No Church? No Problem (Part One)
Here's an item I'm sure many of you will find it quite interesting.
Christianity Today, January 2006
No Church? No Problem
George Barna wants commitment to the local congregation to sink lower than ever.
Reviewed by Kevin Miller | posted 12/28/2005 09:00 a.m.
REVOLUTION: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary by George Barna Tyndale, 144 pp.; $17.99
Storm the barricades! According to researcher George Barna, we're in the midst of a "spiritual revolution that is reshaping Christianity, personal faith, corporate religious experience, and the moral contours of the nation."
Who's leading the coup d'état? Some 20 million people, dubbed Revolutionaries, who live "a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, and simplicity" and who "zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God."
If true, this is amazing news, the best for American Christians in generations.
But before we break out the party poppers, we should note that, like every revolution, this one has a loser: the local church.
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." Already "millions of believers have stopped going to church," so Barna expects that in 20 years "only about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith." Down will go the number of churches, donations to churches, and the cultural influence of churches.
Are you worried about the church where you were baptized, taught, married, and given Communion? That's only a "congregational-formatted ministry," one of many ways to "develop and live a faith-centered life. We made it up." Writes Barna, "Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God)." He doesn't reveal God's expectations for church involvement, but they don't seem hard to get over.
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." Too bad for the lowly local church that people today insist on having "unique, highly personalized church experiences."
So where are the Revolutionaries going? To "mini-movements" such as home schooling, house churches, Bible studies at work, and Chris Tomlin worship concerts. What matters is a godly life, so "if a local church facilitates that kind of [godly] life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good."
Those expecting impartial research will instead find Revolution a work of passion: "My goal is to help you be a Revolutionary," Barna writes. One looks in vain for the methodology, survey responses, and analysis that led Barna to his conclusions.
And that begs several questions. First, who are these 20 million people defined as Revolutionaries? We know they're fully devoted to God, but Barna gives us precious little information about them. Barna does say that only 9 percent of the nation's 77 million born-again adults have a biblical worldview, and that accounts for just under 7 million people. So the remaining 13 million Revolutionaries either don't have a biblical worldview or aren't born again? You can't tell from reading this book.
The second question: How vital can a Christian revolution be that views the local church as optional?
Revolution is passionate for the church, so long as it's the capital-C church, the universal group of believers in Jesus, the church I can't see and don't have to relate to. When the Reformers distinguished between the local and universal church, they did so to point out that not every church member had justifying faith. But they insisted that every believer be immersed in a local congregation, where the gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered. The notion of freelance Christians would have made them spit out their beer.
Barna anticipates this criticism and replies: "The Bible does not tell us that worship must happen in a church sanctuary and therefore we must be actively associated with a local church." But to say the New Testament does not prescribe a form for worship (though its assemblies somehow all gather on the Lord's Day to read Scripture, pray, prophesy, and share the Lord's Supper) is not to say the New Testament allows us to disregard the church.
Not that I'm blaming Barna. His book merely reveals every thin spot in evangelical ecclesiology. We flamingly disregard 2,000 years of guidance under the Holy Spirit. We elevate private judgment above the collective wisdom of apostles, martyrs, reformers, and saints.
Granted, Christianity has always accepted non-congregational forms. Consider the fourth-century hermits who fled to the Egyptian desert. But precisely because those loose gatherings of ascetics fostered so many problems *including pride and dissension *John Cassian and others formed them into communities that were committed to the sacraments and under spiritual authority. In other words, Christianity has welcomed non-congregational forms, and it will welcome many created by today's Revolutionaries, but Christianity has wisely reserved the central and essential place for the local congregation.
The third question: Is this Revolution motivated primarily by the Spirit of God, advancing the kingdom beyond the walls of the stiff and often ineffective local congregation, or by the anti-institutional and individualistic drives of our time? Barna argues the former, and in the book's strongest chapter, he provides a relentless statistical indictment of the local church's failure to develop mature disciples. Barna is rightly incensed at the low level of spiritual maturity in the American church: "As the research data clearly show, churches are not doing the job."
continued in Part Two - Churching Alone
Reg "If we want to set our lives right and find peace, it is not the tolerant attitude of others that will do it for us. It will come about, rather, by our learning how to show compassion to them..... If we do not seek liberation from our obsessions, then becoming more withdrawn and less social may even make us more blind to them, since it can mask them." - John Cassian (He lived between 360 and 430 A.D. He was a monk in Bethlehem and Egypt.)