Monday, August 10, 2015

A Great Idea In Theory But No So Easy In Practice.

Eric Carpenter raises an issue that a lot of people who are yearning for a simpler, more faithful expression of the church have encountered, namely that it is a lot easier to theorize about "simple church" than it is to practice it. He writes in his recent post,  Where Are All the Simple Church Folks?...
Where are all the simple church people? I know they are out there;many are seeking fellowship with other believers. And yet, they are difficult to find. 
More and more Christians are done with the institutional model of church. I'm one of those Dones. If you are reading this blog, chances are fairly good that you are a Done, too (or are at least considering it). For your sake I hope you have close fellowship with other believers because it can be very difficult to find. If the institution does one thing well, it's that it makes it obvious both when and where meetings are taking place.
I know precisely what Eric is saying. There are lots of people who read the New Testament, specifically what it says about the church, and compare it to the traditional church setting and see a huge disconnect. The insatiable appetite for money, the focus on self-preservation, the anonymity it provides (and encourages), the professionalization of elders, the muting and neutering of the "laity", the need in general for the term "laity" in the first place, the jealous guarding of the pulpit and the pulpit in general, the reliance on monologue sermons. On and on. Yet for many of us the sort of fellowship is hard to find or nigh impossible. In conversation here and elsewhere I have heard from a lot of people all over the country that want something simpler but they can't find it or start it. There are lots of great simple fellowships around and if you live near one it is great. If you don't, it can be awfully hard to interest others in a start-up.

I agree that part of it has to do with the overwhelming dominance of the institutional model. It is all a lot of people know and if the truth be known it is all they want. I used to work with a guy, a pretty smart and decent guy, who attended a very large church. I asked him once if it bothered him that he was essentially anonymous and nobody knew if he was there on a given Sunday or not and his response boiled down to this: he liked it that way. He liked to show up, get his church fix and then go about his business. A lot of people are just like that. The other issue, and one that is more troubling to me, is that the simple church/house church crowd is home to some pretty sketchy people. Not like shoplifting sketchy but dangerous teaching sketchy, even at (or especially at) the most visible and prominent level.

As I have written before, the longer I spend seeking out the house church ideal, the more concerned I have become with the entire movement. Like many "movements", the house church movement is full of wonderful Christians. It also has attracted a lot of people who have egos and agendas that put megachurch pastors to shame. Of even greater concern, many of them are pushing heterodox and dangerous doctrines. The only house church type group we found in driving distance was mostly led by women who seemed to see the gathering as a way to highlight themselves along with lots of squirrely "visions" and "revelations" that were never challenged from Scripture. If I have to choose between a particular format of a church and sound teaching, I will choose sound teaching 100% of the time. Better a rigid Reformed institutional church with paid clergy than a simple church that teaches error. If I am honest, it seems like the simple church ideal attracts a lot of great and sincere people but it also attracts a lot of perpetually aggrieved people with a chip on their shoulder, kind of like how the Reformed ideal seems to attract people who like to feel superior and live to argue with other people.

Like others I find myself having to choose between fellowship in what is most certainly somewhere along the spectrum of a less than Biblical manner or having little to no regular fellowship at all. I know others struggle with this. It is easy to be bitter and blame the "sheep" who trudge off to work all week to make money so they can trudge off to church on Sunday and give part of their earnings to ensure they can do it again next week. It is also true that a lack of meaningful fellowship is a slow poison to the Christians soul. No one who is a serious teacher among simple folks types advocates for a solitary existence for the Christian individual or family, although that accusation is often made. I worry that a lot of us are, to paraphrase the old aphorism, making the perfect the enemy of the good. On  the other hand I never would suggest that the church should just shrug our collectives shoulders and soldier on in the status quo. All of our traditions need constant refinement and reflection against the mirror of Scripture. So I don't know what this all means. For a variety of health related issues I am not in a place to start a fellowship. I also am seeing pretty clearly the damage that a lack of fellowship is having on my family and especially to my own spiritual health. We periodically attend a super-conservative Mennonite fellowship and while they do a lot of things I question, they also know us and love us and welcome us, albeit in a somewhat limited way.

So that is a lot of words to basically say I am stumped and not a little worn out.

(***addendum: Eric posted a follow-up piece you should also read: Wandering in Church Wasteland)

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