MEGACHURCH ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
"MEGACHURCH ASSOCIATION of AMERICA"-by Frank Chase.
Megachurch Association of America,
1950 Slippery Slope Drive,
Bald Tyre, California 92630.
Dear Saints,We, the leaders of the modern phenomenon known as the churchgrowth movement or megachurch movement, wish to correspondwith the leaders of the past, namely the Old Testament prophets,Jesus Christ, the apostles, the reformers and the revivalists, aboutsome differences between your methods and ours that are becomingincreasingly apparent. We cannot help but acknowledge that you did a commendable job in advancing our heavenly Father’s Kingdom.We are especially inclined to admire your accomplishments giventhat you labored under such difficult circumstances and without the knowledge of our modern methods. How you built such greatand enduring walls for the King without the contemporary strawand mortar that we find so helpful is a puzzling mystery to us.
Our motivation in writing to you is twofold. First, we would like to obtain your official blessing on our new methods. We are sure that you already approve of them and perhaps are envious of our great success as you sit in glory watching us reap a tremendous harvest for the Kingdom of God. However, we feel that an official sanction from the leaders of the past is warranted. Second, we have spent many months examining your methods, and we feel that in light ofour modern advances a few of the numerous mistakes and errors that you unfortunately fell into must be pointed out.
We do not consider ourselves superior to you. It is only by our methodology that we have surpassed you older saints. By the providence of God, we were born on the cusp of this progressive and superior methodology. While we greatly respect the methods employed 2000 years ago by our Savior, Jesus Christ, we flatly reject the use of His methods in today’s culture. We desire our ministries to glorify Jesus, not necessarily by following His example or by using His methods, but, instead, by reaping a large harvest for Him using our contemporary methods. Our hearts overflow with thanks to God who has graciously shown us a better way to live and minister in these turbulent times.
It cannot be denied that ours is an important movement in the annals of church history. In 1970 there were only 10 megachurchesin America. Today there are over 800 such churches. Last yearbrother Bill Hybels in Illinois had over 100,000 church leaders attending his church growth seminars while brother Rick Warren(of Purpose-Driven Life fame) had 250,000 leaders attend his seminars. Please note also that our dear brother Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church in Texas is soon projected to have 30,000 in weekly church attendance.
We have managed to grow our churches aggressively, by the grace of God, in an era of declining church interest and blossoming secularization. We could not have achieved such success without much help from those who came immediately before us. More about them will be discussed later.
Our movement has been dubbed “the seeker-friendly movement.”This title sums up our criticism of the ministries of all those towhom this letter is addressed.
As we read the Bible looking for corroboration of our methods, wehave to conclude that God is doing a new thing among us. One of our brothers the “Pastor of Greater Arts” in Rick Warren’s megachurch, was recently quoted in a newspaper saying, “Don’t forget, Christ used user-friendly language. He spoke to his followers in parables” (The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 30, 2003). We thought this idea might serve as some type of Biblical precedent for our approach of broad appeal and inclusivity. Then someonepointed out that in the 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus stated that the reason He spoke in parables was so that people might hearHim, yet not understand Him. This idea sent our search for Biblicaljustification back to square one. Therefore, we must conclude that there is no Biblical precedent for what we are doing. Nevertheless,we know that our methods are right, and we will boldly let our rising numbers speak for themselves. Hence, pragmatism remains our chief principle: if it appears to work, it must be right.
It is evident to us that in today’s culture your archaic methodscould never produce the results that we have achieved. We cannotbear the thought of proclaiming to this generation words such as
the following spoken by Isaiah:"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient,ye shall eat of the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword." (Is 1:18–20)The above verses violate another one of our key principles: we never imply that someone is guilty of sin. After all, it is the Holy Ghost’s job to bring about conviction of sin. Since the Holy Ghost convicts of sin so rarely in our churches, it would be highly presumptuous for us to take upon ourselves this role.
We have uncovered many of our guiding principles through the use of modern marketing techniques that have confirmed that unchurched people and backsliders are offended at direct and plain speech such as Isaiah’s above.
God’s ministers must not make anyone feel uncomfortable. We want people to have fun in church. We do not want the atmosphere to be unfriendly or offensive. Neither doctrines nor Biblical standards have ever saved anyone, but church involvement has led many people to the Lord for salvation. We have, therefore, made the wise decision to sacrifice the better for the best in doing away with all doctrines or Biblical standards that would seem to inhibit church growth.
For example, take the Biblical view of the self. The Bible teaches that we should esteem others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).You men of old, whether from Bible times or from later centuries,uniformly thought of yourselves as mere dust before an infinite andholy God. The modern theory of self-esteem, which has become highly popular in the church over the past 40 years, has no place in Scripture. Neither is there any evidence in church history of such a notion. Yet the idea that one must have a positive self-image in order to be happy and healthy has so permeated the church that one would be considered mad if he were to question it.Even though this idea has no basis in Scripture, no basis in churchhistory, and you men of old believed the exact opposite of this modern doctrine, we gladly embrace it since the notion of positive self-esteem has such power to attract people to our churches.How repulsive to the unchurched would Ezekiel’s words be today “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings thatwere not good, and shall clothe yourselves in your own sight foryour iniquities and for your abominations” (Ezek. 32:31)?
As you can see, we are committed to removing anything from thechurch that has the potential to injure a sinner’s self-esteem. Ourbeloved brother, Robert Schuller, who served as a keynote speakerat the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) last year andwho was a pioneer in helping develop our philosophy of ministry,has represented our position well when he said, “I don’t thinkanything has been done in the name of Christ and under thebanner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to humanpersonality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelismenterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategyof attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinfulcondition” (Christianity Today, Oct. 5, 1984).
In addition to removing anything offensive, we have added numerous things to the life of the church that are very attractive to the carnal mind of the lost. A notable newspaper summarized our approach with the following:
"Gone are traditional religious dogmas, rituals, and symbols,replaced by uplifting songs and sermons. Congregants are taught that — through God — they are victors, not victims. The messages are encouraging and easy to swallow, and no one is called a sinner. It’s ‘Jesus meets the power of positive thinking’ …There’s none of that old-time religion; none of that hell-and-damnation, fire-and-brimstone preaching … The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive … Pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon [was]given like a motivational speech … There’s no talk of controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality … [The mega churches] have more of a rock concert feel … Organs have been replaced by electric guitars, hymns with rock-and-roll tunes.No where is there a cross or a candle, and the language is contemporary, with not a ‘thee’ or a ‘thou’ … Worked into a frenzy by the 10 piece [rock] band and 300-member choir, dozens ofslick music videos and, yes, the wave, congregants were enraptured." (The Christian ScienceMonitor, Dec. 30, 2003)
Compare the above description to accounts of Jonathan Edwards’infamous and shameful sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an AngryGod.” We cannot countenance such preaching as this,
"The devils watch them [the unchurched]; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls.The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost … The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow atyour heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.
"Under Edwards’ despicable, old-style preaching scores of people were smitten by a glimpse of their lost and sinful condition to thepoint of utter brokenness manifested by much weeping and wailing.How this must have wrecked the congregants’ self-esteem, which,undoubtedly, was already made fragile by his frequent use of negative language. We are certain that Edwards often spoke of human depravity, hell, the dangers of sin, the necessity of repentance, and other such topics that have no place in our messages. We are also certain that he never would have allowed his congregants to perform “the wave” in church. Perhaps this is one of the reasons his parishioners fired him. He was forced to move his family to the wilderness village of Stockbridge,Massachusetts, to pastor a congregation made up mainly of poor Indians. As you can see, Edwards’ approach was certainly wrong.We find that the converse of our chief principle is also true; if it appears not to work, it must be wrong. Oh, what a triumph God is working through us over the archaic methods of yesterday!A striking difference between us and the Apostle Paul is his seeming indifference to numerical success. He seemed content to focus his ministry on building a pure bride, even if numerically small. This evidently required that Paul have the battlefield mindsetof a soldier, which is much different than our own mindset. We dislike the fact that he was always fighting and contending. A variety of verbs are used to describe the ministries of Paul and his associates in the book of Acts. They were ubiquitously found disputing against, reasoning with, speaking boldly to, preaching to,persuading, exhorting, declaring, and warning their hearers. We believe that this kept them from entering into peace and rest such as we have. We believe that by not fighting with the world, we have discovered the green pastures and still waters about which theLord spoke in the Psalms. It is not surprising to us that Paul’s polemical ministry caused him to spend a great deal of time in prison. Perhaps God was trying to speak to him there about changing his methods.
We could write for many more pages about the deficiencies ofthose who ministered before AD 1950. Certainly the reformers such as Tyndale and Luther were wrong in their approach in the1500s. John Bunyan was obviously off track since his dogmatism caused him to be locked up in the Bedford jail for over a decade inthe 1600s. We condemn the offensive manner in which the likes of George Whitefield, John Wesley, and scores of other fanatics preached repentance in the open air to the unchurched in the1700s. Perhaps the worst example of such old-style fanaticism was exhibited by William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army, in the 1800s. It gives us pangs of nausea when we contemplate the shameful and embarrassing tactics that those here listed used in the name of our mild-mannered and gentle Jesus.
By looking at a description of Whitefield’s preaching. it is plain to see the unchristian tone of his sermons. Bishop J.C. Ryle said that Whitefield was “perpetually telling you about your sins, yourheart, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the absolute need of repentance, faith, holiness …” (Christian Leaders of the 18thCentury, by J.C. Ryle, p. 51). Let us look at another example.Note the profusion of negative language in this excerpt from a JohnWesley sermon:
"Thou ungodly one who hearest these words, thou vile, helpless,miserable sinner, I charge thee before God, the judge of all, go straight unto Jesus with all thy ungodliness … Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed deserving and dropping into hell …Plead thou singly the blood of the covenant, the ransom paid forthy proud, stubborn, sinful soul." (Christian Leaders of the 18thCentury, by J.C. Ryle, p. 93)
And what were the effects of these unchristian methods on the hearers? We could demonstrate our point using numerousexamples from the lives of the men listed above, but let us look a tone account from the journal of George Whitefield:
"Most were drowned in tears. The Word was sharper than a two-edged sword. The bitter cries and groans were enough to piercethe hardest heart. Some of the people were as pale as death;others were wringing their hands; others lying on the ground;others sinking into the arms of friends; and most lifting up theireyes to Heaven and crying to God for mercy." (George Whitefield,Vol. 1 by Arnold Dallimore, p. 487)
The damage done to the hearers, particularly to any unchurched people that might have been present, can be clearly seen inWhitefield’s own account... robbed of their self-esteem.
With such deleterious effects as these, it is no wonder that Luther,Tyndale, Bunyan, Booth, the early Methodists, and many others were so bitterly opposed by the more mature and pragmatic church leaders of their day.-----------------------------