“People don’t allow the Bible to get in the way of their theology.”
– Todd Martin, Discipleship Presenter at Lenape ValleyPresbyterian Church, 2009
One way of defining “theology” is that it is how our worldview is shaped, the lens through which core values come into focus and the fixed-point of our lives by which we make judgments of what is appropriate and responsible. What Christians, and I am speaking here specifically about those who claim to follow Jesus, often miss is that our theology is sometimes shaped not by God’s Word but by how “we have always done it.”
The history of the church is replete with moments when church leaders have sensed that theological thought and the practice of ministry have moved from the clear instruction of God’s Word. The challenge in those moments has been a recovery of sound biblical instruction and guidance for moving the mission of the church forward. Just as the human body suffers when proper nutrition is consistently ignored, such as consuming to much fast food heavy in salt and fat, so does the body of Christ, the church, suffer when its diet is something other than God’s design for health and growth.
Naturally, when proper nutrition is ignored for too long, the body suffers. The human body loses strength, energy and vitality. The same is certainly true for the church. Each year, for the past 10 years, the Presbyterian Church USA has lost membership: the lost often totaling 60,000 plus each of those years! Our church was once nearly four million strong and today, barely half that. The Presbyterian Church, as most mainline, Protestant churches, is dying of poor nutrition.
Today, multiple church leaders are looking closely at our practice of ministry to diagnose the source of ill health. They love the church and are concerned about its survival. One of those leaders is Greg Ogden, former Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Several years ago, Ogden accepted an invitation to spend a weekend at my former church, the Lenape Valley Presbyterian Church in New Britain, PA.He provided instruction to the Elders about his research into the illness that has diminished the strength of the Presbyterian Church. His presentation was titled, “Getting to the Root Causes,” and has been published in his book, Transforming Discipleship.
Ogden identifies eight causes for the discipleship malaise that has gripped the church resulting in stagnant or dying congregations. Naturally, you can purchase the book from most booksellers and read the research yourself. What I hope you will do is mark your calendar for the weekend of November 9 and 10 this year and listen to Greg Ogden and interact with him. He will be our first guest in our annual School of Christian Formation at First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach.
I share with your leaders the desire that First Presbyterian will be a church that is marked by energy and vitality. More, we desire a church that will be a force in the local community for multiplying disciples for Jesus Christ. This, of course, means a recovery of the Bible’s instruction for a healthy church. The primary difficulty that your leaders will face was summed-up by Todd Martin: “People don’t allow the Bible to get in the way of their theology.” I pray that we will be better than that.