I realized recently that I spent around 25 years in seminary studies from 1974-1999. I entered my seminary only a couple of years after it went through the famous “Battle for the Bible.” The two sides of the conflict differed on whether the Bible was inerrant, no mistakes or errors in the original manuscripts, or infallibility, only the teaching of the Bible could be considered without error. The inerrancy leadership left my seminary because the majority of the profs and the administration would not take an inerrancy stand. Both sides had distinguished evangelical scholars on their side.

In my opinion, that move had a profound effect upon the seminary and what it would look like in the future and even to this day. The school’s view of Scripture had a not so obvious influence upon her confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture in every area of Christian life. Waves of theories and techniques that took a little away from a full reliance of God’s Word slipped into the seminary. 

Our school was the first to give its full support to secular psychology and bring it into the confines of this evangelical school. She was the first evangelical seminary to establish a School of Psychology alongside a School of Theology and Missions. To really help struggling people, even Christians, we needed to apply the theories and practices of men who were atheists and even enemies of Christianity. When we studied homiletics, we picked up the Bible. When we studied pastoral care we picked up Freud, Yung, Adler and Maslow. We were told in very uncertain terms we should not counsel. The soul was firmly in the hands of the psychological experts.

Then we received a new wave. The Church Growth Movement. It was a program which said that if we researched and determined the right methods and the right conditions, we could predict and accomplish church growth in a pretty effective and efficient way. That was followed by what I would describe as the Corporate Model. If we could organize our churches like the corporation, applying systems of management and applying motivational techniques to leadership, the Church would advance. We were even schooled in ways to market the Church like Madison Avenue and become mega churches. If your leader was an entrepreneur, who was both a visionary and a motivator, your church was well on the way to greatness.

Then came the small group movement. The idea was good. Relationships were primary as in the Scriptures. But, sharing took the place of preaching. Pulpits were exchanged for lecterns. Even the architecture changed from teaching halls to church in the round. Returning to House Churches was proposed by many. This return to NT life would bring back the evangelistic power of the first century church.

Instead of emphasizing the power of the Word, removing barriers to acceptance of the gospel was now the focus. In order for the power of the gospel to affectively reach a secular culture, we must look and act as much as we could without betraying Biblical principles. So, our music and environment needed to reflect our culture’s look. Choirs, hymns, organs and solos were jettisoned for contemporary innovation. Sanctuaries were painted black, pews removed, worship teams of youngsters who could move with the beat became the worship leaders.

Today we are experiencing another wave that comes from what is taking place in our culture wars. We are now being told that the gospel is not the gospel if it does not include social justice. Churches that have reacted to this modern-day addition to the simple gospel are wracked with division, and leaders who stand firm are being called racists. 

After fifty years of these innovations that promised help in growing the Church and helping complete her mission mandate, I have a few questions. Is the Church in America larger today? Is the Church in America stronger in the faith? Is the Church impacting her culture in significant ways? From my perspective, and I think for most who are unbiased, the clear resounding answer is “no” to all of those questions. 

My conclusion is that we have lost something powerful, something absolutely essential for the growth of the Church: a full and complete dependence and reliance upon the Word of God. When the Lord declared, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11); When Jesus adds, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it;” (Matthew 16:18); and when Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes;” (Romans 1:16) and when Jesus gave us our marching orders, “All authority in heave and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age,” why are we so quick to turn to man-made techniques and theories and accommodations to grow and strengthen the church?

Bo Schembechler, famous coach of the Michigan Wolverines, once gave a speech that has been remembered long after he was gone. He said to his football squad, “It’s the Team. The Team. The Team. No individual is more important than the Team” I would like to borrow his format and declare to all Church leaders, “It’s the Word. The Word. The Word. No resource is more important than the Word.” The Church in America today is weak, stagnant, joyless, impotent and floundering, not because she has failed to adjust to the times, or refused to barrow from her culture’s strategies, but because she has failed to proclaim God’s sweet tasting, life-changing, darkness-dispelling, devil-defeating, Christ-honoring, world- conquering, WORD of God.