I get those e-mails suggesting I'm old because I can remember Blackjack gum, Studebaker cars, and nickle ice cream cones. Okay, so I'm a dinosaur. Just because I was born during World War II doesn't mean I have Alzheimer's disease and am "out of it." There was a day when wrinkles and gray hair earned you some respect. It still does in some quarters of the globe. Now those of us "older than dirt" are much like Rodney Dangerfield: "we don't get no respect."
Speaking of respect! I rejoice that the Restoration Movement is gaining in respect in the broader religious world. I'm tickled pink that we have so many congregations numbering over 1,000 in worship with more joining the group every year. I am excited by the number of baptisms being reported. The emphasis on reaching the lost rather than enticing Baptists away excites me, too. (We have enough trouble with new Christians and their strange ideas let alone trying to deal with Baptist theology. We've already got enough of that!) It is good to be recognized as the second fastest growing "denomination" in America. It is encouraging that most groups no longer label us a cult like they used to, although I bet there are a few judgments like that under their breath.
David F. Wells, in his book Whatever Happened to Truth?, suggests evangelicals have given up theology in favor of popularity. He argues that when public admiration for the "clergy" declined, ministers began searching for ways they could regain lost respect. Since religious leaders no longer had a corner on theology (every man has his own theology), let alone a corner on the truth, they sought respect through professionalism. That search for professionalism in the ministry meant that churchmen had to become specialists in areas other than theology. So they became "church growth specialists," "counseling specialists," or "administrative specialists."
Some of that is probably true. At the same time, I think I know the hearts of some of our mega-church leaders. They are concerned with relating men and women to Jesus. Sometimes I think their methodology and theology are a bit suspect, but I think they mean to do the right thing. They are on a mission -- a mission believed to be God-given. It is a mission drawn from the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. Sadly, however, there has been tremendous emphasis on the first part of that mission and little on the last. Too many are content to baptize (for whatever reason), but few are focused on discipling the new Christian to obey all that Jesus commanded them. As a result, they have bought into Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs thinking they first need to meet their social and relational needs when the real problems lie far deeper into their very belief system and worldview. New Christians need to do more than fast for a "spiritual high," they need to believe the tenets of the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints."
In my opinion, genuine respect doesn't come through conformity or compromise. It doesn't come because we're the best at preaching "relevant," which is usually interpreted as some form of self-help methodology. Real respect comes when you are able to show that what Christ did is more than "relevant", it is "eternal." It does intersect with contemporary life but it has eternal significance.
Oh, real respect may never come this side of heaven. But Jesus said, "Beware when all men speak well of you." I guess I'm more concerned about hearing, "Well, done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord." How about you?