Monday, January 09, 2006

The Church, Once More

I have been planning a follow up to my previous post on the importance of the church, and a recent column from Christianity Today has pushed me to go ahead and post at least part of it. According to the CT article, George Barna’s latest book argues that there is a great spiritual revolution going on and most of the people see no need for the local church. According to Barna, this is no problem.
Here is a quote from the article which cites Barna:

Unlike the Great Awakenings, which brought people into the church, this new movement "entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God."

Who needs a church when you have God? Especially when the church can be so common, day-to-day, and unexciting. To quote the article again:

Barna illustrates with two fictional characters who "eliminated church life from their busy schedules." Why? They did not find a ministry "that was sufficiently stimulating" and "their church, although better than average, still seems flat."

The article also interacts a bit with Barna’s argument that the New Testament does not call for active involvement in a local church.

I confess that this has me a bit wired up. I can’t believe he has finally said it so baldly, but this is the spirit of the age. This properly pictures for us what many out there are thinking. I am proud of CT for critiquing it. Barna has been allowed to be a guru for years all the while showing that he has little theological or biblical basis. In fact this approach to church which he reports and encourages is simply the logical end of the consumerism he has been promoting for some time.

But, my main point is to say this simply underscores the need for clear teaching in order to properly shepherd the people entrusted to our care. This neglect of the local church is not good for us, and in spite of some common misconceptions it is not the heritage of Protestantism through the Reformation. When Protestants today are so negligent and apathetic towards the church they are in fact abandoning their heritage. The Reformers were strong in their ecclesiology. In fact Calvin wrote, “If we do not prefer the church to all other objects of our interests we are unworthy of being counted among her members” (Institutes, 4.1.1). You can pursue this further with a really good book from Soli Deo Gloria entitled, Onward Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church. It is a collection of addresses on the church by people like John MacArthur, Do Whitney and R. C. Sproul.

Since my first post on this topic began with a story about my children I’ll close this one with another story. I came in recently to find my third son, Jonathan, playing with a tape measure. As I walked up to him, I saw him pull out the tape measure a certain length, look at it studiously, and then he said matter-of-factly, “Yep, it’s 32 degrees outside.” Things like this Barna book are much like my son here. Measuring with the wrong instrument, and therefore coming up with really flawed results. At least my son will eventually learn better and his error concerns trivial things rather than controverting Scripture to the detriment of the Bride of Christ.


Stephen A Morse said...

Serving as I do in a small rural church with several hundred members on our rolls while we have only a hundred in attendance, I have found that resources like Barna's are just wonderful for family members to use to give other family members justification for their truancy.
As I talk with them, all I can see is their search for more and more reasons to explain their lack of devotion to Christ and His body.
Shame! Shame! Shame!

K. Morse said...

I find it fascinating that wherever I go, my brother has been there before me. My pastor, Tom Schreiner mentioned this book in his sermon on Sunday, and I have to just shake my head at this kind of seemingly harmless and simple self-deception. You are exactly right that this kind of thing has to be battled with good teaching. I know several people who would entirely affirm Barna's book because they dislike so many of the "Christians" in the Church, and they also do not like the idea of being accountable in any way for what they believe is their "personal and very private faith." It is simply unfathomable to me how this idea can be given any kind of biblical credence when it seems like it is simply more of the "have-it-your-way" attitude that is rampant in Western churches.

Joel Maners said...

I read the CT review of Barna's book. It is very disturbing to hear such an influential voice in Christianity, advocate an abandonment of the local church. I think we can learn much from the Catholic view of local congregations. The church is more than just a collection of those who are already saved. We typically "get saved" then look for a local church. The reality is that it is in the through the context of the local church that we discover who we are, who God is and wo we are in God.

Barry J. Maxwell said...

Out of naivete I speak. Need we define what "neoChristians" are fleeing then? Are the churches that folks find "flat" really churches at all in the Reformed mind? If word, sacrament (and discipline) are largely absent can we blame one for resistance?

A 16th century Barna could have written the same about Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and friends. They were leading a mass exodus from the church as they knew it, in search of the church as it should be (which is where Barna's conclusion falls short).

Now, I disagree with Barna's conclusion that data has proven the local church antiquated and unnecessary. Yet, the wholesale exodus may prove that the church is not on the verge of extinction, but revival. After all, it was several years between Wittenberg and a defined local Lutheran church.

I completely accept the fact that this could be senseless drivel to no one's edification. I sheepishly ask these questions not because I agree with Barna, but because we must answer him.

Ray Van Neste said...

Barry J,

Fine point. My concern and outright frustration is directed towards Barna's assessment. Frustration of people towards much of what goes by the name 'church' can be a good thing. However, as you note, if these people do not land in a community of faith somewhere it calls into question what is really going.
The jab is at the supposed leadership from Barna. But as you suggest, I think, with the people themselves there is an opportunity to come alongside these people and say, "Have you ever really experienced Church? Here is what it is biblically, and here is a group trying by grace to do this."

Barry J. Maxwell said...

Yes, yes, yes. So rather than take down all the Barnas of the world, our task is to make sure we lead, cultivate, and shepherd a church worth staying in.

Ray Van Neste said...

Well put- as always.