Monday, July 10, 2006

Millard Erickson on Church Unity and Stewardship

On pp. 1140-41 of Christian Theology, Second Edition, Baptist theologian Millard Erickson writes the following on the subject of ecclesiology and Christian unity:


Another practical consideration is the matter of efficiency. Where there is a lack of unity among Christians, there is a duplication of efforts. Every local congregation feels that it must have certain structural and procedural components, just as do every mission board and every Christian college and seminary. The result is a great waste of resources of the kingdom of God. Consider as an extreme example a town square in the Midwest. On each side of the square stands a church building. All four of the buildings are old, inefficient to heat, and in need of repair. The size and budget of all four congregations are modest. The pastoral salaries are small. Consequently, the congregations are habitually served by either young, inexperienced pastors or older men well past their peaks. Mediocre programs in such areas as Christian education are the norm. But what is most distressing is that the services, messages, and programs of the four congregations are virtually the same! A visitor would find few significant differences among them.

An efficiency expert would regard this situation as a great misuse of resources. Instead of four small struggling churches, it would make better sense to merge them into one congregation. The four properties could be sold and the new congregation relocated to an efficient structure. A staff of competent specialists could be engaged at appropriate compensations, and missionary giving could be increased as a result of the reduced overhead. What we are advocating on the local level would be highly desirable on broader levels as well. While some people may regard this suggestion as an application of the General Motors mentality to the work of the church, it is in fact a matter of good stewardship of Christian resources.
I, for one, (and I believe Erickson would be in agreement) am not in favor of organizational ecumenism. Doctrinally, we would have to make too many compromises with the essentials of the Gospel. However, whenever working more closely with other Christian groups does not obligate us to compromise on essential doctrine, and it would help us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources, I think we have a duty before God to do what we can to help this become a reality.

The problem is we are not all in agreement as to just what constitutes compromise on essential doctrine, nor on what are the best ways to be wise stewards of the resources with which the Lord has entrusted us. Some studies, for instance, seem to indicate that small churches many times are more effective at reaching new people than big ones. Working with other groups, with different traditions, and core values, can get messy, and often causes us to lose more in overall “efficiency” than what we gain by joining efforts.

The easy solution, in the light of such obstacles, is to just “close our eyes” and keep on with the “same ole same ole”: what we already know and is familiar to us. But I do not believe the Lord would have us opt for the easy way out. The Cooperative Program is a way of being good stewards with Kingdom resources with which most all Southern Baptists feel quite comfortable. Inasmuch as it indeed helps us to be better stewards, I believe we should continue to support the Cooperative Program.

But, by the same token, much cooperation with other groups outside of strictly Southern Baptist circles, also helps us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources. This is a principle that IMB leadership has recognized in New Directions and the emphasis on working with other Great Commission Christians.

I believe this general principle has many implications for the way we do ministry. In future posts, I would like to comment on several of these. What do you think? Are there ways in which this principle affects the way you do local ministry? What about the way the SBC, through the IMB, NAMB, and other agencies, does ministry?

5 comments:

Tom Bryant said...

David,
You’re right, why keep re-inventing the wheel.

Locally, we tried for a few years to do a food pantry. We would have one small closet filled with food, staff 2 days a week and help maybe 2 or 3 people. We began to see people slip through the cracks not because they weren’t being fed but because they never really had to work to get food. Our purpose was emergency care, but it ended up enabling people. So we got together with other area pastors and a city wide food pantry was set up, enabling people with real needs to be fed.

3 years ago, a couple from our church who are veteran independent missionaries helped to lead a multi-board team (IMB, TEAM, and others) to establish a work in an African country. He was a 40 year veteran, so he came to provide leadership and hard won wisdom. Other missionaries were able to bring their abilities to the ministry. What might have taken – humanly speaking – a missionary couple years to establish, was begun and is now seeing results.

mr. t said...

David,

Very insightful post. Here in our corner of South Asia we cooperate with a variety of GCCs at different levels. Right now we share training facilities with several groups. We don't agree on everything, but that's okay. We work together in the areas where we can agree and encourage one another even where we cannot work together. I think it helps that there are so few Christians in our area (compared to overall population) and we have to cooperate if we want to see something happen.

blampp@juno.com said...

David,
I believe there is real food for thought in evaluating the possibility of working with other Evangelical Groups...... Over twenty years ago, an Association of churches made that decision and participated in the establishment of a ministry in large ski community that used a common facility on a rotation basis! At least for 10 years that I followed the process it seemed to work efficiently and cost effectively! Obviously, there would need to be logistical and policy analysis at the origin of such a project!
If I might insert a "thread" to Anonymous; Apparently, you cannot share information.... but in reference to commentary concerning regions of India; scrutinize activities in Bharatpur (Rajasthan in India) in the time frame of 7/7/06 and particularly focus on Christian Converts from the Dalit Community)... also, find commentary by Meira Kumar, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment... with ref. to Dalit atrocities concerning Rajasthan. Another source would be Salem Voice Ministries, Devalokam (P.O.)
Kottayam, Kerala-686038, India.
David, Prayerfully requesting "Blessings" for you and your family as Ya'll" (North Floridise for 2nd person, plural) serve our Lord in Spain!

Kevin Stilley said...

Hi David. Blessings, and peace. I am a bit confused. In posts like this you seem to be advocating an approach very similar to what Patterson lays out in The Church for the 21st Century, and at other times you seem to be rejecting it. Can you help me understand better. Thanks. Kevin

David Rogers said...

Kevin,

Thanks for your question. When I posted a few months ago on "The Church in the 21st Century," I said then: "Actually, I have no real bone to pick with the majority of what he writes in this 29-page treatise, which mostly outlines a traditional Baptist understanding of Biblical ecclesiology."

Upon receiving your comment, I have gone back and skimmed through "The Church in the 21st Century." My guess is you are referring here most specifically to the similarities between what I say here, and what Dr. Patterson says in pp. 19-21 in the section entitled "Special Issues for the Church." If this is the case, then yes, it is true, I have no real divergence with Dr. Patterson on these particular issues. Perhaps in the actual application of the principles laid down, there may be some divergence. I honestly don't know. In some of my upcoming posts, maybe this will become more evident.

As I stated on my other post, my differences of opinion with the content of "The Church in the 21st Century" lie pretty much exclusively in the "Missiological Issues" section.

I hope this helps to answer your question.