On How We Do Church
The topic of church and how we ‘do church’ is one that fascinates me. And as those who have been called ‘the church’, it is a topic that demands our highest attention. In most circles and certainly from a historical standpoint, we can see that for many, the ‘church’ is a building where ‘the church’ gathers.
Usually lost in this understanding of ‘church’ is the fact that we as a people are ‘the church’ as opposed to being just a place of brick and mortar. All sorts of fights and disagreements and even movements have been established as a result of this distinctive difference. Besides debates over Regulative Principles of worship the one that comes to mind specifically would be the conviction of many church friends I’ve had over the years who insist on ‘home-churching’ because they are convinced that we don’t need ‘a building’.
Of course they forget the fact that their homes are buildings and in most cases a successful home-church model always outgrows the size of any one particular person’s home size and they inevitably end up renting a place if not weekly at least monthly for gatherings.
For moderns the church is a place where they come to find social networking and pleasures such as a coffeehouse embedded in the sanctuary or a junior softball league sponsored in their backfield. While these are not necessarily evil, many times they simply come at the expense of the gospel where a watered-down Jesus is put on cool t-shirts while the true and living God/Man is mantled into obscurity. A halcyon-inflected materialism gently mediates much of the modern forum causing biblicists to convulse and protest. And so the debate rages on.
Along the same lines of protest come outcries against the Emergent Church movement which tends to find more in common with Oprah and Deepak than with Christ and His church. However, when I read and listen to this debate I find many people talking past each other proving once again that the importance of definitions can never be underestimated. Far too often, anything ‘new’ is posed as ‘wrong’ and anything ‘old’ is labeled as ‘outdated’. This is simply false.
All things must be examined by the light of Scripture to see if they stand. In my opinion the bulk of the Emergent Church movement is the direct result of an overreaction to a stale and dull church that has under-contextualized itself. A church that has been stagnated and stuck in certain idolized centuries while at the same time leaving its doors open to pop-psychology, corporate-like ecclesiastical structures, and a blindness to understanding the rapidly changing culture in which it wishes to minister. Neo-mysticism is now riding the hedge with rampant skeptics and far too many have seen the solution in placating to felt needs and individual whims. The result has been a dismal failure to maintain Scriptural integrity putting much of the truth of God under the hip bus. Why can’t we simply be who we are where He has planted us? Isn’t it possible to stand fast on the timeless truths of Scripture wavering not one inch on the gospel of Christ while at the same time realizing that we are not 17th century Puritans and that our society while exhibiting many of the same personality, is completely different with new and unique challenges?
Surely this is not a compromise but an act of timely wisdom. Being strong on doctrine does not make you boring or indifferent anymore than acknowledging relateability makes you a compromiser. A fear of abandoning doctrinal integrity while maintaining a fear of being out of touch with your culture are really just two firm hands on the same stick.
There are many aspects of revisiting how we ‘do church’ that are good and refreshing. We have been called to challenge and discern all things biblically and so it is a happy journey to rethink. If we believe that the truth of God’s Word never waivers and that men have a tendency to change and stray from that unchanging rule of faith, then periodic examination should be required to make sure that we have not yet, once again, dipped into the hailing of tradition over truth or that we have not put our preferences in higher esteem than they need be.
Below is a clip from Pastor Tim Keller’s TV interview about doing church in an age of skepticism. Enjoy.