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Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?

Postmillennialism —  4 Comments

Christian Post — The emergence of the megachurch as a model of metropolitan ministry is one of the defining marks of evangelical Christianity in the United States. Megachurches – huge congregations that attract thousands of worshipers – arrived on the scene in the 1970s and quickly became engines of ministry development and energy.

Over the last 40 years, the megachurch has made its presence known, often dominating the Christian landscape within the nation’s metropolitan regions. The megachurch came into dominance at the same time that massive shopping malls became the landmarks of suburban consumer life. Sociologists can easily trace the rise of megachurches within the context of America’s suburban explosion and the development of the technologies and transportation systems that made both the mall and the megachurch possible.

On the international scene, huge congregations can be found in many African nations and in nations such as Brazil, South Korea, and Australia. In London, where the megachurch can trace its roots back in the 19th century to massive urban congregations such as Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, a few modern megachurches can be found. For the most part, however, the suburban evangelical megachurch is an American phenomenon.

Theologically, most megachurches are conservative in orientation, at least in a general sense. In America, a large number of megachurches are associated with the charismatic movement and denominations such as the Assemblies of God. Many are independent, though often loosely associated with other churches. The largest number of megachurches within one denomination is found within the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination.

The emergence of the megachurch was noted by sociologists and church researchers attempting to understand the massive shifts that were taking place in the last decades of the 20th century. Researchers such as Dean M. Kelley of the National Council of Churches traced the decline of the liberal denominations that once constituted the old Protestant “mainline.” This decline was contrasted with remarkable growth among more conservative denominations and churches – a pattern traced in Kelley’s 1973 landmark book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Kelley argued that conservative churches were growing precisely because of their strict doctrine and moral teachings. The early megachurches were the leading edge of the growth among conservative churches, especially in metropolitan and suburban settings.

The megachurches were not without their critics. Theologian David Wells leveled a massive critique of the doctrinal minimalism, methodological pragmatism, and managerial culture of many megachurches. Os Guiness accused the megachurch movement of “flirting with modernity” to a degree that put the Christian identity of the massive congregations at risk.

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4 responses to Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?

  1. Michael Lynch May 2, 2012 at 6:30

    The state of the church-at-large is one of my biggest roadblocks for not going from amillennialism to postmillennialism. I simply do not see a growing faithfulness to God’s Word, but rather a faithlessness, a worldliness. The church is in demise spiritually. Could it be that postmillenialism reached it’s peak a while ago (maybe prior to the rise of cults and dispensationalism in the 1800s) and now we are in a time of Satan’s unleashing–the end of the “1000 years”?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 2, 2012 at 6:30

      Mike: Your objection faces two immediate problems:

      (1) Like Peter walking on the water, you are looking down at your circumstances instead of up at you Savior. That is, you are evaluating history rather than exegeting Scripture. The “biggest roadblock” an evangelical Christian ought to have should be from God’s Word, not our world.

      (2) You are sitting in the comfort of your home, accessing the Internet, with your leather Bible beside you, probably drinking a cup of coffee, and complaining (effectively) that things are worse for you than they were in the early days of Christianity under Nero. I put this facetiously to encourage you to look at the big picture, the long run, rather than the short term problems we face. Postmillennialism does not say that by May 2, 2012 (the day before my birthday!) the victory of the gospel will have won the day. It says that before Christ returns we will see universal victory. Christ has not returned yet, therefore we cannot dismiss the postmillennial hope. If we look at the historical big picture, we can see progress. But even progress has its ups and downs (like your own sanctification). Where would Christianity be today if the first-century converts to Christ had looked at history and despaired?

  2. Michael Lynch May 2, 2012 at 6:30

    I suppose “waver” would have been better than “roadblock.” Especially after you make the good points you have made. Although, I don’t know that an amillennialist would completely disagree with your points because they acknowledge that grace does increase (progress), but so does wickedness. So yes, we have it better, but the wicked also prosper (on top of the church being in a sad state).

    Thanks for you response. And have a happy birthday!

  3. Charles E. Miller, Jr., BA in German, MA in Religion December 24, 2013 at 6:30

    I accept postmillennialism and use the interpretation of Benjamin Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary. I believe that Revelation 20 represents the total church age with Christ setting on the throne of David in heaven. The millennium is not a literal one thousand years; on the contrary, it is a period of time whose length is unknown to mankind. When the Kingdom of Christ has reached its greatest extent, Jesus will return and establish the new earth of Revelation 21. Heaven and earth will become one place, a world that will reflect the goodness of the Triune God.

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