here are 3 reasons I chose not to show the video.

1. I truly appreciate the person's desire in the video to see gospel change in the lives of people in Arkansas, even though from my perspective his methods are both wrong and harmful. 

2. I have no personal vendetta against this brother or some mere isolated issue with this particular affinity plant.

3. My greater concern is the movement at large and its support from our denomination as a whole and of course a special focus on Arkansas. 

I think showing the promo video might detract from the things I listed above. 

Now, with all that being said, let me discuss a few things in hopes of primarily reaching people on the fence about this issue. If I happen to also persuade a few people in the process who are already pro affinity based, then all the better. Actually, I do hope to persuade some of you involved in affinity churches. To God alone be the glory. 

I believe very strongly that it is past time we as Arkansas Baptists throw every bring we have into building healthy churches. Not just in promotional schemes but really hands to the plow serious. This earnestness will manifest itself in biblical planting of new churches, maintaining existing healthy churches, and revitalizing currently unhealthy churches. 

Here's one example. Let's see a statewide absolute no compromise movement toward healthy membership practices. I know from personal experience that it's hard for one church alone to say that only people regularly present and involved should be church members. That there shouldn't be 'inactive' rolls and that people should be met with, pleaded with, and exhorted to return to the fold. And if they won't, after much prayer and patience, they should be removed. This is a difficult task for any church on Her own. But when an entire denomination takes a stand on the issue, watch out! We can do more together than we can apart. 

Now, I know  people will say "ah, can't do something like that because: CHURCH AUTONOMY!" I whole heartily support and believe in the biblical prescription of local church autonomy. However, this (rightly) does not stop us from state wide calls for increasing evagnelism. It (rightly) doesn't stop us from state wide calls to pray for revival. It does not stop state wide calls to increase cooperative program giving. And, it rightly, shouldn't stop us from state wide calls for biblically healthy churches, which includes healthy membership practices. 

So, what is a biblically healthy church? Here are a few necessities:

1. Led by qualified pastor(s): 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1:5ff, Acts 20:28, etc

2. Ordinances (Lord's Supper and Baptism) rightly practiced: 1 Cor. 11, Matt. 28:19-20, etc

3. Biblical church discipline is practiced: 1 Cor. 5, Mt. 18:15ff, Rev. 2:20, 2 Thess 3:14, etc

4. Membership is meaningful: Eph. 4:11ff, 1 Cor. 12, Titus 2:1-10, etc

5. Regularly gathering on the Lord's Day: 1 Cor. 16:2, Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10, etc

6. Making disciples: Mt. 28:19-20

7. Pursuing holiness and Christlikeness: 1 Peter 1:16, Colossians 3, etc

8. Committd to sound doctrine: Titus 2:1, etc

9. The gospel is understood, applied, and shared: Romans 1:16-17, Ephesians 1-3, etc

10. Christ is the 'glue.' Not tradition. Not innovation. Not cowboy culture. Not hunting. Not race car driving. Not football. Not ethnicity. Not any culture, sub-culture, etc: Phil 3:8, Galatians 3:28, Col. 1:18, Rev. 5:1-10

11. Prayer is prized: Colossians 4:2, etc

12. Preaching and teaching is faithful: 2 Tim. 4:2, etc. 

I'm sure there is more to add and even more in which to go into greater detail. But it's late and that's what I've got at this juncture. 

We aren't looking for 'perfect' churches. But we are looking for churches striving for that! We should not accept unrepentantly or willfully neglecting the above in our own or sister churches. Not that we should go on any sort of witch hunt or purging endeavor. But that we should unashamedly hold forth the biblical standard as we know that it will bring the most good to us and our neighbors and the maximum glory to God. 

And if we don't think there is a biblical standard for healthy churches what does that say about our commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture? Like Jesus, who loves the church and died for her (Eph. 5:23ff), isn't going to tell us how she may be healthy? 

Behold the glory of a biblically healthy church! All of us should strive toward this. 

This brings affinity churches back to the focus. When we support planting and funding affinity based churches, we are setting a standard of health below biblical parameters. 

Why? Well, I've written a lot on this before but let me summarize a few things. 

1. The affinity model inherently sets something other than Christ as the draw. ("Come here because you will fit in because we have __________" is the general call across the board.)

2. The affinity model circumvents the beauty of gospel unity across cultural lines. 

3. The affinity model trades one problem for the same problem. (You don't like your 'old tradition' come start a new one).

(These are just a few highlights of the issues, I thought the question of affinity based churches was answered well in a one minute clip from our Q&A. Listen here from about 9:49-11:00

So, every dollar given to such an endeavor as the affinity model (or 'attractional model' - think: smoke, lasers, and guitar solos) is a dollar devoted to a church design that is less than what God would have for us. 

Am I saying the answer is 'tradional' churches? No. The answer is gospel centered, Christ saturated, God glorifying churches. And as odd as it may initially sound, our churches must care less about having a 'welcoming' environment and more about a Christ honoring environment. Frankly, a Christ honoring environment isn't going to be welcoming to everyone (if you've been paying attention to the moral decay of our society you will definitely agree). 

What I mean is this: may our main weekly gathering be structured in such a way that Christ is the center, draw, affinity, and focal point. May we stop holding out offers of 'relevancy', 'casual atmosphere', 'not your grandma's church', 'music', 'suits', 'pews', 'chairs', 'deer heads', and 'cowboy hats', as the primary draw. May we instead joyfully, convictionally, and uncompromisingly hold forth Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and is risen and ascended as King forever. 

We must - we have to - there is no question about our digging in on the fact that we need to - get more serious about biblically healthy churches as a denomination. The lostness is too great and the time is too short to accept anything less. 

Because I have had so many discussions about this with people in the past, I think the tendency will be to read this and either dismiss it as one young quack who doesn't know what he's talking about or to even get angry at me about it. But I think if you go back and prayerfully consider what I have written you will see that my desire is not to tear anyone down. My heartfelt desire is to see us come together as a denomination on this issue and to have a truly tangible emphasis toward healthy churches for the remainder 2016 and beyond, until our King returns.  

Please stop supporting affinity based church planting. Please stop supporting attractional models of churches. Please start supporting, emphasizing, and praying for biblically healthy churches across our state. 

This Lord's day is a great day to start. May the grace of God be with us in this holy endeavor.  

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