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2.4.4 Contextual weaknesses.

It is at this point that serious difficulties arise for the CGM, they taught that communication was the key for the message to be adopted by the receiving culture. To be able to achieve that, the call was made to the traditional church to modernise using the positive attributes of management skills, creativity, innovation and adaptation, otherwise they would simply become irrelevant to the needs of community.

The CGM was advocating radical change in the means of communicating the message as opposed to changing its non negotiable intent and meaning.  This became a major issue in the debate, the issue of relevancy.The CGM, and also Warren,[1] talk constantly in its literature about being relevant in the way you communicate truth to your community from the pulpit or in personal witness.  

Warren comments on relevance: "The unchurched are not asking that we change the message or even dilute it, only that we show its relevance. Their big question is ‘so what?’  They want to know “What difference does it make?” [2] 

The CGM’s desire to be relevant is to create Christian communities in post modern culture. Gibbs & Bolger suggest that “there is nothing too secular that cannot become sacred and that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation”.[3]  Dan Kimball[4] reminds us that post modernity is a reaction against modernity and not the church; how the church responds to it determines its decline or growth.  

Pete Ward in his book Liquid Church reminds us that the church must be like water - flexible, fluid, and changeable; this book is a vision for how the church can embrace the liquid nature of culture rather than just scrambling to keep afloat while sailing over it.[5] Steve Chalke [6]underlines the need for interaction with modern culture, for “a church that thinks and acts in ways that make the kingdom of God visible and reasonable in a secular society” is a church that is relevant. 

The challenge in ministry is to hold fast to Biblical truth while contextualising it in such a way that the hearer can understand the message in terms that he can identify with.  It is all about relevancy and balance; Warren and the CGM excel in their communicating into their context. When the apostle Paul entered the city of Athens and saw a statue to the unknown God, he took note of the statue’s inscription and contextualised his message in such a way that it revealed who the unknown God really was.

That is the approach that the CGM and Warren are advocating. As the CGM began to develop their missiology on the new ground through the use of modern methods, the outcome was the building of special interest groups, a principle Warren would agree with.  The idea of being relevant was a key experience for the CGM and they were quick to pick up on and use insights and technologies from post modernity.  

The management systems for this were a complete revelation to the development of the church on this new ground.It can be said that there is not a problem in being innovative but a problem is birthed if the systems become all that the church has to offer.  That is not to suggest that Warren only goes that far; in fact we will see that Warren offers systems and much more through the Saddleback ministry which reflect what was done through the CGM.

2.4.5 Possible weaknesses.                       

Os Guinness argues that the CGM does not seem to rely on or have any real historical awareness, nor the ability to parallel what is happening to it as a movement compared with movements in the history of the church. A comparison with the development of 18th century European liberalism, which engaged freely with its culture, and also with the 19th century record of American Evangelicalism, would have been very helpful.

These movements moved away from a theologically driven expression of faith to an experience of faith, from truth to technique, from elitism to popularism and from the concept of serving God to the place of serving self in your service to God. In those two periods, comparisons would have alerted the CGM to the potential weakness of the strategy they were following.

Historical awareness is not only a weakness in the CGM but a dangerous omission in any church movement.  Clearly one can learn from the lessons of the past and save the embarrassment of repeating mistakes in the future.  While Guinness’s argument may have some relevance for the MCM, the CGM clearly indicates that the evolution of their missiology is derived from their understanding of the history of mission.  

They clearly argue that their missiological perspective is the result of their engagement with the Scriptures and the history of the global missionary movement.  Out of that engagement McGavran’s wide experience of missiological research in India, Africa and Indonesia would tend to highlight the weakness of Guinness’s argument.  The general point that Guinness makes must not be lost in the debate and any missiological development must take note of the history of the missionary activity of the Church of Jesus Christ and at the very least learn from its failures.

2.4.6 Cultural Relevance.

A weakness in the CGM strategy is seen in its driving desire not only to be relevant but to be culturally relevant. Contextualisation is a key term in the communication process of the CGM’s message.  Unfortunately that process could allow for the presentation of biblical truth to become unbalanced in its delivery and ultimately in its interpretation.

It will be argued in this dissertation that the CGM is built through a system which allows for reinterpretation of scripture or the de-emphasising of doctrine.  In addition Warren’s doctrinal beliefs will be assessed in chapter 5 of this dissertation.If the desire of any movement is numerical growth, then theological compromises may have to be made for the sake of the end result.  

As an advocate of the CGM and the MCM, Schuller, in pursuit of numerical growth, not only de-emphasises scripture, but denies it when numerical growth would be compromised by true exposition of it. It will be argued in the conclusion of this dissertation that Warren uses similar techniques as Schuller in his desire for numerical success.  

The outcome which recent modern and post modern church history confirms is that where market forces determine the growth of the local church, compromise is always part of that route. The New Testament[8] demonstrates that when the church is Christologically driven as opposed to a person driven, spiritual church growth takes place.

The need for a determined and clear tension between the word of God and human need is ultimate in the church’s witness but where the message is adjusted to meet the needs of people, compromise has to take place and a weakened understanding of God’s word becomes acceptable, thereby compromising the potential witness and effectiveness of the local church.  

We will see that while Warren argues that the message does not change the method of communication does, but he does reinterpretate the message and de-emphasise scripture to make it more acceptable to his hearers.  Chapter 5 will introduce how this de-emphasising takes place and will reflect some of the many theological areas of traditional belief that Warren re-interprets to suit the audience.

Steve Chalke,[9] writing about the church says: “it needs a new order of thinking”.If the CGM adjusts its message and practices to meet the needs of society, the felt needs of individuals will control the depth and level of ministry.  Whereas when Jesus dealt with the felt needs of the woman taken in the act of adultery, he spoke of her need and the situation she was in, but did not compromise the truth that she needed to be challenged with.  

Os Guinness[10] suggests that the employment of “uncritical understanding of modernity is opening up the way to idolatry”.Social sciences have their place in the life and development of the church, but to use them only in pursuit of church growth at the expense of theology is not only dangerous but it is the capitulation to a non Christian position and even idolatry.  

The over usage of the social sciences as a means to church growth inevitably changes the local church’s focus from a God centred to a person centred religion. Eventually God and his word not only fade, but have a minimum influence on strategy and development.  The ultimate outworking of such a strategy is a journey away from theism as a theological starting point to unconsciously and subtly introducing atheistic beliefs and customs.  Self sufficiency and human endeavour drive the numerically growing local church, and there is little need for God’s personal intervention.[11]                                     

Where social sciences dominate the development of church and trivialise traditional theological teaching by de-emphasising biblical truth, compromise has begun.  Peter Berger[12] a renowned post modern analyst warns: “He who sups with the devil of modernity better have a long spoon”. Critical discernment and historical understanding of the past weaknesses in the church, plus a central place for the word of God is not optional but an imperative.  

The church could be saved from future failure by the way it is built in the present. The challenging and engaging question which the CGM must face is whether the church of Jesus Christ is built through the proclamation and rightly dividing of the word of truth or through the over use of social sciences.  The answer to that question is now explored through the new ground which Wagner talks about, which is really a new foundation built for humankind, suitably glossed with biblical text; it may deliver numerical growth but does it deliver spiritual life?

Wagner would agree with that statement because he states that Biblical and theological foundations must come first.  He also states that any methodology which is not condemned by scripture can be used; therefore the door is opened to any modern method which will gain his end result. The key issue will always be how balanced the CGM is in communicating truth. Can one use the CGM principles to hold fast to Biblical truth, while taking advantage of social sciences?

The answer to that is as varied as the local situations where church growth principles are used.   Os Guinness[13] suggests that the church of Jesus Christ is “more than spiritual and theological but never less”.  A controlled post modern spiritual world, created by human ingenuity, ensures that living apart from God is possible.

Idols are simply the ultimate techniques of human causation and control; they are without God, and church development has been greatly affected by them i.e.  the gospel of self esteem.[14]  Post Modernity’s influence must not be trivialised as the CGM’s growth is examined. The depth of modernity’s infiltration into the vision of the movement is seen in the CGM’s concept of “modernisation” ultimately providing prosperity, progress and a theological redefinition, which traditionalists would suggest is the de-emphasising of doctrine.

The new world order developing through post modern thinking is characterised by change and radical development of world culture.  Humankind’s needs are ultimate in secular culture.  That same belief is central to the CGM vision.

Hybels substantiates this belief on the centrality of humankind in the way the church contextualises its message in a comment to the “Chicago Day Herald” where he says:The message must have high user value…when unchurched Harry comes out here for a service he’s going to be asking, “What value does my being here have for my life?” So in preparing messages we keep asking ourselves, so what? Jesus Christ was born of a virgin - so what? That’s the question Harry is going to be asking. So what? [15] 

The “so what” may be a godless question; on the one hand it may be a post-modern question which is at the heart of humankind`s quest for reality.  Whatever it really represents, humankind certainly asks the questions most pertinent to their particular needs and the CGM suggests that to really respond to such questions, answers need to be found.

One of the by products of the CGM missiology is the growth of the large churches and the way they have made evangelism much easier and more acceptable, but the weakness of this methodology is that it makes discipleship an incredibly difficult task as will be shown.  Willow Creek community church, famous for its mega size and seeker friendly emphasis, has announced it is to review its entire strategy following the publication of research which has raised huge questions about its effectiveness in growing disciples.

No longer does belief reflect practice; people can believe what you are saying without it affecting how they live. This is contrary to scripture where the body, soul and spirit are affected by the gospel.  The survey carried out by Willow Creek[16] has revealed that its intensive programming has not resulted in spiritual growth and that churches who depend on programmes for discipleship will ultimately fail.  

Hybels suggested that the results of the survey were “earth shaking, ground breaking, and mind blowing”.In a statement he issued, he reflected some of the weakness that his system of seeker friendly, post modern influenced ministry has created:Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into, thinking it would really help people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much, he said. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against, is stuff our people are crying for.[18] 

Hybels concluded that Bible study, prayer, discipleship and missional community  were all that must be installed into people in a way that makes them depend upon God  for growth. Warren would have similar problems, for while there are 80000 members on his church roll, each Sunday 53000 are missing.  Of the 23000 who visit and worship in Saddleback only 1500 have come right through his discipleship and ministry classes.

Only 1.9% have come to be accepted through Warren’s teaching programmes and his philosophy of ministry as being discipled and active in acceptable ministry. The real problem for Hybels and Warren and many mega church leaders is that they all started further away from conversion than traditionalists.  

What they termed the church was in fact a spiritual incubator.  While having great numbers of people to deal with, most of the unchurched may well have been more than one generation away from the church and their journey to a realised conversion experience may well have taken years to achieve.  Hybel was very open to admit this major spiritual problem in the numerical success of his group.

[1], see Warren’s sermons on the subject.

[2] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 207.

[3] Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academic    

      2005, 65.
[4] Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2003, 47-49.
[5] Pete Ward, Liquid Church, Peabody, Massachusetts, Patternoster Press, 2002, 118.
[6] Steve Chalke, Intelligent Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zonderavan, 2006, 194.
[7] Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1993.

[8] Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 4.

[9] Steve Chalke, Intelligent Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2006, 13.

Albert Einstein said that the kind of thinking that will solve the world’s problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the firstplace.  Chalke continues by suggesting that at the beginning of the third millennium the church in the West needs a different order of thinking. Our task must be to consider what we believe to be the non negotiables of our faith and in the light of this understanding of God’s mission and purpose for his people, re-image our purpose and mission for his people allowing them to shape the way we do church in the 21st century.  
[10] Os Guinness, Dinning With The Devil, 11f.

[11] This thinking will be employed to evaluate Saddleback.

[12] Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels, New York, Anchor, 1990, 24-25.

[13] Os Guinness, Dinning With The Devil, 39.

[14] Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem,The New Reformation, Waco, Texas, Word Books, 1982.

[15] Bill Hybels, Chicago Daily Herald, 1996.

[16] Christianity: Issue January 2008, page 8. Willow Creek Discipleship Shock.

[17] Christianity: Issue January 2008, page 8

[18] Bill Hybels, Chicago Daily Herald.

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