Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Consititutes Fruitfulness?

A couple of years ago, a speaker at a regional church gathering berated us for valuing the concepts of "faithfulness" and "family." What mattered, he said, was fruitfulness, which he defined as numerical growth. If you were not growing numerically, it didn't matter if your church was orthodox theologically or a warm, nurturing family.

Of course I disagree with this assessment, pastoring a church which has had almost no numerical growth over the past few years. At lunch today with two ministerial friends, we talked about this issue. If numerical growth is all-important, and a mark of God's blessing, then how do you explain Ted Haggard, who built a mega-church of 40,000, while privately engaging in homosexuality. Some fruit is poisoned, and many of the "successful" congregations offer little but entertainment, psycho-babble, and pablum. Clearly the word "fruitful" needs a better definition than mere numbers.

Christ blessed the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:8 when he said, "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept my word, and have not denied my name." In other words, though outwardly small and weak, they were inwardly strong and triumphant. The door is Christ's presence, his power, and the line of communion between Christ and the church, which cannot be closed. Through the open door flows grace. As Matthew Henry wrote long ago, "True grace, though weak, will do more than the greatest gifts or highest degrees of common grace, for it will enable the Christian to keep the word of Christ, and not deny his name. Obedience, fidelity, and a free confession of the name of Christ, are the fruits of true grace, and are pleasing to Christ as such."

How does the New Testament further define fruit. Romans 6:22, "But having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life." Paul famously lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 as "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness." He makes no mention of numerical growth. In fact Scripture attributes growth as God's activity. "So then neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Corinthians 3:7). Numerical growth in a congregation is a wonderful thing, but if we do not grow in holiness, humility, and proclaiming the name of Christ, it is a vain thing.


Blogger Annette said...


6:45 AM  

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