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The Three Self Purpose Driven Church

December 29, 2006

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last several days. Perhaps we should think of the mainstream evangelical seeker sensitive mega flavor of the month church the way that Chinese Christians think of the Three Self church. The Three Self church has many true believers in it. And there are many pragmatic reasons why a true believer might choose to fellowship at a Three Self church. But the Three Self church is fundamentally compromised with the Chinese government, as mainstream evangelicalism is fundamentally compromised with American cultural materialism, individualism, consumerism, etc.

Now in China, the only alternative to the Three Self church is the underground illegal movement of house churches. But here in America, it’s not yet illegal for a church not to download sermons direct from celebrity preachers. So we, who stand opposed to the direction that mainstream evangelicalism is heading, still are allowed to gather legally in large groups. But maybe we should learn from the dissent of our Chinese brethren and adopt a more underground cell group driven model.

There’s a reason why I’ve been thinking these strange thoughts. One of my virtual friends, Brant of the Kamp Krusty blog, has decided to quit going to church. He thinks that the American approach to church is far too event driven. He thinks that the event driven, professionally led churches of America create exhorbitant waste and enable deadbeat Christians to continue non-discipleship. He wants to quit going to church and start being the church.

I almost want to join him. But I have a few reservations from the pastoral epistles. Two words come to mind. Elders. Preaching. Think about that for a while before I tip my hand any farther.

I wonder…if the Chinese underground house church movement were suddenly legal, what would they do? Would they gather in larger congregations? What would they do in a large group? What would they keep doing in small groups?

More and more people are following the path that Brant is taking. It is in many ways an understandable reaction. Healthy Christians will eventually vomit up the syrupy pablum fed to them Sunday after Sunday in mainstream evangelical churches. How can we distance ourselves from this dying model of the church and still keep the emphasis on preaching the word? Surely we can learn to be the church throughout the week without disparaging the pulpit by shutting the doors on Sunday.

Now, before you respond, you need to read these posts and their comments on the Kamp Krusty blog. I’m out of town so I will leave this up several days. Take your time and be thoughtful. This has been the most interesting thing I’ve thought about for some time.

One amazing thing about this discussion at Brant’s blog has been its civility. Never in the blogosphere have I seen such an emotional issue handled at such length with such calmness. Let us keep up the standard here.

Here are the posts I ask you to read and consider with me:

First Post

Second Post

Third Post

NEW!!  Older funny post for background reading.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2006 12:01 am

    A point of clarification. It occurs to me after rereading this post that Brant might not say that syrupy teaching at mainstream churches is the problem. That’s my perspective coming through. His objections to common models of church in America have more to do with community and frugality. I’m also sure that Brant would not want any of his current opinions and actions to be read as criticisms of any particular churches with which he has previously been affiliated.

  2. December 30, 2006 12:40 am

    I don’t think his position is that extraordinary. I probably would’ve done the same thing a few years ago had I been better connected to Christians. I went to church to meet more people like me, and that’s really about it. So besides going to Church, how do you meet more like you?

    I also think his argument for whatever he’s advocating to closely parallel that of political anarchism. I’m talking about the more libertarian/market sort of anarchism, not the syndicalist sort. Robert Nozick, a famous libertarian philosopher basically said that anarchy isn’t possible because people naturally create social connections for pragmatic reasons. This is why I’m not an anarchist, because I think MINarchism is more realistic. Anyway, I think the whole “event” that Brant is talking about is a natural result of fellowshipping. And of course some take things a little too far like some people do with trying to have the government do everything short of wiping your butt for you. So instead of church anarchy, I think church minarchy is more beneficial.

  3. December 30, 2006 8:23 am

    Another point of clarification. My good wife points out this morning that some may read my sentence “I almost want to join him”, as a literal desire to stop going to our church and move to South Florida.

    No, no, no. I love it here. I just mean I am tempted to want our congregation to be even more small group driven and even less large event centered. But obviously I still love and believe in preaching so I don’t want to go all the way.

    What I am asking you to think about is how our church can better be the church in our small groups throughout the week and avoid sustaining the delusion that church is something you go to.

  4. December 30, 2006 12:41 pm

    I’m something of a Luddite (I recently got my first cell phone) and struggle with how valid internet-based relationships and conversations are.

    That said, Mike, I’m very thankful for you, and you make me thankful for the internet.

  5. December 30, 2006 4:21 pm

    I’m probably putting more political theory into this than most people would want, but this is how I think about church organization. We talked once about how congregationalism is very “American” with a lot of elements of federalism and decentralized control. I’ve been thinking about your post, and the more I think about it, the more I think that decentralized government is beneficial for churches and nations for the same reasons. Less corruption and more focus on what is important for everyone, i.e. pursuing God and happiness respectively.

  6. egana permalink
    December 30, 2006 6:12 pm

    Gorf and I have had so many similar conversations… to be honest, I really really really didn’t want that building, becasue I was afraid of what our great church might turn into if we have a building and a bunch more “ministires” to steward. I don’t want to spend ANY MORE TIME at a church building, or in church meetings.

    I want to pray with others, to serve each other and our community with them, to worship God and get excited about how great His Son is with them, to be reigned-in and convicted of my willful sins through them, and to basically get better and better at enjoying Jesus and then doing good things in the “life of playtime” that His all-satisfying fullness gives me.

    Egana

  7. December 30, 2006 10:37 pm

    DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT SHUTTING THE DOORS ON SUNDAY!

  8. December 30, 2006 10:55 pm

    Um, sorry. :)

    I spent about 3 hours reading Brant’s posts and the 90-bajillion comments, and while I think that what he is doing sounds great, and while I would take the sort of arrangement he is suggesting over a huge church anyday, I have to say I really love the church service we have, with our pastor and associate pastor who are paid to read and think and write and organize and be concerned over the wellbeing of all of us, which they do very well at. Those things come ALONGSIDE of smaller and more intimate groups such as small groups, prayer groups, mini groups, and discipling partnerships. Of course this is coming from someone who is kind of a new believer and completely unchurched before coming to CEFC, so my background and perspectives are very different from Brant’s. Extremely interesting discussion and thanks for pointing it out.

    I do wonder how the house church arrangement functions with new believers? Obviously it must work pretty well in China, but I wonder about here where people might be coming in like I was, confused, curious, and a little distrustful. I admit I liked being able to attend a few services mostly anonymously until I was a little more sure of myself, and then sort of filter down to a small group and then to a prayer group as I got more comfortable. Fessing up to my sins might have been pretty scary right off the bat. : )

  9. December 30, 2006 11:56 pm

    Don’t worry, nobody’s even thinking about closing the doors on Sunday.

    You raise a good point, Ellie. Which works better for the assimilation of new believers and not yet believers, inviting them to a large group event, or including them in your small group fellowship?

    I think things are changing. In the 80s, churches with good coffee and comfy chairs were novelties that turned the heads of seekers. Now good coffee and comfy chairs are entitlements in the minds of thirtysomething professing Christian church shoppers. Now I know several unbelievers who are either insulted or sent into fits of mocking laughter by churches making transparent attempts to market to them.

    I think welcoming unbelievers into our small group fellowships is the way to go. But this requires some thinking about how. Obviously a visitor should not be called upon to make confession of sins. But I think that witnessing us confessing sins to one another could be a means of grace to them.

  10. December 31, 2006 12:07 am

    This is worthy of a new post, but I don’t want to bump this conversation from the front burner so I’ll say it here.

    I listened to another great Tim Keller sermon the other day. My new hero. Listen to everything you can. He was talking about division in the church from 1 Cor 3. Instead of saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” you should realize that in Christ Paul and Apollos are yours. In Christ all things are yours.

    So when you have disagreements with other Christians, you do not need to claim moral high ground. You are already justified in Christ. When we take honest differences of opinion and endue them with claims of moral superiority, we are engaging in self justification. Stop it.

    So we need to realize that our disagreement with current seeker sensitive church growth strategies may just be an honest difference of opinion about how to engage the culture. It doesn’t make us any better.

    I say all this just because I feel a little guilty about railing against the syrupy pablum of mainstream evangelicalism.

    Check out this quote by C.S. Lewis, cited by Tim Keller, and posted to the blogosphere by Justin Taylor…

    “Reviews filled with venom have often been condemned socially for their bad manners, or ethically for their spite. I am not prepared to defend them from either charge; but I prefer to stress their inutility. . . . Automatically, without thinking about it one’s mind discounts everything [the venomous critic] says, as it does when we are listening to a drunk or delirious man. The critic rivets our attention on himself. When we get to the end we find that the critic has told us everything about himself and nothing about the book. Thus in criticism, as in vocabulary, hatred over-reaches itself. Willingness to wound, too intense and naked, becomes impotent to do the desired mischief.

    Of course, if we are to be critics, we must condemn as well as praise; we must sometimes condemn totally and severely. But we must obviously be very careful. . . . I think we must get it firmly fixed in our minds that the very occasions on which we should most like to write a slashing review are precisely those on which we had much better hold our tongues. The very desire is a danger signal. . . . The strength of our dislike is itself a probable symptom that all is not well within; that some raw place in our psychology has been touched, or else that some personal or partisan motive is secretly at work.”

    Having made confession, let us carry on the constructive criticism of the old and the trendy and think about learning from the new models of the church.

  11. egana permalink
    December 31, 2006 10:11 am

    There are probably other things I want to do in our church that I forgot to put in the list, and I thought of one this morning: sit under the authority and pretection of the elders the Lord has appointed over me. Submission is not “en vogue” currently, but I have been so blessed over and over by allowing them to shepherd me. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

    Also, in a conversation with my wise Mom, I was greatly comforted. I was discussing my fears about how owning a building might change some of the things I really like about our church. She said that the leaders are steering the boat, so to speak, and if I trust them now, I can trust them to lead us through whatever changes might be ahead. After much thought and prayer, I so heartily agreed, that I changed my mind about a building, becasue the track record of our elders is so trustworthy, that I do not fear them leading us away from the sweet Gospel focus we have now.

    Thanks guys! I thank God for your faithfulness to seek Him and shepherd us well!

  12. December 31, 2006 6:39 pm

    Re isaiah’s Lewis quote: This is so true of me. About 85% percent of the time, if I have any emotionally significant reaction to something written on a blog, it indicates that I need a little time time to process my irritation before I can hope to contribute anything remotely useful to a conversation.

    I don’t think I’m that way in person, oddly enough. Having real people right in front of me to talk to stirs up my compassion, I suppose. But when I’m alone, reading someone else’s writing, I am tempted to all sorts of judgments and irritation and anger and verbal fisticuffs. But after a few hours, I find that the initial emotional rush wears off, and at that point I find myself able to comment with a focus on the common good, rather than personal catharsis.

    At least, that’s what I try to do.

    In a nutshell: When some idea irritates me, I am not fit to respond to the bearer of that idea until I’ve worked through the irritation to compassion.

  13. January 1, 2007 12:46 am

    I sympathize with Egana’s fears about how owning a building might change us. What eventually led me to support the idea of going forward with making an offer on the building was the fact that if we got it at such a ridiculously low price, we actually could be, in a fairly short time, in a better financial position to support our missionaries more generously.

    Also, the non-extravagance of the facility and the location, might mitigate the tendency to become inwardly focused after purchasing property.

    The Lord has not yet blessed with this building, I’m happy to leave the matter in his hands. Building or no building, the direction I feel the Lord leading me is toward smaller community. From small groups to mini-groups to 1-1 mentoring. From Wednesday night prayer groups to 15 different prayer triplets. From evangelistic programs to neighborly small groups to individuals practicing hospitality.

    This morning I visited my Mom’s church. Great preacher, skilled communicator with solid doctrine. The church is pre-seeker traditional. Three hymns, two choruses from 1982, and a special music from the choir. I couldn’t concentrate much on the message because I was thinking about what a drag it would be to have to put on this program every week. The church is around 600-700 now. Until recently my mother was volunteering with the children’s church. Blessed were those children to have a loving grandmother caring for them. But now they have hired a professional to lead the children’s ministry. When I dropped off Sam, they gave dude a beeper.

    This is not what I want our church to become. I want to be decentralized. I want to be like leaven. Every member ministry must mean more than every member lends a hand to make the hour and a half run smoothly.

    I feel like Jerry Maguire having his epiphany. Fewer clients. Less money. That was the conclusion of the memo that got him fired.

  14. egana permalink
    January 1, 2007 3:44 pm

    “Every member ministry must mean more than every member lends a hand to make the hour and a half run smoothly.”

    sweet music to my ears…

  15. January 1, 2007 11:13 pm

    ‘ve had a few random thoughts while contemplating this in the past week or so.

    One is that I think church preferences stem out of our personalities. Pardon me for putting on the MBTI glasses again, but if you consider that some people (SJs) prefer to have a consistent, structured, routinized way of doing things, it follows that they would most likely be more comfortable in a church that you know will follow a pre-set routine and will only deviate at Easter and Christmas for a special music program. Whereas other people, (NPs and possibly even more so NFPs?) would like to explore for that *something better* they just know is out there, that deeper, more meaningful experience that *should* buck tradition — all that structure and routine is bound to be part of any problem and how can you possibly expect to have meaningful relationships with people in the middle of some flow chart?

    From my own experiences in small groups, I can see the different personalities approach small group differently — different expectations, different ways of praying, different ideas on almost everything. Although we are all created to desire intimacy and to be known, we go about that differently and value different things. It seems like the house church arrangement Brant has (which seems very much to me like a small group w/o the ‘big church’ experience) would be unequally attractive to NFPs and could easily develop an unhealthy aspect in a completely innocent, undesired way.

  16. January 1, 2007 11:14 pm

    I was also thinking about the whole church building issue. It’s expensive to have a church — more expensive in many ways than owning a house on the individual level. All that impervious surface area (parking lot), for example, is costly. It makes financial sense for a church to grow into a mega-church with five services than to plant a littler church with another pastor and elders and a building and parking lot. And while much of what happens in the growth of a church that has all the glossy, shiny stuff has the appearance of efficacy, at the relational level it often seems to lack the essential efficacy.

    When we were newly married, the husband and I visited his uncle’s church in Tucson — must have been 1000 people there and his kid was in another building for kid church with a beeper (once you get to the level where not everyone knows everyone else, security becomes an issue too — like the in-laws’ church in which a divorce custody issue almost led to the abduction of kid from SS by the non-custodial parent thinking he could get away w/o anyone knowing!) Anyway, I’m sure the aunt/uncle were not known in that church (and didn’t particularly desire to be) — we walked in, sat through a flashy service with a light show and big screen TVs, picked up the kid and went home and I don’t remember us stopping to talk to more than one couple the entire time. It seemed very anonymous and superficial to me, but it attracted people into the building and had the appearance of a ‘successful’ church. But that doesn’t measure the building up and edification of the body.

  17. January 1, 2007 11:15 pm

    I have been so blessed by God to have had so few church experiences and
    yet so positive. I was only in one other church as a believer and both
    have been led by excellent teachers who desire the congregation to grow
    in knowledge and to be built up to the fullness of Christ. I haven’t had
    the shiny, happy people church experience, so I’m not nearly as
    disillusioned by the American church – but some of the things I hear
    from people I know who are mainstream American ‘Christians’, but not
    necessarily believers . . .YIKES!!! Presby churches that have ‘American
    Indian spirit cleansing ceremonies’? And more. With a different
    experience, I’m sure I would question the American way of ‘doing church’
    more than I ever do now.

    It’s a good exercise to think about ‘what is the essence of church?’. In
    Acts when you read that the people devoted themselves to the teaching,
    fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer, it seems like you just can’t
    leave out the pastor/teaching elder. And the instructions to Timothy and
    Titus seem to be clear that oversight of people is expected, not just a
    free-flowing sort of thing.

    Thanks for how you teach us. I really appreciate you and Jason.

  18. January 2, 2007 12:22 pm

    With reference to fruittart’s mention of MBTI and church types, I think there may be some truth to that… but- I, as an ENFP, am occasionally drawn to very structured, liturgical church settings (because it helps me focus, and partly because it’s very different than what I grew up with). Meanwhile, my ISTJ husband prefers the “spontaneity” of non-liturgical churches (the routineness of liturgy is probably a change in routine for him). So… I think you’re right in saying that NFPs probably prefer “change” over routine (and vice versa for SJs), but that “change” may be to something *more* routine. Of course, I’ve never gone to a liturgical church (or at least not very many times), so it may be that after a certain number of services, I would get bored with the routine and go find something else new.

    Anyway, all that is to say, yes, I like change, but sometimes that change is to something more routine :)

  19. January 2, 2007 2:46 pm

    What is a successful church but one that has many attendees… right? I don’t think so. What the media believes to be successful (best-selling book and thousands of members) isn’t what God thinks to be successful. People just think that the qualities of a successful business are the ones you want in a successful church. But we’re in a different sort of business that deals with a different sort of reward system.

    As far as the church building was going, I was pretty much on the lets try to go for it and see if this is what God wants and with the right attitude and leadership we could still be a solid church… camp.

    I used to hop around churches in Chicago and the suburbs, and the one that I was the most disappointed with was the mega-church I went to. Small groups went from these workbooks one semester, which I hated, to watching DVD’s of the pastor preaching, which I hated even more. This appeals to a lot of people apparently.

    I think mega-churchs can be successful in the right way, but more often than not they are successful in the wrong way. We so often look at churches and their size and the way they are run that we forget that the sizes allow for a different level of involvement from the church members. Mega-churches aren’t anonymous and small churches close-knit on purpose, and I think most mega-church pastors would like to be as involved as small church pastors, but not everyone is able to do that because of the responsibilities they have. It becomes ever more difficult to lead a church in a way that promotes closeness and focus on the community/missions when the pastors leading this big churches come from a background of doing things on their own.

    So I’ve rambled on, and I don’t even know if anything I said had anything to do with the discussion.

  20. January 3, 2007 7:45 am

    One thing I appreciate about our church is that we are us. (I know, a revolutionary thought, eh?) But we aren’t trying to be Bethlehem Baptist or Mars Hill or Redeemer Presbyterian or Brant’s Kingdom Small Group. I think this is a big part of Brant’s struggle. Churches follow models of church that aren’t from the Scriptures and aren’t fitted to the people of that church. Instead we follow Sidesaddle’s purpose method because it seems numerically successfull or whatever.

    Stacey stresses this point as our worship leader (and I was glad to see it was something that tickled Brant) – our worship should sound like us, because we’re praising God as a body. We shouldn’t sound like Michael W. Smith, or Third Day or whomever, because we aren’t them.

    Furthermore, we’re doing the things (or trying to do the things) that the NT church was doing: preaching the Gospel, living the Gospel amoung our neighbors, worshipping God together, sending out missionaries to those who have not yet heard the Gospel, and prayer. There are other churches who do the same things, but some differing forms are employed. The tension I see is learning from what they are doing while exercising how God is directing us per calling and immediate needs.

    It seems like a lot of this, like the worship SS class, is a discussion of form and content.

  21. January 3, 2007 1:52 pm

    This is interesting reading, and makes me appreciate the people of your church all the more.

    I do think, though, that it’s not a “Well, whatever suits your personality,” thing. For one thing, we DO have to account (we, as the American church) how we spend our resources.

    For another thing, my neighbors — many of them — have some pretty strange ideas about what it means to be a Christian, and I have to deal with that. And they didn’t pull their ideas out of thin air, but at least largely based on their experience with the church.

    We communicate in a lot of different ways what the church is, and I think we’ve largely communicated the wrong things. If, say, we exalt expert or celebrity culture, or make belief synonymous with event-attendance, we’re shaping how people conceive of the church, or misconceive it.

    It’s tragic, because otherwise, they might see how much they want to be part of it. People are pretty lonely and depressed.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the appraoch your church takes. I’m also prepared to offer Stacey $125k to come be our worship leader. (Did I write “k”? There’s not supposed to be a “k” there…)

  22. egana permalink
    January 5, 2007 2:27 pm

    This “we” thing is tricky…

    “We” as an American Christian sub-culture is hard for “me” as an individual to influence.

    And I beginning to feel a little frustrated about it. Not merely in this discussion (the Church discussion) but in others as well (The Materialism discussion, The Race discussion, the Feminism discussion, etc.)

    And although the “we” Christians – the ones who are in the news and the paper and on the radio and TV – may be negatively influencing how my neighbors see “me” as a Christian, unless they are willing to listen to “me” and not “we,” I feel more than a little stuck.

    On Sunday mornings, I go worship Jesus and learn from Him together with the body of believers with whom I have covenanted before God to serve and be served as we all grow into His fulness. This group, this church, is not full of perfect people. We have problems, we have fears, we have differences, we have difficult decisions to make… The Lord God has been so sweetly faithful to us, to guard us and keep us humble and united to Him. I praise God for this congregation, and embrace it unashamed.

    So where does the “we” stuff fit in exactly? How does the congregation the “me” fellowhips in fit in with the overarching “we” of American Christian culture? CEFC is American. CEFC is Christian. The Lord God is doing amazing things in his church… and we are just a small piece of His work here in town, much less of our entire American nation. Yet our elders are not accountable for how the church across the road allocates their resources…

  23. Bethlen Gabor permalink
    January 7, 2007 2:22 pm

    On duty with not much to do on a Lord’s Day…. I’ve been watching and mulling this over for a while now. I see a lot of thoughtful Christians doing a lot of thinking, but what I don’t see is too much in the way of searching the Scriptures for the guidance offered to us by the Holy Spirit (fruittart excepted). Nor is there much looking through the work of our fathers into the matter. The Bible explicitly tells us much of how to construct the church and its ministry, and much more can be drawn from reasonable and straight-forward inference. In addition, the church has wrestled with with question and problems of what it is and what it is constituted to do many times in the past, and their effort is to our gain if we are willing to buckle down and study.

    As I end that first bit, I think this’ll end up being a long post. I’ll try to keep it tight.

    The issue as I understand it first came up in the posts on Brant’s blog (?) proposing his departure from any organized church body, for the reasons of corruption in those churches and a desire for a more complete and sincere communion within the Body. This was followed by Isaiah’s appreciation for this view, and his expressing a desire to pursue the same by way of emphasis on smaller, more intimate cell groups. The broader discussion of good church/bad church followed.

    First, let straighten out what exactly we’re speaking of by ‘church’, near as I can tell it. Brushing past the Greek, and leaving out the original secular uses of the word, there are two senses in which the idea occurs in the Scriptures (you could slice it 3). The first is the most thorough, seeing the church as made up of all believers, at all times, drawn together into the single Body of Christ, also pictured as the Bride of Christ. See Rm 15:8-12; I Cor 1:2; 12:12-31; Eph 1:10, 22-23; 5:23-32; Col 1:18; Ps 2:8; Ez 47:21-23; Rev 7:9; etc. This IS the very Kingdom of Jesus Christ–Ps. 72:17; 102:28; Is 9:7; Mt 13:47; 23:8-10; 27:11; Jn 18:33-37; Eph 1:22.

    The second sense of the idea of the Church is that visible society made up of those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, or (this could be the 3rd slice, but I’ll lump it together) any particular congregation of the members of that society. See about any intro to Paul’s epistles, but also I Cor 1:2 (again), 12:12-31 (again), the address in Rev. to the 7 churches, and Acts 2:47.

    Note Acts 2:47, look further at the context into which the NT places all believers, and we must emphasize, as does the Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, that outside of the church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (XXV.2). In addition, the Confession notes that “unto this [universal] visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (XXV.3) and observes that “This [universal] Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them,” and goes on to note that “some have so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but Synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.” (XXV.4,5). Look at Eph 4: 11-13; Is 59:21; Mt 13: 24-30, 47; Rm 11:3-4, 18-22; I Cor 5:6-7; Rev 2-3; and finally Ps 72:17; 102:28; Mt 16:18; 28:19-20.

    Why all this worry about the definitions? Because they instruct us in many teaching of the Scriptures about the church, our role in it and attitude towards it, how we are to build and work in it, and the realities we will face within. The church that we are part of, and (a different thing) the churches that we are members of, worship with, and live together in community with–this is the Bride of Christ, beloved of our Savior, ordained to do His work in the world, and in the final sense purified by His blood. This truth cannot properly be construed to say that every group that names the Name is faithful to the Bridegroom, or even knows Him. When the Heugenots were under persecution in Romanist France, John Calvin wrote to chasten the faction known as Nicodemites, who hid within the Roman Church, but secretly professed the Evangelical faith. Why? Because the church had fallen too far, it was corrupt, and had become one of those “synagogues of Satan”. In our own day we are plagued with old-school liberalism and more recent Post-Modern and existential-theology congregations who have allowed their faith to rot away, and have betrayed the Gospel for rank unbelief. We have churches that have given sanctuary to corruption of various kinds out for false claims of love for man, or cowardice–fearing for our position or comfort rather than fearing the God who sees and will judge, or plain apostasy. These groups are to be abandoned, not because there are no believers there (there are, though they are starving), but because the Gospel is not preached, Holiness is not practiced, our God is not worshipped or honored as He deserves. Whether we flee from the aging congregation under a liberal minister, or the crowded, faddish mega-church, where a few of the “right things” are said but the people wander blind or corruption goes unchallenged–we still must flee. The problem is not that “the transitions weren’t smooth enough.” The problem was that the Holy Spirit is not working among faithless congregants following faithless–and Gospel-less–shepherds.

    But run to where? If we are the people of Christ, we must flee to the Church, the true Church–where else is there to go? I buy the part about the flaws found in a great number of American Churches, but there’s an important distinction to be made between these churches and the “American Church”. The part of that church that is faithless is dead or dying, but it is not the Church. And when we become embittered towards those churches that are faithless, too often we both harden up against the believers left there, and forget that somewhere out there, the Lord has His 7000 who’ve not bent the knee to Baal. Find a better church, and if you can’t, pray harder.

    Brant, you are not wrong in abandoning a tomb, but consider carefully where to go. I encourage you to be very wary of trying to set up the “movement that Jesus intended”–many others have followed that path before you. I came to Christ through the ministry of a man running a home church, but they are easy prey for Satan. Far more important than my thimble-full of experience, the Scriptures have commanded us in organization, responsibilities, and functions of the church. Having set up a home church, you have the community you desired, but what will you do when the “we’re different when you’re not part of us” is endangered because one of the “we” is a wolf among the sheep. Consider II Tim 3:1-9; II Pet 2; I Jn 2: 18-21; II Jn 7-11; III Jn 5-11; and all of Jude. Consider how many other passages are out there, warning that some of those who join our churches are there to poison us. Who will preach the gospel for you–anyone? What will you do when one of you preaches a false gospel? Having seen in the Scriptures and your own experience how Satan attacks churches with enticements, corruption, and false doctrine, do you reckon that you will not be attacked in the same way? When you must act to prevent the poisoning of your congregation, on what basis will you do so, and on whose authority? What if this comes from a brother, or a family that you love dearly–do you think that is made impossible by the closeness of your communion? How much destruction will be wrought in your home church by this? Do you think the church would be better served by dividing into tiny assemblies unbound by common conviction, ordained ministers(which should mean something other than a piece of paper), and the gracious discipline of godly elders? Consider the grace demonstrated to the church in passages such as II Thes 3:11-15; I Tim 1:18-20; 3:1-15 (note vs. 15); 4:10-16; II Tim 1:6-21; 2:1-2, 23-26; 4:1-5; and I Pet 5:1-11.

    I hear your legitimate mourning over the sorry state of so many who claim Christ. But I am saddened by the poor opinion I so frequently hear voiced over the Bride of Christ, even if her dress is indeed dirty. And I would suggest to you that your home church will either be compelled to organize and conduct your church, in time, in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, or it will die, and scatter the sheep even further. We will always either BE the church, or we will surely be an abomination. Forget the modern trappings of the latest church-like fad–they are empty at best. Beneath that there is a core of sound doctrine, teaching on how we are to organize and equip the flock. There is a body of work done by the church over two thousand years, which conducts itself like the church because of Scriptural teaching, and sound, godly deduction from that teaching.

    What am I saying? Not that you must remain imprisoned in a faithless congregation. But seek out a true faithful body of believers, and take your friends with you. If there is none in your area, seek out a faithful denomination and look to get under them–perhaps the Lord will build a faithful church around you. But flee from setting up an insular group, closed to outside influence but desperately vulnerable to attack from within. If you are prayerful and faithful to His will as revealed in the Word, you will get your purity (though never without mixture of sin), and you will get your Christian community (whether or not you have the best cell groups). Many men have labored to work these things out before us. Study them, and compare their thoughts to the Word. Some will fit, some will not. But you will be enriched by the effort, and be protected from dark-hearted schism. Elijah thought he was alone, too, but the Lord had his 7000 out there. I have already lost sleep in prayer for you, and I’ll give up a bit more.

    And for us who are not in such dire straights as regards our local church, I recommend that our first thoughts be of gratitude. That could be us, and may be soon but for the providence of God. And second, the same study and consideration of the church as it has come about, and as it is commanded in Scripture would be of great value in working out how to serve him better, and to enjoy more richly the covenant He has blessed us with.

    Last: A quick recommended Bibliography, other than the Bible. First, I highly, highly recommend Francis Schaeffer’s “The Church Before the Watching World”, and his other writings on the Church. I read it again before writing this, and was floored again. He’s got several other profound (and short) works on the modern church. I also recommend “Turning Back The Darkness: The Biblical Pattern of Reformation” by Richard Phillips, “Historical Theology” (newly back in print) by William Cunningham (dead Presby), “Church Polity” by Charles Hodge, pretty much in that order. And if you can find them (hopefully they’ll be back in print soon), “The Church of Christ” by James Bannerman and “The Scripture Doctrine of The Church” by his son D. D. Bannerman are dense but rich studies.

    But I think I’ve said plenty enough for now. Sorry for the length, and I’m not reviewing it before I send, so I hope it all came out right.

  24. Bethlen Gabor permalink
    January 7, 2007 2:44 pm

    Okay, one more reading recommendation. Another of Francis Schaeffer’s: “The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century”. Between that, and “The Church Before the Watching World”, I think there are two of the finest examples of a good balance between a tearful but authoritative call for repentance, and a high Scriptural view of the Bride of Christ. They address almost point for point many of the concerns y’all have been discussing, and how to go about addressing them for His service. And comparing Schaeffer’s study of the spread of existentialism in the churches of the 50’s and later is shockingly instructive into much of what passes for evangelicalism today. That’s it, I’m done.

  25. Bethlen Gabor permalink
    January 7, 2007 2:46 pm

    Almost. I especially recommend Chapter 2 of “Watching World”, and Chapter 8 of “Twentieth Century”.

  26. January 7, 2007 10:25 pm

    Wow. Thank you, Bethlen Gabor. When I first saw your book-length post, I confess I was nervous. But that was excellent.

  27. January 8, 2007 12:07 am

    Bethlen Gabor:

    Oh, yummy!! Thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful response to this and for all the Scripture references. I also appreciate the distinctions you make.

    Going somewhat off-topic, several years ago the husband and I read through some of Doug Wilson’s books, particularly _Reformed Marriage_, and one of the things that struck us as he focused on marriage being a reflection of the union between Christ and the church (Eph 5) was how little we live that out in our own marriage and/or see it in the church in general. Often times ‘our’ (Christian) marriages don’t look that different from those of moral nonbelievers (ie, no affairs, get along reasonably well, etc). One of my conclusions is that it is, at least in part, a result of our poor view of Christ and the church. So I appreciate your bringing up Christ and his Bride, the Church. I think if we get a right view of God, of who we are in Christ and our relationship as His bride, then we are equipped to live out the rest. But I find it more common that we try to do it in the reverse order and start with ‘fixing’ our spouse/marriage and ‘finding ourselves’ so we can figure out this ‘God thing’. It’s similar with our relationship with a local body of believers.

    I’ll pray for more of those ‘light duty days’! ;-)

  28. Bethlen Gabor permalink
    January 8, 2007 8:15 am

    Heh, heh. I’m not a big blogger by nature, but I have to confess, Isaiah, that the dark part of joy that I get from posting comes from the trickle of angst I cause you. It helped me greatly to read Gorfchild’s reminder to settle and think for a bit.

    The three best periods that I know of that produced great work on the Church were the late Reformation period (when the Reformed church was defending itself against charges of schism by the Roman Church), the late 1800’s (when much of the Church was trying to stave off the infection of old-school liberalism (mostly unsuccessfully), and the modern period, getting started maybe 1950 or so in response to the increasing prevalence of existentialism.

    ‘Nuff for me, I’ll be out traveling for a few days.

  29. egana permalink
    January 8, 2007 2:13 pm

    BG: That was great! Thanks for the reminder and the bigger picture of God building His Church. I guess, if we truly have issues with HIS church, we should take them up in prayer and study with Him, huh?

    He loves me, and He is still teaching me and changing me to love him more…

    He loves His true Church, and He is still teaching me and changing me and to love it more…

    what a good God!

  30. January 10, 2007 12:17 am

    This is great topic with tremendous applications and purpose.

    I’ve been spending a significant amount of time thinking about how we should be ‘doing church’ and if even that phraseology is errant itself.

    I think that a majority of the reasons we see folks moving to an emergent church or a no-church or a home church approach to ‘church’ is because the establishment as is, has become a wasteland of tradition and staleness. The result is that we see almost dead churches struggling to breath and dead churches living but on the wrong food and water.

    Email, this web experience we call the internet and cell phones and home delivered DVDs have all aided in our becoming impersonally personal. A good ole chat face to face and enjoying a nice adult beverage over a smooth fireplace setting are things of movies not our lives. I’ve certainly had my fill of email correspondence in lieu of personal contact.

    I am finding due solace in the mindset and work of Francis Schaeffer as I see his philosophies matching my own conclusions. We are establishing a quasi-l’Abri here in the New Orleans area. The idea of a full-orbed outreach that reflects a lifestlye and not always an event. Opened doors that clothe and feed and house. Engaging the culture in their struggles with a presuppositionalism that rests in the glory of God. And a compassion for mankind that longs for the image of God to be restored.

    More later.

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