I saw this title, “How to Shrink Your Church in One Easy Step,” recently, and being a churchgoer who would rather not shrink my church, I thought I might learn something about how to avoid that unpleasant outcome. So, how do you shrink your church? According to the article, it happens when you throw your principles out the door (in this case, historic, orthodox doctrine), and adopt cultural values that are at war with those principles.
This jettisoning of principles, of course, is what many people claim to be the way to attract more people, especially those paragons of wisdom and virtue, millennials. The premise is that if something appeals to someone in their twenties, or possibly their thirties, it must be right. Alas, it doesn’t work out quite as promised:
[A] number of Christian denominations have already taken significant steps towards liberalizing their stances on homosexuality and marriage, and the evidence so far seems to indicate that affirming homosexuality is hardly a cure for membership woes. On the contrary, every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.
It really is astounding when you look at the numbers; clearly, most people are not looking for a malleable faith that doesn’t stand up for its convictions. This is nothing new. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, so-called mainline churches gave up on the historic, orthodox Christian faith and its doctrines, replacing it with a “Social Gospel” that prioritized the material welfare of people over the welfare of their eternal souls. Those mainline churches today are a shadow of their former selves—in the 1960s they began a long decline into their absolute cultural irrelevance of today.
There is an analogy to politics in the willingness of the Republican Party, or at least some within it, to sacrifice conservative principals to try to win over “moderates.” A good example of this politics without principles (or what can be seen as political pragmatism) is the state I once called home, California. Over the last thirty years the Republican Party in the state has been decimated into irrelevance. In 1984 I was involved in Republican Party politics in California. The big political battle in state Republican circles back then was between the “moderates” and social conservatives (the latter joined by those who believed in limited government), as has been the case since the Goldwater candidacy. The moderates considered the conservatives to be Neanderthals, and they argued that the party would never expand and compete successfully against Democrats if social conservatives were allowed too much sway. The moderates won the day, like the proponents of the Social Gospel, and guess what? They were wrong. The Republican Party in California for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist.
Most people rightly choose not to vote for a replica when they can vote for the real thing. Too many in the Republican Party are only conservatives in believing that their mission as elected representatives is to conserve the gains of progressive Democrats of the last century. They have no fealty to the Constitution as written, and thus they do not believe in a government of enumerated powers, limited in its scope and reach. They may pay lip service to this, but they do not govern as if they believe it. Imagine if Republicans really gave voters a choice and stood strong for the principles on which this country was founded. It’s easy if you try.