This summer, my much-needed vacation coincided with my daughter Emily’s 50th birthday. The whole family gathered at a wonderful clambake hosted by Emily’s brother Wendell and his wife. It was a weekend at the beach none of us will ever forget.
Many of the guests outside the family were members of Emily’s Bible studies and the solid church she belongs to in North River Community in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Several people commented that there was something different about Emily’s friends: They were really close-knit and seemed bonded. They had a relationship and an intimacy that some of the other guests, and even some members of the family, had never seen.
On Sunday, we decided to hold a worship service for those who wished to attend. It was under a giant awning overlooking Martha’s Vineyard Sound. There was a great sense of worship. Emily’s friends really were engaged, and they seemed to be of one mind and one heart.
I began to wonder during the weekend what made this group of friends so close. Was it because they were all part of serious Bible studies? They certainly know their stuff. And they all share a common belief system, shaped by a biblical worldview.
Well, when I returned from vacation, I read a review in the Wall Street Journal of a book called Quitting Church by Julia Duin. Duin describes an epidemic of evangelicals leaving their churches. The reviewer, Terry Eastland, pretty much shoots down the premise, but he does believe Duin is on to something when it comes to why people do leave evangelical churches.
As Bill Hybels found in his own church, as a result of his now much publicized study called Reveal, people get bored in church if they are just being entertained or if they listen to the same celebration message every week. They want something more, something that will satisfy them intellectually and spiritually. They want to learn how to live their faith. If the church does not meet those needs, then they drop out.
Ironically, there was an extraordinary article in the current issue of First Things by Joseph Bottum. He talks about why the mainline Protestant churches, which were the dominant religious influence in America, fell apart in the 20th century. The reason was liberalism: the lack of a creed, the lack of a basic understanding that all people could share—the loss of a belief in revealed, absolute Truth.
Besides sharing doubts, theological liberals really have little in common. They may go to the same church on Sunday mornings. They may enjoy singing hymns together. But they have an association like you would have at a country club, not an intimate bonding as brothers and sisters who share the deepest convictions about life.
A church that does not have strong creeds and beliefs, that does not disciple its members, will never be able to create the kind of healthy fellowship that I saw and experienced with my daughter’s friends at her 50th birthday.
But that is what should define us all as evangelicals: our belief in and commitment to the Scriptures, to the historic creeds and confessions. Yes, what we call orthodoxy.
I am so grateful for that wonderful 10-day vacation. What a great time of celebration with my family! But I am also grateful for seeing that vivid picture of what makes the Church strong.
From BreakPoint®, September 4, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship