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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Salad Bar Sanctuaries

An Openness to, and Emphasis on, Diversity

New Evangelicals historically have boasted of the great diversity that exists within the general pale of what is called "evangelicalism." They have erected a large umbrella under which persons and churches with many varying convictions can find shelter. This same outlook is found in the church marketing movement. Its spokesmen advise their followers to downplay what they call "denominational distinctives" by which they mean such things as the mode of baptism, church organization, the doctrine of eternal security, and views of the spiritual gifts. There is a call for an emphasis upon more general evangelical truth that is not "divisive."

A Pragmatism in Methodology

With the inception of ecumenical evangelism under the leadership of Billy Graham, a pragmatic spirit developed among evangelicals. "Whatever means result in salvation of souls are acceptable." When critics challenged the ecumenical philosophy, defenders often replied, "But souls are being saved! How can you be against soulwinning?" Thus the disobedient practice of uniting liberals and Bible-believers in the cause of evangelism was fostered. That same general principle now guides those who would tell us how to build our churches. An example is the use of the blaring, raucous sounds of rock music in the sanctuaries of the Lord. The defense of this practice is "It fills our churches and reaches people. Let's do it!"

Truly the aisle leading to the salad-bar sanctuaries comes from the camp of New Evangelicalism. Compromise, a hallmark of New Evangelicalism, is a guiding principle of church marketing.

The Religious Sales Pitch

"A Time to Seek," an article in the secular magazine Newsweek, explored the current religious climate and analyzed in particular the factors that are motivating church seekers. The quotations below summarize the general trend of the article.

"Instead of me fitting a religion, I found a religion to fit me."

"In their efforts to accommodate, many clergy have simply airbrushed sin out of their language."

"There's a spirit of putting people over doctrine and denominations."

"The marketplace is now the most widely-used system of evaluation by younger church goers."1

One analyst, not a fundamentalist, sounds a warning which should not go unheeded: "We will be tempted to downplay the importance of commitment and obedience. We will be tempted to soften the truth so that a hardened generation will give us a fair hearing. There is a fine line between clever marketing and compromised spirituality."2 The same writer, in another volume, states, "Often large and growing churches gain numbers by compromising what they believe in order to maintain their growth."3

The question is rightly asked, "Does the end justify the means?" Many so-called church growth experts today give the impression that a church should do whatever is necessary in order to attract the throngs. That kind of attitude was roundly condemned by the prophet Isaiah centuries ago as he rebuked the nation Israel: "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help and stay [rely] on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!" (Isa. 31:1). Israel was rebuked for leaning on the arm of the flesh instead of on the arm of the Lord. The church today is in peril of repeating that error.

Attempting the Impossible

Conferences and seminars on how to build a larger church abound these days, and goodly numbers of pastors frequent them. There are books galore on the subject of church growth. These how-to-do-it presentations give the impression that if the average pastor just applies the suggested methods to his own situation, his church will experience fantastic growth. Unfortunately, it does not prove to be true for the majority. One writer who was himself a successful pastor is nevertheless remarkably candid in his assessment of the current church growth movement: "Evangelical luminaries have done and can do incredible feats. They tell their stunning stories and then deliver an exhortation to the conference, 'You can do it too!' That is, of course, not true for most of the people there. The fact is, the success of a particular pastor is often due to personal charisma, rare leadership, and creative genius that cannot be duplicated by others."4

The constant parading of large, numerically successful churches as examples to emulate can be more destructive than helpful. The impression is given that success in the ministry is marked by numerical increase. Pastors whose churches do not evidence remarkable gains feel they have failed.

This author has been preaching God's Word for over fifty years. He has been in hundreds of churches in this country and in others. The average fundamentalist church is not a huge church. The average pastor is not a "super" pastor and never will be. Few men have the abilities required to lead large works with multifaceted ministries. This is no disgrace. Listen carefully to Paul's advice: "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). The point is that each of God's servants should carefully and realistically evaluate his gifts and be satisfied to minister within the range of those gifts. That one pastor builds a large congregation does not indicate that he is a more spiritual person than the man who has a smaller flock. There are some very spiritual men who have never pastored large congregations.


The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address: www.bju.edu/store.)

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