Don Miller’s blog articles have sure gotten you fired up. Or maybe it was the negative responses to them. Either way, you’ve been passionately supporting his point of view, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You do have some good points to make. I find myself nodding at some of what you’re saying. But other aspects of your case seem weak, if not factually incorrect.
First, a common theme I’m reading in your posts is that the church of today bears little resemblance to the New Testament church. One of you called it “a concert and a lecture.” Another pointed out that the church is too political, too judgmental, and too obsessed with projects and programs. Undergirding these reasonable criticisms is the assumption that the New Testament church was ideal, that it was the kind of church you could really get behind.
Um, have you ever heard of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians? Or his letters to Timothy?
I will grant you that in the very beginning, the church was ideally what God intended for it to be. But that state of affairs didn’t last long. By Acts 5, we already have sin in the camp and God exercising capital punishment. The church in Corinth was plagued by divisions, lawsuits between believers, sexual immorality, disorderly worship, drunkenness, pride, and gross overall immaturity. The church in Ephesus had a big problem with false teachers and had a critical spirit. In Revelation we’re told that they had lost their first love.
Hmmm, lost their first love. Sounds familiar. It’s what I’ve been hearing from you all week. The modern church has lost its way. The modern church isn’t what it used to be. The modern church has become a concert and a lecture.
Fine, but here’s the point you’re missing:
In all the letters that were written to those very imperfect New Testament congregations, never was there even a remote suggestion that leaving was the answer. The apostle Paul called for the people who were causing the problems to repent and the people who were enduring the problems to hang in there and work to make things better. Read again his challenge to a young preacher named Timothy who was so burdened with stress over his messed up congregation that it was making him physically sick. He didn’t say, “Timothy, old boy, I wouldn’t put up with this, if I were you.” On the contrary, he ordered Timothy to pray for his people (1 Timothy 2:1), to teach the truth and be an example. (1 Timothy 4:11-12) Why? “Because this is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
This is what I find lacking in your argument, and why I cannot agree with you, in spite of the good points you make. You fail to acknowledge that, even with its warts, this is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Further, I’m sorry, but I just can’t get as worked up as you over the very real imperfections the church has. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the modern worship service has indeed become nothing more than a concert and a lecture. Are you saying you don’t think God can use that? The God I read about in Scripture has always used flawed things to accomplish his will. In fact, who or what isn’t flawed? If God didn’t use the flawed, what would he use?
That “concert and lecture” that you so disdainfully refer to, may be accomplishing far more than you imagine. People scoffed at David’s sling and a little boy’s lunch of loaves and fishes, but our Lord got some pretty good mileage out of them, don’t you think?
Another thing that’s been on my mind is how subjective your justifications are for not being a part of a local church. Surely, when you became a Christian someone explained to you that our first obligation is to obey God’s word. Not once, in all the articles and posts I’ve read this week have I seen anyone from your side of the argument mention Hebrews 10:25: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Instead, I read one opinion after another. I see talk of “graduating” from church (where is that in the Bible?). I see frustrations being poured out and the church being picked apart. But I don’t see much, if any, Scripture.
This, of course, is the way most Americans live these days. Everything is evaluated and accepted or rejected on the basis of personal preference. Don Miller said that he finds church services long and difficult to get through. His choice, then, is to not participate. It’s the same reason students drop out of school and husbands and wives walk away from their marriages. “It’s difficult to get through” is the most common excuse in the world, and one of the lamest.
Thank you, Jesus, for not having that attitude when you were on the cross.
Finally, I think about Jesus and what he might be thinking about this discussion. I know this much: He built his church (Matthew 16:18), He married his church (Revelation 19:7-9), He feeds and cares for his church (Ephesians 5:29), and he gave up his life for his church (Ephesians 5:25).
If Jesus were walking the earth today, I can certainly imagine him taking the church to task for some of her sins, in much the same way the apostle Paul did. But in my wildest imagination, I cannot picture him walking away. I cannot picture him sitting at home when his people were gathered to worship him. I cannot imagine him chastising modern Christians because they didn’t do everything the way those “perfect” Christians did back in the day. And I cannot imagine him saying that he prefers to connect with God by building his carpentry business.
But then again, maybe I’m wrong.