Historical Drift

By Dan Butler

Several years ago, Arnold Cook wrote the book Historical Drifts. He makes the observation that institutions, religious or otherwise, all experience drift and deterioration. In it he included his curve (figure A below) that illustrates how institutions invariably become victims of such drift. A man or woman experiences what is for them, a new level of revelation, spirituality, or insight. It is so deep, so penetrating, and its breadth is such that it has application for a broad swath of the populace. As more people hear it and embrace it, it moves from “man” to “movement.” As it grows, the movement develops infrastructure (or machinery) to carry out its mission. When finally its fervor burns exceeding low, it becomes little more than a monument.’

As far back as 1972, Elmer Towns utilized a similar figure (figure B, next page) which reveals the same organizational tendency towards deterioration whether it be a business, school, local church, or denomination. Without intervention, entropy prevails?

The good news is that history reveals that deterioration and entropy are not inevitable. Preventive action, if taken in time, and if taken vigorously, and if taken with knowledge of what to do, can effectively counter the downward drift. There is only one counter to this slide to death and that is life – restored life, that is, revival. However, the shape of revival is often not recognized by those raised in, or living in, drift. In fact, because revival is spiritually discerned, its shape is often so foreign to the uninitiated that it appears completely untenable.

Cook quotes sociologist Dean Kelley on his studies regarding what precipitates drift in a church body. Kelley identifies four components which would seem to lead to church growth. They are:

1. Church seeks to be all things to all people.

2. The assumption that, to succeed, the church must be reasonable, rational, courteous, responsible, restrained, and open to outside criticism.

3. They will be democratic and gentle in their internal affairs and will attempt to work with other groups.

4. They will be responsive to people’s perceived needs and not let dogmatism, judgmental moralism, or obsessions with group purity stand in the way of cooperation with others.

Kelley’s research revealed that, if a church does these expected things, alas, rather than revival and renewal it is utilizing a recipe for dismal failure.3

Early American Congregational churches saw a loss of fervor in second and third generation members. Their attempted solution was the “halfway covenant,” a provision for partial membership in an attempt to accommodate the backsliding of the second and third generations. They continued to halve the requirements for membership until there was little left. Compromising on core values is a sure road to death.

The facts:
There is an inescapable component of confrontation deeply intertwined into authentic conversion.

The first response to the Gospel is not joy, but rather, sorrow – godly sorrow.
Maintaining genuine Christianity while avoiding the extreme claims of Christ on one’s life is impossible.

There is no Christianity without the Cross.

From, “Together”/Fall 2008/Page 18, by Dan Butler

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