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The Marketplace of Churches

Posted by Chance on August 21, 2006

There was a special on Dateline a couple of weeks ago on Carlton Pearson, a preacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma who teaches the idea of universal salvation. Josh from Gabbatha also mentions the piece and talks about hell in general at his blog.

Pearson was a very successful preacher, but when he had his supposed “revelation” and started teaching on it, the congregation left, and he received letters from his mentors and peers in the ministry urging him to change course.

Of course, Dateline painted it as a picture of a man being persecuted for his beliefs. But Ted Haggard, pastor of the enormous New Life Church in Colorado Springs said, to paraphrase “if people don’t like what you are saying, they leave. It’s the marketplace.”

Now, saying the church is like a marketplace may cheapen what church is to some. In fact, I don’t really like using the term, but it made a catchy title. After all, church should not be portrayed as a business where people simply come to on Sundays and get what they need. The church should not be selling a “product” that we can just snatch up. But I don’t think Haggard really meant that. I think what he meant is that if a preacher espouses a doctrine that people do not like, they have every right to leave. Pearson was not being persecuted, his congregation has every right to seek spiritual guidance in other places. This is for better (people change churches to avoid what they feel is false doctrine), or for worse (people feel too challenged by biblical truth so they go somewhere to “feel good.”).

While it is unfortunate that the body of Christ can be so divided, with so many different denominations, I wonder if it can be a good thing as well. The problem with a more uniform religious body is that it is more susceptible to false doctrine, whether intentional or not. With multiple churches and denominations, if one preacher or conference leader gets something wrong, it does not trickle down to the whole body.

Ideally, we would all have a perfect understanding of the Bible, and none of us would get it wrong. However, some of us do. Because man is imperfect and makes mistakes when interpreting God’s word, I find it a good thing that someone has a choice when choosing churches. A “marketplace” is better than a monopoly.

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2 Responses to “The Marketplace of Churches”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    I agree. And it couldn’t happen without church-state separation.

    Sure, I shudder that “marketplace” is taken far too literally as churches sell themselves and religious faith becomes a cheap consumer product, but the lack of a “marketplace” for faith with the endorsement of state churches has led to empty pews throughout Europe.

  2. The Prophet said

    I used to hate the word Marketing when used in church circles. But then I asked myself, “What is Marketing”? When you think about it, marketing is finding the solution to a need and finding a way to bring it to the consumer. Isn’t that the Gospel of Christ?

    I’m a firm supporter of different denominations (although I wish some of them would quit bickering about unimportant theological issues). My wife grew up Church of Christ. We attend there on Sunday mornings, because she prefers accapella worship. I grew up in more charismatic circles, enjoying the worship of Mylon LeFever (just kidding, Chance). On Saturday nights we attend Gateway Bible Church together, so that I can enjoy instrumental worship.

    I’m glad we have an all you can eat buffet system in America today. I’m not for having just one denomination at all. Good post, Chance.

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