First off, I don’t place much value in the type of research that Barna does commerce in. I think polls are about as inexact and subject to manipulation as you can get…. and still hold creedance with thinking people. But… I think that some of what is being said in Varied Musings post is worth discussing.
Barnaâ€™s Finally Gone Too Far
Posted by Paul
Move over Jabez, there is a new book that is far more dangerous to the Church: George Barnaâ€™s Revolution. This is unbelievable. The whole article is available at Christianty Todayâ€™s Website.
Barna expects to see believers â€œchoosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal â€˜churchâ€™ of the individual.â€ The phrase â€œpersonal â€˜churchâ€™ of the individualâ€ must be the most mind-spinning phrase ever written about the church of Jesus Christ. At any other point in church history, â€œpersonal churchâ€ would be nonsensical. In todayâ€™s America, itâ€™s the Next Big Thing.
Barna actually argues that since all research indicates (correctly) the American Church has failed to develop mature disciples, we should actually draw away from the church and focus on a personal godly life.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. Personal godly life is good. And necessary. But what about what the Bible says about church involvment? As with so many pragmatists, the Bible text is secondary, or simply ignored.
…It is true that the Bible doesnâ€™t tell us exactly what our church experience should look like or what day of the week we have to meet. We can meet Sunday or Tuesday. We can wear suits or tie-dye. Sing hyms or have a marching band. Meet for 20 minutes or 2 days. God has left the method up to our convictions and our culture. However, the Bible is clear on the message and the obligation (and joy) believers have to the local church body, and using our spiritual gifts within that body.
I want to look at a couple things. One is the American Church.
Paul, of Varied Musings is predicating his view of Church on the Bible. That part is good, but he is working off the old model that whatever state our institutional Churches are in we have to attend and work with that. This is where I would question his thinking and where I feel perhaps Barna is making a valid statement.
Perhaps there is a revolution and perhaps there needs to be. I am not ready to give my seal of approval on that thinking, but I believe we need to give it consideration. At this point I think of the Reformation and I think also of the idea of revolution versus reformation.
Another point I would like to consider is that “pragmatists” often ignore the Bible. I just don’t think that is a true statement. On my side of it, as one who considers themselves strongly pragmatic, is the idea that there is a type of pragmatism that holds very fundamental views on the Bible and uses it as the standard, and the most referenced source for ones course of action. On pragmatic reasons alone, the Bible is the most trustworthy basis.
I understand that in the Christian discussion of today, “pragmatism” is given a different meaning, one more in the line of temporal and temporary “whatever works”. That, I feel is a misuse of the term when it isn’t clearly given definition.
But now, looking at the original article…
The No Church? No Problem – Christianity Today Magazine says this:
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.
And immediately I thought of an article I read recently on “Mega-churches” which stated that “denominationalism” is over. That the culture is moving away from that, and when I read it I thought “Isn’t that what we’ve all been touting all along? that we wanted this? Hasn’t everyone wrung their hands over the division within the Church?
And now they are bellyaching about the loss of those distinctions. It reminds me further of the children in the marketplace- they pipe to you and wonder why you don’t dance when they say “dance” and why you don’t mourn when they change the tune. If you are familiar with that teaching of Jesus, you know that you don’t come down on the complimentary side of that.
Why mourn when something so resistant to God’s Word is coming to an end? Because we get comfortable with our traditions. So getting back to the idea of the Reformation and the difference between the words reformation and revolution. There was a time when the Roman Catholic Church was pretty much all there was. It was the institution. And it had moved far from the scriptures and from healthy organic Christianity. The Reformation began as a desire – much of it engined by sincere and godly priests- to return the Church to the oversight of Christ and His Scripture.
If you look at the Catholic Church today you can see that eventually that did happen. I am not talking about Vatican 2 in particular, but in the devotion that many Catholics give to learning about the Faith, studying scripture in their own language, giving service to God on the individual level. Those are influences of the Reformation -however oblique. Today you can find high levels of scholarship among the Catholic laity. I read alot of their blogs, and their skill and intellectual virility is impressive. Very impressive…which I say coming from a Calvinistic Reformed tradtion- the highest and most rigorous of those who use intellectual pursuit and Sola Scriptura as their rule.
But what if the Reformers had just tried to preserve what they were familiar with? And history shows that because they did not they were condemned as heretics for the most part. That is what the love of the status quo will do in a religious context.
So I am in no hurry to lambaste this idea of “revolution”. I further have the influence of my experience in this contemporaneously. It isn’t just an abstract for me. I genuinely understand why people are turning from the institutional Churches. And to be very clear this is mostly a Protestant phenomenom …although the Catholics have their ups and downs.
But when you have Presbyterians denying the very historicity and the need for Jesus Christ Himself…just what do you really have of the true Church? You still have the shell of the events, the programs and the social structure…but just why should we Christians try to salvage something resistant to the person of Christ Himself?
And don’t give me that we should fellowship. The Bible says stuff about the criteria for fellowship that is flatly ignored. FLATLY ignored ( in case you missed it the first time said). Where is the Bible verse for that? That we ignore what we want and support what we want?
Sometimes there is a moving away from the understanding that was handed to us. And sometimes, yes, it is God doing this.
I don’t think it is fair to judge things as if we have an overview. We are in the stream, now… and it is a matter of the individual sincerity of the Believer. But wasn’t it always? Isn’t that what we have missed when we concentrate on the institution and the political force? When has Christianity ever been anything but a personal experience and walk with God? It moves together in a body, yes, but that is a spiritual body and man has been very remiss in recognizing that to the detriment and bloodshed of that Body.
“So where are the Revolutionaries going? To “mini-movements” such as home schooling, house churches, Bible studies at work, and Chris Tomlin worship concerts.”
When two or three are gathered… so what is so wrong with a different aspect of grouping? smaller numbers? Is this truly new? I think I hear the protests of an agenda here.
“First, who are these 20 million people defined as Revolutionaries? “
This is a very fair question. And the real answer is that they are a mixed multitude. Some are going in the right direction and really led by God…some are along for the ride… and some are the wolves. You just can’t get away from the fact that there are predatory elements in any big upheaval. But who is to blame? The revolutionaries for moving out when decade after decade there is nothing but devolving away from the spirit and toward the bog of the fleshly? When more and more the institution serves to promote Wicca more than Christianity? Or soul killing seminaries that perpetuate their own foul apostate teachings? How long? How long O Lord?
So I am willing to say that the Lord has given a trumpet call that souls are moving toward. But yes, there is much danger. That is apparent.
“The second question: How vital can a Christian revolution be that views the local church as optional?”
Um. It depends upon whether that is a static factor. And whether that is the primary point of the revolution. God will not allow it to be in His plan… we see that part clearly in the Bible scriptures that Varied Musings brought out in his protest. He is right about that. But that doesn’t translate in the perpetuation of the local churches that we now have. Some of them will thrive and some will fall.
If you look at the way this has played out over the past few decades it means that Churches that are more fundamental and encourage personal growth of faith are going to grow and benefit. As long as they don’t mistake their programs as the engine of Faith rather than the Person of God.
Big ‘If’ for us right now.
“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.”
Speak for yourself, Christianity Today Evangelicals. And if it were true of you, isn’t it the paternalistic attitudes well evident in this article that cultivate that very response within the larger spectrum of the Churches? Isn’t it this view of the minister/scholar who somehow is the only one who ought to read Foxes Book of Martyrs and feed their own interpretations of original writings, etc? I mean how many of the Evangelicals encourage reading of Brainerd’s diary or Edwards “Sinners in the Hand of An Angry God” ( Besides blogger Rebecca Writes). I read alot of these through passionate desire of my own ( I had dual interest in American history and in Church history), but also buttressed by such Charismatics as Keith Green and Leonard Ravenhill.
But I have seen little of that anywhere…in any of the mainstream churches. They are lucky if they get to know the teaching of their own founders. Is this what we should try to salvage?
“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?”
Excuse me, but just how do you intend to tell? I return to Gamaliel, who was quoted in Acts:
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. ”
On that note I end this particular post. To say the local church, the institutional church is over is sensationalistic. Which is what feeds the buzzlogs, but the actual reality is that Church as we know it is in for a change.
And I say “high time for it”.