With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Yesterday Albert Mohler published an article at his website entitled, “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?”  The article–or at least its title–inspired megachurch pastor Rick Warren to tweet, “@albertmohler A...
megachurch

Yesterday Albert Mohler published an article at his website entitled,Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism? The article–or at least its title–inspired megachurch pastor Rick Warren to tweet, “@albertmohler A TITLE questioning 1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike. U need to apologize to pastors Al.”

Despite the knee-jerk reaction it elicited from Warren, Mohler’s article is more a warning to megachurches than an indictment.  The warning is in large part inspired by an anecdote from an Atlanta church pastored by Andy Stanley.  In his article, Mohler recounts a sermon Stanley preached a few weeks ago entitled “When Gracie Met Truthy.”  To see the full story recounted you’ll have to read Mohler’s article, but to summarize, in Stanley’s sermon he tells the story of a couple from his church that divorced when the wife found out her husband was involved in a sexual relatioship with another man.  Upon divorcing, the wife insisted that her ex-husband and his gay partner move to another congregation.  They did, but only to another campus of Stanley’s church where they began serving in a hospitality ministry.  But then Stanley found out that the ex-husband’s gay partner was still married.  Upon this revelation, Stanley told them that they couldn’t continue serving in the hospitality ministry, not because of their homosexuality, but because the partner was committing adultery by remaining married.  The sinfulness of homosexuality was never addressed.

The title of Mohler’s article harkens back to the liberalism movement, which sought to save the church from itself and keep Christianity relevant to a modernist culture.  To do so it stripped the Bible of inerrancy, Christianity of much of its supernaturalism, and consequently, the gospel of its power.  The fear with the megachurch is that it will use its influence in a similar way–in Stanley’s case, to keep Christianity relevant to our society by compromising on issues the Bible is clear about, like homosexuality.

The anecdote serves as a warning to megachurches that their tremendous size means they have tremendous influence both in Christian culture and in society at large.  It’s the message of Luke 12:48–“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”

According to Wikipedia, a megachurch is a church which has 2,000 or more attendees at its weekly services.  With this size becomes increased visibility.  Often the pastors of these churches are well known beyond their churches and communities.  Many of these might be considered celebrity pastors.  Thanks to the internet, these men have an influence beyond their own congregations.  When a media wants a quote from an Evangelical leader on a particular story that’s just occurred, more often than not they’re going to look to the large churches in their community to find such a leader.  This means that church and that pastor now have an audience with the mainstream culture they wouldn’t ordinarily have.  Fidelity to Scripture and to the gospel are imperative.

The megachurch certainly has a place within Christ’s church.  It is able to provide ministries, serve God’s people, and reach the world for Christ in a way many smaller churches can’t.  Their visibility gives them a great platform from which to proclaim the gospel.  Their financial resources allow them to fund ministries and missions that may otherwise be unavailable.  And their large congregation represents a whole host of Christ’s servants ready to serve his Church and their community.

 Mohler’s article is a warning to megachurches and to those of us who attend them that we have a great responsibility to represent Christ to the world and to one another.  No Pastor Warren, Mohler’s article wasn’t an indictment of megachurches.  Not yet, anyway.

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Caleb Johnson

Caleb is a graduate of Biola University with a BS in Business and a minor in Biblical Studies. He currently works as an accountant for a real estate investment company in Orange County, California.
3 Comments on this post.

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  • Tanner Gish
    Tanner Gish
    3 May 2012 at 2:27 am

    Caleb,

    I really liked this post: it’s always a good exercise to step back from polarized sides on debates dear to pastors and ministers hearts (such as philosophy of ministry), and to be gracious in terms of how we understand one another.

    Question: you’ve written about multi-site churches, now mega-churches, and I’m sure you’ve had experiences in different sizes of churches: what is YOUR greatest concern about mega churches? And is it one that you have yourself witnessed/ been wronged in any way by personally? Thanks!

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  • Andrew Faris
    3 May 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Two things:

    1. I think the picture you have on this is not an evangelical megachurch, but the inside of the LDS meeting hall in SLC. Maybe you should double check that with Dr. Dunne.

    2. It seems to me that one of the things that Mohler’s article gets at, and is a hobby horse of mine in general, is the pure pragmatism. Whereas the liberal movement seemed to take a more intellectualized approach to culture (i.e. a conscious, “these old doctrines are outdated and wrong”), the megachurch movement is more susceptible to a pragmatic drift, (i.e. a subconscious, “we can get more people in the doors if we just shift our emphases”). Certainly Warren’s Saddleback doesn’t seem to be in much danger of changing its doctrinal statement outright, does it?

    In which case, the title of Mohler’s article is fair (to say nothing of it being provocative, which is often the point of a title anyway, Mr. Warren). He’s asking a question: while megachurches aren’t changing their doctrinal statements, are they slipping to liberalism by means of a pragmatic theological minimalism played out over time?

    And that, it seems to me, is a fair question worthy of consideration, even if the answer is ultimately “no”.

    Andrew

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    • Caleb Johnson
      Caleb Johnson
      9 May 2012 at 11:20 am

      Andrew, thanks for your comments. I think the distinction you make between conscious and subconscious shifts in the two movements is really helpful. And I’d like to think those in the megachurch movement who have compromised in some ways to get more people in the door have done so subconsciously. If that is the case, then perhaps they’ll heed Mohler’s warning before they drift too far.

      And I think you’re absolutely right about the point of a title. Mohler seems to get this, but clearly Warren doesn’t. In another tweet to Mohler I didn’t include, Warren said, “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?” Mohler responded, “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

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