Sunday, November 02, 2008

A call for a new Reformation in the church


Main Entry: Ka·bu·ki
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈbü-kē, ˈkä-bü-(ˌ)kē\
Function: noun
Etymology: Japanese
Date: 1899

: traditional Japanese popular drama performed with highly stylized singing and dancing

It would seem sadly fitting that 491 years after that day in Wittenberg, Germany we find the church in such dire straits. A lot of what passes for “Christianity” today is gross heresy because the Gospel is watered down to make it less offensive to sinners, and as such it becomes “another gospel” and as such is declared anathema by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. But much of what is declared to be appropriate in “Bible believing”, orthodox churches is little more than a carefully choreographed and stylized dance, with actors who know their roles and carry them out as expected, saying the right thing, looking the right way. Even the churches that are admired as being paragons of "Reformation" thinking are seemingly content to carry on the dance, comfortable that what they are doing is the right thing: Sunday worship=Sunday school+1 hour of singing and preaching+maybe a Sunday evening sermon for an hour.

So what should the church look like? The model now is to dutifully show up on Sunday morning, an hour early for Sunday school if you are especially devout. You sit in your pew, stand up when told to stand up, sit down when told to sit down, drop your check or cash (or pass it on) when the offering plate comes, listen to the announcements, sing a couple of songs when the choir isn’t performing, listening to a sermon for 20-45 minutes and then heading out after the closing prayer. It is highly regulated, the same every week and does very little to foster a “love one another” atmosphere. I have often said in response to the “just love Jesus” crowd, how can you love Him if you don’t have any idea who He is? In the same vein, how can we love one another if we don’t know one another? Church is designed now for us to receive, we listen in Sunday school, we listen to the choir, we listen to the prayer, we listen to the sermon. It is very comfortable and very easy to be anonymous. It is also pretty easy to not get to know anyone, especially as the church gets bigger.

Men like Michael Horton, who is someone who I admire and appreciate for his knowledge and ability to communicate, still buy into the notion that the church is fine in its present form, we just need to modify what is being taught. According to Horton and company on the White Horse Inn, what makes a church a “True Church” is the Word rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. Umm, what about Christians? If you have a guy faithfully preaching and passing the wine and bread to a room full of unbelievers, is that a church? Isn’t the church the assembling of the body of Christ under the Word? The focus is not on a faithful preacher, is it? As long as we stay in the church sandbox, we just need the right order of worship, the right exegesis, the right observance of the sacraments. I am a big advocate of deeper study, of expository, verse by verse, chapter by chapter Bible preaching that links one Sunday sermon to the next. But is that all that we need?

As I was watching Luther with my friend James last night, it struck me that when you look at Luther and read his 95 Theses, what Luther was trying to do was reform the church within the framework the church had created. Given the circumstances that is understandable. But we haven't gone much beyond that in the intervening 491 years. We are still content to tinker around in the sandbox, moving the shovel over here and the pail over there.

The need for a fresh reformation is not limited to the egregious false gospel preached in emergent churches or in far left liberal “mainline” Protestantism. It is also found in many of the most “conservative” churches, churches that pride themselves on fidelity to Word and creed and confession, who wear the mantle of “Reformed” like a superhero cape.

This need for reformation goes beyond how we preach, or what music we sing, or the programs we run. It is not about tweaking around the edges, tinkering with the basic model. It goes to how we view the church and how, or if, we get beyond the model of the vast majority of churches. Semper reformanda should not be about returning to the 1950's. Or even the 1600's. Our source should always be the Word of God. Being "Reformed" is not a declaration that we subscribe to this Reformed confession or that creed, but that we seek God's will in the church, in our teaching and preaching, in our prayers, in our worship, in our lives.

So who am I to make such a grandiose, sweeping declaration? What of all the more learned men in the church, shouldn’t they get to decide how the church is run? I should maybe just be quiet and go about my business. Maybe not. I am hardly a modern day Martin Luther, or even a modern day Ulrich Zwingli! I haven’t exactly done a really good job of leading in the church in the past so what business do I have in declaring a need for an overhaul of how we “do church” in America especially but throughout Christendom? I am nobody I guess, but I am one of His sheep and thanks to men like Martin Luther and William Tyndale I can read His Word and because of that and because I love His church, I am concerned. That concern drives me to speak out, not out of anger or out of arrogance but out of fear. Fear that we are worshipping a jealous, holy God in a way that suits us instead of glorifying Him.

I do not have an end-result in mind, a preordained conclusion. I am not calling for the wholesale abandonment of the church, the "steeple house" in favor of so-called "house churches". But I am similarly not content to just muddle through like we are, tinkering around in the sandbox unafraid or unconcerned with why we do what we do because that is just how we have always done it. But I want to think out loud on this public forum, to express what my thoughts are and to encourage constructive conversation and even rebuke if needed. I want to examine every aspect of the church as it exists today, not just in this external or that, but in everything we do, including some of the most cherished traditions we hold.

This is very important to express up front. My intent is not to slander any of the multitude of godly men who lead our churches today, or the people who attend and serve, or the men raised up by God in the past upon whose shoulders we stand. This thought process is NOT an indictment of any church I have, am or will attend or any individual who I have been taught by, sat under the preaching of, or even anyone who has sat under my teaching or preaching. But the human heart, whether mine or Calvin’s or John MacArthur’s, tends to wander like the sheep we are. We need constant reflection in the mirror of Scripture to see if what we are doing is worship authorized by God or if it is strange fire. That is my intent, and that is my only intent. I invite you to think and pray and study along with me, and see where it leads.


Mike Edwards said...


I found your blog through James Lee! I believe we sat together at dinner at the recent Reformed Conference. I gave a session on Reformed Theology in Contemporary Context. Anyway...

Hope you don't mind me entering into the dialogue here. I particularly wanted to address the part of your post where you say,"I do not have an end-result in mind, a preordained conclusion. I am not calling for the wholesale abandonment of the church, the "steeple house" in favor of so-called "house churches". But I am similarly not content to just muddle through like we are, tinkering around in the sandbox unafraid or unconcerned with why we do what we do because that is just how we have always done it."

It seems to me you are coming to a place many are these days, who desire to grow deeper as both learners of the gospel and members of the family of God. Further, many are realizing that we must reclaim our identity as missionaries in a post-Christian context in ways we never expected. Some of your other thoughts I found interesting and lead to other questions:

1. Why do our buildings have steeples? For that matter--how about pews? Suits and ties? One hour sermonizing? Etc.

2. Why would you not want "house churches" or would you just not want them based on some bad experience with one?

3. Have you expressed these thoughts to your pastor? How did that go?

Anonymous said...

we must be willing to purge out the old leaven and be a new lump - We are unleavened, Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.

I think if we see the New Covenant of Ezekiel 36 and how God will cause us to walk in the statutes etc.

By fruit you will know them.

Arthur Sido said...


we did indeed meet at the conference at Calvary. As far as your questions...

1. No idea why we have steeples. I wear a suit because it is how I was raised to dress in church (even though we never went!) and it is how I am most comfortable.

2. I have pretty limited exposure to the house church movement, but the people I know of have some theological oddities that seem hard to square with Scripture. I am sure that is not the case with all, or even most, house church people. I am a believer in the local church body, but I think it needs some serious reformation but not abadonment.

3. We haven't talked about it, it is something I have become progressively more concerned about fairly recently.