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The Problem of Numbers

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series

"The Tozer Collection: Worship Music"

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The question of numbers and their relation to success or failure in the work of the Lord is one that disturbs most Christians more than a little.

On the question there are two opposing schools of thought. There are Christians, for instance, who dismiss the whole matter as being beneath them. These correspond to the lovers of high-brow music who firmly refuse to admit that there is anything of any real value other than that composed by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. They know they are in the minority and glory in the fact, for in their opinion it is a very, very superior minority and they look down their noses at all who enjoy anything less complicated than a symphony.

Of course this is cultural snobbery and tells us a lot more about such persons than they would care to have us know. They remind one of the unco-learned of whom Colton wrote,

So much they scorn the crowd that
if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely
go wrong.

Now among religious persons I have met a few who are guilty of a kind of spiritual snobbery of which they are doubtless wholly unaware. These have recoiled so violently from popular, cheap-Jack Christianity that they simply have no longer any sympathy with crowds. They prefer to sit around the Lord’s Table in a select and tight little circle, admiring the deep things of God and, I very much fear, admiring themselves a wee bit also. This is a kind of Protestant monasticism without the cowl and the beads, for it seeks to preserve the faith of Christ from pollution by isolating it from the vulgar masses. Its motives may be commendable, but its methods are altogether unscriptural and its spirit completely out of mood with that of our Lord.

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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Introduction

The other and opposite school is the most vocal and has by far the largest following in gospel circles today. Its philosophy, if it can be called a philosophy, is that “we must get the message out” regardless of how we go about it. The devotees of this doctrine appear to be more concerned with quantity than with quality. They seem burned up with desire to “bring the people in” even if they have not much to offer them after they are in. They take inexcusable liberties both with message and with method. The Scriptures are used rather than expounded and the Lordship of Christ almost completely ignored. Pressure is exerted to persuade the people (who, by the way, come to the meetings with something else in mind altogether) to accept Christ, with the understanding that they shall then have peace of mind and financial prosperity, not to mention high grades in school and a low score on the golf course.

The crowds-at-any-price mania has taken a firm grip on American Christianity and is the motivating power back of a shockingly high percentage of all religious activity. Men and churches compete for the attention of the paying multitudes who are brought in by means of any currently popular gadget or gimmick ostensibly to have their souls saved, but, if the truth were told, often for reasons not so praiseworthy as this.

Now the serious Christian wants to escape both extremes. Yet he is much concerned about the whole matter of numbers and is eager to find the will of God for his life and ministry. Should he go out for larger crowds or accept smaller ones as the will of God for him? Does success in the Lord’s work depend upon numbers? Is it possible to make up in quantity what is lacking in quality and so accomplish the same result?

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National Anthems and the Universal Language

Perhaps an illustration or two might help. If our country should be visited by a famine and you were put in charge of feeding the starving in your section of the city, would numbers matter? Most surely they would. Would it not be better to feed five hungry children than two? Would you not feel obligated to feed hundreds rather than tens, thousands rather than hundreds? Certainly you would. Or if a ship sank and your church were given a rescue boat, would numbers mean anything? Again the answer is yes. Would it not be better to save 10 than two, 100 than 50?

So with the work of God. It is better to win many than few. Each lost one brought home increases the joy among the angels and adds another voice to the choir that shall sing the praises of the Lamb. Plainly Christ when He was on earth was concerned about the multitudes. And so should His followers be. A church that takes no interest in evangelism or missions is subnormal in every way and desperately in need of revival.

Our constant effort should be to reach as many persons as possible with the Christian message, and for that reason numbers are critically important. But our first responsibility is not to make converts but to uphold the honor of God in a world given over to the glory of fallen man. No matter how many persons we touch with the gospel we have failed unless, along with the message of invitation, we have boldly declared the exceeding sinfulness of man and the transcendent holiness of the Most High God. They who degrade or compromise the truth in order to reach larger numbers, dishonor God and deeply injure the souls of men.

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Relevance and Intelligibility

The temptation to modify the teachings of Christ with the hope that larger numbers may “accept” Him is cruelly strong in this day of speed, size, noise and crowds. But if we know what is good for us, we’ll resist it with every power at our command. To yield can only result in a weak and ineffective Christianity in this generation, and death and desolation in the next.

— The Size of the Soul

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

5 Responses to The Problem of Numbers

  1. Webster's says that unco as an adverb means 'extraordinarily, remarkably, uncommonly.' Hence, 'super-learned'.

  2. Sorry, but it doesn't appear to be used as an adverb in Tozer's quote. The Colton quote seems to imply the more negative meanings of unco such as "uncanny, strange, narrow-minded." In my haste to post the initial question, I failed to explain that I was seeking to find out if you knew what Tozer meant by the phrase (since you appear to be quite a reader of his works). I was trying to nail Tozer down.

    Thanks for the response anyway.

  3. Paul,

    I can only speak for myself, but I don't think my sentiments would be unshared by the other writers. Tozer warns against the attitude of those "who firmly refuse to admit that there is anything of any real value other than that composed by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms." and who "have recoiled so violently from popular, cheap-Jack Christianity that they simply have no longer any sympathy with crowds. They prefer to sit around the Lord’s Table in a select and tight little circle, admiring the deep things of God and, I very much fear, admiring themselves a wee bit also."

    First, I've never said that nothing good can be found outside the 3 Bs, or Palestrina, or Watts, or Tavener, or whoever. When these names are put forward, they are put forward as reliable guides and examples of what is good. The aim is to learn from them, so that we may, with 21st century voices, worship God with what is good and true and beautiful. No one is calling on men to bind their consciences to a list of composers, hymn-writers or musicians. We're saying, "Look, and listen. These are good. Learn why. Have a meaningful and justifiable form of judgement, criticism, discernment to weed out the false, trivial and ugly worship offering of now and of the past, and to appreciate (and produce) worship offerings that are good, true, and beautiful. Have a justifiable aesthetic that is defensible and looks equivalent to historic Christian piety." This is a far-cry from how people will caricature the views: 'Bach-only', 'Watts-only', 'high-church only' 'Western cultural elitism' etc.

    Second, the very purpose of a blog is to communicate with crowds, albeit faceless ones. Several of the contributors here are pastors, and if there's one thing a pastor learns quickly, it's the importance of mediating his learning for the everyday Christian. I don't doubt that the writing here is probably written more on leadership level, but it is intended to be understood, not merely smiled at by one another. And we aim for change, incremental and small as it might be. If we wanted a members-only back-slapping club, I'm sure Scott would make this site password-controlled.

    Could we slide into that error? Sure. Does urging believers to know and understand what is true, good, and beautiful lead you to a form of elitism? No. But from a populist standpoint, it will probably always look that way.

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