Click here for part 1 of the Rethinking Church series
Westerners in general and Americans in particular have a hard time with being. From the beginning, we have been a “can-do” people with a “git’er done” spirit. This has certainly served us well in most arenas. In our spirituality, however, this drive-to-do has led us to a simplistic and task-oriented kind of religious expression. Our faith too easily becomes another item on the to-do list.
If our being is more important than our doing, I am convinced all that we do must grow out of all that we are. But we can’t handle this! We have to justify our existence by activity, endless activity, and then more activity! Our perceived worth and value is wrapped up in accomplishment.
Baptists, Methodists, and other Do-ists.
The church-growth movement that began in the 1960s infiltrated protestant churches almost in entirety. For generations, the protestant church and its various denominations and offshoots had a being function. They were God’s people, meeting on the Lord’s day, and made of members who were collectively the “hands and feet” of Jesus in today’s world. With the church-growth movement, however, these churches adopted a doing purpose. Now they were defined not so much by their beliefs, convictions, and heritage as they were by their size, prominence, and pragmatic nature. Churches began to advertise their sermon titles, and the service itself became content-driven. Music began to reflect the top-40 pop songs more than the previous 400 years of hymnody. Denominational distinction was lost along with denominational loyalties. Churches became an island unto themselves, each trying to stand out in a sea of competition, hoping to become the most cutting edge church in towns where cutting-edge and church had never before been associated. Along the journey, these churches left their being behind for the sake of their doing.
Doing that does not grow out of being either becomes doing for do-sake or for some other sake. Since doing for do-sake has no long-term ability to attract the do-ers for the doing, some other sake must arise. And it did! Churches began to do for church-sake. More accurately, do for church-growth sake. For the sake of the power, prestige, and premier status of the church in the community, the church would do, do something, do more, and do it all better than ever before. “Excellence” became the watchword and “relevant” became the motto.
All worked seemingly well in the do-a-thon until all that could sanely be done had been done. But do-ers never stop their doing, so sanity (i.e.: Biblical integrity) was left behind and the incessant need to do kept moving forth.
And the doing became crazy!
- Saint Paul’s Church sent a young couple up their steeple to hang by a thread, kissing one another in front of the clock tower. They were surprisingly unashamed calling it a “publicity stunt.” Click here if you just really need to see it.
- Ed Young had a “sexperiment” on the church roof in order to encourage his married church members to have more sex.
- Bay Area Fellowship of Corpus Christi gave away flat-screen televisions, skateboards, guitars, 15 cars, and much more, as “a metaphor” for the “ultimate giveaway” seen in the sacrifice of Christ.
- Crossroads Church of Coronoa, CA gave away a Harley Davidson to attract crowds.
- The River church at Tampa Bay gave an H2 Hummer to bring in the bodies. Nearby pastor Randy White—whose name is unfortunately the same as mine, but whose theology, methodology, and ideology is not in the same universe—said the giveaway was something Jesus would do. According to White, Jesus’ approach was “If you live right, you get a mansion. That’s a pretty good incentive.”
- In one of the most bizarre giveaways, The Crossing Church in Elk River, MN, gave 3D TVs, game stations, and more. Pastor Eric Dykstra clearly said he was “bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ.” The church grew from a few hundred to 6,000. “to alleveiate the weirdness, we’ve said ‘if you bring your friend to church they might win a 3D Television.’” Since this may be hard to believe, you can watch this here.
In order to overcome shrinking church attendance in America, the Elk River church leadership said that they are “taking action.” And therein lies the problem. It certainly worked to build attendance. I believe, however, that they dishonored the One who had no place to lay His head, who only owned a single robe, who said “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
When believers in Jerusalem heard of the commotion in Antioch, the Scripture says they sent Barnabus to investigate: “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23, NASB95). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we allowed the grace of God to be displayed through our churches rather than the work of man?
It is time for the church to notice the danger of being a doing organization. It is time for the church to be what it is so that it can do only what such an organization does!
Two Prescribed Activities
In my last article I described how the church is a mystery of God, now revealed. As the mystery, the church has been given two prescribed activities: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these activities are mysterious in and of themselves. That is, neither activity is pragmatic in any way. Baptism is an almost embarrassing act of being immersed in a tub of water in front of a crowd of people whom are dressed in their Sunday-morning-best. The Lord’s Supper neither quenches thirst nor satisfies hunger. But, in terms of mystery, both are ideally suited. Baptism conveys our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the incarnation of God into Jesus, the Bread of Life, and the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I doubt any greater mystery activities could be designed for a mystery organization. These two activities become foundational to the activity of the mystery that is the church.
I am not the church, nor are you. The church is not only mysterious in its purpose, but it is mystery in its make-up. The church is a “collective whole,” a body, a building fitted together. The sum of the parts far exceeds the parts themselves. As a collective whole, three necessary activities emerge: fellowship, ministry, and discipline. Fellowship emerges because none of us are complete without the other. We have a mystery koinonia, the invisible tie that binds. Ministry emerges because if one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers. We make it a priority to care for the hurting parts of the body for the health of the whole. Lastly, discipline emerges because the sin of one part affects the whole. A church that understands its being nature will participate in the necessary discipline of its members.
The mystery church is the fulfillment of a part of the Abrahamic promise: through you I will bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Being the blessing of God to the nations, we have an inherent desire for evangelism. If God has made available the complete forgiveness of sins to all the nations (now there is neither Jew nor Greek), if whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13), if we are recipients of this blessing, then we want to tell this good news of the blessing fulfilled. Evangelism and missions becomes a strong desire.
A second desire is worship. We want to praise God for what He has done for Abraham through us. Our worship is in song, scripture, and service, and it is a growing desire. The more we learn of God’s mysterious work, the more we want to worship!
The final desire is to rightly divide the word of truth. Knowing the Apostle’s doctrine becomes a passionate desire for us. We want to know, understand, and apply the truth given in God’s Word.
As a mystery organization, we avoid becoming a pragmatic, doing organization. We carry out our mystery functions of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with reverence and joy. We fulfill our mystery necessities of fellowship, ministry, and discipline with diligence. We overflow with Evangelism, Worship, and learning God’s Word. Each of these activity based ministries grows out of our definition of being. In doing so, who leads us? Who organizes the work?
God has established order in His church, and He has done it through one, and only one, individual: The Pastor.
…And he will be the subject of our next post!
To download this article in a PDF format, click here: Part 2 The Danger of Being a Doing Organization