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The Subtle Danger of Church Secularization



Editorial by David Kowalski

Os Guinness articulates in the quote below a subtle but serious danger for church leaders that he calls "secularization" -- something I believe enters quite deceitfully into the heart. Those under its sway always think themselves better servants of Christ for this fault.

"The sharpest challenge of modernity is not secularism, but secularization.  Secularism is a philosophy; secularization is a process.  Whereas the philosophy is obviously hostile and touches only a few, the process is largely invisible and touches many.  Being openly hostile, secularism rarely deceives Christians.  Being much more subtle, secularization often deceives Christians before they are aware of it, including those in the church-growth movement.  How else can one explain the comment of a Japanese businessman to a visiting Australian?  “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager. -- Os Guinness1

successful failureI believe we are guilty of the secularization Guinness speaks of when we are more managerial than ministerial, when principled prophets (men and women who speak for God) are replaced with professional politicians, and when the Word is replaced by what "works." Professional management is desirable, but we must be watchful that it not supplant (as it sometimes does) principled and powerful ministry.

Greater numbers and greater income are not necessarily God's means of measuring success. Were numbers God's ultimate measurement, He would have to consider Himself a failure, since Jesus said there would be many that traveled the broad road to destruction but few that made their way on the narrow road to life:

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14 NASB)

While God desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), He does not necessarily count bigness by numbers (as seen in the case of the widow's mite -- Mark 12:41-44). Carl Henry lamented that in the church “numerical bigness has become an infectious epidemic.”2 We might be surprised to know how "big" God sees our church or denomination to be. I believe He expects faithfulness in our message and our methodology, and that the ends do not justify the means in God's ethics. Disobedient success is actually disgraceful failure.

We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20); aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We may live here but we are not from here. As the light of the world (Matthew 5:14 etc.) we are to contrast the darkness we live in. When we evangelize, we convert individuals from the world. When we secularize, we let ourselves become converted to the ways of the world.

"Numbers are no test of truth." – Alfred Plummer3

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Written by David Kowalski

Notes:

  1. Os Guiness, Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House [Hourglass Books division], 1993), 49.
  2. Quoted in "God Given Growth" by Mark Dever, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/god-given-growth/
  3. "Christian Unity" http://archive.org/stream/modernsermonsby04stilgoog/modernsermonsby04stilgoog_djvu.txt

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This post was last updated: Jul. 11, 2013