Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead Orthodoxy

Yesterday I finished reading the 'Redeemer Church Planter Manual', by Tim Keller. In this previous post I shared that although I'm pastoring a 170 year old church, the community around us is rapidly changing (i.e. growth in population from 200 to 8000 in eight years). I thought reading a church planter manual would help me see any blind spots of my own, and give me lots of ideas as I seek to give leadership to our church in its evangelistic ministries. I was not disappointed. Keller strikes an amazing balance between the practicalities of ministry and the theology of church planting. I'd recommend this book to any/every pastor (and as a must read for church planters in particular).

One particular quote stuck out to me, not so much in regard to any particular church, but with the North American evangelical church culture in general. In a chapter on the dynamics of corporate renewal, Keller discusses what he calls dead (or drifting) orthodoxy. This happens when a church has all of its doctrinal ducks in a row, but still lacks vital spiritual life. He recognizes that this is a continuum -- and that most churches fall somewhere on it. But his penetrating insights help any believer to search his/her own heart and look for blind spots. Although there are many 'brands' of dead orthodoxy, Keller expands on what he calls the legalistic 'stream'. Its characteristics are noted blow.

Marks of Dead Orthodoxy:

1. Much more emphasis on defending the truth than propagating it. The emphasis is on attacking false views, not winning sinners to Christ. There is smugness toward those without the right views.

2. Strong, even fierce opposition to change programs and worship. What people call ‘closeness to God’ is often the security (sentimentality) that comes from familiar forms and procedures.

3. Often a desire for inspiring, general messages, but nothing disturbing. It is an unwritten law that the pastor must be ‘nice’ and must not offend anyone. On the other hand, in the power churches, the other extreme may happen. The pastor may become very authoritarian and controlling.

4. A tendency toward gossip and censoriousness. Differences cannot be discussed lovingly. Defensiveness creates bitter quarreling. The only way the church deals with this is to hide and suppress disagreements.

5. A dislike for the healthy disorder found in revival/renewals. Either the tradition or the pastor and/or key lay leader must stay in control. Sometimes there is an opposition to displays of emotion of any kind. During renewal people are so wiling to get involved in ministry and worship that there is a kind of ‘divine disorder’ that has to be addressed.

6. And unwillingness to believe in glorious possibilities. Unable to expect or believe that certain kinds of people can change, or no vision for community impact. Planning myopia that comes from a conviction that we can only do as much as we have visible human resources for.

7. Little discussion of one’s spiritual experience -- nearness to God, growth in love, temptations, and so on. There are objections to any self-examination or regular accountability for one’s growth in grace and walk with God.

8. Total focus on the needs and concerns of members and the survival of the institution (church). No desire or intention to reach the world.

9. A lack of lay involvement. A consensus and expectation that the pastor should do virtually all the ministry.

10. A strong clinging to cultural forms and customs -- types of music and styles of dress and speech and ‘unwritten’ rules of conduct -- which are semi-consciously considered part of what it means to be a ‘mature’ believer.

- Taken from ‘Redeemer Church Planter Manual’, pp 203-204.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. And I appreciate the sensitivity with which you introduce the topic. All churches fall on a spectrum here indeed. May I add another marker: 11. Dead orthodoxy thinks that orthodoxy can't possibly ever be dead. // Thanks again for approaching this topic in a way that applies across confessional & denominational lines.