Archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ Category
A Theological and Historical Response to the Contemporary Home Church Movement
By Paul Barreca
Pastor, Faith Bible Church, Vineland, NJ
A recent Associate Press article highlighted a trend among Christians to leave their churches and worship at home instead. (1) Sometimes called Organic Church, Missional Church or House Church, this movement appeals to many who have grown dissatisfied with the corporate and impersonal nature of many American churches. Propelled by books such as Pagan Christianity (Frank Viola and George Barna), Life After Church (Brian Sanders) and They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Dan Kimball), some Christians urge that the only legitimate form of worship is a small, non-institutional gathering. They claim to have re-discovered the true origins of Christian worship. On one extreme are the cultic teachings of Harold Camping, who advocates leaving the church because the church age has ended. More moderate examples include believers who have dropped out of their local church because of theological decay, an emphasis on methodology, and corrupt leadership. As we will discover, some illegitimately transfer these accusations to their church as they excuse themselves from its structure and accountability.
Some proponents of the house church idea foresee the demise of the church as we know it.
“Unless the church in North America makes big changes we are facing sure death, (Reggie McNealy, Missional Church Network).
“American Christianity is dying. Our future is in serious jeopardy. We are deathly ill and don’t even know it,” (Neil Cole, “Organic Church”).
Noted church statistician George Barna wrote,
“If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.” “Local churches have virtually no influence in our culture… The church appears among entities that have little or no influence on society.” (2)
Because this trend emphasizes independence, it is difficult to estimate the number of American Christians that worship in this manner. A recent Barna study demonstrates a variety of responses. When Christians were asked whether they attended a religious service in the past month in a place other than a church, approximately 24% said “yes.” However, when asked if “you participate in such a group, sometimes known as a house church or simple church, that is not associated in any way with a local, congregational type of church?” the response dropped to somewhere between 3% – 6%. (3) This statistic reveals that while gatherings such as home Bible studies are popular, the number of Christians who have left their local church is still fairly small. However, this movement is very attractive to Americans who have been raised on a strong diet of anti-institutional free thinking. Our cultural focus on independence and our resistance to authority may very well mean that the house church movement will grow in the days ahead.
Some of the criticisms that cause people to leave their church are valid. We are living in a time when many churches have neglected the gospel and turned their focus on numeric growth by becoming more culturally relevant. Churches have compromised the gospel with bad theology and scintillating antics meant to draw a crowd. Everything from crass talks on sex, to reviews of raunchy movies are common fare in many churches. The response from some believers is to abandon the church all together, but this is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. While there are a growing number of churches that have abandoned the gospel, not all churches have followed the errors of our day.
When the Church Began
Buildings dedicated exclusively for Christian worship did not come along until Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD. Before that, Christians worshiped in homes or public gathering places. This was not because worshiping in a home is a better way to worship. It was simply the only way to worship. During this period, Christians were persecuted by the Jews in their synagogues, and by the Romans through a series of local and empire-wide persecutions. Scripture gives us some indication regarding the places where believers met.
Homes. Aquila and Priscilla led a church gathering that met in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5). Colossians 4:15 also indicates a church meeting in a home. But we ought not assume that this was a gathering of only a few people. The most likely place for Christians to meet would have been in a large home, rooftop or courtyard. Some Mediterranean homes were large one-family dwellings up to four stories high. (4) Architecture in this warm climate emphasized open air courtyards where large gatherings were held. Some homes could easily accommodate an assembly of up to 100 people, and it is possible that church meetings in such houses could have been at least that large. (5) Their purpose for meeting in homes was not a statement against organization or buildings. Churches during this time were carefully structured and included discipline, elders, and mission endeavors. They were not the casual, free flowing meetings that are common in today’s American version of the house church. Paul’s missionary journeys were organized by the church in Antioch. Paul’s greeting in Romans 16 includes a tally of 28 individuals with at least three entire households included in the Roman church. If these people met in a home it would have been a church of at least 50 people. They met in homes out of necessity. As Kevin DeYoung writes, “They didn’t meet in homes in an effort to start the world’s first nonreligious religion.” (6)
The New Testament contains examples of places other than homes where the believers met. This reinforces the idea that they met where it was most convenient and practical. Other New Testament meeting places include the following:
Solomon’s Colonnade: Acts 5:12 (7) The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.
The Hall of Tyrannus: Acts 19:9–10 So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
The Synagogue. James 2:2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. The word “meeting” is a translation of the Greek word for Synagogue. It is possible that the majority of Jews at this location, or at least the synagogue leaders trusted Christ and their synagogue continued to be their place of worship.
The Beginning of Church Buildings
Church historian Everett Ferguson gives us insight concerning the move to public buildings. “With the Constantinian peace, church buildings became public monuments, and the basilica type predominated. (This type of building) was widely used in Hellenistic and imperial times for both private and public purposes: as audience halls in homes of the wealthy and of the imperial officials, as law courts and exchange buildings on the forums, and as gathering places in the larger baths.” (9) Once it became legal to meet publicly, churches quickly utilized commonly available spaces, allowing their outreach to expand and the church to grow. This practice has been widely followed in various cultures throughout church history.
Today there are many places in the world where Christians meet in homes because they are not permitted to meet publicly. Under these circumstances, there is no alternative other than a house church. Missionary Kevin King reaches many Chinese students through his ministry at Columbia University in New York City. Those who trust Christ are directed to a house church that Kevin leads. He does this because he wants to provide a reproducible form of church worship that they can carry with them when they return to China. Since independent churches in China are not permitted to hold public meetings, Kevin’s example of a house church is the best way for them to learn how to lead a church in their native country.
Churches that meet in homes are also an important part of inner city evangelism. Many new churches begin in a home. But the fact that many churches meet in homes does not mean that every church must meet in a home. This is reductionism. Those who advocate the house church as the only legitimate way seem to be suggesting that most congregations over the past 2,000 years have been worshiping the wrong way. Such a suggestion is very misguided. By their insistence on house churches only, they silently accuse millions of Christians around the world of worshiping in the wrong way. Thanks to their superior enlightenment, the rest of us can be freed from our ignorance if we see the light as they have.
New Testament principles for the local church do not focus on the form of worship, or the location of worship. These have varied from time to time and culture to culture. Rather than determining whether a group is a legitimate church by virtue of where they meet, we should examine the validity of a church according to whether it meets the requirements of the New Testament. It is by these standards that many groups meeting in homes today cannot accurately be described as fulfilling the criteria of a New Testament church.
The Essentials of the Church
1. Properly-appointed godly elders: Nowhere in Scripture do we find self-appointed elders. Leadership must be approved by existing leadership. Every New Testament church was led by elders, and we must insist that our churches today follow the same guidelines. Churches must be led by men whose calling has been verified by other elders. Mission and church planting endeavors must have the support and backing of a church where biblical eldership is present. This continuity of leadership is essential to maintain the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
a. Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
b. 1 Peter 5:2–3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
2. Willing followers: A church must have followers who submit to spiritual leadership of its elders (pastors). Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
3. The preaching of the gospel: Galatians 1:9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
4. Teaching that produces mature disciples: Matthew 28:19–20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
5. Ministry through spiritual gifts: The body of Christ is diverse. Each part needs the others. Rather than isolation, the body principle emphasizes cooperation and mutual edification, as we are instructed in Romans 12:5–6, “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.”
6. Faithful administration of the ordinances: The church is required to conduct the ordinances of Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
7. God-centered worship: The Lord calls us “a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Public worship is the delight and privilege of God’s people.
The location where a church meets does not determine whether or not it is a legitimate church, or whether or not it is worshiping properly. There are Christian gatherings that meet in homes on Sunday which are not a legitimate churches. And there are groups that meet in ornate buildings with a cross and a steeple who are devoid of spiritual life and do not proclaim the Truth of the gospel.
Some who advocate the house church concept have a misunderstanding of the New Testament examples of house churches. They also oversimplify the problems in the church today and transfer the guilt of some churches which meet in buildings onto all churches which meet in buildings. Pastor Kevin DeYoung responds to the criticism of what house church advocate Frank Viola calls the organized church by writing, “the church is always deserving of some critique, or even a lot of critique at times, but isn’t it a bit sweeping to declare that “everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible?” We should not disqualify all churches because of the gross failures of some.
For some believers around the world, the house church is the best, and often the only way to conduct corporate worship, teaching and the administration of the Christian ordinances. This will most likely continue until the Lord returns. There may even come a time in what was once “Christian America” where full-fledged persecution may force the closure of public church gatherings. That day has not yet come, but if it does, God’s people will continue to worship in whatever location the Lord provides.
We live in a culture that emphasizes isolation and independence. Many people seldom come out of their homes. Public interaction is avoided by many people who plug in their ear buds, roll up their windows, close their doors, shop online and remain in the comfort of their modern American homes More and more, we are being drawn into our own exclusive bubble of isolation. We need one another, in spite of our weaknesses, peculiarities, and failures. When there are disagreements, the Lord gives us Scriptural guidelines to resolve them. Unless your local church is teaching false doctrine or embracing sin, leaving it is not the best way to honor the Lord and encourage the body. The Lord Jesus died for the church and will return to bring her to glory. Until then, we should honor His body, the church, and embrace every opportunity to promote it’s growth.
1. Linda Stewart Ball, “House Church – Skip the Sermon, Worship at Home.” The Associated Press, Wed Jul 21, 2010, accessed August 12, 2010 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100721/ap_on_re/us_rel_religion
2. Quotations from Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009), 26-27.
3. The Barna Group, “How Many People Really Attend a House Church?” http://www.barna.org/organic-church-articles/291-how-many-people-really-attend-a-house-church-barna-study-finds-it-depends-on-the-definition accessed August 13, 2010
4. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 128.
5. DeYoung, 120.
6. Ibid, 120.
7. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
8. Fergusson, 129.
9. DeYoung, 117.
This article is by guest contributor Larry DeBruyn, pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and the author of the blog, “Guarding His Flock.”
T.D. Jakes and Communion at ”A Table Set for Two.”
“Brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17-18, KJV)
In the Upper Room and to memorialize His upcoming death, the Lord Jesus took the common but symbolic elements of the bread and wine and instituted the ordinance that has come to be known as the Lord’s Table, the Eucharist, Communion, or simply, “the breaking of bread.” Luke records, “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:19-20). Of the rite established by the Lord to be observed by the church, Ralph P. Martin stated that susequently it became “a fruitful source of heresy and confused doctrine.”  Not only was this to be the case for developing Christendom, but it is also so among churches today.
To boost attendance, congregations within the Church of England have employed the music of the rock group U2. In one congregation, a bishop presided over what is blasphemously–for it’s about them, not Him–called a “‘U2-charist’, a Holy Communion service that employs the Irish supergroup’s best-selling songs in place of hymns.”  The communion service is described:
In what is more rock concert than Book of Common Prayer, a live band will belt out U2 classics such as Mysterious Ways and Beautiful Day as worshippers sing along with the lyrics, which will appear on screens. The [nightclub] atmosphere will be further enhanced by a sophisticated lighting system that will pulse with the beat . . . 
USA Today reported that “U2-charist” worship has also come to Episcopal congregations in the United States, and likely will find its way into other denominations and congregations as well.  One worshipper, a Roman Catholic who attended a “U2-charist” at a nearby Episcopal church in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Bridgett Roberts, age 15, remarked of her experience:
It makes you, like, warm inside. Usually at church you love Jesus and everything. But this way you can express how you feel. 
Now in a recent message, “Communion,” Bishop T.D. Jakes eroticizes the ordinance.  On a DVD presentation, he begins his remarks about the Lord’s Table as follows:
One of the most personal, intimate things you can do is to have communion. It shows who you are to Him. It expresses that you are one with the Groom, that the Bride is connected to the Groom through the blood; they have fused together and become one; that they have the same DNA; that they’ve been devined by God; that the covenant has been ratified in the blood much like intercourse signified the ratification of blood in a wedding ceremony. 
Then he continues:
When the man and the woman come together, the Bible says, ‘They shall cleave together and become one flesh.’ His body and her body, her body and his body, they become one entity which is what they were at first when God made Adam. He made one person, male and female He created them and called his name Adam. And when He got ready, He pulled her out of him. And so that’s why we have the right to come back together because we were together in the first place. (The audience stands, shouts, claps, and raises their hands.) 
Then Jakes drives home the point:
When Jesus says, ‘Take, eat. This is my body that was broken for you,’ He says, I want my body in you. (Pause . . . shouts and claps) I want my blood in you. And every time you celebrate this rite, it is a reminder that you belong to me, and I belong to you. And he said, ‘I will drink no more wine until I drink it new with you and the kingdom of God. Communion is the most romantic ordinance. Eh, Eh, Eh. (He laughs. Pause . . . the audience shouts and claps.) It is the most romantic ordinance between two lovers. 
In the observation of communion, the Bishop’s remarks are grossly inappropriate for a number of reasons.
First, why associate the ordinance with sex? Jakes heaps up sexually suggestive words, phrases and sentences—intimate; Groom; Bride; fused together and become one; intercourse; wedding ceremony; shall cleave together and become one flesh; her body and his body; (Jesus says) I want my body in you; Communion is the most romantic ordinance . . . Eh, Eh, Eh; It is the most romantic ordinance between two lovers.
The Apostle Peter warns against false teachers who, “when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure [deceive] through the lusts of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:18, KJV). Decades ago, A.W. Tozer noted that,
The period in which we now live may well go down in history as the Erotic Age. Sex love has been elevated into a cult. Eros has more worshippers among civilized men today than any other god. For millions, the erotic has completely displaced the spiritual. 
Second, to pursue the biblical mystery (Ephesians 5:32), Jakes makes it seem that the Groom and Bride are already married, when in fact the Church’s marriage to Christ will not officially take place until the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:5-9). As a group, Christian believers may be compared to a Bride awaiting their Groom’s return (Matthew 25:1-11). Though the one-year betrothal period in biblical culture was considered to be legal marriage (When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, he wrestled with the idea of divorcing Mary for infidelity, Matthew 1:18-19.), couples lived lived apart from each other during that time. That’s why as His Bride, we’re to observe the ordinance that remembers and preaches “the Lord’s death until He comes” (Emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 11:26). The ordinance by which the Lord requests His Betrothed to remember His sacrifice on the cross for their sins ought not to be turned into something akin to a seduction!
Third, in understanding the metaphor-mystery of the Bide’s relationship to the Groom (i.e., the Church’s relationship to Christ), earthly sexual connotation regarding that relationship ought to be removed. In answer to Jews who had posed a hypothetical question about the Levirate Law to Him, Jesus responded: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30, KJV). So even when the Bride is married to the Groom, that marriage in heaven will not be comparable to human marriage on earth for at core, earthly marriage is about covenant-committment. The fact that the Church’s relationship to Christ is explained by the metaphor-mystery of marriage, especially from the perspective of the period of betrothal during which the bride and groom were separated, stands opposed to those who like T.D. Jakes, attempt to eroticize the ordinance in a earthly-fleshly and human-sensual vein.
Fourth, one must wonder what the preacher means when he asserts that communicants become devined by ingesting the elements (the bread-body and wine-blood) of the ordinance. By asserting that divine DNA infuses them, is Jakes advocating that magically transubstantiated elements possess the power to divinize communicants?  His words suggest this to be the case. According to his scheme of spirituality, the communion elements become a magical-mechanical-means whereby Christians become “gods.” By ingesting divinity, they become divinity. In the ancient church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, this process is known as deification (Greek, theosis or theopoiesis). Jakes’ bold language seems to “deliberately [evoke] the pagan language of apotheosis (humans, especially emperors, being advanced to the rank of deity) . . .” 
Fifth, in his sermon “Communion,” Jakes makes it seem as if the Lord’s Table is individual when in fact it’s communal. The ordinance is not observed between two lovers, but rather between Jesus Christ and the many who were/are His followers; initially, the original band of apostles/disciples in the Upper Room, and subsequently, all Christians who would come to believe in Him as their Savior and Lord (See John 17:20-21.). So Adolph Schlatter noted that in addition to Baptism, the Eucharist “constituted a second act that powerfully moved believers’ thoughts and desires and bound them together as a united community.” 
Sixth, for believers, the attraction of the Lord’s Table is the work He already accomplished for us. The ordinance’s focus is upon Jesus’ past death. It’s all about remembrance, not romance. The Lord ordered, “This . . . do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The Apostle Paul twice repeated, once for the Bread and then for the Cup, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). As Washington D.C., abounds with granite memorials remembering those who died in the cause for our and other nations’ freedom—the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, etc.—so the elements are taken in the memory of the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, He who died for our spiritual freedom. The church must not allow sensuality to undermine her spirituality. The Table of the Lord must not be turned on its head to impress others of being some sort of bacchic rite (Bacchus was the Roman ”party” god.), something that for reason early Christians called their meetings the Agape, or Love Feast (See 1 Corinthians 11:20-22), pagan stoics accused them of. After all, communion is about redemption and reverence, not romance! 
To conclude this presentation dealing with an aberrant, even abhorrent, treatment of Communion, A.W. Tozer may be quoted again. He wrote:
Now if this god Eros would let us Christians alone I for one would let his cult alone for the whole spongy, fetid mess will sink some day under its own weight and become excellent fuel for the fires of hell. But the cult of Eros is seriously affecting the Christian church. 
For reason that the cult of Eros will not leave Christians alone in this wired world of the Internet and is therefore affecting the church, this pastor is forced to issue a public disclaimer of what T.D. Jakes has made “Communion” out to be. The Eucharist should not be eroticized. 
 Italics mine, Ralph P. Martin, “Lord’s Supper, The,” The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962) 751.
 Jonathan Petre, “Hymns replaced by U2 lyrics at church,” ReligionNewsBlog.com, January 30, 2007. Online at: www.religionnewsblog.com/17326/hymns-replaced-by-u2-lyrics-at-church.
 Gary Stern, “Episcopal ‘U2-charist’ uses songs in service,” USA Today, October 26, 2006. Online at: www. usatoday.com/life/music/2006-10-25-u2-churches_x.htm.
 Bishop T.D. Jakes, “Communion,” The Potter’s Touch. Online at: http://en.sevenload.com/videos/FBdNHJu-20090419-Communion. Video transcribed from minutes/seconds 16.04-19.55.
 A.W. Tozer, “The Erotic Is Rapidly Displacing the Spiritual,” Renewed Day by Day, Daily Devotional Readings, Volume I, Compiled by Gerald B. Smith (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1980) May 13 reading. I thank my friend Pastor Robert C. Gifford for bringing Tozer’s devotional to my attention.
 As regards Jesus’ statement, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19; Compare Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; 1 Corinthians 11:24.), R.P. Martin notes: “There is no ground for a literal equivalence as in the doctrine of transubstantiation. The copula ‘is’ is the exegetical significat as in Gn. 41:26; Dn. 7:17; Lk. 8:11; Gal. 4:24; Rev. 1:20; and in the spoken Aramaic the copulative would be lacking, as in Gn. 40:12; Dn. 2:36; 4:22. The figurative, non-literal connotation ‘ought never to have been disputed’ (Lietzmann).” See Martin, “Lord’s Supper,” 750.
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872), a German philosopher who believed the Christian faith was a “dream of the human mind,” and therefore was no friend of the faith, especially the Roman Catholic, wrote of the elements: “The wine and bread are in reality natural, but in the imagination divine substances.” See his, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, Translator (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004) 245.
To explain the sense of “is” in the sentence, “This is My body,” a seminary professor once took a picture of his wife out of his wallet and said, “This is my wife.” So, “The bread becomes under His [Jesus’] sovereign word the parable of His body yielded up in the service of God’s redeeming purpose (cf. Heb. x. 5-10); and His blood outpoured in death, recalling the sacrificial rites of the Old Testament, is represented in the cup of blessing on the table. That cup is invested henceforward with a fresh significance as the memorial of the new Exodus, accomplished at Jerusalem (Lk. ix. 31).” Martin, “Lord’s Table,” 750.
Indeed, as the Apostle put it, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7b, KJV).
 John A. McGuckin, “Deification,” The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology (London: SCM Press, 2005) 98.
 Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles, Andreas J. Köstenberger, Translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998) 47.
 The sense of the Greek noun “remembrance” (anamnesis) is to remember again “in an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.” See W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., “Remembrance,” An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) 946-947.
 Tozer, “The Erotic.”
 See also Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “Evangelicals: Emergent and Erotic,” Guarding His Flock.com. Online at: http://guardinghisflock.com/2009/06/08/evangelicals-emergent-and-erotic/#more-3.
Postscript: I want to thank Mrs. Gaylene Goodroad, a member of Franklin Road Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, for drawing my attention to Bishop Jakes’ internet sermon.
Larry DeBruyn, the guest writer of this ABI blog post, received his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974 and has been the Pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana for many years. Pastor DeBruyn has published two books; regularly writes articles as a guest contributor on several websites; is a conference speaker; and has taught internationally including at the Word of Life Bible School in Hungary.
“Some thoughts on Sunday night church in a bar.”
As he begins to rip into “a screaming guitar solo,” the band member yells out at the audience, “Let’s go to church boys!” Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, the theology is “a Sunday night show that’s one part church and one part party.” Among other posters on the bar’s walls is an alluding slander of the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, “Faith, Hope, Love and Beer” (The actual text reads, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” 1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).
Being “shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art,” some members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church’s “worship team” on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock ‘n’ roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to cozy up to the bar and buy beer. Skeptical about hosting the “Pub Theology” on Sunday nights in his bar at first, the owner of the business admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.
Regarding this new outreach—the mega-church’s ministerial staff fully approve of Pub Theology—one of the band’s members says: “We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer,” remarks one of the band members. “I think that is real, and I don’t think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that.” Another band member relates, “I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus.”
Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (i.e., preacher’s kids). Having been a former pastor, their father now sees the light and has become the band’s roadie (a catch-all term covering all those managers and techies that accompany the band). The band accounts for the band’s existence and novel ministerial approach for reason of their legalistic Wesleyan upbringing—“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to R-rated movies, I don’t dance.” But the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for a reporter asks, “Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar—a spiritual one-night stand?”
First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where’s the reading of the Scriptures, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord’s Table? (Acts 2:42) We can also be certain that the band members will avoid any impression of being preachy.
Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band’s opening song was Joan Osborne’s one-hit wonder, “What if God was one of us?” The lyrics also add, “Just a slob like one of us.” Imagine . . . God’s a slob like one of us. Given the humanizing of God in the song “What if God was one of us?” what we’re dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry as “the glory of the incorruptible God” is being exchanged “for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne’s lyrical questions affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these three passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub-theology band sing them? I’d estimate the lyrics of these hymns to be far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the “boys” at the bar!
Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. It’s the use of carnal-fleshly-worldly means to attain spiritual ends. The Apostle Paul would not have engaged such means for he wrote: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels “drunkenness” a work of the flesh). Given the atmosphere surrounding the Pub Theology, Paul’s majestic description of love as it exists on the barroom wall might be contemporarily translated, now abide these four, “faith, hope, love, and beer,” but the greatest of these is beer!
Today, I received an email from an ABI Facebook Group member with some questions and issues that this person would like for us to consider as topics to be addressed on the ABI website and/or blog. I have also encountered these myself in a variety of contexts including ministry situations, articles and books, blogs and forums, conversations and just during personal reflection. I have summarized the main issues below and plan to write on many or most of them in over the next few weeks (or have guest writers contribute, as well.)
So, stay tuned.
(As always, please feel free to comment on the blogs – and also send me your own questions, as well.)
Reformed theology: We are seeing this become an increasingly divisive issue within and between churches. Some churches now no longer want to have gospel invitations and didn’t like it that invitations were included in some of the teaching material they had been using. They had concluded that a person could not understand and properly respond to a gospel message the first time they hear it. This also seems to be related to the “Lordship salvation” / “easy believism” debate. (My comments: These also sometimes have implications for other issues that are worth discussing such as dispensational versus Covenant theology, Calvinism versus Arminianism, predestination versus free-will, eternal security versus conditional security, among others.)
The Emergent Church: I get asked about this a lot by many people, including pastors. But I’m also asked this by a lot of lay people and regardless of their role in the church – I would love to be able to refer people to a good, concise article that explains things clearly. On the other hand, I am amazed at how many others don’t even know that this and other major issues are having a profound impact on the church as a whole today.
Worldview: What does “worldview” mean in general – and what does it mean to have a biblical worldview? I have been in at least one rather tense conversation with someone who was struggling to understand that not every believer necessarily has a biblical worldview. Along this line of thought, I was recently involved in one discussion in which the actual “Christian-ness” of a parent’s worldview came into question by on of their teen children – because they appeared to be sort out the idea that there are possibly various degrees of Christianity.
Doctrine: A major issue I frequently encounter is the question, “why does doctrine matter?” For many, the bottom line is that “God is love” and we should all work together on that basis alone. We are seeing a wide variety of beliefs, many contradictory – which cause problems for both those who try to minimize the differences as well as those that are struggling to define core beliefs that essential separation issues. As one example, a few years ago when asked about what his church held to doctrinally the pastor responded, “Well – we are really on the cutting edge of theology here . . . ” We had a lot of discussion about just what that meant – and it just wasn’t very clear. The edge of theology (that lacks clear biblical basis) is not where we want to be nor where we would want our children being trained!
The “homechurch/family integrated church” movement: This thinking is promoted heavily by Vision Forum among others. (Also, the long-term effect / effectiveness of small-groups needs to be examined for results – long-term and short-term.)
Old Earth/Young Earth Creationism: This a big topic causing a lot of discussion a homeschool forum, with some suggestion that perhaps Young Earth Creationism is actually a tool of Satan to divide the church.
Biblically rearing children: Many methods and philosophies are being promoted concerning appropriate education of one’s children. This extends from more moderate mainstream views on responsible schooling – with often more heat than light generated in some discussions. Some are happy to put their children in school because the parents feel it is a comfort to put her children in school knowing that there were people in the government whose job it was to know what was best for her children and to take that burden from her. Others fall to the other extreme – perhaps something in the vein of the “quiverful movement,” Bill Gothard teaching and philosophy and even whether or not youth groups are biblical.
Depending on the context, some of these have turned into real emotional “hot-button” issues.
Thank you for taking time to ask about these. We will try to address them in a fair and balanced way. Some might require multiple posts and I may call upon guest writers with greater expertise to write on some of them. Whatever the case, I encourage others to write to me as well – and we will try to address your hottest topics. firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2-column article format: Click here to download)
The following are examples of some slogans that are currently in use by churches in America (as reported on www.poetpatriot.com):
“Real church…Real People”
“The Church of Tomorrow…Today!”
“Equipping People for Life”
“The Small Church with a Big Dream”
“The Fortified City”
“A Church Where Miracles Happen”
However, there is one slogan in particular that has gained broad usage in recent years: “A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church”
Although I understand what is meant and why it is used, something about this slogan just doesn’t seem quite right.
Several important issues come to mind:
* Christ said that he was going to build his church (Matthew 16:18)
* Believers as a group make up the church as the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23)
* Believers as individuals make up local churches (cf. the greetings and references throughout Paul’s letters)
* Believers are instructed to consistently gather together for mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:25) – which seems to be a reference to church meetings
* Most of the New Testament letters were written to functioning, organized local churches
* The instructions in Revelation 1-3 were specifically to churches in preparation for the revelation of Christ to the world and the coming judgment
* Everything related to the spiritual life of believers in the New Testament is in the context of the local church
* In the New Testament, it is assumed that believers need and desire to be together; to function as a loving community gathered together in the name of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the body – which is the church
* Unbelievers receive virtually no mention in the letters to the churches except when they pose problems for individual believers or disrupt the normal life of the church through things like false teaching or improper behavior
* The structure, function and responsibilities of the local church is always defined in relation to believers, and in this regard unbelievers are inconsequential to the life of the church (it’s not that they are unimportant for they most certainly are extremely important – to God and to believers, they are just not part of the church).
From these, we learn very important truths about the way a healthy, biblical church should function. We learn prescriptively (through commands) and descriptively (through examples) what churches should be like – what is important, what should be emphasized, how and why things should be done.
First, we learn that church is not something to be disparaged, nor minimized in any sense. It is central to the life of the believer as it facilitates one’s relationship with Christ and with other believers. But this slogan feels a bit like a “bait and switch” – which does disparage church (at least as it has traditionally been understood) – but then offers church in its place. It is an unfortunate word play.
Second, we find that church is for believers, rather than unbelievers or even a mixed group. In fact, more than being just for believers, church is comprised of believers exclusively. Without believers, although there can be a gathering of people – even for religious reasons, it does not constitute a biblical church. Church is by and for believers alone. There is nothing in the New Testament that remotely indicates that the meetings of believers, i.e., local churches, are to be formed or function for the sake of unbelievers or to make them relevant to unbelievers. In fact, a biblical local church, by definition, will not be relevant to unbelievers, because deep spiritual truth is beyond the grasp of someone who has not been born again (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Conversely, to whatever degree a meeting is inherently attractive, understandable, relevant, etc. to unbelievers, to that degree it will cease to be a church meeting. This doesn’t mean that we look for ways to be unattractive, incomprehensible and irrelevant. But it is the work of the Spirit of God in the heart of an unbeliever that makes spiritual truth seem relevant to him or her. No amount of repackaging can accomplish this. And because of this, the contents of the package are usually what is changed. (This doesn’t mean that there can’t be meetings, conferences, seminars, etc. for the sake of reaching out to unbelievers – but that is a different function).
To be fair, the slogan in question reflects a legitimate and well-intentioned attempt to address various problems which include things such as stagnating or decreasing church attendance, ministering to believers who are immersed in a culture that is quickly moving away from Christian principles as the foundation for society, reaching the lost for Christ in the face of a deepening disinterest in all things Christian and a disdain for anything that smacks of promoting moral absolutes.
However, in the process of dealing with these things, the focus and purpose of the church has largely shifted away from being a place of encouragement and ongoing spiritual growth for believers. Instead, the mission of the church is shifting toward to creating a place and an atmosphere that is appealing and non-threatening to primarily the “unchurched” (the lost) and the “dechurched” (the disgruntled). In other words, the new “church” that is emerging is being specifically crafted to be a place for people who don’t like church. This necessarily means that over time worldly philosophies and methodologies will ultimately overwhelm biblical ways of thinking and doing things.
But if believers are called to be separate, to come out from the world, to not be conformed to the world, to be in the world but not of the world, to avoid sinful or even questionable practices – then sooner or later, believers will be driven away from these “church” meetings as churches emerge and evolve into these new forms. Unbelievers may be seeking something, but no matter how it may appear they are not seeking God nor his righteousness (Romans 3:10-11). I fear that many have been deceived into making wholesale changes for the sake of unbelievers, while at the same time driving out untold scores of genuine believers who would dare to resist some of the more radical changes.
Consequently, the new “church” is no longer for people who do like church. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t always be seeking ways to be culturally relevant. But being culturally relevant does not mean to constantly chase the latest trends and philosophies and bring them into the church so people can comfortably relate. To be culturally relevant is to be wise and insightful concerning how to apply biblical principles in such a way to affect change in the lives of believers when they are tempted to conform to ungodly cultural norms.
Unfortunately, biblical exposition tends to be one of the first things that begins changing in the remaking of church so that it is more attractive to those who don’t like church. Expositional messages based on sound exegesis tend to give way to superficially-biblical topical messages dealing with the “felt-needs” of a primary target audience that is either unchurched or dechurched. On the one hand, this group cannot grasp spiritually deep truths and on the other, they are generally easily offended by terms like “sin,” “wrath,” “judgment,” “hell,” etc. Of course, unbelievers are welcome to come into a believers’ meeting, but they will never become a part of the fellowship unless they clearly hear the gospel and the Word of God taught authoritatively and unapologetically.
When the centrality of the Word of God is diminished or even eliminated, then church is no longer for those who do like church. And believers should like church. This isn’t about those who are simply against any kind of change for any reason. This isn’t about self-centeredness. This isn’t about fear of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. This isn’t about a total lack of concern for a lost world.
However, the sad fact is that often those believers (who are often among the most mature) who do resist this emergence into a new kind of church and new kind of Christianity are regularly criticized and vilified – and many are even told that it would probably be better if they found another church.
Rather, it is about keeping church for born-again believers, because the church is born-again believers – and only born-again believers. It is about making sure that the church is always for people who do like church.
There are innumerable legitimate and creative ways for believers to be salt and light in the world – and reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers can and should go out into the world, not isolate themselves from it in some kind of monasticism. But we don’t reach the lost by transforming church meetings to model worldly thought and behavior. If we do, then there is nothing left to where believers can go for fellowship and to gain the strength, encouragement, knowledge and wisdom they need to be a wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves in a dangerous world of which our mortal enemy is its prince.
The biblical picture is of shepherding in such a way that none of the flock (who love being near the shepherd) are lost in the process of adding to the size of the flock. Unfortunately, much of what passes for modern church-growth methods amounts to little more than sending large parts of the flock over a cliff, just so they can be replaced by a new larger flock – that really doesn’t know any better.
May we never be part of remaking the church in such a way that those who used to like church, no longer do.