No Men in the Church?
There is a deeper reason for the aversion American men have to church, and until we discover this deeper reason and act on that discovery, we won’t solve the problem. And if we don’t solve the problem, the next extraordinary situation will be created not by our persecutors but by ourselves, by our own apathy and by our own stupidity.
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Welcome to Episode 47 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes I will be speaking to you as a fear-monger . . . well, sorta, not really. But I want to talk about an issue, or rather, a trend in the church today that should strike godly fear in the heart of any Christian man who cares about the future of the Church, and of the future of his family in the Church; and it certainly should strike even greater fear in the hearts of the shepherds in the Church, those who, in one way or another, have been invested with the power of decision-making, and especially decision-making in respect to the content of teaching from our pulpits. It is a trend that has not been abrupt, visible, or overwhelming enough to take us by surprise; it has rather crept on us by small increments, year after year, and today we are beginning to see it and experience it, and some pastors and commentators are already sounding the alarm.
The trend I am talking about is the disappearance of men from our churches. Men, as distinct from women.
Now, before I continue, let me make this disclaimer: the church is not the men in the church, as some modern patriarchalists seem to believe. There have been extreme situations in history when the church has consisted mainly of women and has survived. Rodney Stark gives a reliable account of the early church in the Roman Empire, and that during the persecutions, and that the church had a high ratio of women to men. He even believes that the church encouraged believing women to marry unbelieving men and bring them to the church; and indeed, there is historical evidence to somewhat back this claim. A recent example of the same situation would be the Hungarian Reformed Church in Transylvania under the Communist rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. In many places the men in the churches were either murdered by the authorities or sent to concentration camps. The women took over and they kept the flame alive, by organizing church services and Bible readings, keeping their Bibles and copies of the Heidelberg Catechism in special hiding places in the walls and under the floors of their houses. (I personally visited Transylvania in 2003 and I saw the churches and the places and I heard many stories by participants in these events.) The underground churches in China have survived the Cultural Revolution almost entirely without men. Most of us, when we are looking at the growing church in China, do not realize that this growth has been planted in the efforts of millions of women who today are simply cute Chinese grandmothers in today’s churches. Most of today’s Chinese Christians can trace Christianity back to a patient grandmother who would insist on family reading from the Bible written in the old script. And why go to all these historical examples, when we have the example in the Bible, when it was the women of Israel who dared disobey Pharaoh and save the children of Israel. The men? Well, the men were rather timid, and later, when Moses came to rescue them, were not willing to save even their own backs from the whips, let alone save their children. But, these were extraordinary times, times of survival, and it seems that Christian women have been extraordinarily prepared and capable to fight and survive for the faith and for God’s Church in such times. I have no doubt of that.
But, again, those were extraordinary times. And extraordinary times can not and should not be our norm and standard. And besides, we are the Church of God, and survival can not be and should not be our normative mode of operation. The Gospel as described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-28, has as its aim the subjection of all enemies of Jesus under His feet. And for this victory to be complete, we need men in the churches; men who will take their battle stations and won’t leave them until the victory is secured, in history and on earth. Therefore, we should be very concerned, if Christian men are disappearing from our churches.
I have noticed the trend first on the mission field, where it is very clearly discernible. And it seems to be a plague that doesn’t discriminate between the different denominations. Whether a mission is Charismatic or Baptist or Presbyterian, the same problem always persists: foreign missions are mainly capable of attracting women, but they seldom attract men. Or at least, they seldom attract enough men to balance the number of women in the planted churches. We had the same problem with our mission in our first years, before we figured out the problem and its solution. I have seen Presbyterian churches on the mission field where there are two and three men, and two dozen women in the church. (I have also seen a Presbyterian mission send to the mission field young single American women as short-term missionaries. A very, very foolish policy.) I have seen Pentecostal missions where there are so many women and so few men, that their evangelism teams are entirely manned – pun intended – by women. In fact, in some churches the young girls just plainly ignore the teachings of their pastors and marry unbelieving men from the culture around; of course they would, the biological clock is ticking, and they don’t have the time to wait for the pastor or the missionary to figure out how to fix the discrepancy. Whether these families will produce godly children or apostate wives is left to the mercy and providence of God; but the mercy and the providence of God do not excuse the incompetence – and sometimes the unwillingness – of the pastors to face the issue and find its Biblical solution.
The situation may be a little better on the home front, in the churches in the US; but don’t be quick to relax, it is not much better. Commentators and polling agencies and church leaders from all denominations are sounding the alarm concerning the American Church. Ten years ago Biola Magazine wrote of “the Feminization of the Church,” and quoted from David Murrow’s book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. Even earlier, Leon Podles wrote a much deeper study, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Women, even then, in the 1990s, outnumbered men in the churches by anywhere between 25 and 40 per cent. In year 2000, Barna research came up with a study titled, notice, “Women Are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.” At the time, 25% of all Christian women would worship without their husbands. About one-fifth to one-fourth of all single Christian women won’t find a husband who would share their faith. More than 90% of the American men profess some faith in God, but only one in six view see a point in attending church.
As a female blog author – a member of an orthodox, Reformed, conservative church expressed it, “Do single Christian men even exist anymore?” And her answer is, “Yes, they do exist. But they are hard to find because the demand is outstripping supply. And, unlike the case of the early church, or the persecuted churches in Transylvania or China, the supply is low because the churches have neglected their obligation to create what J.H. Bavinck called a “power of attraction.”
Some churches have awakened to the problem, and have tried to give it a solution by creating such a power of attraction; but their attempts have followed the same tactics as for attracting women: make some sort of a men’s ministry, or a men’s fellowship, focused superficially on something that men might be interested in. It seldom works, except as just another avenue of wasting church funds and propping the ego of just another church activist. I have been to a few of those. Whenever a fishing trip, or a paintball game, or something else is organized, some unchurched men from the community would come to hang around for the event, and sometimes even listen politely to sermonizing. Then, the next Sunday, they don’t show up for service. Such lame attempts at luring men in the churches are an insult to people’s intelligence; men don’t go to church not because it doesn’t have enough men’s events. Others have tried to attract men by displaying some sort of superficially manly, macho behavior from the pulpit, using even profanities or mimicking the manners and the lifestyle of some masculine subcultures like lumberjacks or criminal gangs. It doesn’t work either. Men don’t go to church not because they are looking for a theatrical setting where they can pretend they are masculine. There is a deeper reason for the aversion American men have to church, and until we discover this deeper reason and act on that discovery, we won’t solve the problem. And if we don’t solve the problem, the next extraordinary situation will be created not by our persecutors but by ourselves, by our own apathy and by our own stupidity. And especially by the apathy and the stupidity of our church leaders.
I have had multiple encounters with pastors and missionaries on this particular issue, and my question, when I talk to them about it, has always been: Have you tried to find the creedal, theological root for this problem? The righteous shall live by faith, and faith is at the foundation of all our prosperity or poverty, including the presence or the absence of men in our churches. And our Christian faith is not just a bare mystical awareness, it is a confessional faith, a faith that is self-conscious about itself, and is expressible in specific definable terms, which we call a creed. And then that creed must be developed into theology, which means, into a systematic worldview, a system of presuppositions and propositions about God, man, law, history, and the future. When we have such consistent, coherent, and cogent theology and worldview, our faith is well-informed about itself, and therefore we can find the solutions to our problems in terms of that informed and self-conscious faith. So may question has always been, have you tried to find the creedal, theological root for the problem?
Most of the time the people I talk to can’t even understand what I am saying. (Yes, Reformed seminary graduates.) The minds that are trained in the modern Reformed seminaries – unless they were self-educated from extracurricular materials – are usually incapable of even grasping the question. I mean, what does theology have to do with attracting men in the church? Men don’t come to church for the theology, do they? Well, a few may, but most won’t. So what does theology have to do with it?
Men don’t come to church for the theology, of course; although, some modern fundamentalist “Reformed” celebrities seem to believe this. But a Biblical, orthodox theology will help us understand the nature of man as he is in God’s eyes. And by understanding the nature of man, we will be capable of figuring out what it is in the constitution of man which keeps him away from the church, even when he professes faith in God, and even when he professes a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Our preaching is our power of attraction, or repulsion. Whatever we preach, based on our theology, will either attract men to our church, or will send them away dissatisfied. And let’s not soothe our consciences by saying that it was because these men were not seeking the Lord. In the majority of cases – if not all of them – the fault lies with the preacher and his preaching.
A few years ago, in a sermon titled “What Is Man?”, I presented the case that the definition of man in the Bible is not the Greek, metaphysical definition we are all used to today. We all know today that man – and I mean man generically, as man and woman – we all know today that man was created in the image of God. So far it all sounds clear, except that we need to find out what that “image of God” is or means, in order to find out what man is. A variety of solutions and answers have been given by theologians, all seeking to find a fixed, essential, internal characteristic of man which defines him as “in the image of God.” Some have placed that characteristic in man’s intelligence; others in his ethical nature. “Although, both technically won’t work since the angels also have both intelligence and ethical nature (they can fall, too), but they are not made in the image of God. There have been other attempts at definition, but again, all of them have focused on a metaphysical, fixed, stagnant feature or nature in man to describe him and define him.
But such metaphysical definition is not supported by the Biblical text. In the very text where God declares man to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-30), there is not even a trace of such definition, whatever the inner metaphysical nature of man is, God has not reveal it, and neither has He defined man on the basis of it.
What we see however, is that man is defined in terms of his external purpose. And not in only in terms of his external purpose, but also in terms of his external purpose as applied in time, and extending into the future. Hear the words of God’s definition of man, the image of God:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it. . . .
From the very beginning, man was given a definition in the very purpose for which he was created. And that purpose included a development in time, a distant but final goal to which man had to reach through time, through generations of his descendants, until the final goal, the subduing of the earth, is complete. Man didn’t learn what he is; but he learned what he was created to do. And his whole knowledge of himself was supposed to revolve around this simple fact: “you are created for a purpose, and that;s all you need to know about your real nature.”
In short, the definition of man was the Dominion Mandate given to man. Nothing else. You are in image of God, go take dominion, subdue the earth. You are given power and authority, you are lower than the angels, and yet because of the purpose I have put in you, angels are supposed to serve you as your serving spirits (Heb. 1).
This definition of man didn’t go away in the Fall. To the contrary, it is in his fallen condition that man is even more under the compulsion to stay faithful to his definition and his calling, or else. In fact, according to Romans 8, not only man himself, but the creation itself is groaning and eagerly expecting the fallen man to be restored to his position of its ruler and developer and capitalizer. Man has lost his covenant status before God, and therefore has lost his privilege of working towards his purpose in a world free of corruption and decay. But losing the privilege is not the same as losing his nature; and in his nature, man is still under the compulsion of the Dominion Mandate. It is in his DNA. He can’t flee from it.
In the words of the great Dutch theologian Klaas Schilder,
“Covenant of Works” is the name given to the initial relationship between God and man. This relationship was a covenant simply because service of God is possible only in the form of a covenant. The term “Covenant of Works” was applied in retrospect, in contrast with “Covenant of Grace”; and the very Covenant of Grace adds depth and meaning to the concept of the Covenant of Works. It is evident, then, that the Covenant of Works must not be looked upon as merely temporary; it is rather the original, fundamental, and therefore irrevocable covenant.
The sequence of events must be explained by their beginning, if we would see whither they tend. If we proceed from the Covenant of Grace as the starting point, we go astray; but when we see the Covenant of Works as basic to all covenant relationship, we are on the right track.
You may ask, “what is the difference”? Why would it matter if we define man in terms of his inner nature or in terms of his purpose? How would this attract men to the church?
Where it matters is that in all our modern programs of trying to attract men to the church, we have treated men as if they are stagnant metaphysical impersonal entities who can be manipulated by behavioral techniques. We have basically assumed that man is a machine – not necessarily mechanical, but certainly a psychological or metaphysical machine – and therefore all we need to do is use some user manual to trigger that machine to do the things we want it to do. There has to be a button somewhere. We find it, we push it, and, voilà, man prays for salvation, comes to church, gets baptized, and participates in out church programs. Oh, don’t forget, and tithes. And everyone is happy, and “the gospel” is preached, or whatever passes for “the gospel.”
Men, however, don’t fall for it. And what we think are their buttons – fishing trips, men’s gatherings, or anything else – just doesn’t work. And we are losing men by an alarming rate, and we still can’t figure it out.
What will restore men to the church is not the magical button triggering their metaphysical nature. What will restore is the knowledge of a transcendent and yet tangible, real, personal purpose in life. What will restore then is a theology – and a preaching based on that theology – that doesn’t keep men busy flipping through repetitious pages of abstract religious terminology, but instead creates in them a vision for each one’s personal place in the work of the Kingdom of God. An identity based on purpose, and extended in time, towards a final goal glorious enough to deserve the hassle. Glorious not simply in the eternity, but glorious on earth and in history. A goal of victory, in which every individual man will have his share, and his opportunity to prosper and contribute.
Such personal purpose and goal can be created in men only when the theology of the Dominion Mandate – given at the beginning as the very definition of the nature of man in the image of God – when that theology of the Dominion Mandate is restored in our churches. When those colonists 200+ years back followed their pastors to fight King George, they were self-consciously Christian because to be a Christian was to be a man of the frontier – a man of purpose and a vision, and an unbreakable optimism of the future. A man in those days could be alone against the whole world and still believe in his destiny to conquer the world. “You may all go to hell, and I shall go to Texas” were not the words of one superman of superabilities. Such was the sentiment of hundreds of thousands of just regular Christian men. And why were they such supermen compared to our modern effeminate churchmen? Because they were nursed with a theology that instilled in them a sense of destiny, a sense of purpose, and an urgency of finding their own part of creation which they should develop for the glory of God, under their personal destiny in Him. The men were not extraordinary beings; they were the same men as we are today, with their personal weaknesses and shortcomings. But the preaching they heard in their churches, the Christianity they grew up with, was what brought to the surface their gifts and talents, and gave them courage to serve God in ways more courageous and gallant than anything we can imagine today.
A few weeks ago I read the words of a modern preacher of the group of the modern so-called “covenanters” who stated that Christians should be centering around local churches, and should not be seeking better and more gainful employment in places they can’t find a good church. What an unfortunate and miserable end of the legacy of the original Covenanters and Presbyterians who, to the contrary, encouraged their church members to go out and expand their dominion over the land, whether there was a church or not. The golden age of Presbyterian Scotland saw Scotsmen traversing the globe as sailors, settlers, entrepreneurs, explorers, natural scientists, doctors, etc. (Did you know that the real-life prototype of Robinson Cruzoe, was a Presbyterian Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk. He survived his years of solitude by building a prosperous one-man economy and by reading his Bible every day.) But such false teachings are not limited to the modern so-called “covenanters.” Such a theology of passivity and purposelessness is common to most churches today, and common to most missionaries on the mission field. By preaching purpose out of our churches, we have preached manliness out. And then we wonder why men are not attracted to our churches.
For this to change, we need to change our definition of man. Man is first and foremost a purpose, a mission, a vision of a future victory, in history and on earth. Our preaching must speak to this kind of man, because this is the kind of man that the Bible describes and defines. And when we change our definition, and when we preach it, men will come. Because they are made to come to a purpose. Individual purpose. And a victory.
The book I will assign for reading this week is John Chamberlain, Enterprising Americans. Read and learn what made those Americans be the men they were. And take notes. And then take the notes to your pastors. And force them to preach it. Or force them out of the pulpit.
In your prayers and giving, consider Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, on the mission field, we have tried to remain faithful to this definition of man. As a result, our mission churches have attracted more men than women – and yes, we have the opposite problem now, praise God. Our work has given fruit abundantly, but there is more to be done, and more books to be translated and published, until we have the secure intellectual foundation of the future Christian civilization in Bulgaria. Help us build it. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.