Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The church is not a circus tent

A little while ago I stumbled upon a Christian Universalism website called Tentmaker, with 1 Timothy 4:10 as its header.

First, I have to say that I find Universalism theology, which states that God will redeem all people, one of the more shoddy approaches in reading the Bible. It takes a handful of very selective passages, such as 1 Timothy 4:10, without taking the time or effort to consider what those passages mean in the context of the whole chapter. It also completely ignores verses in the Bible which explicitly state that not all people will be saved.

But the reason why I mention this site is because it promotes a whole array of very puzzling books. Among their most recommended are "On the Bible and Peanuts" (yes, the Snoopy and Charlie Brown Peanuts), "So You Don't want to Go to Church Anymore," "The Tithe is Illegal" and "Stop Going to Church."

I haven't read these books but I got the gist of their points by reading their descriptions online. The two books I find most telling about our "emergent church" generation, are the ones that speak out against the church.

The general motto today for this movement (which accuses the church of being too rigid and not entertaining enough for our youth) is "Don't GO to church, BE the church."

This is by far the most foolish motto any Christian could ever champion. For one, the whole existence of the church is for the benefit of the Christian Community. One of its aim is for believers to find unity, partake in fellowship and worship Christ together. If suddenly we stop going to church, the unity disappears and what you have remaining is scattered individuals who go off doing their own thing. In the book of Acts, the author Luke takes great care in showing the foundational need for unity and in supporting the tight bond that exists in the church.

Now, unfortunately I understand where this lashing out against the church has come from. Unfortunately a lot of churches (both Protestant and Catholic) have done a terrible job in continuing the community fellowship that the Apostles enacted. The preaching has become so watered down that it feels as though the pastor is just "talking" to the audience. Nobody among the "masses" knows one another's names and there is little unity between elders and members. Not only that, but members come and go as they please, occasionally offering a couple bucks on Sundays as tithes but have no relational attachment to their church. It doesn't matter to them whether the church has enough money to get by or not. They just show up on Sundays.

The cure for that, therefore, is not LESS church, but a deeper bond within the church.

I will be honest with you when I tell you that I love, absolutely love, going to my church on Sundays. I don't belong to a gigantic church with hip music, big screens, a full worship band or a pastor who is more interested in entertaining than preaching. No. Our church is small, conservative and with preaching that speaks out and digs deep into the Bible's teachings.

Not only do I know my pastor's name, I know his wife and his kids and we meet regularly for coffee to talk. I've helped him paint his house. He's had my wife and me over for dinner several times. The church has hosted game nights and Bible studies and other fellowship events. But not only the Pastor, but the elders and members in general. We are in fact the Church.

But something else that these post-modern Christian books fail to realize is that the Church cannot exist without sound preaching. We come to church to have fellowship, yes, but we come together to glorify God.

Once you remove that focus, once you say "Be the church as individuals" people start caring more about glorifying themselves than worshiping Christ. Emergent believers say the church should be more flexible, that we should look to Biblical doctrines as a trampoline instead of a brick wall, because trampolines are fun and brick walls shut people out. But in doing that, the church is destroyed. It becomes a hodgepodge of people who have no convictions and are more interested in the answers inside themselves rather than turning to the answers the Bible provides.

We are not the authority. God is. We are the Church only if God is at our center. The goal is not solely fellowship. Otherwise we might as well spend our Sundays at Kennywood. The goal is to share fellowship that is Christ centered.

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