David Wells on Marketing the Church

forsale

David Wells has written five books addressing some of major issues in American evangelicalism over the last couple of decades. Naturally, I began with his last book, The Courage to be Protestant.  So far it has been helpful in addressing why we are where we are. Even where it is dated, Wells is still giving us a road map of the past several decades. Here is quote where he describes what happens when the church abandons the truth as the center of her life and mission and instead focuses on reaching customers.

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model it followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are the needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. We suppress the truth about God, holding it down in “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). We are not subject to his moral law and in our fallenness are incapable of being obedient to it (Rom. 8:7), so how likely is it, outside of the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, that we will identify our needs as those arising from rebellion against God? No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting  more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find customers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel.

Furthermore, when we buy a product, we buy it for our own use. When we accept Christ, he is not there for our use but we are there for his service. We commit ourselves to him in a way we do not commit ourselves to any product. There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs all of this, reducing Christ simply to a product we buy to satisfy our needs. What is destroyed along the way are the biblical doctrines of sin, of the incarnation, and of the redemption. The marketing analogy is the wrong analogy. It is deeply harmful to the Christian faith.

What I find fascinating about this quote is that what was once the strategy of mega-churches and their CEO pastors has now become the strategy of virtually every church. We have drunk so deeply and for so long at the well of the market that most of our churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and coalitions function this way without even thinking about it.  Our gut instinct is to market our product. We are not preaching the truth. We are trying to gain new customers. These days most of us are selling Jesus, our church, our books, and our conferences.  It is not easy to disentangle ourselves from this method. We need websites and books. We want people to know about our churches and what they offer. Even conferences, despite their misuse and abuse today, can be helpful. But  marketing Jesus and the gospel is not a minor issue. It is antithetical to the faith which we proclaim, it leaves the sheep hungry, and does not evangelize the lost.  We must proclaim the gospel, write books and blog posts, record podcasts,  and be the church without selling the gospel like just another product.

Sexual Orientation or Sexual Temptation?

LGBTQ

I have been listening to Tim Bayly’s Shepherds’ Conference on ministering in a post-Obergefell World.  Tim has worked with homosexuals and lesbians in Bloomington for over 30 years. He is not speaking as someone who has read a book or two, watched a couple of Youtube videos, or had a homosexual friend in college. He speaks as a pastor who has prayed with and for sodomites, has loved them, preached to them, cried over them, and seen them repent. He has many stories about working with homosexuals as well as stories about compromise in evangelical circles. These add substance to what he is saying even if it makes him long winded at points.

He makes the suggestion that we drop the term “sexual orientation” and use sexual temptation instead.  So instead of saying “same-sex orientation” we would say, “same sex temptation.” I have thought about the term sexual orientation quite a bit lately as I read Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved.  Terms and words matter. Sprinkle throughout his book nuances words to death. Every word is carefully chosen. He parses out why we shouldn’t use “homosexual,” “gay,” etc.  He knows words matter. Conservative Christians need to understand this as well. What words we use to describe things will often shape the entire discussion.  I like the suggestion of using temptation instead of orientation in connection with homosexuality for several reasons.

First, it will help us see sodomy as one type of the many sexual temptations we all face. Those who struggle with this sin are not worse than us nor better than us nor different than us. Tim talked about his own fornication and how when he got married his wife was pregnant. All of us struggle with sexual temptation of various kinds and to various degrees throughout our life. I saw my first porn magazine (yes real paper) when I was eleven years old. It lay beside the road. My friend from church said his dad, a deacon, had videos with more of that. We went back and watched porn on VHS. This struggled continued through Bible college and the early years of marriage until I was about 25 years old.  I am so grateful there was no Internet when I was young. Many of you I guess have similar stories. Some of you still watch porn on your phones during your lunch break or at night when your wife is asleep.  Some of you slept around in high school and don’t want any of your Christian friends to know. We could do this with any temptation not just sexual ones. The point here is if we label it temptation it puts that sin or the struggle with that sin on level with the sins all Christians struggle with. We are all sinners working, agonizing to fight the lusts which wage war against our souls (I Peter 2:11).  Continue reading

How Does Scripture Treat Children of Believers?

The legitimacy of infant baptism depends entirely on the question of the manner in which Scripture regards the children of believers and wishes us, consequently, to regard them. If Scripture speaks of these children in the same way as of adult believers, and if the promises which are made to them and the benefits of grace received by them are the same, then the legitimacy and, still more, the duty of infant baptism are securely established; we cannot withhold from children that which is granted to adults. (Pierre Marcel, Doctrine of Infant Baptism)

Not Only in Our Hearts

Let us then realize that we are baptized on this condition, namely, that we should devote ourselves fully to our God…so that we may glorify Him who has shown Himself so liberal towards us and who has exercises such pity. Every time that God’s benefits are recalled to our memory, and especially the remembrance that it has pleased Him to call us to the knowledge of His truth, we should add this: that it is in order that our life should be dedicated completely to His honor and to His service.

Baptism is our confession before men inasmuch as it is a mark and token by which we openly declare that we wish to be numbered among the people of God, by which we testify that we agree and concur with all Christians in the service of the one God and in one religion, by which, in short we publicly assert and declare our faith, in order that God may be glorified not only in our hearts, but also that our tongues and all the members of our body may, to the utmost of their ability, sound forth His praises. For in this way all that is ours is employed, as is fitting, in promoting the glory of God, which ought everywhere to be displayed; and others are stimulated by our example to the same course. (John Calvin, quoted in Pierre Marcel)

Baptism is a Blessing

Many are baptized who nullify the grace of God. Baptism is the established means whereby a man declares publicly that he is a Christian. It is the mark of his Christian profession before men:  it assures him the privileges of membership in the visible Church and, if he is sincere and faithful,  it is the pledge given by God that he will participate in all the blessings of redemption. It is in this sense alone that the Reformed Churches teach the necessity of baptism-the necessity of a divine precept. Even though not a means of salvation, the advantages of circumcision were great (Romans 3:1); and it is the same with baptism, the blessings of which are still more excellent and the usefulness of which is great in every respect….Consequently, baptism is a duty. If a man desires to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to be regarded as such, he is bound to be baptized, thus submitting himself to the commandment of Christ, as well as the invariable practice of the Apostles and to the constant and universal usage of the Christian Churches in all ages and in all parts of the world. Pierre Marcel.

The Church Can’t Read Hearts

The visible Church is administered by men. If, then, the Church were composed only of regenerate individuals, it would be necessary for its ministers, or for the Church itself, to be able to read the very hearts of its members and to be absolutely infallible in their judgments concerning men’s internal state…nowhere has Christ promised to the Church or to any individual the gift of probing men’s hearts in order to decide whether the regeneration  of grace has been effective in them or not, and if so to what degree. Pierre Marcel

Private Baptisms?

It is unthinkable to celebrate a baptism as a private ceremony, which borders on depriving the person baptized and his family of a portion of its benefits. Every baptism concerns the entire Church and ought to be celebrated before the Church and in the Church. The baptize person ought to be commended to God by the intercession of all. He ought to enter publicly into the covenant and into the Church and not secretly and unnoticed. The baptized person ought also to be publicly taken care of by the people of God. “Why is it that baptism takes place in the company of the faithful?…We have in it a mirror of the good which has already been communicated to us, so that we may benefit from it right to the end. For we see that unbelievers forfeit and exclude themselves from this adoption of God through their ingratitude. Thus, that we may be strengthened more and more, we ought to consider carefully when a baptism is celebrated that it makes contact with and that God calls us to Himself in order to show us in the person of another that by nature we were lost and damned. But since He has united to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ we are no longer regarded in our own nature, God does not consider who we are nor what we have merited, but He views us as if Jesus Christ was in us: as if, indeed, we ought never to be separated from Him.”  Quote from Pierre Marcel. The section in quote marks is Marcel quoting John Calvin.