Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 16, 1970
NUMBER 10, PAGE 4-5a

Conservatism And Church Growth


We hear many voices today telling us that religion is dying, that churches are on the decline, that throughout the world there is an ever growing philosophy of secularism and atheism, and that we may well look forward to the time when religion, as our age has known it, will be looked upon much as we today view the mythology of Greece and Rome.

All of which is true.

But with this significant difference: the "religion" that is dying is one that should never have existed in the first place. It is a weak, diluted compromise between "belief' and humanistic philosophy. It is the historic effort to wed "faith" and "reason" into some sort of mixture or blend that will accommodate both. And this is impossible. The preaching of the cross is foolishness to the world — always has been and always will be. There is no possible way to make such a doctrine acceptable to the rational, "enlightened intelligence" of a sophisticated human being. He rejects it out of hand. He regards it as nothing more than the ignorant superstition of a credulous age. And if this modem sophisticate is "religious" at all, he seeks some way to make his "religion" compatible with all the latest findings and theories of the science of his age. In seeking a religion acceptable to the worldly wise, he finds himself increasingly alienated from historic Christianity. This is precisely what Paul said would happen.

"For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. . . Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:18-21)

All of this was brought home to us with renewed emphasis a few weeks ago when we saw the figures on church growth during the year 1969. Without exception the "modernistic" churches showed the smallest growth (or even a net decline in membership), while the strictest and most conservative groups grew the fastest. Roman Catholicism, for instance, which has been trying desperately (since the day of Pope John XXIII) to modernize its image with all sorts of innovations (folk masses, relaxing of its Friday ban on meats, seriously discussing the abolishment of celibacy rules for the clergy, and a wide variety of other changes) had a dramatic drop in its rate of growth — less than one percent, the smallest increase in 25 years. The Lutheran churches in the United States gained only two-tenths of one percent, the smallest in their history. The United Methodist Church, which has been in the very vanguard of the trend toward modernism, actually suffered a net loss in membership of approximately two percent. And this trend of small growth, no growth, and decline was characteristic of most of the major denominations which have tried to "go modern" in their philosophy and approach.

In contrast to this has been the phenomenal growth of those churches which adhered most faithfully to a conservative stance — accepting the Bible as an authoritative, infallible revelation of the will of God. Many of these churches (most of them, in fact) have some "way out" interpretations of Bible teaching, but whether they understand it or not, they believe it to be the word of God! And therein lies their strength. For modern man, disillusioned, bewildered, and confused, longs for the voice of authority! He seeks for some sort of anchor to hold him in the buffeting storms of a frightening world. And that church or that religion which "speaks as one having authority" is the one to which he will listen. It may be false and misleading, but it has the tone of certainty, the accents of assurance, the aura of authority.

There is surely a lesson here for the Lord's people. When we preach that old-fashioned sermon "A Way That Is Right And Cannot Be Wrong" (so ridiculed and scorned by our modern ecumenists and would-be intellectuals) we are speaking right to heart and needs of our contemporaries. Indeed, we are simply repeating what Bible scholars have recognized from time immemorial — that the gospel is adapted to man's need. And one of the basic hungers of the human heart in every age is the longing cry for certainty, the deep, deep hunger of the spirit that no philosophical theory or human speculation can ever satisfy.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men — always has been and always will be. We walk by faith. There can be no other basis on which a true and abiding relationship with God can exist.

— F. Y. T.