The Danger of Abandoning Authority

Once the Scriptural authority is removed by relegating the Bible to the level of a self-help book, the picture of the church becomes blurred and is eventually unrecognizable. No longer is the church the body of Christ, the called-out group of people upon whom God has put his name, the church is just another support group or country club, or worse, it becomes a business just like any other. This changing picture of the church is evident today. Certainly the Bible uses many varied pictures of the church to illustrate its role in the world. We have even adopted modern images such as that of a hospital to illustrate the same truths. But something is subtly changing in the way even church members and pastors view the church. Christianity has become big business and local churches have become the wholesale distributors. Now the gospel has become a commodity to be marketed rather than a truth to be believed and Christianity is an option to be chosen rather than a life to be embraced. The local church has to do what it can to “get the word out about this amazing new opportunity before it’s too late.” The message is “out there,” but it’s not the same message that resulted in stripes on the backs of the apostles or fires around the feet of Reformation preachers.

Perhaps this is true simply because it doesn’t cost anything to be a Christian today. Pastors, in their efforts to overthrow the caricatures of bygone eras, have sought to establish credibility in the business world by adopting business models and managerial paradigms to define their roles. This idea of church as big business drives pastors to abandon theological preaching. Under this model, the pastor is no longer the spiritual leader or spiritual authority in the church; he is the Chief Executive Officer and the deacons or church leaders serve as the Board of Directors. This mentality must inevitably carry over into the pulpit. Since the church is big business it becomes the responsibility of the pastor to motivate the workers (that is, the laity), develop programs that give people more for their contribution dollar (hence all the activities, support groups, and “fellowships”), and ensure that the organization turns a profit (that is, it must at the least, produce measurable growth such as professions of faith, baptisms, new members). The modern church member wants more “bang for his buck” than in years past. To accomplish this, the practical becomes more important than any other concern because evident and measurable results must be produced at all costs.

Suddenly, what I do for the church becomes infinitely more important than who I am in Christ and therefore, doctrine is not important. It is not important what I learn as long as I have the skills necessary to contribute to the body. The Bible ceases to be the “only rule for faith and practice” as it once was and becomes a rule only for practice. To this guidebook (because it is no longer a holy book, it is simply the guidebook above all others) is added leadership books, church growth and marketing books, and various other self-help books. Many of these “Christian” self-help books are really business-oriented but because they have a Christian slant, they are marketed so that their claim to help one maximize his potential as a servant of Christ cannot be overlooked. In reality, they only preach the same self-centered self-esteem liberalism promoted by Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller.

The preacher who fails to understand the significance of the theology of Scripture (especially as it regards the nature, function, and purpose of the church) will easily fall prey to this same mentality. This preacher then ceases to go to the Lord for his messages, but to the felt needs of his congregation or the ministry standards set by his local church leadership or denomination or the ministry objectives set by the latest church growth guru who in turn has borrowed his objectives from the most profitable Fortune 500 companies. When this happens, they now preach without authority, or at the least, without the Lord’s authority, and they are no longer spokesmen for the Lord, because the Lord demands that his spokesmen proclaim his message and not their own.

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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