Surviving the Critical Mass


Sucking on a cigar and casting his fishing line into the pond, my New Age cousin informed me that Critical Mass was going to happen in the year 2000. When I asked what he meant, he explained that the forces of good (as he defined them) were finally going to outnumber and overcome the forces of evil.

The Critical Mass that he predicted did occur … only 20 years later. While law-abiding citizens remained quarantined in their houses, chaos erupted on the streets of America. As monuments and morality fell, the influence and philosophies of the Greatest Generation and their Boomer kids were finally outnumbered and overwhelmed by the X, Y, and Z Generations.

Fundamental Christianity has been immune to this Critical Mass, right? There is no generational chaos in our ranks, right? Sadly, the answer to both of these questions is: “Wrong!”

Around the year 2000, a young evangelist told me that the older Fundamentalists were not willing to use men like him in their churches. As I was listening, my sympathy was with the older Fundamentalists who probably felt like us young fellows had not fought the battles and struggled like they had.

Yet, as history and the Scriptures reveal, the future always belongs to the young. Consider the words of cynical King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:18, 19:

I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun.

I have two thoughts. First, older people ought to remember that the future always belongs to the young. The Apostle Paul understood this. Paul instructs his protégé Timothy in Second Timothy 2:2, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

As we get older, we would do well to spend less time with the “good old boys” of our own generation and instead invest our resources in those who will inevitably take our places.

Second, younger people ought to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work and sacrifices of the past. Paul notes in Ephesians 2:20 how the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

Younger folks would do well to consider the shoulders upon which they stand and give “honor to whom honor” is due (Romans 13:7). “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head,” Jehovah commands in Leviticus 19:32, “and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.”

One organization that I believe has learned these lessons is the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists (VAIB). Last year, emails and letters poured into my inbox and mailbox from those who supported the VAIB’s Steering Committee and those who wanted the organization to return to what it was like under former Executive Director Jack Knapp (who had served the organization from its founding for almost 40 years).

An ominous cloud hung over last September’s Annual Meeting held at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Salem, Virginia. The present Executive Director had resigned. Big churches that disagreed with the new direction of the VAIB had reduced their donations to one dollar per month. With all of the speakers for the Annual Meeting cancelled, the only item left on the agenda was the Business Meeting.

However, the cloud began to part when Moderator Ray Haskett opened the meeting with a God-centered, unifying message.

After the first procedural vote by the body, it was clear that the Moderator and Steering Committee had the numbers to win the day. In spite of this numerical advantage, Haskett showed deference to Knapp and allowed him to freely participate in the discussions (against the advice of VAIB Attorney David Gibbs, III).

By the end, the gracious tenor of the meeting led to the unanimous election of a new Executive Director. The Steering Committee also promised to renew the relationship with Knapp that had been broken under the prior Executive Director. Their pledge mended many broken fences.

Knapp understands his time of influence is limited by mortality. Haskett knows there would be no VAIB without the past leadership of Knapp. These recognitions forged a grateful respect and practical relationship between these two men at the Annual Meeting. They saved a Fundamentalist organization from a division which would have likely proved to be fatal.

Many Fundamentalist ministries have faced and are facing the same challenges as the VAIB. There is nothing we can do about the Critical Mass before us, but we can avoid losing our Fundamentalist organizations if we apply the two principles of accepting the reality of generational change while honoring the giants of the past.


Thanks. Good advice, in general.

I see where we are culturally more as “same road, a bit further” then as “critical mass,” but there’s no denying that cultural shifts have happened and, until the Kingdom comes, will keep happening—as expected: 2 Tim 3:1-9.

But more to the point, what about those “giants of the past”? It’s a difficult balance. In my college and seminary days, and I guess before that also, I was exposed to a lot of excessive admiration—to the point of idolizing—the giants of the past. I almost said “alleged giants,” but they were giants, or really big fish in our little pond. But I’ll say “alleged spiritual giants.”

I watched a fair number of them fall. And others had lots of information turn up that put their “legacy” in a very different, less admirable light.

My point: In Scripture leaders are always flawed—usually obviously flawed (exceptions exist, like Joseph, Daniel). So our view of the giants of the past really belongs in about the same mold as our leaders of the present: “the best of men are but men at best.”

But I’ve seen lots of ‘baby out with the bathwater’ responses to these past leaders also, and that’s unwise.

There is something I tell myself often. I need to do it more—in singular as well as plural:

  • We’re not better than they were.
  • I’m not better than they are.

If godliness/character/sanctification could be measured in something like Personal Transformation Units, some would score higher than others, sure. But the truth is that we just don’t really know what anybody’s bottom line PTU score is. And when I start getting all judgmental, what I need to hear is: I’m not better than they are. It’s very likely objectively true. But it’s certainly subjectively true, because I don’t know how the Judge of All the Earth views their progress (or mine)… which is the only measure that matters.

The younger generation is mostly a delight to me. I love their idealism, their energy, their questions, their determination to blaze their own path. Good for them. They’ll make a ton of mistakes, but a lot of those will at least be different mistakes, and that’s refreshing.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

There are two kinds of "old men". One is the kind that want and demand that young men do things the way their generation did it and resist change. The other is the kind that want and warn young men to avoid the mistakes the older generation made are willing to accept change. (At 75. I desire to be the latter.)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Says just obey the Bible.

That would be good for a start.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3