Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Church Has Been in a Mess Before

We may be thinking that our generation is the first generation that has experienced a spiritual decline in the church. But this is simply not true. There have been other times in the history of the church where the spiritual vitality of the church has waned. A study of church history should prove this to be true. Of course, it certainly seems that the decline today has reached unprecedented proportions and perhaps this is just one more sign that may be signaling Christ’s soon return.

But the period leading up to the first great awakening was awash in an attitude that is similar to what we are experiencing today. The state of affairs in the church was not good at all, and it was this backdrop that Jonathan Edwards proclaimed the truth of Scripture without shame. It was this approach that God blessed and it ignited the Great Awakening.

Here is an interesting article by Dan Jarvis entitled "The Next Great Awakening", discussing the “Halfway Covenant” that was the official policy followed by churches in the American colonies in 1662. It was a way the churches attempted to turn the tide of waning numbers, by allowing unregenerate children of members to become partial or "halfway" members.

Typically, to become a full member of a church meant one must have given testimony of a conversion experience. With the increasing affluence in the colonies, people became more concerned with comfort and material wealth and less concerned with spiritual matters. Under the half way covenant, if someone led a reasonably wholesome life and agreed to follow the creed and teaching of the church, they could become partial members without giving testimony of having a conversion experience. These partial members did not have voting privileges in the church, but they were allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Halfway Covenant was implemented with the best intentions. The church would continue to grow and influence society, and new members would be brought in who would be exposed to the teachings of the church and eventually be converted. Or so they thought. Eventually just about anyone could become members and the half-way members outnumbered the full members. The plan had a disastrous effect on the church and eventually the spiritual vitality of the churches declined. Rather than the church having a positive influence on society, worldliness entered into the church and society continued to degenerate.

What turned things around? The straight forward preaching of God’s Truth by men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. And it was sermons like Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that awakened people to their need to repent and embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The dilemma of the Halfway Covenant sounds quite similar today with the seeker sensitive mentality of the church. It certainly shows how we really don’t learn from history, but have a habit of repeating some of the same mistakes of the past.

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