If there is anything George W. Bush has accomplished in his tenure as president it is reinforcing the acrimony of the Left towards conservative Christendom. Much of the political Left regards Bush’s re-election as a “free ride” on the fiery chariot of the religious right. There is some merit to this gripe, but the Left may be surprised to discover just how liberal we “Christian conservatives” can be.
Although I may be accused of painting with a broad brush, I assume that most conservative pastors voted Republican in this last election. The reason for this assumption should be obvious: most conservative Christians consider abortion, welfare, extortionate taxation, and big government unbiblical and unsavory. Yet this distaste for political liberalism doesn’t stop many Christian leaders from swallowing a double standard in the way they operate the local church.
This double standard is most apparent in the ecclesiology of the burgeoning mega-churches. Working from the premise that the consumer is king, these super warehouses of worship entice attendees with a myriad of programs targeting the community’s felt needs. They do this because they see results; and results are measured by increased attendance. But has anyone paused to consider the implications of offering a “Sears Catalog” of special programs?
It is more like practical liberalism than innovative Christian praxis when churches assume more responsibility than is Biblically permitted. By substituting “big federal government” with “big church government” mega-churches create an undue social dependency in Christian families. Nowadays, parents want a dynamic and fun ministry for their children, and they expect the local church to provide it. If not, parents will simply shuffle their young ones to the church down the street.
By caving in to this pressure pastors are doing more harm than good. What began as a vision to minister to children soon becomes a welfare program that sapps the initiative from Christian fathers. When the church is providing a separate service for children, a man can easily abdicate his daily responsibility of “bringing up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Why should a man bother catechizing his children when he can simply drop off his little ones each Sunday to receive the gospel “at their level”?
What I find interesting are the many ways this ecclesiastical approach is similar to contemporary liberalism. First, these local churches are adapting the liberal social grid of the “class system.” Instead of addressing the local assembly as the corporate body of Christ, consisting of covenantal households, these Christian innovators segregate the congregation along the social demarcations of children, youth, singles, men, women, and various other special interest groups.
Second, by providing programs for these diverse groups the local church becomes a micro welfare state. This can only confuse the already befuddled ministry responsibilities of the family.
For instance, most churches feature a weekly women’s Bible study that without proper oversight can easily compete with the husband’s role of “cleansing his wife with the washing of water by the Word” (Eph. 5:26). When the spiritual responsibilities of men are being taken over by the church is it any wonder men feel no need to be godly?
Third, administrating this vast array of Christian social programs requires the two-fold liberal strategy of bureaucracy and taxation. Volunteer committees and salaried department leaders must be raised up to facilitate each respective ministry department. Along with this goes the budget increase to pay for these multiple programs. Since the church is non-profit it must “tax” the congregation in tithe and offerings to finance the bureaucracy.
In a recent story on ABC News, reporter Oliver Libaw places the phenomenon of the mega-church alongside America’s obsession with SUVs, big-screen TVs, and superstores. This reveals how the church’s view of the congregant has changed. Church members are seen more as consumers who must be catered to with a smorgasbord of amenities and less as covenant family members in need of faithful preaching. Libaw highlights the full “buffet” being offered by some of today’s mega-churches:
Beyond their physical resources, mega-churches offer a broad spectrum of small groups, clubs, and programs for members and sometimes also the community at large. The list of activities can sound like the offerings at a Club Med or a small liberal arts college: poetry workshops, creative writing, singles groups, job fairs, vocational training, musical lessons, and even auto repair clinics.1
Citing a particular example Libaw describes the 10 year expansion project of a Los Angeles suburb mega-church whose building plan includes a “4,000-seat worship center, an artificial lake, food court, coffee house, and recreational attractions including a rock-climbing wall and jumbo video screens.” This venue can baffle even the most progressive among us!
The point here is that if the local church as an institution seeks to facilitate this broad spectrum of needs it stifles the incentive of individual Christians to solve these social issues. This has been the problem with the federal government since Franklin D. Roosevelt. For decades the overgrown state has sapped the initiative of the individual’s creativity. This plight is now compounded with the bloated mega-church and an increasing number of smaller churches adopting the pattern.
The messianic state has always sought to undermine the authority of the family. Now a negligent undermining is taking place as conservative church leaders neuter the religious role of Christian fathers. This quasi-liberalism in conservative Christian churches is more than a mere contradiction — it is a “house divided against itself.” Only with a complete return to the Biblical responsibilities of preaching, discipline, and the right administration of the sacraments can the church retain its purity. It’s only when the church seeks to equip the family rather than assumes its role that a true balance of Christian government can be established.