by Rod D. Martin
November 12, 2006

My friend Andrew Sandlin writes on his blog this morning:

The problem with the “covenantal” churches is that while they have fine, upstanding children (externally, at least), they have an abominable track record at evangelizing the world (“That’s the Arminians’ job; they win ’em; then we steal ’em”).

The problem with the “missional” churches is that while they do a great job of evangelizing (for the short term, at least), they have an abominable track record at nourishing covenant children (“Let’s treat ’em like little pagans so we can really evangelize ’em later”).

For a stark alternative to both of these travesties, hear my sermon “Jesus, Children, and the Missio Dei.

I have to say: this is the stereotype (and certainly one I’ve bought into aplenty), but I’m not sure how true it is, at least regarding the latter group. I think there are certainly a lot of churches that fit this argument, and I’ve complained about them endlessly. But in fact, we see more and more churches (and many of them BIG churches, which will annoy Reformed folk too) that are doing just fine in discipleship, even (and especially) among the young.

All of which says that a missions-oriented people is not likely to remain oblivious over time to discipleship issues, since those issues dictate the “profit margin” (please forgive my term) on their missions efforts. I think that lesson has been learned very well among many evangelicals — certainly many Baptists — and that tendency is growing, in some places dramatically.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the hyper-covenantal. If anything, the tendency there seems to be finding new externals to control, as if grace were an incantation. And I fear that the result will be similar to that in all the nations once ruled by Calvinists, from Massachusetts to Scotland to Holland to South Africa. An undisciplined but regenerate heart is still regenerate, and the Holy Spirit will work in it and through it over time, regardless of our opinions or of such deficiencies as may well exist. But an unregenerate heart filled with externals will subvert the church and ultimately, given opportunity and numbers, smash it.

As Andrew points out, balance is needed. Some are finding it, and praise God for them. The future depends on what He’s doing in their midst.