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In America today, the priority among many churches is size, almost at any cost. This conforms to the pattern of American culture where bigger and more in a quantitative sense are almost always desirable. More wealth, more fame, more business success, bigger profits, more expensive homes and cars, bigger churches. If huge churches translate directly into more souls born-again into the Kingdom of God, what’s not to like about megachurches?
In the corporate world, a well-run company can succeed. Good management and marketing and timing will bring growth. There are formulae that make business success likely. “God’s blessing” in a direct and sovereign way is not necessarily the responsible agent. In the same way a well-managed and well-marketed church can grow big. Good management and marketing for a church are not necessarily bad. They can be applications of what is called “contextualization” by missiologists whereby the basic gospel is tailored to fit the culture of the people group being targeted. However, one must be careful not to cross the line from contextualization to syncretism or compromise. This is what the Catholic Church did after Christianity become the official religion of the Roman Empire. The strategy succeeded admirably. At present throughout the world Catholics arguably still outnumber Protestants.
Today American Protestant churches in their zeal for large crowds may be unwittingly emulating the Catholic formula for success. Without citing any specific examples of this, let us simply look at what Scripture says about entering the Kingdom of God.
Luke 14:25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 13:18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” 20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Here Jesus teaches about “birds of the air” and “yeast” in the Kingdom of God. In Scripture these are not normally seen to be good things. The former can refer to agents of the devil (Luke 8:5) while the latter almost always refers to sin, false teaching or hypocrisy, as in the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Luke 12:1). These are things that Jesus tells us will be found in Christendom. Immediately following this teaching, Scripture goes on to tell us:
Luke 13:22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
Granted that according to the context of this Scripture, Jesus was speaking to the Jews. But dare we Gentiles think that with the age of the Gentile Church over these past two thousand years the very same warning cannot now apply to us? Indeed within the Christian circles found in parts of America “we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”
Matthew 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Again Jesus is speaking to the Jews. They were going to reject the gospel, so it would be offered instead to the Gentiles. Many of these Gentiles will be invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, but they will show up without wedding clothes. Few of them are chosen.
While we dare not speculate as to exactly how many in terms of absolute numbers the phrase “few are chosen” signifies, it does not bode well for the huge crowds of “Christians” that gather in some American megachurches every Sunday. Is it the gospel of Jesus Christ that draws them, or an event that tickles their ears and massages their flesh? Will these megachurches really ever get around to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the crowds as they say they intend to do? If they do, will the crowds stay? Scripture seems to say that they will not. Few of them are chosen.
Luke 14:33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
This movement born in the West is now being exported to the Church in Third World countries.